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Woman and Society (Die Frauenfrage)

Schmidt Number: S-1426

On-line since: 14th January, 2001

A lecture by
Rudolf Steiner
Hamburg, November 17, 1906
Bn/GA 54

A lecture on feminism from the perspective of the science of the spirit.

This lecture, translated from the German by an unknown translator, was given in Hamburg on November 17, 1906. In the collected edition of Rudolf Steiner's works, the volume containing the German text is entitled: Die Weltraetsel und die Anthroposophie (vol. 54 in the Bibliographic Survey).

The lecture is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

Copyright © 1985
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IT MAY PERHAPS seem strange that something like our theme today, which touches so strongly on current everyday issues, could be considered from the world-view of Spiritual Science, from a view of life and the world today which looks to the very greatest enigmas of human existence. In many circles which occupy themselves with Spiritual Science, or in such circles as have heard something of the spirit in this world-outlook, there is the view that Spiritual Science is something that does not concern itself in any way with current questions, with the interests of immediate life. People believe — some as a reproach to the Theosophical movement, and others seeing this as one of its advantages — that Spiritual Science concerns itself only with the great questions of Eternity, that it holds itself aloof from everyday events. People consider it, in both a good and a bad sense, to be something unpractical. But if, in our time, Spiritual Science is to fulfill a task, a mission, then it must take hold of what moves the heart, it must be able to take up a position with regard to those questions which play into our day-to-day thinking and into our day-to-day striving and hope.

It must have something to say about those questions which are a part of our times. For how could it be that questions which come so close to the human soul — like the question concerning women which is to occupy us today — how could it be that these, too, should not be judged from a world-view which looks to the great problems of human existence. And it is just this that is often and rightly said against Spiritual Science; that it has not found the way to life as it is in reality. Nothing would be more wrong than if Spiritual Science were to be led increasingly into asceticism, into a direction hostile to life. It will prove itself far more by building a real foundation for the practice of life. It must not float in Cloud-cuckoo land or lose itself in bare abstractions, but must have something to say to human beings of the present.

Just as we have spoken here about the social question, today we want to speak from a great cultural standpoint, from a spiritual-scientific standpoint, of the question regarding women. Of course, no one must imagine that Spiritual Science should speak about this question in the same way as do politics or current printed matter. But then again, one should not believe that what, in effect, is a sort of parochial politics is the only thing that is practical. The individual who has always shown himself to be truly practical is the one who can see beyond the immediate present. And who was the practical individual when in the last century the postage stamp had to be invented and introduced into everyday life, and which since then, has transformed the whole of our life of public commerce, our whole social life? It happened little more than fifty years ago. The idea of this arrangement — the practicality of which is doubted today by no one — came at that time from someone not engaged in practical things. The Englishman, Hill, did not work for the Post Office. But one who did, had the following ingenious comment to make; One could not believe that this arrangement would cause such a great change in commercial or business life, but were that to be the case, the post office buildings would not be large enough to cope with the postal demands!

Another example. When the first railway was to be built from Berlin to Potsdam, the head of the Post Office, Nagler said, ‘Well, if people want to throw their money out of the window they might as well do so directly. I send two post-coaches and nobody travels in them.’ And of course you know the other incident which occurred in the Bavarian college of doctors: the learned gentlemen were asked, purely from a practical, medical point of view, if the nervous system could stand it if railways were built. The learned gentlemen said it was unpractical to the highest degree, because it would cause severe damage to the nervous system.

This is by way of illustration of the relation of the ‘practical people’ — in matters of the issues of the day — to those who, with somewhat broader vision, see beyond into the future. These, the disparaged idealists who do not remain attached to what has been the ‘done thing’ since the days of yore, these are the really practical ones. And from this point of view Spiritual Science appears also today as a vehicle which carries the answers to many questions — and also for our question today. For this reason anyone who deals with these questions from a higher point of view can accept such a reproach without feeling uneasy, and can remember other examples where, believing they had a monopoly in practicality, people have judged in a similar way.

