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Metamorphoses of the Soul
Paths of Experience Vol. 1

Metaporphoses/Soul One: Lecture 4: The Mission of Reverence

Schmidt Number: S-2084

On-line since: 15th January, 2008

LECTURE 4
The Mission of Reverence

Berlin, 28th October 1909

You all know the words with which Goethe concluded his life's masterpiece, Faust:


All things transient

Are but a parable;

Earth's insufficiency

Here finds fulfilment;

The indescribable

Here becomes deed;

The eternal-feminine

Draws us on high.


It goes without saying that in this context the “eternal-feminine” has nothing to do with man and woman. Goethe is making use of an ancient turn of speech. In all forms of mysticism — and Goethe gives these closing lines to a Chorus mysticus — we find an urge in the soul, at first quite indefinite, towards something which the soul has not yet come to know and to unite itself with, but must strive towards. This goal, at first only dimly surmised by the aspiring soul, is called by Goethe, in accord with the mystics of diverse times, the eternal-feminine, and the whole sense of the second part of Faust confirms this way of taking the concluding lines.

This Chorus mysticus, with its succinct words, can be set against the Unio mystical the name given by true mystical thinkers to union with the eternal-feminine, far off spiritually but within human reach.

When the soul has risen to this height and feels itself to be at one with the eternal-feminine, then we can speak of mystical union, and this is the highest summit that we shall be considering today.

In the last two lectures, on the mission of anger and the mission of truth, we saw that the soul is involved in a process of evolution. On the one hand, we indicated certain attributes which the soul must strive to overcome, whereby anger, for example, can become an educator of the soul; and we saw on the other, how truth can educate the soul in its own special way.

The end and goal of this process of development cannot always be foreseen by the soul. We can place some object before us and say that it has developed from an earlier form to its present stage. We cannot say this of the human soul, for the soul is progressing through a continuing evolution in which it is itself the active agent. The soul must feel that, having developed to a certain point, it has to go further. And as a self-conscious soul it must say to itself: How is it that I am able to think not only about my development in the past but also about my development in the future?

Now we have often explained how the soul, with all its inner life, is composed of three members. We cannot go over this in detail again today, but it will be better to mention, it, so that this lecture can be studied on its own account. We call these three members of the soul the Sentient Soul, the Intellectual Soul and the Consciousness Soul. The Sentient Soul can live without being much permeated by thinking. Its primary role is to receive impressions from the outer world and to pass them on inwardly. It is also the vehicle of such feelings of pleasure and pain, joy and grief, as come from these outer impressions. All human emotions, all desires, instincts and passions arise from within the Sentient Soul. Man has progressed from this stage to higher levels; he has permeated the Sentient Soul with his thinking and with feelings induced by thinking. In the Intellectual Soul, accordingly, we do not find indefinite feelings arising from the depths, but feelings gradually penetrated by the inner-light of thought. At the same time it is from the Intellectual Soul that we find emerging by degrees the human Ego, that central point of the soul which can lead to the real Self and makes it possible for us to purify, cleanse and refine the qualities of our soul from within, so that we can become the master, leader and guide of our volitions, feelings and thoughts.

This Ego, as we have seen already, has two aspects. One possibility of development for it is through the endeavours that man must make to strengthen this inner centre more and more, so that an increasingly powerful influence can radiate out from it into his environment and into all the life around him. To enhance the value of the soul for the surrounding world and at the same time to strengthen its independence — that is one aspect of Ego development.

The reverse side of this is egoism. A self that is too weak will lose itself in the flood of the world. But if a man likes to keep his pleasures and desires, his thinking and his brooding, all within himself, his Ego will be hardened and given over to self-seeking and egoism.

Now we have briefly described the content of the Intellectual Soul. We have seen how wild impulses, of which anger is an example, can educate the soul if they are overcome and conquered. We have seen also that the Intellectual Soul is positively educated by truth, when truth is understood as something that a man possesses inwardly and takes account of at all times; when it leads us out of ourselves and enlarges the Ego, while at the same time it strengthens the Ego and makes it more selfless.

Thus we have become acquainted with the means of self-education that are provided for the Sentient Soul and the Intellectual Soul. Now we have to ask: Is there a similar means provided for the Consciousness Soul, the highest member of the human soul? We can also ask: What is there in the Consciousness Soul which develops of its own accord, corresponding to the instincts and desires in the Sentient Soul? Is there something that belongs by nature to the Consciousness Soul, such that man could acquire very little of it if he were not already endowed with it?

