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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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On-line since: 31st July, 1987

chapter iii


5. The Physical World and its Connection with the Soul-world and Spiritland

The formations in the Soul-World and Spiritland cannot be the objects of external sense perception. The objects of sense perception are to be added to the two worlds already described, as a third world. Moreover, man lives during his bodily existence simultaneously in the three worlds. He perceives the things of the sensible world and works upon them. The formations of the soul-world work upon him through their forces of sympathy and antipathy; and his own soul causes waves in the soul-world by its inclinations and disinclinations, its desires and wishes. The spiritual essence of the things, on the other hand, mirrors itself in his thought-world: and he himself is, as thinking spirit-being, citizen of the “Spiritland” and companion of everything that lives in this region of the world. This makes it evident that the sensible world is only a part of what surrounds man. This part stands out from the general environment of man with a certain independence, because it can be perceived by senses which leave unregarded the soul and the spiritual, although these belong equally to this surrounding world. Just as a piece of floating ice consists of the same substance as the surrounding water, but stands out from it through particular qualities, so are the things of the senses the substance of the surrounding soul- and spirit-worlds from which they stand out through particular qualities which make them perceptible to the senses. They are, to speak half metaphorically, condensed spirit- and soul-formations; and the condensation makes it possible for the senses to acquire knowledge of them. In fact, as ice is only a form in which the water exists, so are the objects of the senses only a form in which soul- and spirit-beings exist. If we have grasped this, we can also understand that as the water can pass over into ice, so the spirit-world can pass over into the soul-world and the latter into that of the senses.

Looked at from this point of view we see why man can form thoughts about the things of the senses. For there is a question which everyone who thinks must needs ask himself, namely, in what relation does the thought which a man has about a stone stand to that stone itself? This question rises in full clarity in the minds of those who look especially deeply into external nature. They feel the consonance of the human thought-world with the structure and order of Nature. The great astronomer Kepler, for example, speaks in a beautiful way about this harmony: “True it is that the divine call which bids man study astronomy is written in the world, not indeed in words and syllables, but in substance, in the very fact that human conceptions and senses are fitted to relationships of the heavenly bodies and their conditions.” Only because the things of the sensible world are nothing else than densified spirit-beings, is the man who raises himself through his thought to these spirit-beings able by thinking to understand the things. Sense-objects originate in the spirit-world, they are only another form of the spirit-beings; and when man forms thoughts about things his inner nature is merely directed away from the sensible form and out towards the spiritual archetypes of these things. To understand an object by means of thought is a process which can be likened to that by which a solid body is first liquefied by fire in order that the chemist may be able to examine it in its liquid form.

The spiritual archetypes of the sensible world are to be found in the different regions of the “Spiritland.” In the fifth, sixth, and seventh regions these archetypes are still found as living germ-points; in the four lower regions they shape themselves into spiritual formations. The human spirit perceives a shadowy reflection of these spiritual formations when, by thinking, man tries to gain understanding of the things of the senses. How these formations have condensed until they form the sensible world, is a question for one who endeavours to acquire a spiritual understanding of the world around him.

For human sense perception this surrounding world is divided primarily into four distinctly separated stages: the mineral, the plant, the animal and the human. The mineral kingdom is perceived by the senses and comprehended by thought. Thus when we form a thought about a mineral body we have to do with two things: the sense object and the thought. Accordingly we must imagine that this sense object is a condensed thought-being. Now one mineral being works upon another in an external way. It impinges on it and moves it; it warms it, lights it up, dissolves it, etc. This external kind of action can be expressed through thoughts. Man forms thoughts as to the way in which mineral things work upon each other externally in accordance with law. By this means his separate thoughts expand to a thought-picture of the whole mineral world. And this thought-picture is a reflection of the archetype of the whole mineral world of the senses. It is to be found as a complete whole in the spirit-world.

In the plant kingdom there is added to the external action of one thing on another, the phenomena of growth and propagation. The plant grows and brings forth from itself beings like itself. Life is here added to what confronts man in the mineral kingdom. Simple reflection on this fact leads to a view that is enlightening in this connection. The plant has the power to create its living form, and to reproduce it in a being of its own kind. And between the formless nature of mineral matter, as we encounter it in gases, liquids, etc., and the living form of the plant world, stand the forms of the crystals. In the crystals we have to seek the transition from the formless mineral world to the plant kingdom which has the capacity for creating living forms. In this externally sensible formative process in the kingdoms both of the mineral and the plant, we see condensed to its sensible expression the purely spiritual process which takes place when the spiritual germs of the three higher regions of the “Spiritland” form themselves into the spirit-shapes of the lower regions. The transition from the formless spirit-germ to the shaped formation corresponds to the process of crystallisation as its archetype in the spiritual world. If this transition condenses so that the senses can perceive it in its outcome, it then shows itself in the world of the senses as the process of mineral crystallisation.

