Three signs and their message

Three signs and their message

27 March 2021 Matthias Girke & Georg Soldner 4671 views

The Covid pandemic in the light of spiritual science.

The Sars-CoV-2 pandemic is a global phenomenon that concerns, to varying extents, almost everyone and poses considerable therapeutic challenges. What is its ‘message’ for humanity or, in other words, what is the meaning and essence of this disease? We may find meaning if we look beyond the disease itself and ask ourselves what attitudes or actions are an appropriate response to the pandemic and what level of spiritual insight it calls on. We need to accept the pandemic and, at the same time, look at it in a new way that relates to the stream of human evolution and is able to open up a reliable path towards the future.

People are at present mesmerized by this virus and its ever new mutations. Unlike bacteria, which possess their own life processes, and unlike any other microorganisms that even display movement, viruses are mineral in nature and do not have their own life processes. This is why they need host organisms in which they can reproduce. Viruses could therefore be seen as ‘coagulated’ information that is only received into the sphere of life through other organisms. Diseases do not only have physical symptoms, but an astonishing intelligence also reveals itself in their processes. We see this, for instance, in the resistances they can develop to antibiotics, in cancer treatment or in the ever new mutations that emerge, partly due to the selective pressure caused by vaccinations. “Who is the bearer of this intelligence,” is a widely-felt question that few express, however, for fear of being seen as having a pre-scientific understanding of illness. But it is a question that lives in many who are spiritually seeking.

Social implications of the pandemic

The noticeable one-sidedly pathogen-focused explanation of the illness is not in keeping with the most recent scientific insights. Infectiology is not only interested in exposition to pathogens but also in the ‘dialogue’ individuals have with the infectious pathogen, in other words, in an individual’s resilience and disposition. The significance of this has been known for decades. Rudolf Steiner addressed it in detail, without downplaying the role pathogens play. It is essential that the whole human being is considered. Not only age and physical factors (underlying illnesses, risk factors) are relevant, but also a person’s mental and spiritual condition. We need to find a way out of the ‘culturally limited perspective’ (Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker) and towards a wider view that also includes the human spirit. Healing forces require a robust life organization and are associated with a person’s mental wellbeing as well as the self-efficacy of their spiritual ‘I’-being.

‘Perceiving the whole’ does not mean the human being alone but also includes the earth, the realms of nature and the macrocosm. For human beings to become healthy, the environment supporting them needs to become healthy, too. Once we realize this, we also realize that, up until the outbreak of the pandemic, the discrepancy had been steadily growing between the knowledge we had of the human-made crisis of the earth and its sheaths (soil, water, air and – associated with that - warmth) and the actions taken in order to consciously assume responsibility for the ecological crisis.

Like a negative image, the Covid crisis illustrates our ability to change our habits. It asks what sustainable changes are required if we are to safeguard the life of the earth and of future generations. The suffering of the children – who are the victims rather than subject of the fight against the pandemic – makes this even more obvious.

This brings us to a second conspicuous characteristic of this crisis that concerns the social sphere: the Coronavirus causes much polarization and division. It is both moving and depressing to see the intense emotional division that separates even people who are usually very close. A fruitful exchange between different standpoints is no longer possible. Instead we see emotionality, impetuousness, rejection, even hatred towards other views. And this process is driven even further by the digital media and the algorithms that control the social media and which do not understand community building and the spaces for encounter required for mediation. This, too, belongs to the social implications of this pandemic.

A third phenomenon is the fear and anxiety that accompany the pandemic. Shocking media images and news that focus on the spreading of the disease, on the numbers of infections and daily deaths, fill many people with an overwhelming fear. This is further aggravated by the imposed isolation and loneliness that cause a different kind of suffering: we see an increase in domestic violence, an incredible disruption of child development, an increase in mental health problems and other health risks. The adverse effect isolation and loneliness have on human health has been well documented.

Obstructive forces in human evolution

The three factors mentioned point to profound obstructive forces within the human soul. Scientific reductionism feeds on doubts about a living spiritual world and on the feeling that there is no deeper meaning to either human or cosmic life. In a world of pure facts that are devoid of any meaningful context, ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative truths’ can spread pandemically and challenge people’s ability to form their own judgments. It is essential to recognize any denial of reality and the qualities of lies. The polarization is growing more acute, down to the exclusion of people who think differently from the public discourse and physical violence. Fear and anxiety always appear when familiar ground is lost and when a threshold is reached that leads into the unknown. Rudolf Steiner refers to the three forces described as the ahrimanic opponents of knowledge and as forces that obstruct human development. Early on in his work, he speaks of ‘information addiction’, of the emptiness of soul people try to counteract by seeking diversion, and finally of violence (1), as the symptoms of humanity standing at the threshold of the spiritual world. And it is obvious that doubt breeds uncertainty and from uncertainty arises the often addictive desire for instructive information. And information arrives through countless channels and at a very fast rate. The loss of spiritual and religious orientation in an increasingly secularized society goes hand in hand with a new ‘belief’ in the dependability of science, resulting in a flood of information that no one is able to process anymore. But natural science leaves the questions as to the spiritual dimension, the meaning of human existence, unanswered. The emptiness of soul is often filled with all kinds of ‘diversion’. The disturbing increase in non-substance addictions and media dependence are indicative of this emptiness of soul. Fear and anxiety are often sources of violence and signalize the autocratic tendencies of social regression. Bouts of violence frequently arise from a feeling of being threatened and from fear. Destructive violence is not born from strength but from a soul filled with fear.

