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The Human Soul and the Human Body

On-line since: 31st December, 2018

Provisional Publication/For Personal Study Only

Foreword to Rudolf Steiner's Lectures:

“The Human Soul and the Human Body” - March 15, 1917


“Riddles of the Soul and Riddles of the Universe” – March 17, 1917

Berlin, March 1917 — The First World War had run its fearful course for two years and seven months. There might, perhaps, have been a chance during the preceding months that the warring powers would have sought a negotiated settlement, but with the collapse of the Czarist regime in Russia in March and the entry of America into the struggle in April, the die was cast and it was now war to the death — to final victory for one side or the other. And with this the stage was set for the drama of the 20th century.

Rudolf Steiner was in Berlin, when he was not in Switzerland, in Dornach, carving and painting, guiding and inspiring the work on the great building which was, in 1917, nearing completion within sound of the French and German guns to the north. He knew that only a thinking which could go to the roots of the problems which had finally made the war inevitable, could provide the ground on which a socially constructive peace might hope to be built. And he saw that such thinking must reach beyond a one-sidedly spiritual world view or a one-sided materialism and must show how the two worlds — soul-spiritual and sense perceptible — interact and form a whole.

For thirty years Steiner had pursued his spiritual-scientific research into the ways in which the human soul — as thinking, feeling and willing being — penetrates the bodily organism. And, as he said, it was only during the terrible years of war that the results of this research had finally become clear and enabled him to give them conceptual form. It must, therefore, have been with a sense of urgent responsibility that he interrupted the public lecture series which had begun in February to hold the two lectures which appear here for the first time in English translation.

He begins the first lecture by drawing his hearers' attention to the failure of the researchers of soul — the psychologists — to build a bridge to the physical and of the natural scientists to find the bridge to the soul, and he then goes on to show that only a science which can extend the methods of natural science — with its awe-inspiring achievements — into an investigation of soul and spirit can hope to build the bridge which is so urgently needed. And it is only such a science which can show how the human soul, in its totality, penetrates and makes use of the entire human bodily organism as the instrument for will and feeling, as well as for thought.

In the second lecture, Rudolf Steiner links his anthroposophical spiritual-scientific research with the work of those pioneering forerunners among the idealistic German thinkers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries who came to realize that the life of the organism pre-supposes an invisible, persistent body of supersensible forces which unites with, organizes and sustains the physical organism and survives its dissolution. And he goes on to show how the etheric from without, enlivened by the etheric within, gives rise to mental images, to thought representations, and to memory, and when rightly intensified, can lead to genuine imagination, but can also spawn hallucinations when the etheric reaches too deeply into the physical organism. In contrast, he describes how in willed activity, when the soul unfolds an impulse of will, the etheric is partially withdrawn from the organism and the soul works directly through the etheric into the metabolism. When this activity is intensified, intuition becomes possible, but when the etheric is bound by the physical, compulsive actions arise. It is also within the context of these lectures that Rudolf Steiner makes the challenging assertion that spiritual-scientific research reveals no essential difference between the so-called motor and sensory nerves. In this view, all nerves are sensory, serving only to perceive the subtle changes in the breathing organism and the metabolism which are affected by the soul's intervention in feeling and will.

These few indications may suffice to show the fundamental significance of these two lectures in the evolution of a new, and radical anthroposophical anthropology. The insights which they embodied were given written form in the volume which Steiner published the following November, and we owe it to Owen Barfield, the distinguished English essayist and critic, that this later volume — Von Seelenrätseln (Riddles of the Soul) — was made available to English readers some twenty-five years ago. [ The Case for Anthroposophy. Rudolf Steiner Press, 1970. (Selections from Von Seelenrätseln. Translated, arranged and with an Introduction by Owen Barfield.)] Yet it is only when one takes the highly concentrated presentation contained in the Commentary Note appended to Von Seelenrätseln together with the two earlier lectures that the full magnitude of these research results becomes apparent. One then comes to realize that what one meets in its germinal, seed form in 1917 had already expanded and taken root in two years' time in the later lectures with which Rudolf Steiner laid the foundation for the establishment of the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart in August 1919. The two lectures presented here are therefore an integral part of the wellspring from which Waldorf education flows.

Henry Barnes

Last Modified: 07-Jan-2019
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