Steiner Online Library Spiritual Science for Human Evolution

The Forming of Destiny and Life after Death
GA 157a

6. Lecture on the Poem of Olaf Åsteson — The Darkness of the present-day Spiritual Life and the Lack of Truth in our Thinking.

21 December 1915, Berlin

We shall begin to-day by studying a Northern poem that we considered in this group some time ago. The whole content of this poem is connected with Christmas and the Christmas season. It treats of the Legend of Olaf Åsteson and contains the fact that Olaf Åsteson, a legendary person, passed the thirteen days between Christmas and the Day of Epiphany in a very unusual way. And we are reminded thereby how within the world of these Sagas there lives the perception of the primitive clairvoyance formerly existing in humanity. The story is the following: Olaf Åsteson reaches a church door one Christmas Eve and falls into a sort of sleep-like condition. And during these thirteen nights he experiences the secrets of the spiritual world; he experiences them in his own way, as a simple primitive child of nature. We know that during these days when in a sense the deepest outer darkness prevails over the earth, when the growth of vegetation is at its lowest ebb, when, in a sense, everything external in physical earth-life is at a standstill, that the earth-soul awakens and attains its fullest waking consciousness. Now, if a human soul mingles its spiritual nature with what the spirit of the earth then experiences, it can, if it still retains the primitive conditions of nature, rise to a vision of the spiritual world such as humanity as a whole must gradually re-acquire through its own efforts. We then see how this Olaf Åsteson actually experiences what we are able to bring from out of the spiritual world. For whether he says Brooksvalin and we say Kamaloka or soul-world and spiritual world, or whether we use different images to those of the Saga, is of no consequence. The chief thing is that we should perceive how humanity has proceeded in its soul evolution from an original primitive clairvoyance, from a state of union with the spiritual world, and that this had to be lost so that man could acquire that thinking, that conscious standing in the world through which he had to pass, and from and beyond which he must again develop a higher perception of the spiritual world. I might say that this spiritual world which the primitive clairvoyance has forsaken is the same in which the evolved perception again lives; but man has passed through a condition which now causes him to find his way into this spiritual world in a different manner. It is important to develop the feeling that in reality the inner spiritual psychic development of a spiritual psychic being is connected with the transformation of the earth at the different seasons of the year; a psychic spiritual being is connected with the earth as a man's soul with his physical being. And anyone who merely regards the earth as the geologists do, as that which the usual Natural Science of to-day in its materialistic attitude so easily explains, knows as much of this earth as one man knows of another, of whom he is given a model in papier-maché, and which is not filled with all that the soul pours into the external nature of man. External Science really only gives us a mere papier-maché image of the earth. And he who cannot become conscious that a psychic distinction prevails between the winter and summer conditions of the earth are like a man who sees no difference between waking and sleeping. Those great beings of nature in whom we live, undergo states of spiritual transformations as does man himself, who is a microcosmic copy of the great macrocosm. Nature and the experiencing of it, the spiritual living with it has a certain significance. And he who can evoke a consciousness that just during these thirteen nights something transpires in the soul of the earth which man can also experience, will have found one of the ways through which man can live more and more into the spiritual world. The feeling for this experience of what is lived through in the great Cosmic existence has been lost to humanity to-day. We hardly know any more of the difference between winter and summer than that in winter the lamps must be lit earlier, and that it is cold in winter and warm in summer. In earlier times humanity really lived together with nature, and expressed this by relating in pictorial fashion how beings traversed the land while the snow fell, and passed through the country when the storm raged but of this in its deepest sense the present-day materialistic mind of man understands nothing. Yet man may grow into this frame of mind again in the deepest sense, if he turns to what the old Sagas still relate, especially in as profound a myth as that of Olaf Åsteson, which shows in such a beautiful way how a simple primitive man, while losing his physical consciousness grows into the clear light of spiritual vision. We shall now bring this Saga before our souls, this Saga which belongs to bygone centuries; which has been lost, and has now been recorded again from the Folk-memories. It is one of the most beautiful of the Northern Sagas, for it speaks in a wonderful way of profound, Cosmic mysteries — in so far as the union of the human soul with the world-soul is a Cosmic mystery.

(The Legend was here recited.)

