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Man's Relationship with the Surrounding World

Lecture by
Dr. Rudolf Steiner
Nuremberg, December 1, 1907
GA 98

This lecture was given at Nuremberg in December of 1907, and is included in Volume 98 of the Bibliographic Survey, 1961. It is lecture 3 of 18 from the lecture series: The Working of Natural Substance and Spiritual Essence in the Visible World, published in German as, Natur- und Geistwesen — Ihr Wirken in Unserer Sichtbaren Welt. It has been translated from notes unrevised by the lecturer, by an unknown translator.

This lecture has been authorized for the Western hemisphere, and published here by kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

Copyright © 1941
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13th of July, 1941. No. 27/28 9th year.

MAN'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SURROUNDING WORLD

Lecture by Dr. RUDOLF STEINER, delivered at NUREMBERG on the 1st of December, 1907.

Let me speak to you to-day of many different things which can easily be linked together and in which you will readily discover a kind of relationship.

Let me speak to you above all of man's connection with the surrounding world, of man's feelings towards this world, and how these feelings can be deepened through a spiritual-scientific world-conception. Above all, I wish to awaken in you the feeling that a man with an average modern education does not contemplate the world in the same way as a follower of spiritual science.

If spiritual science is to be raised from the level at which it is understood by so many, from the level of a theory, or number of teachings, to something which fills our whole soul, purifying and ennobling all our feelings, if it is to be raised to a real life-content, we must be able, as it were, to apply to our daily life what we have received from spiritual science. We have received spiritual science in the right way, if, for instance, we regard a plant, a field, or an animal in a different way from before, if we have feelings that differ from those which we had before we acquired spiritual knowledge. We shall enter more deeply into the meaning of these words, if we penetrate into the real nature of SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS.

You are all familiar with the self-consciousness of man. You know that we distinguish four parts in the human being: His physical body, his etheric body, his astral body and his Ego. What we call self-consciousness arises from the fact that man grows conscious of his Ego. Self-consciousness does not only enable us to gain knowledge of the surrounding world, but also of ourselves; it enables us to know that each one of us is an independent being.

The question now arises: How do matters stand with the animal, the plant and the mineral? — Can we speak in a certain sense of self-consciousness in the case of animal, plant and mineral? People who simply say: “Why should not every stone also have an ego, like man, only that man does not perceive it” ... such people speak without any knowledge of things. For upon the plane which we call the physical, only man is endowed with self-consciousness, with an ego, — and the animal, the plant and the mineral have no ego upon the physical plane. Man is distinguished from animal, plant and mineral by the fact that he has an Ego here, upon the physical plane, in the ordinary world.

But you must not think that my words imply a hard and fast alternative. You must realise clearly that certain higher animals, particularly animals that live much in the company of man, such as domestic animals, have a kind of self-consciousness, resembling that of the lower savages of to-day. There are grades everywhere; we shall not speak now of the various grades, but of the main facts to be found under average conditions. From this standpoint, we may therefore say that, generally speaking, we do not come across self-consciousness in animals, here, upon the physical plane.

What kind of self-consciousness do animals possess? You will easily come to an understanding if you ask yourselves: Where is the self-consciousness of each of my fingers? There you must say: My own consciousness is the self-consciousness of my fingers. It cannot be thought of apart from my common consciousness. My ten fingers have their common consciousness in my Ego; there, they have their common Ego. The same applies to the other members of the body. This constitutes my self-consciousness.

Now transfer this concept to the concept of an animal species. There you must say: Everything in the animal kingdom which has the same form, all the lions, bears, frogs, fish — all, these lions belonging together, are really connected in the same way as my ten fingers. Distance does not count. If we were to ask each finger as to its ego, it would have to answer: It is the Ego of the man to whom we belong. In the same way, if you were to ask a lion in a menagerie, or a lion in Africa, where its ego is to be found, each would point to the common ego of the species, to the group-ego.

All animals having the same form have a common ego. Man differs from the animal through the fact that each human being has his own Ego, whereas the animal has an ego common to his species, a group-ego. You cannot find the egos of the animals in the physical world, for they live in a world which we call the astral plane. There, you will find one Being comprising all the lions. Just as here, upon the physical plane, you may encounter an individual human being enclosed within his skin, so — if you were clairvoyant — you would encounter upon the astral plane the Lion-ego, the Bear-ego, as self-contained Beings, as individual Beings, like the human being here on earth. Upon the astral plane, they are intelligent beings, who are not in any way behind man. The single lion maybe inferior to man, but his ego is a very lofty Being, who must understand and accomplish with penetrating wisdom the whole task connected with the lions here on earth. These animal-egos are therefore highly intelligent Beings.

