Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Steiner on evil in dreams


People holding the materialistic view of life have no idea to what man is exposed between going to sleep and waking. He is actually exposed to these beings who persuade him in his sleeping state that good is evil, and evil good. The moral order on Earth is bound up with the human etheric body, and when man sleeps, he leaves his moral achievements behind him on the bed. He does not pass over into the state of sleep armed with his moral qualities.

From a 1922 lecture by Rudolf Steiner

This passage, which I encountered in a book collected some of Steiner's writings about sleep, stuck in my mind and triggered reflection on the topic of evil dreams.

Sometimes - quite often - I behave in a evil way during my dreams. In one sense this is hardly surprising, because I (like everybody) have much evil in my heart; so why wouldn't it come-out in dreams?

Furthermore, if dream experience is - as I assume - an aspect of the experience of our mortal lives, then the point is how we respond to these experiences. Dreams may provide experiences which can be good for us, or turned-to good - but which are (thankfully) absent from waking life. If we respond well to these experiences, then we will move towards divinity during our lives (i.e. theosis).

On the other hand, if we respond wrongly, then we will move away from divinity - and this was encouraged by the 'Freudian' idea that the evil we do in dreams is evidence of fundamental hypocrisy, and proof of each of us being 'really' depraved - dreams reveal the true self.

Steiner disagreed:

You may recently have seen in the newspapers some interesting and thoroughly well-founded statistics. It was stated that criminals in the prisons have been found to have the soundest sleep of all. Really hardened criminals are never tormented during their sleep by bad dreams or the like. This only happens when they dip down again into their etheric bodies, for it is there that the moral qualities lie. It can much more easily happen to one who is striving to be moral, that through the constitution of his etheric body, he carries over something into his astral body and is then tormented by dreams as the result of comparatively trifling moral lapses. But generally speaking it is a fact that man does not carry over at all, or only to a very slight extent, the moral constitution he acquires during earthly existence but is exposed during sleep to the beings just referred to.

So, Steiner suggests that spiritual progress during waking life is not carried-over into dreams; indeed there is a sense in which there is a reciprocal relationship whereby the better the waking Man, the more evil he experiences during sleep. (This made me think about how CS Lewis, a good man, was terribly plagued with nightmares.)

But Steiner goes further in attributing some dream evil to demonic (specifically Ahrimanic) beings. He says that awake-good people (at least during this consciousness era) are especially exposed to these ultra-materialistic anti-spiritual beings whose aim is to prevent men taking the next developmental step.

It isn't clear to me from this lecture - but often Steiner sees Ahrimanic beings as providing the challenges and threats - the necessary resistance - which modern man needs in order to grow.

If Steiner's view is broadly-correct, then it seems we must continue to suffer the misery, fear, disgust and shame of evil dreams - for our own ultimate good. The point is not to stop, ignore or be afraid of these dreams; but properly to understand them, and constructively to learn from them.

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