From the research by Michael Grimley
The Heart as an Organ of Cognition
“The Age of Michael has dawned. Hearts are beginning to have thoughts; . . . Thoughts, which at the present time strive to grasp the Spiritual, must originate in hearts which beat for Michael as the fiery Prince of Thought in the Universe.” (1) – Rudolf Steiner
Next year will introduce a period of seven years in preparation for the celebration of the Founding of the General Anthroposophical Society on Christmas Day 1923. But 2016 will also mark the centenary of one of the most significant spiritual scientific discoveries by Rudolf Steiner – that is, the direct relationship of the forces of the human soul and spirit to the three-fold system of the human body. Is there a relationship between it and the 1923 event of the laying of the Foundation Stone?
According to his own account it took Rudolf Steiner thirty years of painstaking systematic spiritual scientific research to confirm the reality of this discovery as a fact of life. Only then did he feel ready to announce his findings to the world. Until his book, “The Riddle of the Soul” (2), appeared in 1917 the picture presented by the scientific world was that our faculties of thinking, feeling and willing were solely located in the nerve-sense system. Through Rudolf Steiner’s discovery a whole new dimension of understanding opened up concerning the relationship of soul and spirit to the body; particularly concerning the relationship of thinking, feeling and willing to the nerve-sense, vascular and metabolic-limb systems.
A hundred years later this discovery still has yet to be embraced by the scientific establishment at large. In the meantime it has had huge impact on the development of anthroposophy and its practical application in the world. Through it the foundation of a revised anthropology was laid for renewing the arts of education and medicine. Without it, the laying of the Foundation Stone for the General Anthroposophical Society, and founding of the School of Spiritual Science might never have been possible.
An example of how he applied this discovery to practical life is the series of foundation course lectures he gave to the first teachers of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, preparatory to its opening on 7 September 1919 (3). In each of these morning lectures he presented in a comprehensive and synoptic way how soul and spirit interact with the threefold systems of the body as a foundation for the discussions and advice that followed. In so doing he laid down the formative basis of a new art of education.
However, the most direct and incisive demonstration of its application appears in the first three sections of the Christmas Foundation Verse. Here the discovery of the relationship between body, soul and spirit informs the synoptic character of the verse as a whole and the meditative rhythms for the days of the week. The opening words of each section immediately connect the human soul to the three domains of the body:
‘Soul of Man!
Thou livest in the Limbs’ . . .
‘Soul of Man!
Thou livest in the beat of Heart and Lung’ . . .
Soul of Man!
Thou livest in the resting Head . . .’ (4)
These three calls to the human soul living in the body announce the renewed challenge of the old mysteries – ‘O Man, know thyself’. It is then followed with a challenge to practice three modes of meditative activity to awaken an awareness of the human spirit, the human ‘I’, unfolding into a self-determining agent endowed with free will.
“If I today look back, my dear Friends, on what was able to be brought from the Spiritual Worlds while the dread storms of war were surging through the world, it can be epitomised in the three verses which have just sounded in your ears. For there could be perceived that Three-foldness of Man whereby throughout his being – in spirit, soul and body – he can now call to life in a new form the ‘Know thyself’. It had indeed been perceptible for decades past. Yet it was only in the last ten years – during the storms of war- that I myself was able to bring it to a mature form. For then I tried to indicate how man lives as a threefold being even physically: in his Metabolic and Limb-System; in his Heart- and Rhythmic System; and in his Head-, Thought- and Perceptive System.” (5) p.22)
In the second stanza of each of these three sections of the verse the synoptic perspective of the human body, soul and spirit opens up as a revelation of the activity of the angelic hierarchies and the trinity of the Father-Spirit, the Christ-Will and the Spirit’s Universal Thoughts. The correspondence between the movement from the microcosmic perspective of the unfolding of the human ‘I’ with the macrocosmic revelation of the spiritual activity of the Holy Trinity and the Hierarchies is significant. For with their creative working in the body, soul and spirit of the human being – from the Spirit of the Heights, the Christ-force in the encircling Round, and the creative forces of the Father God surging in the Depths, the mystery character of the Christmas Foundation Verse is unveiled. The ancient calling of the old mysteries for human self-knowledge, ‘O Man, know thyself’ reverberates once again, but in a completely new way:
“’Soul of Man, know thyself in all thy weaving life and being, in Spirit, Soul and Body.’ Then and then only shall we have understood what lies at the foundation of all human beings. Then we become aware of the spiritual Substance of Man.” (6) (p.24)
Soon after speaking these words Rudolf Steiner described how through the activity of our limbs in daily life we can comprehend the universal love for the world, which in turn enables us to comprehend the archetypes of world creation through the pulse beat of our blood – and our heart as an organ of cognition!
