Translated by A.H. Parker – edited here
I have already indicated a few of the symptomatic forces that play a part in the development of contemporary history. I have only time to discuss a few of these impulses. To discuss them all — or even the most significant — would take us too far. I have been asked to give special attention to specific impulses of a symptomatic nature. This can be deferred until next week when I will willingly speak of those symptoms which have special reference to Switzerland and at the same time I will attempt to give a sketch of Swiss history.
Today, however, I propose to continue the studies we have already undertaken. I concluded my lecture yesterday with a picture, albeit a very inadequate picture, of the development in recent times of one of the most significant Symptoms of contemporary history — socialism. Now for many who are earnestly seeking to discover the real motive forces of evolution, this social, or rather socialist movement occupies the focus of attention; apart from socialism they have never really considered the claims of anything else.
Consequently, people have failed in recent times to give adequate attention to the very important influence of something which tends to escape their notice. Even where they searched for new motives they paid no attention to those of a spiritual nature. If we ask how far people were aware of the impulses characteristic of modern evolution we can virtually discount from the outset those personalities who in the nineteenth century, and more especially in the twentieth century, were largely oblivious of contemporary evolution, who belonged to those circles which were indifferent to contemporary trends. The historians of the old upper classes were content to plow the old furrows, to record the genealogy of dynasties, the history of wars and perhaps other related material. It is true that studies in the history of civilization have been written, but these studies, from Buckle to Ratzel, take little account of the real driving forces of history. At the same time the proletariat was thirsting for knowledge and felt an ever-increasing desire for education. And this raised the three questions I mentioned yesterday. But the proletariat lacked the will to explore the more subtle interrelations of historical development. Consequently, up to the present, a historical symptom that has not been sufficiently emphasized is the historical significance of the natural scientific mode of thinking.
One can of course speak of the scientific mode of thinking in terms of its content or in relation to the transformation of modern thinking. But it is important to consider in what respect this scientific thinking has become a historical symptom like the others I have mentioned — the national impulse, the accumulation of insoluble political problems, etc. In fact, since the beginning of the epoch of the Consciousness Soul, the scientific mode of thinking has steadily increased amongst wide sections of the population. It is a mistake to imagine that only those think scientifically who have some acquaintance with natural science. That is quite false; in fact the reverse is true. Natural scientists think scientifically because that is the tendency of the vast majority of people today. People think in this way in the affairs of daily life — the peasant in the fields, the factory worker at his bench, the financier when he undertakes financial transactions. Everywhere we meet with scientific thinking and that is why scientists themselves have gradually adopted this mode of thought. It is necessary to rectify a popular misconception on this subject. It is not the mode of thinking of scientists or even of monistic visionaries that must engage our attention, but the mode of thinking of the general public. For natural science cannot provide a sufficiently powerful counterpoise to the universalist impulse of the Church of Rome. What provides this counterpoise is a universal thinking that is in conformity with the laws of nature. And we must study this impulse as symptom in relation to the future evolution of modern man.
Text books of history, rather thoughtlessly date the birth of modern times from the discovery of America and the invention of gunpowder and printing, and so forth. If we take the trouble to study the course of recent history we realize that these symptomatic events — the discovery of America, the invention of gunpowder, and the art of printing, — did in fact inspire seamen and adventurers to pioneer voyages of exploration, that they popularized and diffused traditional knowledge, but that fundamentally they did not change the substance of European civilization in the ensuing centuries. We realize that the old political impulses which were revived in the different countries nonetheless remained the same as before because they were unable to derive any notable benefit from these voyages of discovery. In the newly discovered countries they simply resorted to conquest as they had formerly done in other territories: they mined and transported gold and so enriched themselves. In the sphere of printing they were able increasingly to control the apparatus of censorship. But the political forces of the past were unable to derive anything in the nature of a decisive impulse from these discoveries which were said to mark the birth of modern times. It was through the fusion of the scientific mode of thinking — after it had achieved certain results — with these earlier inventions and discoveries in which science had played no part that the really significant impulse of modern times arose. The colonizing activities of the various countries in modern times would be unthinkable without the contributions of modern science. The modern urge for colonization was the consequence of the achievements of natural science in the technical field. It was only possible to conquer foreign territories, as colonization was destined to do with the aid of scientific inventions, with the application of scientific techniques. These colonizing activities therefore first arose in the eighteenth century when natural science began to be transformed into technology.
