*This “introductory lecture” was given at a members’ meeting in Wiesbaden, 1963, and printed in Mitteilungen aus der Anthroposophischen Arbeit in Deutschland nos. 68–69, 1964, from which the present translation has been made by permission of Dr. Unger and of the editors of Mitteilungen.
It is essential to consider not only the statements of spiritual-scientific research on this subject, but to relate them to what science has to tell us in the field of mechanisms.
In Rudolf Steiner’s lectures entitled In the Changed Conditions of the Times, [Six lectures given at Dornach, November 29 to December 8, 1918. Translated by Olin D. Wannamaker. New York, Anthroposophic Press; London, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company, 1941.] he describes “powers which, in the future, human beings will develop in a quite elemental way.” These lectures are fundamental to our subject. We have to do here with powers that are unknown to materialistic science, since it is concerned with a period during which its general methods have undergone little change.
Dr. Steiner first refers to “the threefold capacity, of which every well-informed member of these secret circles speaks.” The first is “the capacity for so-called material occultism.” By this means, according to the ideas of these secret societies, “certain social forms which to-day are the foundation of industrialism will be placed on a quite different footing.” Rudolf Steiner continued more specifically:
Every knowledgeable member of these secret circles is aware that solely by means of certain capacities which are still latent in man but are still evolving, and with the help of the law of harmonious vibrations, machines and mechanical constructions can be set in motion. You will find a small indication of this in what I connected with the figure of Strader in my Mystery Plays. … The capacity to set motors in motion according to the law or interacting vibrations we develop on a considerable scale among the English-speaking peoples.
If the reference to Dr. Strader is traced back to its original, we are led by way of Rudolf Steiner’s statements about human destiny to the philosopher Gideon Spicker. That is, as it were, one side of the picture. The other side is that Rudolf Steiner’s audiences at the beginning of this century were familiar through theosophical literature with the personality of the inventor John Worrell Keely, who was active in America during the second half of the 19th century. Keely introduced his “motor,” which depended on raising certain vibrations to ever-higher frequencies. It was, however, governed by mechanical vibrators, regulated by the inventor himself. In Keely’s writings there are accounts of cylinders which released tremendous forces of a mechanical kind, and of vibrators for shattering rocks, useful in the mining industry. There are whole tables of vibration-numbers which go with the various spheres of reality. All this was first published by the Theosophical Society and afterwards arranged in book form by one of Keely’s sponsors, Mrs. Bloomfield-Moore.
The law of interacting phenomena, mentioned by Rudolf Steiner in the lecture quoted, is one to which he refers on other occasions, always as though he were passing on widely known occult facts. For instance, in the 8th lecture of the First Scientific Lecture Course, First Scientific Lecture Course, [Ten lectures given at Stuttgart December 23, 1919, to January 3, 1920. Published by the Natural Science Section of the Goetheanum, 1925. English edition, translated by George Adams, issued by the Goethean Science Foundation, Clent Worcs.] he says:
You have a pendulum clock; you wind it up and set it going. In the same room you have another pendulum clock: it must, admittedly, be of a certain type. This second clock you do not wind up. Under favourable circumstances you may sometimes discover that gradually this clock starts of its own accord. We will call this the “mutual sympathy” between phenomena, it can be investigated in a very wide domain. A last phenomena of this type, still connected to some extent with the outer world, could be examined far more frequently than it generally is, for it occurs very often. Times without number you may have had this experience. You are at table with another person and he says something you have just been thinking. You were thinking it but did not say it; he now says n. It is the sympathetic going-together of events (or complexes of events which is here making itself felt in a highly spiritual realm. We need to recognise the whole range of continuity from the simple resonance of a violin string, which one may still interpret crudely and unspiritually within the sequence of outer material events, to these parallel phenomena which appear so much more spiritual — as when we experience one another’s thoughts.
