Friday 30 October 2020

In dream life, the ancient pagans lived among the starry realms - Rudolf Steiner

The following edited excerpts are from a lecture by Rudolf Steiner from 1919, which was later gathered into a collection called Influences of Lucifer and Ahriman, and which I saw in a recent collection called The Incarnation of Ahriman

This lecture has a great deal of interest, and I have therefore excerpted and commented on several passages (above). 

It seems to fit a pattern that Steiner gave better lectures to better audiences. This one was in Bern, and I have seen other good ones from Zurich; but the great mass-majority of lectures from Dornach (the headquarters of Anthroposophy) are the worst; probably because that was the centre of cultic worship, and because Steiner's faults were therefore amplified. 

Even in this lecture there are tractlike repetitions of his 'crazy' (and wrong) micro-detailed theosophical schemas of vast sweeps of world history and future, and tediously vague, prickly, straw-man defensiveness against those who disagreed with him; and assertions that the colossally-massive ultra-systematised complexity of the 'facts' in his later work, was a sign of its superiority - implicity contradicting with other assersions that nothing of his was valid for another person unless intuitively checked.

(It would take several full-time, full-span lifetimes intutively to check every detail of the sheer bulk of what Steiner spouted in his later years!). 

Reading Rudolf Steiner (beyond his first three or four philosophical books) is therefore sifting for gold among dross - but there is real gold to be had - especially in his books and the lectures delivered outside of Dornach - and plenty of it!    


The nature of pagan culture can best be understood if we realize that it was the outcome of knowledge, vision and action born of forces much wider in range than those belonging to present earthly existence. this pagan culture was such that people felt themselves members of the whole cosmos. 

Human beings living on earth within the old pagan world felt themselves membered into the whole cosmos. They felt how the forces at work in the movements of the stars extend into their own action, or, better said, into the forces taking effect in their actions.

(What later passed for astrology, and does so still, is but a reflection — and a very misleading one at that — of the ancient wisdom gleaned from contemplation of the stars in their courses and then used as the basis for precepts governing human action.)

People living on the earth in those ancient times had a kind of instinctive soul life, in a certain respect more akin to the soul life of animals than to that of present-day human beings. But it is a very one-sided conception of human life to say that in those ancient times people were more like animals. 

Those human-animal bodies were used by beings of soul and spirit who felt themselves members of the super-sensible worlds, above all of the cosmic worlds. People made use of animal bodies as instruments rather than feeling themselves within those bodies. 

When they were awake, they moved about with an instinctive life of soul like that of animals, but into this instinctive life of soul there shone something like dreams from their sleeping state, waking dreams. And in these waking dreams they perceived how they had descended, to use animal bodies merely as instruments. 

People would say to themselves: When I am outside my body at night I belong to the forces of the cosmos, of the starry heavens; when I wake in the morning I make use of animal instincts in an animal body.

Then human evolution passed, figuratively speaking, into a period of twilight. A certain dimness, a certain lethargy, spread over the life of humanity; the cosmic dreams receded and instinct gained the upper hand.

The attitude of soul formerly prevailing in human beings was preserved through the Mysteries, mainly through the Asiatic Mysteries. The Mysteries were there, into which, through the powerful rites and ceremonies, the spiritual worlds were able to penetrate. And it was from these Mystery centers that human beings received continued illumination.


Note: I found that Steiner's description people felt themselves members of the whole cosmos struck an immediate chord of validity. This captures what I understand of the underworld 'dwat/ duat' of the Ancient Egyptians; and it also points at what is lacking from the Collective Unconscious concept of Jung - which is about archetypal human, instinctive and animal contents - and the 'cosmic' aspects are disregarded. 

The modern ideas of draem and the unconscious - from Freud, through Jung and more recent writers; almost always devolve to being 'therapeutic' - to making people feel or function better; to reconnection with the instinctive... 

But the cosmic aspect is lacking. I think that even now (albeit weakly and unconsciously) dreams - and deep sleep more generally - have an effect of reconnecting us with the totality of being; our place in the universe. 

A further aspect of this 'astral' quality of dreams, is that it directly refers to living among moon, planets, sun, stars, and other heavenly bodies such as comets - when these are known (as they were to the  ancient, and truly are) as Beings. 

Indeed, Steiner elsewhere usefully suggests that during sleep, we 'leave behind' the living physical body; and our 'astral' or conscious self travels to a different realm along with our personal 'ego' self of human self-consciousness. Thus, that part of our-total-self which is self aware and conscious of others leaves behind the alive but insinsible, unaware body; and 'travels' in an 'astral realm' - which goes beyond the personal. I find this a broadly accurate and helpful way of thinking.  

In dreams, therefore, ancient man primarily - and perhaps even now to some small extent - we experience, we know, the comos to be 'made of' living, conscious, purposive Beings; and we live among them and in relationship with them. 

This personal and nightly experience was, I infer, the basis of The Gods of ancient man; albeit imperfectly recalled and with personal and cultural distortions. But it explains why there always were gods, why they tended to converge on certain types, and why their importance was recognised. 

And it perhaps explains the detailed, functional angelic hierarchies of the early medieval era (e.g. Dionysus), when this kind of thinking (and dreaming) still had considerable influence - esepcially in association with 'mysteries' of monastic and eremetic (hermit) life.  

And this further seems to account for the uncanny effects that the night sky (in particular; but also the sky in general) has upon people - even now. We are being reminded of what we have experienced sometimes in sleep. 



Chris said...

Thankyou Bruce.
Helpful enriching of your recent discussion of instinct and intuition. It deepens my sense of the two.

Gary Bleasdale said...

The reduction of our relationship to dreaming and dreamlife to either 1) a tool for worldly therapy (reduction of misery, augmentation of pleasure, contentment) or 2) a biological quirk which we must deal with because we have no other choice, but which is mostly just an obstacle to getting on with real life

Is probably one of the most unrecognized and critical "mistakes" which most modern men have allowed themselves to engage in, in terms of its functionality to building and maintaining life in the Black Iron Prison.

Explicitly seeking to do God´s Will during dreaming, as well, is something which I think would reap great spiritual dividends. It is, after all, still "us" doing the dreaming.

We must seek it explicitly, because otherwise we are in an extremely vulnerable state during sleep... very open to manipulation and error, which undoubetdly flows indidiously and powerfully into our waking consciousness too.

And any true Christian, who has actually thought through the implications of the importance of dreaming mentioned in the Bible and other Holy Works, should recoil at any attempt to reduce dreaming to a sort of spiritual appendix.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GB - Indeed. This is the first era (and only for the past 30-40 years) that dreaming is essentially ignored completely in the mainstream - even in the 60s and 70s there was a lot of attention to it (misplaced mainly, but mainstream).

Given the special evil of this era - This ignoring/ suppression must be significant.

Jacob Gittes said...

What can I say? Fascinating, and I now feel compelled to read some Steiner.
It feels right.
Dreams have become more important to me in the past two years, and I don't see them as epiphonema of the brain activity. Reductionists have it all wrong. The brain is not a computer, and even if it were, the spirt and soul are not simply products of the brain and neural activity.