Applied science marks the beginning of the machine age, and with it a new era of colonization which gradually spreads over the whole world. With technology an extremely important impulse of modern evolution was born in the Consciousness Soul. Those who understand the determinative factors here are aware that the impulses behind worldwide colonial expansion, that these colonizing activities and aspirations are directly related to the epoch of the Consciousness Soul. This epoch, as you know, will end in the third millenium, to be followed by the epoch of the Spirit Self, and will as the result of colonization bring about a different configuration of mankind throughout the world. Now the epoch of the Consciousness Soul recognizes that there are so-called civilized and highly civilized people, and others who are extremely primitive — so primitive that Rousseau was captivated by their primitive condition and elaborated his theory of the ‘noble savage.’ In the course of the epoch of the Consciousness Soul this differentiation will cease — how it will cease we cannot now discuss in detail. But it is the function of the Consciousness Soul to end this differentiation, which is a heritage from the past.
Armed with this knowledge we see the connection between wars such as the American Civil War and modern colonizing activities in their true light. When we bear in mind the importance of these colonizing activities for the epoch of the Consciousness Soul we gain insight into the full significance of isolated symptoms in this field. And these colonizing activities are inconceivable without the support of scientific thinking.
We must really give heed to this scientific thinking, if, from the point of view of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, the epoch of the Consciousness Soul, we wish to penetrate to the true reality of human evolution. It is a characteristic of this modern scientific thinking that it can only apprehend the ‘corpse’ of reality, the phantom. We must be quite clear about this, for it is important. The scientific method starts from observation and proceeds to experimentation, and this applies in all spheres. Now there is a vast difference between the observation of nature and the knowledge which is confirmed by experimental proof. Observation of nature — with different nuances — was common to all epochs. But when man observes nature he becomes one with nature and shares in the life of nature. But, strangely enough, this communion with nature blunts the consciousness to some extent. One cannot live the life of nature and at the same time know in the sense in which the modern Consciousness Soul understands this term. One cannot do both at the same time any more than one can be asleep and awake at the same time. If one wishes to live in communion with nature one must be prepared in a certain sense to surrender one's consciousness to nature. And that is why the observation of nature cannot fathom its secrets, because when man observes nature his consciousness is somewhat dimmed and the secrets of nature escape him. In order to apprehend the secrets of nature he must be alive to the super-sensible.
One cannot develop the Consciousness Soul in a semiconscious state, a state of diminished consciousness, and therefore modern natural science quite instinctively attempts to dispense with observation and to depend upon experimentation for its findings. Experiments have been undertaken even in the fields of biology and anthropology. Now in experimentation the first consideration is to select and assemble the material, to determine the order of procedure. In experimental embryology for example, the order of procedure is determined not by nature but by human intelligence; it is determined by an intellectual faculty which is detached from nature and is centred in man. ‘We murder to dissect’— our knowledge of nature is derived from experimental investigation. Only what is acquired experimentally can be exploited technically. Knowledge of nature only becomes ripe for technical exploitation when it has passed through the indirect process of experimentation. The knowledge of nature which hitherto had been introduced into social life had not yet reached the stage of technology. It would be monstrous to speak of technology unless it is concerned purely with the application of experimentation to the social order or to what serves the social order.
Thus modern man introduces into the social order the results of experimental knowledge in the form of technology; that is to say, he brings in the forces of death. Let us not forget that we bring forces of death into our colonizing activities; that when we construct machines for industry, or submit the worker to the discipline of the machine we are introducing forces of death. And death permeates our modern historical structure when we extend our monetary economy to larger or smaller territories and when we seek to build a social order on the pattern of modern science as we have instinctively done today. And whenever we introduce natural science into our community life we introduce at all times the forces of death, ones that are self destructive.