Few will deny that the question regarding women is one of the greatest present questions of our culture, for today this is simply a fact. There are opponents to certain views on the question of women, but the fact that this question exists will be denied by no one. Yet if we look back to times that are not so far behind us, we find that even the leading scientific and other great minds have seen in the women's question something absurd, something to be suppressed by all possible means. As an example, we can recall the statements of the anatomist, Albert, a truly significant man, who twenty five years ago, pitted himself with the greatest energy against the admission of women into the learned professions, and who, from the standpoint of his anatomical-physiological knowledge, tried to prove that it would be impossible for women to get into the educated professions or ever be able to fulfill the profession of a doctor. With the great authority of natural science it is hardly surprising that one believes those to be capable of judgment who, in relation to the natural-scientific view of the human being, are supposed to know something. A short while ago a booklet came out in Germany: ‘Uber den Physiollogischen Schachsinn des Weibes’ (Concerning the physiological feeble-mindedness of women). This booklet stems from a man Möbius, who indeed, is not at all an insignificant physiologist, who has said some good things, but who, on the other hand, has exposed not so much himself but the science of Physiology to ridicule by presenting, little by little, all the various great personalities of world-historic development of recent times — Goethe, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche — as pathological phenomena. He has done this, furthermore, in such a grotesque and radical manner, that one would have to ask with each genius, ‘Where does the insanity lie?’ Goethe, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche — all are dealt with from the standpoint of psychiatry, of psychological pathology.

When one goes more deeply into these things, they all fall into only one category — one that is characterised by the example of the famous naturalist who tried some time ago to attribute the ‘inferior talent’ of women to the lighter weight of the female brain! This is no fable! This man asserted that the greatness of the spirit was dependent on the size of the brain, and that women, on average, have a smaller brain than men. And quite truly it then happened that the methods of this learned professor were applied to himself. After his death, his brain was weighed, and it turned out that he had an abnormally small brain, a much smaller brain than those women whom he held to be of inferior mind because of their lighter brain weight. It would be mischievous if one were to try and examine, from a psyche-pathological standpoint, a booklet like this one on the physiological feeble-mindedness of women, and if one were to try to catch out the writer in question as happened in the case of Professor Bischoff.

So you can see that the women's question does not bear witness to the fact that those who opposed it were particularly discerning The question regarding women includes far more than that of admitting women into the learned professions, and of the question of women's education. The issue concerning women embraces an economic, a social and a psychological side, and many other aspects as well. But it is precisely the question of women's education that has, in fact, borne fruits. Almost all the opinions in this area that have been formed out of theory have been refuted by actual practice. Little by little women have fought for, and won — in spite of the opposition of the opinions of a man's world — admission to most male professions, including that of lawyer, doctor, philologist and so on. Women have taken up these professions under significantly less favourable conditions than men. One has only to consider under what unfavourable circumstances women have recently entered universities. With the normal educational preparation this is really not to difficult, but women had to get there with very much less preparation. Not only through tremendous hard work, but also through a broad spectrum of abilities, they have for the most part overcome all the difficulties. In determination, in hard work, and also in mental ability they are in no way inferior to men, so that reality in practice, has resolved the matter in a completely different way than many, twenty to thirty years ago, had imagined in theory.

Various professors, led by their prejudices, refused women entry into university. And yet today, very many women graduates stand in the world, in no way less able or less perceptive than men.

This however, illustrates the outer situation alone, and only shows us that we must look more deeply into the nature of the human being, into the nature of women, if we want to understand the matter as a whole. For there is no one today who would not be affected in some way by the significance of this question. Although women have won access to the learned professions — and to numerous others — and although, in actual practice a large part of the question concerning women's abilities has been answered, nevertheless, if we wish to progress consciously, clearly, and with insight, if we wish to discuss this question from all sides, then we must look more deeply into the nature of the human being.

What a lot has been said about the difference between man and woman! Everywhere today you can read in short reviews how many different opinions there are concerning the difference between men and women, and how, from these differing opinions people have tried to form a view concerning the question of women. A great deal has been written on the psychological aspect of the women's question. There is no better book on this aspect — in so far as such books are written by non-theosophists — than the one by a gifted woman who is active generally in present day literature: ‘Zur Kritik der Weiblichkeit’ (A critique of femininity) by Rosa Meyreder. You can find different views catalogued elsewhere so let us look at a few of them.