If you were now to follow clairvoyantly these Beings who constitute the collective egos of the animals, you would see that they exercise a very strange activity. The animals’ tasks are ruled and governed by the Beings whom we call the animal-egos. These animal-egos constantly surround the earth.

Let me select one example out of many, in connection with the task of these animal-egos. If you study a well-known phenomenon, about which men have thought a great deal, if you study the flight of the birds, you will find that the birds that live in northern regions begin to gather in the autumn; they fly from north-eastern to south-western regions, and then southwards. They gather again in the spring and return north. At the foundation of these bird migrations lies the breeding and hatching of the young, etc. The spring migration is a kind of wedding flight. The regularity of these flights is guided by the group-souls; they arrange everything. You may even observe the different forms of these flights: One species flies in this way, another in that way ... some birds fly low over the ground, others high above the clouds. You may find a deep wisdom in all these details. We may say: Everything that constitutes the souls of the animals encircles our planet, encircles our earth. This example shows us how the wisdom of the group-soul rules the flight of the birds.

How do matters stand with plants? — They only have a physical and an etheric body. Individually, they have no independent astral body and no independent ego upon the physical plane. If you could observe yourself during your night's sleep, you would see your physical and etheric body lying on the bed. What remains behind on the bed has the value of a plant; the plant always consists of this. What lives in you during the day, when you are awake, what is contained in your physical body, is outside your physical and etheric body during the night.

In the case of the plant, the astral body and the ego, which you lift out of your physical and etheric body during the night, are always outside. But this going out of the astral body and of the Ego is connected with something else.

Let us suppose that you were all to go to sleep here — which would, of course, not be very desirable; in that case, all your Egos and your astral bodies would be outside. They would not be so separated, as they are now separated from one another, while they live in the physical body: they would intermingle more, they would form a more uniform mass, as if they were to dwell in one another; they would dissolve, as it were, in a common astral body of the earth, and out of this astral body of the earth, which is mingled with that of the Sun, they would draw the strength which eliminates fatigue. This is continually the case with the plants.

In the plant you see before you a physical and an etheric body. But the plant's astral body is outside. The whole earth has an astral body in common, and that is the astral body of the plants. And the earth also has a common Ego, so that you must look for the ego of the plants in the common Ego of the whole earth.

And now all the plants on earth appear to you like your own fingers. The whole earth is an organism, and the plants are literally its members, which share in the common consciousness. What ensues from this, is literally true. You feel pain, when someone hurts you, or cuts into your flesh. Similarly the whole earth may feel pain under certain conditions. But the earth does not feel pain when you pick a flower or cut off a plant; this would not cause it pain. What causes pain to the earth can be understood if we bear in mind the following:

The whole earth must be imagined as an organism and all the plants as members of this common organism. The plants growing upon the earth are connected with it more or less in the same way as the milk is connected with the human being, or with the animal. When the calf sucks the milk of the cow, the cow experiences a feeling of well-being. The whole earth has this feeling when you pick a flower or cut a plant. What the earth sends up to the sun, what it sends out of itself, is in a different form that which lives in the milk. But if you tear out a plant with its root, it is the same as if you were to tear away a part of your body, or cut into your flesh. The earth experiences something quite different when we cut a plant which is firmly rooted in the ground — then the earth experiences well-being —, or when we tear it out with its root. This should not be judged morally, but in accordance with the facts, and these are the facts.

Now try to feel, and not merely to think such a truth. We can feel it in the following way: When we go out in the autumn, and see a farmer mowing down the corn with the scythe, those who know how matters stand can feel what is taking place, they can feel the feelings of well-being and of joy which pass through the astral body of the earth, while the corn is being cut. When the reaper cuts down the corn at harvest time, the whole earth really experiences joy. These kinds of feelings are experienced, when we know how matters stand with the group-soul of animals, the earth-soul of plants, the group-Ego, the Ego of the earth: In the migrating flock of birds we can feel the wisdom; the wise influence of the astral Beings who control them. We can even feel the wind of wisdom, like a current of air. And if we know that in the plants we confront the soul of the earth, we experience feelings and sensations in everything that takes place in the plants. We feel the cosmic Spirit in the environment of the earth, when we observe the ego of the animals; and we feel the cosmic Soul, we experience the feelings of Nature, when we regard the ego of the plants.

