Our bookstore is now open. Shop today →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The World of the Senses, the World of Thought, and Their Beings
GA 208

22 October 1921, Dornach

Translator Unknown

In the course of lectures on the life between death and a new birth which I gave in 1914, you will find many indications that may be regarded as a complement to what I have explained to you during the past days and weeks. To-day I want to speak in particular of the change which takes place in the conditions of life between death and a new birth, which greatly resembles the alternating states of waking and sleeping during the life between birth and death.

When we are awake we have our normal consciousness, and it is this which really gives us our human character between birth and death; and when we are asleep our consciousness is, as it were, dulled. Our consciousness then lies below the threshold of our waking life and we experience the processes in which we live from the moment of falling asleep to that of waking up, only in a blunt state of consciousness, either quite bluntly, quite asleep, or so that certain life-reminiscences or inner organic processes rise out of our sleep in form of pictures. A similar alternation may also be found in the life between death and a new birth, except that there, as you have seen, everything is, as it were, reversed in comparison with the conditions of our earthly life. I have described to you how radically different are man’s experiences between death and a new birth to his experiences on earth. This also applies to the alternating states of consciousness. As described in my last lecture, between death and a new birth our experiences show us the deeds, the will-impulses of our Ego. This state of consciousness in which our Ego then lives, is, as it were, the normal one, even as here, the waking state of consciousness is the normal one. We have seen that here we are built up, as it were, of our physical body, etheric body, astral body and Ego, and there, of the Ego, the Spirit-Self, the Life-Spirit and Spirit-Man, which exist, to begin with, as a preliminary foundation. Between death and a new birth, the Ego is therefore the lowest member. But even as here we are inward1y conscious of our Ego through our waking consciousness, so there, through the corresponding state of consciousness, we grow aware of our Ego as an outer experience; we are conscious of our Ego by looking back upon our past deeds and volitional impulses, which, as already described, we experience as if they were reflected to us from the earth. This condition alternates with another; here on earth we may speak of a waking and of a sleeping consciousness, to which we may add a sub-conscious state, whereas between death and a new birth we must speak of the state of consciousness described above and of a kind of super-consciousness, where higher Beings grow conscious within us, that is to say, where higher Beings are the vehicles of our consciousness.

During our earthly condition of sleep we sink down to a kind of plant existence, but in the super-conscious state between death and a new birth we rise up to a kind of Archangel-consciousness, to one which lies above our own. I said that when we are in a normal condition we have behind us, as it were, the Hierarchies of the higher Spiritual Beings. In this super-conscious condition we positively move back towards them. And then we live within them. From them we learn more than we could know as human beings. If between death and a new birth we only experienced what we can experience through our Ego, that sends its rays after us and yet belongs to us, if we were limited to this, we could not experience, as already described, all the processes through which we must pass in order to build up our organism anew, for a new earthly life. We can do this only because our normal states of consciousness alternate with states of existence in which the knowledge (Wissens-zustände) of the Archangeloi and even of the Archai penetrate into our human being, also into our normal consciousness, where they rise up like memories, in the same way in which here on earth dreams enter our consciousness from the sub-conscious spheres. Between death and a new birth we thus live in such a way as to have the consciousness described above, but in between there are always super-conscious conditions, in which we also acquire a super-human knowledge which enables us to build up our existence exactly as required for our next earthly life. Consequently there are analogies between the earthly life from birth to death and the other life from death to a new birth. But we should bear in mind the strong, radical difference between these two conditions of life.

It is possible to see still more clearly into such things by perceiving also the uniting element between the two, by becoming acquainted with what penetrates as an essence of a higher kind into both states of existence — into our earthly life, and into the life between death and a new birth. As we pass through our earthly life, we have, to begin with, the external sensory impressions. We have seen that volitional impulses and actions interweave with these external sensory impressions. But let us now envisage first of all the external sensory impressions.

Try for a moment to set before your soul the fact that throughout your earthly life all the human senses give you a whole complex of sensory impressions, out of which is woven the web of sensory impressions. Generally these sensory impressions are viewed in such a way as to say that they form part of the objects, that the single objects or beings appear, for example, in colours which leave an impression upon the eye, whereas other beings emit sounds and leave an impression upon the organ of hearing. But let us now consider the whole world of sensory impressions and ask what they really are.