Let us take the man Lombroso. He describes Woman by saying that at the centre of her emotional character is the feeling of submissiveness, the feeling of dependence. George Egerton on the other hand says that every woman who looks dispassionately at a man sees him as a big child, and it is precisely from this that the love of power, of domination comes, which is so totally inherent in a woman that it insinuates itself more and more into the central position in the female soul.

A great scientist, Virchov, says that if one studies Woman from an external, physiological standpoint, one finds gentleness, mildness and calmness to be the basis of her being. Havelock Ellis, an expert of equally high standing in these matters, says that the fundamental characteristic of the female soul is quick temperedness, initiative and daredevilry. Mobius finds the basic feature of the female nature to be conservatism: to be conservative, he maintains, is the life-element of the female soul. Against this we can put the judgment of an old and good expert of the psyche, Hippel. He says that the real revolutionary within humanity is Woman.

Go to the vast majority of people and you will find a very strange but fairly common view of the relation between intellect, feelings and passion in men and women. Then, in contrast look at Nietzsche's view. He says that the intellect belongs primarily to Woman, and feelings and passion to Man. Compare this with the common view. It is the exact opposite. Thus we could say a great deal and, on the one side, could list all the views which ascribe to woman all the passive, the weak qualities, and on the other side all those which maintain the opposite. But certainty comes somewhat to a standstill when so many different views are possible.

Science too has occupied itself a great deal with this question, and Science enjoys great authority. But the statements of scientists concerning the real fundamental characteristics of woman immediately start contradicting one another. And if we move on from scientists and psychologists to cultural history and hold to what has always been said — that man is the really creative active one, and woman more the companion, the follower — then such a view would be prejudiced because we have taken too short a time span into consideration, one has only to look at those peoples who still represent what is left of ancient cultures, or at primitive peoples, and one has only to follow the history of humanity's development to see that there were times once, and there are still such peoples today, in which the woman, in the most eminent sense, participated and participates in ‘masculine’ work.

In short, the opinions vary in all directions. Even more noticeable for us is the fact that a woman of one particular people (or nation or tribe) will differ far less from a man of the same people than from a woman of another. From this we can draw the conclusion that we should not talk at all in terms of man and woman, male and female, but that, alongside the characteristics of sexual gender, there is possibly something far more important in human society than the sexual characteristics of gender and which is quite independent of them. If one looks impartially at the human being, it is usually possible to distinguish what is of necessity connected to all that is related to the sexes, and what points beyond these connections into other realms entirely. Of course a materialistic view of the world and of the human being, which recognises only what can be touched and seen, naturally sees in man and woman only the big physiological differences; and anyone who remains with this materialistic view will simply miss, will overlook something that is far greater and more decisive than sexual differences — he will overlook the individuality which goes beyond gender and is independent of it.

To shed light here, to see the human being here in the right way: this must be the task of a world-view oriented towards the spirit.

Before we look at the women's question from this point of view, we will just look at aspects of what this question represents.

People talk about ‘the women's question’ in general, but this also, like the concept of Woman, is an unacceptable generalisation. One should not really speak of the women's question in general at all, because this question must he modified in relation to the different social classes of humanity. Does the question concerning woman exist in the same way in the lower classes, in the manual-worker class, as in the educated classes? The lowest classes, the actual manual workers, try with all means at their disposal to get their women out of the factories and the textile mills, so that they can be with the family. The higher classes strive for exactly the opposite. They strive to make it possible for the woman of the family to work in the world outside. This then is something of the social aspect of the women's question.

Alongside this, of course, there is also the general social question concerning women which demands for them in the political and cultural context the same rights as those enjoyed by men. People have the view today that they are speaking of things which must follow from the very nature of humanity itself. People do not consider, however, that the life of humanity changes far faster than on the surface it may appear to do. A man, Naumann, who from his political standpoint also occupied himself with the women's question, was at pains to study in connection with this the St. Paul's Church discussions of 1848 in which a lot was said concerning human rights. There they debated to and fro the self-evident rights of man. Nowhere, however, is it mentioned that these rights should be the same for women as for men. That never entered anyone's head. The women's question came into this area only in the second half of the 19th century. And it seems fully justified here to throw up the other question: How is it then that this aspect of the women's question has been considered only in our time? Let us be quite clear about this.

