by Rudolf Steiner
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Berlin, October 25, 1906
PART 1 OF 2
"BLOOD IS A VERY SPECIAL FLUID"
-- (Goethe's Faust).
In this poem we are shown how Faust, the representative of the highest human effort, enters into a pact with the evil powers, represented by Mephistopheles, the emissary of hell. Faust is to strike a bargain with Mephistopheles, and the contract must be signed with his own blood. Faust, in the first instance, looks upon it as a jest. Mephistopheles, however, at this juncture utters the sentence which Goethe without doubt intended should be taken seriously: "Blood is a very special fluid."
Now with reference to this line in Goethe's Faust, we come to a curious trait in the so-called Goethe commentators. You know how vast is the literature dealing with Goethe's version of the Faust Legend. It is of such stupendous dimensions that whole libraries might be stocked with it, and naturally I cannot make it my business to expatiate on the various comments made concerning this particular passage. None of the interpretations throw much more light on the sentence than that given by one of the latest commentators, Professor Minor. He, like others, treats it in the light of an ironical remark made by Mephistopheles, and in this connection he makes the following really very curious observation, and one to which I would ask you to give your best attention; for there is little doubt that you will be surprised to hear what strange conclusions commentators on Goethe are capable of drawing.
Professor Minor remarks that "the devil is a foe to the blood"; and he points out that as the blood is that which sustains and preserves life, the devil, who is the enemy of the human race, must therefore also be the enemy of the blood. He then -- and quite rightly -- draws attention to the fact that even in the oldest versions of the Faust Legend -- and, indeed, in legends generally -- blood always plays the same part.
In an old book on Faust it is circumstantially described to us how Faust makes a slight incision in his left hand with a penknife, and how then, as he takes the pen to sign his name to the agreement, the blood flowing from the cut forms the words: "O man, escape!" All this is authentic enough; but now comes the remark that the devil is a foe to the blood, and that this is the reason for his demanding that the signature be written in blood. I should like to ask whether you can imagine any person being desirous of possessing the very thing for which he has an antipathy? The only reasonable explanation that can be given -- not only as to Goethe's meaning in this passage, but also as to that attaching to the main legend as well as to all the older Faust poems -- is that to the devil, blood was something special, and that it was not at all a matter of indifference to him whether the deed was signed in ordinary neutral ink, or in blood.
We can here suppose nothing else than that the representative of the power of evil is convinced that he will have Faust more especially in his power if he can only gain possession of at least one drop of his blood. This is self-evident, and no one can really understand the line otherwise. Faust is to inscribe his name in his own blood, not because the devil is hostile to it, but rather because he desires to gain power over it.
Now, there is a remarkable perception underlying this passage, namely, that he who gains power over a man's blood gains power over the man, and that blood is "a very special fluid" because it is that about which, so to speak, the real fight must be waged, when it comes to a struggle concerning the man between good and evil.
All those things which have come down to us in the legends and myths of various nations, and which touch upon human life, will in our day undergo a peculiar transformation with regard to the whole conception and interpretation of human nature. The age is past in which legends, fairytales, and myths were looked upon merely as expressions of the child-like fancy of a people. Indeed, the time has even gone by when, in a half-learned, half-child-like way, it was the fashion to allude to legends as the poetical expression of a nation's soul.
This so-called "poetic soul" of a nation is nothing but the product of learned red-tape: for this kind of red-tape exists just as much as the official variety. Anyone who has ever looked into the soul of a people is quite well aware that he is not dealing with imaginative fiction or anything of the kind, but with something very much more profound, and that as a matter of fact the legends and fairy-tales of the various peoples are expressive of wonderful powers and wonderful events.
If from the new standpoint of spiritual investigation we meditate upon the old legends and myths, allowing those grand and powerful pictures which have come down from primeval times to influence our minds, we shall find, if we have been equipped for our task by the methods of spiritual science, that these legends and myths are the expressions of a most profound and ancient wisdom.
It is true we may at first be inclined to ask how it comes about that, in a primitive state of development and with primitive ideas, unsophisticated man was able to present the riddles of the universe to himself pictorially in these legends and fairy-tales; and how it is that, when we meditate on them now, we behold in them in pictorial form what the spiritual investigation of to-day is revealing to us with greater clearness.
