Monday, January 3, 2011
The existence of evil and the development of modern esotericism
Rudolf Steiner, The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind, chapter 2 of 3 [1911; GA 15]
If we turn our attention to what was said to the Greeks by the teachers and leaders of ancient Egypt about the direction and guidance of the spiritual life of their country, we may trace a remarkable parallel between that which is manifested in the individual life of man and that which governs human evolution as a whole. It is related that when a Greek once asked an Egyptian: Who had guided and led his nation from ancient times onwards? he answered, ‘In the times of yore, the gods ruled and taught us, and only afterwards men came to be our leaders.’ The Egyptians named Menes to the Greeks as their first leader on the physical plane to be recognized as a human leader. That is to say, the directors of the Egyptian people alleged that in earlier times the gods themselves — as Greek records confirm — guided and led the Egyptian nation. Such an assertion, coming down to us from ancient times, must, however, be rightly understood. What did the Egyptians mean when they said, ‘Our kings and great teachers were gods?’
The man who thus answered the question of the Greek meant that if anyone had gone back into the ancient times of the Egyptian nation, and had asked those people who felt something within them like a higher consciousness, or wisdom from higher worlds: ‘Who are really your teachers?’ they would have answered: ‘If I wanted to tell you about my real teacher, I should not point to such and such a person and say, ‘That is my teacher,’ but I should first have to put myself into a clairvoyant state (it is known from spiritual science that this was comparatively easier in ancient times than it is now), and then I would find my real inspirer and teacher, who comes to me only when the eyes of my spirit are opened.’ For in ancient Egypt beings who were not incarnated in a physical human body came down among men. In those remote ages, it was the gods who still ruled and taught the Egyptians, and by “gods” they understood beings who had preceded man in evolution.
According to spiritual science, the Earth passed through an earlier planetary condition, called the Moon-state, before it became Earth. During this condition man was not yet human in the present sense of the word. On the old Moon were present beings not possessed of the present human forms and differently constituted, who nevertheless were then at the evolutionary stage which man has now attained on Earth. We may therefore say that on the ancient Moon-planet which has perished, and out of which the Earth afterwards originated, there lived beings who were man's predecessors. In Christian esoteric language they are called Angel-beings (Angeloi). The beings immediately above them, Archangels (Archangeloi), were human at a still earlier period. The angels, or angeloi in Christian esotericism, Dhyanic beings in eastern mysticism, were ‘men’ during the Moon-period. Now these beings, during the present Earth-period, are a stage farther advanced than man — those of them, that is to say, who completed their evolution on the Moon. Only at the end of the Earth's evolution will man have arrived at the stage which those beings had reached at the end of the Moon-period.
When the Earth-state of our planet began and man appeared on Earth, these beings were not able to appear in an external human form, for the human body of flesh and blood is essentially a product of Earth, and is only adapted to the beings who are now human. The beings who are a stage farther advanced than man could not be incarnated in human bodies. They were only able to take part in the government of the Earth by illuminating and inspiring those people in primeval times who had attained the stage of clairvoyance. Indirectly, then, through such clairvoyant persons the angels intervened to guide the destinies of Earth.
Thus the ancient Egyptians still remembered a time when the leading personalities of the nation were clearly conscious of their connection with what are called gods, angels, or dhyanic beings. Now what sort of beings were these, who were not incarnated in a human form of flesh and blood, but who influenced mankind in the way we have described? They were man's predecessors, advanced beyond the human stage.
There is in these days much misuse of a word which may in this connection be applied in its true meaning, the word “Superman.” If we really wish to speak of “Supermen,” it is these beings who may rightly be so called. Human during the Moon-period, the planetary stage preceding our Earth, they had now outgrown humanity. They were only able to appear in an etheric body to clairvoyants. It was thus that they came down to Earth from spiritual worlds and ruled here even as late as post-Atlantean times.
These beings had, and still have, the remarkable quality of not being obliged to think; in fact, we might even say that they cannot think at all as man does. How then does man think? More or less in this way. He starts from a certain point and says, “I understand this or that,” and from that point he then tries to understand various other things. If this were not the method of human thought, school-life would not be such a difficult period for many. We cannot learn mathematics in a day, because we have to begin at a certain point and go slowly forwards. This takes a long time. We cannot survey a whole world of thought at a glance, for human thought runs its course in time. A system of thought does not enter the mind in a flash. We have to make an effort and have to exert ourselves, in order to find the sequence of thought.