In many ways today the women's question is presented, from both the masculine and the feminine side, as though it is only now that women have to struggle to gain a definite and significant influence in all areas of life. In many respects these discussions are characterised by great shortsightedness, for one must ask oneself: In other times, in all earlier times, have women then had no influence at all? Have they always been fettered beings? It would be ignorance if one were to assert such a thing.

We can look at the age of the Renaissance and take one of the most widely-used books about that period — the book by Burckhardt. Here we see what a profound influence women had, for example, on the whole intellectual life of Italy; how woman stood in the foreground of intellectual life, how they were equal to men and played a great part. And finally, had one spoken of women's lack of influence in the first half of the 19th century to such an individual as Rahel Varnhagen, she would have been astonished that such a theme could have been brought up. She would not have understood how anyone could think in such a way. But there is many a man today who exercises his general right to vote, or even debates in Parliament and gives long speeches, who is truly a non-entity when one thinks of the entire cultural progress that has been brought forth by this woman, Rahel Varnhagen. Anyone who studies the intellectual life of the first half of the 19th century and sees what sort of influence this woman had on the men of the 19th century, will no longer be tempted to say that woman was a being without influence on those times. The matter simply rests on the fact that opinions have changed. One did not believe at that time that one needed a simple right to vote, that one had to debate in Parliament, or that one had to study at university in order to have an influence on the course of culture. One looked at it differently in every way. This is not said with any conservative intention, but as evidence that the whole question is a product of our present culture and can be posed only today in the way it is posed at present, and can be posed only today in all areas of life (not only in the area of higher education).

Just take a look at the relation of man and woman in earlier times when quite different economic conditions prevailed. Look at the peasant woman, the female labourer in earlier centuries. One cannot say that the peasant woman had fewer rights than the peasant, or a more limited sphere of influence. She had one particular department to look after and he another. And it was just the same in the crafts. What in the working classes has today become the real women's question has become so because in past centuries and particularly in the last century, our culture has become, in the greatest sense, a male culture (Männerkultur). The age of the machine is a product of the male culture, and it is simply the quality and nature of this culture that renders far more impossible the way a woman can work and be active than was the case in earlier economic life. Woman is not suited to the factory and there are quite different problems there than when she is engaged in the farmyard, in the house or in the old craft-industries as manageress, contractor or co-worker. Also, as regards the academic professions, everything in our world, in our perception, has changed. Our whole estimation of the professions has become something different. It is not so long ago that what today is regarded as a learned profession was really little more than a higher craft. There was a particular way of being active in law, in medicine, and even a relatively short time ago it would never have entered anyone's head to derive a religious world-view from what was presented in medicine, in law or in natural science. Today it is the specialist knowledge of what is researched in the laboratory that has gradually become the domain of men; and it is from this that a higher world-view is extracted. Earlier, however, like a spirit over everything that was studied in the university faculties, there hovered Religion and Philosophy — and it was within these, to begin with, that higher education was to be sought. The truly human element that which spoke to the heart and soul, that which spoke to the human being of his yearnings and hopes of eternity, that which gave him strength and certainty in life — this element was the same for both men and women, it arose from an origin other than from the laboratory or from physiological research. One could attain to the highest heights of philosophical and religious development without any kind of academic education at all. One could do this at any time — even as a woman. Only because the materialistic age has made so-called positive science with its so-called facts and basis of higher problems only because of this is it so that, alongside the general inclination arising from practical life, another inclination, one of the heart, a longing of the soul had to arise and drive women even to look into the mysteries offered us by the microscope, the telescope, and the research of physiology and biology. For, as long as people thought that decisions could not be made by means of a microscope concerning the life and immortality of the human being, so long as people knew that these truths had to be drawn from quite other sources, there could not be such a clamouring for scientific studies as there is today. We must be aware of this: that the trend of our age has generated this desire for academic education and that the women's question itself has come up in our time through the whole nature of our culture.