This is a matter which at first is bound to excite surprise. And yet he who probes deeper and deeper into the ways and means by which these fairy-tales and myths have come into being, will find every trace of surprise vanish, every doubt pass away; indeed, he will find in these legends not only what is termed a naive and unsophisticated view of things, but the wondrously deep and wise expression of a true and primordial conception of the world.
Very much more may be learned by thoroughly examining the foundations of these myths and legends, than by absorbing the intellectual and experimental science of the present day. But for work of this kind the student must of course be familiar with those methods of investigation which belong to spiritual science. All that is contained in these legends and ancient world-conceptions about the blood is of importance, since in these remote times there was a wisdom by means of which man understood the true and wide significance of blood, this "very special fluid" which is itself the flowing life of human beings.
We cannot to-day enter into the question as to whence came this wisdom of ancient times, although some indication of this will be given at the close of the lecture; the actual study of this subject must, however, stand over to be dealt with in future lectures. The blood itself, its import for man and the part it plays in the progress of human civilisation, will to-day occupy our attention.
We shall consider it neither from the physiological nor from the purely scientific point of view, but shall rather take it from the standpoint of a spiritual conception of the universe. We shall best approach our subject if to begin with, we understand the meaning of an ancient maxim, one which is intimately connected with the civilisation of ancient Egypt, where the priestly wisdom of Hermes flourished. It is an axiom which forms the fundamental principle of all spiritual science, and which has become known as the Hermetic Axiom; it runs, "As above, so below."
You will find that there are many superficial interpretations of this sentence; the explanation, however, which is to occupy us to-day is the following: -- It is plain to spiritual science that the world to which man has primary access by means of his five senses does not represent the entire world, that it is in fact only the expression of a deeper world hidden behind it, namely, the spiritual world. Now, this spiritual world is called -- according to the Hermetic Axiom -- the higher world, the world "above"; and the world of the senses which is displayed around us, the existence of which we know through the medium of our senses, and which we are able to study by means of our intellect, is the lower one, the world "below," the expression of that higher and spiritual world. Thus the spiritual investigator, looking upon this world of the senses, sees in it nothing final, but rather a kind of physiognomy which he recognises as the expression of a world of soul and spirit; just as, when you gaze upon a human countenance, you must not stop at the form of the face and the gestures, paying attention only to them, but must pass, as a matter of course, from the physiognomy and the gestures to the spiritual element which is expressed in them.
What every person does instinctively when confronted by any being possessed of a soul, is what the occultist, or spiritual scientist, does in respect of the entire world; and "as above, so below" would, when referring to man, be thus explained: "Every impulse animating his soul is expressed in his face." A hard and coarse countenance expresses coarseness of soul, a smile tells of inward joy, a tear betrays suffering.
I will here apply the Hermetic Axiom to the question: What actually constitutes wisdom? Spiritual science has always maintained that human wisdom has something to do with experience, and painful experience. He who is actually in the throes of suffering manifests in this suffering something that is an inward lack of harmony. He, however, who has overcome the pain and suffering and bears their fruits within him, will always tell you that through suffering he has gained some measure of wisdom. He says: -- "the joys and pleasures of life, all that life can offer me in the way of satisfaction, all these things do I receive gratefully; I am more loth to part with my past pain and suffering than with pleasant gifts of life, for it is to my pain and suffering that I owe my wisdom."
And so it is that in wisdom occult science has ever recognised what may be called crystallised pain -- pain that has been conquered and thus changed into its opposite.
It is interesting to note that the more materialistic modern research has of late arrived at exactly the same conclusion. Quite recently a book has been published on "The Mimicry of Thought," a book well worth reading. It is not the work of an anthroposophist, but of a student of nature and of the human soul. The author endeavours to show how the inner life of man, his way of thinking, as it were, impresses itself upon his physiognomy. This student of human nature draws attention to the fact that there is always something in the expression on the face of a thinker which is suggestive of what one might describe as "absorbed pain."
Thus you see that this principle comes to light again in the more materialistic view of our own day, a brilliant confirmation of that immemorial axiom of spiritual science. You will become more and more deeply sensible of this, and you will find that gradually, point for point, the ancient wisdom will reappear in the science of modern times.