Now there is also in the plant life a formed spirit-germ. But here the living, formative capacity is still retained in the formed being. In the crystal the spirit-germ has lost its constructive power during the process of formation. It has exhausted its life in the form produced. The plant has form and in addition to that it has the capacity of producing form. The characteristic of the spirit-germ in the higher regions of the “Spiritland” has been preserved in the plant life. The plant is therefore form as is the crystal, and added to that, formative force. Besides the form which the Primal Beings have taken in the plant-form there works at the latter yet another form which bears the impress of the spirit-being of the higher regions. But only that which expends itself in the produced form of the plant is sensibly perceptible; the formative beings who give life to this form are present in the plant kingdom in a way not perceptible to the senses. The physical eye sees the lily small to-day, and after some time grown larger. The formative force which elaborates the latter out of the former is not seen by this eye. This formative force is that part of the plant world which is imperceptible to the senses. The spirit-germs have descended a stage in order to work in the kingdom of formative forces. In spiritual science, Elemental Kingdoms are spoken of. If one designates the Primal Forms which as yet have no form as the First Elemental Kingdom, then the sensibly invisible force-beings, who work as the craftsmen of plant growth, belong to the Second Elemental Kingdom.

In the animal world sensation and impulse are added to the capacities for growth and propagation. These are manifestations of the soul-world. A being endowed with these belongs to the soul-world, receives impressions from it and reacts on it. Now every sensation, every impulse which arises in the animal is brought forth from the foundations of the animal soul. The form is more enduring than the feeling or impulse. One may say that the life of sensation bears the same relation to the more enduring living form as the self-changing plant-form bears to the rigid crystal. The plant to a certain extent exhausts itself in the shape-forming force; during its life it goes on constantly adding new forms to itself. First it sends out the root, then the leaf-structure, then the flowers, and so on. The animal is enclosed in a shape complete in itself and develops within this the changeful life of feeling and impulse. And this life has its existence in the soul-world. Just as the plant is that which grows and propagates itself, the animal is that which feels, and unfolds its impulses. They constitute for the animal the formless which is always developing into new forms. They have their archetypal processes ultimately in the highest regions of “Spiritland.” But they carry out their activities in the soul-world. There are thus in the animal world, in addition to the force-beings who, invisible to the senses, direct growth and propagation, others who have descended a stage still deeper into the soul-world. In the animal kingdom, formless beings who clothe themselves in soul-sheaths, are present as the master-builders bringing about sensations and impulses. They are the real architects of the animal forms. In spiritual science, the region to which they belong may be called the Third Elemental Kingdom.

Man, in addition to having the capacities named as those of plants and animals, is equipped also with the power to work up his sensations into ideas and thoughts and to control his impulses by thinking. The archetypal thought, which appears in the plant as shape and in the animal as soul-force, makes its appearance in him in its own form as thought itself. The animal is soul; man is spirit. The spirit-being which in the animal is engaged in soul-development has now descended a stage deeper still. In the animal it is soul-forming. In man it has entered into the world of material substance itself. The spirit is present within the human sensible body. And because it appears in a sensible garment, it can appear only as that shadowy reflection which represents the thought of the spirit-being. The spirit manifests in man conditioned by the physical brain organism. But, at the same time, it has become the inner being of man. Thought is the form which the formless spirit-being assumes in man, just as it takes on shape in the plant and soul in the animal. Consequently man, in so far as he is a thinking being, has no Elemental Kingdom building him from without. His Elemental Kingdom works in his physical body. Only in so far as man is form and sentient-being do Elemental Beings of the same kind work upon him as work upon plants and animals. The thought-organism in man is worked out entirely from within his physical body. In the spirit-organism of man, in his nervous system which has developed into the perfected brain, we have sensibly visible before us that which works on plants and animals as supersensible force. This brings it about that the animal manifests feeling of self, but man consciousness of self. In the animal, spirit feels itself as soul, it does not yet grasp itself as spirit. In man the spirit recognises itself as spirit, although — owing to the physical conditions — merely as a shadowy reflection of the spirit, as thought.

Accordingly, the threefold world falls into the following divisions: 1. The kingdom of the archetypal formless beings (First Elemental Kingdom); 2. The kingdom of the form-creating beings (Second Elemental Kingdom); 3. The kingdom of the soul-beings (Third Elemental Kingdom); 4. The kingdom of the created forms (crystal forms); 5. The kingdom that is perceptible to the senses in forms, but in which the form-creating beings are also working (Plant Kingdom); 6. The kingdom which is sensibly perceptible in forms, upon which, however, there work in addition the form-creating beings, and also the beings that are active in soul (Animal Kingdom); 7. The kingdom in which the forms become sensibly perceptible, but upon which work not only the form-creating beings and the beings that expend their activities in soul-life, and in which the spirit itself takes shape in the form of thought within the world of the senses (Human Kingdom.)