This is one of the most important symptoms of our time. We can make honest and sincere pronouncements — I do not mean merely rhetorical pronouncements — about the great scientific achievements of modern times and the benefits they have brought to technology and to our social life. But these are only half truths, for fundamentally all these achievements introduce into contemporary life an unmistakably moribund element which is incapable of developing of itself. The greatest acquisitions of civilization since the fifteenth century are doomed to perish if left to themselves. And this is inescapable. The question then arises: if modern technology is simply a source of death, as it must inevitably be, why did it arise? Certainly not in order to provide mankind with the spectacle of machines and industry, but for a totally different reason. It arose precisely because of the seeds of death it bore within it; for if man is surrounded by a moribund, mechanical civilization it is only by reacting against it that he can develop the Consciousness Soul. So long as man lived in communion with nature, i.e. before the advent of the machine age, he was open to suggestion because he was not fully conscious. He was unable to be fully self-sufficient because he had not yet experienced the forces of death. Ego-consciousness and the forces of death are closely related. I have already tried to show this in a variety of ways: in ideation and cognition, for example, man is no longer in contact with the life-giving, vitalizing forces within him; he is given over to the forces of organic degeneration. I have tried to show that we owe the possibility of conscious thought to the process of organic degeneration, to the processes of destruction and death. If we could not develop in ourselves ‘cerebral hunger’, that is to say, processes of catabolism, of degeneration and disintegration, we could not behave as intelligent beings, we should be vacillating, indecisive creatures living in a semiconscious, dream-like state. We owe our intellectual capacity to the degenerative processes of the brain. And the epoch of the Consciousness Soul must provide man with the opportunity to experience disintegration in his environment. We do not owe the development of modern, conscious thinking to a superabundant vitality. This conscious thinking, this very core of man's being grew and developed because it was imbued with the forces of death inherent in modern technology, in modern industry and finance. And that is what the Consciousness Soul demanded.
And this phenomenon is seen in other spheres. Let us return to the impulses to which I drew attention earlier. Let us consider the case of England where we saw how a specific form of parliamentary government develops as a certain tendency through the centuries, how the self-dependent personality seeks to realize itself. The personality wishes to emancipate itself and to become self-sufficient. It wishes to play a part in the life of the community and at the same time to affirm its independence. The parliamentary system of government is only one means of affirming the personality. But when the individual who participates in parliamentary government asserts himself, the moment he sacrifices his will to the vote he surrenders his personality. And, rightly understood, the rise of parliamentary government in England in the centuries following upon the civil wars of the fifteenth century provides ample evidence of this. In the early years of the democratic system society was based upon a class structure, the various classes or ‘estates’ not only wishing to affirm their class status, but to express their views through the ballot-box. They were free to speak; but people were not satisfied with speeches and mutual agreement, they wanted to vote. When one votes, when speeches are followed by voting, one kills what lives in the soul even while one speaks. Thus every form of parliamentary government ends in a leveling down, in egalitarianism. It is born of the affirmation of the personality and ends with the suppression of the personality. This situation is inescapable; affirmation of the personality leads to suppression of the personality. It is a cyclic process like life itself which begins with birth and ends in death. In the life of man birth and death are two distinct moments in time; in history, the one is directly related to the other, birth and death are commingled. We must never lose sight of this.
I do not wish you to take these remarks as a criticism of parliamentary government. That would be tantamount to insinuating that I said: since man is born only to die he ought never to have been born — which is absurd. One should not impute to the world such foolishness — that it permits man to be born only to die. Please do not accuse me of saying that parliamentary government is absurd because the personality which gives birth to this system proceeds to destroy the system which it has itself created. I simply wish to relate it directly to life, to that which is common to all life — birth and death, thus showing that it is something that is closely associated with reality. At the same time I want to show you the characteristic feature of all external phenomena of a like nature in the epoch of the Consciousness Soul, for they are all subject to birth and death.
