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“THE NATURE OF DREAMING” by Rudolf Steiner

When you remember a dream, it will probably be quite obvious to you that during the dream you merely observed the images weaving before your soul without having a clear awareness of yourself. Self-awareness, then, is not as clear in dreaming as it is in waking consciousness. The images weaving before the soul present two types of scenes. There are either series of images familiar to the dreamer because they relate to recent or not-so-recent events, or scenes where such events are changed in all sorts of ways, their form altered to such an extent that specific occurrences are unrecognizable, and we think we are dreaming of something completely new. We can indeed have dreams that are not connected with any experiences we have had and are therefore completely new. But in each case, we will have had a feeling that a type of living, weaving image has been revealed to the soul. This is what we remember after waking up. Some dreams remain in our memory longer and others seem to vanish as soon as we have to deal with the events of the day.

So today let us examine what we perceive in such weaving dreams. We know what we perceive when we are awake in this world, which we call the physical. But what fills our perception when we dream, as events and material things fill our daytime experience? It is what we call the etheric world, the etheric substance permeating the world with its inner processes and with all that lives in it. That is the essence, as it were, of our perceptions when we dream. But we usually perceive only a very small part of the etheric world when dreaming. The etheric world is inaccessible to us when we are awake and perceive the physical realm; we cannot perceive the etheric substance around us with our physical senses. Likewise we cannot perceive all of it in our ordinary dreams, but only a part of it, namely, our own etheric body.

As you know, we leave our physical and our etheric bodies behind in sleep. In our usual dreams we look back, as it were, from within our astral body and I to what we have left behind in sleep. However, we are then not aware of our physical body and do not use our physical senses. Rather, we look back only at our etheric body. Fundamentally, therefore, processes in our etheric body reveal themselves in certain places, and we perceive them as dreams. In fact, most dreams are nothing else but looking at our etheric body in sleep and becoming aware of some of its exceedingly complex processes.

Our etheric body is very complex and contains all our memories, ready to present them to us when we recall them. Even those things that have sunk down into the depths of the soul, things we are not aware of in waking consciousness, are contained in the etheric body in some way. Our whole life in this incarnation is retained in the etheric body, is really present in it. Of course, this is very difficult to imagine, but it is true nevertheless. Imagine you were to talk all day long, as some people do, and everything you said was recorded on records. When the first record is full, you take a second one, then a third, and so on. The number of records would depend on how much you spoke. Now if someone collected all the records, everything you had said would be nicely preserved on records at the end of the day. Then, if someone played them, everything you said during the day would be heard again. In a similar way, all our memories are retained in the etheric body. Under the special conditions of sleep one part of the etheric body appears before us, as though — to stay with this metaphor — we took one record from the collection and played it; this is the most common kind of dream. Thus our consciousness weaves in our own etheric body.

– Rudolf Steiner

Berlin, 18 April 1914