Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Light of the Dark Ages

Ex Deo Nascimur       In Christo Morimur       Per Spiritum Sanctum Reviviscimus

Rudolf Steiner, January 5, 1924 [lecture 2 of 6 of Rosicrucianism and Modern Initiation]:

Yesterday I began to speak to you of the spiritual-scientific strivings of the ninth or tenth century after Christ. We learnt how such strivings were still seriously followed as late as the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries; and I endeavoured to tell you something of the content of these strivings. Today I should like to touch more on their historical aspect. We have to remember that the Mysteries of ancient times were of such a nature and character that in the places of the Mysteries an actual meeting with the Gods was able to take place. I described in the lectures recently given at the Christmas Foundation how the human being who was an initiate or was about to receive initiation could verily meet with the Gods. And it was also possible, in the Mysteries, to discover places which by their very locality were expressly fitted and prepared to induce such meeting with the Gods.

The preparation of these centers and the adoption of them as the official places — if I may use so crude an expression — is at the foundation of the impulses for all the older civilizations. Gradually, however, knowledge and understanding of these places disappeared; we may even say that from the time of the fourth century it is no longer to be found in its old form. Here and there we can still find survivals, but the knowledge is no longer so strict and exact. Notwithstanding this, however, initiation never ceased; it was only the form in which the candidates found their way that changed. I have already indicated how things were in the Middle Ages. I have told you how here and there were individuals, living simple, humble, unpretentious lives, who did not gather around them a circle of official pupils in one particular place, but whose pupils were scattered in various directions in accordance with the karma of mankind or the karma of some people or nation. I have described one such instance in what I said about Johannes Tauler in my book Mysticism and Modern Thought. There is no need for me to speak about that here. I should like however to tell you of another typical example, one that had very great influence, lasting from the twelfth and thirteenth on into the fifteenth century. The spiritual streams that were working during these centuries are in large measure to be traced to the events of which I would like now to speak. Let me give you first, as it were, a sketch of the situation.

The time when these events took place is round about the year 1200 A.D. There were at that time a great number of people, especially younger people, who felt within them the urge for higher knowledge, for a union with the spiritual world — one may truthfully say, for a meeting with the Gods. And the whole situation and condition of the times was such that very often it looked as though a man who was searching and striving in this way found his teacher almost by chance. In those days one could not find a teacher by means of books, it could only come about in an entirely personal way. And often it looked from without like a chance happening, although in reality deep connections of destiny were at work in the event. And it was so in the case of the pupil of whom I am now going to tell you.

This pupil found a teacher in a place in Middle Europe through just such an apparently chance event. He met an older man of whom he at once had the feeling: He will be able to lead me further in that search which is the deepest impulse of my soul. And now let me give you the gist of a conversation between them. I do not of course mean that only one such conversation took place between teacher and pupil, but I am compressing several into one.

The pupil speaks to the teacher and tells him of his earnest desire to be able to see into the spiritual world; but it seems to him as though the nature of man as it is in that time — it is about the twelfth century — does not allow him to penetrate to the spiritual worlds. Nevertheless, he feels that in Nature one has something that is the work, the creation, of divine-spiritual Beings. When one looks at what the objects of Nature are in their deeper meaning, when one observes how the processes of Nature take their course, one cannot but recognize that behind these creations stands the working of divine-spiritual Beings. But man cannot come through to these spiritual Beings. The pupil, who was a young man somewhere between 25 and 28 or so, felt strongly and definitely that the humanity of the time, because of the kind of connection of the physical body with the soul, cannot come through, it has hindrances in itself.

The teacher began by putting him to the test. He said to him: You have your eyes, you have your ears: look with your eyes on the things of Nature, hear with your ears what goes on in Nature; the Spiritual reveals itself through color and through tone, and as you look and listen, you cannot help feeling how it reveals itself in these.

Then the pupil replied: Yes, but when I use my eyes, when I look out into the world, with all its color, then it is as though my eye stops the color, as though the color suddenly turns numb and cold when it reaches the eye. When I listen with my ear to tones, it is as though the sounds turn to stone in my ear; the frozen colors and the dead, hard sounds will not let the spirit of Nature through.