I have often drawn your attention to the following: It is out of the question that behind the sensory impressions there should be that fantastic world of atoms dreamed of by the physicists; behind the sensory world there is instead a spiritual world. The spiritual thus exists also in the physical world, but, to begin with, it cannot be perceived by our ordinary consciousness. The ordinary consciousness has before it this web of sensory impressions. But what does it contain? In reality, it contains Beings described in my “Occult Science” as the Spirits of Form. Everything that appears to us in space has a certain form, an object even obtains form through the colour-surface. The Spirits of Form live in everything which we experience through the senses in space. In it live the same Beings named “Elohim” in the Old Testament. For the Elohim are the Spirits of Form. We rightly call this world of physical manifestations a world which manifests itself, a world of phenomena. But this is correct only because with our ordinary consciousness we human beings at first perceive in this world nothing but phenomena, manifestations, the external appearance and semblance, or — as Orientals say — Maya. But when our consciousness awakens and becomes imaginative this whole world of semblance becomes filled with images, or rather transforms itself into a world of weaving images.

This world of weaving images immediately reveals that the world of the Angeloi or Angels is woven into it. And when we reach the stage of inspiration, we obtain inspirations which come to us from everywhere in this world, for it has changed into a world of inspiration. Into this inspiration are interwoven the Beings of the Archangeloi or Archangels.

The world which we experience afterwards is that of intuitions. There we advance to the world of the Archai, whereas ordinarily we only have before us the physical world.

To be sure, when in the world around us we have advanced to the world of the Archai, it is the world of the Archai which also enables us to look back upon what we have already experienced through the higher Hierarchies in former lives between death and a new birth. In the intuitive world we perceive that the Beings whom the Bible calls Elohim, the Beings that are described in my “Occult Science” as Spirits of Form, lie behind the Archai.

We may therefore say: By looking out into the world through our senses we really look into the world of the Spirits of Form, into the physical world.

When we have thus set the physical world before our soul by saying that there we move in the world of the Spirits of Form, we may return to our inner self, but to that inner being that is still very intimately connected with the external world and has to depict for us inwardly the external world in such a way that we can bear it within us in the form of memories. In other words: We may advance from the sensory world to our inner being, to our world of thought.

The thought-world is, to begin with, given to us as a world of picture-thoughts. You will not be tempted to consider as a reality the thoughts that ordinarily live in you, the thoughts that arise in your ordinary consciousness. But in the same way in which realities conceal themselves in the physical world, namely the realities of the Spirits of Form, so there are also realities in the thought-world. Thoughts first appear to our ordinary consciousness as the fleeting inner forms we know; but even as spiritual beings may be discovered in the web of the physical world when we ascend, in the manner described, to higher knowledge through imagination and inspiration, so it is also possible to perceive the activity of spiritual beings in the world of thought. These spiritual beings live in the accompanying phenomena of thought which take place when we think.

From former lectures you know what happens when we think. Processes are then continually taking place within us which may be described by using a comparison, namely as if salt were to dissolve completely in a glass of water leaving it transparent. But if the water cools off a little it gets dim; for the salt crystallizes. Similar processes, which are processes of densification, take place within us when we think. A kind of mineralization process really takes place within us when we think. This mineralization process within us is connected with spiritual Beings that weave through the element of thought. They are the Beings we have always called Archai. We are thus able to know that when we live in our thoughts the Archai live in our life of thought, even as the Elohim, or Spirits of Form, live in our sensory perceptions. In the external world, these Spirits of Form can only be perceived through imaginative knowledge.

When we study the external world with the consciousness which is the normal one to-day, we come to the so-called laws of Nature. These laws of Nature are abstractions. As soon as we proceed to imaginative knowledge we do not have abstract laws of Nature formulated in sentences, but we have pictures, imaginative life. These pictures are not the same as those I have mentioned before, but images which penetrate in a condensed form into the pictures which we obtain when beholding the Elohim, and they penetrate into them as a dimming, tinging element, as it were. This is the influence of the Archai in the external world. We may trace it in the outer and in the inner world.

Perhaps it is now good to turn our gaze away from man’s inner being and to envisage one of life’s manifestations. Thought first lives within us, although thought connects us with the external world; the secrets of the external world are revealed to us through thought, yet, to begin with, thought lives within us. But thought comes to expression when we communicate it to other people. In human life speech is the element through which we give expression to our thoughts, through which thought can manifest itself outwardly.

