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Anthroposophy and Modern Civilization

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Anthroposophy and Modern Civilization

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Anthroposophy and Modern Civilization

Rudolf Steiner Archive Document

Lectures Section

This single lecture is the 6th of 12 lectures in the lecture series entitled, Living Knowledge of Nature, the Fall of the Intellect into Sin, the Spiritual Resurrection, published in German as, Lebendiges Naturerkennen, Intellektueller Suendenfall und Spirituelle Suendenerhebung. It is also known as Salt, Mercury, Sulphur, or Waking and Sleeping of Man, Formerly and Today.

By Rudolf Steiner

The Translator is Unknown
Bn 220; GA 220

This single lecture is the 6th of 12 lectures in the lecture series entitled, Living Knowledge of Nature, the Fall of the Intellect into Sin, the Spiritual Resurrection, published in German as, Lebendiges Naturerkennen, Intellektueller Suendenfall und Spirituelle Suendenerhebung. It is also known as Salt, Mercury, Sulphur, or Waking and Sleeping of Man, Formerly and Today.

This lecture is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. From Bn 220; GA 220; CW 220.

This e.Text edition is provided through the wonderful work of:
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Thanks to an anonymous donation, this Lecture has been made available.


Dornach — January 14, 1923

My dear friends,

Today I should like to continue the theme which we have studied in the last two lectures. Firstly, it is a question of realising those impulses in evolution which have led to the spiritual life of our present age, so that we can see on the one side the Anthroposophical view of the world as a necessity, but on the other hand can fully understand that this Anthroposophical view of the world must find its enemies. Naturally I shall not now enter into the special characteristics of this or that opponent, perhaps that is comprehensible at the present time. Indeed, I want to deal with our theme as generally as possible because it is not essential for the moment to fix our minds on our opponents. Rather it is essential for us at present to understand that if the Anthroposophical Society is to exist as a Society, it must become fully aware of its position in the spiritual life of the day. Also, the Society itself must contribute something towards its own consolidation. Therefore, I am not going to say anything particularly new today. Only a few weeks ago I emphasised the fact that consolidation of the Anthroposophical Society is an absolute necessity.

So first of all, it has to become clear to us how Anthroposophy is placed in modern civilisation, a civilisation which, as regards Europe and America, really only goes back to the time which we have so often, discussed, the time of the 4th Post-Christian century. Now this 4th Post-Christian century lies right in the middle of the 4th Post-Atlantean epoch of time, and I have often pointed out that the spreading of Christianity, — the whole mood by which Christianity was grasped in the early years of the first three or four centuries of Christian evolution — was essentially different to the mood later on in time.

Today we think that following history backwards, we can study the previous epoch, that we can go back to the Middle Ages, then to the events we call the Wanderings of the Peoples. Further back we come to the Roman Empire, passing through that we come to Greece, and then we imagine that we can feel the same atmosphere in this Greece as we can feel in the time of the Roman Emperors or in later European history.

But that is not the case. In reality there lies a deep cleft between that which can still be placed with a certain vividness before the consciousness of modern man, namely, his journey back to Rome; but a deep cleft exists between this and that which took place as life in ancient Greece. Let us bring an outline of this before our souls. If we study the Greece of Pericles or Plato, or of Phidias, or even the Greece of Sophocles and Aeschylus, we find that their basic mood of soul goes back to a Mystery civilisation, to an ancient spirituality. And, above all things, this Greece had still much in itself of what I characterised yesterday as a living experience of absolutely real processes in man's inner being, and which I described as the salt, sulphur and mercury processes. We must be quite clear that Greek thought and Greek feeling came close to the feeling of man, whereas that later age, — from the 4th Post-Christian century onwards — already began to get ready for that which came about in the way described in my last two lectures, in which I showed how Man himself was lost for human nature, for human consciousness.

I also told you that these three personalities, Bruno, Jacob Boehme and, in a certain connection also Lord Bacon, struggled for a knowledge of man's nature, but that it was impossible for their striving really to approach the Being of Man. If, however, we go further back, from Rome to Greece, then this alienation of man's nature — any talk or an alienation of man's nature — ceased to have any sense, because the ancient Greek knew himself as a human being standing in the cosmos. The Greek had no idea of that concept of nature which came about later, that concept of nature which finally culminated in the seizing of the mechanism of nature. One might say of the ancient Greek: — That he saw the clouds, the rain falling, the clouds ascending and all that cones out of the world as fluid; then when with especial vividness looking into himself with his still sharply concrete vision, he saw the circulation of his blood, he did not feel a very great distinction between the rising and falling of water in Nature and the movement of his own blood. The Greek could still grasp something of `the world in man and man in the world.'

