During these challenging times, I have been reflecting on what an anthroposophical approach to this Covid-19 pandemic might be. There are so many theories, anthroposophical and otherwise, that we are being invited to take in and consider. Perhaps you, like me, receive links to more pandemic-related videos and websites than it is possible to view – that is, if you wish to have any time at all away from the screen and maintain some semblance of a normal life.
All I personally feel able to do is to watch and observe and try to reach some conclusions about what is going on. One of these conclusions is that nearly all of us, including most doctors, scientists, politicians, academics and pundits of all kinds, know next to nothing about Covid-19. All the information coming to us from official channels is confusing, constantly changing and often contradictory. This is a very disconcerting experience for those of us who would like something solid to hang onto. The writer Paul Kingsnorth has expressed this dilemma very well:
I would like to say that I know what to do about all this, or what to learn. I would like to teach it to you so that you may learn too. I would like to be a prophet in a time when prophets are so sorely needed. Unfortunately, I am not qualified for this role. I don’t know anything at all, and I am learning, painfully, that this was my lesson all along. I don’t know anything at all. My society does not know anything at all. All the things I was brought up to label as learning: my A-levels, my Oxford University degrees, all the books I have read and written, all the arguments I learned how to formulate, all the ideas I learned how to frame, the concepts I learned how to enunciate. All this head-work, all these modern European ways of seeing, understanding, controlling, managing, directing the world: Nope. None of that was it.
So what has this pandemic got to teach our globalised Western civilisation? What can we learn from all of this? Nothing, because we are not equipped to learn the actual lesson that is being taught. We cannot learn the lesson, because our head-centred, materialist culture does not believe in the existence of the realm from where it is coming, which is the non-material world.
During a previous piece about coronavirus, I gave quite a bit of emphasis to the positive sides of lockdown – the improvement in air quality, the reduced road and air traffic noise, the benefits for nature and wildlife, the enhanced sense of a community caring for its weaker members and a hope that, as there were so many of us who did not want to return to ‘normal’, that governments might take notice and stop talking about economic growth as if nothing else mattered. These hopes have not endured, of course.
I also raised the possibility that I was being naïve and that all of us were being played by forces very far from benign towards human beings, citing the speed with which our civil liberties have been removed, the many restrictions being placed on social and family life and the damage being done to our economic circumstances. With each month that passes, it becomes clearer that this more pessimistic view is increasingly valid and that humanity has entered a very dark period.
One answer to Paul Kingsnorth’s call for real knowledge about the virus is to be found in The Coronavirus Pandemic – Anthroposophical Perspectives by Judith von Halle. Translated from the German original by Frank Thomas Smith and published by Temple Lodge, this is one of the few commentaries from an anthroposophical point of view that I have found to be really useful. Despite von Halle’s disclaimer of scientific knowledge or her modest description of her writings as “motivating fragments for free consideration”, what she writes has, for me at least, a flavour of genuine anthroposophical spiritual research. She wrote this for an anthroposophical audience, in response to questions earlier this year from members of the Lazarus-John Branch of the Free Association for Anthroposophy, so at times she uses language and ideas with which general readers may not be familiar. I have tried therefore to include hyperlinks to sources of further information wherever this could be helpful, or else have provided short explanations.
In such a brief post I cannot do justice to the full range of her insights but will only mention here what are for me some of the most important points she makes. Apart from all the human anguish and inconvenience triggered by coronavirus, the spiritual causes behind it are extremely disturbing. If the present pandemic is not to be the first in a series of catastrophes, humanity is called upon to make some big changes to the way we conduct our lives. Von Halle suggests that because Covid-19 is a pandemic, it means that we are in the grip of a situation where the karma of humanity as a whole applies – and this has happened in such a way that planned individual karma is thwarted. In such cases, she says, after the death of an affected person whose individual karmic threads have been severed by the karma of humanity, it is not easy for the hierarchies of angels to weave these threads back together again. This is therefore a full-frontal attack on the I-hood of the individual (the Self, the bearer of the Christ principle or the indwelling divinity in the human being, which we take with us from incarnation to incarnation) and from this she concludes that the spiritual power active in the pandemic is Sorat, the Anti-Christ, “the mightiest spiritual enemy which humanity must face on its path to development” and that the “virus is only a rippling wave compared to what humanity must still undergo in the near future”.