And the teacher said: But there is still the Revelation of the religious life. In Religion you are taught how Gods made and fashioned the world, and how the Christ entered into the evolution of time and became Man. What Nature cannot give you, does not Revelation give?

And the pupil said: Revelation does indeed speak powerfully to my heart, but I cannot really comprehend it, I cannot connect what is out there in Nature with what Revelation says to me. It is impossible to bring them into relation with one another. And so, since I do not understand Nature, since Nature reveals nothing to me, neither do I understand the Revelation of Religion.

And the teacher made answer: I understand you well; it is even so. If you must speak thus, if it is with your heart and soul as you say, then you, as you stand in the world today, will not be able to understand either Nature or Revelation: for you live in a body that has undergone the Fall — such was the manner of speaking in those days — and this “fallen” body is not suited to the earthly environment in which you are living. The earthly environment does not afford the conditions for using your senses and your feeling and your understanding in such a way that you may behold in Nature and in Revelation a light, an enlightenment, that comes from the Gods. If you are willing, I will lead you away out of the Nature of your earthly environment, which is simply unsuited to your being, I will lead you away from it and give you the opportunity to understand Revelation and Nature better. And the teacher and the pupil discussed together when this should take place.

One day, the teacher led the pupil up a high mountain, whence the surface of the Earth with its trees and flowers could no longer be seen at all — you know how this is so on high mountains — but as the pupil stood there with his teacher he could see below him as it were a sea of cloud, which completely covered the Earth with which he was familiar; up there one was far removed from the affairs of Earth — at all events, the situation suggested this. One looked out into space with its great masses of cloud, and one saw below as it were a sea, a moving, surging sea composed entirely of cloud. Morning mist, and the breath of morning in the air! Then the teacher began to speak to the pupil. He spoke of the wide spaces of the worlds, he spoke of the cosmic distances, of how, when one gazes out into these vastnesses in the night time, one sees the stars shining forth from thence. He told him many things, so that gradually the heart of the pupil, removed as it were far away from the Earth, became wholly given up to Nature and the manner of Nature's existence.

The preparation continued until the pupil came into a mood of soul which may be indicated by the following comparison. It was as though, not for a moment only but for quite a long time, all that he had ever experienced during his earthly life in this incarnation were something he had dreamed. The scene now spread out before him, the rolling waves of cloud, the wide sea of cloud, with here and there a drift rising up like the crest of a wave; the far spaces of the worlds, broken here and there by rising shapes of cloud — and scarcely even that, for there was no more than a glimpse here and there of cloud forms at the farthest end of space — this whole scene showing so little variation, having so little content in comparison with the manifold variety of all his experiences down below on the surface of the Earth, was now for the pupil like the content of his day-waking consciousness. And everything he had ever experienced on Earth was for him no more than the memory of a dream he had dreamed. Now, now, so it seemed to him, he had woken up. And whilst he continued to grow more and more awake, behold, from a cleft in the rock which he had not hitherto noticed came forth a boy of 10 or 11 years old. This boy made a strange impression upon him, for he at once recognised in him his own self in the 10th or 11th year of his age. What stood before him was the Spirit of his Youth.

You will easily guess, my dear friends, that to this scene is due one of the impulses that made me introduce into the Mystery Plays the figure of the Spirit of Johannes' Youth. [Footnote: "The Soul's Awakening." Scene 6. Four Mystery Plays.] It is the “motif” alone you must think of, certainly not of anything like photography. The Mystery Plays are no occult romances where you have but to find the key, and all is plain!

The pupil stood before the Spirit of his boyhood, his very self. He, with his 25 or 28 years, stood face to face with the Spirit of his youth. And a conversation could take place, guided by the teacher, but in reality taking place between the pupil and his own younger self. Such a conversation has a unique character; you may see that for yourselves in the Mystery Plays, from the style that is there followed. For when a man is face to face with the Spirit of his own youth — and such a thing is always possible — then he gives something of his ripe understanding to the childlike ideas of the Spirit of his youth, and at the same time the Spirit of his youth gives something of his freshness, his childlikeness, to what the man of older years possesses. The meeting becomes fruitful in a spiritual way through the very fact of this mutual interchange. And this conversation had the result that the pupil came to understand Revelation, the Revelation that is given in religion.

