How the Michael Forces functioned during the first unfolding of the Consciousness Soul
by Rudolf Steiner
Translation: Frank Thomas Smith
At the time of the dawn of the consciousness soul in man’s earthly evolution, it was difficult for the beings from the spiritual region closest to the earth to approach humanity. Earthly events acquired a form which showed that relations of a very special kind were necessary for spirituality to make its way into the physical life of man. But on the other hand that form also shows in an often most clarifying manner how where spiritual powers of the past are still active and the powers of the future already begin to be active, one spiritual entity energetically seeks its way into humanity’s earthy life in opposition to the other.
Between 1339 and 1453 France and England were engaged in a senseless war for over a hundred years. These spiritually chaotic events, unfavorable for human development, were responsible for delaying the introduction of the consciousness soul, which would have appeared sooner had those events not occurred. Chaucer, who died in 1400, laid the foundation for English literature. One needs only to consider the spiritual consequences for Europe of this foundation and one will find it meaningful that it could not develop freely, but succumbed to the confusion of war. Furthermore, already earlier (1215) the political thinking characteristic of the consciousness soul began to take shape in England. The further development of this event was also hindered by the chaos of war.
This was a time when the spiritual forces wanting man to develop as he had been disposed from the beginning by the divine-spiritual forces above them met their adversaries. These adversaries wished to detour man onto roads other than those meant for him from the beginning. He would then not be able to use the forces of his origin for his subsequent evolution. His cosmic childhood would thus remain unfruitful. It would be like a fading part of his being. The result would be that man could become prey to the Luciferic or Ahrimanic powers and his individual development would fall short. If the efforts of these anti-human adversarial powers had been completely successful instead of merely hindering, the introduction of the consciousness soul could have been completely prevented.
An event which illustrates especially well the streaming of spirituality into earthly events was the emergence and destiny of Jeanne d’Arc, the maid of Orleans (1412-1431). What she did came from the deepest subconscious fount of her soul. She followed the faint inspirations of the spiritual world. Chaos reigned on earth, through which the consciousness soul age was to be hindered. Michael had to prepare his future mission from the spiritual world. He is only able to do so when his impulses are received by human souls. The Maid of Orleans had such a soul. He also acted through many other souls, even when it was only possible in a moderate way and is less apparent to official history. He met his Ahrimanic adversary in such events as the war between England and France.
The Luciferic adversary he met in those times was spoken of in the previous contemplation. But the events show that that adversary was also especially active in the time following the Maid of Orleans’s appearance. One sees in those events that humanity was unable to contend with the intervention of the spirit-world in human affairs, which was understood and could also be integrated into the will at a time when imaginative understanding was still present. Contention with such intervention became impossible with the ceasing of the rational or mind soul; the position corresponding to the consciousness soul was not yet found at that time; it has not yet been accomplished even today.
What happened was that Europe’s formation was arranged from the spiritual world, without man realizing what was happening and without his efforts having a meaningful influence.
To appreciate the meaning of those events, which were realized from the spirit world, one needs only to imagine what would have happened in the fifteenth century if there had been no Maid of Orleans. There are also people who try to explain such occurrences materialistically. Making them understand is impossible, because they arbitrarily give a materialistic meaning to what is obviously spiritual.
This clearly shows that humanity’s striving to find the path to divine spirituality is no longer without difficulties, even when it is intensively sought. Such difficulties did not exist in the age when insight could be obtained by means of imaginations. In order to correctly judge what is meant, it is only necessary to clearly observe the persons who have come forth as philosophers. A philosopher cannot be judged only by his effect on his times, nor how many people have taken up his ideas. He is much more the expression, the personification of his times. What the majority of people already experience as unconscious feelings and motives are introduced by the philosopher with his ideas. He indicates the mentality of his times as a thermometer indicates the temperature of its surroundings. Philosophers are as little the cause of the mentality of their times as the thermometer is of the temperature of its surroundings.
