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The Cosmic Feminine:
Comets, as noted by astronomers themselves, are a bewilderingly disparate group of objects. Comets have very long tails, or almost none; they skim the sun within 300,000 miles (where temperatures vaporize metals), or approach no closer than the cold space near earth; return every 3 - 10 years, a few dozen or hundreds, or millions, or never; they can have beautiful symmetry or are strangely asymmetrical.
Modern scientists are trying to accommodate comets as variations on a theme - not an easy task despite the fact that everyone knows a comet when they see one. Dr. Rudolf Steiner, in the course of his clairvoyant investigations, made regular descriptions of the nature of comets. He was not a theorist, and no unifying concept is intended. His observations should be added to those of material science, avoiding modern extrapolations and theories (itself not an easy task in this domain), and of course understanding the spiritual basis of his method. For the purpose of initial surveys of Steiner's facts, I prefer to simply list pertinent references chronologically.
His first description of comets is of a strictly esoteric character, and given on 2 Sept. 1906: A comet is an assemblage of Kama, desire-substance, without the corresponding spiritual substance. The comet gets as far only as the astral body. The visibility of comets arises from the powerful friction caused by the astral body passing through etheric substance. (At the Gates of Spiritual Science, 1970, pg. 146)
In the same year, Steiner predicted the occurrence of cyanides associated with comets due to their reflection of a previous stage of solar system evolution, but I have not yet had access to those lectures. The next reference I have is from 5 Mar. 1910, and includes a reference back to this prediction, which by then had been spectroscopically demonstrated. This followed a comparative description of certain aspects of comets and moon.
Is there perhaps something in our solar system that brings about, as a kind of mirror-image on earth, the contrast between man and woman? Yes, this higher polarity can be designated as the contrast between the cometary and lunar natures, between comets and the moon. Just as the contrast of sun - earth is reflected in our head and limbs, so in feminine and masculine is reflected the contrast of comet - moon, (The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, 1983, pg. 57) Then came the comment on cyanides noted above, pp. 60-61.
We can also express it this way: as what is done by a woman out of passion, out of feeling, is related to the dry, reasonable masculine judgement, so is the regular, reasonable course of the moon related to the cometary phenomenon that projects apparently irregularly into our existence. Mark well - I do not mean the spiritual life of a woman but the feminine spiritual life. There is a difference. The spiritual life of a woman naturally includes masculine characteristics. (The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, 1983, pp. 62-63)
The comets appear at great intervals of time. Let us ask: when they appear, is their relation to human evolution as a whole such that they stimulate, as it were, the feminine principle in human nature? There is, for example, Halley's Comet, which now again has a certain actuality. The same could be said of many other comets. Halley's Comet has a quite definite task, and everything else that it brings with it stands in a particular connection to this task. Halley's Comet - we are speaking here of its spiritual aspect - has the task of impressing on human nature its own special being in such a way that this human nature and essence take a further step in the development of the I when the comet comes near the earth. It is that step which leads the I out to concepts on the physical plane. To begin with, the comet has its special influence on the two lower members of human nature, on what is masculine and feminine; there it joins company with the workings of the moon. When the comet is not there, the workings of the moon are one-sided; the workings change when the comet is present.
The comet works upon the physical and etheric or life bodies of man in such a way that they actually create organs, delicate organs that are suitable for the further development of the I - the I-consciousness as it has developed especially since the embedding of the Christ impulse in the earth. Since that time the significance of the comet's appearance is that the I, as it develops from stage to stage, receives physical and etheric organs it can use. (The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, 1983, pp. 64-65)
Every cometary body thus has a definite task. Human spiritual life takes its course with a certain cosmic regularity, as it were - a bourgeois regularity one could say . . . In contrast to these events, there are things that always bring a step forward, that are naturally distributed over wider spans of time; these events occur under the influence of the comets. The various comets have here their different tasks, and when a comet has served its purpose it splinters. Thus we find that from a certain point of time onward, some comets appear as two and then splinter. They dissolve when they have completed their tasks. Regularity, all that belongs to the common round, is connected with the lunar influence; the entry of an elemental impulse, always incorporating something new, is connected with the influence of the comets.