The beings described above are without this human peculiarity. A far-reaching train of thought comes into their minds with the same rapidity with which an animal makes up its mind that it will snatch at something which its instinct tells it is eatable. Instinct and reflective consciousness are in no wise distinct in these beings; they are one and the same. Just as animals have instinct at their stage of evolution, in their kingdom, so these dhyanic beings or angels have direct spiritual thought and conceptions. By virtue of this instinctive inner life of conception they are of an essentially different nature from human beings.
Now we can easily understand why it is impossible for these beings to use a brain or physical body like ours. They have to use an etheric body, because the human body and brain only allow of thoughts in time, whereas these beings do not develop their thoughts in time, but feel the wisdom that is approaching them blaze forth, as it were, spontaneously within them. It is impossible for them to think erroneously in the sense in which man does. The process of their thought is a direct inspiration. Hence the personalities who were able to come into contact with these super-human or angelic beings were conscious that they were in the presence of unerring wisdom, Therefore, even as late as ancient Egyptian times, when the man who was the human teacher or king was in the presence of his spiritual guide, he felt thus: The command which he is giving, the truth which he is enunciating, is literally right and cannot be wrong. This was also felt by those to whom the truths were passed on.
The clairvoyant guides of the human race were able to speak in such a manner that in their words people believed they were receiving exactly what came down from the spiritual world. In short, there was a direct current down from the higher spirit-hierarchies which were directing humanity. Thus what works on the individual in early childhood may be seen working on humanity at large in the form of the next world of spirit-hierarchies which hovers over human evolution as a whole. This is the next kingdom of the angels or super-human beings, standing a step higher than man, and extending directly into spiritual spheres. They bring down to Earth from those spheres what is worked into human civilization. In the child, it is on the formation of the body that the higher wisdom leaves its impress; in human evolution of past ages, it was civilization that was so matured.
Thus the Egyptians, who described themselves as being in connection with divinity, felt that the soul of humanity was open to the action of spirit hierarchies. Just as the soul of a child opens its aura to the hierarchies up to the time mentioned in the preceding pages, so, through its work, did the whole of humanity open its world to the hierarchies with which it was connected.
This connection was most important in those teachers whom we call the holy teachers of India, the great teachers of the first post-Atlantean or Indian civilization, which unfolded itself in southern Asia. When the Atlantean catastrophe was over, and the physiognomy of the Earth had changed, so that the new conformation of Asia, Europe, and Africa had evolved in the Eastern hemisphere, the civilization led by the ancient great teachers of India began. This was before the time we have mentioned as reported in ancient records.
The man of today is apt to get quite a wrong idea about these teachers. If, for example, one of the great Indian teachers were to be confronted with an educated man of the present day, the latter would gaze upon him with astonishment, and perhaps say “Is that a great teacher? I should never have thought it.” The words “clever” or “learned” in the sense of modern culture could not be applied to the holy teachers of ancient India. They had nothing clever to say. They were simple, homely people, who would have answered even questions of everyday life in the simplest fashion possible. And there were many periods during which scarcely anything could be elicited from them but what would seem, to an educated man of today, insignificant.
On the other hand, there were certain times when these holy teachers were revealed as something more than simple, homely men. At these times they were obliged to be together to the number of seven, because what each individual was able to feel had to combine harmoniously with the feelings of the other six teachers, as though in a consonance of seven sounds. For it was then possible for each one to see something according to his particular gift and degree of development. Assuming that we know how to decipher the real occult records, we find that from the harmony of the separate parts which each individual was able to see, there arose the primeval wisdom which comes down to us from ancient times.
These records are not the revelations of the Vedas, however much we may admire them. What the Indian holy teachers taught is of much earlier date than the composition of the Vedas, and it is only a feeble echo of their wisdom which lies before us in those mighty works. But when each of these men was in the presence of a super-human predecessor of humanity, was gazing clairvoyantly into higher worlds, and listening clairaudiently to what was being taught through that predecessor, it was as though the Sun shone from their eyes. What they were then able to say worked with overpowering force on their environment, so that all who heard them knew that it was not human life or wisdom that was speaking, but that gods, superhuman beings, were influencing human civilization.