Now in the inner circles of the occult lodges of the English speaking world it has often been said: let us not reveal to the world the mystery of birth and death, for in so doing we shall betray to the uninitiated the nature of the modern epoch! We shall not transmit to them a knowledge that we wish to reserve for ourselves. Therefore it was established as the first rule of the masonic lodges never to speak openly of the mystery of birth and death, to conceal the fact that this mystery is omnipresent, above all in historical phenomena. For to speak of this is to open the eyes of the public to the tragedy of modern life which will gradually be compelled — a compulsion to which it will not easily submit — to divert man's attention from the results of work to the work itself. One must find joy in work, saying to oneself: the external rewards of work in the present epoch serve the purposes of death and not of creative life. If one is unwilling to further the forces of death, one cannot work with modern techniques, for today man is the servant of the machine. He who rejects the machine simply wishes to return to the past.
Study the history of France and the attempts made to thrust inwards the emancipation of the personality, ending in that disastrous suppression of the personality which we observe in the final phase of the French Revolution and in the rise of Napoleon. Or take the case of Italy. From what hidden springs did modern Italy derive that dynamic energy which inflamed the nationalism to the point of sacro egoismo? One must probe beneath the surface in order to discover the factors underlying world events. Recall for a moment that important moment before the birth of the Consciousness Soul. This dynamic energy peculiar to modern Italy is derived in all its aspects from what the Papacy had implanted in the Italian soul. The significance of the Papacy for Italy lies in the fact that it has gradually imbued the Italian soul with its own spirit. And, as so often happens to the magician's apprentice, the result was not what was intended — a violent reaction against the Papacy itself in modern Italy. Here we see how that for which one strives provokes its own destruction. Not the thoughts, but the forces of sensibility and enthusiasm, even those which inspired Garibaldi, are relics of the one-time Catholic fervour — but when these forces changed direction they turned against Catholicism.
People will understand the present epoch only if they grasp the right relationship between these things. Europe witnessed those various symptomatic events which I have described to you. And in the East, as if in the background, we see the configuration of Russia, welded out of the remnants of the Byzantine ecclesiastical framework, out of the Nordic-Slavonic racial impulse and out of the Asianism which is diffused in a wide variety of forms over Eastern Europe. But this triad is uncreative; it does not emanate from the Russian soul itself, nor is it characteristic of what lives in the Russian soul. What is it that offers the greatest imaginable contrast to the emancipation of the personality? — The Byzantine element. A great personality of modern times who is much underrated is Konstantin Pobedonostsev.He was an eminent figure who was steeped in the Byzantine tradition. He could only desire the reverse of what the epoch of the Consciousness Soul seeks to achieve and of what it develops naturally in man.
Even if the Byzantine element had made deeper inroads into Russian orthodoxy, even if this element which stifles everything personal and individual had gained an even stronger hold ... the sole consequence nonetheless would have been a powerful age for the emancipation of the personality. If, in the study of modern Russian history, you do not read of those events which it has always been forbidden to record, then you will not have a true picture of Russian history, you will be unaware of the really living element. If however you read the official version, the only version permitted hitherto by the authorities, you will find everything which pervades Russian life as an instrument of death. It appears here in its most characteristic form because Russian life is richest in future promise. And because Russian life bears within it the seeds of the development of the Spirit Self, all the external achievements of the era of the Consciousness Soul hitherto bring only death and destruction. And this had to be, since what seeks to develop as Spirit Self needs the substratum of death.
We must recognize that this is a necessity for the evolution of the Consciousness Soul, otherwise we shall never grasp the real needs of our time. We shall be unable to form a clear picture of the destructive forces which have overtaken mankind if we are unaware that the events of these last four years are simply an epitome of the forces of death that have pervaded humanity since the birth of the epoch of the Consciousness Soul.
Characteristically the dead hand of scientific thinking has exercised a strange influence upon one of the most prophetic personalities of recent time. In contemporary history the following incident is symptomatic and will always remain memorable. In the year 1830 in Weimar, Soret visited Goethe who received him with some excitement — I mean he betrayed excitement in his demeanour — but not with deep emotion. Goethe said to Soret: ‘At last the controversy has come to a head, everything is in flames’. He made a few additional remarks which led Soret to believe that Goethe was referring to the revolution which had broken out in Paris in 1830 and he answered him accordingly. But Goethe replied: ‘I am not referring to the revolution; that is not particularly important. What is important is the controversy between Cuvier and Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire in the Academy of Sciences of Paris’ — Cuvier was a representative of the old school which simply compares and classifies organisms — a way of looking at nature that is concerned above all with technique — whilst Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire has a living conception of the whole course of evolution. Goethe saw Saint-Hilaire as the leader of a new school of scientific thinking, different from that of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo. Cuvier belongs to the old school of thought; Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire is the representative of a scientific outlook which sees nature as a living organism. Therefore Goethe saw the dawn of a new epoch when Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire prepared the ground for a new scientific thinking which, when fully developed, must lead to a super-sensible interpretation of nature and ultimately to super-sensible, clairvoyant knowledge. For Goethe this was the revolution of 1830, not the political events in Paris. Thus Goethe showed himself to be one of the most prescient spirits of his time. He showed that he sensed and felt what was the cardinal issue of our time.
