A Remarkable Farmboy
The discovery of the American continent by Christopher Columbus resulted from a movement in the direction of externalizing the “I” that had gained its strongest impulse, according to Rudolf Steiner, from the Roman folk-soul. Externalization of the “I” refers to the tendency to bring what is, in its deepest nature, an inner impulse of the soul into contact with forces of the “I” in a way that results in the spiritual being sought in the material in a literal sense.
From the perspective that finds expression in anthroposophy, man's spiritual evolution involves, during its earthly phase, his coming into contact with the physical-material world in a way that will permit him, eventually, to see behind its forms--in its substances; not in, but behind its forms--the spiritual-creative forces. When the natural human striving for what arises as ideals and wishes is informed by the will-forces of the “I” before the thinking-forces of the “I” have gained access to consciousness in a way that leads to insight into the spiritual behind material forms, man undertakes to gain, or to seek, the spiritual for which he longs in his deepest heart through pursuit of it in some physical form. Thus, Christopher Columbus--a devout representative of the Roman Christianity that had prevailed throughout Western Europe--was compelled by the nature of the forces at work in his incarnation in that time and place to pursue his heart's desire to see the “Infidel” converted by pursuing access to what he thought would be the Eastern gate to the domain of the Muslims. A further expression of the tendency explained above can be seen in his belief, once it became clear that the land he had found was not that of the Asian continent, that he had discovered the legendary Earthly Paradise described by Dante.
The impulse to externalize the “I” can be seen to have found its ultimate expression in “the American Dream”, where bliss and inner peace are associated with material prosperity in possessions and bliss among blood relations. It was inevitable that a people that would emerge from European roots on the American continent would come to face the temptation of externalization in the most extreme sense. From the standpoint of supersensible perception into the nature of the impulses living in geographical circumstances, this continent must be seen as that area of Earth most subject to the forces that seek to bring spiritual impulses into the physical-material world. The positive side of this characteristic of American destiny is the emergence of will-forces imbued with idealism; the negative side is the tendency to externalize the spiritual in ways unimaginable, before its emergence, in the history of humanity's evolution.
In order to counteract this tendency, an intervention by the highest beings guiding this evolution was necessary. It took form in the incarnation--as Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--of an individuality whose service to the Christ impulse from earlier incarnations made possible a relationship between his etheric and physical body that was characterized by the kind of looseness that permits the highest spiritualizing forces access to the metabolic-hormonal system of the physical body. This metabolic-hormonal system is the manifestation, in the physical-material body, of the etheric body’s shaping forces and multiplying forces; understood outwardly in ignorance of the etheric body’s existence, it is seen as governing growth and reproductive capacities. This unique constitutional possibility having arisen in what the individuality who descended to Earth as Joseph Smith was able to bring as an etheric inheritance from previous lifetimes, what remained as a necessity in order to prevent the disruption of the plans of the higher worlds by certain forces of opposition was the purification of the astral body, which, left in its natural condition of subservience to Luciferic impulses, would provide a gateway for such interference.
In the history of mankind’s spiritual development, the relationship of the individual to his or her blood is the reflection of the on-going development of the descent of the “I” into a physical body that can become the reflection of divine love. Steiner goes into great detail as to the way in which this relationship to the blood is a function, for vast eons of time during this development, of the development of a consciousness of race. One felt oneself not as an individual so much as a representative of one’s tribe or people, an organ in the larger organism that was one's culture or society, flowing from blood relationships. The very meaning of the present time in human spiritual development is that, more and more, people begin to gain access to a sense of their unique individuality apart from all characteristics that are passed on through the blood. As long as one’s experience of one's blood remained bound to the sense of self that flows through one’s heredity, that sense of self could never become a vehicle for the higher Self that sees in all human beings one’s true brothers and sisters. The negative side of this growing independence of one's relationship to one’s blood from the metabolic-hormonal system--the sense of the “I”, in other words, from the forces of heredity--is the tendency to de-value what arises out of familial bonds in the way of security, warmth, and social consciousness flowing from parental, marital, and filial love. Especially as the independence of the “I” comes to pass under circumstances that give the people of this age a materialistic conception of their identity, it comes to have more and more destructive effects on the health of social and psychological life. The intervention that took place, in what naturally would have emerged out of the tendencies inherent to incarnation on the American continent, in Joseph Smith's emergence out of the stream of development producing a new, American folk-soul was to involve the lifting of blood relations out of its older, tribal-racial context into one in which what transpired among blood relations could be experienced as participation in a lineage that embraced all mankind as children of one Father. For Joseph Smith to become the bearer of this impulse, however, his astral body would have to be cleansed of all propensity for being a vehicle for personal wishes and desires that, directed towards the life of procreation, could drag his incarnation into that boundness to blood relations in the old sense that had to be transcended.