These things cannot be taken too deeply, because they lead into a mood of soul which only exists in fragments of the external history. One should not forget how, in the 4th Post-Christian century, evolution took the form of destroying everything which remained of the ancient clairvoyant civilisation. Certainly, modern humanity knows something of this, because of all the information which has been dug up, but one should not forget how that which later gave the impulse to Western civilisation really arose on the relics of ancient Hellenism, of that widespread Hellenism which not only existed in the South of Europe, but even passed over into Asia.

Again, one should not forget that between the middle of the 4th and middle of the 5th centuries after Christ, countless temples were burnt, having an infinitely significant pictorial content, a precious content with reference to everything developed by Hellenism. Our modern humanity, proceeding only according to external documents, does not realise this anymore. But one should recall the words of an author of that time, when he wrote in one of his letters: — “This age is passing to its downfall. All those holy places to be found in the open country, and for the sake of which the labourers worked in every field, are being destroyed. Where can the countrymen now find joy for their work?” One can hardly conceive today how much was destroyed between the middle of the 4th and the middle of the 5th century after Christ,

Now the destruction of those external monuments was part of the effort to exterminate spiritual life in Greece, and this, as you know, was given its most bitter blow by the closing of the Schools of Philosophy in Athens in the year 529. Yes, one can look back into ancient Rome, but one cannot look back into ancient Greece through external history. And it is indeed true that very many things in Western civilisation have come down to us, through the Benedictine Orders, but we must not forget that even the holy Benedict himself founded the Mother Church of the Benedictine Order on the site of an old heathen Temple which had been destroyed. All that had to disappear first, and it did disappear.

Now, with normal human feelings, it is difficult to understand why such an impulse for destruction passed over the whole of the South of Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa at that time. It only becomes comprehensible when one is convinced that the consciousness of mankind in that age was entirely different. I have often mentioned a sentence which is quite incorrect: — “Nature, — or one may say, the world, makes no leaps,” but in history such leaps do occur and the soul mood of civilised humanity in the 2nd. and 3rd centuries after Christ was quite different to the soul mood of today.

But now I should like to draw your attention to something which may make it clearer to you as to how this transformation really occurred. You see, today we must say when we speak of the interchange between waking and sleeping, that the physical and etheric bodies remain in the bed, while the ego and astral bodies go outside. The soul and spirit go out of the physical and etheric bodies.

Now at a certain time in ancient India this was not true; just the opposite would have been correct. Then one would have said that in sleep the soul and spirit of man go deeper into his physical body, more into his physical body.

Now this fact is almost unnoticed, and I must point out to you how, for instance, when the Theosophical Society was founded, the people who founded it had heard some of the spiritual truths from India, and what they heard they made their own property. Now they heard this fact, of the ego and astral body going out. Of course, because the Indians said it then, (i.e. when the Theosophical Society was founded) naturally that was in the 19th century, and in India what is real can be often observed. But when these same people of the Theosophical Society tell us that this is primeval Indian wisdom, it is pure nonsense, because the ancient Indian would have said just the opposite: That the soul and spirit go deeper into the physical body when man sleeps. Which was the case in ancient times.

Now in a certain sense a consciousness of this was existing in Greece, a consciousness of the fact that in sleep the soul and spirit seize the physical body more than in waking, and that this lies in the evolution of mankind.

Now today, because we have to describe things out of our direct spiritual perception, we must describe the following as correct: — The ancient Wise Men, and even the people of Greece, had an instinctive dreamy clairvoyance. And we can describe it so from our modern standpoint, but for those people it was not dreamy. They felt in their condition of clairvoyance as if they were just waking up, they felt themselves especially awake. And so, their consciousness existed with a greater intensity when they perceived the world in those magnificent pictures which I described to you in my last lectures. But they knew that when they pressed down into the inner part of their being and at the same time saw that which occurs in man, that that which they beheld were world processes, because man is in the world. And they knew then that in their time man dived still deeper into his physical body, and in deep sleep their consciousness became dim twilight, even unconsciousness. And these people ascribed to the Influence of their physical body that which embraces the soul and leads it over into sin.

And it was just from this point of view that the ancient consciousness of sin arose. If we exclude the Jewish form of sin, the consciousness of sin leads back into heathendom, and it proceeded from the consciousness of the diving down into the physical body which does not leave the soul free enough to live in the spiritual world. But considering all that I am describing to you, it must be said: — that ancient humanity had a consciousness of the fact that he was a spiritual being, and as a spiritual being, lived in a physical body, but it never occurred to him. to call that MAN which he saw as physical body.

