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At Home in the Universe, GA# 231
Rudolf Steiner

Exploring Our Suprasensory Nature
Five Talks at The Hague in Nov. 1923
Published by Anthroposophical Press, NY in 2000
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2001


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[page 7] "The Earth is not our home. Our true home is in the world of stars. The Earth is our school. What we learn during life on Earth prepares us for our life at home in the universe."

With these words, Paul Margulis begins the Introduction to this book and sets the tone for these lectures in which Steiner explodes the popular materialistic image of Earth as a mere "speck of dust" whirling through the cosmos and human beings as even tinier specks of dust on that speck of dust.

[page 20] This notion of Earth as a speck of dust has permeated every human mind and heart, and as a result people have completely lost the ability to connect humankind with what exists beyond the earthly realm.

With these words, Steiner throws down a challenge to us to learn to connect ourselves with the rest of the universe, to find our place, our home in the universe. It is a daunting task, a mind-bending and mind-opening one, and not a deed to attempted by the faint-at-heart or especially the hard-at-heart - those so enured of the physical world as to be blind to the possibility of spiritual realities present around them at all times. The steps into knowledge of the spiritual realities are the same three steps that we encounter in Occult Science and many other places in Steiner's works: imagination, inspiration, and intuition. I wish that there were an easy way to explain the special processes that he uses these three words to describe. Like so much of the rest of his work, one can only come to an understanding of these processes by reading and pondering on them each and every time he discusses them. To use a frequent metaphor of Steiner's, each time we see a tree from a different perspective we learn more about its totality.

In the footnote on page 37 the editor says: "Rudolf Steiner uses the terms imagination, inspiration, and intuition not in their usual sense, but to describe inner capacities that are attained as one ascneds to higher levels of spiritual awakening; see, Rudolf Steiner's Stages of Higher Knowledge and 'Imagination -- Imagination; Inspiration Self-fulfillment; Intuition -- Conscience' contained in A Psychology of Body, Soul, and Spirit: Anthroposophy Psychology, Pneumatosophy." Imagination is a pictural view or a "seeing" of spiritual realities, inspiration is a "hearing" of the same, and intuition is the "becoming one" with the meaning of the cosmic speech or music. And all of these words are woefully inadequate to describe the three processes; they provide only a clue to distinguishing one from the other. Looked at in another way, they can be considered as the three levels of initiation into the higher realities of the spiritual world.

In these lectures Steiner takes us into an understanding of our human bodies, how its three major systems, namely, 1) skin and sensory organs, 2) nervous and glandular system, and 3) muscular and skeletal systems, are all interwoven into the universe and the three processes initiation. Here is a summary of what we would find "if we made observations based on the actual facts about the human being":

[page 33] We would begin by studying the skin and the senses embedded in it, which leads to perception of the [third] hierarchy of angels, archangels, and archai. Then, as we go further into the human being to the nervous and glandular systems, this leads us to the second hierarchy, the exuasiai, kyriotetes, and dynamis. We stay with these same beings when we get to the blood system and the organs. And when it comes to what this system has built up, to what gives us the capacity for movement - the muscular and skeletal systems - we ascend to the first hierarchy and an understanding of these systems as the creation of the seraphim, cherubim, and thrones.

To understand better the relationship of the three hierarchies, check out the Spiritual Hierarchies Table in which their functions are listed:

1st Hierarchy [seraphim, cherubim, and thrones]: Spirits of Periods (revolutions) creating essential nature, working on physical bodies.

2nd Hierarchy [exuasiai, kyriotetes, and dynamis]: Spirits of Group Souls -- stimulating life, working on etheric bodies.

3rd Hierarchy [angels, archangels, archai]: Spirits of Nature filling with spirit, working on astral bodies.

One can understand now how the Spirits of Periods would give us the capacity for movement in our muscles and skeletal structure as they work on our physical bodies, how the Spirits of Group Souls activate our nervous, glandular, blood and organ systems as they work on our etheric bodies, and how the Spirits of Nature infuse our skin and sensory system as they work on our astral bodies. If one learns the progression through the hierarchies, through the bodies of the human being, through the systems of our body, then gradually the structure of the human being becomes comprehensible as parallel layers of spiritual hierarchies, bodily systems, and bodies, all cooperating and interacting as long as we live.

