Wonders of the World, Ordeals of the Soul, Revelations of the Spirit. Lecture 8 of 10.Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 25, 1911:In the course of yesterday's lecture we saw how manifold cosmic forces play into human nature, and we also saw how the Greeks experienced these forces and gave them pictorial expression in a mythology most of which is still extant. My frequent references to Greek mythology have not at all been made with the object of interpreting it, but rather to throw the light which it affords upon certain pristine truths. Pictures, together with what we gather from history, are a better help in this respect than our abstract ideas, which are too impoverished to be able to bring to adequate expression the great wonders of the world. Then too in the figure of Dionysos our attention was drawn to something which is associated with the deepest forces of our souls, with what we can call the challenges or ordeals of the soul. What then is meant by the expression ‘ordeals of the soul’? Ordeals are what come upon a man whenever he tries to enter upon the paths leading to the spiritual worlds. I made some reference yesterday to the lightest, the gentlest of them. In general they consist of the experiences a man can have on his way into the higher worlds, experiences to which his soul is not equal without having undergone a certain preparation. The ordeal thus lies in the fact that a man has to make great efforts to endure certain pieces of knowledge, to meet calmly certain experiences. A soul-experience of this nature is indicated toward the end of the second of my Rosicrucian dramas, The Soul's Probation, and this will perhaps help to make clear what such an inner ordeal actually is.
Let us call to mind the figure there described, the figure we know as Capesius. We know from both these two plays of mine the experiences which he has undergone. We have seen how little by little he draws near to the spiritual life, how to begin with the sound instinct, which has alienated him from the kind of scholarship he had hitherto pursued, gives him premonitions of it but no more. He begins to suspect that there is a higher reality behind the world of the mind. It is mainly because he gives rein to these premonitions, it is because he allows them full play, that he inevitably becomes impressed by the exoteric teachings of spiritual science. The communications of spiritual science differ fundamentally from those of other scientific or literary discourse. Whereas the other simply appeals to our intellect, and perhaps indirectly through our intellect to our feeling, a man is only allowing spiritual science, or occult science, to work upon him rightly if he is stirred to the inmost depths of his soul, if his soul is turned inside out, so to say, if it is completely changed by what flows therefrom, not as abstract content, but as life itself. Something like that is what Capesius is depicted as feeling in the first scene of the second play, after he has wrestled with himself as a result of his premonitions, and then plunged deeply into the writings of Benedictus, into the ‘Book of Life’. And that not only causes him to ponder, to rack his brains to try to get at the meaning of what he reads, as he would do whatever he was reading, but he feels the spiritual world break in upon him in a way he does not understand. It has yet another effect upon him. It would be easy to compare the mood which prevails in the first scene of the second play with the mood at the opening of Goethe's Faust; it is however essentially different. The mood of Faust merely shows that, having arrived at a certain scepticism, a certain doubt, as to all knowledge, a man then has an inner urge to find other ways of obtaining knowledge than the usual ones. In Capesius's case something else happens. To begin with he is torn in two, because it makes him recognize doubt, persistence in ignorance, as man's greatest sin. He learns to acknowledge that something lies in the depths of the human soul of which the normal consciousness is quite unaware. A treasure slumbers in the deepest strata of our souls; we are harboring something in depths of soul which the normal consciousness is at first incapable of recognizing.