Occult investigation shows decisively that all the things which surround us in this world -- the mineral foundation, the vegetable covering, and the animal world -- should be regarded as the physiognomical expression, or the "below," of an "above" or spirit life lying behind them. From the point of view taken by occultism, the things presented to us in the sense-world can only be rightly understood if our knowledge includes cognition of the "above," the spiritual archetype, the original Spiritual Beings, whence all things manifest have proceeded. And for this reason we shall to-day apply our minds to a study of that which lies concealed behind the phenomenon of the blood, that which shaped for itself in the blood its physiognomical expression in the world of sense. When once you understand this "spiritual background" of blood, you will be able to realise how the knowledge of such matters is bound to react upon our whole mental outlook on life.
Questions of great importance are pressing upon us to-day; questions dealing with the education, not only of the young, but of entire nations. And, furthermore, we are confronted by the momentous educational question which humanity will have to face in the future, and which cannot fail to be recognised by all who note the great social upheavals of our time, and the claims which are everywhere being advanced, be they incorporated in the Woman Question, the Labour Question, or the Question of Peace. All these things are preoccupying our anxious minds.
But all such questions are illuminated as soon as we recognise the nature of the spiritual essence which lies at the back of our blood. Who can deny that this question is closely linked to that of race, which at the present time is once more coming markedly to the front? Yet this question of race is one that we can never understand until we understand the mysteries of the blood and of the results accruing from the mingling of the blood of different races. And finally, there is yet one other question, the importance of which is becoming more and more acute as we endeavour to extricate ourselves from the hitherto aimless methods of dealing with it, and seek to approach it in its more comprehensive bearings. This problem is that of colonisation, which crops up wherever civilised races come into contact with the uncivilised: namely -- To what extent are uncivilised peoples capable of becoming civilised? How can a negro or an utterly barbaric savage become civilised? And in what way ought we to deal with them? And here we have to consider not only the feelings due to a vague morality, but we are also confronted by great, serious, and vital problems of existence itself.
In 1940 the philosopher Walter Benjamin told a story about a famous chess-playing automaton (known as the Turk) that used to astonish audiences with its clever moves. Underneath the table hid a hunchbacked dwarf who actually played the game. In Benjamin's analogy, the automaton represented materialistic thinking, and the hidden dwarf theology -- meaning that in the age of modern rationalism, religious faith had to stay hidden.
This image may be applied to the culture of biological science in Israel, and the public arena that it periodically furnishes with novelties: the genetic robot appears to be making moves on the chessboard, while the little hunchback -- the traditional idea of race -- is obliged to hide because of the politically correct world discourse, yet continues to dupe and conduct the thrilling chromosome show.
In a state that defines itself as Jewish yet does not present distinguishing cultural markers that might define a worldwide secular Jewish existence -- except for some depleted, secularized remnants of religious folklore -- the collective identity needs a misty, promising image of an ancient biological common origin. Behind every act in Israel's identity politics stretches, like a long black shadow, the idea of an eternal people and race.
-- "The Invention of the Jewish People," by Shlomo Sand, Yael Lotan
Those who are not aware of the conditions governing a people -- whether it be on the up- or down-grade of its evolution, and whether the one or the other is a matter conditioned by its blood -- such people as these will, indeed, be unlikely to hit on the right mode of introducing civilisation to an alien race. These are all matters which arise as soon as the Blood Question is touched upon.
What blood in itself is, you presumably all know from the current teachings of natural science, and you will be aware that, with regard to man and the higher animals, this blood is practically fluid life.
You are aware that it is by way of the blood that the "inner man" comes into contact with that which is exterior, and that in the course of this process man's blood absorbs oxygen, which constitutes the very breath of life. Through the absorption of this oxygen the blood undergoes a renewal. The blood which is presented to the instreaming oxygen is a kind of poison to the organism -- a kind of destroyer and demolisher -- but through the absorption of the oxygen the blue-red blood becomes transmuted by a process of combustion into red, life-giving fluid. This blood that finds its way to all parts of the body, depositing everywhere its particles of nourishment, has the task of directly assimilating the materials of the outer world, and of applying them, by the shortest method possible, to the nourishment of the body. It is necessary for man and the higher animals first to absorb such foodstuffs into their blood; then, having formed the blood, to absorb the oxygen from the air into it, and to build up and maintain the body by means of it.