As when a new little child is born, so it is when, through the return of a comet, something quite new is produced. We must remember, however, that with certain comets the I is always driven more and more into the physical world, and this is something we must resist. If the influence of Halley's Comet were to continue, a new appearance of it might bring about a great enhancement of Buchnerian thought, and that would be a terrible misfortune. A reappearance of Halley's Comet should therefor give us warning that it might prove to be an evil guest if we were simply to give ourselves up to it, if we were not to resist its influence. (The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, 1983, pp. 66-67)
On the other hand, is it not wonderful that cometary existence takes hold of the depths of life, including the animal and plant life that is bound up with human life? Those who pay close enough attention to such things would observe how there is actually something altogether different in the blossoming of flowers from what is usually the case. (The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, 1983, pg. 68)
Slightly later, on 18 Apr. 1910, Steiner discussed these points again, more briefly and from a slightly different angle: Just as the movements of the planets circling the sun correspond to the regular events in the evolution of humanity, so the appearance of a comet corresponds to an influence that runs counter to the regular events. Rosicrucian research has demonstrated that every comet exerts a particular influence on human evolution. The present comet has as its particular influence an intense impulse towards materialism. Every time Halley's Comet has appeared, a new impulse toward materialism has taken place. Its appearance in 1759 corresponded with the epoch in which Voltaireanism was at its high point. The appearance in 1835 corresponded with the materialism of Moleschott, Buchner, and others. In the same way, in our time there will be a new impulse toward materialism, and the outer sign of this is the appearance of the comet. Those who let themselves be swayed by its influence will fall into the deepest materialism. (The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, 1983, pg. 107)
Next month, on 10 May 1910, the 1906 prediction was again referred to: There is thus a lunar body, the moon, which has gone too far in its evolution, and such bodies as have remained at an earlier stage of evolution, namely, the comets . . . A comet brings with it the laws of the earlier Moon and therefor renews these ancient laws. It also brings with it the cyanide compounds, as has recently been established by outer science and has been known for a long time to occult science. Just as oxygen and carbon compounds are necessary to us on earth, so the cyanides were essential on the ancient Moon. In 1906 I enlarged on this in Paris . . . (The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, 1983, pg. 113)
From 3-14 Apr. 1912, Dr. Steiner gave extensive descriptions of the solar system, which included these somewhat dramatic points about comets: From man himself stream forth continually, erroneous, base, evil thoughts; these are, as we know, realities, which pass out into the astral world and continue to exist there; so that the astral sphere of a planet is filled, not only by the normal substances of its psychic being, but also by this out-poured substance . . . And in a curious way, the occult vision, which for a time has had the opportunity of observing cometary life, shows us that everything of a cometary or meteoric nature is ever striving to collect round itself all the harmful astral products, and remove them out of the planetary system.
Occult vision shows us, that, however, as a matter of fact, just about when the comet disappears from physical sight, it dissolves, and continues its way through a world not limited to the ordinary three dimensions of space; it no longer exists in the ordinary world. It actually disappears on the one side and appears again on the other. Thus, in short, with the exception of a few comets which really have long-drawn elliptical orbits, the comets for the most part are so formed that they come in at the one side and disappear at the other, and when they reappear they have formed themselves anew. Why? Because as a comet approaches, it exercises a power of attraction - it is, at first, merely a sort of spiritual force centre; this centre attracts all the harmful astral streams, develops them around itself and thus takes on form. In its journey towards the other side it draws this along with it, until it gets beyond the region of the planetary system, when it casts it off into cosmic space. Then the centre of force builds itself again at the other pole without needing three-dimensional space, once more takes up the harmful matter and throws it out the other side.