The ancient civilizations had their rise in this sounding to mankind of the knowledge of the gods. Only by degrees in post-Atlantean times was the door closed into the divine spiritual world which in the Atlantean period had still been wide open for the human soul. And in the various countries and nations it was felt that man was thrown ever more and more on his own resources. What is revealed in the case of a child appears in humanity in a different way. The divine spiritual world is first diffused into the unconscious soul of a child, and the soul works upon the formation of the body. Then comes the moment at which the child learns to feel itself an ‘ego’ and this is the moment to which its memory goes back in later life. This is what makes it possible to say that the wisest of men may still learn something from the soul of a child. From this point, however, the individual is left to himself. The ego-consciousness comes into being, and everything combines to make it possible for him to remember his experiences.
So, too, in the life of nations there came a time when they began to feel themselves shut off from the divine inspiration of their early forefathers. Just as the child becomes gradually shut off from the aura that floats about its head in its earliest years, so in the life of nations did the divine ancestors withdraw themselves more and more, and mankind was left to its own research and to its own knowledge. When history speaks in this manner, the fact of the guidance of humanity is realized. Menes was the Egyptian name of him who inaugurated the first human civilization, and it is at the same time hinted that man thereby became liable to error, for thenceforward he was left to look for guidance to the instrument of his brain. That man was liable to fall into error is symbolically indicated by the fixing of the date of the construction of the labyrinth at the time when humanity was abandoned by the gods; for the labyrinth is an image of the convolutions of the brain as the instrument of man's own thoughts — windings in which the thinker is able to lose himself. The Orientals called man, as a thinking being, Manas, and Manu stands for the first great thinker. The Greeks called the first organizer of the human principle of thought Minos, and with him is associated the myth of the labyrinth, because it was felt that since his time mankind had gradually passed from the direct guidance of the gods to a guidance in which the “ego” feels the influence of the higher spirit-world in a different way.
Besides those predecessors of man, the true supermen, who had completed their humanity on the Moon and had become angels, there are, however, other beings who did not perfect their evolution on the Moon .The beings called dhyanic in Oriental mysticism and angelic in Christian esotericism consummated their evolution on the ancient Moon, and when man began his earthly career were already a stage higher than he was. But there were other beings who had not finished their evolution on the ancient Moon, any more than the higher categories of Luciferic beings had finished theirs. When the Earth-state of our planet began, man as we have described him was not the only being there. He felt also the inspiration of divinely spiritual beings; otherwise, like a child, he would have been unable to progress. Accordingly, besides these childlike human beings, and acting through them, there must have been also present on the Earth beings who had completed their evolution on the Moon.
But between these and man there were yet other beings who had not finished their evolution on the Moon — beings of a higher order than man, because, even as early as the ancient Moon-period, they might have become angels or dhyanic beings. At that time, however, they had not come to full maturity. They were angels in a backward state, yet they far outdistanced man as regards everything which man called his own. Generally speaking, they are beings occupying the lowest grade in the ranks of Luciferic spirits. They hold a middle position between men and angels, and with them begins the kingdom of Luciferic spirits.
Now, it is extremely easy to get an erroneous idea of these spirits. We might ask why did the divine spirits, the regents of good, allow them to fall short, and thereby admit the Luciferic principle into humanity? And it might further be objected on this ground that surely the good gods turned everything to good. This question is obvious. And another misunderstanding which might arise is expressed in the idea that these are “evil” spirits. Both ideas are merely misunderstandings; for these spirits are by no means purely “evil,” although the origin of evil in human nature is due to them. Since they stand midway between man and superman they are, in a sense, more perfect than men. In all the qualities which human beings have to acquire for themselves these spirits have attained a high standard, and they only differ from man's predecessors described above in being able to incarnate in human bodies while man is being evolved on Earth. This is because they did not consummate their humanity on the Moon.
