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"the whole creation groaneth and travaileth"

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  • Robert Mason
    To All: Just a little heads-up FYI: The eLib has recently put up Steiner s lecture The Group Souls of Animals, Plants and Minerals (Feb. 2, 1908). This is
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 13, 2006
      To All:

      Just a little heads-up FYI: The eLib has
      recently put up Steiner's lecture "The Group
      Souls of Animals, Plants and Minerals" (Feb. 2,
      1908). This is one of my all-time faves, a
      most valuable supplement to some of the basic
      concepts as given in *Theosophy* and *Occult
      Science*. Even for those who already know the
      basics forwards and backwards, I think that
      this lecture will richly reward repeated study.

      A note on the eLib says that the e-text was
      "lovingly typed and donated by Susan Roberts",
      and I can believe that this was literally a
      work of love. For to me, this lecture contains
      some of Steiner's words that were most
      obviously permeated with love, and that are
      most effectively evocative of reverential love
      for the life that we are given by the World.

      Steiner states a fundamental principle of
      Anthroposophical "study" thus: "...all
      knowledge of the worlds of soul and spirit
      slumbers in the profoundest depths of the human
      soul. We can grasp, however, not only what we
      ourselves have brought to light, but also what
      someone else has brought up from the depths of
      soul. . . . Unconscious knowledge flashes up to
      meet the spiritual fact discovered by another .
      . . ." (This is but one of his many approaches
      to the same point, the one here from
      *Theosophy*.) For me, this principle seems
      especially true of this lecture; one may indeed
      feel touched in his "profoundest depths", that
      one is re-learning things that one has always
      known, however unconsciously. And not only the
      "depths" but the "surfaces" are also
      elucidated: many of the most common of the
      "ordinary" facts of our "physical" experience
      remain incomplete and incomprehensible without
      such "spiritual" concepts as are brought forth
      in this lecture. Those "spiritual" concepts
      indeed belong intimately to the "physical"
      world just as they do to the "spiritual"

      It is sometimes alleged (especially by
      Tombergians) that Anthroposophy is too "heady",
      even "nerdy", that Steiner stuffs a lot of
      ideas into our heads but gives us nothing for
      our hearts. In general, this is an unjust
      accusation, mainly showing that the accuser has
      not "worked on" those ideas sufficiently. In
      the case of a lecture such as this one that
      injustice is glaringly, painfully obvious; it
      must be a very hard heart indeed that cannot be
      moved through thoughtful "work" on the ideas
      Steiner presents here.

      It has been a century since Steiner spoke these
      words, and still these ideas have not permeated
      the mass culture in an effective way. In fact,
      it does seem that the culture's most effective
      "ideas" in relation to Nature are only those of
      the most selfish, most cruel, most shortsighted
      kind of exploitation. (The exception being,
      generally, our somewhat double-thinkish
      treatment of our "pets".)

      But perhaps such ideas as Steiner's are
      struggling to come to the surface; perhaps the
      "ecological" movement and the "animal rights"
      movement, however much they may be confused and
      however much they may be manipulated, do show
      that the mass consciousness in the westernized
      world is groping toward a rediscovery of the
      lost heart-felt connection with Nature.

      Steiner said: "We have repeatedly to emphasize
      that knowledge of the spirit 'must become a
      living knowledge – by which we mean that a man
      'should not simply come to know various things
      through 'spiritual science, but learn to think,
      feel, perceive, 'differently about everything
      around him. . . . He 'must learn to feel with,
      and live with, every being. . . . as he goes
      about 'in meadows and woods, through the
      ploughed fields and open 'country, he
      experiences it all in a different way from the
      man 'who knows nothing of what spiritual
      science can tell."

      Does our culture give us even the slightest
      hint of the fact that in the animals we
      encounter beings wiser than ourselves? Steiner
      said: "The animal does not have its ego on the
      physical plane; 'for that, indeed, we must look
      deeper, into the so-called 'astral world. . . .
      the seer on the astral plane meets the egos of
      the animals – as separate personalities. . . .
      Each group of animals has an ego on the astral
      plane . . . . The astral plane is populated by
      beings who are far cleverer than man; these
      animal egos are very wise beings. . . . We are
      walking about all the time through beings we do
      not see, through the animal egos invisible to
      our physical eyes."

      And does our culture give us any hint that when
      we mow our lawns we are giving pleasure to the
      plants, or that when we uproot a plant we are
      causing pain for the spirit of the plant?
      Steiner said: "The plant egos dwell in a
      higher world than the animal egos. . . . The
      earth itself is the outward expression of soul
      and spirit beings. . . . It is an intensely
      significant moment when we not only watch the
      reaping with our physical eyes, but perceive
      the feeling of contentment sweeping over the
      earth as the corn falls to the ground. But when
      the roots of the plants are pulled up, then
      that is painful for the plant souls."