The sphere of the comets extends to the sphere of the Cherubim. We must therefor first know what is the nature of the Cherubim and Seraphim, in order to understand the substance and movement of the comets. (The Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and the Kingdoms of Nature, 1951, pp. 121-130)
On 4 Jan. 1921, Steiner began a series of comments on comets as part of a fairly extensive review of astronomy.
Upon these two thought-pictures, - that the orbital planes of the planets lie in the proximity of the plane of the Sun's equator and that the orbits are eccentric ellipses, - Kant, Laplace, and their successors built up the nebular hypothesis. Follow what emerges from this. At a pinch, and indeed only at a pinch, it is a way of imagining the origin of the solar system. But the astronomical system thus constructed contains no satisfactory explanation of the part played by the cometary bodies. They always fall out of the theory. This discordance of the comets with the theories which were formed, as described, in the course of scientific history, proves that the cometary life somehow rebels against a concept formed, not from the whole but from a part of the whole. We must be clear too, that the paths of the comets frequently coincide with those of other bodies which also play into our system and present a riddle precisely through their association with the comets. These are the meteoric swarms, whose paths very frequently - perhaps even always - coincide with the cometary paths. Here, my dear friends, taking into account the totality of our system, we are led to say: A sum of ideas has gradually been formed from the study of our planetary system as a whole, - ideas with which we cannot do justice to the seemingly irregular and almost arbitrary paths of the comets and meteoric swarms. They simply refuse to be included in the more abstract pictures that have been reached. (The Relation of the Diverse Branches of Natural Science to Astronomy, undated typescript, pp. IV. 7-8)
And on the 8th Jan.: So for the comets: by spectroscopic investigation and by comparison with the corresponding results for the planets, the idea arose that the phenomena might be explained electromagnetically. Such ideas will at most lead to analogies, which may no doubt have some connection with reality, but which will certainly not satisfy us if we are looking into it more deeply.
Yet as I said, leaving this aside, there was one thing which emerged quite inevitably when the phenomena of comets were studied in more detail. While for the rest of the planetary system they always speak of gravitational forces, the peculiar position of the comet's tail in relation to the Sun inevitably drove the scientists to speak of forces of repulsion from the Sun - forces, as it were of recoil. The terminology is not the main point; it will of course vary with the prevailing fashion. The point is that science was here obliged to look for something in addition to - and indeed opposite to - gravity.
In effect, with the comets something different enters our planetary system, - something which in its nature is in a way opposite to the inner structure of the planetary system as such . . .
. . . Yet in the early 19th century they had statistics purporting to connect them with good and bad vintage years. These too occur somewhat irregularly; their sequence does not seem to follow regular laws of nature. And even Hegel did not quite escape this conclusion. He thought it plausible that the appearance or non-appearance of comets should have to do with the good and bad vintage years.
. . . Kepler said: In the great Universe - even the Universe into which we look by night - there are as many comets as there are fishes in the ocean. We only see very, very few among them, while all the rest remain invisible either because they are too small or for some other reason. Even external research has tended to confirm Kepler's saying. The comets seen were recorded in olden time and it is possible to compare the number. Since the invention of the telescope ever so many have been seen than before. Also when looking out into the starry sky under different conditions of illumination - that is to say making provision for extreme darkness - a larger number of comets are recorded than otherwise. Even empirical research therefor comes near to what Kepler exclaimed, inspired as he was by a deep feeling for Nature.
Now if one speaks at all of a connection between the Cosmos and what happens on the Earth, it surely is not right to dwell one-sidedly on the relation to our Earth of the other planets of our system and to omit heavenly bodies which come and go as the comets do. It is especially one-sided since we must now admit that the comets give rise to phenomena indicating the presence of quite other forces - forces opposite in kind to those which we usually attribute the cohesion of our planetary system. The comets do in fact bear something opposite into our system and if we follow it up we must admit that this too is of great significance. Something in some way opposite in nature to the force which holds it together comes with the comets into our planetary system.
