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Macrocosm and Microcosm

Macrocosm and Microcosm

Rudolf Steiner Archive Document

Lectures Section

The following lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner at Paris, on the 5th of May, 1913. It is lecture 6 of 10 lectures in the lecture series entitled, Occult Science and Occult Develoment. Christ at the Time of the Mystery of Golgotha and Christ in the 20th Century, published in German as, Die welt des Geistes und Ihr Hereinragen in das Physische Dasein. Das Einwirken der Toten in die Welt der Lebenden.

A Lecture given by
Rudolf Steiner
Paris, May 5th, 1913
Bn/GA 150

The following lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner at Paris, on the 5th of May, 1913. It is lecture 6 of 10 lectures in the lecture series entitled, Occult Science and Occult Develoment. Christ at the Time of the Mystery of Golgotha and Christ in the 20th Century, published in German as, Die welt des Geistes und Ihr Hereinragen in das Physische Dasein. Das Einwirken der Toten in die Welt der Lebenden.

This lecture is a translation from shorthand reports, unrevised by the lecturer, by an unknown translator. It first appeared in English translation in the New York Newsletter. The London Reference is EN-52. This typescript version is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. From Bn/GA 150.

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Macrocosm and Microcosm



(May 5, 1913 – Paris)

To-day I propose speaking to you about an important concept of Esoteric Science — that of the connection between the Macrocosm and the Microcosm.

There exist within the sphere of Esoteric Science different principal ideas, which then run as leading-threads, leit-motifs through the entire Esoteric Movement. Such an idea, is that of Rhythm in Numbers; and another is that of the Macrocosm and the Microcosm. The secret of Number expresses itself in the fact that certain phenomena follow each other in such a way that the 7th in a series of events reveals itself as a kind of conclusion, whereas the 8th may be designated as the beginning of quite another series of events. One finds this fact reflected in the physical world, in the relation of the octave to the Key-note.

For those who endeavour to penetrate in occult spheres, this principle becomes the basis of a very comprehensive view of the cosmos. Not only are tones, sounds, arranged according to the Law of Number, but also events in the course of time; events in the spiritual world are also so arranged that one finds in them a relationship, just as one finds in the Rhythm of Sound.

Still more important is the relationship between the Macrocosm and the Microcosm. We find a physical image of this at every touch and turn. Let us consider the relationship of the whole plant to the seed. In the entire plant we see a Macrocosm, in the seed a Microcosm. In a certain sense we find compressed in the seed, as in a point, the forces which are divided later over the entire plant. In a similar way we can look upon the development of each individual human being from childhood to old age as a Microcosm, whereas the evolution of a race, a people, is to be conceived as a Macrocosm. Every nation has its childhood in which it absorbs important elements of civilisation,. An instance of this is to be seen in the Romans, who absorbed into themselves the Greek civilization. As a people grows, it draws out of itself the necessary forces for its own further evolution. Therefore it is so important that each member of a nation should experience what his whole race undergoes, because each single member of a race relates himself to the whole nation as the seed to the whole plant. In the highest degree we find the relationship between Macrocosm and Microcosm existing in man as he meets us in the world of sense and the cosmos surrounding him. As man stands before us in the world of sense, he has concentrated into his being the forces of the Universe, just as the forces of the plant are concentrated in the seed or germ.

Now we must ask ourselves: — Are these forces distributed in some way over the Macrocosm, just as the plant-forces of the seed are distributed over the entire plant? Esoteric Science alone can give us an answer to this question, for in his earthly life man only learns to know himself as a Microcosm; but he lives not only in the Microcosm, but also has a life within the entire Universe. To state, that in his experience from waking to sleeping man oscillates between a life in the Macrocosm and a life in the Microcosm, at first appears to be merely an assertion. When he sinks into slumber, his consciousness ceases to work, his feelings and emotions cease to exist for him, and external science will bestir itself in vain if it endeavours to find within the sleeping human being that which constitutes his soul life in the waking condition. Even logically it is impossible to conceive that man's soul-life is destroyed when he goes to sleep and that when he awakes it arises again as if out of nothingness. External science in no very distant future will have to admit that one can just as little recognise the soul-life by external, material facts, as one can recognise the lungs by studying the laws of oxygen. In addition to studying the laws of oxygen, we have to learn to know the lungs in their organic functioning. In the same way we learn that in our external laws there is nothing of the physical life which we draw in with our breath on waking in the morning, and which we expire when we go to sleep. To the occultist going to sleep and waking up is nothing but a kind of breathing: — Every morning man draws into himself with his waking breath his spiritual, psychic nature, and he breathes that out again on going to sleep. Where is the spiritual, psychic part of man when he is asleep, — that part which corresponds as it were to the air in space which he has breathed out of his body? Occult science shows us that it is surrounded by the atmosphere of the spiritual world, just as we are surrounded by the atmosphere of the air; the only difference being that our atmosphere extends only for a few miles, whereas the spiritual atmosphere fills the entire coamos.