After having considered the world of thought, let us now consider the world of speech. I have often drawn attention to the fact that the human being of course has more experiences in connection with his world of speech than with his world of thought. Although the will also streams into the element of thought, man’s ordinary consciousness only notices this very slightly. But into speech the human will flows in a way which is quite noticeable to the ordinary consciousness. Yet ordinary consciousness only grasps very little of what really lives in speech. What lives in sound is perceived in the present intellectual age at the most as a sign denoting something. For modern man the inner life of sound is something which has to a great extent withdrawn to the background of consciousness. In regard to modern man we can only point out that sound, the resounding of speech, contains something which can be grasped as a life-element of its own.

Take, for example, a word containing two E (pronounced A in German), the word “gehen”, to walk. If we have a feeling for such things, we may well experience in these two sounds of “gehen” a tranquil way of walking that does not excite us. But when the A-sound (German E) is replaced by an OW-sound (German AU), as in “laufen”, to run, you will feel in it something which you do not experience when you are not walking calmly, but when greater claims are made on your breathing. You feel what takes place when you breathe more quickly, and this is expressed in the OW-sound (German AU). You could not experience the calm way of walking, “gehen”, better than by the two A-sounds (German E), which convey the experience of calm and tranquillity, whereas the running movement, “laufen” is expressend in the OW-sound (German AU) which it contains. There is a spiritual essence in language and many examples which I have given you draw attention to the inner genius undoubtedly contained in speech. Modern men hardly know of its existence, but in past times, when the inner essence of sound could still be experienced, men felt in speech, more consciously than through sensory observation and thought, something which may indeed be felt as a spiritual weaving, a spiritual life.

In this element of speech, in this world of speech, live the Archangeloi, the Archangels, even as the Archai live in the world of thoughts. And because the Archangeloi live in the genius of speech, they are at the same time the Folk-Spirits, the leading spirits of the nations, a fact which I have often described in connection with the Archangels. They live in the element of speech. More than we suppose, man himself is the product of speech, in the same way in which he is, on the other hand, the product of his thought-world. We derive our form completely from the external world, and through our will we again pour form into the external world. What constitutes our life comes from the same region as our thoughts. The Archai live in it. What comes to expression in our language, through which we belong to a nation, brings to expression physical qualities which limit us far more as human beings than that which comes from the thought-element. People have the same thoughts, yet different languages. In regard to language they differ, yet it is nevertheless something which they have in common with others, for man belongs to a small or large nation.

Let us now descend to the sphere of the Angeloi. As often explained, also in this lecture, man has an individual connection with his Angel. This comes to expression in two ways. It expresses itself inwardly. Man may submit to his inner life in such a way as to transcend his inner self. In ordinary life, a Luciferic element will immediately enter because this is an intimate experience; nevertheless man may transcend himself inwardly and experience, as it were, an objective element in phantasy. In many respects, his phantasy is a creative force, but individually creative, like speech. And in reality, the force of phantasy lies at the foundation of speech. Through speech, man only experiences something abstract, he cannot always feel the Archangel, who is the genius of speech, unfolding his wings in speech; similarly man cannot perceive in his phantasy — which becomes a play of fancy when pervaded by Luciferic elements — that an Angel is slipping through his individual life; whenever he lives in his phantasy, an Angel passes through him. A genuine poet, a genuine artist, who has not become cynical, frivolous or superficial, knows that a higher spirituality pervades him whenever he is artistically creative. It is the same higher spirituality that carries him from life to life, as our individual guardian spirit, as his Angelos, his Angel. It is the Angel that enters sound human phantasy. In some of Goethe’s mottoes we can recognise that Goethe was aware of an unconscious element working in him, the one that is really active in phantasy.

When the human being does not inwardly transcend himself, but is outside himself during sleep, and in sleep enters the sphere which is the source of phantasy during his waking life, then the same forces which openly manifest themselves in his phantasy come to expression more sub-consciously in the form of dreams. Phantasy may degenerate into an empty play of fancy when it is pervaded by Luciferic forces, and in the same way dreams may degenerate, become abnormal, and man may take them for realities when they are pervaded by Ahrimanic influences. Dreams as such enter the Luciferic sphere, but they may be pervaded by Ahrimanic influences. When, however, our dreams are innocent and purely human, they also contain the Being whom we call our Angelos, the same that lives in our phantasy when we transcend ourselves inwardly, as it were.