Not bad for mere "specks of dust," eh? This first lecture must be read in its entirety to fully comprehend the tremendous beings that cooperate with each of us as we live in our home in the universe.

In the second lecture, Interweaving our Destinies, Steiner tells us about our experiences with others during our time between death and a new birth - how we encounter only those with whom we are karmically related, those with whom our destinies are interwoven. He drops a hint about whether cremation is proper or not after death:

[page 39] The dissolution of the physical body, whether it is cremated or simply decomposes, concerns only our fellow human beings and is not really important for our own life after death.

After death, the looks we had in our physical body are no longer important, but rather what is important is our moral nature: "After death human beings wear their moral and spiritual physiognomy." (Page 41) The dictionary defines "physiognomy" as "the face or countenance as an index of character." What Steiner is referring to is an inverse physiognomy, as it were: our character, indeed, our life history, is written into and boldly defines the very features that distinguish us from others during this time.

[page 41] Each human being stands fully revealed to the other, along with the whole meaning of their common destiny. This is how we encounter one another and live together.

[page 56] Everything we can hide in the sensory world - where villains are able to maintain absolutely innocent faces - can no longer be hidden once we pass through the gate of death. Your face cannot hide it, because one's face fades immediately, and the rest of one's form becomes a physiognomy that allows nothing to be denied.

We live in a perceptible physical world on Earth, but there are the three worlds of the hierarchies that border on this one. The Third Hierarchy (see above) lives in a world that is imperceptible and supraphysical. We cannot perceive it unless we have developed spiritual sight. The Second Hierarchy world is perceptible and supraphysical. The First Hierarchy world is imperceptible and physical. Examples of imperceptible and physical processes are gravity and combustion. We experience the effects, but cannot perceive the processes directly when they occur within our bodies. Here is Steiner's summary of our living through these three realms:

[page 53] When we pass through the gate of death, first we enter the imperceptible and surpaphysical. we disappear from this world. At the second stage we enter the sphere of the second hierarchy, the perceptible and supraphysical. During this phase of existence we comprehend our destinies in the flowing, flooding light element of the Sun and stars. One who has learned to gaze into the essence of this light does not merely look thoughtlessly into the expanses of the universe - the spheres of the Sun and stars; one knows that, within this flooding, flowing light, threads of human destiny are woven. This is the realm of the perceptible and supraphysical, in which those who have died - the so-called dead - live. . . Besides the physically embodied human beings among us here in earthly existence, there are spiritual essences continually wandering among us with vitality, who are at the midnight hour of their existence between death and rebirth. We are unaware of them, because their present earthly existence is at the midnight hour rather than at noon.

Our expansion after we pass the gate of death is through the celestial spheres of the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. (This is the progression you get if you plot geocentric spheres in the heavens with the planets aligned on one side of the Sun, allowing for the historical switch of the names of Mercury and Venus.) In the Moon sphere we encounter ahrimanic beings primarily. In the Mercury sphere we encounter beings of the Third Hierarchy. In the Venus sphere we encounter higher developed beings of the Third Hierarchy. If we harbored hate in our hearts on Earth, in the Venus sphere the forces of love approach us as beings of hate and wrath. In the Sun sphere a remarkable transformation takes place:

[page 64] Our lower being is transformed into the upper being for the next earthly life; thus the legs become the spirit form of the lower jaw, the arms the spirit form of the upper jaw and cheekbones, and so on.

After the Sun sphere we enter the Mars sphere and in that sphere we encounter a cosmic battle between good and evil spirits. In the Fifth post-Atlantean period that we are now in on Earth, we are in the epoch most influenced by Mars, having moved through the Moon-Indian, Mercury-Persian, Venus-Egypto-Chaldean, and the Sun-Graeco-Roman periods before the current period. Can you experience this cosmic battle in the world about you at the beginning of the 21st Century? Think carefully and ponder on that question.