Today we must have the courage to look facts squarely in the face, a courage of which earlier epochs had no need. We must have the courage to follow closely the course of events, for it is important that the Consciousness Soul can fulfill its development. In earlier epochs the development of the Consciousness Soul was not important. Because the Consciousness Soul is of paramount importance in the present epoch, everything that man creates in the social sphere must be consciously planned. Consequently his social life can no longer be determined by the old instinctive life; nor can he introduce solely the achievements of natural science into society for these are forces of death and are unable to quicken life; they are simply destruction such as we have seen in the last four years. In the present epoch the following is important.
Sleep, of course, is a necessity for man. In waking life he is in control of his normal free will ... he can make use of this free will for the various things he encounters through Lucifer and Ahriman, in order to develop guidelines for the future. When he falls asleep this so called free will ceases to function; he continues to think without knowing it, but his thinking is no less efficacious. Thinking does not cease on falling asleep, it continues until the moment of waking. One simply forgets this in the moment of waking up. We are therefore unaware of the power of those thoughts that pour into the human soul from the moment of falling asleep until the moment of waking up. But let us remember that for the epoch of the Consciousness Soul the gods have abandoned the human soul during sleep. In earlier epochs the gods instilled into the human soul between sleeping and waking what they chose to impart. If they had continued to act in this way man would not have become a free being. Consequently he is now open to all kinds of other influences between sleeping and waking. At a pinch we can live our waking life with natural science and its achievements, but they are of no avail in sleep and death. We can only think scientifically during our waking hours. The moment we fall asleep, scientific thinking is meaningless — as meaningless as speaking French in a country where no one understands a word of French. In sleep only that language has significance which one acquires through super-sensible knowledge, the language which has its source in the super-sensible. Super-sensible knowledge must take the place of what the gods in former times had implanted in the instinct. The purpose of the present epoch of the Consciousness Soul is this: man must open himself to super-sensible impulses and penetrate to a knowledge of reality. To believe that everything that our present age has produced and still produces without the support of super-sensible impulses is something living and creative and not impregnated with the forces of death is to harbour an illusion, just as it is an illusion to believe that a woman can bear a child without fecundation. Without impregnation a woman today remains sterile and dies without issue. Modern civilization in the form it has developed since the beginning of the fifteenth century and especially in respect of its outstanding achievements, is destined to remain sterile unless fertilized henceforth by impulses from the super-sensible world. Everything that is not fertilized by spiritual impulses is doomed to perish. In this epoch of the Consciousness Soul, though you may introduce democracy, parliamentary government, modern financial economy, modern industrialism, though you may introduce the principle of nationalism the world over, though you may advocate all those principles on which men base what they call the new order — a subject on which they descant like drunken men who have no idea what they are talking about — all these
things will serve only the forces of death unless they are fructified by spiritual impulses. All that we must inevitably create today, forces that bring death in all domains, will only be of value if we learn how to transform these forces by our insights into the super-sensible.
Let us realize the seriousness of this situation and let us remember — as we have learned from our study of the symptoms of recent history — that what man considers to be his greatest achievements, natural science, sociology, modern industrial techniques and modern finance economy, all date from the fifteenth century. These are destructive agents unless fructified by spiritual impulses. Only then can they advance the evolution of mankind. Then they have positive value; in themselves they are detrimental. Of all that mankind today extols, not without a certain pride and presumption, as his greatest achievements, nothing is good in itself; it is only of value when permeated with spirit.