The world of speech, ruled by the Archangel, is shaded off inwardly to a world which exists between feeling and thought, to a world of representations — we might also say, to a world of feeling representations. Phantasy and dreaming are shaded off to a world of feeling and to the element of feeling contained in the will — we might also say, to volitional feeling. But when we descend still further, below the Angeloi, what sphere do we reach? We reach our own sphere, we come to the human Ego. There we must transcend ourselves more intensively than when the Angel lives in us. This occurs when we transform impulses of the will into external actions, as explained yesterday.

Elohim — Spirits of Form World of the Senses.
Archai — World of Thought.
Archangeloi — World of Speech – Feeling Representation.
Angeloi — Phantasy — Dreaming — Volitional Feeling.
Human Ego — Volitional Action — Will.

When we dream, we are completely outside ourselves, but we go out of ourselves only spiritually. When we do something through our will, we do not of course go out of ourselves physically, but we move our physical body, and these impulses of the will are really the foundation of our Ego. We may therefore say: The will lives in our volitional actions, the will digs itself, as it were, into the external world.

We have descended as far as the physical world. In the physical world we develop ourselves in an independent way only through our will-actions, only in what remains to us as the sum-total of our actions when we pass through death. Our Ego, upon which we look back after death, lives in our actions. In everything else, in our phantasy and dreams, in world of speech, in our world of thought and in what we obtain through the senses, live higher spiritual Beings that constantly pervade us.

We have now been able to conclude from ordinary life how we are connected with the spiritual cosmos. But the following consideration will lead us to the results which spiritual science can reach through these concepts. Let us take human life in the physical-sensory world. You pass through this world, you derive certain impressions from it. Perhaps you may still remember these impressions on the following day. I do not say that tomorrow all the people who are now sitting in this hall will have an inner experience of the lecture they are now hearing. But as a rule we may say that the things which we perceive in our surroundings continue to live within us.

Man and his surroundings

I will now make a schematic drawing, in order that we may continue along this line of thought. Here is the surrounding world and at this point let us imagine man. What constitutes the surrounding world continues to live in him, for what you experience in connection with your environment continues to live within you physically. The external world, which we can only perceive through the senses, continues to live in the soul in the form of abstract experiences, in thoughts and feelings which stimulate our will impu1ses. You may now say: What lives within me, what I thus carry about with me (let us envisage this very exactly!), is the result of my ex-periences between birth and death, or between birth and the present moment.

But let us now turn our gaze to something which we do not carry within our soul in such an abstract, picture-like form, but which lives within us — I might say — in a concretely material way: the organs that lie under our skin, the lungs, the heart, the liver, and so forth. This too is something which we carry within us. A true mystic will say: This does not interest me in the least! I am only interested in the spiritual, in the soul. I am content to have within me soul-impressions which come from the surrounding world. Material things are far too low for me. But the mystic shows by this how deeply materialistic he really is, because he does not yet know that what apparently reveals itself materially is in reality spiritual. Spiritual is not only what we bear within us abstractly, the soul-experiences which are echoes of external experiences between birth and death, but spiritual are also our lungs, our liver, etc. Only to our ordinary consciousness do they appear in a material form, but they are altogether products of the spirit. When you are sitting in your study you may have the thought that man consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body and Ego. This thought is your inner property. But once it lived outside. It may first have approached you through a book or a lecture; that is to say, from the outside world. But you also bear within you materially the lungs, the heart, the liver, the brain, etc. Also these are the result of experiences. These inner organs that live in you were of course not produced by the physical substance which only comes through conception and birth, but their inner form, their inner structure is the result of experiences between death and birth. You now hear what I am saying and my words will become a soul-experience; similarly your heart, your lungs, your liver, are the result of experiences made between death and a new birth. We may therefore say:

“What I carry with me psychically within my inner being is the result of my experiences between birth and death.”

“What I carry within me as my bodily organisation is the result of my life between death and birth.”

Materialists will of course object that all the organs which live in man were inherited physically from the forefathers. But this is quite mistaken; it is not so. Certainly, the physical substance is transmitted by the ancestors, but the germ is generally viewed quite wrongly. It must be viewed wrongly if it is only considered from the material aspect. Conception does not consist therein that the human being is drawn down materially through the generations, but there arises, as it were, a vacuum, substance is destroyed in man, and in this vacuum the whole universe begins to work, to build up man. Physical structure penetrates into the spiritual structure, for the lungs, the heart, the liver, etc. are altogether spiritual in their structure. But all the organising forces come from the whole universe, and they are formed by our experiences between death and a new birth. This is what we experience through a super wakeful consciousness when we rise up into the sphere of the Archangeloi and of the Archai. Between death and new birth we experience consciously, indeed we must say super-consciously, our organic structure, the way in which we build up our organs.