The conversation turned especially on Genesis, the beginning of the Old Testament, and on the Christ becoming Man. Under the guidance of the teacher and because of the special kind of fruitfulness that worked in the conversation it ended with the pupil saying these words: “Now I understand what Spirit it is that works in the Revelation. Only when one is transplanted, as it were, far away from the earthly into the heights of the Ether, there to comprehend the Ether-heights with the help of the power of childhood — this power of childhood being projected into the later years of life — only then does one understand Revelation aright. And now I understand wherefore the Gods have given to man Revelation — for the reason that men are not able, in the state in which they are on Earth, to see through the works of Nature and discover behind them the works of the Gods. Therefore did the Gods give them the Revelation which is ordinarily quite incomprehensible in the mature years of life, but which call be understood when childhood becomes real and living in the years of maturity. Thus it is really something abnormal, to understand the Revelation.”

All this made a powerful impression on the pupil. And the impression remained; he could not forget it. The Spirit of his youth vanished. The first phase of the instruction was over. A second had now to come. And the second took its course in the following way.

Once more the teacher led the pupil forth, but this time on a different path. He did not now lead him to a mountain top, but he took him to a mountain where there was a cave, through which they passed to deep, inner clefts, going down as far as the strata of the mines. There the pupil was with the teacher in the deep places of the Earth, not now in the Ether-heights raised high above the Earth, but in the depths, far down below the surface of the Earth.

Once again it was for the consciousness of the pupil as though all that he had ever experienced on Earth went past him like dreams. For he was living down there in an environment in which his consciousness was particularly awakened to perceive his relation with the depths of the Earth. What took place for him was really none other than what lies behind such legends as are told, for example, of the Emperor Barbarossa and his life in Kyffhauser, or of Charles the Great and his life beneath a mountain near Salzburg. It was something of this nature that took place now, if only for a short time: it was a life in the depths of the Earth, far removed from the earthly life of man.

And again the teacher was able, by speaking with the pupil in a special way, to bring to his consciousness the fact — this time — of his union with the Earth-depths. And now there came forth out of a wall an old man, who was less recognisable to the pupil than the Spirit of his Youth, but of whom he nevertheless felt that after many years he would himself become that old man. He knew that there stood before him his own self in future old age. And now followed a similar conversation, this time between the pupil and his own older self — himself as an old man — once more a conversation under the guidance of the teacher.

What resulted from this second conversation was different from what came from the first; for now there began to arise within the pupil a consciousness of his own physical organization. He felt how his blood flowed, he felt every single vein in his body; he went with it, went with the nerve fibres; he was made aware of all the single organs of his human organization and the meaning and significance of each for the whole. And he felt too how all that is related to man out in the Cosmos works into him. He felt the inworking of the plant-world, in its blossoming, in its rooting; he felt how the mineral element in the Earth works in the human organism. Down there in the depths he felt the forces of the Earth — how they are organized and how they circulate within his being; he felt them creating there within him, undergoing change, destroying and building substances; he felt the Earth creating, and weaving and being, in man. The result of this conversation was that when the old man, who was himself, had disappeared, the pupil could say: “Now has the Earth, in which I have been incarnated, at last really spoken to me through her beings; now a moment has been mine when I have seen through the things and processes of Nature, seen through them to the work of the Gods that is behind these things and processes of Nature.”

The teacher then led the pupil out again on to the Earth, and as he took leave of him, said: Behold now! The man of today and the Earth of today are so little suited to one another that you must receive the Revelation of Religion from the Spirit of your own Youth, receiving it on the mountain high up above the Earth, and you must receive the Revelation of Nature deep below the Earth, in clefts that are far down below the surface of the Earth. And if you can succeed in illuminating what your soul has felt in the hollow clefts of the Earth with the light your soul has brought from the mountain, then you will attain unto wisdom.

Such was the path by which a deepening of the soul was brought about in those times — it was about the year 1200 A.D. — this is how the soul became filled with wisdom. The pupil of whom I have told you was thereby brought verily to initiation, and he now knew what power he must put forth in his soul to arouse to activity the light of the heights and the feeling of the depths. Further instruction was then given him by the teacher, showing him how self-knowledge really always consists in this: — one perceives on the one hand that which lies high above Earth-man, and on the other hand that which lies deep below Earth-man: these two must meet in man's own inner being. Then does man find within his own being the power of God the Creator.