This is not an arbitrary expression of opinion, but a lesson we learn from a study of the symptoms of modern history. The time has now come when we must develop individual consciousness. And we must also be aware of what we may demand of this consciousness. The moment we begin to become dogmatic, even unwittingly, we impede the development of consciousness. I must therefore remind you once again of the following incident. I happened to be giving a course of lectures in Hamburg on The Bible and Wisdom. Amongst the audience were two Catholic priests. Since I had said nothing of a polemical nature which could offend a Catholic priest and since they were not the type of Jesuit who is a watchdog of the Church and whose function is to stick his fingers into every pie, but ordinary parish priests, they approached me after the lecture and said: we too preach purgatory; you also speak of a time of expiation after death. We preach paradise; you speak of the conscious experience of the Spirit; fundamentally there are no objections to the content of your teaching. But they would certainly have found ample grounds for objection if they had gone more deeply into the matter — a single lecture did not suffice for this. And they continued: You see the difference between us is this: You address yourself to a certain section of the population which is already familiar with the premises of anthroposophy, people who are educated and are conversant with certain concepts and ideas. We on the other hand speak to all men, we speak a language which everyone can understand. And that is the right approach — to speak for all men. Whereupon I replied: Reverend fathers (I always believe in respecting titles) what you are saying is beside the point. I do not doubt that you believe you speak for all men, that you can choose your words in such a way as to give the impression that you are speaking for all men. But that is a subjective judgement, is it not? It is what one usually says in self-justification. What is important is not whether we believe we speak for all men, but the facts, the objective reality. And now I should like to ask you, in an abstract, theoretical way: what evidence is there that I do not speak for all men? You claim to speak for all men and no doubt there are arguments that would support your claim. But I ask you for the facts. Do all those for whom you think you are able to speak still attend your church today? That is the real question. Of course my two interlocutors could not claim that everyone attended their church regularly. You see, I continued, that I am concerned with the facts. I speak for those who are outside the church, who also have the right to be led to the Christ. I realize that amongst them there are those who want to hear of the Christ impulse one way or another. That is a reality. And what matters is the reality, not personal opinions.
It is most desirable to base one's opinions on facts and not on subjective impressions, for in the epoch of the Consciousness Soul nothing is more dangerous than to surrender to, or show a predilection for personal opinions or prejudices. In order to develop the Consciousness Soul we must not allow ourselves to become dogmatists unwittingly; the driving forces of our thoughts and actions must be determined by facts. That is important. Beneath the surface of historical evolution there is a fundamental conflict between the acceptance of what we consider to be right and the compulsion of facts. And this is of particular importance when studying history, for we shall never have a true picture of history unless we see history as a truly great teacher. We must not force the facts to fit history, but allow history to speak for itself. In this respect the whole world has forgotten much in the last four years. Facts are scarcely allowed to speak for themselves; we only hear what we deem to be facts. And this situation will persist for a long time. And it will be equally long before we develop the capacity to apprehend reality objectively. In the epoch of the Consciousness Soul what matters in all spheres of life is an objective apprehension of reality; we must strive to acquire an impartial attitude to reality.
What our epoch demands — if we wish to look beyond the symptoms of history (I will speak more of this in my next lectures) — is that we turn our attention to those spiritual forces which can restore man's creativity. For, as we have seen, the most characteristic feature of all phenomena today is a decline in creativity. Man must open himself to the influences of the super-sensible world so that what his Spirit Self prepares may enter into his I; otherwise the paths to the Spirit Self would be closed to him. Man therefore must familiarize himself with what is pure spirit, with what can penetrate to the centre of his psychic life. The moment he is prepared to turn his attention to this centre of his soul life through a sensible study of the symptoms in history, he will also be prepared to examine more objectively the events at the periphery.
In man there exists a polarity — the psychic centre and the periphery. As he penetrates ever more deeply into his psychic and spiritual life he reaches this centre. In this centre he must open himself to those historical impulses which I have already described to you. Here he will feel an ever increasing urge for the spirit if he wishes to become acquainted with historical reality. In return however, he will also feel a desire to strive towards the opposite pole at the periphery. He will develop an understanding for what is pressing towards the periphery — his physical nature. If in order to understand history we must look inward, as I have indicated, to the underlying symptoms, then in order to understand medicine, for example, hygiene and medical health services we must look outwards, to cosmic rhythms for the source of pathological symptoms.