      Or did "all the crap we learned in high school"
      include the fact that even the solid ground on
      which we walk was "bought at a price", the
      price being the pain of spirits of the rocks?
      Or that the convict "breaking rocks" is giving
      pleasure to their spirits? Steiner said:
      "Even stone is without life only on the
      physical plane. All minerals have their group
      egos in the higher worlds, on the higher
      devachanic plane, and these, too, feel pain and
      pleasure. . . . With the actual splitting of
      stone, there gushes out in all directions a
      feeling of pleasure. Out of the quarry from
      which the blocks are being cut there streams
      deep satisfaction on every side. . . . The
      mighty heaps of lifeless rock crystallized out
      of the fire-streaming earth, just as dissolved
      salt turns again into crystals. It has all been
      one great process of transformation, the
      passing over of the fluid condition into
      solidified masses. That did not happen without
      suffering. The densification of our earthly
      globe has been closely bound up with pain for
      the soul of the rock."

      Or did we learn this in Sunday School? Steiner
      said: "Let us hear what the Apostle Paul has
      to say: how the whole earth and all 'beings
      groan in pain for the glorious liberty of the
      children of God.' In Romans VIII, verse 19, we
      read 'For the earnest expectation of the
      creature waiteth for the manifestation of the
      sons of God'; and in verse 22, 'For we know
      that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth
      in pain together until now.' In those words we
      are given a picture of what happens on earth,
      when the soul of the rock suffers pain until
      the coming 'of the state of Children of God.' .
      . . And what effect does it have upon us when
      we know how the soul of the stone suffers while
      awaiting that manifestation? – People of
      materialistic mind think that, there outside,
      they walk only through air, wind, mist, through
      oxygen and nitrogen. But those who have
      spiritual knowledge realize, everywhere, that
      they are breathing spiritual beings in and out
      – merging with them."

      Do even our "ecologits" give us such thoughts
      as these? Steiner said: ”Everything outside
      is ensouled and filled through and through with
      life. – In the same way as the physical body is
      produced out of physical substances and forces,
      do our spiritual members come forth out of the
      great whole. From that we begin to perceive our
      self as a small world resting in the great
      world; and this arouses in us a sense of being
      blessed. It is only when we learn to feel with
      the minerals, plants, and animals, that we can
      also experience this feeling of being at rest
      within the whole vast universe."

      Real spiritual-scientific "study" is not just
      for our "heads"; it makes us into *more real*
      human beings. Steiner said: "And so we see
      how spiritual science leads us into the
      spiritual foundations of existence. It is
      something which transforms our feeling and our
      will for life, so that, as men, we become

      Steiner didn't "preach" vegetarianism as such,
      but when asked a question, he did respond.
      Steiner said: "The higher evolution of the
      earth consists in killing ceasing altogether.
      Therefore the ideal from the standpoint of
      spiritual science is to refrain from killing."

      Again, our present evolutionary advancement
      (such "advancement" as it may be) was "bought
      at a price", the price being *pain*, and not
      only our pain. Steiner said: "It means
      terrible pain for the tree when it is uprooted.
      It is not possible, however, in the course of
      world evolution, entirely to eliminate pain.
      All higher beings are born in pain, without
      which there could often be no evolution. The
      spiritual leaders of mankind have allowed this
      suffering so as to enable men to arrive at
      their present state."

      This lecture may be found here:

      For more info on Man's karmic relations to the
      animals, especially useful is this other
      lecture, which has long been on the eLib
      (*Manifestations of Karma*, Lecture 2):

      Our moral evolution has progressed to the point
      that in civilized countries (except Spain and
      Mexico) the deliberate, gratuitous torture of
      animals is considered to be in bad taste.
      Nevertheless, the sheer *quantity* of cruelty
      to animals has probably never been greater.
      Our science and economy has led us to practice
      such abominations as vivisection, "factory
      farming", long-distance trucking of livestock,
      high-speed slaughterhouses, etc. How has this
      anomaly come about?