However, in contrast to everything that this new age has brought, in contrast to everything that rests on a purely materialistic basis, we also meet, in the spiritual-scientific outlook, a movement that is still little heeded. It is the spiritual-scientific world-view which will have to solve the questions of Life and co-operate in all the cultural streams and strivings of the future. But no one can fail to recognise this world-view when one believes it to be nothing but the imaginings of a wild fantasy. Yet it is the outcome of the spiritual research of those best acquainted with the needs and longing of our time, who take it most seriously. Only those who do not wish to know anything about the needs of our time can still remain distant from this world-stream which extends eminently and practically into all questions. Spiritual science is not something that indulges in unfruitful criticism, it is not something conservative. It regards materialism as justified, and takes into account that it arose in the last century. It was necessary that old religious feelings and traditions lost their importance in comparison to the claims of the natural sciences. Spiritual science can see how it has come about that physiology and biology have become deniers of immortality, even if it doesn't agree with them. This had to happen. But humanity will never be able to live without a glimpse of, without knowledge of real super-sensible, spiritual things. Only for a short time will people be able to keep on making do as they do today with specialist knowledge and with what arises in many ways from this direction as religious results or non-results.

But a time will come when people will feel that the wellsprings of the spirit in life must be opened. And Spiritual Science is the advance post of this battle for the opening of the true spiritual wellsprings of humanity. Spiritual Science will, on a much broader basis, be able again to tell humanity how it is related to the being of the soul, to what rises up above the transient and the fleeting. On a far broader basis than was ever formerly the case in the public world, Spiritual Science will proclaim that which gives certainty, strength, courage and endurance in life, that which can shed light into those questions which occupy day-to-day living and which cannot be solved from the material side alone.

It is a strange coincidence — many will understand this that at the beginning of the Theosophical movement there stands a woman, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky — that precisely here we have the unprecedented experience, that here we have a woman with the most all-embracing mind, with the most penetrating force and energy of mind who has written works compared to which all the spirituality which our culture (Geisteskultur) has otherwise produced is but a trifle.

Now, perhaps you believe nothing of the so-called occult teachings, the so-called insights into the spiritual world that are contained in Blavatsky's ‘Isis Unveiled’ or the so-called ‘Secret Doctrine’ — perhaps you believe nothing of this; but take a look at these books some time and ask yourself: ‘How many thinkers of today have known more penetratingly about so many things as Blavatsky?’

The two enormous volumes of The Secret doctrine give information on almost all areas of spiritual life, ancient culture, ancient religion; on all possible branches of natural science, social life, astronomy and physiology. Perhaps what is said there is incorrect; but even if it were, I would still ask you: who is in the position today to speak in such a competent way even if incorrectly — about all these areas, and to show thereby that he has acquainted himself deeply with all of them? you need only take into account not solely the correctness, but also the breadth of mind — which cannot be denied — and you have the example of a woman who has shown, not in this or that branch of human thinking, but in the entire range of human mental and spiritual life what the female mind can achieve with regard to a higher world-view. Even if one takes an unbiased view of Max Muller's works on religious history, and compares their content with the all-embracing content of the Secret Doctrine, one will see how far the latter surpasses the former. Thus it is a strange circumstance that a woman stands at the outset of this Theosophical movement. This is perhaps explained precisely through those things which have also shown us the women's question as arising from our present intellectual and spiritual life.

If we look more deeply into the course of human spiritual development, then what otherwise might astound us will perhaps appear as a spiritual-historical necessity. In order, however, to be able to do this fruitfully, we must briefly look once more into the being of Man. We will give a picture, sketching human nature in broad outline.

What materialism, what the everyday world-view of human beings is aware of, is regarded by spiritual-scientific research, by Theosophy, as just one part of the human being. I can only give you a few rough sketches today. They are not mere imaginings or daydreams, but are things that are as certain as mathematical judgments are for mathematicians.

