A contemplation out of the Wisdom of Life (Vitaesophia)
13 December 1907, Berlin
Revised translation by G.F.K
Anthroposophy, when properly understood, will guide us back more and more into that immediate life from which a materialistic way of thinking, quite paradoxically, estranges us.
We have said this frequently, here and at other places, at many different occasions, and always in order to characterize the mission of our anthroposophical movement. The above statement will make a strange impression on many of our contemporaries, for they are of the opinion that true life, or what they call life, is to be sought elsewhere than in what anthroposophy has to give; and they are also of the opinion that anthroposophy is least qualified to show them how to lead a practical everyday existence. Such is not the case. Anthroposophy will help us in all ways, great and small! Its teaching, when thoroughly assimilated, will enable those who are engaged in public or other matters to solve the problems of the day in the way in which they should be solved if mankind is to lead a complete life. The many disorders and unhealthy conditions of our age which are now being approached, from one standpoint or another, in a more or less amateurish manner, could, if our contemporaries were to permeate themselves with anthroposophical truths, be successfully handled. I just wanted to touch on this issue, it will not be the focus of our contemplation today.
Today it will be more the emotional aspect of anthroposophy with which I ask you to occupy your thoughts. It will be noticed how to a deeper, feeling permeated comprehension of life, a time like the present must seem to be abstruse, uninteresting, matter-of-fact and theoretical. When Christmas, Easter or Whitsuntide approaches, we can see how certain outward forms and external ceremonies are adhered to But there is very little left of what our forefathers felt to be alive in their very souls — that deep current of feeling penetrating into the soul which was peculiar to our forefathers with regard to the relationship of mankind to the whole cosmos and its divine foundations. This feeling was particularly alive at the time of such festivals. Then it was something tangible for the soul, for then it received impressions different from those gained during the rest of the year.
No true conception is formed today of that which filled the souls of our ancestors when the days grew shorter, the end of the year approached and the birthday of Christ Jesus was about to be celebrated; or when, at the festival of the resurrection of Christ Jesus, the snow was slowly melting, and what the earth had hidden appeared once more on the surface. It would seem indeed that our life were concrete. In reality the feelings of our contemporaries have become abstract, matter-of-fact and empty. People pass through the streets, and hardly feel more about Christmas than that it is a time for giving and receiving presents. Should they have any other feeling, there is little connection between it and that deep feeling which absorbed our forefathers at that time of the year. Mankind has lost its true relationship with life. To show how to regain this relationship is one aspect of the mission of anthroposophical spiritual science.
One who only grasps with his mind and understanding what is usually called the anthroposophical conception of the world has understood only the very least part of anthroposophy. It is only understood by him who realizes that the whole of man’s feelings and emotions must be altered when anthroposophy lives itself into the heart and soul. What was abstract for a certain time, and even forgotten in its significance — the true meaning of our festivals — will again penetrate into our souls when the intimate connection of the whole surrounding world with man is realized again, as it may be through a spiritual perception.
The deeper meaning of the Christmas festival has often engaged our attention at this time. Today, we shall look at it from another aspect. This can only be done if at first we make quite clear to ourselves what impression anthroposophical thoughts and ideas produce on our feelings, how they really have the power of making out of a human being something quite different from what he is at present, something through which he will again know what it is to have an immediate experience of the pulsation of the spiritual life of nature — actually to feel the warmth which passed through creation, animating every being. When a man looks today at the starry sky with the help of the abstruse science of astronomy, he sees it inhabited by abstruse material worlds. But these celestial bodies will again appear to him as the bodies of souls and spirits; space will once more appear to him permeated by spirit and soul. He will experience the whole cosmos as filled with warmth, and have the feeling that he has when reclining on the bosom of a friend; though of course experiencing the spirit of the cosmos is much more majestic and sublime.