In a book by the occultist C. G. Harrison, The Transcendental Universe (London, 1894), the possible effect of prayer on rainfall is discussed (p. 104): “Is it so unscientific to think that where the wishes of a whole community are concentrated on a certain object, they may perhaps set free forces which are not without influence on the magnetism of the earth? — through vibratory coincidence, say.” In a footnote at this point the author says “If Keely’s ‘motor’ should ever become an accomplished fact, who can say what wonderful results the application of the law of vibratory coincidence might not have in the future?”
Shortly before the passage just quoted, Harrison drops a veiled hint.
Owing to the connection which he claims to exist between rain, atmospheric moisture and earth-magnetism, the following remark sounds quite natural and harmless: “What after all is magnetism? It is a form of energy. But will-power is also a form of energy. Are our scientists concerned to prove that between these two forms of energy there is no such common factor as is agreed exists between magnetism and other forms of energy such as warmth, electricity, etc.?”
The idea that is here wrapped up in seemingly commonplace language is brought into the open by Rudolf Steiner in other connections, where he shows that electricity and magnetism are related in their fundamental nature to human will-power. At the same time he emphasizes that these forces are not — like other natural forces — morally neutral, and he warns us of their inherent dangers. [For example, in Lebendiges Naturerkennen, intellektueller Suendenfall und spirituelle Suendenerhebung, six lectures given at Dornach, January 19–28, 1923. Published at Dornach, 1943. These lectures have been translated separately, but not published as a whole in English.]
Another indication, which similarly concerns the dissemination of occult knowledge, is given by R. Harte, at that time secretary of the Theosophical Society, in his introduction to the first publication of “Keely’s Secrets” by Mrs. Bloomfield-Moore (T.P.S. No. 9, July 10, 1888). These are his words: “Occultists generally believe that the world is not yet ready for the appearance of such terrible forces in the life of humanity. Man is too selfish, cruel, stupid, unsympathetic, bestial, to be entrusted with what in sober reality are secondary ‘divine powers’.” After developing this theme further he continues: “For this reason, most occultists did not think it likely that Keely’s discoveries would have ‘results’ in the commercial sense of the word.”
The background to these words must be borne in mind. That is, the existence of “progressive and conservative sides” to the occult movement, to which Rudolf Steiner made specific references in his lectures on The Occult Movement in the Nineteenth Century.
So much for this occult side of the matter (we will return to it later, in connection with passages from H. P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine). Incidentally, it was not until after his discovery that Keely came into touch with the Theosophical Society. There is something very obscure about all his pronouncements and he seldom goes further than the most veiled indications. One of these is that his force is suited to powering the biggest ship, just as well as a sewing-machine. This brings us back to the characterization of the “Strader machines” in the Mystery Plays. Strader’s invention, according to his own words, is intended to transform social life by enabling everybody to use this power for his own convenience in the home he has designed according to his own ideas. Nothing is said about its physical or technical characteristics.
The situation of the inventor, Strader, is of special interest. First he discovers the basic possibility of the machine, which “maintains itself but cannot set itself going.” The technical realization of the idea miscarries; and the inventor is finally plunged into an agony of doubt about the basis of his work through the interference of an ahrimanically inspired know-all. How he surmounts this crisis shortly before his death marks an important turning-point in the fourth play, “The Soul’s Awakening.”
I mention the inventor’s situation because of a certain similarity to another situation which was in other ways completely different. This arose at the time the plays were written (1910 to 1913). The warmth generated by radioactive salts was measured in 1903, and confirmed in l908 through the precise measurement of the energy given off by discrete fragments. Between 1911 and 19l3 fundamental facts about the radioactive transformation series were discovered, and co-ordinated with other known facts relating to the nature of the Periodic System of the elements. But it was not until 1919 that a deliberate experimental transmutation of elements, sought for earlier, was achieved, though still only in the realm of those unweighable quantities described as individual atoms.