So, what the human being knows in his everyday view, in his usual knowledge of human beings, is just one part of the human being: the physical body. This human physical body has the same physical and chemical forces, laws and substances that are found outside in so-called inanimate nature. Outside are the forces which form the dead stone and are the ‘life’ within the stone and the same forces are also in the physical body of the human being. Beyond this, however, the spiritual-scientific world-view sees a second body in man's nature, to begin with, which man has in common with plants. Present-day science in its speculations already speaks a little of that which Spiritual Science is pointing to, of a particular ‘life-principle’, for the laws of materialism which, fifteen years ago were still valid for many, have been overcome by those with insight. But present day scientific research will only be able to deduce this second body through a kind of speculation. Theosophical, spiritual research, however, has reference to the testimony of those who have a higher faculty of perception, and who have a similar relation to the average person in the street as does a sighted man to a blind one. This research has reference to the testimony of such individuals who know this second body as something real, something actually there. Anyone who knows nothing of this has no more right to judge than a blind person has the right to pass judgment on colours.

All talk of limits to human knowledge is a nonsense. One should rather ask: Is it not possible for the human being to rise to a higher level of knowledge? Are not what one calls the eyes and the ears of the spirit perhaps a reality? There have always been individuals who have worked on certain latent faculties and who can thus see more than others. Their testimony might be just as valid as the testimony of those who look through the microscope. How many people have actually seen what the scientific history of creation teaches? I would like to ask, how many people have seen what they talk about? How many, for example, have in actual fact, proof of the development of the human embryo? If they were to ask themselves such questions they would see what a blind faith it is that governs them. And if it is a justified faith, then the faith based on the testimony of the Initiates who speak from their spiritual experiences is equally justified.

Thus, in a spiritual-scientific sense, we speak of a second body of man's being. It is the same thing which, in the Christian religion, we find designated by St. Paul as the spiritual body. We speak of the etheric or life-body. Any particular sum of chemical and physical forces would never crystallise themselves into a life form if they were not formed principally by that which permeates every living body as its etheric or life-body. Thus we call this second body the etheric or life body. It is that which the human being has in common with the entire plant and animal world.

But the plant does not have what we call urges, desires, passions. A plant has no inner sensation (Empfindung) of pleasure or pain, for one cannot speak of sensation when one observes that a being reacts only to what is external. One can only speak of sensations when the outer stimulus is reflected inwardly, when it is there as an inner experience. This domain of present-day physiology, which speaks of a body of sensations in the plant, only shows a tremendous dilettantism in the comprehension of such concepts.

Where animal life begins, where pleasure, pain, urges, desires and passions begin, one speaks of the third body of the human being, the astral body. Man has this in common with the whole animal world.

Now there is something in the human being which goes over and beyond the animal world and which makes man the crown of creation. We can best bring this before our souls by making a small and subtle observation.

There is in the whole range of the language one name which differs from all others. Everyone can say ‘table’ to a table, or ‘chair’ to a chair. But there is one name which cannot be used in the same way. No one can say ‘I’ to me and mean me. The word ‘I’ can never fall on our ears when it means me. People have always felt this to be something of essential importance. And one found, even in the most popular of ancient religious faiths, that an important point regarding the soul lay here. Where the soul begins to feel the divine in itself, where it begins in this dialogue with itself to say ‘I’ to itself, to converse with itself in such a way that cannot come from outside, then that is where the divine being of the soul begins its path of development in man. The god in the human being is made known here. The secret and ancient teachings of the Hebrews perceived this. Thus this name was called the unutterable Name of God, the name which means: “I am the I-am”.

In the belief of the Old Testament, this name signified the annunciation of the Godhead in the human soul. For this reason tremendously powerful feelings and sensations went through the throng when the priest announced this name of the Godhead in the human soul: Jahve. This is the fourth body in the human being, with which his external nature ends and his divinity begins. And we have seen how man is guided, as it were, by outer forces upwards to the ‘I’. There he stands, and from then onwards he begin to work in himself. This ‘I’ works downwards into the three other parts of the human being. Be quite clear about this difference that exists between human beings from this point of view. Compare a savage with an average European, or with a noble idealist perhaps Schiller or Francis of Assisi.

If the astral body is the bearer of desires and passions, we must say: the astral body of the savage is completely surrounded by the forces of Nature, but the average European has worked something into his astral body. He says to himself of certain passions and desires, ‘you cannot pursue these’ — for he has transformed his astral body. And it has been transformed even more by such a personality as Schiller, and still more by a personality who stands in no relation at all to passions — such as Francis of Assisi — and who has completely purified and is master of this astral body, over all urges and desires. Thus one can say of a human being who has worked on himself, that his astral body consists of two parts. One part is that which is given by Nature, by divine powers; and the other is that part which he himself has developed within it. This second part, the part transformed by the ‘I’, we call Spirit-Self or Manas.