The initiation that I have described to you is a characteristic example of the initiations which led afterwards to what we may designate as “mediaeval mysticism.” It was a mysticism that sought for self-knowledge, but always in order to find in the self the way to the divine. In later times this mysticism became abstract. The concrete union with the external world, as it was given for these pupils who were carried up into the Ether-heights and down into the Earth-depths, was no longer sought for. Consequently there was not the same deep stirring of the soul, nor did the whole experience attain to such a degree of intensity. And yet there was still the search, there was still the inner impulse to seek within for the God, for God the Creator. Fundamentally speaking, all the seeking and striving of Meister Eckhart, of Johannes Tauler, and of the later mystics whom I have described in my book Mysticism and Modern Thought owes its impulse to these earlier mediaeval initiates.

Those who worked faithfully in the sense of such mediaeval forms of initiation were however very much misunderstood, and it is by no means easy for us to find out what these pupils of the mediaeval initiates were really like.

It is, as you know, possible to come a considerable distance along the path into the spiritual world. Those who follow thoroughly and actively what is given in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment do find the way into the spiritual worlds. Everything that has been physically real in the past is of course only to be found now by way of the spiritual world — therefore also such scenes as I have now described, for there are no material documents that record such scenes. There are however regions of the spiritual world which are hard of access even for a very advanced stage of spiritual power. In order to research into these regions we must have come to the point of actually having intercourse with the Beings of the spiritual world, in a quite simple, natural way, as we have with men on Earth. When we have attained so far we shall come to perceive and understand the connection between these initiates of whom I have told you, and their pupils, e.g., such a pupil as Raimon Lull, who lived from 1235 to 1315 and who, in what history can tell of him, seems to leave us full of doubts and questions.

What you can learn of Raimon Lull by studying historical documents is indeed very scanty. But if you are able to enter into a personal relationship with Raimon Lull — you will allow me to use the expression: perhaps, in the light of all I have been telling you lately, it will not sound so paradoxical to you after all — if you are able to do this, then he shows himself to you as someone quite different from what the historical documents make him out to be. For he shows himself to be preeminently a personality who, under the influence and inspiration of the very initiate of whom I have spoken to you as the “pupil,” made the resolve to use all his power to bring about a renewal in his own time of the Mysteries of the World, of the Logos, as they had been in olden times. He set himself to renew the Mysteries of the Logos by means of that self-knowledge for which so powerful an impulse was working in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The so-called Ars Magna of Raimon Lull is to be adjudged from this point of view. He said to himself: When man speaks, then we really have in speech a microcosm. That which man utters in speech is in truth the whole man, concentrated in the organs of speech; the secret and mystery of each single word is to be sought in the whole human being, and therefore in the world, in the Cosmos.

And so the idea came to Raimon Lull that one must look for the secret of speech first in the human being, by diving down, as it were, from the speech organs into the whole organism of the human being; and then in the Cosmos, for the whole human organism is to be explained and understood out of the Cosmos. Let us suppose, for example, we want to understand the true significance of the sound A (as in “father”). The point is that the sound A, which comes about through the forming and shaping of the outgoing breath, depends on a certain inner attitude of the etheric body, which you can easily learn to know today. Eurythmy will show it you; for this attitude of the etheric body is carried over in Eurythmy to the physical body and becomes the Eurythmic movement for the sound A.

All this was not by any means fully clear to Raimon Lull; with him it was more of a dim, intuitive feeling. He did however get so far as to follow the inner attitude or gesture of the human being out into the Cosmos and say, for example: If you look in the direction of the constellation of the Lion (Leo), and then look in the direction of the Balance (Libra), the connection between the two lines of vision will give you A. Or again, turn your eye in the direction of Saturn. Saturn stops your line of vision, comes in the way. And if Saturn, for example, stands in front of the Ram (Aries), you have, as it were, to go round the Ram with Saturn. And then you have from out of the Cosmos the feeling of O. [Footnote: Readers unfamiliar with the movements in Eurythmy for the sounds of speech are recommended to turn to the first three chapters of the book Eurythmy as Visible Speech (15 lectures) by Rudolf Steiner]