As we are able to meet here to-day, we may perhaps speak of a few things which may be useful to some of us when we look back to what have learnt through Spiritual Science in the course of the year. We know and this has lately been emphasised even in our public lectures — that at the back of what is visible to external perception as external man, there lies a spiritual kernel of man's being which in a sense is composed of two members. We have learnt to know the one as that which meets our spiritual vision on undergoing the experience usually designated as the “Approach to the Gate of Death”; the other member of the inner life appears before the human soul when we become aware that in all the experiences of our will there is an inner spectator, an onlooker, who is always present. Thus we can say: human thought, if we deepen it through meditation, shows us that in man there is always present in the innermost of his own spiritual being a something which, as regards the external physical body, works at the destruction of the human organism, a destruction which finally ends in death. We know from the considerations already put forward that the actual force employed in thinking is not of a constructive nature, but is rather, in a sense, destructive. Through our power of dying, through our so developing our organism in our life between birth and death that it can fall into decay and dissipate into the Cosmic elements, we are enabled to create the organ by means of which we develop thought, the noblest flower of physical human existence. But in the depths of a man's life between birth and death there is a kind of life-germ for the future which is especially adapted to progress through the gates of death; it is that which develops in the currents of Will and which can be regarded as the ‘spectator’ already characterised. It must continually be urged that what brings spiritual vision to the soul of man is not something which first develops through the spiritual vision itself, but something which is always present; it is always there, only man in our present epoch should not see it. This may be said, that one ought not to see it. For the evolution of the spiritual life has made much progress, especially in the last decades, so that anyone who really gives himself up to what in our materialistic age is designated ‘the spiritual life’ spreads a veil over that which lives in his inner nature. In our present age those concepts and ideas are chiefly developed which are best calculated to conceal what is present spiritually in man. In order to strengthen ourselves aright for our special task, we who follow Spiritual Science may point, just at this significant season, to the particularly dark side of present-day spiritual life, which must indeed exist, just as the darkness in external nature must also exist; but which we must perceive and of the existence of which we must become aware. We are living through a relatively dark period of civilisation in regard to the spiritual life. We need not constantly repeat that in no wise do we undervalue the enormous conquests of which — in this epoch of darkness, mankind is so proud. Nevertheless with regard to spiritual things the fact remains that those concepts and ideas which are created in our epoch, absolutely conceal that which lives in the souls of men — especially from those who immerse themselves most earnestly in these ideas. In reference to this the following may be mentioned. Our epoch is specially proud of its clear thinking, acquired through its important scientific training. Our age is very proud of itself. Of course not so proud as to lead all men to want to think a great deal: no, its pride does not lead to that. But it results in this, that people say: ‘In our epoch we must think a great deal if we want to know anything of the spiritual world.’ To do the necessary thinking oneself is very difficult. But that is the task of the theologians. They can ruminate on these things. Thus, our epoch is supposed to be very highly evolved and is exalted above the dark age of belief in authority; and so we must listen to the theologians, who are able to think about spiritual things. Our epoch has also progressed with respect to the concept of right and wrong, of good and evil. Our epoch is the epoch of thought. But in spite of this advance from the belief in authority, it has not led each man to think more deeply on right and wrong; the lawyers do that. And therefore because we have got beyond the epoch of belief in authority we must leave it to the enlightened lawyers to think over what is good and evil, right or wrong. And with reference to bodily conditions, to bodily cures, because we do not know what is healthy or unhealthy in this epoch which desires to be so free from belief in authority, we go to the doctors. This could be exemplified in all domains. Our epoch is not much inclined to despair, as was Faust, thus:

‘I have studied, alas! Philosophy
And Jurisprudence and Medicine too.
And saddest of all Theology!
With ardent labour through and through!
And here I stick, as wise, poor fool!
As when my steps first turned to school.’

One thing results: our age actually refuses to know anything of the things which perplexed Faust, but desires to know all the more of those things already clearly cognised in the many different departments in which the weal and woe of humanity are decided. Our epoch is so terribly proud of its thinking, that those who have brought themselves to read a little Philosophy in the course of their lives — I will not go so far as to say they have read Kant, but merely some commentary on Kant — are now convinced that anyone who asserts anything about the spiritual world in the sense of Spiritual Science, sins against the undeniable facts established by Kant. It has often been said that the whole work of the Nineteenth Century has been directed to developing human thought and investigating it by means of critical knowledge. And many to-day call themselves ‘critical thinkers’ who have only taken in a little. Many men to-day, for instance, assert that man's knowledge is limited, for he perceives the outer world through his senses; yet these senses can merely yield what they produce through themselves. Thus man perceives the world by its effects on his senses, therefore he cannot get behind the things of the world, for he can never transcend the limit of his senses! He can only receive pictures of reality. And many, speaking from the depths of their philosophy, say: ‘The human soul has only pictures of the world;’ and thus it can never arrive at the ‘Thing in Itself.’ One may thus compare what we obtain through our senses, our eyes, ears, etc. — to pictures in a mirror. Certainly, if a mirror is there and throws back pictures, the image of one man, the image of a second man, etc., and we behold them, we have then a world of images. Then come the philosophers, and say: ‘Just as anyone who sees a man, or two in a mirror, in a reflected image, has a picture world of his own, and as he does not behold the “Thing in Itself,” the man, but merely his image, so we really have only images of the whole external world, when the rays of light and colour strike the eye, and the waves of air strike our ear, we have only images. All are images! Our critical epoch has resulted in this: that man forms nothing but images in his soul, and can never through these images reach to the “Thing in Itself.”’