Now there are things which go more deeply still into the nature of man, where the ‘I’ works down further than just into the astral body. As long as you check your vices simply by moral and legal maxims, you are working on your astral body. But there are other cultural means whereby the ‘I’ works on itself, and those are the religious impulses of humanity. What stems from religion is a driving force of the spiritual life, is more than external legal maxims or moral tenets. When the ‘I’ works on the basis of religious impulses it works into the etheric body. In just the same way, when the ‘I’ is absorbed in gazing on a work of art and gains an intimation that behind the existence of the senses there can be embodied an eternal, hidden element, then the artistic image works not only into the astral body of the human being but ennobles and purifies the etheric body. If you could only observe, as a practicing occultist, the way in which a Wagner opera works on the different members of the human nature, it would convince you that it is especially music which is able to send its vibrations deep into the etheric body.

The etheric body is also the bearer of everything that is more or less permanent in human nature. One must be quite clear what kind of difference exists between the development of the etheric body and the astral body. Let us recall our own life. Just think of all you have learnt since you were eight; it is a tremendous amount. Consider the content of your souls: principles, mental pictures and so on. These are changes, transformations of your astral body. But now think how little in most people — there has been a change in what we call habits, temperament and general abilities. If someone is short-tempered, this already showed itself early on and has changed little. If someone was a forgetful child, he will still be a forgetful person today. One can show this unequal development by a small example. Think of this development as if the changes in the astral body could be shown by the minute-hand of a clock, and the changes in the etheric body by the hour-hand. What the human being changes in his etheric body, what the ‘I’ has made out of the etheric body, is called Buddhi or, if one wishes to use the term — Life-Spirit.

There is a still higher development which the occult pupil undergoes. This rests on the fact that one becomes a completely different human being in the etheric body. When the ordinary person learns, he learns with the etheric body. When the pupil of Spiritual Science learns, he must become a different person. His habits and temperament must change; for it is this that allows him to see into other worlds. His whole etheric body is gradually transformed.

The most difficult thing for a human being is to learn to work, even into the physical body. One can become master of how the blood circulates; one can gain influence over the nervous system over the process of breathing and so on; one can also learn here. When the human being is able to work into his physical body and learn thereby to enter into a connection with the Cosmos, he develops his Atman. This is the highest member of the being of Man; and because it is connected with the process of breathing (Atmung) it is called Atman. Spirit-Man is then found in physical man.

Thus, just as the rainbow has seven colours and the scale seven notes, so we have seven members of the being of man. The human being, then, consists of: first, the physical body; second, the etheric body; third, the astral body; fourth, the ‘I’; fifth, Manas; sixth, Buddhi; and seventh, Atman. When Man arrives at the highest stage of his development, when he makes his own physical body, then we have true Spirit-Man.

Now with regard to the question concerning us today, we must look more closely at this being, at this nature of Man. A riddle in the relations between man and woman will resolve itself here in a strange way out of human nature itself. It is precisely occultism, or the intimate observation of the human nature, that guides us into the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body, the ‘I’, and that which the ‘I’ has done.

In every human being — this is a fact — the etheric body consists of two parts; the etheric body of a man, as he lives among us, shows itself to have feminine features, and the etheric body of a woman to have masculine features. Many facts in life become clearer when we recognise that in a man there is something of the feminine nature, and in a woman, a more masculine nature. From this it can be explained why certain character features can arise in Man. In truth we never have before us in the physical, material human body anything other than a physical expression of the totality of the individuality. The human soul forms for itself a body with two poles, just as a magnet does. It forms for itself a masculine and a feminine part, each of which can be either a physical body, or reacts at another time as the etheric body. Hence, with regard to those emotions which are associated with the etheric body — devotion, courage, love — a woman can clearly evince masculine characteristics, and a man womanly characteristics. In contrast, with regard to all those characteristics which depend more on the physical body, the consequences of gender will express themselves in outer life.

