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Steiner, Rudolf - Elemental Spirits and the Plant World



Type of spiritual experience


Steiner called spirit ‘spirit’.  Everything in his view was animated by spirit, the ‘form’ that we perceive is actually just a sort of useful veneer over what was actually happening – the functions were the driving force of the entire universe.

At a lecture in 1923 in Dornach, Rudolf Steiner described the way plants are fertilised.   Steiner was absolutely accurate in his physical description.  But Steiner could ‘see’ the system and he knew that the form based description was accurate in its own way, but hid a wealth of ‘processing’ that was taking place behind the scenes.  Using the analogy Steiner was able to ‘see’ the software too.  He could see ‘spirit’ and although he was totally unable to see the instructions, he was able to discern functions which controlled how the plant took root, how it developed leaves, how it developed a flower, how it produced stamens and a carpel and how fertilisation worked. 

Of course biologists laughed at him, because it is a big step in understanding to go from a world in which you are figuratively ‘looking at a computer screen’ to one in which you accept the existence of a system – software -  but Steiner was right.  Furthermore, he was able to ‘see’ using mystic ability that ‘behind the plants’ in the realm of function not form ‘this is not how it happens at all’.  So the form action is a veneer and hides a wealth of functional detail we do not normally perceive

A description of the experience

Rudolf Steiner – Elemental Spirits and the Plant World

When spiritual vision is directed to the plant world, we are immediately led to a whole host of Beings which were known and recognised in the old times of instinctive clairvoyance but which were afterwards forgotten, and today remain only as names used by the poet, names to which modern man ascribes no reality.  To the same degree, however, in which we deny reality to the Beings…. to that degree do we lose understanding of the plant world.  This understanding of the plant world, which for instance, would be so necessary for the practise of medicine has been entirely lost to present day humanity...................

…. No root could develop if it were not for what is mediated between the earth realm [the processes] bring the mineral element of the earth into flux in order to conduct it to the roots of plants.  I am of course referring to the underlying spiritual processes

..............In effect, the normal consciousness of contemporary humanity speaks of the external world of perception, of the facts that can be perceived.  It speaks of the forces of nature, light, warmth, magnetism, electricity and so on of the forces of attraction and repulsion, of gravity and so forth.... underlying these laws is what we have described as the world of spirits...........

… plants have a dreamlike sleeping consciousness for the physical world here but they have a group ego…...........

Everything connected with rhythmic return, with rhythmic alternation, with repetitions of happenings in time, is organised by spiritual beings....... to whom the name 'spirits of the periods or cycles of time of our planet' is applicable.  What the astronomer ascertains by calculation about the earth on its axis is perceptible to occult vision, because the occultist knows that these spirits are distributed over this whole earth and are actually the bearer of the forces which rotate the earth on its axis.

The source of the experience

Steiner, Rudolf

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image