Infinite sagacity (I now speak in full earnestness) has been applied by Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century in order to prove that man merely has images and can never reach the ‘Thing in Itself.’ What is really the origin of this critical resignation, of this passivity as regards the ‘limitations of our knowledge,’ when we thus discover the image nature of our perception? Whence does it originate? It arises from the fact that in many ways the thought of our epoch, of our enlightened age, is devoid of truth, and short sighted. Our thinking throws out an idea in a pedantic fashion and cannot get beyond it. It holds up this idea like a wooden mannequin and can no longer find anything which is not given by the mannequin. It is almost incredible how rigid thought has become in our time. I shall just make clear to you, by means of the same comparison of the reflected image, the whole story of this image nature of our perception, and of what the so-called critical progressive thought has produced. It is quite a correct premise that the world, as man has it here in sense existence, is only here because it impresses itself on man and throws up images in his soul. And it is well that humanity should have reached this point, through the critical philosophy of Kant. We are well able to say: The images we have of the outer world are such that we can compare them with images of the two men in a mirror. Thus, we have a mirror and two men stand before it. We do not see the men but their pictures. We thus have images of the world through what our souls know of the outer world. We have images which we compare with the two men whose reflected pictures we behold. But some one who had never seen men, but only images, would be able to philosophise thus: ‘I know nothing of the men, but their lifeless images.’ Thus conclude the critical philosophers. And with this conclusion they remain satisfied. They would find themselves refuted in their own being, if they could get a little further away from their mannequin of thought, out of the dead into the living thought. For, if I am in front of a mirror in which are reflected two men, and I see in it that the one strikes the other so that he is wounded, I should be a fool to say: ‘The one mirror-image has struck the other.’ For I no longer see merely the image in the mirror, but through the image I see real events. I have nothing but the image, but I see an absolutely real occurrence through the mirror image. And I should be a fool to believe that that only took place in the mirror. Thus: critical philosophy seizes the one thought that we have to deal with images, but not the other thought, that these images express the facts of something living. And if we grasp these images in a living way, they give more than pictures, for they point to the ‘Thing in Itself,’ which is the real outer world.

Can one still say that the people who produce this ‘Critical Philosophy’ really think? Thought is to a great extent lacking in our time. It is really at a stand-still. And we have stood still at this ‘Criticising of Thought.’ I have often mentioned that this criticism, this critical philosophy, has even progressed in our culture, and that a man making a noble effort (they are all honourable men and their efforts entirely praiseworthy) has produced a certain ‘Criticism of Language.’ Fritz Mauthner has written a ‘Criticism of Language’ in three thick volumes, and even a philosophical dictionary written from this standpoint, in two still thicker volumes. And Mauthner, himself a journalist, has a whole journalistic train of followers, who naturally regard it as a great work. And in our time, in which ‘Belief in Authority’ is supposed to be of no importance, very many who have reached that standpoint, consider it a significant work, as does even the press for which Fritz Mauthner wrote; for to-day ‘there exists no belief in authority!’

Now, Mauthner finally explains how man actually forms nouns, adjectives, etc., but says they all signify nothing real. In the outer world one does not experience what words signify. Man so lives himself into words that we really do not have his thoughts and soul images, but merely words, words, words. Humanity finds itself entangled in the language which gives him his vocabulary. And because he is accustomed to attach himself to the language, he only reaches the symbol of things as given in words! Now, that is supposed to be something very significant. And if one reads these three volumes by Mauthner, and if you have something to reproach yourself with, it is a good penance to read half of them! Then one finds that their author is profoundly convinced — indeed one cannot put it otherwise — that he is cleverer than all the clever men of his time. Of course a man who judges of his own book is naturally cleverer than the others. So Fritz Mauthner finally concludes that man has nothing but signs, signs, signs. Indeed, he goes still further. He goes so far as to say the following: Man has eyes, ears, sense of touch, etc., that is, a collection of sense organs. And in Mauthner's opinion man might have not only organs of sight, hearing, touch, taste, but quite different senses. For instance, he might have another sense besides the eye. He would then perceive the world quite differently with this sense from what he does by receiving pictures through the eyes. Then much would exist for him which is not perceptible to the ordinary man. And now this critical thinker feels a little mystically inclined, and says: “The immeasurable fullness of the world is conveyed to us only through our senses.” And he calls these senses ‘Accidental Senses,’ because in his opinion it is a Cosmic accident that we should have just these very senses. If we had other senses the world would appear differently. Thus it is best to say: “We have accidental senses! Thus an accidental world!” Yet he says the world is immeasurable! — It sounds beautiful. One of the followers of Fritz Mauthner has written a brochure called Scepticism and Mysticism. In this special attention is drawn to the fact that man may even become a mystic in the depths of his soul, when he no longer believes what these accidental senses can give. A beautiful sentence is given us on the twelfth page of this book.