In this respect, consider the philosopher René Descartes (1596 – 1650), who was active when the consciousness soul age was already in progress. The thin thread of his connection with the spirit world (true being) is his experience of “I think, therefore I am”. In the center of the consciousness soul, the I, he tries to experience reality; and only to the extent the consciousness soul can tell him.
And he seeks clarity about the rest of spirituality by intellectually investigating how much guarantee the certainty of his own self-awareness provides for the certainly of other things. He asks everywhere about the truths which have been handed down historically: are they as clear as “I think, therefore I am”? If he can affirm this, he accepts them. Doesn’t this kind of thinking directed towards the things of the world ignore the spirit? This spirit’s revelation has restricted itself to the thinnest thread in self-awareness; everything else shows itself to be directly revealed without spiritual revelation. What lies beyond self-awareness can only indirectly throw a flicker of light of this spiritual revelation into the consciousness soul through the intellect.
The person of that time let his still relatively empty-of-content consciousness soul strive with intense desire towards the spiritual world. A thin stream got there.
The beings of the spirit-world directly bordering on the earth, and the human souls on earth, came together with difficulty. Michael’s supersensible preparation for his later mission was experienced by human souls only with the greatest inhibitions.
We may compare, in order to understand the different mentalities, the ones expressed by Descartes and Augustine, the latter possessing the same slim foundation for experiencing the spiritual world as Descartes – at least in respect to his formulations. Except that in Augustine’s case it derived from the full imaginative force of the rational or mind soul. (He lived from 354 to 430.) Augustine and Descartes are considered to be related – and correctly so. However, Augustine’s intellect was still a vestige of the cosmos, whereas Descartes’ intellect had been absorbed into the individual human soul. One can see from the process of spiritual striving from Augustine to Descartes how the cosmic character of thinking power is lost, and then appears again in the human soul. At the same time one can also see how Michael and human minds come together under difficult conditions, so that Michael can guide them, as he once did in the cosmos.
The luciferic and Ahrimanic forces are at work to obstruct this coordination. The luciferic forces want man to develop only what was appropriate to his cosmic infancy. The ahrimanic ones, in opposition but simultaneously collaborating, would like to see only the forces to be developed during a later epoch flourish, and let the cosmic infancy fade out.
Against such increasing opposition, the human souls of Europe processed the spiritual impulses of the old worldview ideas streaming from the East to the West through the Crusades. The Michael forces lived strongly in those ideas. Cosmic intelligence, the direction of which was Michael’s ancient spiritual heritage, dominated these worldviews.
How could they be absorbed when a chasm existed between the forces of the spirit-world and human souls? They fell into the slowly evolving consciousness soul. On one side they encountered the obstacle which was found in the still weakly developed consciousness soul, which lamed them. On the other side they no longer found an imaginative consciousness. Human souls could no longer connect to them with insight. They were received either superficially or superstitiously.
Names such as Wicliff, Huss and others on one hand, and the term “Rosicrucian” on the other, should be understood with this mentality in mind. We will speak of this further.
(The continuation of this second contemplation and the third will follow.)
Goetheanum, November 30, 1924
127. At the beginning of the consciousness soul age human souls had still only developed their intellectual forces to a limited degree. There was a lack of coherence between what these souls desired in the depths of their unconscious and what forces from the region where Michael was could give them.
128. In this lack of coherence a spiritual opportunity existed for the luciferic powers to hold back humanity at its cosmic childhood, and not permit it to develop further on the divine spiritual paths with which it was united from the beginning, but on luciferic ones.
129. Furthermore, the spiritual opportunity existed for the ahrimanic powers to strangulate humanity from its cosmic childhood and thus absorb it into their own realm in its future evolution.
130. Neither of these things happened, because the Michael-forces were active; but human spiritual development had to take place under the hindrances caused by these opportunities, and became what it is now because of them.