Consider the quantity of air which man inspires in his body, in comparison with the entire atmosphere. The same quantity which, after inspiration exists inside the human body, is added, after expiration, to the atmosphere around one. Thus in the sense of occultism, we can say that after an inspiration the same amount of air is in the Microcosm which after expiration is in the Macrocosm. It is just the same with that psychic spiritual life which is actually present within our body; from waking to going to sleep that is in the Microcosm, but from sleeping until waking in the morning that is in the Macrocosm.

Just as an external physical science teaches us concerning the existence of a physical atmosphere, so Occult Science speaks of a spiritual Cosmos, which takes up into itself our souls when we sleep. Spiritual Science can only be attained through spiritual methods, the methods of initiation. Daily experience reveals to us the life of the soul in the Macrocosm, but life within the spiritual, psychic Macrocosm we only learn to know through initiation.

So we must speak first of the Science of Initiation whenever that transition from the Microcosm to the Macrocosm is to be discussed, and this science of Initiation is of special significance, because we enter that spiritual world after death. That crossing of the Threshold of Death signifies a definite forsaking of the body by the soul.

The methods of Initiation give an intimate exercise for the soul; just as in everyday life we work on our bodily environment, so we must train our souls to work in a spiritual psychic way on the Macrocosm and receive impressions from it. We must endeavour to release those spiritual, psychic forces which are bound up with our physical life, to set them free from the body. Three Soul-Forces are bound up with the body in ordinary life, which can be made free through Initiation. The first of the Soul-Forces is the power of thought. In ourordinary life we use it for shaping our thoughts, for forming ideas about the things around us. Let us attempt to enter into the nature of this Thought-Force. What happens when we think and form concepts? Even physical science will admit that every time we grasp a thought which relates to anything sensible, a process of destruction takes place in our brain. We have to destroy the finer structures of the brain, and this destruction is very evident in the signs of fatigue.

What the everyday-thinking destroys in this way is replaced in sleep; but through the methods of initiation we attain a condition in which our thinking-power is set free from the physical brain, and then nothing is destroyed. This we attain by Meditation, Concentration and Contemplation. These are certain processes in our souls which are to be distinguished from the ordinary life of the soul. In order to speak quite concretely, an example shall be given. Those ideas and soul processes which fill our ordinary life are but little adapted to kindle meditation in our souls. We must choose quite different ones. Suppose you have two glasses of water before you; one empty, the other half full. Now suppose we pour water out of the half-full glass into the empty one, and imagine that the half-full glass becomes fuller and fuller be cause of what we are doing. The materialist would consider this kind of thing foolish; but, my dear friends, with a concept suitable for meditation it is not a question of its reality but of whether it is one which will form ideas in the soul. Just because it relates to nothing real, it can direct our senses away from reality. It may be a symbol especially for that soul-process which we describe as the mystery of love. The process of love is something like that half-full glass from which man pours into the empty one, and which thereby becomes fuller and fuller. The soul does not become more empty, it becomes fuller in the same measure in which it gives; and in this way that symbol may have great significance.

Now, my dear friends, if we treat such an idea in this way, so that we apply all our soul-powers to it, then it is a meditation. We must forget everything else in the presence of that idea, we must even forget ourselves; our entire soul life must be directed to that one idea for a long period, say for a quarter of an hour. It is not sufficient to perform such an exercise once, or even a few times. It must be repeated again and again and then according to the endowment of the individual there will gradually be revealed a change in our soul-life. We notice that through this we gradually develop a power of thinking which no longer destroys the brain. Anyone who goes through such an evolution will find that this meditation evokes no fatigue, and that the brain is not destroyed. That appears to contradict the fact that beginners in meditation so often fall asleep, but that is because when we first begin to meditate we are still connected with the external world, and have not yet learned to free our thoughts from the brain. When after repeated efforts, we are able to meditate without fatigue, then we have freed our thought from the physical brain, and then a transformation appears in the whole of our human life.