The final significance of this line of research did not lie in the fact that it became possible to calculate, in accordance with Einstein’s theoretical investigations, the prodigious amounts of energy that could be released under certain conditions through the transmutation of elements. For the step from theory to practice could not then be taken. The later developments that led to present-day nuclear technology have passed into world-history. …
By this means man has acquired a power which all responsible people must view with alarm, for it represents a constant threat to the progress of human civilization and even to the continuance of life on earth.
One cannot help thinking of the warnings uttered by Harte, for instance, and of Rudolf Steiner’s statements in his lecture called The Etherisation of the Blood. [Given at Basle October 1, 1911. Revised translation, 1943. (New York Anthroposophic Press, London, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company.] He speaks there of the contrast between our civilization and that of a far-distant past:
If we take the early post-Atlantean periods, we find that people constructed their dwellings in a quite different way from ours to-day. They made use of all growing things to help them. Even when building palaces they summoned nature to their aid by intertwining plants and branches. To-day we have to build with broken fragments. All our external civilization is made out of the products of destruction. In years to come you will understand still better how much else in our civilisation is a product of destruction.
After briefly indicating that electricity in the earth-processes of the post-Atlantean age is “fallen light,” and that chemical force transformed in the course of the earth’s evolution, is magnetism, Dr. Steiner describes a third force which “will influence civilisation in an even more wonderful way”:
The more we make use of this power the more will the earth tend to become a corpse so that the spiritual part of the earth can be preparing itself for the Jupiter stage. Forces have to be used to destroy the earth so that man may be freed from the earth and the body of the earth can fall away. As long as the earth was developing in a forward direction this did not happen for the great civilizing achievements of electricity can serve only a disintegrating earth. However strange this may sound to-day, it must be gradually made known.
When answering questions after this lecture, [See Anthroposophical Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1956, in which these questions and answers arc reported fully in a translation by George Adams.] he described these three forces as antitypes in the sub-physical worlds of the light-ether chemical-ether and life-ether respectively. These worlds in turn are antitypes of the devachanic and upper devachanic astral worlds. Of the third of these forces he says:
There is an even more terrifying force which cannot be kept secret much longer. We can only hope that when this force comes, as it quite certainly will, a force we have to think of as far more powerful than the strongest electrical charges — we must hope that before any inventor bestows this power on mankind, nothing un-moral will be left in human nature!
I should like to give an express warning against identifying the power of so-called atomic energy with this third force described by Rudolf Steiner. However potentially disastrous the uranium and hydrogen bombs may be, we are still only at the beginning of a process whose ultimate outcome we cannot foresee.
There are other forces stirring in the second half of this century. They are not characterised primarily by tremendous destructive action. The tendency is rather more to implant a sort of lower but autonomous intelligence into machines of human construction.
We will not deal here with the formidable problem of the extent to which so-called cybernetics merely imitates the processes of thought and how far other minds or forms of intelligence enter into such machines. We will turn to what Rudolf Steiner said in a lecture given in Dornach on November 25, 1917 [The first of three lectures entitled Individuelle Geisteswesen und eiheitlicher Weltengrund. Published in English by H. Collison as Secret Brotherhoods. The extracts quoted are from a new translation now in preparation.]:
Where this kind of thing goes on, the wish to yoke up human strength with the strength of machines is always involved. It would be quite mistaken merely to oppose these things They are not going to fade away; they are on the march. The only question is whether in the course of world-history they are going to be brought on to the scene by men who are unselfishly aware of the great aims of earth-evolution and wish to shape these developments for the healing of mankind, or by groups of men who want to use them for their own or the group’s selfish ends. That is the issue. The point is not what is going to happen, for it certainly will happen, but how happens — how these things are handled. The welding together of men with machines will be a great and important problem for the rest of earth-evolution.
I have often deliberately pointed out, even in public lectures, that human consciousness depends on destructive forces. During public lectures in Basle I twice said that in our nerve-system we are always in process of dying. These forces of death will become stronger and stronger, and we shall find that they are related to the forces of electricity and magnetism, and to those at work in machines. A man will be able in a certain sense to guide his intentions and his thoughts into the forces of machines. Forces in human nature that are still unknown will be discovered — forces that will act upon external electricity and magnetism.