There is something which reaches out from the Intellectual Soul to the Consciousness Soul — the strength and sagacity of thinking. The Consciousness Soul can come to expression only because man is a thinking being, for its task is to acquire knowledge of the world and of itself, and for this it requires the highest instrument of knowledge—thinking.

We learn about the external world through perceptions; they stimulate us to gain knowledge of our surroundings. To this end, we need only devote our attention to the outer world and not stand blankly in front of it, for then the outer world itself draws us on to satisfy our thirst for knowledge by observing it. With regard to gaining knowledge of the super-sensible world, we are in a quite different situation. First of all, the super-sensible world is not there in front of us. If a man wishes to gain a knowledge of it, so that this knowledge will permeate his Consciousness Soul, the impulse to do so must come from within and must penetrate his thinking through and through. This impulse can come only from the other powers of his soul, feeling and willing. Unless his thinking is stimulated by both these powers, it will never be impelled to approach the super-sensible world. This does not mean that the super-sensible is merely a feeling, but that feeling and willing must act as inner guides towards its unknown realm. What qualities, then, must feeling and willing acquire towards its unknown realm.

What qualities, then, must feeling and willing acquire in order to do this?

First of all, someone might object to the use of a feeling as a guide to knowledge. But a simple consideration will show that in fact this is what feeling does. Anyone who takes knowledge seriously, will admit that in acquiring knowledge we must proceed logically. We use logic as an instrument for testing the knowledge we acquire. How, then, if logic is this instrument, can logic itself be proved? One might say: Logic can prove itself. Yes, but before we begin proving logic by logic, it must be at least possible to grasp logic with our feeling. Logical thought cannot be proved primarily by logical thought, but only by feeling. Indeed, everything that constitutes logic is first proved through feeling, by the infallible feeling for truth that dwells in the human soul. From this classical example we can see how feeling is the foundation of logic and of thinking. Feeling must give the impulse for the verification of thought. What must feeling become if it is to provide an impulse not only for thinking in general, but for thinking about worlds with which we are at first unacquainted and cannot survey?

Feeling of this kind must be a force which strives from within towards an object yet unknown. When the human soul seeks to encompass with feeling some other thing, we call this feeling love. Love can of course be felt for something known, and there are many things in the world for us to love. But as love is a feeling, and a feeling is the foundation of thinking in the widest sense, we must be clear that the unknown super-sensible can be grasped by feeling before thinking comes in. Unprejudiced observation, accordingly, shows that it must be possible for human beings to come to love the unknown super-sensible before they are able to conceive it in terms of thought. This love is indeed indispensable before the super-sensible can be penetrated by the light of thought.

At this stage, also, the will can be permeated by a force which goes out towards the super-sensible unknown. This quality of the will, which enables a man to wish to carry out his aims and intentions with regard to the unknown, is devotion. So can the will inspire devotion towards the unknown, while feeling becomes love of the unknown; and when these two emotions are united they together give rise to reverence in the true sense of the word. Then this devotion becomes the impulse that will lead us into the unknown, so that the unknown can be taken hold of by our thinking. Thus it is that reverence becomes the educator of the Consciousness Soul. For in ordinary life, also, we can say that when a man endeavours to grasp with his thinking some external reality not yet known to him, he will be approaching it with love and devotion. Never will the Consciousness Soul gain a knowledge of external objects unless love and devotion inspire its quest; otherwise the objects will not be truly observed. This also applies quite specially to all endeavours to gain knowledge of the super-sensible world.

In all cases, however, the soul must allow itself to be educated by the Ego, the source of self-consciousness. We have seen how the Ego gains increasing independence and strength by overcoming certain soul qualities, such as anger, and by cultivating others, such as the sense of truth. After that, the self-education of the Ego comes to an end; its education through reverence begins. Anger is to be overcome and discarded; a sense of truth is to permeate the Ego; reverence is to flow from the Ego towards the object of which knowledge is sought. Thus, having raised itself out of the Sentient Soul and the Intellectual Soul by overcoming anger and other passions and by cultivating a sense of truth, the Ego is drawn gradually into the Consciousness Soul by the influence of reverence. If this reverence becomes stronger and stronger, one can speak of it as a powerful impulse towards the realm described by Goethe:


All things transient

Are but a parable;

Earth's insufficiency

Here finds fulfilment;

The indescribable

Here becomes deed;

The eternal-feminine

Draws us on high.