From ideas like these, though dimly perceived, Raimon Lull went on to find certain geometrical figures, the corners and sides of which he named with the letters of the alphabet. And he was quite sure that when one experiences a feeling and impulse to draw lines in the figures — diagonals, for instance, across a pentagon, uniting the five points in different ways — then one has to see in these lines different combinations of sounds, which combinations of sounds express certain secrets of the World-All, of the Cosmos. Thus did Raimon Lull look for a kind of renaissance of the secrets of the Logos, as they were known and spoken of in the Ancient Mysteries. You will find it all quite misrepresented in the historical documents. When however one enters little by little into a personal relationship with Raimon Lull, then one comes to see how in all these efforts he was trying to solve once more the riddle of the Cosmic Word. And it is a fact that the pupils of the mediaeval initiates continued for several centuries to spend their lives in endeavors of this kind. It was an intensive striving, first to immerse oneself in man, and then to come forth as it were, to rise out of the human being into the secrets of the Cosmos.

Thus did these wise men — for we may truly call them so — seek to unite Revelation with Nature. They believed — and much of their belief was well-founded — that in this way they could come behind the Revelation of Religion and behind the Revelation of Nature. For it was quite clear to them that man, as he is now living on the Earth, was destined and intended to become the Fourth Hierarchy, but that he has “fallen” from his true and proper nature, and become more deeply involved in physical existence than he should be, thereby at the same time losing the power adequately to develop his soul and spirit. It was from such strivings that there arose, later on, what we know as the Rosicrucian Movement.

It was at a place of instruction of the Rosicrucians, of the first, original Rosicrucians, that the scene I have depicted to you today — the scene between the teacher and the pupil, at first upon a high mountain and then down in a deep cleft of the Earth — emerged like a kind of Fata Morgana, came again as it were like a ghost, reflected within a Rosicrucian school as knowledge. And it taught the pupils to recognize how man has by inner effort and striving to attain to two things, if he would come to a true self-knowledge, if he would find again his adjustment to the Earth and be able at last to become in actual reality a member of the Fourth Hierarchy. For within the Rosicrucian School the possibility was given to recognize what it was that had taken place with the pupil when he had seen before him in bodily form the Spirit of his Youth. A loosening of the astral body had taken place; the astral body, that was stronger at that moment than it otherwise ever is in life, was loosened. And in this loosening of the astral body the pupil had come to know the meaning and significance of Revelation. And again, what took place with the pupil in the depths of the Earth was also made clear and comprehensible in the Rosicrucian School. This time the astral body was drawn right back within. It was contracted and drawn together, so that the pupil was able to perceive and apprehend the certainty of man's own inner being.

And now exercises were found within Rosicrucianism, comparatively simple exercises, consisting in symbolic figures, to which one gave oneself up in devotion and meditation. The force and power of which the soul became possessed through devotion to these figures enabled the students on the one hand to loosen the astral body and become like the pupil on the mountain top in the Ether-heights, and on the other hand, through the compression and contraction of the astral body, to become like the pupil in the clefts of the Earth. And it was then possible, without the help, as before, of external environment, simply through performing a powerful inner exercise, to enter into the inner being of man.

I have given you here a picture of something to which I have made a slight allusion in my preface to the new edition of the book Mysticism and Modern Thought. I said there that what we find in Meister Eckhart, in Johannes Tauler, in Nicolas Cusa, in Valentine Wiegel and the rest, is a late product of a great and mighty striving of mankind, an earlier, original striving that preceded them all. And this earlier striving in the Spirit, this search for self-knowledge, in connection on the one hand with Revelation and on the other hand with the illumination of Nature — I wanted to show you today how this is one of the currents that take their course in the so-called “Dark Ages.”

The man of modern times conjures darkness into the Middle Ages out of his own imagination. In reality there were in those times many enlightened spirits, of such a kind however, that the “enlightened” spirits of today cannot understand their light and consequently remain in the dark.

It is indeed characteristic of modern times that men take light for darkness and darkness for light. If however we can look into what lies behind the literature of those earlier times and are able to see that of which the literature gives only a dim reflection, then we may receive a powerful and lasting impression.

Something of this I wanted to show you today: tomorrow we will complete the picture.


No comments:

Post a Comment