This is indeed so. If we look upon the teachings of spiritual science not merely theoretically, if they fill our whole soul, we can feel the presence of the God who always passes through Nature. When one man faces another, he knows — does he not? — that a feeling heart beats in the other’s breast, that he has feelings similar to his own, that he does not merely form thoughts about him, but also feels with him. In the same way, we gradually learn to experience something resembling the warm, pulsing life, the warm feeling of Nature. Nature becomes for us a living knowledge of spirit and soul.

Let us now imagine what it means to spiritualise Nature through this teaching. We feel as if spiritual science enables us to bear ourselves quite differently towards everything, as if our feelings are purified and ennobled. What an indifferent matter it is to an ordinary man when the scythe passes through the corn, and cuts it down! And what a different experience this is to a spiritual investigator, who follows the cutting scythe with his heart, and who know that there below, where the scythe touches, is a living Being, that the astral body of the earth experiences pleasure. Thus Nature gradually becomes full of life for us. This means that we must allow apparently abstract theories to grow into living feelings and sensations. Every step in daily life changes, when we thus allow theory to become feeling.

Now that we understand this, let us pass on to another subject, which we may already have considered from another aspect, but which will appear to us in a new light.

We raise our eyes to the moon and to the sun. We have just heard that a knowledge harmonising with the spirit may kindle in us feelings which enable us to participate in the feelings of our environment. This also extends to lifeless objects, even to the stones.

It is very strange how we may learn to judge many things in our surroundings in a different way: Very often we get quite a wrong conception of things. We think that we go out into the world equipped with knowledge and want to see what is really taking place, when something happens in the world outside. We may, for instance, come to a quarry: There, the workmen are hammering and quarrying the stone. There we come to the ego of the stone ... which is not merely connected with our earthly planet, but with our whole planetary system. The stone has its central point in that of the planetary system. The stone also has feeling, but you must not think that the stone feels pain when it is broken up or destroyed; on the contrary, you may even notice immeasurable pleasure throbbing through the quarry, when the men are working there. But when stone is joined to stone, pain is felt. It is interesting to know this.

Once upon a time, the earth was a glowing, molten mass; you could not have lived there, until it had cooled down. Everything was dissolved in this glowing mass; it had to consolidate, and this process was connected with pain, whereas the earth feels joy, feels pleasure, when its surface is broken up. The whole inanimate Nature suffers, so as to enable you to build your dwelling places, and men who have insight are sensible of this and hear the sighs of pain.

One day Nature will again dissolve into its primeval elements. Lifeless Nature had to be drawn together with pain, so that man might pass through his development. But when man has become so spiritualised, that he no longer needs the solid earth as a foundation, then the earth will be redeemed with him; Lifeless Nature longs for this. What the Apostle Paul said, is true: “The Whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain.” It will be saved, when man approaches a spiritualised condition.

It can be noticed that children, who have a certain feeling for the astral world, because they are differently constituted from grown-ups, can feel something of the sensations of lifeless objects that are being destroyed. Not always — for in many cases it is just naughtiness — but sometimes children destroy things so that they can participate in these feelings of lifeless Nature. Indeed, we can see that they do not always destroy things through naughtiness.

Things often present an entirely different aspect from a spiritual standpoint. You can see, therefore, that the whole earth is permeated with soul and spirit and that it is filled with feeling. The wonderful part of spiritual science is that it leads us into a living Nature. Now you can easily understand that those who view things from the standpoint of occultists, must also look upon the sun and the moon as endowed with soul and spirit, like the human being.

Indeed, that part of the sun which we can see when we look upon it with our physical eye, is connected with the sun's whole being just as man's visible part is connected with his whole being. The body of the sun is the body of the Sun's spirit, and the body of the moon is the body of the Moon's spirit. In a spiritual sense, sun, moon and earth belong together — and this, to be sure, is a very complicated matter.

A whole number of spiritual beings, are connected with the sun; their bodies, and not only their spirits, are in the sun. When an occultist looks into the sun and perceives the sun's rays, this is not only a physical phenomenon, but it is connected with something else.

You can have an idea of what he thus discerns, if you watch, for instance, the giving gesture of a woman in the street, who raises her hand towards a child. You see the movement of her hand and perhaps also the coin which falls into the child's palm. Yet this is only the physical aspect. If you were to penetrate into the process which is expressed by the physical action, you would perceive compassion as the impulse which causes the hand to move. In the child, too, you would see the external process as the expression of a spiritual process, perhaps of gratitude.