We know that we have to seek in man alone such a soul as we are cognizant of in man — an individual soul, which, so to say, lives in a single body. The soul of the other creatures which surround us, we must seek in another way and in a different form. The animals which live in our midst also have souls, but we shall look in vain for them here on the physical plane. The animal-ego, which we name a “group ego”, is to be found on the astral plane; and a whole group of related animals, for example the lion-group, the tiger-group, the cat-group, all separate groups of related forms, have each of them a common soul, a common ego. The separation by space here on earth makes no difference; every lion belongs to the same lion-ego, whether one lion is here in a zoo, and another in Africa. The spiritual scientist can find the animal ego on the astral plane; and there these group-egos are individual personalities, just as your personality here on the physical plane is individual. As your ten fingers belong to your individual personality, so does every lion belong to the group-ego of the lions. If we could become acquainted with the individual group-egos on the astral plane, we would find that wisdom is their most conspicuous characteristic, although to us here on earth separate animals may not appear very wise. Nobody ought to judge the characteristics of the group-ego, of animal individuality on the astral plane, on the basis of the characteristics of the separate animals here on earth. Just as little as your ten fingers show the characteristics of an individual ego, just so little does the single animal show the characteristics of the group-ego.
These group-egos act very sagaciously, and are wiser than you imagine; for what you know here as the achievements of animals are brought about by these group-egos. They live in the atmosphere surrounding our earth, they are to be found round about us. If you follow the flight of birds as they migrate at the approach of autumn from the north-east to the south-west, and at the approach of spring return once more from the south-west to the north-east, you might ask yourself: who guides their flight so wisely? In your search for the individual directors and rulers you will come, as a student of spiritual science, to the group-egos of the different genera or species. The astral ego, which is just as much an ego on the astral plane as the human ego is here, lives in every animal community. The group souls or personalities or astral egos, who have their individual members here on the physical plane, are much wiser than the egos of mankind on the physical plane; everything which is so wisely organized in the animal-world is the manifested wisdom of the group-egos of animals. We walk differently through the world if we know that at every pace forward, we step through beings whose deeds we are able to see.
Now let us look at the plant kingdom: the egos of this plant world are to be found in a still higher world than the one in which the group-egos of the animals live. The egos of plants (there are actually very few of them) are to be found in the spirit-world or Devachan; each one of the plant-egos embraces many, very many, of the individual plants which are found here on earth in such great variety. If we should seek the place where these plant-egos are to be found in space, we would come to the center of the earth. All plant-egos are united at the center of the earth.
It would reflect a rather primitive mental life if, when considering the spirit of the egos, you were to ask: Is there room enough for all these different egos? In the spirit everything in-terpenetrates. He who does not understand this comes to the point of view expressed just now in a book which is particularly recommended to theosophists. This book certainly speaks of spiritual worlds, but speaks about them by using arguments such as: If in the course of a thousand years thirty billion people had lived whose souls are now in the atmospheric surroundings of the earth, then there would be such a great number of souls, that there would scarcely be room for them all in the earth’s periphery. — This book is well intentioned, but it is extremely trivial. (“Unknown Powers,” by C. Flammarion.)
We have to seek the plant-egos in the center of the earth, because the earth itself as a planet is a complete organism. In the same relation in which the hairs of your head art to your organism, so are the plants to the organism of our earth. These plants are not independent beings but are members of the earth organism.
Feelings of pleasure and pain in plants are the pleasure and pain of the earth’s organism; we need only recall what you were told a few weeks ago about pleasure and pain in the plant-kingdom. He who is able to observe these things knows that if you injure a plant in the part above the earth, the injury is not connected with a feeling of pain in our earth organism. On the contrary, it gives a pleasant feeling to the earth, in the same way in which the cow suckling her calf gets and bestows a pleasurable sensation. Thus the green of the plant which springs out of the earth, even though fixed, may be compared with the milk of the animal organism. And when in autumn the reaper cuts the grain with his scythe, it is more than an abstract occurrence to one who understands how to transform anthroposophical ideas into feelings of the soul. The reaping calls forth a breath of joy which goes over the whole field, and the mowing of the grass fills the field with pleasurable sensations.
