1. The introductory remarks "On the Origin of the Virtues', as well as the reflections on their nature [meant here are the 12 meditative texts on the moods of the months available here] require an explanation. For the gravest doubts must necessarily be levelled against both. It could rightly be objected that the state of human affairs all over the world by no means deserves to be called virtuous nor indeed even worthy of human dignity. Furthermore that there has hardly ever been a time when hypocrisy and self-delusion hid such mendacity, so much fear, hate and cruelty under their smokescreen, indeed that a deluded humanity is hastening to its own destruction across an abyss of lurking dangers on the thin ice of cliché, convention and routine, and that in view of the impending decline of all basic convictions and overall circumstances one would be judging the present draft of a quixotic image of humanity much too leniently by deeming it a mere playful eccentricity to be passed over with a shrug of the shoulders. For the more that the forces reserved for realizing the things that could and should be done on earth are diverted towards marvelling at noble pies in the skies, the more their readiness to cope with the pressing daily demands are weakened. Therefore it must be considered nothing short of reprehensible to rob the steps to the nearest necessities of their sure footing by the dizziness caused by gazing up to such sublime aims. For where could it lead to by demanding that only the noblest effort is sufficient, when our world lacks even the most modest form of reliance and when unconditional understanding and unintentional helpfulness have given way (often under the cloak of humanitarianism) to wide-spread scheming and random use of coercion? To demand everything is to achieve nothing, whereas inwardly and outwardly great things could be accomplished in the end, provided the most urgent possible changes and advances are given the right priority. More important than big words is a renewal of the basic rules of goodwill and common decency.
2. This objection must be sustained, insofar as it is a warning not to forget, engrossed in the admiration of an ideal, the gap separating it from reality. At the same time, the reflections offered here are not in the least concerned with presenting a vague image far removed from reality, on the contrary. It is perhaps not altogether irrelevant to point this out with the following explanations.
“Man is a “thinking being” (Rudolf Steiner). This is already evident from the fact that he is capable of determining who he is and that his feeling of self is only satisfied when he becomes the expression of this self-determination. This we are, however, only capable of doing through our concepts and ideas. If we do not act based on the knowledge that they provide, we cannot ascribe to ourselves the determining factor that we follow. Then either the forces prevail in us arising from heredity, or the forces from a local or social environment, or authorities to whom we consciously or unconsciously submit.
To be a thinking being, however, means to be a threefold being. Firstly, through our thinking we confront the world as a single being, since we seek and find something within our thoughts which it initially does not offer us. Secondly, through our thinking we connect the contents of our observations with each other and with ourselves and by doing so attain a “total existence in the universe” (Rudolf Steiner). And thirdly, through our thinking we unite the two poles of our being, the individual and the universal, with one another. We breathe ourselves out into our universal being and draw out of it the life-breath of our individual existence which we breathe in. In this way, we let the interplay between expansion and contraction become the content of our being. This finds in rhythmical alternation itself in the world, in the latter’s cognitional content and the world in itself, in its own thinking. The liquid springing from a well in the form of a compressed jet expands further and further only to return then through condensation to its place of origin.
This fact is the origin of the Virtues, as has already been described from another point of view in the introduction. For human encounters are by no means only of the kinds occurring between ego-centric I-nesses. On the contrary, in such an encounter, the universal humanity always towers over the individual humanity of our own being and of the one we meet. Only through such towering-above-ourselves are we truly individualities. In view of this, the practice of soul observation, introspection gains a vantage point for an understanding of the laws governing human evolution. For human development proceeds in alternation between bodily-determined manifestations and pure spiritual forms of being. This development appears thus as a succession of repeated earthly lives of a human spirit entity, and as the states in a spiritual world devoted to assimilating past earthly experiences as well as preparing future ones. This pendulum swinging between, on the one hand, incarnation in a bodily determined mode of being in an environment from which we distinguish ourselves, and on the other hand, detaching ourselves from a bodily determined mode of existence by an act of knowledge providing us (qualitatively) a total, holistic existence. This process is continually repeated in our waking consciousness. For over and again we draw our individual consciousness out of our universal existence, to constantly return it (within the scope our cognition which, as long as we remain awake, never ceases) to our universal consciousness. This occurrence is accessible to our soul observation at any time. It can therefore direct our thinking gaze from the everyday experience of the lesser body-spirit-rhythm to the archetype of the greater rhythmicity of our being, which manifests as the succession of bodily-bound and bodily-free states of our spirit-being.
The connection of the universal with the individual, apparent to soul observation as the basis of our being, is therefore an inner event differentiated in two directions. Depending on the observational viewpoint, it can be regarded as either the origin of the Virtues or the law of evolution of the human individuality. For in both it is the same thing that is observed. As has been described in the introduction: The human Virtues unfurl through the open and hidden relationships connecting people. In these relationships the varied situations through which the personal and the impersonal interplay within the individual and among human beings meeting each other.
