The Michael Mystery

Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document

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


From Nature to Sub-Nature

People talk of the Philosophic Age having been superseded, about the middle of the nineteenth century, and having given place to the Age of Natural Science. They talk too, as though the Age of Natural Science were still in continuance at the present day; although many at the same time lay stress on the return to certain philosophic tendencies of thought.

This is all quite correct as regards the direction taken by the new age in its lines of knowledge, but not in its lines of life. With his mental imagery Man is still living in Nature — even though he brings a mechanistic way of thinking into his understanding of Nature. But with the life of his Will he is living in a machinery of technical processes to such an extent that this has long given an entirely new colouring to the age of Natural Science.

If one would understand human life, there are two sides from which one must begin by regarding it. From his previous Earth-lives Man brings with him the faculty of forming mental conceptions of the cosmic influences that act from out of the Earth's environment, and of those which are at work within the sphere of the Earth itself. Through his Senses, he perceives the cosmic element that is at work within the earthly realm; through his thinking organism, he thinks the Cosmic that acts upon the Earth from the surrounding Universe.

Thus he lives through his physical body a life of Perception, and through his ether-body a life of Thought.

What goes on in the astral body and in the I, is at work in more covert regions of the soul. It is at work, for instance, in a man's destiny or fate. One must not however look for it, to begin with, in the intricate complexities of human destiny, but rather in the simple, elementary processes of life.

Man unites himself with definite Earth-forces, by the fact of bringing his own body into bearing with the lines of these forces. He learns to stand and walk upright; he learns, with his arms and hands, to bring himself into poise with the balance of the earthly forces.

Now these are not forces of a kind that work from without, from the Cosmos; they are merely Earthly.

In reality, nothing that Man experiences in his inner life is an abstraction. He only does not perceive where the experience comes from; and so, of his ideas about realities he makes abstractions. Man talks about the Laws of Mechanics; he thinks he has deduced them by abstraction from the complex of natural phenomena. This is not however the case; but rather, everything which a man realizes in his soul as a purely mechanical law, is learnt from direct inward experience of his own bearings in and towards the Earth-world (in standing, walking, and so on.)

This however marks the Mechanical as the purely Earthly. For everything which exists in earthly form as Laws of Nature — in colour, sound and so forth — is a gift from out of the Cosmos. Only within the sphere of Earth does all this realm of Nature acquire — engrafted into it — the mechanical element, even as Man meets with this element in his own life and experience only within the Earth-sphere. By far the greater part of all that is at work through the agency of technical science in the civilization of to-day is not Nature, but Sub-Nature. It is a world which is emancipating itself from Nature, downwards.

Observe how the Oriental, when in pursuit of the Spirit, seeks to disengage himself from those states of equilibrium which are due solely to the Earth. He adopts for meditation, a posture which brings him solely into the cosmic equilibrium. The Earth is then no longer exerting an influence upon the disposition of his whole organism. (This is not put forward for imitation, but only to make what was said more plain. Those who are acquainted with my writings, know how the spiritual life of East and West differ in his respect. )

Man needed this relation with the merely Earthly for the evolution of his Spiritual Soul. But in more recent times there came the tendency, everywhere, in his own doings as well, to give practical effect to this element with which, as Man, he must needs make himself familiar. And as he penetrates into this merely Earthly realm, he encounters the world of Ahriman. He must learn to bring himself and his own human being into right relation with this Ahrimanic element.

As yet, in the course hitherto taken by the Technical Age, he has not found the way to readjust his human relation rightly to this new civilization of Ahriman. Man must find the strength, the inner faculty of knowledge and discernment, for his human being not to be overwhelmed by Ahriman in the civilization of Technics. Sub-Nature must be understood in this, its character of under Nature. It will only be so understood if Man rises at least as high in spiritual knowledge of that super-Nature which lies outside the earthly sphere, as he has descended in technical science below it into Sub-Nature.

The age needs a power of Knowledge that rises above Nature, because it has inwardly to deal with an element which is dangerously at work within its life, and which is one that has sunk below Nature. Of course what is here meant is not any sort of return to earlier states of civilization, but rather that Man should find his way to bring the new conditions of civilization into right relation with himself and with the Cosmos.

As yet, there are but few who have any feeling of the important spiritual tasks which Man has here before him. Take for instance electricity — hailed at its discover as the very soul of the natural world. Electricity must be recognized in its own peculiar power to lead down from Nature to Sub-Nature. Only, Man must not glide down with it.

In the time when there was as yet no independent realm of Technics apart from what may rightly be termed Nature, Man found the Spirit in his contemplation of Nature. Technics, becoming detached from Nature, riveted Man's eyes to the mechanistic and material world as the scientific one whence his knowledge must henceforth be derived.

Now in this world, of all the divine-spiritual life connected with the first origins of human evolution, nothing remains. The purely Ahrimanic dominates this sphere.

But in a Science of the Spirit the other sphere is created, from which an Ahrimanic element is altogether absent. It is precisely by taking into his mind that form of spiritual intelligence to which the Ahrimanic Powers have no access, that Man gains the strength to meet Ahriman in the world, to encounter him here.

Leading Thoughts

  1. In the Age of Natural Science, beginning about the middle of the nineteenth century, there is in human civilization a gradual downslide of the occupations and activities of men, not only into the lowest regions of Nature, but down below Nature. Technical civilization becomes Sub-Nature.

  2. This makes it necessary for Man, in living inner experience, to come to a Spirit-Knowledge in which he rises as high above, into Super-Nature, as he does down below Nature with his sub-natural, technical occupations. He thereby creates within him the power, not to ‘go under.’

  3. An earlier view of the natural world still contained within it the Spirit with which human evolution is bound up in its first sources. Little by little, this Sprit has vanished from Man's picture of Nature; the purely Ahrimanic element has taken possession of the picture, and has overflowed from thence into the technical civilization of to-day.

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