“When this is wisely comprehended – wisely, that is, with the Heart as organ of cognition – then we may confidently hope that man will find how the God-given archetypes, the World-building Forms do potently bring forth and make manifest the cosmos .” (7)(p.23)
And further; when the human being,
“. . . pours warmth of heart into his head system (he will experience the) wielding, working, weaving Thoughts of the World” (8) (p.23).
Thus, we find a threefold comprehension – a comprehension of World Love through the will activity of the limbs; World Creation through feeling in the rhythmic pulse of the circulating blood; and World Thoughts through a vitalised thinking in the resting head. But central and pivotal to all three is the role of the heart as an organ of cognition. It is here that we find the formative basis of the renewed expression of the old mysteries – ‘O Man, know thyself’. The cognitive shift from the head to the heart signifies the movement from the old mysteries, with their revelatory character orientated to the evolution of world creation from out of the past, to the new mysteries and their character of creative will and feeling orientated to the earth’s future. The Mysteries of Wisdom are reborn and transformed into the Mysteries of Love.
It is into this organ of comprehension that Rudolf Steiner could then announce, as a mutual collaboration of those present, the laying of the dodecahedral Imagination-Form of Love into the hearts of the members of the General Anthroposophical Society:
“Let us therefore here and now lay in the ground of our hearts the dodecahedral Foundation Stone of Love. And let us always remain conscious of this Foundation Stone for the Anthroposophical Society, which we have formed today. Let us henceforth be mindful of the Foundation Stone for the Anthroposophical Society, which we have formed today. Let us henceforth be mindful of the Foundation Stone, planted today in the soil of our hearts, – let us preserve and cherish it in all that we will do, both here and in the world at large, for the further evolution, the full unfolding of the Anthroposophical Society . . .”(9) (p. 25)
But how can we understand and develop this cognitive function of the heart; a capacity which we normally associate with the brain? As early as 1910, in two lectures from the series entitled ‘Macrocosm and Microcosm’, Rudolf Steiner had already outlined in some detail how through spiritual development the heart can function as a cognitive organ of thinking. At the time he was careful to point out that he was not referring to the physical heart as such but a spiritual one in the same region:
“We have a quite different feeling about the thinking that becomes possible when we have made a little progress. The feeling then is as if what had hitherto been localised in the head were now localised in the heart. This does not mean the physical heart but the spiritual organ that develops in the neighbourhood of the heart, the twelve-petalled lotus-flower. This organ becomes a kind of organ of thinking in one who achieves inner development and this thinking of the heart is very different from ordinary thinking.’”(10)
Just as normal ‘brain thinking’ links thought to thought based on our sense perceptions, so heart thinking connects and co-ordinates the immediate apprehension of symbolic images arising through Imaginative consciousness. With the laying of the twelve-sided Imaginative Dodecahedron of Love into the hearts of those present, Rudolf Steiner must therefore have been referring to this twelve-petalled, spiritualised cognitive organ of the heart; a heart empowered with light of thinking, and a thinking fired by warmth of heart:
‘O Light Divine,
O Sun of Christ,
Warm Thou our Hearts,
Enlighten Thou our Heads,
That good may become
What from our Hearts we would
And what from our Heads
With single purpose.’ (11)
Rudolf Steiner, “At the Dawn of the Michael Age. 17. VIII.24 – Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts: Anthroposophy as a Path of Knowledge: The Michael Mystery” p.53. Rudolf Steiner Press 1973; translated by George and Mary Adams from Anthroposophische Leitsätze. Der Erkenntniswege der Anthroposophie. Das Michael Mysterium (GA 26).
Rudolf Steiner, “The Study of Man”. Rudolf Steiner Press 1966; translated by Daphne Harwood and Helen Fox from Algemeine Manschenkunde als Grundlage der Pädagogik (GA 293).
Rudolf Steiner, “The Case for Anthroposophy: Selections from Von Seelenrätseln”. Rudolf Steiner Press 1970; selections translated by Owen Barfield from Von Seelenrätseln (GA 21).
Rudolf Steiner, “The Foundation Stone” p.15. Anthroposophical Publishing Company 1957; translated by George Adams.