Later in the same lecture, Dr. Steiner not only gives warning of the dangers involved, but indicates the appropriate way of using those forces:
Whether to conquer the cosmic for humanity in a wrong, two-fold way, or rightly in a one-fold way — that is the question facing mankind. From this will come a true renewal of astrology, which in its old form is atavistic and cannot survive. The wise Beings of the cosmos will enter into the struggle; one side will use the morning and evening processes in the way I have indicated; the West will prefer the midday processes, shutting out the morning and evening ones; and the East will prefer the midnight ones. Men win no longer manufacture substances on the basis merely of chemical attraction and repulsion; they will know that different substances arise according to whether they are: made with morning and evening processes, or with midday and midnight ones. It will be known that such substances act in a quite different way on the triad, God, virtue and immortality — gold, health and prolongation of life. When the forces of Pisces and Virgo act in co-operation, nothing wrongful can be brought into being. Men will achieve something through which the mechanics of living will be detached, in a certain sense, from man himself, but will not give any one group power and rulership over another. The cosmic forces drawn from this direction will create remarkable machines, but only those that will relieve man of work, because they will carry a certain power of intelligence within themselves. And a Spiritual Science which itself reaches out towards the cosmic will have to see to it that all the great temptations which come from these machine-animals, created by man himself, are not allowed to exercise any harmful influence upon him.
With regard to all this, the essential thing is that people should prepare themselves for it by not treating realities as illusions and by coming to a genuine spiritual conception and understanding of the world. To see things as they are — very much depends on that! But we can see them as they are only if we are in a position to bring the ideas of Spiritual Science to bear on reality. For the rest of the earth’s existence the dead will be cooperating actively in the highest degree, and it is how they co-operate that will matter. Here will arise, above all, a great distinction. On one side the attitude of men on earth can rightly lead the co-operation of the dead in such a direction that the dead will be active out of their own impulse, an impulse coming from the spiritual world which the dead are themselves experiencing. But from the other side many endeavours will be made to introduce the dead into human existence by artificial means. Along the indirect path through Gemini the dead will be led into human life, with the result that human vibrations will pass over into the mechanisms of machines and will continue to vibrate there in a quite definite way. The cosmos will impart motion to the machines by the indirect path I have indicated.
It will thus be essential, when these problems emerge, that no improper methods should be applied to them, but only those elemental forces which belong to nature on their own account, and great care will have to be taken not to introduce improper forces into the realm of machines. In this occult sphere the human element must not be related to machinery in such a way that the Darwinian natural selection theory is used to determine the working capacity of human beings, in the way of which I gave you an example last week. [The example was or “Taylorism,” whereby workers were selected for a job after tests of their muscular endurance, and those who failed to pass the test were dismissed.]
Anyone wishing to go further into these matters should pay particular attention to the strange remark that the “mechanics of living” will in a certain sense be detached from man himself. When, under the influence of cybernetics, the nature of the forces which create and sustain organic patterns are increasingly thought of, in a mechanistic way, as “information,” this is a picture, even though a caricatured one, of the development described above. “Machine-animals” have not yet come about, but their forerunners are playing an effective role on the stage of scientific progress. The first indications of a new technology are emerging out of a confused background. Automation is being developed by purely electrical techniques. Endeavours are being made to account for the working of the brain in terms of electrical wave-forms. It is certain that when in 1911 and 1919 Rudolf Steiner spoke of new possibilities, he was not thinking merely of the technology of electrical waves, which by then was already well developed.