The soul is drawn by the strength of its reverence towards the eternal, with which it longs to unite itself. But the Ego has two sides. It is impelled by necessity to enhance continually its own strength and activity. At the same time it has the task of not allowing itself to fall under the hardening influence of egoism. If the Ego seeks to go further and gain knowledge of the unknown and the super-sensible, and takes reverence as its guide, it is exposed to the immediate danger of losing itself. This is most likely to happen, above all, to a human being if his will is always submissive to the world. If this attitude gains increasingly the upper hand, the result may be that the Ego goes out of itself and loses itself in the other being or thing to which it has submitted. This condition can be likened to fainting by the soul, as distinct from bodily fainting. In bodily fainting the Ego sinks into undefined darkness; in fainting by the soul, the Ego loses itself spiritually while the bodily faculties and perceptions of the outer world are not impaired. This can happen if the Ego is not strong enough to extend itself fully into the will and to guide it.

This self-surrender by the Ego can be the final result of a systematic mortification of the will. A man who pursues this course becomes incapable of willing or acting on his own account; he has surrendered his will to the object of his submissive devotion and has lost his own self. When this condition prevails, it produces an enduring impotence of the soul. Only when a devotional feeling is warmed through by the Ego, so that man can immerse himself in it without losing his Ego, can it be salutary for the human soul.

How, then, can reverence always carry the Ego with it? The Ego cannot allow itself to be led in any direction, as a human Self, unless it maintains in its thinking a knowledge of itself. Nothing else can protect the Ego from losing itself when devotion leads it out into the world. The soul can be led out of itself towards something external by the force of will, but when the soul leaves behind the boundary of the external, it must make sure of being illuminated by the light of thought.

Thinking itself cannot lead the soul out; this comes about through devotion, but thinking must then immediately exert itself to permeate with the life of thought the object of the soul's devotion. In other words, there must be a resolve to think about this object. Directly the devotional impulse loses the will to think, there is a danger of losing oneself. If anyone makes it a matter of principle not to think about the object of his devotion, this can lead in extreme cases to a lasting debility of the soul.

Is love, the other element in reverence, exposed to a similar fate? Something that radiates from the human Self towards the unknown must be poured into love, so that never for a moment does the Ego fail to sustain itself. The Ego must have the will to enter into everything which forms the object of its devotion, and it must maintain itself in face of the external, the unknown, the super-sensible. What becomes of love if the Ego fails to maintain itself at the moment of encountering the unknown, if it is unwilling to bring the light of thinking and of rational judgment to bear on the unknown? Love of that kind becomes more sentimental enthusiasm (Schwarmerei). But the Ego can begin to find its way from the Intellectual Soul, where it lives, to the external unknown, and then it can never extinguish itself altogether. Unlike the will, the Ego cannot completely mortify itself. When the soul seeks to embrace the external world with feeling, the Ego is always present in the feeling, but if it is not supported by thinking and willing, it rushes forth without restraint, unconscious of itself. And if this love for the unknown is not accompanied by resolute thinking, the soul can fall into a sentimental extreme, somewhat like sleep-walking, just as the state reached by the soul when submissive devotion leads to loss of the Self is somewhat like a bodily fainting-fit. When a sentimental enthusiast goes forth to encounter the unknown, he leaves behind the strength of the Ego and takes with him only secondary forces. Since the strength of the Ego is absent from his consciousness, he tries to grasp the unknown as one does in the realm of dreams. Under these conditions the soul falls into what may be called an enduring state of dreaming or somnambulism.

Again, if the soul is unable to relate itself properly to the world and to other people, if it rushes out into life and shrinks from using the light of thought to illuminate its situation, then the Ego, having fallen into a somnambulistic condition, is bound to go astray and to wander through the world like a will-o-the-wisp.

If the soul succumbs to mental laziness and shuns the light of thought when it meets the unknown, then, and only then, will it harbour superstitions in one or other form. The sentimental soul, with its fond dreams, wandering through life as though asleep, and the indolent soul, unwilling to be fully conscious of itself — these are the souls most inclined to believe everything blindly. Their tendency is to avoid the effort of thinking for themselves and to allow truth and knowledge to be prescribed for them.

If we are to get to know an external object, we have to bring our own productive thinking to bear on it, and it is the same with the super-sensible, whatever form this may take. Never, in seeking to gain a knowledge of the super-sensible, must we exclude thinking. Directly we rely on merely observing the super-sensible, we are exposed to all possible deceptions and errors. All such errors and superstitions, all the wrong or untruthful ways of entering the super-sensible worlds, can be attributed in the last instance to a refusal to allow consciousness to be illuminated by the light of creative thought. No one can be deceived by information said to come from the spiritual world if he has the will to keep his thinking always active and independent. Nothing else will suffice, and this is something that every spiritual researcher will confirm. The stronger the will is to creative thinking, the greater is the possibility of gaining true, clear and certain knowledge of the spiritual world.