Our organs are built up in a way which is entirely in keeping with our Karma; they correspond with what we bring with us from a former earthly life. The merely physical processes which apparently take place in the line of the generations are therefore not only physical processes, but they are brought about by the whole cosmos.

When ordinary, superficial materialists come along and say: “Do not explain man’s origin and development in his mother’s womb by drawing in the whole cosmos, do not lead us out into the whole cosmos, for we can explain all this by describing the continuity of the germ’s plasma throughout the generations” — when these materialists come along, the following picture I have used has often been of help: You have a magnetic needle pointing north and south. Now a person may say: Certain mad physicists declare that the whole earth is a magnet and that the needle’s south-pole is attracted by the earth’s soul-pole. But the reason why the needle points to the south must be sought in the needle itself. What does the magnetic needle matter to the earth? — Our biologists talk more or less in the same way when they speak of the human germ. They see nothing but this germ. But even as the whole earth is active in the magnetic needle, so the whole universe is active in the development of the germ. Except that man’s share in it lies further back, in the unconscious sphere.

You see, if things are considered in this light, man and his whole existence are linked up with a material and with a spiritual universe. We say to ourselves: Whenever we think or cognise something through our ordinary consciousness we change the outer world into an inner world. Yesterday I explained to you from a certain aspect that when the human being passes through the portal of death his inner world becomes his outer world, and his outer world his inner. To-day I explained to you from another aspect that everything which lies before birth, i.e. before conception, should be regarded in such a way that the processes which prepare our inner bodily structure should be sought in the life between death and a new birth. Outer life becomes inner life. Our experiences which lie spread out, as it were, in the whole cosmos, quietly and unconsciously change into inner experiences and become our organs.

The organs within us indeed contain a whole universe. If we only bear in mind the ordinary descriptions of our organs in anatomy and physiology we have before as an illusion, a Maya, which is far stronger than the one which faces us in the external world.

I have told you that when we look out into the sensory world we look as far as the sphere of the Elohim. But when we look down into our inner bodily structure we must rise still higher in regard to that which lives within us and forms our organs. From my “Occult Science” you also know that there are Beings above the Spirits of Form. They do not only live outside man, but work within him. We learn something about them between death and a new birth, when we rise to the sphere of the Archai, but with our own consciousness. Through the Archai we learn to know these higher Beings. In this super-conscious state they show us what we pour into our organism. Throughout our life we really carry the world of the Hierarchies within our organic structure.

Now it is again possible to investigate such things. In past epochs they were known through a certain instinctive clairvoyant consciousness. People still spoke of the fact that the human organism is a temple of the gods, and knowledge of the whole cosmos was sought within man’s being, the microcosm; it was sought by interpreting the microcosm.

Do we not remember everything by drawing it out of our memory, in connection with the world which we have experienced since we gained consciousness in our earthly existence? We look into our inner self, and there we find the world which we experienced outside; it lives within us and we can, as it were, look upon the pictures which we carry within our soul in such a way that the life outside has entered these pictures. We understand our earthly life anew by looking back upon these pictures of memory. And when we consider our bodily organisation and understand it, then we understand cosmic processes. Our inner memories enable us to understand our experiences. And if we know how to consider our whole human organisation, we grasp the cosmic processes. To understand man through and through is Anthroposophy.

Anthroposophy is therefore also a cosmosophy. Our life rises up before us when we remember; similarly Anthroposophy is a cosmic memory that sets before us the whole world-process: Cosmosophy. It is impossible to think of these two things apart. Cosmosophy and Anthroposophy are one. Man is to be found in the cosmos and the cosmos in man. Consequently my “Occult Science” is still anthropomorphic when it describes the evolution through Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, etc., for it is at the same time the evolution of mankind. It gives the evolution of the cosmos and that of man. The further we penetrate into the mysteries of life, the more cosmos and man flow together, and the more evident it becomes that the separation between man and cosmos which exists in earthly life is only an illusion, for man belongs to the cosmos and the cosmos to man; man is to be found in the cosmos and the cosmos in man.