These forces are particularly effective in the present pandemic. They are reflected in the way people are dealing with it and illustrate their inner disposition and susceptibility to infection. They thrive when thinking, feeling and will no longer work together in the human constitution and have not yet achieved the ‘I’ competence required for the ‘horizontal’ cooperation which, in turn, is needed to overcome, in freedom, social challenges and crises. When we meet someone in distress, we feel compassion and want to help. At the moment we hear through the media of many people who are suffering. And yet, all we often remember are the numbers of deaths and infections. Their suffering does not reach us; we feel no compassion, no will to help. Our soul forces have become detached from each other and are now demanding that we become individually active in order to bring them together in a new way.

What is the crisis asking for?

Overcoming the oppositional powers that are at work in the human soul requires development. It needs us to widen our perspective so as to include the level of soul and spirit and the forces arising therefrom to heal us, individually and as a society. The interventions aimed at the virus and at limiting exposition are not the only helpful measures: by strengthening our soul and spirit we can also greatly enhance our bodily health forces. There is evidence, for instance, that experiencing and practising art is very effective in this respect. The polarization of views is asking for spaces of encounter, for dialogue – in citizens’ forums, for example. We need openness to other views and the inner balance that can transform polarizing emotions. And finally, we need the courage to meet the fear; we need ways of helping those who have been so severely affected by this pandemic; we need humanity and active solidarity. This pandemic has been worst for the elderly and sick. As essential as the isolation of acute cases and the protection of risk groups are, a sustainable response to this crisis requires more inclusive communities, more courage and more engagement in intergenerational dialogue and active mutual help. It does not take much to support an aid organization that can offer substantial support, particularly in places where people are struggling, due to the pandemic, to feed their families. There is no virological or sociological solution to this crisis, as long as social inequality keeps growing. But moral sympathy, helpful thoughts and feelings and commemoration of the dead also have an effect.

Michael impulses and the effectiveness of Christ

The challenges we are all presently facing are expressed in a sculpture by Ernst Barlach, whose 150th birthday was celebrated last year: the ‘Warrior of the Spirit’ – as the work is titled – overcomes an imminent threat, not by striking a fatal blow but through the victorious and transformative power of the raised sword. His posture conveys uprightness and the capacity to maintain balance under pressure, both feet placed on the dragon. “The whole Michael tradition needs to be renewed. Michael with his feet placed on the dragon – that is the appropriate image, portraying Michael the warrior, as he defends the cosmic spirit against the Ahrimanic powers under his feet.” These are Rudolf Steiner’s words (2) and they seem to refer to this sculpture but were spoken four years before its unveiling. In other depictions of Michael, we see scales, which point to the need for developing balance of soul. Aside from the courage to transform and the equilibrium of Michael’s scales, his gaze is important. In the sculpture mentioned, Michael’s gaze is directed slightly downwards, as if he was contemplating humanity from his great height. It suggests the development of a human knowledge that learns to see the spiritual within the sensory world. The global challenge we are presently experiencing asks for these powers of the Spirit of our Time, of his gaze; it asks for balance of soul and the courage to meet the Ahrimanic powers of obstruction.

Jacques Lusseyran, who lost his eyesight as a child, spoke impressively of the new vision that is needed and that requires attention to detail and a sense of wonder - the ability to be astounded. Only then can new contexts and spiritual backgrounds reveal themselves. Transforming the world, which has been fully explained, into something to marvel at again, instils reverence for creation and prevents that it is seen as a useful object only. Fostering human encounters helps to build bridges that connect us with warmth and loving attention to the other person. Moral conscience leads to actions that are informed by what is needed. It awakens will impulses that allow the spiritual ‘I’ to turn towards the ‘You’, searching for the good and so develop goodness in our actions. Rudolf Steiner speaks in detail of these three qualities – a sense of wonder, love and conscience – and describes how they affect the constituent members of the Christ being: “Now you see how closely our lives are connected with the Christ. From the time of the Mystery of Golgotha up until the time when the goal of earth evolution will have been achieved, human beings will grow ever more perfect by coming closer to what is able to live in them because they are ‘I’ beings. But human beings will connect with the Christ being that has appeared among them, if they transcend their own ‘I’ and – through wonder and being astounded – contribute to Christ’s astral body. Christ does not build his own astral body, but human beings contribute to building it by being astounded and filled with a sense of wonder. Christ’s etheric body is built from the compassion and love we feel for one another, and his physical body from the conscience we develop.” (3) The transformative powers of Michael, the spirit of our time, can enhance the effectiveness of Christ at this time and make space for him in our civilization.

Translated from the German by Margot M. Saar

(1) Steiner, Rudolf: GA 10, Chapter 9 (The Splitting of the Personality in Esoteric Training)
(2) Steiner, Rudolf: GA 240, lecture of 19 July 1924
(3) Steiner, Rudolf: GA 133, Lecture of 14 May 1912

Cover Image: Hao Bu