Thus we see the need for a means of education which will lead the Ego into the Consciousness Soul and will guide the Consciousness Soul in the face of the unknown, both the physical unknown and the unknown super-sensible. Reverence, consisting of devotion and love, provides the means we seek. When the latter are imbued with the right kind of self-feeling, they become steps which lead to ever-greater heights.

True devotion, in whatever form it is experienced by the soul, whether through prayer or otherwise, can never lead anyone astray. The best way of learning to know something is to approach it first of all with love and devotion. A healthy education will consider especially how strength can be given to the development of the soul through the devotional impulse. To a child the world is largely unknown: if we are to guide him towards knowledge and sound judgment of it, the best way is to awaken in him a feeling of reverence towards it; and we can be sure that by so doing we shall lead him to fullness of experience in any walk of life.

It is very important for the human soul if it can look back to a childhood in which devotion, leading on to reverence, was often felt. Frequent opportunities to look up to revered persons, and to gaze with heartfelt devotion at things that are still beyond its understanding, provide a good impulse for higher development in later life. A person will always gratefully remember those occasions, when as a child in the family circle, he heard of some outstanding personality of whom everyone spoke with devotion and reverence. A feeling of holy awe, which gives reverence a specially intimate character, will then permeate the soul. Or someone may relate how with trembling hand, later on, he rang the bell and shyly made his way into the room of the revered personality whom he was meeting for the first time, after having heard him spoken of with so much respectful admiration. Simply to have come into his presence and exchanged a few words can confirm a devotion which will be particularly helpful when we are trying to unravel the great riddles of existence and are seeking for the goal which we long to make our own. Here reverence is a force which draws us upward, and by so doing fortifies and invigorates the soul. How can this be? Let us consider the outward expression of reverence in human gestures — what forms does it take? We bend our knees, fold our hands, and incline our heads towards the object of our reverence. These are the organs whereby the Ego, and above all the higher faculties of the soul, can express themselves most intensively.

In physical life a man stands upright by firmly extending his legs; his Ego radiates out through his hands in acts of blessing; and by moving his head he can observe the earth or the heavens. But from studying human nature, we learn also that our legs are stretched out at their best in strong, conscious action if they have first learnt to bend the knee where reverence is really strong, conscious action if they have first learnt to bend the knee where reverence is really due. For this genuflection opens the door to a force which seeks to find its way into our organism. Knees which have not learnt to bend in reverence give out only what they have always had; they spread out their own nullity, to which they have added nothing. But legs which have learnt to genuflect receive, when they are extended, a new force, and then it is this, not their own nullity, which they spread around them. Hands which would fain bless and comfort, although they have never been folded in reverence and devotion, cannot bestow much love and blessing from their own nullity. But hands which have learnt to fold themselves in reverence have received a new force and are powerfully penetrated by the Ego. For the path taken by this force leads first through the heart, where it kindles love; and the reverence of the folded hands, having passed through the heart and flowed into the hands, turns into blessing.

The head may turn its eyes and strain its ears to survey the world in all directions, but it presents nothing but its own emptiness. If, however, the head has been bent in reverence, it gains a new force; it will bring to meet the outer world the feelings it has acquired through reverence.

Anyone who studies the gestures of people, and knows what they signify, will see how reverence is expressed in external physiognomy; he will see how this reverence enhances the strength of the Ego and so makes it possible for the Ego to penetrate into the unknown. Moreover, this self-education through reverence has the effect of raising to the surface our obscure instincts and emotions, our sympathies and antipathies, which otherwise make their way into the soul unconsciously or subconsciously, unchallenged by the light of judgment. Precisely these feelings are cleansed and purified through self-education by reverence and through the penetration by the Ego of the higher members of the soul. The obscure forces of sympathy and antipathy, always prone to error, are permeated by the light of the soul and transformed into judgment, aesthetic taste and rightly guided moral feeling. A soul educated by reverence will convert its dark cravings and aversions into a feeling for the beautiful and a feeling for the good. A soul that has cleansed its obscure instincts and will-impulses through devotion will gradually build up from them what we call moral ideals. Reverence is something that we plant in the soul as a seed; and the seed will bear fruit.