Thus, when Joseph reached the age when the astral body is born into independence in relationship to what had, until that point, been the connectedness of the individual to the astral qualities inherent to his parents--the age of sexual maturity, the beginning of the third seven-year-period of life--he had to be brought into contact with a power that, flowing from the work of the archangel Gabriel, who had performed a similar service in the lineage of Jesus, could pour into the budding astral sheath of Joseph Smith those forces of love that could purify the astral constitution of every weakness to a Luciferic impulse of independence from what is streamed out by Jehovah as the Divine Will for the blood.* In the “First Vision”, had by Joseph Smith at the age of 14 in a grove of trees in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, he experienced this quality of purifying love and could, from that point, begin to be initiated into the unique form of discourse with supersensible beings necessary to the mission of an American representative of the central impulse for mankind’s spiritual evolution in the early nineteenth century.
The nineteenth century represented the conclusion of the time period during which leadership of mankind’s spiritual development was held by the archangel Gabriel, in the continuing rotation of such leadership with other archangelic beings, as clarified by Rudolf Steiner out of his own direct perception of these facts. Grasping, then, the nature of Joseph Smith’s mission and its relationship to the impulse for the development of the consciousness soul that represents the driving force behind all regular development in this fifth post-Atlantean epoch demands a consciousness of just what Gabriel’s own contribution to this epoch involves.
As Steiner points out repeatedly, Gabriel’s work involves the kind of work on the physical body that is interwoven with what can be passed on through the blood lineage. Thus, in addressing the work of Gabriel, it becomes necessary, more consistently than is naturally the case when dealing with the work of a being like Michael, to emphasize the way in which such influence from a divine archangel plays a role in all that transpires between male and female. But it is never in the nature of divine influence that it inspires comparison as a path to knowledge or to development; the divine beings seek always to inspire self-knowledge, not competitive knowledge. Comparisons are useful as a kind of tool in the beginning stages of inquiry, but never to reaching the depths of reality itself. It becomes an all-important concern, then, to grasping Gabriel’s work in Joseph’s mission that we seek to understand how this work pertained to men separately from how it pertained to women.
That, in the history of Christianity, America was destined to play a certain role in the way in which the human conception of male and female evolves should be evident from the way in which, among the very first settlers from England in the Massachussetts Bay Colony, the karmic encounter between an individual such as Anne Hutchinson and the male leadership of the colony had to emerge. It was mentioned above that America as a continent was discovered under the influence of the externalization of certain human ideals; and it has repeatedly been the case on this continent that those who come to incarnation here, or whose destiny leads them here, can be specially inspired as to the possibility for the realization of such ideals. Anne Hutchinson believed in the possibility that the opportunity for religious liberty she and her fellows had come to America to seek might also represent an opportunity for her own individual liberty as a woman to express what lay on her heart as a powerful impulse toward real contact with the Christ-impulse. What she faced in men who surrounded her was more than merely the prejudice of generations of men whose conception of a woman's role was shaped by cultural bias; she faced also the very real dilemma of the way in which incarnation as a man and incarnation as a woman are different, in terms of the way in which individuals incarnating in the two genders relate to speech differently, and to time. This difference flows, in turn, from the profound difference it in fact is to incarnate with differently-“gendered” etheric bodies.