Why, the very word MAN itself leads back to some such meaning as “The Thinker.” Not to something which is to be seen with a more or less red or white face, with two arms and two legs. That was not a man! Man was a being who dwelt as a spiritual soul in that dwelling house of the physical body. And a consciousness of this spiritual psychic man, existing in the wonderful, plastic, artistic forms in Greece, passed over into the sphere of Art, and into the general Greek civilisation.

And even if the external temples, even if the cult became infinitely decadent in many connections, one must still say that in all the divine images and temples which were destroyed, much existed that points to this ancient soul mood. And I might add that the ancient spiritual psychic consciousness of humanity was shown with tremendous power in the form of everything destroyed in those centuries. Now if with that consciousness — not of the following incarnation when the consciousness was changed — but if a Mystery Initiate of that early Greek age came to us with the same consciousness which he then had, he would say: — ”You modern human beings, you are all asleep,” Indeed he would say: — “You modern men are sleeping through everything. We were awake, we woke up in our bodies. We woke up as spiritual beings in our bodies; we knew that we were human beings, because in our bodies we could distinguish ourselves from the body. What you call waking, for us is sleeping, because whereas you wake up and direct your attention to the external world and explain something about the external world, all the time you are asleep with regard to your own human nature. You are asleep, we were awake.” That is what he would say, and from a certain point of view he should be quite right. We wake up from our moment of waking until we go to sleep, as we say, when we are in our physical bodies as spiritual human beings. But then we know nothing of ourselves, we are asleep with regard to ourselves. When, however, we are in the world outside us, we are asleep — and that is the time from sleeping to waking up. Thus, it is that we must learn to wake with the same intensity as that with which the ancient humanity were awake in their bodies. That is, modern man must learn to be awake outside his body when he is really in the external world.

From this you can see that we are dealing with a transition. As humanity, we have all gone to sleep compared with the ancient waking condition, but now we are in just that period when we have to be wakened up into a new waking state. What is the aim of Anthroposophy in this connection? Anthroposophy wants to be, Anthroposophy is nothing else than something which points out to you that man must learn to wake up outside of himself. And so, Anthroposophy comes along and shakes up modern humanity, the modern humanity which that ancient Initiate would have called a sleeping humanity, Anthroposophy shakes, it up, hut they do not want to wake.

Anthroposophy often feels like Gallus beside the sleeper Stickl. (A reference to the Christmas Play just performed). Anthroposophy points out that the birds in the forest are singing. “Let them sing” says the present generation, “the birds have tiny heads and have soon had their ration of sleep.” Then Gallus goes on: “But the heavens are creaking,” Stickl (who is half asleep), “Let them go on creaking, they are old enough.” Of course, it is not said in the same words, but Anthroposophy says: — “The spiritual world wants to break through! Get up while the light of the spirit is shining.” The answer is: — “Let it go on shining, it is old enough.”

My dear friends, really it is so. Anthroposophy wants to awaken the sleepers, because that is just what is demanded of modern civilisation — an awakening — but humanity wants to sleep, and to go on sleeping!

I might say of Jacob Boehme — because he went right into the racial wisdom, and of Giordano Bruno, because he stands in a spiritual community which at that time had preserved so much from ancient times — that in them there lived a memory of the ancient waking condition.

In Lord Bacon there really lived the impulse for the justification of this new sleeping. That is, as I might put it, a still deeper explanation than we were able to give in the two preceding lectures and is the characteristic of our age.

Now with reference to the grasping of his own human nature, man of the present day cannot be awake as was humanity in ancient times, because man today does not press deep down into his physical body as ancient humanity did when asleep; because today when man goes to sleep he goes out of himself, but he must learn to come out of his physical body in a waking condition, for only thereby will he be in a position to realise himself again in his human nature.

But this impulse to continue asleep is still growing. “Stickl, the carters are cracking their whips in the street.” “Well, let them go on cracking, they have not far to go.”

It is du Bois Raymond, not Gallus, who says; — “Man has limits of knowledge, he cannot enter into the phenomena, the secrets of nature, he must limit himself.” But Anthroposophy says; — “We must strive yet further and further; the call for spirituality is already resounding.” “Well” says du Bois Raymond, “let it go on sounding, it won't be so very long before Natural Science will have come to the end of earthly days and therewith to the end of the discovery of all the secrets of nature.”

My dear friends, in many a relationship one thus finds a justification for the sleep of humanity today, because all talk of the limit of knowledge is a justification for sleep instead of a justification for a penetration into one's knowledge of human nature. And our present humanity can find ways enough of going to sleep. Even of this we have often spoken in our lectures. Today people only want to listen to things which can be put before them in images, in pictures. That is why the cinema is like so much., but it is not popular when the listeners are asked to work with their heads. And so it is today that people want to go on dreaming of world secrets, but do not want to co-operate actively with those world secrets by means of energetic thinking. But that is just the path of awakening — one begins to wake up in one's thinking, because it is thought which first of all seeks to evolve into activity. That is the reason why in my “Philosophie der Freiheit” decades ago I pointed to this kind of thinking with such energy.

And now I should like to remind you of something else. I should like you to call to mind many a dream which you have had, and I should like to ask you whether you have never had a dream in which you have done something of which you would have been ashamed if you had done it in the daytime, — if you ever did by day what you did in the dream. Well, perhaps there are many sitting here who have never had such a dream, but at any rate they could let other people tell them of such an experience, because many people have dreamt of things they would never repeat in their waking lives, because they would be ashamed. My dear friends, apply that to our great sleep today — which we call the great sleep of present civilisation — where people really are letting themselves dream of all kinds of cosmic secrets, Anthroposophy comes along and says: — “Stickl, get up!” Anthroposophy wants to wake the people, they ought to wake! I can give you this assurance, — Many of the things that have been done in this civilisation would never have been done if humanity had been awake. That really is the case. You will say: — Who is going to believe that? Well, the dreamer pursuing his little business in his dreams, does not bother himself as to how that is really going to look when he is awake, but unconsciously the feeling exists somewhere in his soul that one really dare not do such things if one were awake. I do not mean this in a pedantic or a commonplace way, I just mean that many of the things which one considers today as being quite in order would look differently if one were really awake in one's soul.

And an unholy anxiety prevails in the soul because of this, especially in science. (If one were awake one could no longer comfortably dissect first a liver and next a brain.) One would be terribly ashamed of many methods of investigation if one were awake Anthroposophically. How can one ask people using such methods to wake up without any further reason? One notices many extraordinary apologies which exist for sleeping.

And now I want you to think of something else. What an immense pleasure a dreamer has when he dreams something which actually happens, say a couple of days later. You must have noticed yourselves the tremendous joy of a superstitious dreamer when his dream actually happens; and it often happens, and they all have this tremendous joy. In our present civilisation dreamers calculate by Newton's laws of gravitation, by formulae which have been worked out by mathematicians, and they have calculated that Uranus has a definite path in the heavens. But that path does not agree with the formulae and therefore they go on dreaming; certain disturbances must exist owing to a planet as yet undiscovered. When this did happen, and when Dr. Gall really discovered Neptune, the vision was fulfilled. Now this is just what is so often brought forward today as a justification of the methods of Natural Science.

The existence of Neptune was calculated in a dream and later the dream really happened. It is just like a person dreaming of something which later on takes place. Then there is the case of Mendaleff, who even calculated elements out of his periodic system. But this dream of c curse is not quite so difficult, because when such a periodical system is discovered and one place in it is empty, then it is easy enough to fill up that place and to mention a few properties. Here we have the fulfilment of a vision by the same methods as when a sleeper dreams of something which actually takes place a couple of days later, and which, he then calls a verification of the fact. And today people say that in this way the affair can be proved.

One has to understand how radically our modern civilisation has become the civilisation of sleepers and how necessary an awakening is for humanity. At the same time this tendency to sleep in our present age has to be seen very clearly by those who have received an urge from Spiritual Science towards waking. Such a moment must occur as sometimes in a dream when the dreamer knows “I am dreaming,” and in the same way humanity ought to have a special feeling for a strong expression which was once used by that energetic philosopher J.G. Fichte. Fichte said “The world which is spread out before mankind is a dream and all that man thinks about the world is a dream about a dream,” Of course one must not fall into anything like the philosophy of Schopenhauer, because, after all you are not doing very much for a human being when you characterise everything in front of him as a dream. It is not one's task merely to say: — “one dreams,” that is not quite enough. But that is all that many people of the present want to prove: — Man dreams and cannot do anything else but dream. Then in one's dream one comes to the limit of one's dream. And beyond the dream is what Kant calls the “Thing in itself,” and one cannot approach the thing in its reality. Edouard von Hartmann, that acute thinker, often spoke of this kind of dreaming with relation to reality. And Edouard von Hartmann makes it clear that everything which man has in his consciousness is a dream by the side of the Thing in Itself, of which man knows nothing, but which lies at the basis of his dream. So that Hartmann, who drives everything to extremes, speaks of the `real' table, in contrast to the table which we have before us in our sensations. The table we have in our consciousness is a dream, and behind that stands the table in its reality. Hartmann distinguishes between the table as appearance and the table in itself; between the chair in appearance and the chair in itself. But he is not fully conscious that finally the chair of which he is speaking had something to do with the chair in itself, because if you take the chair as appearance one cannot very well sit down on it. Even a dreamer has to have a bed to lie on. And so all this talk of “the Thing in Itself” can only be a preparation for something else. For what? For waking up, my dear friends.

And so it is not a question of seeing the world as a dream, but, as soon as we have the idea: — That is a dream! — we must do something we must wake up; and this waking up already begins with an energetic grasping of one's own thinking. It begins with active thinking, and from that point one comes to other things.

Now you see, what I have characterised — this impulse for awakening — is a necessary impulse for the present time. Certainly that which as Anthroposophy can be presented to the world; but however, when an Anthroposophical Society becomes a Society, then that Society must represent a reality. Then every single person who lives in the Anthroposophical Society should feel it as a reality, and he must be deeply permeated by the will to awake, and not, as is so often the case, feel insulted if one says to him: — “Stickl, stand up.” This is very necessary. And it is something which I should like to repeat in a few words.

The misfortune (i.e. the burning of the Bau) which has met us should above all be an awakening call to the Anthroposophical Society to do something that is a reality. This real Being — which I have characterised at the end of the Christmas Congress — this real Being (Wesen) which one can feel since that time as “the living stream from man to man within the Anthroposophical Society” that must exist, a living stream from one to the other. A certain lack of love has often appeared in the newest phases of our Society instead of a mutual trust, and if this lack of love gets the upper hand then the Anthroposophical Society must crumble. You see, our building brought many wonderfully beautiful qualities in the different Anthroposophists to the surface, but side by side with them there had to be an invigoration of the Society itself. Many of these beautiful qualities were named during our course of lectures which were given during the building of the Bau, and on the night of the burning of the Bau, but those beautiful qualities require guidance, and above all things this is necessary: — That anyone who has anything to do within the Society should not carry into it those things, which today are so customary outside it. And above all things, that each one who does anything for the Society should do it with real personal interest and participation. It is this personal interest, this personal share that one misses when people do one thing or another for our Society.

My dear friends, no service for the Society — and that means anything done in the Society by one person for another — nothing can be trivial. The tiniest service rendered becomes valuable thro' its standing in the service of something great. That is so often forgotten, and the Society must really see this with the greatest and highest satisfaction, at a time when such a staggering blow demands the cultivation of these most beautiful qualities in the members. But at the same time, it should not be forgotten that in the industrious and patient accomplishment of everyday things, much which is necessary is overlooked. These are things which must not be undervalued when one sees Anthroposophy finding its enemies in the world around it. The fact that an enemy (Gegenschaft} is there, must not be overlooked, rather must it be grasped out of the very objective course of evolution itself. And I have often been astonished, and have said so publicly, at the lack of interest when opposition, taking its roots in objective untruth, develops around us. We must really place ourselves as positive defenders of Anthroposophy when it comes to a question of objective untruth. And at the same time, we must be able to raise ourselves to an understanding of the fact that Anthroposophy can only exist in an atmosphere of truth. We must develop a feeling of what it really means when so much untruth and so much objective calumny is brought against Anthroposophy. And for this we also need a real inner life. So you see, my dear friends we have a splendid opportunity for awakening ourselves. And if we can only reach the awakening in this sphere, then the impulse for awakening will spread itself out over other things.

But if we see everyone asleep while the flames of untruth are making themselves felt everywhere, then we must not be surprised when even Stickl goes on sleeping?

So that which I should like to characterise today, both in great things and also in tiny things is: — “Think, feel and meditate about this awakening.” So many today long for esotericism while these calumniations are hailing on our windows. Well, my dear friends, esotericism is there. Take hold of it. But, above all things, the will to awake is esoteric in our Society, and this will to awake must take its place within the Anthroposophical Society. Then the will to awake within the Society will be a point from which the awakening of the whole present civilisation will radiate.

And of this we shall speak further in our next lecture.

Last Modified: 15-May-2019
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