Human life offers yet another example. We see everywhere that the course of a man's life goes through ascending and declining stages. Childhood and youth are stages of ascent; then comes a pause, and finally, in the later years, a decline. Now the remarkable thing is, that the qualities acquired in childhood and youth reappear in a different form during the years of decline. If much reverence, rightly guided, has been part of the experience of childhood, it acts as a seed which comes to fruition in old age as strength for active living. A childhood and youth during which devotion and love were not fostered under the right guidance will lead to a weak and powerless old age. Reverence must take hold of every soul that is to make progress in its development.

How is it, then, with the corresponding quality in the object of our reverence? If we look with love on another being, then the reciprocated love of the latter will reveal what can perhaps arise. If a man is lovingly devoted to his God, he can be sure that God inclines to him also in love. Reverence is the feeling he develops for whatever he calls his God out there in the universe. Since the reaction to reverence cannot itself be called reverence, we may not speak of a divine reverence towards man. What, then, precisely is the opposite of reverence in this context? What is it that flows out to meet reverence when reverence seeks the divine? It is might, the Almighty power of the Divine. Reverence that we learn to feel in youth returns to us as strength for living in old age, and if we turn in reverence to the divine, our reverence flows back to us as an experience of the Almighty. That is what we feel, whether we look up to the starry heavens in their endless glory and our reverence goes out to all that lies around us, beyond our compass, or whether we look up to our invisible God, in whatever form, who pervades and animates the cosmos.

We look up towards the Almighty and we come to feel with certainty that we cannot advance towards union with that which is above us unless we first approach it from below with reverence. We draw nearer to the Almighty when we immerse ourselves in reverence. Thus we can speak of an Almighty in this sense, while a true feeling for the meaning of words prevents us from speaking of an All-loving. Power can be increased or enhanced in proportion to the number of beings over which it extends. It is different with love. If a child is loved by its mother, this does not prevent her from loving equally her second, third or fourth child. It is false for anyone to say: I must divide up my love because it is to cover two objects. It is false to speak either of an “all-knowledge” or of an indefinite “all-love”. Love has no degree and cannot be limited by figures.

Love and devotion together make up reverence. We can have a devoted attitude to this or that unknown if we have the right feeling for it. Devotion can be enhanced, but it does not have to be divided up or multiplied when it is felt for a number of beings. Since this is true also of love, the Ego has no need to lose or disperse itself if it turns with love and devotion towards the unknown. Love and devotion are thus the right guides to the unknown, and the best educators of, the soul in its advance from the Intellectual Soul to the Consciousness Soul.

Whereas the overcoming of anger educates the Sentient Soul, and the striving for truth educates the Intellectual Soul, reverence educates the Consciousness Soul, bringing more and more knowledge within its reach. But this reverence must be led and guided from a standpoint which never shuts out the light of thought. When love flows forth from us, it ensures by its own worth that our Self can go with it, and this applies also to devotion. We could indeed lose our Self, but we need not. That is the point, and it must be kept especially in mind if an impulse of reverence enters into the education of the young. A blind, unconscious reverence is never right. The cultivation of reverence must go together with the cultivation of a healthy Ego-feeling.

Whereas the mystics of all ages, together with Goethe, have spoken of the unknown, undefined element to which the soul is drawn, as the eternal-feminine, we may without misunderstanding, speak of the element which must always animate reverence as the eternal-masculine. For just as the eternal-feminine is present in both man and woman, so is this eternal-masculine, this healthy Ego-feeling, present in all reverence by man or woman. And when Goethe's Chorus mysticus comes before us, we may, having come to know the mission of reverence which leads us towards the unknown, add the element which must permeate all reverence — the Eternal-masculine.

Thus we are now able to reach a right understanding of the experience of the human soul when it strives to unite itself with the unknown and attains to the Unio mystica, wherein all reverence is consummated.

But this mystical union will harm the soul if the Ego is lost while seeking to unite itself with the unknown in any form. If the Ego has lost itself, it will bring to the unknown nothing of value. Self-sacrifice in the Unio mystica requires that one must have become something, must have something to sacrifice. If a weak Ego, with no strength in itself, is united with what lies above us, the union has no value. The Unio mystica has value only when a strong Ego ascends to the regions of which the Chorus mysticus speaks. When Goethe speaks of the regions to which the higher reverence can lead us, in order to gain there the highest knowledge, and when his Chorus mysticus tells us in beautiful words:


All things transient

Are but a parable;

Earth's insufficiency

Here finds fulfilment;

The indescribable

Here becomes deed;

The eternal-feminine

Draws us on high —


Then, if we rightly understand the Unio mystica, we can reply: Yes —


All things transient

Are but a parable;

Earth's insufficiency

Here finds fulfilment;

The indescribable

Here becomes deed;

The eternal-masculine

Draws us on high.




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