Continuation of the Second Contemplation:
Hindrance and Furtherance of the Michael Forces at the Dawn of the Conscious Soul Age
In all of Europe the incorporation of the consciousness soul also had the effect of disturbing religious faith as well as the experience of ritual. At the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries one sees the advance notices of this disturbance in the appearance of the “proofs of God” (especially by Anselm of Canterbury). The existence of God was to be proven through reason. Such a desire could only appear when the old way, to experience “God” with the soul’s forces, was disappearing. For what one experiences in that way cannot be proven logically.
The previous way was for the soul to perceive the intelligent beings – up to the Godhead; the new way became to form thoughts intellectually about the “primal ground” of the universe. The first way was supported by the forces of Michael in the spiritual regions at the periphery of the earth, which equipped the soul with capacities beyond the forces of sense-thinking to perceive the intelligent beings in the universe; for the second way the soul’s connection with the Michael-forces first had to accomplished.
Extensive areas of human religious life, such as the central teaching of Holy Communion, began to falter – through Wicliff in England (fifteenth century) to Huss in Bohemia.
In Holy Communion man could find his connection to the spirit-world, which was opened to him by Christ, for he was able to unite his being with Christ in such a way that the fact of union through the senses was at the same time a spiritual one.
The consciousness of the rational or mind-soul was able to understand this union. For this soul could still conceive of the spirit as well as of matter, which were so close that the transition of the one (matter) into the other (spirit), was conceivable.
Such ideas should not be so intellectual that they require proof of God’s existence; they must be ideas which still have something of imagination. Thereby the active spirit in matter is felt, and in the spirit the striving for matter. Behind ideas of this kind are Michael’s cosmic forces.
Just consider how much faltered for the human soul during that time! How much of what was related to its most inner and holiest experience! Personalities such as Huss, Wicliff and others appeared, in whom the consciousness soul shone brightest, whose soul constitutions strongly united them with the Michael-forces, something which would happen to others centuries later. They asserted the consciousness soul’s right to vibrantly grasp the religious mysteries. They felt: intellectuality, which arose together with the consciousness soul, must be capable of including in its ideas what was achieved through imagination in older times.
On the other hand, the human soul’s old traditional attitude had lost all its inner strength in the widest circles. What is historically called abuses of the religious life, with which the great reformation councils occupied themselves at the time of the beginning of consciousness soul’s activity, is all related to the lives of those who did not yet feel the consciousness soul within them, but could no longer find something which could give them inner strength and certainty in the rational or mind-soul.
One can truly say that such historical human experiences as came about in the councils of Constance and Basel illustrate the streaming down of intellectuality towards humanity from the spirit world above - and below the earthly region with its no-longer-timely rational or mind-soul. In between the Michael-forces oscillated, looking back at their previous connection to divine spirituality and downward at humanity, which also had that connection, but which now had to move to a sphere in which Michael would have to help spiritually, although he was not yet able to inwardly unite with that sphere. In Michael’s efforts, which are necessary in cosmic evolution, but which nevertheless are at first a disturbance of the equilibrium in the cosmos, is also the reason for what humanity experienced at that time in regard to the holiest truths.
One looks deeply into the characteristics of that age by studying Cardinal Nicolaus Cusanus. (See references to him in my book Mysticism and Modern Thought.) His personality is like a signpost of the times. He wanted to enforce viewpoints which would not combat the physical world’s evils with fanatical tendencies, but with common sense – to get the train of thought back on track. His actions at the Council of Basel and in his church parish are evidence of this.
Nicolaus tended completely towards the evolutionary transition to the consciousness soul, and on the other hand he revealed viewpoints which indicate the forces of Michael in shining armor. He included the good old ideas, those which lead human minds toward the development of capacities for the perception of intelligences in the cosmos, when Michael still directed the Universal-Intellectuality. The “learned ignorance” of which he spoke refers to what is beyond understanding through sense perception: that thinking beyond intellectuality (common knowledge) leads into a region where – unknowingly – the spiritual is grasped in living vision.
Thus Nicolaus is a person who, feeling the disturbance of cosmic equilibrium through Michael in his own soul, would intuitively like to do everything possible to orient this disturbance towards the healing of humanity.