Steiner refers to it as one of the “shattering” experiences of his research when he discovered that the etheric body in a man is female in character, and that of a woman, male. It is a common misconception of this difference that one sees it, in a superficial way, as “balancing out” the polarity of male and female in the physical body. To understand this balancing in a way that is in accord with an effect on the perceiver that could be called “shattering” demands a deeper look at just what we mean when we say “male” and “female.”
This deeper look can begin if we consider that “maleness” has a specific relation to the act of penetrating, and “femaleness” a specific relation to the act of being penetrated.
To say that the etheric body of a man is female is to say that it is the recipient of penetration in a way that the etheric body of a woman is not; to say that the etheric body of a woman is male is to say that is participates in penetrating in a way that the etheric body of a man does not. Penetration being a transitive verb, we are led, by the genius of language, to ask what, then is penetrating the etheric body of a man, and what being penetrated by the etheric body of a woman? The answer to this question depends upon the consciousness that, in the use of the word “body” to refer to the supersensible reality of the etheric sheath within which the “I” and astral body rest in waking life (and what follows can equally be said, of course, of the word “body” in the phrase “astral body” as well) is misleading if it is considered to refer to some kind of unchanging, formal structure. The etheric body, as Steiner often emphasized, is not a “body” in the same way the physical body can be experienced as one, but is, like the physical body in reality, a constitution of forces that is held together not by some outer structural component, but by the nature of the functions of these forces. The skin itself is the expression of forces actively enganged in interdependent relations with both the world outside the physical body and the organs within. Similarly, the set of forces that compose what we refer to as “the etheric body” has an on-going and interdependent relationship to the etheric forces that make up the etheric world.
To speak, then, of “a set of forces” as being penetrated or engaging in penetrative activity is to ask of the listener a certain flexibility in his or her conceptions that is not cultivated in conventional academic study. Such flexibility is necessary, however, to a grasp of reality in its nature, which is characterized by rigid boundaries only in the hardened world of minerals.
The etheric body of a man is penetrated by impulses from the astral and higher supersensible worlds pertaining to time. This femaleness--receptivity to penetration--of the man’s etheric body results in his being conscious of time in a different way than an individual incarnated as a woman; and this different sense of time results in a different relationship to speech, because speech, proceeding, as it does, in time, participates in impulses related to time that also flow from the supersensible world.
What this has resulted in is the consistent centrality of male human beings to the moving forward of history on the outer plane of reality because it is male human beings who tend to be receptive to, to speak, and then to act out of, impulses from the time spirits: the beings of the rank of the Archai who guide human historical destiny as “spirits of the age.”
The etheric body of a woman penetrates the etheric sheath of the Earth, uniting her with its forces in a way that results in her profound sensitivity to its nature and needs. A woman's sense of time, therefore, tends, out of this penetrative nature of her etheric body, to flow in harmony with the rhythms of nature and its cycles, rather than out of a consciousness of a “demand of the age” from Heaven.
What is exactly the case as human spiritual evolution progresses, especially since the penetration of the Earth by the Christ-impulse directly at Golgotha, is that, more and more, this difference in sensitivity to the flow of time between men and women becomes less, as the higher organs of the human constitution are developed and individuals, then, gain access, when incarnated as women, to supersensible impulses of time, and, when incarnated as men, to a consciousness of the rhythms of the etheric Earth. Anne Hutchinson represented a pre-cursor of a future age when women will truly become men's equals in their capacity to declare the Christ Impulse as a demand of the age, and men will truly become women's equals in their capacity to care for the needs of the Earth out of this impulse. That she attempted to do so, however, before the advent of Michael's rulership had opened the door to an impulse for religious renewal such as that of the Christian Community reflected exactly her lack of consciousness of what was needed in her time and place as the proper form for expressing what lay on her heart. Indeed, in the marriage ceremony of this very Community the woman pledges to follow her husband; this is because, for human spiritual evolution to progress in a regular way, a woman’s respect for her husband’s sense of the Heavenly time must be cultivated--just as, for him to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, he must care for her in a way that flows from respect for her unity with the Earth upon which that Church emerged and has its home.