[page 68] We are now becoming acquainted with the nature of the cosmic battle; we sense it. Most people cannot unravel its mysteries, but a war is being waged in the cosmos between all sorts of good and evil spirits.

Where is our help as mere humans to come from in this battle? From the Sun, in particular from the extrusions from the Sun through the sunspots which pour out into the solar system as the constituent components of comets, meteors, and asteroids. What we know from materialist scientists is that sunspots are dark spots on the Sun's surface, which means to me that they are cooler than the surrounding photosphere or atmosphere of the Sun. This seems to me to indicate that sunspots are holes through the hot photosphere that penetrate into the cooler interior of the Sun. It is also plausible that the intense solar flares are pouring out enormous quantities of vaporized metals such as iron into the solar system as iron is a major constituent of meteors and asteroids. What does all this mean? The iron, in effect, becomes the shield and armor of the guiding spirit for good on the Earth in this time, the Archangel Michael.

[page 69] Now, the forces contained in the iron cast out of the Sun begin to have a special significance for human beings. These impulses are used by the spiritual being we call Michael, who serves the spirit in the cosmos. So something not present before to this degree has appeared in the cosmos during our time; cosmic iron, with its spiritual significance, makes it possible for Michael to mediate between the suprasensory and the sense-perceptible earthly phenomena.

Everyone knows the importance of "iron-rich blood" due to television commercials of the 1950s. It is clear that iron is a major portion of our blood and essential for our well-being. What is not as well-known is that without iron in our blood we would not be capable of experiencing human freedom. "That's silly," some of you may be thinking, "surely the feeling of freedom would arise in me whether or not my blood had iron in it!" Let's read what Steiner says.

[page 70 Even if we had no iron in our blood, the impulse and feeling for freedom would still arise in our souls, but our bodies would be unable to act on that impulse. Because we can learn how Michael is able to use cosmic iron, we can also sense the body's power to carry the impulse of freedom. By understanding the Michael impulse correctly, we can learn how to use the iron within us for spiritual freedom.

As we learned from Steiner above, the seraphim, cherubim, and thrones work on the physical body, especially in little children as they are beginning to walk, talk, and think. In addition the forces of this hierarchy are at work whenever metals are subjected to intense heat to become liquified as during the primordial development of the Earth or in the modern metal foundry. Steiner describes to us how these two activities are related:

[page 103] We can come to a real understanding of human destiny and karma through the twofold experience of seeing a child learning to walk, talk, and think, on the one hand, and the melting and vaporizing of metals subjected to fire on the other. Karma is revealed in the fiery smelting of metals and in the appropriate transformation of a child's animal nature into human nature while learning to walk, talk, and think. Karma is the suprasensory element that reaches into our immediate, active human life.

This connection between a child's development and fiery metals may seem to tenuous to some skeptics, but notice that the distinction between a human child and an human adult is similar to that between an animal and a human adult. A basic principle of biology states that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny," which in simple terms means that as humans we pass through the earlier stages of animal development as we mature. Now relate that to Steiner's earlier claim that the presence of the metallic element iron in our bodies is required for us to experience freedom, a quality that is not available to animals. This shows that the actions of the First Hierarchy on children help them to acquire the human qualities of freedom which are exhibited in our abilities of walking erect, talking, and thinking.

The next idea may be hard to stomach, so I warn you ahead of relating it. The fiery forces of molten metals broadcast a vaporized spiritual substance into the universe that returns to the Earth and helps the young child learn to stand upright and walk. (from page 104) This shows us the ascending and descending spiritual forces of the universe at work. Our ancient forebears knew this to be the case and it was this understanding that led them to burn sacrifices on their altars. Their prayer went something like this:

 [page 104] "O flame, I commit to you what is mine on Earth. As the smoke ascends, may the gods accept it. May what is borne upward by flame become divine blessing, poured again upon the Earth as creative, fructifying power."

The well-known biblical story of Abraham and Isaac takes on a new meaning when seen in this light. As Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac, he heard a voice that told him that his sacrifice was not necessary, that in Abraham there already resided the creative force, the I or Ego Body, with its own "creative, fructifying power." He had demonstrated this power by his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son. Historically, this marked the entrance of the I into the human beings, and the exit of sacrifices as a necessary human ritual from then on.