Hence it seems clear that in every human being, if we wish to consider him as a totality, we have a phenomenon before us with two parts — one revealed and material, and one hidden and spiritual. And only that man is a complete human being who is capable of combining an external masculinity with a beautiful feminine character within. And it is precisely this that the greatest spirit, namely, those of a mystical nature, have always felt in the spiritual life of the past.

This is an important point. Men have played a greater part because materialism impels itself towards an external culture. This external culture is a man's culture because it was meant to be a material culture. But we must also be aware that in the development of world history one cultural epoch gives way to another, and that this one-sided masculine culture must find its completion through that which lives in every human being. One senses this precisely in the age of this masculine culture. That is why, when the mystics spoke from the innermost depths of their souls, they defined this soul as something feminine. And it is from this that you find everywhere the comparison of the soul, receptive as it is to the world, with Woman; and on this is based Goethe's saying in the ‘Chorus mysticus':

Everything transient
Is but illusion
The inadequate —
Here it becomes event;
The indescribable —
Here it is done;
The Eternal-feminine
Bears us aloft.

It is nonsense to analyse this saying in a trivial way. One can analyse it in a right way, and in the true Goethean sense, when one says: He who knew something of noble spiritual culture also pointed to the feminine character of the soul; and precisely from this masculine culture did the saying: ‘The Eternal feminine bears us aloft’ struggle free. Thus the greater world, the Macrocosm was pictured as a man, and the soul, which was fructified by the wisdom of the Cosmos, as the feminine.

And what then is this peculiar way of thinking which has developed in men over the centuries, this logic? If we wish to look into the depths of its nature, then we must see something feminine — imagination — which must be fructified by the masculine.

Thus, when we consider that which grows over and beyond the differences of gender, we see the higher nature of the human being — that which the ‘I’ creates out of the lower bodies. Man and woman must look on their physical body as an instrument which enables them, in one direction or another, to be active as a totality in the physical world. The more human beings are aware of the spiritual within them, the more does the body become an instrument, and the more do they learn to understand people by looking into the depths of the soul.

This, indeed, will not give you a solution to the Woman's question, but it will give you a perspective. You cannot solve the Woman's question with trends and ideals! In reality you can only solve it by creating that concept, that disposition of soul which enables men and women to understand each other out of the totality of human nature. As long as people are preoccupied with matter, a truly fruitful discussion on the Woman's question will not be possible.

For this reason it should not surprise us that, in an age that has given birth to a masculine culture, the spiritual culture which has begun in the Theosophical movement had to be born from a woman. Thus this Theosophical or spiritual-scientific movement will prove itself to be eminently practical. It will lead humanity to overcome gender in itself and to rise to the level where Spirit-Man or Atman stands which is beyond gender, beyond the personal — to rise to the purely human. Theosophy does not speak of the genesis and development of the human being in general, so that it is gradually recognised. Thus there will gradually awake in woman a consciousness similar to that which, during this masculine culture, has awoken in men. Just as Goethe speaking from the depths of soul, once said, ‘The Eternal-feminine bears us aloft’, so others too who, as women feel in themselves the other side of the human being, and who, in a truly practical sense understand it spiritual-scientifically, will speak of the Eternal-masculine in the feminine nature. Then true understanding and a true solution of soul will be possible for the Women's question.

For external nature is the physiognomy of the soul life. We have nothing in our external culture other than what human beings have created, what human beings have translated from impulses into machines, into industry, into the legal system. In their development, external institutions reflect the development of the soul. An age, however, which clung to the outer physiognomy, was able to erect barriers between men and women. An age that is no longer entrenched in what is material, what is external, but which will receive knowledge of the inner nature of the human being which transcends sex, and will, without wishing to crawl into bleakness or asceticism or to deny sexuality, enable and beautify the sexual and live in that element which is beyond it. And people will then have an understanding for what will bring the true solution to the woman's question, because it will present, at the same time, the true solution to the eternal question of humanity. One will then no longer say: ‘The Eternal-feminine bears us aloft’, or ‘The Eternal-masculine bears us aloft’, but, with deep understanding, with deep spiritual understanding one will say: ‘The Eternal-human bears us aloft’.




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