These relationships assume characteristic forms according to whether the main role is played by our thinking, our feeling or our willing. The unity and the diversity of the Virtues share therefore the same origin as our whole being. The Virtues are the words of dialogue between the earthly and the heavenly realm within individuals and amongst human beings. They are therefore heralding the idea of repeated earthly lives of the human spirit. Their annunciation is at the same time the substantiation of their teaching through their own intrinsic nature.
3. Even if one were willing to concede all this, one could reasonably respond by saying that these deliberations might well point to an immeasurable treasure, but that this lies in a hidden chamber of our soul to which we have no access, having long ago lost the key that opens the door that stores it. The need for such a key to the soul region housing the Virtues corresponds to the necessity of preparing the human soul state, conditioned as it is by the influences of our time, for communion with the Virtues.
The possibility for such a preparation we owe to Rudolf Steiner. Since it introduces the Rondo of the Virtues and is therefore an inseparable part of it, this preparation is given here in the words of his basic book Occult Science: An Outline (in the sense of a “key”):
“We visualize a plant as it grows roots in the earth, as leaf by leaf sprouts forth, as its blossom unfolds, and now we think of a human being beside this plant. We make the thought alive in the soul of how he has characteristics and faculties which, when compared with those of the plant, may be considered more perfect than the latter. We contemplate how, according to his feelings and his will, he is able to move about to and fro, while the plant is rooted in the earth. Furthermore, we say that the human being is indeed more perfect than the plant, but the former also shows peculiarities that are not to be found in the plant. Just because of their nonexistence in the plant, the latter may appear to me in a certain sense more perfect than the human being, who is filled with desire and passion and follows them in his conduct. I may speak of his being led astray by his desires and passions. I see that the plant follows the pure laws of growth from leaf to leaf, that it opens its blossom passionlessly to the chaste rays of the sun. Furthermore, I may say to myself that the human being has a greater perfection than the plant, but has purchased this perfection at the price of permitting instincts, desires, and passions to enter into his nature besides the forces of the plant, which appear pure to us. I now visualize how the green sap flows through the plant and that it is an expression of the pure, passionless laws of growth. I then visualize how the red blood flows through the human veins and how it is the expression of the instincts, desires, and passions.
All this I permit to arise in my soul as vivid thought. Then I visualize further how the human being is capable of evolution; how he may purify and cleanse his instincts and passions through his higher soul powers. I visualize how, as a result of this, something base in these instincts and desires is destroyed and how they are reborn on a higher level. Then the blood may be conceived of as the expression of the purified and cleansed instincts and passions. In my thoughts, I look now, for example, at the rose and say: ‘In the red rose petal I see the color of the green plant sap transformed into red, and the red rose, like the green leaf, follows the pure, innocent laws of growth. The red of the rose may now become the symbol of blood as the expression of purified instincts and passions that have stripped off all base aspects, and in their purity resemble the forces active in the red rose. I now not merely seek to imbue my intellect with such thoughts but to bring them to life in my feelings. I may be blessed by thinking of the purity and innocence of the growing plant; I can induce in myself the feeling of how certain higher perfections must be purchased through the acquirement of instincts and desires. This can then transform the previously felt feeling of bliss into a grave feeling; and then a feeling of liberating joy may stir in me upon surrendering myself to the thought of the red blood which, like the red sap of the rose, may become the bearer of inwardly pure experiences. Important thereby is that we do not confront the thoughts which serve to construct such a symbolic visualization without feeling. After having pondered on such thoughts and feelings for a while, we should transform them into the following symbolic visualization. We visualize a black cross. Let this symbolize the destroyed base elements of instincts and passions, and at the center, where the arms of the cross intersect, let us visualize seven radiant red roses arranged in a circle. Let these roses symbolize the purified blood as the expression of cleansed passions and instincts.”
4. The clarifications briefly given here, to be sure, could have been presented first to forestall objections. It is however not the main purpose of this book to simply impart the views of the author, but to stimulate inner movements through the medium of what is developed, the re-enactment of which renders the Virtue Educational Project of Soul Observation tangible by way of example. Therefore these clarifications were properly placed here as an epilogue.
If this reflection clearly assesses what it beheld, however, it can then become aware that the cultivation of the seasons of the soul, the contemporary renewal of which we owe to Rudolf Steiner, can give hope to the greatest longing of present-day humanity. Yet most people hide this yearning from themselves. It nevertheless plagues all souls and drives them, as long as they do not raise what lies buried at the root of their discontent to consciousness, to escapism in drugs and outbursts of violence.