Thus we learn to feel with the earth organism as we feel on the bosom of a friend. We feel pain with the earth when we understand that as soon as we tear out the plants by their roots, the earth feels pain. It ought not to be objected here that under certain conditions it might be better to transplant a whole plant with roots rather than to pick its blossoms. Such an objection is not relevant here. If a person begins to get grey hair, and in order to remain younger looking pulls out the first grey hairs, does the action hurt the less?
Thus we learn to feel with nature around us; more and more we learn to experience nature as permeated by soul and spirit. When we enter a quarry and watch the men breaking stones, this act remains with us as something concrete, not abstract, if we deepen our anthroposophical ideas on the subject into feelings of the soul. Then we do not only see the stones flying out of the rocks — not even if a rock were blasted would it seem abstract to us. On the contrary, we learn to feel what nature, permeated by soul and spirit, is feeling outside us. If we have a glass of water before us and throw into it some salt or a lump of sugar, and watch how the salt or sugar dissolves, this arouses the feeling that there is soul in it. If we would know what kind of a soul is contained therein we must not bring forward ordinary analogies. It would be very easy to believe that when the quarry-man breaks off the stone, his action causes nature to feel pain, but in reality the exact opposite is the case. What is called division into fragments in the mineral kingdom gives nature the greatest joy, an internal sensation of well-being. There is also an internal sensation of well-being when we dissolve a piece of sugar or salt in water. Feelings of pleasure flow through the water during the dissolving of the mineral bodies. It is different under different circumstances.
We can call to mind the primeval age on earth — that time when our earth was a fiery-fluid body with every mineral and metal dissolved in it. It was not possible for our earth to remain in such a state, it had to become the place on which we live, the solid body on which we can walk about. The metals and minerals had to solidify out of the liquid element; it was necessary for them to harden, to pull themselves together. Everything that was dissolved in the liquid element had to congeal and become crystallized. A similar process to what can be observed with salt dissolved in a glass of water: let the water evaporate and you will be able to see the salt crystals as firm particles. If you follow the feelings which are brought into action by such happenings you will see that pain can be felt even in the apparently dense mineral kingdom. Everything which appears to us as demolition and breaking into fragments gives a feeling of pleasure to the earth; whereas consolidation, compression, crystallization give a feeling of pain. The minerals and rocks of the planet on which we live have been formed under conditions of pain. And this has, more or less, been the case during the hardening of the earth’s crust.
If we look into the future development of our earth, we must imagine that what is firm and solid will become more and more flexible and liquid, until at last the earth changes into that which is called the “astral earth.” Thus the earth matter will have become rarer and rarer; so that we, in the first half of our earth’s evolution, must regard the elements of the mineral kingdom as that which, under the influence of pain and suffering, has formed the solid stage for our existence. Towards the end of the earth’s evolution there will be more peaceful feelings, the whole earth will be full of feelings of joy; it will change into a heavenly planet, which, in the cosmos, will be astral.
When the initiated talk about these things, deep mysteries lie hidden in their words. They express themselves in such a way that their words have several levels of meaning, because they contain so much. St. Paul, who was an initiate, spoke with words which always had several hidden meanings. The further we advance in the comprehension of the cosmos, of the spirit worlds, the better we shall understand these expressions of St. Paul and their hidden meaning. St. Paul knew that the earth suffered during the time it was becoming firm, and that it is longing for its release into a spiritual, heavenly state: “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together, waiting for the adoption.” (Romans viii, 22) By these words the initiate Paul referred to the pain accompanying the formation of the hard minerals whereon we stand and move.
So long as we only consider Anthroposophy as a system of thought we do not understand it rightly. It is the characteristic mark of Anthroposophy, that ideas must change into feelings, and we become different beings when, at every step, we feel and are conscious of all that we see about us. Those who really understood the esoteric teaching of Christianity were also of this opinion. You can follow the Christian writers as far as the eighteenth century and discover many who had sympathy with all the pleasure and all the pain of living nature. In their writings they use words which are for mankind today but empty sounds, or at the most allegories or pictures, whereas to those who understand them they are truths: “You shall not alone think upon nature, but you shall perceive it and taste it and feel it!”