He who only sees the sun's physical rays, has the same relation to the spiritual seer, as he who sees only the woman's or the child's physical gesture has to one who also perceives the inner processes. He whose power of vision has been trained through occultism to see the sun's rays coming towards us, also perceives how spiritual beings pour out their feelings in the sun, and how these feelings become deeds. Their deeds are what they send down with the sun's rays. If you observe the astral body of the earth, you will find in it something like gratitude which is felt by the whole plant-world, as it receives the sun's rays.

Still more wonderful is the course of a whole year! When the plants open out, this is a heart-felt psychic expression of the earth's inner processes, and at the same time it expresses the feelings of the creative, gift-bestowing Spirits of the Sun.

Now we should note a certain contrast, but not an opposition, between the Spiritual Beings of the sun and those of the moon. The earth, the sun and the moon belong together. In a very remote past, they were one body. In a remote past, the sun severed its connection with the earth, that is to say, with the present earth and with the present moon.

Why did this take place? This can be explained in many ways. But to-day we shall only give one of the many reasons. When the sun dissolved its connection with the earth, all the Beings whose nature was of higher substance than that which remained behind, left the earth with the sun. For the sun can be the dwelling place of far higher spiritual beings than man. Beings who far surpass man left the earth and became the Spirits of the Sun, and the sun became their dwelling place.

Consequently, if we look into the sun with trained occult vision, we can see the physical sun as a body, as the field of action and the dwelling place of lofty spirits, of the Solar Spirits. For a while, they continued their development upon the same planet upon which we now live, but afterwards they were obliged to leave it, since, in order to continue their development in a corresponding way, they took the finest substances away from it.

One of these Spirits of the Sun left the others, for he had been given a special task — and remained connected with the earth. Later on, the moon also went out from the earth; the earth became independent, and this Solar Spirit, this Spirit of the Sun, who first had quite another task, a task which was not connected with the sun, is J a h v e, or J e h o v a, acting as cosmic intelligence.

Jehovah left the earth with the moon, so that when the earth was severed from the sun and from the moon, certain lofty Solar Spirits live in the sun, and Jehovah in the moon. The soul forces and the spiritual forces of these Beings shine down upon the earth with the light that comes down to us from the sun and from the moon.

Man could not have developed as he did, had he been subjected to the exclusive influence of one of these Beings. Man's development had to follow the course which it actually did follow.

If the earth had only had the sun, and not the moon, man would have been subjected to a constant and rapid metamorphosis and would have developed very quickly. This would not have been good for him; he would have hurried too much and passed over certain stages of his development. The best forces for the development of man are assembled in the sun: but a quick pace was to be avoided. For this reason, Jehovah separated from the others, thus retarding the whole pace of human development.

In the course of development, the forces of the sun and of the moon work together and produce the right mean.

If only the forces of the moon had been active, man would have withered; withered, lifeless natures, mere forms, would have lived upon the earth, instead of living human beings. If you go through a museum and look at statues, you see before you the image of what the moon would have made of you: soulless forms, of great beauty, certainly, but without soul. The sun's forces bring life and movement into these stiff and rigid forms, but under the influence of the sun's forces only, man would have become spiritualised too soon.

The course of earthly development has been arranged in this wise way, and this is why the sun and the moon, with their forces and beings, had to separate from the earth.

If a clairvoyant person could have studied the evolution of the earth from another planet, if he could have watched its development, he would have seen a strange sight, Let us suppose that someone follows the development of our earth from a distant heavenly body: He would, in that case, see not only the physical body of the earth, but also its astral body. If he were to observe this astral body, he would perceive in it all kinds of light-phenomena. He would follow these through thousands of years; and then a moment arrives, when the astral body completely changes, revealing new Colours and entirely new processes

There is such a moment, in the evolution of the earth, if we consider the earth as an organism. Before this, the astral body reveals definite colours; these colours change and are quite different during the two epochs before and after. And if the clairvoyant observer were to investigate this moment, he would discover that it coincides with Christ's death on Golgotha. When the blood streamed out of the wounds of Christ-Jesus, the whole astral, body of the earth changed: This is the cosmic mystery revealing the significance of Christ's death.

This should not be considered merely with the intellect; no occult training would suffice to feel, the whole significance of this event. This event took place; the blood streamed out of the wounds of Christ-Jesus upon the Cross.

