Sunday 2 June 2019

All Souls day, Art and our connection with the (so-called) dead

Edited from The Forming of Destiny by Rudolf Steiner GA 157a - Lecture Berlin, 7th December, 1915

Man is confronted with the outer occurrences of nature, the external beings, and events of nature. These run their course and expire. But beyond all this man seeks something which really has nothing to do with the immediate necessities of the world. 

If nature and history were merely concerned with the satisfaction of human needs, life would become barren and desolate. Man creates here in physical existence something above and beyond the course of nature and necessity. We can think of the whole realm of Art as something that man creates here which is higher reality than the ordinary reality pertaining to nature and history. 

Just think what the world would miss if there were no Art, if Art did not add that which she can produce from her own sources to that which is self-existing. Art creates something which, one may say, need not of necessity exist. If she were not there, all the necessities of nature might still go on. One may suppose that even if no single copy of nature had been made and no artistic representation, life would still pursue its course, from the beginning to the end of the earth. 

We have in Art something extending beyond life. Think of all that Art has created in the world, and also of the progress of man through the world; there you have in a sense two parallel progressive processes: the necessities of nature and history, and the stream of Art which is inserted in them.

Just as Art, in a sense, brings as by enchantment a spiritual world into the world of physical reality, so another world conjures up into the world of those who have gone through the gates of death: these memories which fill our souls here. 

As far as the dead are concerned the world here might run its course without any memories living in the souls here, memories born of love and all our human relationships. But then the world of the dead would be to them as a world without Art would be to us — a world in which we could find nothing transcending ordinary reality. 

Here in the physical world a man must bring forth artistic creation out of his own soul, must contribute something out of his own being; similarly, to those 'dead' who are now in the spiritual world. What we in this world gain from Art, must be brought to the dead from their our world. If we had no memories of the dead, the life of the dead would be like our life would be without any Art.

Why has a value always been laid by human communities on the celebration of All Souls Day, and days for the dead? Because in the depths of man's subconsciousness there lives what may be called a dim knowledge of what takes place in the world by keeping alive the memory of the dead. 

When the receptive soul of the seer celebrates All Souls Day, or a Sunday devoted to the dead, or some similar day when many people come together full of the memories of their dead, he sees the dead participate in the ceremony. For the dead, such events are the same as when the living truly hear a great symphony. 

Comment: I find several points here very telling.

First the comparison between Art for the living; and the living-memories of the dead, for the dead. In other words, this is not a matter of survival, but of meaningfulness - but the comparison shows how important meaningfulness can be (because a life utterly without Art of any kind would be, for most Men, a very poor quality existence indeed.)

So this is a matter of what we, the living, can and should be doing for the dead.

The second point is to note the importance of some kind of day of the dead for traditional, agrarian societies - so that at least once a year the dead will be remembered by ritual celebrations and observances.

(This annual and communial event can, itself, be regarded as already a considerable retreat from the kind of taken-for-granted inclusion of the the dead in ordinary everyday living by every single family and clan, which is reported for most tribal societies.)

We moderns have left behind this kind of practice, but have not replaced it - except in a partial and ad hoc fashion (such as the observance of anniversaries of the death of prematurely dead - children and young people). The usual secular modern preference is for a short and intense grief; then (as soon as possible) to 'move-on' form the death of a loved-one - in particular it is regarded as pathetic if someone continues too long, or pays too much everyday attention, to the dead.

And if the bereaved indicate by word or action that they consider the deceased to be - in any active fashion - alive and involved in this world... well that is generally regarded as a form of mental illness. So, apparently, human culture has swung around something like 180 degrees - from the beloved dead being a part of life, to a situation when this behaviour would be regarded as stupid or sick. 

My conclusion is that Steiner was onto something important here, a very significant aspect of life that all modern people, including Christians, ought to reconsider - since even Christians (especially Protestants) have developed attitudes hostile to the idea of any kind of real and important communication, any genuine link between the living and the dead.

An attitude of ignoring the dead (or regarding the matter of relations between the dead and alive as not-significant) is certainly unnatural to humans - and that fact should give us pause; since what is unnatural (and so by a wide consensus of historical societies) is likely to be objectively wrong in some way.

My conclusion is that we are probably meant to consider the beloved dead as a part of our lives, to remember them, and to in some way remain in contact with them. That 'in some way' should be the focus of our investigative efforts.


John Douglas said...

The first part of the quote from Steiner is extremely important -
"We can think of the whole realm of Art as something that man creates here which is higher reality than the ordinary reality pertaining to nature and history.... Just as Art, in a sense, brings as by enchantment a spiritual world into the world of physical reality, so another world conjures up into the world of those who have gone through the gates of death: these memories which fill our souls here."

Essentially, without art life is 'nasty brutish and short' and, as the atheists are fond of saying, pointless.

Two further testimonies about the value of art: The first from the late Iain Carstairs. I have retrieved this from the wayback archive so some of the images are missing -

The second is from Sr Lucia Wiley, a muralist I did not know until recently. Her life and work are worth exploring.

As for remembering the dead; the dead are still alive and with us. I cannot explain how I know, I just 'know' from my own experiences that is all.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JD - Yes. I should clarify that 'Art' in this usage has a broader definition than professional, high-status high-Art novels, symphonies, portraits etc). We need to recognise what actually 'works' as Art in the lives of simple and ignorant people, and children. This would include many 'crafts', activites such as some kinds of dancing, acts of everyday 'decoration' and much else. (e.g. An early example of Art seems to be a very large, too large to use, flint hand axe.) I don't propose to make an actual verbal definition, esepcially because Art tends to merge into religion - but to point out what that definition must accomplish.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

"And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers -- that they without us cannot be made perfect -- neither can we without our dead be made perfect."

-- Joseph Smith, Doctrine & Covenants 128:15

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I don't think I understand that. Or maybe I just think it is wrong... Perhaps because I have never been able to understand or believe-in the *necessity* of baptism - helpfulness yes, necessity no. Except for the baptism of Jesus, which - as you know - I regard as a deification.

In general, there is a tension in official Mormon theology (and deriving from Joseph Smith) between evolutionary and categorical thinking, which - for consistency - probably ought to be sorted-out sometime, and for some individuals I would guess needs to be sorted-out ASAP, by personal revelation. My understanding is that the answer is there in the metaphysical assumptions, the tensions come from the need for church order.