They meant that when the reaper cuts the grain, we should taste the feeling that passes over the field during this action.
When we see the man in the quarry breaking off the stone, we should enjoy with nature her sensation of well-being. When we notice a deposit of earth where a river flows into the sea, we should at the same time learn to feel the pain which accompanies the deposition of earth.
Thus we can begin to experience nature completely permeated by soul. Our souls will then gain the power of growing out of their confinement. Feeling streams into the world in which we live, and we become one with the whole of nature. When we become one with it, piece by piece, we will also feel the spirituality and soul-nature of the great yearly occurrences. In the spring, when the days gradually become longer and longer, and more light falls on the earth; when out of her womb the plants, whose seeds were in the earth, spring up, and when everything is once more clothed in green, then we feel that not only what we see — as the shimmering green- is coming forth, but we feel as well that something akin to soul activity is taking place.
When winter draws near, the days grow shorter, less light falls on our earth, the plants retire to their winter sleep, and the green changes, we too experience a similar feeling to that which we have at night when we fall asleep. On the other hand, the awakening of external nature in the spring draws from us its corresponding feeling, for these events are no allegory, but realities. We feel the changes in nature, and also the changes in the soul and spirit of nature. In the latter half of the summer we feel how everything seems to decline, how the soul of our earth approaches sleep. — Then in the evening, when we ourselves fee1 sleepy, we have a real example before us of the living process which we have often described. Gradually, the astral body with the ego withdraws from the physical and etheric body, frees itself, and floats as it were into its own, its very own original world. If a man could do today, in the present condition of the evolution of humanity, what he will be able to do in the future, a spiritual consciousness would light up when the astral body lifts itself out of the etheric and physical bodies; spiritual forces and a spirit world would surround the body; man would simply leave his physical body in order that he might enter into another form of existence. This, in fact, he does today too, but he knows nothing about it in his present stage of development.
The same thing also occurs to our earth. The astral body of our earth changes during the year. (The changes are not the same in the two opposite hemispheres, but this does not concern us today). The astral body of our earth is occupied with the external natural existence of our earth during the time in which plants and life generally spring up out of the earth. When plants grow, it is the astral body that looks after everything that grows and flourishes on the earth. In the autumn, when a kind of sleepiness comes over the earth, this astral body returns to its spiritual activity.
Those who are able to really feel this earth-process know that during the height of the sun — from spring right into autumn -in everything which grows and increases out of doors, they must see the outer revelation of the spirit of the earth. But when autumn approaches they are directly in contact with the liberated astral body of the earth; when the days are shortest, that is, when the outer physical life approaches nearest to sleep, then the spiritual life awakens. What is this “spiritual life” of the earth? Who is the “spirit of the earth?”
This “spirit of the earth” described Himself as such when He spoke these words: “He that eateth My bread, treadeth Me with feet”; and when He made reference to that which the earth brings forth as true nourishment for man and said, “This is My body!” and again when He was referring to that which flows as the sap of life and said, “This is My blood!” In these sayings He described the earth itself as His organism.
This was quite different in pre-Christian times — different from what it is in the Christian era at a definite moment of the earth’s evolution. During the short days when the sacred mysteries of the ancients were being observed, those who were initiated turned with their whole soul towards the sun; at midnight on the day which we know as Christmas Day, those about to be initiated into the sacred mysteries were advanced so far that they were able to see the sun at the midnight hour. They were then promoted to being clairvoyant. We today cannot see the sun at the midnight hour because it is then at the other side of the earth; but the physical earth presents no obstacle to the seer, he can see the sun. He sees it in its spiritual essence. When the seers saw the sun at the midnight hour in the holy mysteries they saw the sun’s sovereign ruler — the Christ. Those saw Him who were able to come into contact with Him, but at that time still in the sun.