What occurred at that time in our world-system? What brought about the change in the astral body of the earth?

The change was brought about through the fact that from this moment onwards one of the Spirits of the Sun united his astral body with that of the earth. We have already explained that there are several Spirits of the Sun in all. One of these, whom we designate as the Spirit of Christ, united his astral body with that of the earth, when the blood streamed out of his physical body. Since that time, the earth has undergone an essential transformation, because it has become united with the body of Christ.

The Christ-principle descended from heavenly heights; until the death of Christ Jesus upon the Cross it lived in the body of the sun. Through Christ's death it became united with the body of the earth. Since then, the earth, as a planetary body, is the body of Christ. He became one with the earth.

Now we can understand in a deeper sense the meaning of the words: “He that treadeth (eateth?) my bread, treadeth me underfoot.” How infinitely deeper in its meaning is even the Lord's Supper, if we know that the body of the earth is the body of Christ!

What is the bread that is baked from the grains of corn? How must the Spirit of the Earth address this Bread? — “This is my body,” — words which should be taken literally. And how must the Spirit of the Earth address the sap-forces that stream through the plants? — “This is my blood.” Just as the blood streams, through the veins of your body, so does the blood in the sap of the plants literally stream through the body of Christ, through the body of the earth!

Who would not own that this gives an infinitely deeper meaning to the Holy Supper? What do we experience when we feel that the astral body of Christ first unites itself with the earth? What do we experience when we perceive the meaning of the words which have just been quoted? What does the human being experience when he penetrates into all this? How deep will be the significance of a sacrament, such as the Mystery of the Lord's Supper!

Particularly through an occult study of these processes, we learn to consider the whole life round about us in a different way. We learn to understand the religious revelations, by taking them literally. And when we learn to grasp them in the way that is explained above, we begin to realise that all external interpretations of religious documents must disappear. For religious documents, which are drawn out of the deepest facts, express these. Genuine religious documents contain nothing that does not correspond with the great truths, such as the union of Christ's Spirit with the earth, when His blood streamed out on Golgotha. How immensely our feelings deepen, when we gain an insight into this mystery!

The task of spiritual science is to work in such a way that man once more learns to awaken in his soul the feelings which once lived in his forefathers — real feelings! In the past, the early Christians could feel what we have now tried to conjure up before our souls, through the teachings of spiritual science. They could feel what we can now experience in our souls. They could feel it deeply! These deep feelings continued to live in them until materialism came, with its intellectual judgments. Then the spirits withdrew, as it were, for nothing exercises such an estranging influence upon spiritual beings as the intellect. When the intellect dissects things and encompasses them in its caustic criticism, it also drives away the spiritual beings from the human soul.

The myth of the good goblins has a deep meaning; they really existed, when as yet the light of the intellect did not enlighten man. This light drives away the goblins. Such feelings existed, when the critical intellect had not as yet permeated the human soul.

Spiritual science is there to give man again warm, living feelings, which penetrate into the whole of Nature, — in spite of the intellectual forces. The development of the intellect could not be held back; the spiritual nature had to withdraw for a time. But the spirit will return. We shall keep our intellectual powers, and in addition gain warm and glowing feelings, enthusiasm and compassion.

When we reach the sources of life, knowledge and feeling will be one. A new life will spring out of religious documents, when that for which Goethe longed, comes about. For, many centuries ago, the majority of men could not read the Bible, although they heard something of its contents. When the art of printing was invented, they were able to read the Bible. But to-day, they no longer read the deep, mysterious documents themselves; they only read the opinions expressed on the Bible by critical Christians. Goethe longed for an age in which men would once more learn to read the BIBLE, and not books ON the Bible. For to-day, they read books on the Bible! For a few pence, one can buy books proving that the Bible is a patch work of single documents, like the Old Testament. A book has even been written, where every sentence, printed in different colours, shows what was written at an earlier and at a later date, the additions, etc., etc. It is the so-called “Rainbow-Bible”!

These things are the outcome of the critical intellect, which can only perceive that these things were written by one or the other author upon the physical plane, It cannot see that the authors of the biblical writings were all of them disciples of great initiates, who possessed a direct insight into the spiritual world. The essential thing is to recognise the true spirit in the words, to penetrate into that which lies behind them, to understand that the religious documents were written from the depths of a true spiritual knowledge.

Thus we have seen in what way we should understand these things, for only then can we learn what is important to us, so that we may rise to the right and true feeling, which means the right and true life.




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