In connection with this last point, von Halle says that:
Today we experience the attack – caused by us as the organism of humanity (i.e. humanity as a whole) – on the air-element and the physical organ associated with it, the lungs, through our corrupted, not life-giving thinking [This is a reference to the concept of ‘living thinking’, which you can read more about in Chapter 8 of Steiner’s ‘Philosophy of Freedom’]. But if in the future, in the age of the consciousness soul, humanity has sunk so low that it is just as degenerate in its feeling as in its thinking, an attack on the heart will follow. Then it will be a case of absence of compassion, which is connected, among other things, with the suffering of animals.
Von Halle also says that it is not only the individual due to his personal biography, but also humanity as such that has developed a disposition for illness by this virus in that it has promoted and cherished materialism in its thinking for the past 150 years.
This is where human beings are called upon to transform their thinking:
The greatest difficulty facing human beings is that they do not want to acknowledge the I, that is, the reality of their spiritual origin and purpose – the reality of their selves as a community of entities of purely spiritual nature, who at the present time have taken on materially physical sheaths. Only when this insight exists will life on earth for humanity – an existence that can truly be called life– be able to continue".
Unless we can come to a clear awareness and understanding that the invisible spheres of life are as important as the physical in making us fully human, then the result will be estrangement from spiritual life, both on Earth and after death. The consequence of this estrangement and isolation is that an element which should remain in the spiritual life degenerates, is driven out and begins to manifest in the physical world as pathogens and illnesses which appear in a living organism and multiply parasitically within it. Von Halle then says:
A different world, which is not included in the divine development plan for humanity, arises through this parasitical isolation. If human beings recognise their I and its importance, its tasks and possibilities, moral individualisation begins – the self-desired maturity from a creature to a new god [Von Halle is here referring to Rudolf Steiner’s statement that human beings are destined through their evolution over aeons to become the next order of angels, the Tenth Hierarchy).] If human beings do not recognise their I and its importance, its tasks and possibilities, an amoral special existence begins, a self-degeneration from divine creature to a new – never before existing and also not in a higher sense envisaged – sub-sensory creature. Then human beings consummate this splitting from the whole and suck out all that they can of the living world that had been bestowed upon them, thus furthering their degeneration.
This is a truly alarming insight: that humankind, through its thoughtless denial of its true nature and its embrace of atheistic materialism, is in danger of being driven by malign spiritual forces into a sub-human state of existence.
Judith von Halle also has some very interesting things to say about viruses:
As viruses are not made up of cells and have no metabolism of their own, but only a blueprint of their reproduction, which they can actualise within the cell of a so-called ‘host’, they are not living beings like bacteria (many of which, by the way, play an indispensable role in the human digestion process, which is not the case with viruses). Moreover, viruses maintain themselves by the principle of errors that occur during their copying process and which often result in optimal situations – for them. Thereby they stand in diametric opposition to the basic divine order, namely the principles of truth, beauty and goodness, which are fundamental to humanity’s creative power. The cause of cell death in the human body is what optimises viral existence (Programmed cell death is an integral part of host defence against invading intracellular pathogens). This alone directs our attention to the spiritual nature of a virus.
(…) An infection with the virus steers the I-slumbering person’s attention back to the purely material-physical processes, and it reaffirms his or her already biased materialistic worldview. It impacts a spiritual (sub-sensory-spiritual) impulse on the physical in the human soul. (…) The spiritual intention of viruses, as spirit bearers (or non-spirit bearers) (…) is to cause maximum harm in that they come into contact with the spirit of the human being at the level of devachan – albeit at its amoral mirror-image plane – but with the spirit not used by that person. [Here the author is referring to parts of the human spirit which are taken over by the Asuras and are thus not available to the individual human being.] Thus they are a plague of the consciousness soul age. Virus epidemics affect the karma of humanity insofar as the individual spirit is not brought to bear within an individual human being, and as a result, in what is meant to be the age of spiritual awakening, the person relapses into group-soul attitudes, which increase the physical potency of viruses.
Will the new Covid-19 vaccines help?
That vaccination cannot offer lasting protection is indicated by the impulse to mutate that was induced by vaccination. Spiritually considered, vaccination campaigns, however beneficial they may be at first, cannot remedy humanity’s karmic adjustment caused by a viral epidemic. At best, a postponement of humanity’s karmic adjustment takes place. If the spiritual causes of the plague are not remedied but instead comprehensive vaccinations are administered, a more drastic consequence or compensation must be reckoned with in future. This is not an appeal against vaccinations. It is only meant to indicate that vaccination campaigns alone are not a solution, but at most a stop-gap, because without the removal of the spiritual causes for the infectious illnesses, they contribute to the eruption of other more powerful epidemics.
It’s now clear to me that Covid-19 is just one aspect of a multi-faceted attack on human beings and all life on Earth that we are living through. Climate change, war, the sixth great extinction of species, genocide, materialism, racism, human degradation, pollution, terrorism, the polarisation of society, the undermining of democracy, fake news and ‘post-truth’ – these are all facets of attacks from the same enemy. The aim of Sorat and his helpers, the Asuras, has always been to destroy the human I (the Self, the bearer of the Christ principle or the indwelling divinity in the human being) and to destroy the earth itself, which the I needs for the future development of the human soul. This is the true scale of the battle in which humanity is now engaged.
Foreseeing this, Rudolf Steiner said:
Mankind will begin to recover when, through work in the life of the spirit, people come to know and to see in its true light the fact that the fifth post-Atlantean epoch [i.e. the age we are currently living in, which runs from 15th Century CE to 4th Millennium CE] is intended to create a materialistic state of being out of the general stream of human evolution. But all the more, then, must a spiritual state of being be set in opposition to this materialism. What people in our epoch must learn is the need to wage a fully conscious fight against the evil that is making its way into human evolution. Just as in the fourth epoch [ie the Graeco-Roman age] the struggle was to come to terms with birth and death, so now we have to come to terms with evil.(GA 178)
What help is available to us in this great struggle? Von Halle suggests several things:
- Reducing one’s exposure to news about the coronavirus pandemic to the minimum that is necessary to avoid ignorance of what is going on in the world. (Rudolf Steiner, alongside his spiritual research, always made sure that he was thoroughly informed about outer events and opinions.)
- The consistent psychical-spiritual work of an individual, or of a few individuals, can have an enormous influence on the physical and spiritual conditions of the world! When someone asks: What can I as one person do to influence world events? – the answer is: everything! If people could only see with physical eyes the effect on the macrocosmic context that the decision and its implementation to consistently practise only one meditation by a single person, then probably no one would hesitate to undertake such an exercise themselves. For the possibilities are enormous! Allow me to give you this as the greatest consolation, as the strongest ray of hope in the present situation. The individual person holds the world’s fate in his hands. This is the gift of the Christ, who sees the individual I as a deity, who treats it as a deity. (…) Spiritual life must become a reality in our hearts and therefore in our higher consciousness. We must develop a feeling in our souls for the true, the beautiful and the good that resides in this spiritual life.
- Speaking the Foundation Stone verse in nature. Speaking the truth, this truth of cosmic wisdom is today (one could say, unfortunately) a shattering relief – for oneself, for one’s fellow humans, the divine spiritual world and, above all, for the physical world.
Von Halle also recommends the Michael verse ‘Victorious Spirit’, “which shows us the essence of the true spirit of our time and, through its character, not only makes us aware of our contemporary tasks in everyday practical life, but can also give us the necessary will to fulfill them.”
Victorious spirit(From Rudolf Steiner, Mantric Sayings, Meditations 1903-25, GA 268)
Flame away the impotence
Of timid souls.
Burn up self-interest
So that selflessness,
As the life-stream of humanity,
Reigns as source
Of spiritual rebirth.
After having read this book, I am left with several thoughts and questions. First, how can one not be totally overwhelmed and horrified by the scale of the assault on human beings, especially when most of us are completely unaware of what is going on and have not even the basic concepts to begin to understand what is happening? Does it matter that there are so many people who will greet with derision what is written here, or have no comprehension of and no interest in what has been described? I take comfort from what Judith von Halle says above about the massive difference one or two people can make when they work with prayer or meditation. And I also take comfort from the fact that there are so many good people doing good things for one another at this time, all of which I believe will weigh in the balance on the side of humanity.
Second, what can one do against such apparently insuperable odds? All that I personally can do is to write my blog; to look after people with learning disabilities at the care home where I work; to care for those close to me; to cherish my garden as a meditative space; to be part of my local community – for as I’ve noted before, it is human solidarity and caring for one another that will bring us through this crisis. Sorat is beyond all comparison the greatest enemy that humanity has ever had; but it is also true that having an enemy helps one to define oneself (and indeed, one’s Self). And Sorat and the Asuras have no response, no possible counterattack, that can defeat the love of Christ as expressed through simple human caring and selflessness.
Third, why is this happening? Here, I believe, we touch upon a great mystery of human evolution, ie the role of evil in human development. I have written more about this elsewhere on this blog, in case anyone is interested to take a look.