As formerly, when asleep we were outside our body, without consciousness so we are now outside it and are at the same time conscious. And, just as in ordinary everyday life we think of our ego as being within our skin, so after meditation we experience ourselves outside our body. The body becomes an
object on which we look down. Now, however, we learn to know it differently than in sleep we learn to know it as the sum of magnetic forces which chain us to our body. It is something into which we wish to dive down. And we recognise that these are the same forces which draw us each morning to our physical body, and which before birth we drew fur ourselves from the spiritual world when we sought a stream of heredity in which tofind a new physical body. We then learn why we felt drawn to our parents and ancestors.

Let us take one idea, one soul-experience, which is different from that we have, on passing from the Microcosm into the Macrocosm. When we look from the Macrocosm to our body, we say on confronting each of our experiences: “This is outside us.” But if we have developed the Pauline experience, we have already developed an element of soul which is something within us, yet external to us; and when we are outside our bodies we feel the Christ-experience as an inner experience. This may be called the first meeting with the Christ-Impulse in the Macrocosm.

But now we must discuss a second kind of Initiation-Force. Just as we had to release the power of thought, so we have to release that force of which we make use of in our speech. Materialistic science says that our organs of speech come from our brain centres. But my dear friends, it was not the Brocha-organ in the brain which developed speech, but the contrary; speech built up the Brocha-organ in the brain.

The power of Thinking works destructively, but speech, which comes from our social environment, works constructively. Now we can also take the force which built up this Brocha-organ in the brain, and release it. We do this when we permeate our meditation with feeling. When I meditate on this sentence: “In the Light radiates Wisdom”, that reflects no external truth; but it has a deep meaning, a deep significance. If we permeate our feeling with the following; “we will seek to live with Light that radiates Wisdom”, then we feel that we gradually grasp that power which generally comes to expression in words but which now lives in our soul. You have heard of ‘golden silence’, that refers to the fact that we have in our soul a force which creates the word. We can grasp this force, just as we can grasp the power of thought; and in so doing, we overcome Time, just as through grasping of the power of thought we overcome space. The memory, which in ordinary everyday life extends back to one's childhood, then extends into the pre-natal life. That is the way to get experiences of our life from the last death until the present birth, and is also the way to perceive the evolution of humanity; because we then perceive those forces which guide the development of the history of man. Then we learn to know life from birth right up to death. If we but develop the force of the Silent Word, we learn to know the spiritual basis of our life on earth. And here again it is the case that we come to an historic point, to the Mystery of Golgotha; because this is the path along which we come to the ascending and descending development of man, the point when Christ incarnated. We then recognise Christ as He is, in His very own forces. A special light then falls on the first lines of the Gospel according to St. John.

As through the freeing of our thought we unite ourselves with the Christ as He was on earth, so through the freeing of the Word we unite ourselves with the Mystery of Golgotha.

And then a third force can become independent through meditation. Meditation can not only affect the brain and the larynx, but the blood-circulation in the heart. We feel this working in a weak form in such processes as blushing and turning pale. There a psychic element affects the pulsing of the blood and reachel to the heart. Now this soul-power can be drawn away from the pulsation of the blood and be made an independent power of the soul. This happens through Meditation, when the will unites itself with one's meditations. Again we meditate: “In the Light radiates Wisdom”; but now we form for ourselves the resolve of uniting our Will with it, so that we will to accompany this radiating wisdom right through the evolution of humanity. Now if we carry out such a Meditation, we reach the point when the forces of the all stream into the soul.

My dear friends, these forces can be grasped, one can draw them out of the blood, though not entirely; but they build a clairvoyant force through which we can transcend our Earth. We then learn to know the Earth as a reincarnating planet, which will incarnate anew and we human beings with it. In this way we grow through the spiritual, psychic world, right out into the Macrocosm.

In a certain way we experience how life between death and birth must be opposed to the life of the one incarnation; for what man experiences after death when free from his body, is experienced here by the Initiate. Let us take the chief characteristic of what offers itself in a condition free of the body, for that is the same as the life after death.

Living in the Microcosm we perceive through the physical organs of the senses; after death we look down on to the body as do the Initiates, but we cannot then perceive what the sense organs perceive. The Initiate can learn about the life between death and rebirth, because he has found here the transition from the Microcosm to the Macrocosm. We cannot converse, with the dead in our ordinary human speech, but if we have learnt to set the power of speech free from the body, then we learn to recognise in what way we can be together with the dead; and if we set free our power of thought, we can speak with those who are living between death and rebirth. In this way a seer could speak with the soul of one who had gone before. He had been an excellent man, but in a material sense had only concerned himself about his own people. He had lived without religious or Anthroposophical ideas. And so the Seer could experience from that man who had died: “I know that I lived with my family, with my own people, and they were the sunshine of my life. They are still living. I know it, but I can only see them up to that point of time when I left the earth. I can establish no connection with them now”. My dear friends, conditions are indeed complicated after death. The seer could see the following: The wife still showed in her being, something like the results of the influence of her husband. The husband could see these results, not as one person sees another, but as if reflected in a mirror. There certainly was a power of seeing but only as if one looked into a mirror and saw an image. That affects one in a terrible way, because one cannot see people as they really are; but just as we can see the physical body in existence, in the same way after death we must learn to see the soul.

A connection however, is still possible between the dead and the living on earth, if only the latter will permeate themselves with spiritual life, on this rests the benefits which we can show to the dead. If anyone has gone through the Gate of Death with whom our interests were bound up, — we can read to him; — we can imagine him standing before us. We read to him in a low voice, or we can send him thoughts, but he will only receive an impression if we send him ideas and concepts containing spiritual life.

Now the task of Anthroposophy will be understood when we realise that in this way we can wipe away the abyss which separates us from the dead. Even a soul which was at emnity with Anthroposophy can feel a benefit through such reading; for there are two sides to be distinguished in the life of our souls. There is what we have experienced there consciously, and the sub-conscious depths, which make their way up, like the dpeths of the sea, it only expresses itself in waves. For instance, there may be two brothers — one an Anthroposophist and the other an enemy. This can only be a fact in the outer world, because the inner process is, that a deep longing for what is religious exists in the soul of the second and he only seeks to deaden it by opposing Spiritual Science.

His conscious idea is a kind of opiate, the object of which is to help him to forget what is going on, in the depths of his soul. Death does away with all that, and we hunger especially after those sub-conscious longings of ours; so these readings of Anthroposophical writings is especially beneficial, because gradually there will come from that the consciousness of union with the dead. But even before we have that feeling the only risk we run is that the dead may not listen to us when we read eo them.

So we see that through the living grasp of Anthroposophical teaching the dead and the living in Microcosm and Macrocosm come into relationship. This occurs in yet another sphere; when the seer observes sleeping souls he sees that some souls go through the portal of sleep who have no spiritual interests; others souls go through the portal of sleep who during the day have taken in spiritual thoughts. A distinction can be seen between them, for sleeping souls are like seeds in a field; and the dead nourish themselves on that which is brought by the sleeping souls in the way of spiritual ideas. If when we go to sleep, we do not carry up into the spiritual world spiritual ideas and concepts we deprive the dead souls of their nourishment. With our reading we can give them spiritual stimulation; with the spiritual ideas we carry through with us on going to sleep we give the dead their nourishment.

And so, through what man creates in his own soul in this way, he throws a bridge across from the Microcosm to the Macrocosm. What we take into ourselves is as a grain of corn; the living mission, not merely the theoretic mission of Anthroposophy. I might represent as theory transformed into the elixir of life. Because immortality then becomes an experience; just as the seed is a guarantee for another seed, so do we develop spiritual, psychic powers which are the guarantee for our coming again. Not only do we understend but we experience immortality in ourselves. Thus from the time we grow grey-headed we experience that part of us which goes through the Gate of Death. In this sense Anthroposophy can become the elixir of life, can permeate us, as the blood permeates our physical body. Only then are Theosophy and Anthroposophy what they ought to be.

If we seek to recognise this and to gather it into the basic feeling that the human soul is just as much connected with the spiritual world as our physical bodies are connected with the physical world, then we may experience the feeling: —

The Beings in the worlds of Space
Who alter in the course of Time,
Speak to the minds of Men.
The Soul of Man experiencing,
Presses beyond the boundaries of Space,
And, undisturbed by Time,
Enters the Realm of the Eternities.

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