One gifted with a knowledge of souls has not without truth remarked: "The blood with its circulation is like a second being, and in relation to the man of bone, muscle, and nerve, acts like a kind of exterior world." For, as a matter of fact, the entire human being is continually drawing its sustenance from the blood, and at the same time he discharges into it that for which he has no use. A man's blood is therefore a true double ever bearing him company, from which he draws new strength, and to which he gives all that he can no longer use. "Man's liquid life" is therefore a good name to have given to the blood; for this constantly changing "special fluid" is assuredly as important to man as is cellulose to the lower organisms.
The distinguished scientist, Ernst Haeckel, who has probed deeply into the workings of nature, in several of his popular works has rightly drawn attention to the fact that blood is in reality the latest factor to originate in an organism. If we follow the development of the human embryo we find that the rudiments of bone and muscle are evolved long before the first tendency towards blood formation becomes apparent. The groundwork for the formation of the blood, with all its attendant system of blood-vessels, appears very late in the development of the embryo, and from this natural science has rightly concluded that the formation of blood occurred late in the evolution of the universe; that other powers which were there had to be raised to the height of blood, so to speak, in order to bring about at that height what was to be accomplished inwardly in the human being. Not until the human embryo has repeated in itself all the earlier stages of human growth, thus attaining to the condition in which the world was before the formation of blood, is it ready to perform this crowning act of evolution -- the transmuting and uplifting of all that had gone before into the "very special fluid" which we call Blood.
If we would study those mysterious laws of the spiritual universe which exist behind the blood, we must occupy ourselves a little with some of the elementary concepts of Anthroposophy. These have often been set forth, and you will see that these elementary ideas of Anthroposophy are the "above," and that this "above" is expressed in the important laws governing the blood -- as well as the rest of life -- as though in a physiognomy.
Those present who are already well acquainted with the primary laws of Anthroposophy will, I trust, here permit a short repetition of them for the benefit of others who are here for the first time. Indeed, such repetition may serve to render these laws more and more clear to the former, by hearing them thus applied to new and special cases. To those, of course, who know nothing about Anthroposophy, who have not yet familiarised themselves with these conceptions of life and of the universe, that which I am about to say may seem little else than so many words strung together, of which they can make nothing. But the fault does not always consist in the lack of an idea behind the words, when the latter convey nothing to a person: Indeed, we may here adopt, with a slight alteration, a remark of the witty Lichtenberg, who said: "If a head and a book come into collision and the resulting sound is a hollow one, the fault need not necessarily be that of the book!"
And so it is with our contemporaries when they pass judgment on anthroposophical truths. If these truths should in the ears of many sound like mere words, words to which they cannot attach any meaning, the fault need not necessarily rest with Anthroposophy; those, however, who have found their way into these matters will know that behind all allusions to higher Beings, such Beings do actually exist, although they are not to be found in the world of the senses.
Our anthroposophical conception of the universe shows us that man, as far as he is revealed to our senses in the external world, as far as his shape and form are concerned, is but a part of the complete human being, and that, in fact, there are many other parts behind the physical body. Man possesses this physical body in common with all the so-called "lifeless" mineral objects around him. Over and above this, however, man possesses the etheric, or vital body. (The term "etheric" is not here used in the same sense as when applied by physical science.) This etheric or vital body, as it is sometimes called, far from being any figment of the imagination, is as distinctly visible to the developed spiritual senses of the occultist as are externally perceptible colours to the physical eye. This etheric body can actually be seen by the clairvoyant. It is the principle which calls the inorganic materials into life, and, summoning them from their lifeless condition, weaves them into the thread of life's garment. Do not imagine that this body is to the occultist merely something which he adds in thought to what is lifeless. That is what the natural scientists try to do. They try to complete what they see with the microscope by inventing something which they call the life-principle.