      Steiner said: "It is characteristic too that
      in the Middle Ages and on into our own times,
      precisely in those countries where
      Christianity has spread, the idea has arisen
      that animals cannot be considered as beings
      having their own special soul life, but rather
      as something like automata. It has also been
      pointed out, perhaps not unjustly, although
      not always with great understanding, that the
      idea often advanced by western philosophy that
      the animals are automata and do not really
      possess a soul, may have been taken up by the
      common people who have no sympathy for the
      animals and often know no bounds in their
      cruel treatment of them. . . . The
      materialism of modern times is only a
      consequence of this materialistic conception
      of Christianity, the most spiritual religion
      in the west. It is the fate of the peoples of
      the west -- if we may say so -- that
      they have to work up from materialistic
      foundations, and in the conquering of these
      materialistic views and tendencies they will
      develop the forces which will lead to the
      highest spiritual life. It is a consequence of
      this destiny, this karma, that the peoples of
      the West have a tendency to consider the
      animals only as automata."

      Steiner said: "Thus we look down upon the
      three kingdoms of nature around us, and see in
      them something which had to become a basis for
      our development. These beings have sunk in
      order that we might be able to rise. . . . We
      look upon the animals and say: 'All that the
      animals manifest in the way of cruelty,
      voracity, and all animal vices, besides the
      skill which they have we should have had
      within us, if we had not been able to eject
      them. We owe this liberation of our astral
      bodies to the circumstance that all the
      grosser astral bodies have remained behind in
      the animal kingdom and the earth.' . . . Thus
      the animals have the astral body in common with
      us, and are therefore able to feel pain. But
      from what has now been said we see that they do
      not possess the power to evolve through pain
      and through the conquest of pain, for they have
      no individuality. The animals are on this
      account much more to be pitied than us. . . .
      We must learn to consider such facts, not as
      theories, but rather with a cosmic world
      feeling. When we look upon the animals we
      should feel: 'You animals are outside.
      When you suffer, you suffer something of which
      we reap the benefit. We men, however, have the
      power to overcome suffering while you must
      endure it. Having received suffering we have
      passed it on to you, and are taking to
      ourselves the power to overcome it.' If
      we develop this cosmic feeling out of the
      theory, we then experience a great and
      all-embracing feeling of sympathy for the
      animal kingdom. . . . This sympathy will come
      again when people accustom themselves to take
      up Spiritual Science, and when they again see
      how the karma of humanity is bound up with the
      world karma."

      Those creatures which should be most pitied are
      tortured most pitilessly. Even those
      institutions (the churches) which should be the
      upholders and teachers of compassion do little
      or nothing to "teach" in this regard; worse,
      they often make false justifications for the
      pitiless, shortsighted exploitation of animals.
      "Shortsighted", for actions have their
      consequences: "What goes around comes around."
      We are bound "karmically" with the animals.

      Steiner said: "Man could not do otherwise than
      evolve. It is due to this that he had to push
      other beings into the abyss so that he could
      rise higher himself. He could not give them an
      individuality which compensates karmically for
      what the animals have to suffer; he could only
      give them pain, without being able to give
      them the karmic compensation. But what he
      could not give them before, he will give them
      when he has come to the freedom and
      selflessness of his individuality. Then he
      will consciously apprehend the karmic law in
      this realm and will say 'It is to the
      animals that I owe what I have now become. As
      the animals have fallen from an individual
      existence to a shadow existence I cannot repay
      to them what they have sacrificed for me, but
      I must make this good, so far as is possible,
      by the treatment I extend to them.'"

      -- From such considerations as these we might
      go back to the very beginning of the
      Anthroposophical Path of Cognition, where
      Steiner insists on the *essential* mood of
      *reverence* (*KoHW*,
      These are likely
      familiar words for most of us, but they surely
      bear repeating, if only because the mood of
      reverence does not come naturally to most of us
      in modern life.

      Steiner said: "In spiritual science this
      fundamental attitude is called the path of
      veneration, of devotion to truth and knowledge.
      Without this attitude no one can become a
      student. . . . The initiate has only acquired
      the strength to lift his head to the heights of
      knowledge by guiding his heart to the depths of
      veneration and devotion. The heights of the
      spirit can only be climbed by passing through
      the portals of humility. . . . Whoever,
      therefore, wishes to become a student of higher
      knowledge must assiduously cultivate this inner
      life of devotion. Everywhere in his environment
      and his experiences he must seek motives of
      admiration and homage. . . . And we rise
      rapidly when we fill our consciousness in such
      moments with thoughts evoking in us admiration,
      respect and veneration for the world and for
      life. . . . Just as the sun's rays vivify
      everything living, so does reverence in the
      student vivify all feelings of the soul. . . .
      feelings are for the soul what food is for the
      body. . . . Veneration, homage, devotion are
      like nutriment making [the soul] healthy and
      strong, especially strong for the activity of

      We might also consider how "lucky" we are even
      to read these word; most people in the world
      today will not encounter such thoughts in this
      lifetime. We might even so progress to the
      mood of "The Washing of the Feet".

      Robert Mason

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