Something else hidden existed between these events. Individual personalities who understood the meaning of the Michael forces in the universe wished to prepare their own souls to be able to consciously find access to the spiritual region bordering the earthly region, where Michael was working for the benefit of humanity.
They sought justification for this spiritual undertaking by acting in their professions and otherwise in such a way that they would not be distinguishable from others. Thereby, that they carried out their earthly duties in such a loving way, they were able to freely devote their inner selves to the mentioned spiritual task. What they did in this respect were the things for which they came together “in secret”. From the standpoint of what happened physically, the world was at first apparently untouched by this spiritual striving. Nevertheless, it was necessary in order to connect souls to the Michael-World. They were not “secret societies” in any negative sense, not seekers for what is hidden because it shuns the light of day. Rather were they associations of people who were convinced that their members were conscious of Michael’s mission. Therefore they did not speak of their work in front of those who would only disturb their tasks due to lack of understanding. These tasks consisted at first of working in spiritual streams which did not move in earthly life, but in the neighboring spirit-world which, however, sent its spiritual impulses into earthly life.
It was a matter of the spiritual activity of people who stood in the physical world, but cooperated with Beings of the spirit-world, with Beings who did not incorporate into the physical world. They were called – not very accurately – Rosicrucians. True Rosicrucianism was completely in line with the Michael-Mission activity. It helped Michael prepare his spiritual work on earth for what he intended for a future age.
We can judge what happened by taking the following into account.
The difficulty, rather the impossibility for Michael to enter human souls was because he did not want to come in any way into contact with the contemporary physical world. He wanted to remain in the force complex that existed for spirits of his kind and for humans in the past. Any contact with what man must come into contact with in physical earthly life could only be considered by Michael to be a contamination of his being. In normal human life, the soul’s spiritual experiences work into his physical earthly life, and the latter into the former. This reverse effect is evidenced namely in man’s attitude and his orientation towards the earthly. Such intertwining effects is the rule – although not always – especially for people in public life. Therefore Michael’s activities in respect to many reformers encountered strong obstacles.
The Rosicrucians overcame these difficulties by keeping their normal lives with their earthly duties totally apart from their work with Michael. When he, with his impulses, encountered what a Rosicrucian had prepared for him in his soul, he found himself in no way exposed to the danger of earthly contact. Because what united the Rosicrucian with Michael was kept safely away by the Rosicrucian’s state of soul.
Therewith true Rosicrucian resolve built the path to be found on earth for Michael’s coming mission.
(The third contemplation follows.)
Goetheanum, December 6, 1924
Further Guidelines for the Anthroposophical Society at the Goetheanum
(With reference to the preceding two contemplations about Hindrance and Furtherance of the Michael Forces at the dawn of the Consciousness Soul age.)
131. At the beginning of the consciousness soul age the emancipated intellectuality in man wanted to occupy itself with truths of religion and ritual. Human soul-life experienced uncertainty, a faltering thereby. An attempt was made to prove logically what was previously experienced by the soul. The content of ritual, which must be grasped in imaginations, was to be grasped through logical conclusions – even be conducted according to them.
132. This is all related to the fact that Michael wanted, under all circumstances, to avoid any contact with the physical earth – upon which man must walk – although he was to continue to accompany the cosmic intellectuality, which he administered in the past, in humanity. Thereby through the Michael-forces a disturbance occurred in cosmic equilibrium which was necessary for the continuation of world evolution.
133. Michael’s mission was made easier when certain personalities – the true Rosicrucians – organized their normal earthly lives in such a way that they in no way interfered with their inner soul lives. They could therefore develop forces internally through which they could cooperate with Michael spiritually without him running the danger of being enmeshed in earthly events – which would have been out of the question for him.
Michael’s anxiety about human evolution before the time of his earthly activity
During the development of the consciousness soul age the possibility of a connection between Michael and humanity in general gradually ceased. Humanized intellectuality intervened. Imaginative ideas, which could show man the essential intelligence in the cosmos, faded away. The possibility for Michael to approach humanity only began during the last third of the nineteenth century. Previously this could only happen on the path to true Rosicrucianism.