‘The world pours down on us; through the few miserable openings of our accidental senses we take in what we can grasp, and fasten it to our old vocabulary, since we have nothing else to retain it with. But the world streams further, our language also streams on further, only not in the same direction, but according to the accident of language, which is subject to no laws.’

Another philosophy! What does it want to do? It says: The world is immeasurable, but we have merely a number of accidental senses into which the world streams. What do we do with what thus streams in? What do we do according to this gentleman's doctrine of accidents? We remind ourselves of what he calls memory. We fasten that on to the words transmitted to us through our language, and the language then streams on again further. Thus what streams to us from the immeasurable Cosmic Being through our accidental senses, we speak of in our word-symbols. A sagacious thought. I repeat it in all earnestness. It is a sagacious thought. One must be a clever man in our age to think thus. And it can really be said of these people that not only are they all honourable and praiseworthy; ‘they are also remarkable thinkers.’ But they are entangled in the thought of our epoch, and have no will to transcend it.

I have experienced a kind of Christmas sadness — one cannot call it joy for it has become grief, through having once more to consider certain of these matters in this connection. And I have written down a thought, formed exactly after the style of the above thinker who wrote what has just been read. I have applied exactly the same thought to another object with the following results: ‘Goethe's genius is poured on to the paper. With the few miserable forms of its accidental letters the paper takes up what it can, and lets itself express what it can take up with its old store of letters, since there is nothing else to express it with. But Goethe's genius streams on further, the writing on the paper also streams on further, not only in the same direction, but according to the accidents in which letters can group themselves, being subject to no laws.’ It is exactly the same thought, and due regard has been given to each single word. If one maintains that: ‘the immeasurable Cosmos pours down to us, and we take it up with our few accidental senses, as well as we are able, and fix it into our vocabulary: the Cosmos then streams on further, while language streams in another direction, according to the accidents of the history of language, and thus human perception flows on.’ Then this is exactly the same thought as if one said: ‘Goethe's genius flows through the twenty-three accidental letters, because the paper can only receive things in that way. But Goethe's genius is never within them, for it is immeasurable. The accidental letters cannot take that up. They stream on further. What is on the paper also streams on further and groups itself according to the formations possible to the letters, the laws of which cannot be perceived.’ If now these extremely clever gentlemen conclude from such suppositions that what comes to us in the world is merely the result of accidental senses, that we can never get to what really underlies the world in its depths — that is the same as thinking that in reality one can never reach that which lived in the genius of Goethe. For they make it clear — that of this genius nothing exists but the grouping of twenty-three accidental letters. Nothing else is there! These gentlemen have a precisely similar thought, only they are not aware of it. And there is just as much sense in saying: ‘One can never know anything at all of Goethe's genius, for you see that nothing of it can flow to you. You can have nothing but what the different grouping of twenty-three accidental signs can give.’ There is just as much sense in this as in the discussion on the Cosmos that these men bring forth, concerning the possibility or impossibility of Cosmic knowledge. There is just as much sense in this whole train of thought — which is not the thinking of simpletons — but the thinking of those who are really the clever men of to-day, but who do not wish to raise themselves above the thought of our epoch.

The matter has, however, really another aspect. We must be clear that this manner of thinking, which meets us in the example in which it determines the limitations of knowledge, is our own mode of thought in the present age. It prevails, and is to be found everywhere to-day. And whether you read this or that apparently philosophical book intended to solve the great riddles of the universe — or disguise them — or whether you read the newspaper, this style of thinking is everywhere prevalent. Its methods dominate the world. We drink it in to-day with our morning coffee. More and more daily journals appear with such opinions. And in the whole web of our social life this same manner of thought prevails. I have attempted to expose this thinking in its philosophical development, but it could also be traced in those thoughts which one evolves in every possible relation in life, in everything man reflects upon, this thinking prevails to-day. And this is the cause of man's inability to evolve the will to experience in its reality what, for example, Spiritual Science seeks to give. For Spiritual Science is not incomprehensible to true thinking. But what it has to give must naturally always remain incomprehensible to those men who are built after the pattern of Fritz Mauthner. And the majority of men are fashioned thus to-day. Our contemporary science is absolutely permeated through and through with this thinking. Nothing is here implied against the significance and the great achievements of Science. That is not the point, the essential question is how the soul lives in our age, in our present civilisation. Our age is utterly lacking in the power of fluidic thought, unable really to follow what must be followed if these thoughts are to grasp what Spiritual Science has to impart.