There are those who will object that Steiner emphasized men’s being incarnated more fully into the material, and women’s having left a part of their constitution open to spiritual impulses. That this is not in contradiction to, but a confirmation of what has been said above can be seen if one simply considers that it is exactly what one would expect of individuals whose incarnation is governed by forces concerned with the demands of the age at a given time in human spiritual evolution on earth that they would, under the force of this impulse, be pushed more deeply into incarnation; whereas those whose incarnation involves being embraced in the destiny of Earth as an organism, by the very nature of the flexibility of that living reality, should be expected to be turning, always, towards the spiritual worlds in order to experience what Heaven has to say to them. Steiner’s words, therefore, are not an argument against the kind of respect of women for their husbands and love of husbands for their wives about which the initiate Paul speaks in the book of Ephesians, but a deepening of our understanding of it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which resulted as an institution on the earth as the result of Gabriel’s work in the age leading to Michael’s reign came to exist under the influence of powerful spirits of time who manifested themselves to Joseph Smith as John the Baptist and, later, as Peter, James, and John. These spirits of personality bestowed upon Smith and his friend, Oliver Cowdery, what they were given to understand was the “restoration of the holy priesthood upon the Earth.” This was no construct of an ambitious charlatan, but represented a real Visitation by powers that bestowed upon these young men, as representatives of humanity, a living gift: the gift of consciousness of the way in which the use of the spoken and written word can become an agent in service to the highest divine powers. The Priesthood was given only to men in accordance with the insight that it is the male human being who bears responsibility, until something else becomes possible, for conveying the demands of Heaven for a given time and place. The prophet Deborah in the Old Testament and Anne Hutchinson were examples of pre-cursors of a future possibility, one that came, at last, into reality for humanity as a whole only in 1922.**
From this standpoint, however, one can see that much of what inspired modern feminism prior to 1922 had its origins in spheres opposed to the regular development of human culture under the leadership of those beings responsible for its emerging in harmony with the real needs of human spiritual evolution; and whatever emerged after 1922 that did not take up its cry for women’s liberation from an impulse such as that behind the Christian Community partook also, in varying degrees, of retarded or opposition impulses.
What Gabriel was seeking to do in his behind-the-scenes work to guide the incarnation of the impulse behind the “Mormon” church was establish a community of American men who would become worthy of being guides to the development of their wives. That Joseph accepted, eventually, an inspiration leading to the institution of polygamy among only the purest of those men is a reflection of another aspect of Gabriel’s work, one that can be seen also at the very beginning of this period of his rulership. It pertained to the necessity that women be found whose love for one another could carry them beyond feelings of jealousy.
*The corporeal-seeming manifestation of the Father and the Son described by Joseph as the "First Vision" must not be confused with the references to Jehovah and Gabriel in this paragraph. The appearance of the Father and the Son represent a kind of substantial contact in the etheric realm between Joseph and certain beings that took place in service of the impulse governed by Jehovah and Gabriel, his servant; but the love of the Father and that of the Son were experienced by the boy as realities far transcending what flows from the sphere of the Moon. It was an encounter, in waking life, with Sun-beings.
**The mysteries of all ages have always offered a context within which women could play a role, in speech and action, that flowed from the way they were able to be inspired by higher beings, apart from the etheric-constitutional difference spoken of here; but this, like so many other beautiful manifestations of something that seems to have “gone lost”, was the manifestation of what lingered as a form of clairvoyance unsuited to the demands of the age of the Consciousness Soul, where what exists as the result of incarnation fully in the physical may not be ignored nor simply transcended by inspiration.