At the end of Steiner's lectures, there is an extensive Afterword by Paul Margulis about which I have a few comments to make. In this passage he clears up a question I had about the period called kamaloca which hinged on whether going backward through our lives meant in time or from the perspective of the other person or both. Clearly it is both.

[page 117] The passage of the soul through the soul's world is called the period of purification, kamaloca in Eastern esotericism, and purgatory in the theology of the West. We move through the soul world by experiencing our life in reverse, from the moment we died, back to the moment of our birth, like a film run in reverse. And our experiences are also reversed. We experience not what we did to another, but what the other experienced as the result of our deed.

Then Margulis takes us on a guided tour of the soul world:

1) Region of Burning Desires (empty of spirit) - to the extent we had desires while in the flesh that could only satisfied while in a physical body, these desires are intensified and experienced as unquenchable, burning thirst until we give up or "burn away" the desire.

2) Region of Flowing Sensitivity (water) - this region is characterized by a balancing of sympathy and antipathy.

3) Region of Wishes (air) - this is a region of empty wishes - sympathy with a strong tinge of antipathy

4) Region of Pleasure/Displeasure (warmth) - this is the realm of feelings, where displeasure is but a lessening of pleasure.

5) Region of Pure Soul Light - we are able to overcome antipathy and live in complete sympathy.

6) Region of Soul Power - (no information)

7) Region of Soul Life - (no information)

These seven regions of the soul world all occur during our sojourn in the Moon sphere. In the next sphere, Mercury, we enter the spirit world. We meet family and friends in this sphere unless we lived an immoral life, in which case we experience isolation and loneliness. Margulis says, "The equivalent of death in the spiritual world is loneliness, a loneliness that is far more intense than any experienced on Earth." (page 121) In the Venus sphere we are surrounded by those we shared a religious life with. If we were a materialist, we live a hermit existence in isolation. "In the Sun sphere our community expands to include all of humanity." In the Mars sphere we are able to temper the warlike aggressiveness of Mars with peace and harmony since the advent of Buddha on Mars in the 17th Century. The remaining three regions are Jupiter, Saturn, and the fixed stars and these are the realms of intentions and goals. Here's how Margulis describes these regions:

[page 126 Jupiter] We live in this realm of intentions like an architect learning from past mistakes, discarding the results of experiences that have to do with transient imperfections.

[page 127 Saturn] Ascending to Saturn, we increase our understanding of spiritual goals and intentions. We realize why we act for what is best for the evolution of the world, and not for our own good. . . . Our past life is seen as a reproach. We become painfully aware of our failure to live up to our intended goals.

[page 128 fixed stars] Ascending now into the seventh region, the fixed stars, we enter the totality of cosmic forces that elaborate the spirit germ of our next incarnation. . . . At the midpoint, we fall into a spiritual sleep. . . . Images of our previous incarnations arise. Our past surrounds us. We judge it. Our outward journey was an expansion into the universe up to the "midnight hour."Our return is a contraction. . . . The longing arises to compensate for our deficiencies. We realize that this can occur only in a new life on earth. This creates an instinctive urge for a new birth. We encounter the thirst for existence. And we begin our return.

Margulis goes on to summarize the path of return to life on Earth in a new birth, and then allows Steiner to speak directly to each of us in the following passage:

[page 135] It is just through plunging more deeply into the personal element that we inform ourselves not only how man-in-general, man-in-the-abstract has his roots in the spiritual world; we experience how every one of us, in our most personal aspect, in our experience as full individuals living in a particular time and place on Earth, is rooted in a wholly elementary way in a spiritual world to which he belongs and which bears the hallmark of eternity.

He ends his Afterword appropriately with t he Rosicrucian motto: Ex Deo nascimur, In Christo morimur, and Per Spiritum Sanctum reviviscimus, which was recast by Steiner for the Foundation Stone Mantra as follows:

[page 137] From God, humankind has being; In Christ, death becomes life; In the Spirit's Universal Thoughts, the soul awakens.

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