Now, such a standpoint is not taken by anthroposophical research. This has a fixed principle. It does not say: "Here I stand as a seeker, just as I am. All that there is in the world must conform to my present point of view. What I am unable to perceive has no existence!" This sort of argument is about as sensible as if a blind man were to say that colours are simply matters of fancy. The man who knows nothing about a matter is not in the position to judge of it, but rather he into whose range of experience such matters may have entered.
Now man is in a state of evolution, and for this reason Anthroposophy says: "If you remain as you are you will not see the etheric body, and may therefore indeed speak of the 'boundaries of knowledge' and of 'Ignorabimus'; but if you develop, and acquire, the necessary faculties for the cognition of spiritual things, you will no longer speak of the 'boundaries of knowledge,' for these only exist as long as man has not developed his inner senses." It is for this reason that agnosticism constitutes so heavy a drag upon our civilisation; for it says: "Man is thus and thus, and being thus and thus he can know only this and that." To such a doctrine we reply: "Though he be thus and thus to-day, he has to become different, and when different he will then know something else."
So the second part of man is the etheric body, which he possesses in common with the vegetable kingdom.
The third part is the so-called astral body -- a significant and beautiful name, the reason for which shall be explained later. Those who are desirous of changing this name can have no idea of what is implied therein. To the astral body is assigned the task, both in man and in the animal, of lifting up the life-substance to the plane of feeling, so that in the life-substance may move not only fluids, but also that in it may be expressed all that is known as pain and pleasure, joy and grief. And here you have at once the essential difference between the plant and the animal; although there are certain states of transition between these two.
A recent school of naturalists is of opinion that feeling, in its literal sense, should also be ascribed to plants; this, however, is but playing with words; for, though it is obvious that certain plants are of so sensitive an organisation that they "respond" to particular things that may be brought near to them, yet such a condition cannot be described as "feeling." In order that" feeling" may exist, an image must be formed within the being as the reflex of that which produces the sensation. If, therefore, certain plants respond to external stimulus, this is no proof that the plant answers to the stimulus by a feeling, that is, that it experiences it inwardly. That which has inward experience has its seat in the astral body. And so we come to see that that which has attained to animal conditions consists of the physical body, the etheric or vital body, and the astral body.
Man, however, towers above the animal through the possession of something quite distinct, and thoughtful people have at all times been aware wherein this superiority consists. It is indicated in what Jean Paul says of himself in his autobiography. He relates that he could quite well remember the day when he stood as a child in the courtyard of his parents' house, and the thought suddenly flashed across his mind that he was an ego, a being, capable of inwardly saying "I" to itself; and he tells us that this made a profound impression upon him.
All the so-called external science of the soul overlooks the most important point which is here involved. I will ask you, therefore, to follow me for a few moments in making a survey of what is a very subtle argument, yet one which will show you how matter stands. In the whole of human speech there is one small word which differs in toto from all the rest. Each one of you can name the things around you; each one can call a table a table, and a chair a chair. But there is one word, one name, which you cannot apply to anything, save to that which owns it, and this is the little word "I." None can address another as "I." This "I" has to sound forth from the innermost soul itself; it is the name which only the soul itself can apply to itself. Every other person is a "you" to me, and I am a "you" to him. All religions have recognised this "I" as the expression of that principle in the soul through which its innermost being, its divine nature, is enabled to speak. Here, then, begins that which can never penetrate through the exterior senses, which can never, in its real significance, be named from without, but which must sound forth from the innermost being. Here begins that monologue, that soliloquy of the soul, whereby the divine self makes known its presence when the path lies clear for the coming of the Spirit into the human soul.
In the religions of earlier civilisations, among the ancient Hebrews, for instance, this name was known as "the unutterable name of God," and whatever interpretation modern philology may choose to place upon it, the ancient Jewish name of God has no other meaning than that which is expressed in our word "I." A thrill passed through those assembled when the "Name of the Unknown God" was pronounced by the Initiates, when they dimly perceived what was meant by those words reverberating through the temple: "I am that I am."
In this word is expressed the fourth principle of human nature, the one that man alone possesses while on earth: and this "I" in its turn encloses and develops within itself the germs of higher stages of humanity.