Now we can ask ourselves: ‘How does it come about that such a book as Gustav Landauer's Scepticism and Mysticism can be written, when it simply oozes with self-complacency?’ I might say that the reader himself beams with the whole tone of self-satisfaction within it, as one does on reading Mauthner's Criticism of Language or the article in the Philosophical Dictionary. How is this? One does not learn how this comes about by following the thinking. I can imagine very clever men reading such a book and saying: ‘That is a thoroughly clever man!’ They would be right, for Mauthner is indeed a clever man. But that is not the point; for cleverness expresses itself by a man forming in a certain logical manner those ideas of which he is capable, turning them one after the other into nonsense, and reconstructing them again in some fashion. One may be very clever in some branch or other, and possess a really right sort of cleverness, but if one enters a life which is permeated with the consciousness of spiritual knowledge, then with each step there develops such a relation to the world that one has the feeling: ‘You must go further and further. You must perfect your ideas each day. You must develop the belief that your ideas can lead you further and further.’ One has the feeling that the cleverness of the man who had written such a book is of the following nature: ‘I am clever and through my cleverness I have accomplished something definite. I will now write that in a book. That which I now am I shall inscribe in a book, for I am clever on this the 21st of December, 1915. The book must be finished and will reproduce my cleverness.’ One who really knows never has that feeling. He has the feeling of a continual evolution, of an eternal necessity to refine one's ideas, and to evolve higher. And he certainly no longer has the feeling: ‘On this 21st of December, 1915, I am clever; now, through my cleverness I shall write a book that will be finished in the course of months or years.’ For if he has written a book he truly does not look back to the cleverness which he had when he began to write it, but through the book he acquires the feeling: ‘How little I have really accomplished in the matter and how necessary it is for me to evolve further what I have written.’ This ‘journeying along the path of knowledge,’ this constant inner labour, is almost entirely unknown to our materialistic age; it believes it knows it, but in reality it knows it no longer. And the deepest reason for this can be clothed in the words: ‘These men are so excessively vain.’ Man is tremendously vain, for, as I said, such a book really oozes with vanity. It is clever, but terribly vain. The humility, the modesty, that results from such a path of knowledge as has been laid down, is utterly lacking to these men. It must be utterly lacking when a man unconditionally ascribes cleverness to himself on this 21st December, 1915. Humility must be lacking. Now you will say: ‘These people must be stupid if they regard themselves as clever.’ But they do not consider themselves stupid with the surface consciousness, but with the subconsciousness. They never learn to distinguish between the truth which lives in the subconsciousness, and what they ascribe to themselves on the surface, and thus it is the Luciferic nature which really urges the men of to-day to desire to be clever, to attain a definite standpoint of cleverness, and from this point to consider and judge everything. But when a man bears this Luciferic nature within him, then, while he beholds the external world with Lucifer he is led to Ahriman. He then naturally sees this outer world materialistically in our epoch, quite naturally he looks at it in a materialistic manner. For when a man with Lucifer in his nature begins to contemplate the world, he then meets Ahriman. For these two seek each other out in man's intercourse with this world. Therefore such radically vain thinking never reaches the possibility of this conviction, ‘if I use a word, I naturally use merely a symbol for that which the word signifies.’ Mauthner made the great discovery that no substantives exist. There are none. They are no reality. Of course not. We grasp certain phenomena, think of them rightly for a moment and call them substantives. Certainly substantives are not reality: neither are adjectives. That is quite understood. That is all true: but now if I join a substantive and an adjective together, if I bring speech into movement, it then expresses reality. Then what the image represents transcends the image. Single words are no reality in themselves, we do not, however, speak in single words, but in groups of words. And in these we have an immediate presence within the reality. Three volumes have to be written to-day, and a two-volumed dictionary added, in order to expound all these things to man by means of thoughts of infinite cleverness, which simply overlook the fact that although single words are only symbols, the connecting of several into groups is nevertheless not merely symbolical, but forms part of the reality. Infinite wisdom, infinite cleverness is to-day used to prove the greatest errors.

Now, finally, that such errors should be manifest in a criticism of speech or even in a criticism of thought, is not in itself so bad, but the same kind of thought expressed in these errors — in these very intelligent and clever mistakes — lives in the whole thought of our present-day humanity. If we do but grasp the task which is comprised in our spiritual movement, it really forms part of it that we should become conscious of the necessity for those who wish to be Spiritual Scientists, to look at their era in the right way, and really place themselves in the right attitude to it. So that really, I might say: the practical side of our spiritually scientific movement demands that we should seek to transcend that thinking which answers to the above description, and not follow along those lines of thought, but try to alter them. We shall immediately approach the understanding of Spiritual Science with the simplicity of children if we only remove those hindrances which have entered the spiritual life of the civilisation of our present age through the stiffened and petrified forms of thought. Everywhere we should lay aside in our own souls that belief in authority which to-day appears under the mask of freedom. That should form part of the practical life of our Spiritual Science. And it will become more and more necessary that there should be at least a few people who really see the facts as they are and as they have been characterised to-day — and not only see them, but take them in real earnestness all through life. This is the essential. One need not display this externally, but much can be done if only a small number of persons will organise their lives — in whatever position they may occupy, in accordance with these explanations.

