Extract from a Lecture by
Dr. Rudolf Steiner,
Dornach, January 28, 1923
From stenographic notes unrevised by the lecturer.
The cultural ingredient that now permeates our whole external civilization began to rise to the surface at the turn of the 18th and 19th century. Think of the immense contrast between the present time and that time when a certain physicist prepared a frog’s leg which accidentally came into contact with the window … the frog’s leg quivered, and so he discovered electricity! How long ago was that? — Less than 150 years ago, yet electricity is now a cultural ingredient. Indeed, it is far more than this! You see, when the men of my age were young fellows, not one of them dreamt of speaking of the atoms in the sphere of physics otherwise than of tiny, unelastic, or even elastic spheres colliding with one another, and so forth, and then they calculated the results of these collisions. At that time, no one would have dreamt of conceiving the atom without further ado in the way which we conceive of it today: namely, as an electron, as an entity consisting altogether of electricity.
Human thought has spun itself altogether into electricity, and this occurred not so very long ago. Today we speak of the atoms as if they were small suns, centres around which electricity accumulates; we speak of electrons. Thus we suspect electricity everywhere, when we penetrate into the world’s mechanism. This is where our civilization so closely connects itself with a definite manner of thinking. If people would not travel on electric tramcars they would not think that the atoms are full of electricity.
If we now observe the connections that existed before the present age of electricity, we may say that they allowed the natural scientist of that time to imagine, at least abstractly, the spiritual in Nature. Although a tiny bit of scholastic realism remained, electricity then began to affect man’s nerves, expelling from them everything that tended toward the spiritual.
Things went still further. Even light, the honest light that surges through the world’s spaces, was gradually defamed and brought into the ill repute of resembling electricity! When we speak today, as I am speaking now, then the people whose heads are deeply submerged in the electric wave of civilization necessarily believe that this is utter nonsense. But this is only due to the fact that the people whose heads consider such things as nonsense drag themselves along (like dogs whose tongues are hanging out because of the heat) with a load of history, a load of historical concepts on their backs, so that they cannot speak in an unprejudiced way, from out of the immediate present.
You see, when we speak of electricity, we enter a sphere that presents a different aspect to the imaginative vision than that of the other spheres of Nature. So long as man remained within the light, within the world of sound, that is to say, in the spheres of optics and acoustics, it was not necessary to judge morally that which appeared in a stone, a plant, or an animal, either as colours in the sphere of light, or as sound in the world of tones; it was not necessary to judge these things morally, because he still possessed an echo, weak though it was, of the reality of concepts and ideas. Electricity, however, drove out this echo. And if today we are, on the one hand, unable to discover a reality in the world of moral impulses, we are, on the other hand, even less able to discover a moral essence in that sphere which is now considered to be the most important constituent of Nature.
Today, if we were to ascribe a real power to moral impulses, if we were to say that they contain a force enabling them to become sensory reality in the same way in which a plant’s seed becomes sensory reality, we would almost be looked upon as fools. And if someone were to come along today and ascribe moral impulses to the forces of Nature, he would be looked upon as a complete fool! But if you have ever allowed an electric current to pass through your nervous system, so as to experience it consciously with a genuine power of vision, you will realize that electricity in Nature is not merely a current but that electricity in Nature is, at the same time, a moral element. When we enter the sphere of electricity, we penetrate simultaneously into a moral sphere. If you connect your knuckle at any point with a closed current, you will immediately feel that your inner life extends to an inner sphere of your being, where the moral element comes to the surface, so that the electricity pertaining to the human being cannot be sought in any other sphere than that sphere which is also the source of the moral impulses. Those who can experience the whole extent of electricity, experience at the same time the moral element in Nature. Modern physicists have conjured and juggled about with electricity in a strange way, without the least suspicion. They imagine the atom as something electric, and through the general state of consciousness of the present time, they forget that whenever they think of an atom as an electric entity, they must ascribe a moral impulse to this atom, indeed, to every atom. At the same time, they must raise it to the rank of a moral entity. …But I am not speaking correctly … for, in reality, when we transform an atom into an electron, we do not transform it into a moral, but into an IMMORAL entity! Electricity contains, to be sure, moral impulses, impulses of Nature, but these impulses are IMMORAL; they are instincts of evil, which must be overcome by the higher world.
The greatest contrast to electricity is LIGHT. If we look upon light as electricity we confuse good and evil. We lose sight of the true conception of evil in the order of Nature if we do not realize that through the electrification of the atoms we transform them into carriers of evil; we do not only transform them into carriers of death, as explained in my last lecture, but into carriers of evil. When we think of them as atoms, in general, when we imagine matter in the form of atoms, we transform these atoms into carriers of death; but when we electrify matter, Nature is conceived as something evil. For electric atoms are little demons of Evil. This, however, does not tell us much. For it does not express the fact that the modern explanation of Nature set out along a path that really unites it with Evil. Those strange people at the end of the Middle Ages, who were so much afraid of Agrippa von Nettesheim, Trithem of Sponheim, and others, so that they saw them walking about with Faust’s malevolent poodle, expressed this very clumsily, but although their thoughts may have been wrong, their feelings were not altogether wrong. For when we listen to a modern physicist blandly explaining that Nature consists of electrons, we merely listen to him explaining that Nature really consists of little demons of Evil! And if we acknowledge Nature in this form, we raise Evil to the rank of the ruling world-divinity.