From this it can be seen how the basic constituents of the human being living in the body are connected with the spiritual world. The physical body, the ether-body, the sentient-soul-body, and the intellectual-soul, are to be regarded as archetypes of the “Spiritland” condensed in the sensible world. The physical body comes into existence through the fact that the archetype of man becomes densified to the point of sensible appearance. For this reason one can call this physical body also a being of the First Elemental Kingdom, densified to sensible perceptibility. The ether-body comes into existence by the form that has arisen in this way, having its mobility maintained by a being that extends its activity into the kingdom of the senses, but is not itself visible to the senses. If one wishes to characterise this being fully, one must say it has its primal origin as a spirit-germ in the highest regions of the “Spiritland” and then shapes itself in the second region into an archetype of life. It works in the sensible world as such an archetype of life. In a similar way, the being that builds up the sentient-soul-body has its origin in the highest regions of the “Spiritland,” forms itself in the third region of the same into the archetype of the soul-world and works as such in the sensible world. But the intellectual soul is formed by the spirit-being of man, who in the fourth region of the “Spiritland” shaped itself into the archetype of thought and, as such, acts directly as thinking human being in the world of the senses. Thus man stands within the world of the senses; in this way his spirit works on his physical body, on his ether-body and on his sentient-soul-body. Thus this spirit comes into manifestation in the intellectual soul. Archetypes, in the form of beings who in a certain sense are external to man, work upon the three lower members of his being; in his intellectual soul he himself becomes a conscious worker on himself. And the beings that work on his physical body are the same as those that form mineral nature. On his ether body work beings of the kind that live in the plant kingdom, on his sentient-soul-body work beings such as live in the animal kingdom; both are imperceptible to the senses but extend their activity into these kingdoms.

Thus do the different worlds work together. The world in which man lives is the expression of this collaboration.

* * *

When we have grasped the sensible world in this way, understanding arises for Beings of another kind than those that have their existence in the above-mentioned four kingdoms of Nature. One example of such Beings is what is called the Folk Spirit, or Nation Spirit. This Being does not manifest directly in a material form. He lives his life entirely in the sensations, feelings, tendencies, etc., which are to be observed as those common to a whole people. He is a Being who does not incarnate physically, but, as man so forms his body that it is physically visible, so does that Being form his body out of the substance of the soul-world. This soul-body of the Nation Spirit is like a cloud in which the members of a nation live, the effects of whose activity come into evidence in the souls of the human beings concerned, but they do not originate in these souls themselves. The Nation Spirit remains a shadowy conception of the mind without being or life, an empty abstraction, to those who do not picture it in this way. And the same may be said in reference to the Being known as the Spirit of the Age (Zeitgeist.) The spiritual gaze extends in this way over many other beings, both of a lower and higher order, who live in the environment of man without his being able to perceive them with his bodily senses. But those who have the faculty of spiritual sight perceive such beings and can describe them. To the lower kinds of such beings belong those that are described by observers of the spiritual world as salamanders, sylphs, undines, gnomes. It should not be necessary to say that such descriptions cannot be faithful reproductions of the reality that underlies them. If they were such, the world in question would be not a spiritual, but a grossly material one. They attempt to make clear a spiritual reality which can only be represented in this way: that is, by similes. It is quite comprehensible that anyone who admits the validity of physical vision alone will regard such beings as the offspring of wild hallucination and superstition. They can of course never become visible to the eye of sense, for they have no material bodies. The superstition does not consist in regarding such beings as real, but in believing that they appear in forms perceptible to the physical senses. Such Beings co-operate in the building of the world and we encounter them as soon as we enter the higher realms that are hidden from the bodily senses. It is not those who see in such descriptions pictures of spiritual realities who are superstitious but rather those who believe in the material existence of the pictures, as well as those who deny the spirit because they think they must deny the material picture.

Mention must also be made of those beings who do not descend to the soul-world, but whose sheath is composed of the formations of the “Spiritland” alone. Man perceives them and becomes their companion when he opens his spiritual eye and spiritual ear to them. Thereby much becomes intelligible to man, at which otherwise he could only gaze uncomprehendingly. Everything becomes light around him; he sees the Primal Causes of effects in the world of the senses. He comprehends what he either denies entirely when he has no spiritual eyes, or in reference to which he has to content himself by saying: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.” People with delicate spiritual feelings become uneasy when they begin to have a glimmering, when they become vaguely aware of a world other than the material one around them, one in which they have to grope around as the blind grope among visible objects. Nothing but the clear vision of these higher regions of existence and a thorough understanding and penetration of what takes place in them can really fortify a man and lead him to his true goal. Through insight into what is hidden from the senses the human being expands his nature in such a way that he feels his life prior to this expansion to be no more than “a dream about the world.”

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