One more thing I will say today, if only to formulate the problem; we shall have time to go into these things in later lectures. Now that we have ascertained all this about the cometary bodies, let me compare the relation between our planetary system and the comets to what is there in the ovum of the female germ-cell, in its relation to the male element, the fertilizing sperm. Try to imagine, try to visualize the two processes, as you might actually see them. There is the planetary system; it receives something new into itself, namely the effects of a comet. There is the ovum, it receives into itself the fertilizing effect of the male cell, the spermatic zoid.
Looking at the two phenomena side by side without prejudice, as you might do in ordinary life when you see two things, obviously comparable, side by side. Do you not find plenty of comparable features when you contemplate these two? I do not mean to set up any theory or hypothesis. I only want to indicate what you will see for yourselves if you once look at these things in their true connection. (The Relationship of the Diverse Branches of Natural Science to Astronomy, undated typescript, pp. VIII, 114-19)
Dr. Steiner always emphasized that accurate descriptions of reality from various perspectives always entailed seeming contradictions - consider the description of an insect from above, from below, from the front, or behind! The discordance is only overcome by a view of the whole living being. At the end of these particular lectures, 18 Jan. 1921, a rather exceptional perspective on comets was given.
Truth is that in studying cometary phenomena we get into difficulties if we conceive the cometary body too in the same way we are wont to think of a planetary body. The planetary body (I refer again to the same question of principle and method as in an earlier lecture), - the planetary body you may represent as though it were a self-contained body moving through on in space. You will not go much against the facts in so conceiving it. Not so a cometary body. Again and again you will find yourself in contradiction to the phenomena if you conceive it after the same pattern as the planetary body. You will never understand the cometary body, in the way it moves - or seems to move - through cosmic space, if you regard it as you are accustomed to regard the planetary bodies.
See what becomes of it on the other hand if you regard it as I shall now describe. Take all the empirical facts that are available and try to thread them on this line of thought. Imagine that in this direction - towards the Sun, as we may say - the comet comes into being at every moment. It is for ever coming into existence in this direction. It pushes forward its cometary nucleus, or what appears as such. Behind, it melts away again. In this way it thrusts forward - for ever coming into being on the one hand, passing away again on the other. It is not a body in the same sense that a planet is, - not at all. It is perpetually coming into being and passing away again - renewed in front, accruing all the time in this direction; losing the old in its tail. It pushes forward like a mere effulgence, a mere phenomena of light; but please, I do not say that that is all it is.
And now remember what we were saying a few days ago. There is not merely the Moon up there and the Earth here, but every planet has a certain sphere, and what we see is only a point at the periphery of the said sphere. The true Moon is the sphere, bounded by the lunar orbit. We, with the Earth, are in the lunar sphere. So also, in a certain sense, are we in the Solar Sphere and in the spheres of all the planets. The planets are not merely what is out there, moving in lemniscates, - what is at yonder point or yonder at any given moment. The visible point is only a specialized part of the whole; it is, as I was saying, like the area of germination in the germinal vesicle of the human embryo.
If you remember this, then you will say to yourselves: Here now I have the Earth and Sun. In fact, two spheres are interpenetrating, thrusting into each other, - spheres which are really due to materialities of opposite tendency and kind. The one comes from the centre of the Sun, towards which negative matter is tending; the other from the centre of the Earth, from which positive matter is raying out. Positive and negative materialities are interpenetrating here. Naturally, the interpenetration will not everywhere be homogeneous. Not even clouds that move through one another would interpenetrate homogeneously. It is essentially inhomogeneous. Imagine how, in this mutual penetration, the different densities will impinge on one another. Then, in the penetration of the one substantiality by the other, you have the requisite conditions for such phenomena as comets to arise. Comets are ever-nascent phenomena, perpetually coming into being, passing away again; and if we draw our ideal picture of a planetary system, say the Copernican picture, with the Sun here and Uranus and Saturn here, we have not to imagine that the comet is arriving there from some great distance and then making its departure. Out there - outside the system - we need not to imagine it to exist at all. It is not there to begin with, but becomes; then, at the perihelion, changes the gesture of its form, which is in fact ever-becoming, ever-nascent. Out there at last it melts away again and is no more. The comet comes into being and passes away; that is its very nature. Hence it can sometimes have apparent paths that are not closed at all - parabolic paths or hyperbolic, - for there is nothing moving round such as would have to move in a closed path. All that there is comes into being, and may well do so in a parabolic direction and then vanish and be no more.