We can see in one definite respect how absolutely our age demands that we should again make our thinking alive. Let us briefly place before our souls something that we have often considered. In the beginning of our era that Being whom we have frequently characterised, the Christ Being, took on the life of a human being and united Himself with the earth aura. Through this there was given to the earth, for the first time, the right purpose for its further evolution, after it had been lost through the Luciferic temptation. The Event of Golgotha took place. The Evangelists, who were seers, though for the most part seers in the old style, have described this Event. Paul also described this Mystery of Golgotha; — Paul saw the Christ spiritually through the event of Damascus. His seership was different from that of the Evangelists. As a result of these descriptions a number of men united their souls with the Christ-Event. Through this connection of single individuals with the Christ-Event Christianity was spread abroad. At first it lived beneath the earth; so that in reality the following picture may continually appear in our souls: In ancient Rome, beneath the earth, those who had grasped the Mystery of Golgotha with their souls, maintained their Divine Service. Above, the civilisation and culture of the age, then at its summit, was carried on. Several centuries passed; that which was formerly carried on below in the catacombs, concealed and despised, now fills the world. And the civilisation of that time, the old Roman intellectual culture has disappeared. Christianity is spread abroad. But now the time has come when men have begun to think, when they have become clever, and free from authority. Thinkers have appeared who have examined the Evangelists. Honourable and clever thinkers: they are all worthy of honour. They have concluded that there is no historical testimony in the Gospels. They have studied them for decades, with earnest and critical labour, and they have come to the conclusion that there is no actual historical testimony in the Gospels, that Christ Jesus never lived at all. Nothing is to be said against this critical labour: it is industrious. Whoever knows it, knows of its industry and of its cleverness. There is no reason to despise lightly this critical wisdom. But what does it imply? What is at the bottom of it all? This: that humanity does not in the least see the point of importance! Christ Jesus did not intend to make things so easy for men that subsequent historians should arise and comfortably verify His existence on the earth as simply and easily as the existence of Frederick the Great may be verified. Christ did not wish to make things so easy as that for men — nor even would it have been right for Him to do so. As true as is the fact that this critical labour on the Gospels is clever and industrious, so true also is it that the existence of Christ may never be proved in that way, for that would be a materialistic proof. In everything that man can prove in external fashion, Ahriman plays a part. But Ahriman may never meddle with the proof as to Christ. Therefore there exists no historical proof. Humanity will have to recognise this: although Christ lived on the earth, yet He must be found through inner recognition, not through historical documents. The Christ-Event must come to humanity in a spiritual manner, and therefore no materialistic investigations of truth, nothing materialistic may intervene in this.

The most important event of the earth evolution can never be proved in a materialistic manner. It is as if through Cosmic history humanity were told: Your materialistic proofs, that which you still desire above all in your materialistic age, is only of value for what exists in the field of matter. For the spiritual you should not and may not have materialistic proof. Thus those may even be right who destroy the old historical documents. Just in reference to the Christ-Event it must be understood in our epoch that one can only come to the Christ in a spiritual way. He will never truly be found by external methods. We may be told that Christ exists, but to find Him really is only possible in a spiritual manner. It is important to consider that in the Christ-Event we have an occurrence concerning which all who will not admit of spiritual knowledge must live in error. It is extraordinary that certain people go wild when one utters what I have just said: that the Christ can be known by spiritual means — thus that which is historical can be recognised spiritually — certain people affirm that it really is not possible; no matter who says it, it cannot be true! I have repeatedly drawn your attention to this fact.

Now, our worthy Anthroposophical members still let many things leak out here and there in unsuitable places because they do not always retain this in their hearts, nor give forth in the right way what they have in their hearts. For instance, a person was told — this reached him in a special form — (this is certainly a personal remark, but perhaps I may make it this once), he was told that I had said that personally, as regards my youthful development, I did not begin with the Bible, but started from Natural Science, and that I considered it as of special importance that I had adopted this spiritual path, and had been really convinced of the inner truth of what stands in the Bible before I had ever read it; for I was then certain of it when I had read the Bible externally; that I had thus proved in myself that the contents of the Bible can be found in a spiritual manner before finding it subsequently in an external manner.