The flowing of blood from His wounds on Golgotha was an event fraught with meaning for the whole of the earth’s evolution. Nobody understands that event who has not the power of understanding that Christianity is built upon a mystical fact. If someone with clairvoyant sight could have watched the development of the earth from a distant planet for some thousands of years, he would not only have seen the physical body, but the astral body of our earth as well. This astral body of the earth would have emanated definite lights, definite colors and definite forms during those thousands of years. In one moment this was changed.
Other forms appeared, other lights and colours shone forth -and this moment was when the blood flowed out of the wounds of our Saviour at Golgotha. This was not only a human, but a cosmic event. Through it the Christ-Ego, which up to this time could only be discovered in the sun, passed to the earth. It linked itself with the earth, and in the spirit of the earth we find the Christ-Ego, the sun ego. The initiate is henceforth able to see in Christ himself the sun-spirit which formerly, at the time of Christmas, was only to be seen at the midnight hour on the sun in the holy places of the ancients.
Christian consciousness, not only the consciousness of the ordinary Christian, but the consciousness of the Christian initiate, lies in the living feeling of union with the spirit of Christ. This takes place every year when the days are becoming shorter and the physical earth is beginning to fall asleep. It is then possible for us to come into direct connection with the spirit of the earth. Therefore, to place the birth of our Savior in the time of the shortest days and the longest nights was not the outcome of an arbitrary decision, but the result of initiation. Bound up with the shortening of the days and the lengthening of the nights, we see something infinitely spiritual, and we feel at the same time that in this event there is a living soul — the highest soul which we are able to feel in the earth’s evolution.
When the first Christians uttered the name of Christ, they did not express any doctrine or any particular mode of thought. It would have seemed quite impossible for them to call anyone a Christian who believed only the words which Christ Jesus spoke as a Christian teacher. It cannot be denied that these doctrines are also to be found in other religious beliefs, and no one wishes to regard them as something singular. Today, however, for the first time in history, par-ticularly in the educated classes, special stress is laid on the fact that the teaching of Christ Jesus is in harmony with other religious beliefs. It is quite true that it is difficult to find a single precept which had not already been taught before; but this has nothing to do with the matter. Not by doctrine alone is the Christian made one with Christ. He is not a Christian who believes in the doctrine, but he is a Christian who believes in the Christ-Spirit. In order to be a Christian we must have the feeling of union with Him, the feeling of union with the Christ who actually dwells on earth. Simply to avow the teaching of Christ is not preaching Christianity. To preach Christianity means to be able to see in Christ the Spirit Whom we have just characterized as the regent of the sun; Who in the moment when the blood flowed out of His wounds on Golgotha, transferred His work to the earth and through this act drew the earth into the work of the sun.
On this account those who were the first to preach Christianity laid very great stress on proclaiming the person of Christ Jesus, and very little stress on His words: “We have seen Him when He was with us on the holy mount.” They attached great value to the fact that He was there — that they saw Him. “We have placed our hands in His wounds.” They valued the fact that they had touched Him. What was felt at the time was that the whole of the future evolution of mankind on earth proceeds from this historical event. On this account the disciples said: “We value the fact that we were with Him on the holy mount; but we also think it a great thing that the words of the prophets have been fulfilled in Him — those words inspired by very truth and wisdom.” What the prophets foretold has been fulfilled. By “prophets” was then meant initiates, men who could predict the Christ, because they had seen Him at the midnight hour at Christmas time in the Holy Mysteries. The first disciples considered the event on Golgotha as a fulfillment of that which has always been known; and a rapid and total change took place in the feelings and thoughts of the initiated.
If we look into the time before the Christian era, and even let our thoughts wander further to a more remote time, we find that all love and affection is bound up with the tic of blood relationships. In the Jewish race, out of which Christ Himself issued, we see love only between those who are kinsfolk — we see that those love one another in whom the same blood flows; even earlier than this, love always rested on the natural foundation of a common blood-relationship. Spiritual love, which is independent of flesh and blood, was first introduced on earth by Christ. On this depends the fulfillment of the saying: “Who forsaketh not father and mother, brother and sister, wife and child, cannot be My disciple.” He who makes love conditional upon the natural foundation of blood-relationship, is not according to this sense a Christian. Spiritual love, which as a great fraternal bond will permeate all mankind, is the result of Christianity.