Man looked at nature with his budding intellect. He saw there a physical and an etheric world in which he was absent. Through the great ideas of Copernicus and Galileo he acquired an image of the external world – but lost his own image. He looked at himself and had no insight into what he is.
In the depths of his being the bearer of his intelligence – his “I” - awakened. Thus man contained a triplicity. Firstly, that which originally placed his soul-spiritual being – as a physical-etheric entity – in the ancient Saturn and Sun times and thereafter again and again in the domain of divine spirituality. That is where the human being and Michael could walk together. Secondly, man carried within him his later physical and etheric being, that which he became during the ancient Moon and Earth epochs. All that was the work and activity of divine spirituality – which, however, was no longer actively present.
It would only become actively present when Christ passed through the Mystery of Golgotha. Christ can be found in what works spiritually in the physical and etheric bodies of man. Thirdly, man had within him that part of his soul-spiritual being which took on new essence during the ancient Moon and earth epochs. In this essence Michael remained active, whereas in the part which tended towards the ancient Moon and Earth he became less active. Within the new essence he [Michael] preserved for man his man-god image.
He was able to do this at the dawn of the consciousness soul age. Then man’s entire soul-spirit virtually sank into the physical-etheric in order to extract the consciousness soul from it.
Man’s consciousness rose up brilliantly about what his physical and etheric bodies could tell him about the physical and etheric in nature. His vision diminished, however, concerning what his astral body and his I could tell him about himself.
A time came in which man felt that he could no longer have insight about himself. A search for knowledge of man began. What the present offered did not satisfy him, so he went back in time historically. Humanism arose in cultural development. One looked towards humanism not because he knew man, but because he had lost him. If Erasmus of Rotterdam and others had known man, they would have taken quite a different approach than through what humanism meant for them.
Later in Faust Goethe created a human figure who had completely lost the meaning of man.
This search for the “human being” became more and more intense. The only choices were either to dampen one’s sense of self; or to develop the desire for it as an element of the soul.
Up into the nineteenth century the best people in European culture developed ideas – historical, natural scientific, philosophical, mystical – which indicated efforts to discover the human within a worldview that had become intellectual.
Renaissance, spiritual rebirth, humanism hastened, even stampeded striving for spirituality in a direction in which it was not to be found; and only impotence, illusion and stupefaction were found in the direction in which it must be sought. Along with this came the breakthrough of the Michael forces in man – in art, in knowledge, only not yet in the renewing forces of the consciousness soul – which meant instability for spiritual life. Michael was directing all his strength backward in cosmic evolution to gain the power needed to hold the “dragon” in equilibrium under his feet. It was just then during Michael’s striving for power that the great renaissance creations took place. But they were a renewal by Michael of the rational or mind-soul elements, and not the result of new soul forces.
Michael was full of anxiety as to whether he would be able to do battle with the “Dragon” for very long when he saw the attempt to add an image of man similar to the one newly acquired in respect to the natural realm. Michael saw how nature was observed and how people wanted to form an image of man according to what they called “natural law”. He saw how it was thought that as animal characteristics became more perfect, the organ system more harmonious, man “came into being”. But it was not “man” that came into being in Michael’s spiritual view, because what was thought about perfection and harmony was merely “thought”; nobody could observe that it was real because it had never happened anywhere.
And thus people lived with thoughts about man in unreal images, in illusions; they hunted for an image of man which they only thought to have found; but in reality their field of vision was empty. “The spiritual sun’s force illumines their souls, Christ acts, but they cannot yet see it. Consciousness soul forces are active with love, but not yet in souls.” Inspiration can hear something like this as Michael speaks with great anxiety: What if the strength of illusion in man could give the “dragon” so much power that it would not possible for him – Michael – to maintain the equilibrium?
Other personalities tried with artistic inner strength to experience nature at one with man.