This has no value because of its personal character, but it may serve as an illustration. Now that came in an unseemly way to a man who could not understand that anything of the sort is possible, for he (pardon the word) is a theologian. He could not understand it. Since he wanted to make this matter clear in a lecture to his audience he did so in the following way. He read in a book that I once assisted at Mass. (These assistants are boys who give external help at the Mass.) Then he said to himself: ‘whoever assisted at Mass cannot possibly have been ignorant of the Bible. He overlooks the fact that he learnt to know the Bible there. Later on these things come back to him, from his Bible knowledge.’ Yes but there is indeed a plan in all this. In the first place the whole story is untrue, but people to-day do not object to quoting a fact which is untrue. In the second place, the assistants at Mass never learn the Bible but the Mass-book, which has nothing to do with the Bible. But the essential is to attend to this: the man could not conceive that a spiritual relation exists, he could only imagine that one comes through the letters of the alphabet, to the spiritual hanging on to them. It is very important for us to know these things and to have practical knowledge of them. For our spiritual movement will never be able to thrive until we really — not merely externally but in the very depths of our soul — find the courage to enter into everything connected with the whole meaning and significance of our conception of the world. And with reference to this uniting oneself with the spiritual world a critical situation has really arisen just in our time. The very men who regard themselves as the most enlightened feel themselves least united with the spiritual world. This is not stated as a reproach or criticism but as a fact. It is, therefore, especially important in our time to arouse an inner understanding for such significant Cosmic symbols as meet us in everything which surrounds the mystery of Christmas. For this can unite itself very deeply with a man's nature without the help of letters or learning. We must be able to make the Christmas Mystery alive in every situation in life, particularly in our own soul.

While we awaken this Mystery in our souls we look up and say: ‘Christmas reminds us of the descent of Christ Jesus on to the earth plane, and of the rebirth of that in man which was lost to him through the Luciferic temptation.’ This rebirth occurs in different stages. One stage is that within which we ourselves stand. That which for the sake of further evolution had to be lost — the feeling in the human heart of union with the spiritual world: ‘the birth of Christ within us’ is only another word for it — that has to be born again. Just that, which we desire and ever strive for, is intimately connected with this Christmas Mystery. And we should not merely regard this Christmas Mystery as that day of the year on which we fix up our Christmas tree, and, beholding it, take into ourselves all sorts of edification, but we should look upon it as something present in our whole existence, appearing to us in all that surrounds us.

As a symbol I should like in conclusion to present something which a remarkable poet, who died many years ago, wrote of his feeling about Christmas.

‘Our Church celebrates various Festivals which penetrate our hearts. One can hardly conceive anything more lovable than Whitsuntide or more earnest and holy than Easter. The sadness and melancholy of Passion week and the solemnity of that Sunday accompany us through life. The Church celebrates one of the most beautiful Festivals, the Festival of Christmas, almost in mid-winter, during the longest nights and shortest days, when the Sun shines obliquely across our land, and snow covers the plains. As in many countries the day before the Festival of the Birth of our Lord is called the Christmas Eve, with us it is called the Holy Evening; the following day is the Holy Day and the night intervening the Sacred Eve. The Catholic Church celebrates Christmas Day, the Day of the Birth of the Saviour, with the greatest solemnity. In most regions the hour of midnight is sacred to the hour of the Birth of the Lord, and kept with impressive nocturnal solemnity, to which the bells call one through the quiet solemn air of the dark mid-winter night, and to which the inhabitants go, with lanterns along the well-known paths, from the snow mountains and through the bare forests, hurrying through the orchards to the church, which with its lighted windows dominates the wooded village with the peasants' houses’ (Adalbert Stifter, Berg Kristall). He then describes what the Christ Festival is to the children and further, how in the old and isolated village there lived a cobbler who took a wife out of the neighbouring village, not out of his own; how the children of this couple learnt to know Christmas as was customary there. That is; someone said to them ‘The Holy Christ has brought you this gift,’ and when they were sufficiently tired of the presents, they were put to bed, very tired, and did not hear the midnight bells. These children had thus never yet heard the midnight bells. Now they often visited the neighbouring village. As they grew up and were able to go out alone they visited their grandmother there. The grandmother was especially fond of the children, as is often the case. Grandparents are often more devoted to the children than the parents. The grandmother liked to have the children with her, as she was too frail to go out. One Christmas Eve, which promised to be fine, the children were sent over to their grandmother. The children went over in the morning and were to return in the afternoon to follow the custom of the country, calling at the different villages, and were then to find the Christmas tree at home in the evening. But the day turned out different from what was expected. The children were overtaken by a terrible snowstorm. They wandered over the mountains, lost their way, and in the midst of a dreadful snowstorm they reached a trackless country.

What the children went through is very beautifully described; how during the night they saw a phenomenon of nature. It is desirable to read you the passage, for one cannot relate it as beautifully as it is described there. Each word is really important. They reached an ice field on a glacier. They heard behind them the crackling of the glacier in the night. You may imagine what an impression that makes on the children. The story continues:

Even before their very eyes something began to develop. As the children sat thus a pale light blossomed in the sky, in the centre underneath the stars, and formed a delicate arch through them. It had a greenish shimmer which moved gently downwards. But the arch became clearer and clearer until the stars withdrew and faded away before it. It even sent a reflection into other regions of the sky, a pale green light, which moved and coated gently among the stars. Then arose sheaves of various lights above the arch, like the spikes of a crown, and they flamed. The neighbouring spaces of the heavens were flooded with light, gently scintillating, and traversing long stretches of the heavens in delicate quiverings. Had the “storm-substance” of the sky so expanded through the snowfall that it flowed out in these silent glorious streams of light, or was it some other cause in unfathomable nature? Gradually the whole became fainter and fainter, the sheaves becoming extinguished first, until slowly and imperceptibly it all became fainter and nothing remained in the sky but the hosts of simple stars.