In order to forestall questions that are often asked, it should ho said that the much talked of idea of “implosion instead of explosion” (expounded by L. Brandstätter following certain discoveries by Schauberger) has no positive significance in the sense of Rudolf Steiner’s statements. On the contrary, it is well to know that Brandstätter has always written in the vein of a shallow, popular occultism, and still brings out a publication on these lines. Very relevant to all this is what Rudolf Steiner says in the lecture I have just quoted from:
I am making these remarks — obviously they cannot exhaust the subject in so short a time — in the belief that you will meditate on these things and will try to build a bridge between them and all those experiences of life which can be encountered especially in this difficult time. You will see how things become clear to you if you contemplate them in the light that can come from such ideas as those I have been placing before you. The real point is not that in our time powers and constellations of powers are standing opposed to each other, as we are always being told in external exoteric life. The real point is quite different. It is that a kind of veil is now meant to be spread over the true impulses at work. Certain human powers are intent on saving something for themselves — what is it? Their aim is that impulses which up to the time of the French Revolution were justified, and were represented also by certain occult schools, shall now be taken charge of in an ahrimanic-luciferic sense, so as to maintain a form of society which is generally thought to have been overcome since the end of the 18th century.
* * *
In connection with Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, we will now go further into the possibly occult background of Keely’s discoveries and into various other relevant circumstances.
In the chapter called “The Coming Power,” after a vague assertion that sound is a terrible occult force, we find the following (p. 606) [The quotations and page-numbers are from the third and revised edition of The Secret Doctrine, by H. P. Blavatsky, Vol. 1 (Theosophical Publishing Company, London, 1893).]:
And if all this appears too unscientific to be even noticed, let Science explain to what mechanical end physical laws, known to it, are due the recently produced phenomena of the so-called Keely motor. What is it that acts as the formidable generator of invisible but tremendous force, of that power which is not only capable of driving an engine of 25 horse-power, but has even been employed to bodily lift the machinery? Yet this is done simply by drawing a fiddle bow across a tuning fork, as has been repeatedly proven. For the Etheric Force, discovered by John Worrell Keely, of Philadelphia, well-known in America and Europe, is no hallucination. Notwithstanding his failure to utilize it — a failure prognosticated and maintained by some Occultist’s from the first — the phenomena exhibited by the discoverer during the last few years have been wonderful, almost miraculous, not in the sense of the supernatural but of the superhuman. Had Keely been permitted to succeed, he might have reduced a whole army to atoms in the space of a few seconds, as easily as he reduced a dead ox to that condition.
On the next page:
In the humble opinion of the Occultist’s, as of his immediate friends, Mr. Keely was, and still is, at the threshold of some of the greatest secrets of the Universe; of that chiefly on which is built the whole mystery of physical Forces …
The rest of the chapter consists mainly of long quotations from the writings of Mrs. Bloomfield-Moore.
A theosophical discussion is followed by the remark that although Keely’s opinions are considered “unscientific,” they are “quite orthodox from the spiritual and occult point of view.” Then comes a revealing passage (p. 609):
Occult Philosophy divulges few of its most important vital mysteries. It drops them like precious pearls, one by one, far and wide apart, and even this only when forced to do so by the evolutionary tidal wave that carries on Humanity slowly, silently, but steadily, toward the dawn of the Sixth Race mankind. For once out of the safe custody of their legitimate heirs and keepers, those mysteries cease to be Occult: they fall into the public domain, and have to run the risk of becoming curses more open than blessings in the hands of the selfish — of the Cains of the human race. Nevertheless, whenever such individuals as the discoverer of Etheric Force are bone, men with peculiar psychic and mental capacities, they are generally and more frequently helped, than allowed to go unassisted, groping on their way; if left to their own resources, they very soon fall victims to martyrdom or become the prey of unscrupulous speculators. But they are helped only on the condition that they should not become, whether consciously or unconsciously, an additional peril to their age: a danger to the poor, now offered in daily holocaust by the less wealthy to the very wealthy.