If the attempt is now made to clothe the deepest yearning of the soul of present-day humanity in words, then many will not want to recognize themselves in this pronouncement and perhaps even reject it with scorn. But that only shows the fear of changing their mode of existence and way of life demanded of them by their innermost aspirations, which prevent them from exercising a form of self-knowledge, which may present us with a glorious promise of hope while imposing on us the strictest self-denial.
Three experiences, to which numerous of a similar kind could be added, can provide us with a better understanding of ourselves.
The first: While walking on a woodland path to reach our destination (it could also be a street, but then the experiences, although not less stimulating, are more difficult to grasp), our surroundings move for our perception at an equal pace with our movements. The borders of the path, the trees and bushes are enlivened; new far and distant views emerge constantly before our eyes. The landscape speaks with us, we tender it our feeling which it heightens or subdues, and we pose it our questions which it answers in the language of its scenery. It appears to us as if the same life permeates us and everything around is. For as soon as we take only one step, all things join in the beat of our stride. We feel that we belong to one all-living being which is akin to our soul and that longs for the dialogue with our spirit to indicate its destination.
The second: When afternoon’s saturated sun-gold hovers over the objects in space, then there approaches us between the gloamings of past and future the lasting present like a superhuman guest. No greater festival exists. The full substance of reality, making our heartbeat in deprivation and delight, is spread out all around us.
The third: When we throw a stone and observe its flight path, when our subsequent attention moves forward in a vehicle in space, when we lets ourselves be carried by a bird through the azure, when we hear what links the words together which are spoken to us, when we feel the creative life which permeates the shifting shape of the plant from seed to blossom streaming also through us, when we sense the invisible connections leading visible people together and driving them apart, when we rediscover in events nearing us as destiny our own thoughts as the formative forces of all perceptible guises -, then we become aware (more or less dimly) that no perceptible entity (however imperceptible the shades of distinction may be) passes over into the other. What is perceptible for the senses belongs to the past. The transitions from one perceptible thing to another we can only ever think. We draw them from the realm of imperishable ideas down into the realm of decay. For transitions, advances, indeed all alterations and relations, inasmuch as they are happening and not arrested stages, are of a conceptual nature. Concepts, however, identify themselves in their imperishability through the fact that they are not determined by anything else (also not through us), but solely through themselves. Were that not so, they would be inconceivable and hence unsuitable for furthering our comprehension.
Experiences of this kind tell us that with our total being we do not live in a dead world, but in a living one, not in an alien world, but in a homeland, not in a wasteland, but in one enriched by a hidden wealth of being. They tell us that it is our own experiential poverty which deludes us into believing that the world lacks soul-spiritual essence. And they also tell us that we only need to come to our senses and pull ourselves together in order to become aware (even if in an altered form) of such experiences comparable to the mythical awareness of the ancient Greeks.
This is (however strange it may sound at first) the deepest longing of today’s human beings, even though they may be largely unaware of it. They long to escape the terrifying specter of a mechanized and bureaucratically governed world and find a home again in the kind of world populated with spiritual beings. The origin of all things in creation, their eternity in beauty and their future in humanity, which are the secret sentinels of human relationships evoke, to the degree that we become aware of them, the essential presence of the Virtues. These bring a new wealth of spiritual beings into our world. To be sure, these life-filled soul-spiritual riches cannot be bestowed on our existence without our conscious participation, as was still the case in Greek times. It requires the fully cognizant, artistically fashioning and socially active deed of human beings to bring about that event for which all (mostly without knowing it) are yearning, although in vain as long as they do not bring their own activity to meet it. The Virtues, however, can populate our world once more with spiritual life and receive in their company the archetype of the human being. From this supreme humanity, buried deep within us and exalted high above us, the light of spiritual life can radiate as the suffusion of the wasteland with that kinship and trustfulness for which all thirst. The Virtues cannot banish the might of demons all at once, but in between the terror of their dreadful realm, they can let a new realm arise. This is by no means merely a refuge for self-centered yearning, but on the contrary the source of that transforming force which gradually elevates even the anti-human to humanness.
5. The Virtues are as gentle as they are strict. They exert no coercion, yet they give us the power to make the strictest demands on ourselves. The inexorability of the judgment which with their assistance we pass on ourselves is their greatest gift. For we owe our freedom to it.
A perhaps even greater power, however, proceeds from their gentleness. They fill us with it when we encounter other human beings. It reduces to silence in us all passing of judgment, as it does all condonement of inadequacy and unworthiness. It projects before our gaze an image of future human community summoning up all our powers of enthusiastic endeavor. In such a community, love will be all the greater, the greater the transgression, and no other requital will be exercised than increased readiness to help. In the light of the Virtues, every shortcoming in another person can only seem as one’s own failure and will simply spur our attempts to put boundless affection and healing actions in its stead.
The Virtues invite the nature of true humanity to join in their Rondo dance and so reveal itself in our life as the inexhaustible fountainhead of conciliation and redemption.