Altogether, we must look upon the comet as a fleeting thing. In relation to Sun and Earth, it is a phenomena of compensation between ponderable and imponderable matter, - a meeting of the two kinds of matter, which do not immediately balance-out as when light extends in air. For in the latter instance too, there is a meeting of the ponderable and the imponderable; here however they spread continuously, homogeneously as it were, - do not impinge on one another. Take for example air, with light of a certain intensity passing through it. The light spreads homogeneously; but if so be the light does not adapt itself to the air quickly enough, a kind of inner friction will ensue between the ponderable and imponderable matter; only I beg you not to understand this in a mechanical sense but as an inward process. Follow the comet and its movement. It is a mutual friction of ponderable and imponderable matter that moves through space. It comes into being at every moment and passes away again. (The Relation of the Diverse Branches of Natural Science to Astronomy, undated typescript, pp. XVIII, 9-12 emphasis Steiner's).
Recall that I had to introduce this essay with the fact that even modern astronomers consider comets to be bewilderingly disparate, and now consider what Steiner felt compelled to say about them on 30 Sept. 1922: Julius Robert Mayer, however, asked this question. He found that every year a certain number of celestial bodies that are like comets fly into the sun. You see, those are the food the sun takes in. Even to this day, when we look up to the sun, we can see that the sun has a healthy appetite; it consumes a large number of comets every year. Just as we eat and thus develop energy, so the sun eats comets, so to speak, and thus develops warmth.
Now, gentlemen, when comets have shattered and fallen down, we find their hard iron cores. But these are only the parts of the comet that fall down. We human beings also have iron in our blood . . . Since comets disintegrate into meteorites, which consist of iron, people say that the comets themselves are made of iron. But this is the same nonsense as believing that the human beings consist of iron because they have iron in their blood and a small lump of iron would be all that's left after they disintegrate.
So, we find meteorites; they are the remains of shattered comets. But the comets themselves are something quite different; they are alive! The sun, too, is alive, has a stomach, and not only consumes comets, but eats exactly like we do. (The Human Being in Body, Soul and Spirit, 1989, pp. 172-173)
On 7 July 1924, Steiner repeated his point of the evolutionary `youth' of the comets requiring that they have prussic acid, as the earth did at an earlier stage (Old Moon). (The Evolution of the Earth and Man, 1987, pp. 45-46). Later, on the 13th Sept., he repeated the relationship of comets to the quality of vintage, in company with sunspots. (The Evolution of the Earth and Man, 1987, pp. 171-173)
Although it is not exactly a description of comets, during the 1921 lectures, while discussing the nature of orbits in a mathematical sense, Dr. Steiner showed the mathematical basis for understanding his provocative observation that comets `leave space' and reappear again at the other side. After showing the progressive transformations of the mathematical equation called the Curve of Cassini, Steiner sums up with: So you see, mathematics itself provides us with facts which oblige us to go out of space if we would preserve the continuity of the idea. The reality itself demands of us that in our ideas we go out of space. Even in mathematics therefore we are confronted with something which shows us that in some way we must leave space behind, if the pure idea is to follow its right path. Having ourselves set going the idea in beginning to think the process through, we must go on thinking in such a way that space is no longer of any help to us. If this were not so, we should not be able to calculate all possibilities of the equation. (9th Jan., The Relation of the Diverse Branches of Natural Science to Astronomy, undated typescript, pp. IX 6-7 emphasis Steiner's).