Christianity teaches mankind how to acquire the most perfect freedom and inner cohesiveness. The ‘Psalmist said, “I remember the days of old and ponder times long past”. To look back upon one’s first ancestors was a persistent experience of the olden times. The men of old could feel the blood of their ancestors flowing through their veins, and felt that their ego was connected with the ego of their ancestors. If it were desired to really feel this connection, even amongst the old Jewish people, it was customary to utter the name of Abraham; he who uttered this name felt that some of the blood which descended from Abraham flowed through his veins. When he wished to express his highest nature the Jew said: “I am one with Abraham!” After the death of his body, his soul returned into Abraham’s bosom — this has a deep, a very deep meaning. At that time man was not in possession of the self-dependence which first entered his consciousness through Christ Jesus. The conscious understanding of the “I am” was awakened by Christ Jesus. At that time they could not have felt the whole divinity of the inner divine being of man. They felt “I am,” but they connected it with their ancestors; they felt it in the common blood which flowed through their veins since the time of Abraham. Then Christ Jesus came and with Him the consciousness that there is something older and more independent in mankind. The “I am” is not only to be sought in what is common to a nation, but is something in the individual personality, which therefore must again seek love with its own personality, beyond itself. The ego which is today confined in you, cut off from everything outside itself, seeks spiritual love beyond itself.
This ego does not feel itself one with the father who was in Abraham, but with the spiritual Father of the world: “I and My Father are one!” A more profound saying than this — although this is the most impressive — because it appeals more to the understanding, is the one in which Christ made it clear to mankind that they are not expressing the utmost when they say, “I existed before in Abraham.” He points out that the “I am” is of older date, emanating from God Himself:
“Before Abraham was, I Am.” In this way does the saying appear in the original — which usually is so expressed that nobody quite understands what it means — “before Abraham was born, I am.” The “I am,” the innermost spiritual being, which everyone has within him, existed before Abraham.
One who understands this saying penetrates deeply into the essence of Christian intuition and life, and understands why Christ also refers to it in the words: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” Therefore we also ought to feel the true hidden meaning of the expression in the Christmas hymn, which tells us every year anew at Christmas the original secret of the existence beyond time of the “I am.” The hymn is not sung as a reminder, “Today we remember that Christ was born”, rather we sing every time: “Christ is born in us today!” For this event is eternal, and that which once took place in Palestine can happen anew every Christmas night for those who have the power of transforming the teaching into feelings and experiences.
Anthroposophy will help mankind really to feel and understand again what is meant when we celebrate such a festival. Its mission is not to teach an abstract doctrine, an abstract theory, but to lead man back into fuller life — to make this life appear not as something abstract but as something which is filled with soul. We feel this soul when we go into the quarry and watch the stones being split off; when we see the migration of birds; when we see the scythe going through the grain; when the sun rises and sets. And the more profound the events we contemplate, the deeper do we feel their soul nature. At the great turning-points of the year we feel the most important soul events. What is most important for us is that we shall again learn to feel at those great turning-points of the year which are marked out in our festivals.
Thus our festivals will again become like a living breath permeating the soul of man; at the time of such festivals man will again become familiar with the whole weaving and working of the full soul and spirit nature. The anthroposophist must for the present act as a pioneer with regard to what these festivals may once more become when mankind understands their spirit anew — understands anew what is called “the festival spirit.” It will belong to those forces which will once more lead man out into the cosmos, when anthroposophists at such festivals feel and realize something of the feelings and sensations of nature, and remember at these important moments what Anthroposophy is able to restore to mankind through its teachings. Anthroposophy will then become a living factor in the soul, and will be genuine “life-wisdom”, vitaesophia. Anthroposophy can accomplish this best when the world-soul comes down amongst us, and is united with us in an especially intimate manner at the festival of the birth of Christ.