We can only take a passing glance at what in the future will be evolved through this fourth principle. We must point out that man consists of a physical body, an etheric body, an astral body, and the ego, or actual inner self; and that within this inner self are the rudiments of three further stages of development which will originate in the blood. These three are Spirit-Self, Life-Spirit, and Spirit-Man: the Spirit-Self, as distinguished from the bodily self; the Life-Spirit; and the actual and true Spirit-Man, a far-off ideal to the man of to-day; the rudimentary germ now latent within, but destined in future ages to reach perfection.
We have seven colours in the rainbow, seven tones in the scale, seven series of atomic weights, and seven grades in the scale of the human being; and these are again divided into four lower and three higher grades.
Let us now attempt to get a clear insight into the way in which this upper spiritual triad secures a physiognomical expression in the lower quaternary, and how it appears to us in the world of the senses. Take, in the first place, that which has crystallised into form as man's physical body; this he possesses in common with the whole of what is called "lifeless" nature. When we talk anthroposophically of the physical body, we do not even mean that which the eye beholds, but rather that combination of forces which has constructed the physical body, that living Force which exists behind the visible form.
Let us now observe a plant. This is a being possessed of an etheric body, which raises physical substance to life; that is, it converts that substance into living sap. What is it that transforms the so-called lifeless forces into the living sap? We call it the etheric body, and the etheric body does precisely the same work in animals and in men; it causes that which has a merely material existence to become a living configuration, a living form.
This etheric body is, in its turn, permeated by an astral body. And what does the astral body do? It causes the substance which has been set in motion to experience inwardly the circulation of those outwardly moving fluids, so that the external movement is reflected in inward experience.
We have now arrived at the point where we are able to comprehend man so far as concerns his place in the animal kingdom. All the substances of which man is composed, such as oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulphur, phosphorus, etc., are to be found outside in inanimate nature also. If that which the etheric body has transformed into living substance is to have inner experiences, if it is to create inner reflections of that which takes place externally, then the etheric body must be permeated by what we have come to know as the astral body, for it is the astral body that gives rise to sensation. But at this stage the astral body calls forth sensation only in one particular way. The etheric body changes the inorganic substances into vital fluids, and the astral body in its turn transforms this vital substance into sentient substance; but -- and this I ask you specially to notice -- what is it that a being with no more than these three bodies is capable of feeling? It feels only itself, its own life-processes; it leads a life that is confined within itself.
Now, this is a most interesting fact, and one of extraordinary importance for us to bear in mind. If you look at one of the lower animals, what do you find it has accomplished? It has transformed inanimate substance into living substance, and living substance into sensitive substance; and sensitive substance can only be found where there exist, at all events, the rudiments of what at a later stage appears as a developed nervous system.
Thus we have inanimate substance, living substance, and substance permeated by nerves capable of sensation. If you look at a crystal you have to recognise it primarily as the expression of certain natural laws which prevail in the external world in the so-called lifeless kingdom. No crystal could be formed without the assistance of all surrounding nature. No single link can be severed from the chain of the cosmos and set apart by itself. And just as little can you separate from his environment man, who, if he were lifted to an altitude of even a few miles above the earth, must inevitably die. Just as man is only conceivable here in the place where he is, where the necessary forces are combined in him, so is it too with regard to the crystal; whoever views a crystal rightly will see in it a picture of the whole of nature, indeed of the whole cosmos. What Cuvier said is actually the case, viz., that a competent anatomist will be able to tell to what sort of animal any given bone has belonged, every animal having its own particular kind of bone-formation.
Thus the whole cosmos lives in the form of a crystal. In the same way the whole cosmos is expressed in the living substance of a single being. The fluids coursing through a being are, at the same time, a little world, and a counterpart of the great world. And when substance has become capable of sensation, what then dwells in the sensations of the most elementary creatures? Such sensations mirror the cosmic laws, so that each separate living creature perceives within itself microcosmically the entire macrocosm. The sentient life of an elementary creature is thus an image of the life of the universe, just as the crystal is an image of its form. The consciousness of such living creatures is, of course, but dim. Yet this very vagueness of consciousness is counterbalanced by its far greater range, for the whole cosmos is felt in the dim consciousness of an elementary being. Now, in man there is only a more complicated structure of the same three bodies found in the simplest sensitive living creature.