Just as modern history fails to penetrate to spiritual realities, so modern medicine, modern hygiene and medical health services fail to penetrate to the symptoms which are of cosmic provenance. I have often emphasized the fact that the individual cannot help his neighbour, however deep his insight into current problems, because today they are in the hands of those who are looking for the wrong solution. They must become the responsibility of those who are moving in the right direction. Clearly, just as the external facts are true that the outward aspect of James I was such and such, as I pointed out earlier, so, from the external point of view it is also true that a certain kind of bacillus is connected with the present influenza epidemic. But if it is true, for example, that rats are carriers of the bubonic plague, one cannot say that rats are responsible for the plague. People have always imagined that the bubonic plague was spread by rats. But bacilli, as such, are of course in no way connected with disease. In phenomena of this kind we must realize that just as behind the symptoms of history we are dealing with psychic and spiritual experiences, so too behind somatic symptoms we are dealing with experiences of a cosmological order. In other cases the situation of course will be different! What is especially important here is the rhythmic course of cosmic events, and it is this that we must study. We must ask ourselves: In what constellation were we living when, in the nineties, the present influenza epidemic appeared in its benign form? In what cosmic constellation are we living at the present time? By virtue of what cosmic rhythm does the influenza epidemic of the nineties appear in a more acute form today? Just as we must look for a rhythm behind a series of historical symptoms, so we must look for a rhythm behind the appearance of certain epidemics.
In the solfatara regions of Italy one need only hold a naked flame over the fango hole and immediately gases and steam escape from the dormant volcano. This Shows that if one performs a certain action above the surface of the earth nature reacts by producing these effects. Do you regard it as impossible that something takes place in the sun — since its rays are directed daily towards the earth — which has significance for the earth emanations and is related to the life of man, and that this reaction varies according to the different geographical localities? Do you think that we shall have any understanding of these matters unless we are prepared to accept a true cosmology founded upon a knowledge of the soul and spirit? The statement that man's inclination to resort to war is connected with the periodic appearance of sun spots is, of course, regarded as absurd. But there comes a point when statements of this kind cease to be absurd, when certain pathological manifestations in the emotional life are seen to be connected with cosmological phenomena such as the periodic appearance of sun spots. And when tiny creatures, these petty tyrants — bacilli or rats — really transmit from one human being to another something that is related to the cosmos, then this transmission is only a secondary phenomenon. This can be easily demonstrated and consequently finds wide public support — but it is not the main issue. And we shall not come to terms with the main issue unless we have the will to study the peripheral symptoms as well.
I do not believe that people will acquire a more reasonable and catholic view of history unless they study historical symptomatology in the light of super-sensible knowledge which is so necessary for mankind today. People will only achieve results in the sphere of health, hygiene and medicine if they study not historical, but cosmological symptoms. For the diseases we suffer on earth are visitations from heaven. In order to understand this we must abandon the preconceived ideas which are prevalent today. We have an easy explanation: a God is omnipresent ... but whilst recognizing the presence of God in history mankind today is unable to explain the manifold retardative or harmful phenomena in history. And when we are faced with a situation like the last four years (1914–1918), then this business of the single God in history becomes extremely dubious, for this God of history has the curious habit of multiplying, and each nation defends its national God and provokes other nations by claiming the superiority of its own God. And when we are expected to look to cosmology and at the same time remain comfortably attached to this single God, then this same God inflicts disease upon us. But when we can rise to the idea of the triad, God, Lucifer and Ahriman, when we are aware of this trinity in the super-sensible world behind the historical symptoms, when we know that this triad is present in the cosmic universe, then there is no need to appeal to the ‘good God’. We then know that heaven visits disease upon us by virtue of its association with the earth, just as I can evoke sulphur fumes by holding a naked flame over a solfatara. We can only advance the cause of progress in the epoch of the Consciousness Soul when people recognize the validity of spiritual realities. Therefore everything depends upon this one aim: the quest for truth.
Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive