T will be clear, I think, from what has been said on earlier
occasions that the Spiritual Science cultivated at the Goetheanum has
nothing sectarian about it, nor does it set out to found a new
religion. It gives full recognition to the progress of natural science
in modern times, drawing indeed, in a certain sense, the ultimate
necessary consequences of the whole trend and spirit of modern
science. This will be particularly evident when we come to consider
questions concerning our inner life and our knowledge of the world;
and to-day I will ask your attention for one such specific question.
It embraces a very wide realm, and all I can do here is to give a few
indications towards its solution. I shall try to give these in such a
way as to throw light on what we consider to be the tasks of the
Goetheanum in Dornach.
The subject before us is concerned with two ideas that man can never
contemplate without on the one hand feeling an intense longing awaken
within him, and on the other being brought face to face with deep doubts
and riddles. These two ideas are: the inner being of Nature and the
inner being of the human soul.
In his knowledge man feels himself outside Nature. What would induce
him to undertake the labour of cognition, were it not the hope of
penetrating beyond the immediate region within which he stands in
ordinary life, of entering more deeply into the Nature that presents
herself in her external aspect to his senses and his intellect? It is,
after all, a fact of the life of soul, and one that becomes more and
more apparent the more seriously we occupy ourselves with questions of
knowledge, that man feels separated from the inner being of Nature.
And there remains always the question — to which one or another will
have a different answer according to his outlook on the world —
whether it be possible for men to enter sufficiently deeply into the
being of Nature to allow him to gain some degree of satisfaction from
his search. We have at the same time the feeling that whatever in the
last resort can be known concerning the being of Nature is somehow
also connected with what we may call the being of man's soul.
Now this question of the being of the human soul has presented itself
to human cognition since very early times. We have only to recall the
Apollonian saying: “Know thyself.” This saying sets forth
a demand which the conscientious seeker after knowledge will feel is
by no means easy of fulfillment.
We shall perhaps be able to come to a clearer idea of the tasks of the
present day in this connection if we go back to earlier ages and
remind ourselves of conceptions that were intimately bound up, for the
men of olden times, on the one hand with the knowledge of the inner
being of Nature, on the other with the self-knowledge of man. Let us
then look for a little at some of these conceptions, even though they
will take us into fields somewhat remote from the ordinary
consciousness of to-day.
In olden times, these two aims — knowledge of Nature and knowledge of
self — were associated in the mind of man with quite strange, not to
say terrifying, conceptions. It was indeed not thought possible for
man to continue in his ordinary way of life if he wanted to set out on
the path to knowledge; for on that path he would inevitably find
himself in the presence of deep uncertainties before he could come to
any satisfying conviction. In our day we are not accustomed to think of
the path of knowledge as something that leads us away from.the natural
order of our life; it leaves us free to go forward in everyday life as
before. And one must admit that the knowledge offered to us in our
laboratories and observatories and clinics is not such as to throw us
“right off the rails,” in the way attributed to the path of
knowledge that the pupils of wisdom in early times had to tread.
They beheld a kind of abyss between what man is and can experience in
ordinary life, and what he becomes and is confronted with when he
penetrates into the depths of world-existence, or into the knowledge
of his own being. They described how man feels the ground sink away
from under his feet, so that only if he be strong enough not to
succumb to giddiness of soul can he go forward at all into the field
of ultimate knowledge. To tread this path of knowledge unprepared
would involve man in a harder test than he is able to meet. Serious
and conscientious preparation was necessary before he dare bridge the
abyss. In ordinary life man is unaware of the abyss; he simply does
not see it. And that, they said, is for him a blessing. Man is
enveloped in a kind of blindness that protects him from being overcome
by giddiness and falling headlong into the abyss. They spoke too of
how man had to cross a “Threshold” in order to come into the
fields of higher knowledge, and of how he must have become able to face
without fear the revelations that await him at the Threshold. Again, in
ordinary life man is protected from crossing the Threshold. Call it
personification or what you will, in those ancient schools of wisdom
they were relating real experiences when they spoke of man being
protected by the “Guardian of the Threshold,” and of undergoing
beyond it a time of darkness and uncertainty before ultimately attaining to
a vision of reality, a “standing within” spirit-filled reality.
It is inevitable that in our day all manner of confused and hazy
notions should connect themselves with such expressions as
“Threshold,” “Guardian of the Threshold.” Let me
say at once that mankind is undergoing evolution; nor is it only the outer
cultural renditions that change and develop, but man's life of soul is
changing all the time, moving onward from state to state; consequently
the expressions which in olden times could be used to describe intimate
processes in the life of soul, cannot bear the same meaning for
present-day mankind. What man meant in olden times when he spoke of
the Threshold and the Guardian of the Threshold was something
different from the processes that take place in man to-day, when he
resolves to go forward from ordinary knowledge to super-sensible
knowledge; and it is only with a view to making more comprehensible
what I shall have to say regarding these latter that I bring in a
comparison with ancient conceptions.
What was it of which the men of olden times were afraid? What was it
for which the pupil in the School of Wisdom had to be prepared by
means of an exact and thoroughgoing discipline of the will — a
discipline that should make the will strong and vigorous, able to
stand firm in extremely difficult and perplexing situations in Life?
Strange though it may sound, it becomes clear to us if we are able to
survey the course of human evolution, that what men feared in those
times was actually none other than the condition of soul which mankind
in general has reached to-day. They wanted to protect the pupil from
coming all unprepared to the condition of mind and soul to which we
have been brought by the scientific education of the last three or
four centuries. Let me illustrate this for you in a particular case.
We all accept to-day the so-called Copernican view of the universe.
This view places the sun in the centre of our planetary system; the
planets revolve round the sun, with the earth as a planet among the
other planets. Ever since the time of Copernicus, this is the picture
men have had. In earlier times, quite another picture of the world
lived in the general consciousness of mankind. The earth was seen in
the centre, and the sun and stars revolving round the earth. Man had,
that is to say, a geocentric picture of the world. Copernicus replaced
it with a heliocentric picture of the world. Man has now no longer the
feeling of standing on firm ground; he sees himself being hurled
through space, together with the earth, at a terrific speed. As for
how it all looks to the eye, that, we are told, is a mere illusion,
induced by relations of perspective and the like, to which human
vision is subject.
Now, this heliocentric picture of the world already existed in earlier
ages. Plutarch is a writer from whom we can learn a great deal
concerning the men of olden times, and how they thought about the
world. Let me read you a passage translated from his writings.
Plutarch is speaking of Aristarchus of Samos, and he describes the way
in which Aristarchus conceived the world. We are therefore taken back
into early Greek times, into an epoch many centuries before the Middle
Ages, and before Copernicus. In the opinion of Aristarchus, says
Plutarch, the universe is much bigger than it looks; for Aristarchus
makes the assumption that the stars and the sun do not move, but that
the earth revolves round the sun as centre, while the sphere of the
fixed stars, whose centre is also in the sun, is so immense that the
circumference of the circle described by the earth is to the distance
of the fixed stars as is the centre of a sphere to its entire surface.
We find thus in Greek times the heliocentric conception of the world;
we find the very same picture as we have to-day of man's place in the
planetary system and his relation to the heaven of the fixed stars. In
olden times, however, this heliocentric conception of the world was a
secret known only to a few, who had undergone a strict training of the
will before such knowledge could be imparted to them.
It is important to grasp the significance of this fact. What is common
knowledge to-day, freely spoken of by everyone, was in earlier times a
wisdom known to a select few. What such a wisdom-pupil knew, for
example, concerning the sun and its relation to the earth was
considered a knowledge that lay “beyond the Threshold”;
man must needs first cross the Threshold before he can come into those
fields where the soul discovers this new relationship to the universe.
The very same knowledge that our whole education renders familiar and
natural to us to-day, was for them on the other side of a Threshold that
must not be crossed without due preparation.
What we have shown with regard to the astronomical conception of the
world could quite well be worked out for other spheres of knowledge.
We should again and again find evidence of how the whole of mankind
has in the course of evolution been pushed across what was for Olden
times a Threshold on the path to higher knowledge. The apprehension
that was felt in those times about the condition of soul evoked by
such knowledge, has shown itself frequently in later centuries in the
attitude of the churches, which preserve and tend to perpetuate the
traditions of the past. Again and again the churches have rejected
knowledge that has been attained in the progress of civilisation; and
when, for example, the Roman Church refused to acknowledge the
teaching of Copernicus (as it did until the year 1827), the reason was
the same as [that which] in ancient times prevented the priests from giving
out Mystery knowledge to the masses — namely, that the knowledge would
bring man into uncertainty if he were not duly prepared beforehand.
Now it is well-known that no power on earth can withstand for long the
march of progress; and we in these days have to think in an entirely
new way about what one may call the “Threshold of the Spiritual
World.” Spiritual Science is no “warming up” of Gnostic
or other ancient teaching, but works absolutely on the principles of modern
natural science, as I think will have been evident from the example we
have been considering.
How was it that men of olden times feared knowledge which today is the
common property of all mankind? In my book
Die Ratsel der Philosophie
(see Note 1),
I have described the changes that have come about in
man's mind and soul since early Greek times. The Greek had not a
self-consciousness that was fully detached from the external world.
When he thought about the world, he felt himself, so to speak, “grown
together” with it; he was as closely united with it as we are to-day
in the act of sense-perception. For him thought was also, in a manner
speaking, sense-perception. Red, blue, G, C sharp — these are for us
sense-perceptions; but thought we ourselves produce by inner activity.
For the Greek this kind of inner activity did not yet exist. Just as
we get red, green, G, C sharp from sense-perception, so did he get the
thoughts too from the external world. He had not yet the independence
that comes from the comprehension of self. Only quite gradually has
the perception and understanding of the self developed to what it is
to-day. Self-consciousness has grown steadily stronger in the course of
time, and man has thereby detached himself from surrounding Nature. He
has learned to look into himself, inwardly to comprehend himself as
something that acts independently. In doing so he has placed himself
over against Nature; he stands outside her, that he may then
contemplate her inner being from without. And with this detachment of
thought from external objective life is connected also the birth of
the feeling of freedom, that sense of freedom which is in reality a
product only of the last few centuries.
We have come to regard history more and more in its purely external
aspect; but if we were to consider it, as we try to do in spiritual
science, in a more inward way, we should discover that the experience
we have to-day when we speak of “freedom” was not there for
the Greek. Although we translate the corresponding word in their writings
with our word “freedom,” the feeling we associate with the word
was quite unknown to the Stoic, for example, and other philosophers. A
careful and unbiased study of Greek times will not fail to make this clear.
I laid stress in my
Philosophie der Freiheit
(see Note 2)
which was written in the
early nineties, on the connection of the experience of freedom with what I
called “pure thinking” — that thinking which is completely
detached from the inner organic life, and which (if the expression be
not misunderstood) becomes, even in ordinary life, cognition on a
higher level. For when we permeate pure thinking with moral ideas and
impulses — that is, with ideas and impulses that are not associated with
desires, or with sympathies and antipathies, but solely with pure,
loving devotion to the deed that is to be done — when we do this and
allow the impulse to quicken in our soul to action, then the action we
perform is truly free.
One cannot really put the question concerning freedom in the way that
is frequently done, when it is asked: Is man free or unfree? All one
can say is that man is on the way to freedom. By cultivating
self-evolution and self-knowledge, by achieving inner liberation from
his accustomed attitude of mind and soul, man is treading a path that
will enable him to rise to pure thinking; and on this path he becomes
increasingly free. It is thus not a matter of “either —
or,” but rather of gradual approach, or, shall we say, of both. For
we are at once free and unfree; unfree where we are still governed by our
desires, by what rises up out of our organism, out of the life of
instinct; free, on the other hand, where we have grown independent of
the instinctive life, where we are able to awaken within us pure love
for the deed that has been envisaged in pure thinking.
The condition of mind that leads to the experience of freedom — the
condition, namely, of pure thinking, to which man is able to surrender
himself — must necessarily, for present-day man, remain an ideal; an
ideal, however, that is indissolubly bound up with his worth and
dignity as man.
We are on the way to such an ideal, and it is natural science that has
set us upon the path. In all the development of natural science in
modern times — and the results of this natural science carry
authority in the widest circles and tend more and more to become the
groundwork of our whole education and culture — one thing stands out
clearly. Study the development of natural science and you will be
struck with the growing recognition of the value and importance of the
thought — the thought that is elaborated by man himself
inwardly. This is true in the realm of the inorganic, from physics up to
astronomy, as well as in the realm of the organic, and in spite of the
fact that scientists base their results everywhere on observation and
experiment. And through the work he does in thinking, man develops an
enhanced self-consciousness; which means, that his detachment from the
inner being of Nature grows.
We can here take once more the example of Astronomy. What Copernicus
did, fundamentally speaking, was to reduce to calculation the results
of observation. In this way one arrives at a world system that is
completely detached from man. The world systems of ancient times were
not so; they were always intimately connected with the human being.
Man felt himself within the world; he was part of it. In our time man
is, so to speak, incidental. He sees himself hurled through universal
space together with the planet Earth, and his picture of the whole
structure of the world is completely divorced from himself; that which
lives in his own inner being must on no account be allowed to play a
part in his conception of the universe. Man becomes filled, that is to
say, with a thought-content that is the means of detaching him from
himself. True, he thinks his thoughts, and in thinking remains always
united with his thoughts; but he thinks them in such a way that they
have no sort of connection with what rises up out of his organism, out
of his life of instinct. He is under necessity so to think that,
although the thought remains united with him, it nevertheless wrests
itself free from the human-personal in him, so that in his thoughts he
becomes, in effect, completely objective.
And this experience brings man to greater consciousness of self. The
strenuous efforts required for finding one's way to clear conceptions
in the field of astronomy or physics or chemistry to-day, or even only
for following in thought the results of others' work, are bound to lead
to a strengthening of the consciousness of self.
In the ancient civilisations — and herein lies the great difference
between them and our own — education was not directed to the
strengthening of self-consciousness. Rather had it the tendency to
make man's thinking correspond with what he saw with his eyes. So
arose the Ptolemaic conception of the world, which in all essentials
is a reproduction of what we perceive with the external senses. Man
was not thrust so far out of himself as he is by the modern scientific
outlook; hence his self-consciousness did not grow. He remained more
within his body — held there, as it were, by enchantment.
Consciousness of self he derived from his instincts, and from the
feeling of life and vitality within him. Although in our age we have
drifted into materialism, this living in the body has been overcome by
the development of thinking; and the consciousness of self has grown
correspondingly. The very fact that we have become materialists, and
lost our awareness of the spiritual in the objects perceived by the
senses, has contributed to the achievements of thought. In olden times
it was feared that if a man were brought unprepared to the kind of
thinking such as is necessary, for example, to grasp the heliocentric
system, he would “faint” in his soul; his consciousness of
self would not be strong enough to sustain him.
This accounts for the emphasis on the training of the will; for a
strong and vigorous will strengthens also the consciousness of self.
The preparation of the pupil in the Wisdom School was therefore
directed primarily to the will, in order that he might grow strong
enough to endure, beyond the Threshold, that picture of the world for
which a highly-developed consciousness of self is required.
We see, then, what it was men feared in olden times for the pupil who
was to be guided into the inner being of the things of the world, into
the inner being of Nature. They were afraid lest he be hurt in his
soul, through falling into a condition of uncertainty and darkness, a
condition comparable, in the realm of soul, with physical faintness.
This danger they hoped to avoid by a thoroughgoing discipline of the
will. In ordinary life, they said, man must remain on this side of the
realm where the dangerous knowledge is to be found; a Guardian holds
him back from the region for which he is unfit, thus protecting him
from being overcome by faintness of soul. And their description of the
experiences the pupil had to undergo if he wanted to cross the
Threshold and pass the Guardian correspond exactly to inner
experiences of the soul.
It was told how, when the pupil draws near the Threshold, he
immediately has a feeling of uncertainty. If he has been sufficiently
prepared, he is able to stand upright in the realm which would
otherwise make him giddy; he passes the Guardian of the Threshold and,
by virtue of the powers of his soul, enters into the spiritual world
— which the Guardian would otherwise not allow him even to behold.
But he must be able also to stay in the spiritual world with full
consciousness. For the tremendous experiences that await him there
call for strength and not for weakness, and if he were to let go,
these experiences would have a shattering effect on his whole
organisation; he would suffer grievous harm.
And now the strange thing is that in course of evolution a knowledge
that could be attained by pupils of the ancient Wisdom Schools only
after most careful preparation has become the common property of all
mankind. We stand to-day in our ordinary knowledge beyond what the men
of old felt to be a Threshold. The purpose they had in view in the
ancient Wisdom Schools was that the pupil, when he looked into his own
inner being, should feel himself united there with the inner being of
Nature. And believing that if he did so unprepared, he would sink into
a kind of spiritual faintness, they would not allow him to attempt
this exploration until he had received the right discipline and
training. And yet in our age everyone penetrates into this region
As a matter of fact man is experiencing to-day precisely what the
ancients took such care to avoid. He acquires his knowledge of Nature;
and he acquires also a strong consciousness of self that enables him
to stand upright amid all the knowledge that is current to-day in
astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. He imbibes this knowledge
and can remain steadfast without losing his balance. Nevertheless
there is a quality in his life of soul that the men of old would
deeply deplore. Because in the course of evolution we have acquired
thought and the feeling of freedom and a stronger selfconsciousness,
therefore we do not lose ourselves when we study the results of natural
science; but we do lose something, and the loss is only too manifest
to-day in the soul-life of mankind everywhere.
In this matter we labour under great illusion; we dream, and we cling
to our dreams, and will not let them go. I have often spoken of how
natural science brings conscientious students to a recognition of the
boundaries of knowledge, boundaries man cannot pass without taking his
power of cognition into forbidden — nay, into impossible —
regions. A very distinguished scientist of modern times has spoken of the
“Ignorabimus,” reading into the word a confession that however
far we go in the knowledge we acquire from sense-observation and the
intellect, we never penetrate to the inner being of Nature. I here
touch on a subject that at once lands us in conflict, as was felt even
at a time when natural science was far less advanced than it is to-day.
It was Albrecht von Haller who expressed the “Ignorabimus”
in the well-known lines:
To Nature's heart
No living soul can reach.
Thrice happy he
To whom she shows
Even her outer shell.
Goethe, who used constantly to hear these words on the lips of those
who shared Haller's attitude towards Nature, labeled such thinkers
“Philistine.” For him they are men who do not want to rouse
themselves to inner activity of soul; for by dint of inner activity the
soul of man can kindle a light within — a light which, shining upon
the heart of Nature, shall carry the soul into her innermost being.
proclaims this in forcible and trenchant manner in his poem
“Allerdings,” quoting to begin with the words to Haller:
‘To Nature's heart
No living soul can reach.’
To me and mine
What use in such a speech?
We think, through every part
We enter into her heart.
Still the cry goes,
‘Thrice happy he
To whom she shows
Even her outer shell.’
For sixty years I have heard that cry;
I curse it, but secretly, silently,
Say to myself a thousand times,
Gladly she gives and she gives us all!
Nature is neither kernel nor shell,
She is both in one; she is one and all.
Look in your own heart, man, and tell
If you yourself are kernel or shell!
Out of an instinctive feeling that was conscious and yet at the same
time unconscious, Goethe rejected utterly the separation of the being
of man's soul from the innermost being of Nature. He saw clearly that
if the soul becomes conscious, in a healthy manner, of its own real
being, then that consciousness brings with it the experience of
standing within the innermost heart of Nature.
This conviction it was that kept Goethe from accepting
philosophy. They make a great mistake who assert that at one time of
his life Goethe came very near to the philosophy of Kant. In
contradistinction to what Kant recognised as the human faculty of
cognition, Goethe postulated what he called “perceptive judgment.”
This means that in order to form a judgment we do not merely pass in
abstract reasoning from concept to concept; rather do we use inwardly
for thought the kind of beholding we use outwardly in sense
perception. Goethe says he never thought about thinking; what he set
himself continually to do was to behold the living element in the
thought. And in this beholding of the thoughts he saw a way to unite
the human soul with the very being of Nature.
Anthroposophical Spiritual Science would go further on the same path. This
perceptive judgment — which, as presented by Goethe, was still in its
beginnings — it sets out to develop in the direction indicated in my
“How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds.”
Faculties of cognition, which in ordinary life, and in the pursuit also of
ordinary science, remain latent in man, are led up to “vision,”
to a “new beholding.” Just as man perceives around him with
the physical eye colours, or light and darkness, so with the eye of the
spirit does he now behold the spiritual. By the practice of certain intimate
exercises of the soul, he calls forth and develops within him powers
that usually remain hidden, and so lifts himself up to a higher kind
of knowledge which is able to plunge into the very heart of external
Nature. You have frequently heard me speak of the successive stages of
this higher knowledge, and I would like here to say a little about
their evolution from a particular point of view.
We are accustomed to think of the course of our life as divided
between waking and sleeping. These two conditions must, we know,
alternate for us if we are to remain healthy in mind and body. How is
it with us from the time of awakening to the time of falling asleep?
The experiences of the soul are permeated with thoughts; the thoughts
receive a certain colouring from the life of feeling; and there is
also the life of will, which wells up from dim depths of our being
under the guidance of the thoughts, and accomplishes deeds. In the
other condition, that of sleep, we lie still; our thoughts sink into
darkness; our feelings vanish and our will is inactive. The ordinary
normal life of man shows these two alternating conditions. The picture
is, however, incomplete; and we shall not arrive at any satisfactory
idea of the nature of man if we are content to see the course of his
life in this simple manner.
We take it for granted that between waking up and falling asleep we
are awake. But the fact is, we are not awake in our whole being. This
is overlooked, and consequently we have no true psychology; we come to
no right understanding of the soul. If, ridding ourselves of all
prejudice, we try to observe inwardly what we experience when we feel,
We discover that our feeling life is by no means so illumined with the
light of consciousness as is the life of thought and ideation. It is
dim, by comparison. For a sense of self, for an experience of self,
the life of feeling is undoubtedly every bit as real as — even
perhaps in some ways more real than — the life of thought: but
clarity, light-filled clarity, is enjoyed by thought alone. There is
always something undefined about the life of feeling. Indeed, if we
examine the matter carefully, comparing different conditions of soul
one with another, we are led finally to the conclusion that the life
which pulsates in feeling may be compared with dream life. Study the
dream life of man; consider how it surges up from unknown depths of
his being; how it manifests in pictures, but in pictures that are
vague and indeterminate, so that one does not see all at once exactly
how they are connected with external reality. Has not the life of
feeling the same quality and character?
Feelings are, of course, something altogether different from dream
pictures, but when we compare the degree of consciousness in both, we
find it to be very much the same. The life of feeling is a kind of
waking dream; the pictures that appear in the dream are here pressed
down into the whole organic life. The experience is different in each
case, and yet the experience is present in the soul in the same manner
in both. So that in reality we are awake only in the life of ideation;
in the feeling life we dream even while we are awake.
With the life of the will it is again different. We do not as a rule
give much thought to the matter, but is it not so that the impulse of
will arises within us without our having any clear consciousness of
its origin? We have a thought; and out of the thought springs an
impulse of will. Then again we see ourselves acting; and then again we
have a thought about the action. But we cannot follow with
consciousness what comes between. How a thought becomes an impulse for
the will and shoots into my muscle-power; how the nerve registers the
movement of the muscles; how, in other words, that which has been sent
down into the depths of my being as thought, comes to be carried out
in action, afterwards to emerge again when I perceive myself
performing the action — all this lives in me in no other way than do
the experiences of sleep.
In deep sleep we have in a sense lost our own being; we pass through
the experiences of sleep without being aware of them; and it is the
same with what comes about through the activity of the will-impulse in
man. We dream in our life of feeling, and we are asleep in our
willing; dreaming and sleeping are thus perpetually present in waking
life. And in these unknown depths of being where the will has its
origin, arises also that which we eventually gather up — focus, as it
were — in consciousness of self. Man comes to a recognition of his
full humanity only when he knows himself as a being that thinks and
feels and wills.
Ordinary life, therefore, embraces unconscious conditions. And it is
just through the life of ideation becoming separated from the rest of
the soul life and lifted up into consciousness, that a way is made for
the development of the experience of freedom. Here, in a sense, we
divide ourselves up. We are awake in a part of ourselves, in the life
of ideation, whilst in relation to another part of us we are as
unconscious as we are in relation to the inner being of Nature.
It is at this point that Anthroposophical Spiritual Science steps in
with its methods for attaining higher knowledge. This spiritual
science is very far removed from any dreamy, obscure mysticism, nor
does it support itself, like spiritualism, on external experiment. The
foundation for the whole method of spiritual scientific research lies
in the inner being of man himself; it can be evolved in full
consciousness and will manifest the same clarity as the most exact
material conceptions. The world of feeling, which generally, as we
have seen, leads a kind of dream life, can become hooded with the same
light that permeates thoughts and ideas — which, according to some
schools of philosophy, themselves originate in the feelings. By means
of exercises described in my book,
“How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds.”
this lighting up of the world of feeling is brought about,
with the result that the region which is usually dreamlike in
character now lives in the soul as “imaginative” consciousness.
The moment man gives himself up to this imaginative consciousness,
something is present for him in consciousness that remains generally
beneath the Threshold. He thinks pictures, knowing, however, quite
well that he is not dreaming them, but that they correspond to
Spiritual Science then leads on further, to “inspired”
consciousness, and here we are taken into the realm of the will. Little by
little, we are brought to the point of being able to behold clairvoyantly
— please do not misunderstand the expression — how the whole
human organisation functions when the will pulsates in it. We see what
actually takes place in the muscle when the will is active. Such a knowledge
is “inspired” knowledge. Man dives down into his own inner
being and acquires a self-knowledge which is generally veiled from
him. We come to know more of man than stands before us as “given”
between birth and death. Feeling and willing being now also flooded
with the light of consciousness, we can know man not only as a created
being, perceiving in him that which wakes up every morning and enters
again into a body ready-made; we can recognise in him also the
creative power which comes down from spiritual worlds at the time of
birth or conception, and itself forms and organises the body. In
effect, at this further stage man comes to know his own eternal being
which lives beyond birth and death; he attains to a direct beholding
of the eternal and spiritual in his soul.
As man learns in this way to know himself, not merely as natural man,
but as spirit, he finds that he is also now within the inner being of
Nature; in the spirit of his own nature he recognises the spirit of
the Nature that is all around him. And at this point a fact of deep
significance is revealed — namely, that with our modern knowledge of
Nature we are already standing on the other side of the Threshold, in
the old sense of the word. The men of olden times believed they would
lose their self-consciousness if they entered this region unprepared.
We do not lose our self-consciousness, but we do lose the world.
The full clarity of thought and idea, to which man owes his
consciousness of self, has been achieved by him only in modern times;
and now this consciousness of self needs to be carried a step further.
The men of old paid particular heed to the training of the will; we
have now to press forward, as I emphasised in my “Philosophy of
Spiritual Activity,” to pure thinking. We must develop our thinking;
it must grow into Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. And this
will bring us once again to a Threshold, a new Threshold into the
spiritual world. We must not remain in the world that offers itself
for sense-perception and leaves the inner being of Nature beyond the
boundaries of knowledge. We must cross another Threshold, the
Threshold that lies before our own inner being.
At this Threshold we shall no longer let our imagination run away with
us and conjure up all manner of atoms and molecules to account for the
impressions of colour and sound and heat; for when we come consciously
to recognise, and be within, our own spirit, then we shall find we are
also within the spirit of Nature. We shall learn to know Nature
herself as spirit. In the region where to-day we talk of an atomistic
world (we are really only postulating behind Nature a second equally
material Nature), in the very region where to-day we are losing the
world, we shall find the spirit. And then we shall have the right
fundamental feeling towards the inner being of Nature and, also, the
being of the human soul.
It is, as you see, a different attitude we have to attain from that of
olden times. We must be conscious that we are living in conditions the
men of old wanted to avoid. This does not mean, however, that we are
in danger of losing ourselves; our world of thought has been too
strongly developed for that. And if we develop the world of thought
still further, then we shall also not lose what we are in danger of
losing. The men of olden times were threatened with the loss of self,
with a kind of faintness of the soul. We are faced with the danger of
losing the world for our ego-consciousness; of being so surrounded and
overborne by purely mathematical pictures of the world, purely
atomistic conceptions, that we lose all sense of the “whole”
world in its infinite variety and richness. In order that we may find the
world again — in order, that is, that we may find the spirit in the
world — we must cross what constitutes for modern man the Threshold.
We may even put it this way: if the men of olden times feared the
Guardian of the Threshold, and needed to be fully prepared before they
might pass him, we in our day must desire earnestly to pass the
Guardian. We must long to carry knowledge of the spirit into those
regions where hitherto we have relied only on external
sense-perception in combination with the results of intellectual
reasoning and experiment. Knowledge of the spirit must be taken into
the laboratory, into the observatory and into the clinic. Wherever
research is carried on, knowledge of the spirit must have place.
Otherwise, since all the results that are arrived at in such
institutions come from beyond the Threshold, man is thereby cut off
from the world in a manner that is dangerous for him. He feels himself
in the presence of an inner being of Nature which he can never
approach on an external path, which he can approach only by becoming
awake in his soul and pressing forward to the immortal part of his own
being. As soon, however, as he does this, he is at that moment also
within the spirit of Nature. He has stepped across the Threshold that
lies in his own being, and finds himself in the presence of the
spiritual in Nature.
To point out to man this path is the task of Anthroposophical
Spiritual Science. It has to give what the other sciences cannot give.
And it may rightly claim to be Goethean, for to those who say:
To Nature's heart
No living soul can reach.
Nature is neither kernel nor shell,
She is both in one, she is one and all.
Look in your own heart, man, and tell
If you yourself are kernel or shell!
We are “shell” as long as we remain in the life of ideas alone. We
sever ourselves from Nature, and all we can do is to talk about her.
But the man who penetrates to his own inner “kernel,” and experiences
himself in the very centre of his soul — he discovers that he is at
the same time in the very innermost of Nature; he is experiencing her
Such, then, is the kind of impulse that Anthroposophical Spiritual
Science is ready to give to the whole of human life, and in particular
to the several sciences. These several sciences need not remain the
highly specialised fields that they have been hitherto; rather shall
each be a contribution to that quest which man must ever follow if he
would rise to a consciousness of his true dignity — the quest for the
eternal in the human being. All that the individual sciences can teach
to-day is still only a knowledge that looks on Nature from without.
But if those who are working in them tread, as well as the outer, also
the inner path of knowledge, then the knowledge acquired in the
different fields can grow into a knowledge of man, a comprehensive
knowledge of mankind. We need such a knowledge in our time if we are
to guide the social problems of the future into paths where right and
healthy solutions can be found — as I have explained in my book,
“The Threefold Commonwealth.”
One who carries deeply enough in his heart the development of
spiritual science will find himself continually face to face with this
question of the connection between the being of man and the inner
being of Nature. The specialised sciences cannot help us here; they
only spread darkness over the world. The darkness is to be feared,
even as the men of olden times feared the region beyond the Threshold.
But it is possible for man to kindle a light that shall light up the
darkness; and this light is the light that shines in the soul of man
when he attains to spiritual knowledge.
Translated by Mary Adams.
- Note 1:
- The Riddles of Philosophy,
English translation in preparation.
- Note 2:
- English title,
Philosophy of Spiritual Activity.
- Note 3:
- English translation from
Goethe and Faust; an Interpretation,
by F. M. Stawell and G. L. Dickinson. G. Bell & Sons, 1928.