A footnote to this passage is not without interest because of the analogy it suggests with the fate of Strader:
The above was written in 1886, at a time when hopes of success for the “Keely Motor” were at their highest. Every word then said by the writer proved true, and now only a few remarks are added with regard to the failure of Mr. Keely’s expectations, so far, a failure now admitted by the discoverer himself. Though, however, the word failure is here used, the reader should understand it in a relative sense, for, as Mrs. Bloomfield-Moore explains: “What Mr. Keely does admit is that, baffled in applying vibratory force to mechanics, upon his first and second lines of experimental research, he was obliged either to confess a commercial failure, or to try a third departure from his base or principle, seeking success through another channel.” And this “channel” is on the physical plane.
Blavatsky then repeats her own remarks at the Philadelphia centenary exhibition, when she had said that it was beyond Keely’s power to contribute anything that lay outside “the capacities inherent in his own particular make-up.” After further praising him highly, she continues (p. 611):
It is just because Keely’s discovery would lead to a knowledge of one of the most Occult secrets, a secret which can never be allowed to fall into the hands of the masses, that his failure to push his discoveries to their logical end seems certain to Occultist’s. But of this more presently. Even in its limitation this discovery may prove of the greatest benefit.
After quoting some further extravagant assertions by Mrs. Bloomfield-Moore, Blavatsky continues:
The Occultist’s are ready to admit all this with the eloquent writer. Molecular vibration is, undeniably, “Keely’s legitimate field of research,” and the discoveries made by him will prove wonderful yet only in his hands and through himself. The world so far will get but that with which it can be safely entrusted. The truth of this assertion has, perhaps, not yet quite dawned upon the discoverer himself, since he writes that he is absolutely certain that he will accomplish all that he has promised, and that he will then give it out to the world; but it must dawn upon him, and at no very far distant date.
In dealing with the question why Keely was not allowed to cross a certain frontier, Blavatsky returns to this theme (p. 614):
It was because that, which he has unconsciously discovered, is the terrible sidereal Force, known to, and named by the Atlanteans Mash-mak, and by the Aryan Rishis in their Astra Vidyâ by a name that we do not like to give. It is the Vril of Bulwer Lytton’s Combing Race, and of the coming Races of our mankind. The name Vril may be a fiction; the Force itself is a fact, as little doubted in India as is the existence of the Rishis, since it is mentioned in all the secret books.
Then comes a vision of the future, terrifying because of its unnoticed warning of the atomic bomb, although this, after all, has no direct connection with Keely’s discovery:
It is this vibratory Force. which, when aimed at an army from an Agni-ratha, fixed on a flying vessel, a balloon, according to the instructions found in Astra Vidyâ would reduce to ashes 100,000 men and elephants, as easily as it would a dead rat. It is allegorized in the Vishnu Puranâ, in the Râmâyana and other works, in the fable about the sage Kapila whose “glance made a mountain of ashes of King Sagara’s 60,000 sons,” and which is explained in the Esoteric Works, and referred to as the Kapilâksha — Kapila’s Eye.
In the rest of this chapter there is nothing new.
If the passages quoted are brought together and considered symptomatically, in the sense recommended by Rudolf Steiner in such cases, the impression is confirmed that Blavatsky at least suspected the presence of occult purposes behind Keely’s activities.
The tone of the account bears the hallmark of the “conservative” or “right wing” section of the occult movement. It was here, according to Rudolf Steiner, that a feeling of responsibility prevailed towards the revealing of occult truths; while the “left wing” consisted of occultist’s who for various reasons of their own were in favour of the widest possible publicity.
One gets the impression that Blavatsky either is not allowed to say, or does not wish to say, or perhaps has no knowledge of, anything very definite; but through her words glimmers the fact that Keely’s results were not permitted to lead to a premature disclosure of certain capacities.