As modern men who do not proceed in accordance with old traditional ideas, but in accordance with reality, we would come across the fact that the electric element in Nature is endowed with morality in the same way in which moral impulses are endowed with life, with a life of Nature, so that, later on, they take on real shape, become a real world. In the same way in which the moral element one day acquires real shape in Nature, so the electric element once contained a moral reality. If we contemplate electricity today, we contemplate the images of a past moral reality that have turned into something evil.
If Anthroposophy were to adopt a fanatic attitude, if Anthroposophy were ascetic, it would thunder against the modern civilization based on electricity. Of course, this would be nonsense, for only world-conceptions that do not reckon with reality can speak in that way. They may say: “Oh, this is ahrimanic! Let us avoid it!” — But this can only be done in an abstract way. For the very people who thunder against Ahriman, and tell us to beware of him, go downstairs after their sectarian meeting and enter an electric tramcar! So that all their thundering against Ahriman, no matter how holy it may sound, is (excuse the trivial expression) simply rubbish. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that we must live with Ahriman. But we must live with him in the right way, that is to say, we must not allow him to have the upper hand.
The final scene of my first Mystery Play can show you what it means to lack consciousness in certain things. [See The Portal of Initiation
] Read this final scene once more, and you will see that it is a different matter whether I lull myself in unconsciousness over a fact, or whether I grasp it consciously. Ahriman and Lucifer have the greatest power over us if we do not know anything about them, so that they can handle us without our being aware of it. This is expressed in the final scene of my Mystery Play. The ahrimanic electricity can therefore overwhelm civilized man only so long as he blandly and unconsciously electrifies the atoms and thinks that this is quite harmless. But in so doing, he does not realize that he is imagining Nature as a complex of little demons of Evil.
When even the light is conceived of electrically, as has been done in a recent modern theory, then the qualities of Evil are attributed to the divinity of Good. It is really terrifying to see to what a great extent the modern contemplation of Nature has unawares become a “demonology,” a worship of demons! We should realize this, for the essential thing is CONSCIOUSNESS: we live in the age of the consciousness-soul.
From a Q&A session following a lecture given October 1, 1911:
Question: What is the relation of chemical forces and substances to the spiritual world?
Answer: There are in the world a number of substances which can combine with or separate from each other. What we call chemical action is projected into the physical world from the world of Devachan — the realm of the Harmony of the Spheres. In the combination of two substances according to their atomic weights, we have a reflection of two tones of the Harmony of the Spheres. The chemical affinity between two substances in the physical world is like a reflection from the realm of the Harmony of the Spheres. The numerical ratios in chemistry are an expression of the numerical ratios of the Harmony of the Spheres, which has become dumb and silent owing to the densification of matter. If one were able to etherealize material substance and to perceive in the atomic numbers the inner formative principle thereof, he would be hearing the Harmony of the Spheres.
We have the physical world, the astral world, the Lower Devachan, and the Higher Devachan. If the body is thrust down lower even than the physical world, it comes into the sub-physical world, the lower astral world, the lower or evil Lower Devachan, and the lower or evil Higher Devachan.
The evil astral world is the province of Lucifer, the evil Lower Devachan the province of Ahriman, and the evil Higher Devachan the province of the Asuras.
When chemical action is driven down beneath the physical plane — into the evil Devachanic world — magnetism arises.
When light is thrust down into the sub-material — that is to say, a stage deeper than the material world — electricity arises.
If what lives in the Harmony of the Spheres is thrust down farther still, into the province of the Asuras, an even more terrible force — which it will not be possible to keep hidden very much longer — is generated. It can only be hoped that when this force comes to be known — a force we must conceive as being far, far stronger than the most violent electrical discharge — it can only be hoped that before some discoverer gives this force into the hands of humankind, men will no longer have anything unmoral left in them.
Question: What is electricity?
Answer: Electricity is light in the sub-material state. Light is there compressed to the utmost degree. An inward quality too must be ascribed to light; light is itself at every point in space. Warmth will expand in the three dimensions of space. In light there is a fourth; it is of fourfold extension — it has the quality of inwardness as a fourth dimension.
Question: What happens to the Earth’s corpse?
Answer: As the residue of the Moon-evolution we have our present moon which circles around the Earth. Similarly there will be a residue of the Earth which will circle around Jupiter. Then these residues will gradually dissolve into the universal ether. On Venus there will no longer be any residue. Venus will manifest, to begin with, as pure Warmth, then it will become Light, and then pass over into the spiritual world. The residue left behind by the Earth will be like a corpse. This is a path along which man must not accompany the Earth, for he would thereby be exposed to dreadful torments. But there are Beings who accompany this corpse, since they themselves will by that means develop to a higher stage.
Reflected as sub-physical world:
Astral World the province of Lucifer
Lower Devachan the province of Ahriman
Higher Devachan the province of the Asuras