Powerful were Goethe’s words when he described Winckelmann’s work in a great book: “When man’s healthy nature acts as a whole, when he feels himself as in a great, beautiful, majestic and worthy whole, when harmonious contentment provides him with pure, free delight; then the universe, if it could feel itself as having reached its goal, would exult and marvel at its own becoming and essence.” What Lessing celebrated with passionate spirituality, what ensouled the great worldview in Herder – resounded in Goethe’s words. And all of Goethe’s creativity is like a many-sided manifestation of these words. In his “Aesthetic Letters” Schiller described a perfect man who, as is reflected in these words, contains the universe and realizes it in social contact with others. But from where does this image of man originate? It blazes like the morning sun over the earth in springtime. But for humanity it originated in the Greek idea of man. It was cultivated with a strong inner Michael-impulse; but people could only realize this impulse by looking back into the past. Goethe felt an extremely strong conflict with the consciousness soul when he tried to experience “man”. He sought him in Spinoza’s philosophy; but it was during his Italian journey when he looked into the Greek essence that he felt he could correctly sense him. He hurried away from the consciousness soul in which Spinoza aspired, and finally arrived at the fading rational or mind soul. But he was able to inject into his comprehensive view of nature an unlimited amount of that latter soul into the consciousness soul.
Michael earnestly observed this quest for man. But what he meant did enter into human spiritual development: the human being who once saw the essential intelligence when Michael still administered it from the cosmos. However, if it were not grasped with the spiritualized force of the conscious soul, it would have to be extinguished and fall into the clutches of Lucifer’s power. Michael’s other great fear was that Lucifer could gain the upper hand if cosmic spirituality lost its equilibrium.
Michael’s preparation for his mission at the end of the nineteenth century was in danger of becoming a cosmic tragedy. On earth great satisfaction reigned because of what had been learned about nature. But in Michael’s domain a sense of tragedy existed because of the barriers to the introduction of the contrary image.
Previously Michael’s austere, spiritualized love lived in the sun’s rays, in the shimmering dawn and in the twinkling stars; now this love took on a note of deep sorrow when he observed humanity.
Michael’s situation in the cosmos became a difficult and tragic one, but also one which required an urgent solution at the moment when his earthly mission was imminent. Intellectuality could only be applied by humans to the body and its senses. They therefore had no insight into what their senses didn’t tell them; their field of sense revelation was nature, but only thought of as matter. On the one hand they no longer witnessed divine spirituality in natural forms, but rather something spiritless, which was nevertheless presumed to bring forth the spirit in which man lives. On the other hand they only wanted to accept from the spiritual world what was revealed in historical accounts. Spiritual observation of the past was just as scorned then as it is now.
Only what pertained to the present, where Michael did not enter, still lived in human souls. People were glad to stand on “solid” ground. They believed this because they did not have to look for what they feared were fantastic assumptions about nature. But Michael was not happy; he had to fight against Lucifer and Ahriman in his own domain. That resulted in great tragic difficulty because Lucifer could approach men that much easier to the extent that Michael, who was also protecting the past, had to keep his distance from them. Thus a mighty battle for humanity took place in the spiritual world immediately bordering the earth between Michael and Lucifer and Ahriman, while on earth man acted contrary to what was beneficial for the development of his soul.
Of course all this is applicable to European and American spiritual life. For Asia one would have to speak differently.
Goetheanum, December 14, 1924
Further Guidelines, relating to the previous Third Contemplation
134. At the very beginning of the conscious soul times, man felt that the previous imaginative image of the human being, his own essence, had been lost. Incapable of finding it in the consciousness soul, he sought it in natural science or history. He wanted the old image of man to arise in him once again.
135. He did not, however, arrive at a true feeling for the human being, but rather to illusions. But he did not realize this and saw in them something substantial.
136. Therefore, during the time previous to his earthly activity, Michael observed human evolution with sorrow and pain. For man scorned all spiritual contemplation and therewith cut himself off from what bound him to Michael.