The children sat thus through the night. They heard nothing of the bells beneath. They had only snow and ice around them in the mountains and the stars and the phenomena of the night above them. The night drew to a close. People grew anxious about them. The whole village set out to find them. They were found and brought home. I can omit the rest and merely say that the children were almost stiff with cold, were put to bed and told that they should receive their Christmas gifts later. The mother went to the children, which is related as follows:

‘The children were confused by all this agitation. They had been given something to eat and were put to bed. Towards evening, when they recovered a little, while certain neighbours and friends gathered in the sitting-room and spoke of the event, the mother went into the bedroom and sat on Sanna's bed, caressing her. Then the little maid said: “Mother, while I sat on the mountain to-night, I saw the Holy Christ.”’

This is a beautiful presentation. The children had grown up without any instruction about the Christmas Festival. They had to pass Christmas Eve in that terrible situation, up above on the mountains, amid snow and ice, with only the stars above them, and this phenomenon of nature. They were discovered, brought back to the house, and the little maid said: ‘Mother, I have seen the Holy Christ to-night.’ ‘I have seen the Holy Christ.’ Seen Him! She had seen Him, so she said.

There lies a deeper meaning in this when it is said — as we have continually emphasised in our Spiritual Science, that Christ is not only to be found where we find Him, in the evolution of the earth epoch, historically inserted into the beginning of our era, where civilisation shows Him to us, but He is to be found everywhere! Especially when we are confronted with the world at the most serious moments of our life. We can surely find the Christ then. And we ourselves, we spiritual disciples, as I might say, can find Him, if we are only sufficiently convinced that all our efforts must be directed to the rebirth of the spiritual in the development of mankind, and that this spiritual, which must be born through a special activity of the souls and hearts of men, is based on the foundation of what was born into the earth's evolution through the Mystery of Golgotha. That is something which we must realise at this season. If you can find during the days of which we have spoken to-day, and which are now approaching, a correct inner feeling of the evolving and weaving of external earth existence in its similarity with the sleeping and waking of man; if you can experience a deeper communion with external events, you will then feel more and more the truth of the words ‘Christ is here.’ As He Himself said: ‘I am with you always, unto the end of the earth epochs!’

And He is ever to be found, if we only seek Him. That thought should strengthen us, and invigorate us at this Christmas Festival if we celebrate it in this sense. Let us carry away these thoughts which may help us to find that which we have to regard as the real content, the real depth of our spiritual scientific efforts.

May we bring to this epoch of ours a soul so strengthened that we can place ourselves in the right attitude to it, as we now desire to do. Thus let us turn from the general consideration we have brought forward concerning the spiritual world, to the feeling of strengthening that can come to us from these considerations — strengthening for our soul.

Now let us turn our attention to those on the fields where the great events of our time are taking place:

Spirits ever watchful,
Guardians of their souls!
May your vibrations waft

To the Earth-men committed to your charge
Our souls' petitioning love:
That, united with your power,
Our prayer may helpfully radiate
To the souls it lovingly seeks!

And for those who in consequence of these events have already passed thro' the gate of death:

Spirits ever watchful,
Guardians of their souls
May your vibrations waft
To the Men of the Spheres committed to your charge
Our souls' petitioning love:
That, united with your power,
Our prayer may helpfully radiate
To the souls it lovingly seeks!

And that Spirit whom we are seeking thro' the deepening of Spiritual Science — the Spirit with whom we desire to unite, who descended on to the Earth and passed thro' earthly Death for the salvation of mankind, for the healing, progress and freedom of the Earth — may He be at your side in all your difficult duties.

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"You can see from this, my dear friends, what mischief will be set on foot if the truths of Spiritual Science are withheld. For man will be exposed to the forces of evil, and he will only be protected from it by giving himself up to the spiritual life of the good. To withhold the spiritual life of goodness from men is to be no friend to humanity. Whoever does this, be he Freemason or Jesuit, is no friend to humanity. For it means handing men over to the forces of evil. And there may be a purpose in doing so. This purpose may be to confine goodness to a small circle, in order by the help of this goodness to dominate the helpless humanity who are thus led by evil into the follies of life."

—Rudolf Steiner,
Spiritual Science Notes On Goethe's Faust, Vol. II, No. 273-8.

Spiritual Exercises

Calendar of the Soul

In 1912 Rudolf Steiner offered a “calendar of the soul” with weekly verses that express how the changing seasons in both the outer natural world and our inner lives help humanity evolve. Download and read the verses in four translations with commentary by Eloise Krivosheia of the Los Angeles Branch of the Anthroposophical Society.


2022-2023 Calendar Dates