Rudolf Steiner speaks of this, once more in a different connection, in the lectures called The Karma of Vocation [Ten lectures given at Dornach, November 4–27, 1916. New York, Anthroposophic Press; London, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company, 1944.]. In the fourth lecture we are told that the detachment of the worker from his work is the first sign of a further development. The world is permeated with “concrete, specialised spirituality,” in contrast to the abstract and now decadent terms in which the religious denominations talk of one God:
Men must learn to know that when a workman stands at his bench and the sparks fly about, elemental spirits are being created who pass over into the world-process and have their significance there. … They will certainly come into existence; the important point is that they should come into existence rightly, in the right way. For elemental spirits that are destructive of the world-process can be engendered, as well as those that serve the world-process.
We are shown how humanity stands on the threshold of a world-evolutionary development which will lead to “a connection arising between what man is and the objects he produces and brings forth.” Unless this trend is associated with spiritual-scientific endeavours, it could turn out to be “the very worst thing that could happen to the earth.” It is a trend that will become apparent first in the preparation of medicaments:
The subtle pulsations existent in the will-life and disposition of human beings will more and more weaves themselves, incorporate themselves, into what he makes, and it will not be a matter of indifference whether someone receives a particular medicament from one person or from another person.
The lecture then goes further into these effects:
Human beings will grow into conjunction with the objective world. Everything we touch will gradually come to bear our hunted imprint. And we shall learn, no matter how silly this may sound to the clever people — but St. Paul said long ago that the cleverness of this world is often foolishness in the eyes of God — that a time will come when a machine will stand there motionless, at rest, and a man will step up to it who knows that he has to make a certain movement with his hand, then another movement in a particular way, and then a third, and through the air-vibrations produced by this definite signal, the motor, having been tuned to this signal, will be set in motion.
This is one of the most definite indications given by Rudolf Steiner about the connection between man and machines which future technical developments will bring about. His remarks must of course be considered in relation to other indications about the nature of machines. For instance, in the ninth lecture of this same course he goes very thoroughly into how it was that the technical use made of the vacuum first led to the development of the steam engine. This is how Ahriman is given the possibility of establishing himself as a demon in the physical realm itself when a steam engine is constructed in this way. In constructing steam engines an opportunity is thus provided for the incarnation of demons. If anyone does not want to believe in them, he need not do so; this is negative superstition. Positive superstition consists in seeing spirits where there are none; negative superstition in denying spirits where they exist. In steam engines, Ahrimanic demons are brought right down to the point of physical incorporation. This means that while the cosmos with its spiritual element has descended through what has been poured into human evolution, the spirituality of the cosmos is driven out through what is created in the form of demons. This great and wonderful modern progress has in fact brought about not only a demonology, but a demon magic; and in manifold ways modern technology is demon magic.
Rudolf Steiner then points to the symptomatic significance of the remarkable fact that when James Watt was compelled for patent reasons to design a new drive for his steam engine, he called it a “sun and planet” movement, after the Copernican picture, which by that time (1781) was fully established:
Now think of what I mentioned recently as something that is going to happen but is at present in its first beginnings: delicate vibrations will amplify each other by resonance and great effects will be produced. Thank god this has not yet been achieved on earth! But a beginning of it lies in the fact that the movement of the sun and planets is imitated. Do you believe that, since the movements of the sun and planets have great significance for the earth when they radiate inwards, it means nothing when we copy them in miniature and allow them to radiate outwards again into cosmic space? What happens then has great significance for the cosmos. Here you can see quite directly how vibrations are given over to the demon, so that he can develop his activity outwards into cosmic space.
No-one of course must imagine that what I have just said means that we ought to do away with steam engines. In that case we should have to do away with a great deal, for steam engines are by no means the most demoniacal devices. Wherever electricity and much else is used, there is far more demon magic, for electricity operates with quite different forces which have a different significance for the cosmos. Anyone who understands Spiritual Science will naturally know clearly that these things are not to be done away with; that we cannot be reactionary or conservative in the sense of opposing progress. Indeed, demon magic signifies progress, and the earth will make more and more progress of this kind. A stage will even be reached when it will be possible to produce great effects outwards into the cosmos.
The point is not to abolish these things or to condemn them, for they are obviously justified. The point is that since these things must come about on one side in the course of human progress, counter-forces must be created on the other side so as to re-establish a balance. And it will be possible to create these counter-forces only if humanity comes again to understand the Christ-principle; if humanity finds the way to the Christ.
There are two remarks to add to these very significant explanations. The obvious one is that what has been said here about the steam engine applies in a much greater degree to the technology of our time. Many years ago I said repeatedly, in conjunction with a Swiss friend, Dr. Marti, who had spent a long time in America, that many cubic metros of vacuum are to be found in our cities wherever electricity is at work — not only in countless small radio valves, but on a much larger scale in mercury-vapour rectifiers and in other modern apparatus of many kinds — television, for example. The result is that the demon magic spoken of by Rudolf Steiner is spreading more and more intensively on all sides. The vacuum is only one example. It is very necessary that anyone who aspires towards the spiritual should realise clearly how the most varied opportunities for a virtual incarnation of elemental beings and demons are constantly on the increase.
The other remark follows from our so plainly defined duty to create demon-forces. In the last of the lectures on The Karma of Vocation, Rudolf Steiner packs a great deal into a small space; part of this must be given in his own words:
What used to be accomplished on the altar only must lay hold of the entire world. Humanity must learn to deal with nature as the gods themselves have done: not building machines in an indifferent way, but doing everything as an act of divine service and bringing the sacramental into everything.
It is only in this way that “negative superstition” can be overcome: the real demons have to be really driven out by treating the handling of machinery as something sacred. Two examples were given by Rudolf Steiner in the same year (1916) as these lectures: the first relates to upbringing and education and the second to knowledge. With regard to this second one, his indication follows from that fundamental sentence in his introduction to Goethe’s scientific writings: “To perceive the idea in the existent reality — that is the true communion of man.” One could regard these words as a basis for all the impulses to which Rudolf Steiner’s work gave rise in later years — impulses which found expression in such varied fields as those of art, religious renewal, medicine, agriculture and natural science.
Many examples could be given of the tasks to be approached in this sense. To take one example only, I will in conclusion say something about scientific method.
If we wish to publish the results of experimental work — including work influenced by Spiritual Science — we have to satisfy the strict methodological standards set up by materialistic science. Rudolf Steiner spoke of this in the ninth lecture of the course on The Occult Movement in the 19th Century [Ten lectures given at Dornach, October 10–25, 1915.]:
When, after our fifth post-Atlantean epoch and in the course of the post-Atlantean age as a whole, man has in essentials lived through his mineral evolution and enters again into a different form of evolution, the closeness of his relationship to the spiritual world will depend on whether he has already acquired on earth the intelligence and the measure of free-will intended for him; otherwise he will not be able to fulfil the purpose of his evolution. Viewed in this light, the materialistic method acquires great significance; but it must remain a method — a method for investigating the external physical-material world.
These methods do indeed expose man to a deception:
But this deception can be actually advantageous, for directly a man has seen through it, he enters at first into the kingdom of Ahriman and his attendant beings. These beings are bent on destruction and death, with the result that the destructive forces in man’s nature are developed to a certain point of refinement.
It needs few words to point out the results of such destructive impulses; they have stemmed from the unconscious or half-conscious crossing of the threshold by natural science in the further course of the 20th century.
To come back to experimental researches in the sense of Spiritual Science, we must take a wider view of what scientific method involves. Besides results, something else plays a significant part — the mood in which researches are carried on. Herein lies an important point, which can hardly be given too much thought whenever experimental science is practised on the basis of Spiritual Science. We must aspire to imbue all experimental work with a sacramental character. This by no means concerns only the experimenter and his co-workers, in whose souls is engraved the injunction that the laboratory table should become an altar. It concerns our whole movement – all the friends who give collaboration and support. In so far as we carry out relevant research in the mood of Spiritual Science, and support it spiritually and financially. We are helping in the task of casting out the demons from our technological environment.
From the Rudolf Steiner Archives