The dhyanic or angelic beings proper, who are the great inspirers of humanity, and to whom the Egyptian referred as being still their teachers, did not appear in human bodies. They could only manifest themselves through human beings. On the other hand, the beings in a mid-position between men and angels were still able in very early times to incarnate in human bodies. Hence among the human race inhabiting the Earth in the Lemurian and Atlantean periods we find people whose innermost soul-nature was that of an angel in a backward state. Not only ordinary people were going about the Earth, who through their successive incarnations were to arrive at the ideal of humanity, but beings who only outwardly appeared like them. These had to bear a human body, for the outward form of a human being in the flesh is dependent on earthly conditions. Especially in more ancient times did it happen that beings belonging to the lowest category of Luciferic individualities were present among men. And so at the same time that the angel-beings were working on human civilization through man, Lucifer-beings were also incarnated and founding human civilizations in various places. And when in the old folk legends it is related that in some place there lived a great man who was the founder of a civilization we are not to understand that such a Lucifer-being was necessarily the vehicle of evil but rather that human civilization was to receive countless blessings from him.
Now, it is known through occult science that in ancient times, particularly in the Atlantean period, there existed a kind of primitive human language, a manner of speech, which was the same all over the Earth, because “speech” in those days came much more out of the depths of the soul than it does now. This may be gathered from the following: In Atlantean times, people felt all outward impressions in such a way that if the soul wished to express anything outward by a sound, it was constrained to use a consonant. What existed in space pressed for imitation in a consonant. The blowing of the wind, the murmur of the waves, the shelter given by a house were felt and imitated by man in consonants. On the other hand, the sorrow or joy which was felt inwardly, or was observed as feeling in another being, was imitated in a vowel. From this we can see that the soul became one, in speech, with outer events or beings.
The following instance is taken from the Akashic Records: A man drew near a hut, which was arched in the ancient fashion and gave shelter and protection to a family. He noticed this, and expressed the protective arch by a consonant; and by a vowel he expressed the fact, which he was able to feel, that within the hut the embodied souls were comfortable. Thence arose the thought “shelter”; “there is a shelter for me — shelter for human bodies.” The thought was then poured forth in consonants and vowels, which could not be otherwise than they were, because they were a direct impression of experience and had but one meaning. This was the same all over the Earth. It is no dream that there was once an original human root-language. And, in a certain sense, the initiates of all nations are still able to feel that language. Indeed there are in all languages certain similar sounds which are the remains of that universal language.
This speech was prompted in human souls by the inspiration of the superhuman beings, man's true predecessors, who had perfected their evolution on the Moon. From this it may be seen that if that evolution alone had taken place, the entire human race would practically have remained one great unity, and there would have been uniformity of speech and thought all over the Earth. Individuality and diversity could not have been developed, nor at the same time could human freedom. In order that man might become individual, cleavages had to take place in humanity, and the difference of language in different parts of the world is due to the work of those teachers in whom a Luciferic spirit was incarnated. According as a particular angel-being, who had fallen short in his evolution, was incarnated in a particular race, was he able to instruct its people in a particular language. Thus the ability to speak a separate language is, in all races, traceable to the illuminating presence of these great beings who were angels in a backward state and who stood far above the people of their immediate environment.
For instance, the beings described as the original heroes of the Greeks and other nations, and who worked in a human form, were those in whom an angel who had fallen short was incarnated. Therefore these beings must by no means be characterized as entirely “evil.” On the contrary, they brought to man that which predestined him to be a free human being all over the globe, and they differentiated what otherwise would have constituted a uniform whole everywhere on Earth. This is not only true of languages but of many other departments of life. Individualization, differentiation, freedom, we may say, come from the beings who fell short in their Moon-evolution. It is true that it was the purpose of the wise rulership of the cosmos to bring all beings in planetary evolution to their goal, but if this had been done in a direct way particular ends would not have been attained. Certain beings were therefore arrested in their development because they were to have a special mission in the progress of humanity. Since the beings who had fulfilled their mission on the Moon would only have been able to educate a uniform human race, beings who had fallen short on the Moon were set against them, and it thereby became possible for these backward ones to turn into good what appeared as a defect.
This opens up the question: Why do evil, wickedness, imperfection, and disease exist in the world? This problem should be looked at from the point of view from which we have just considered the imperfect angel-beings. Everything which at any time exhibits imperfection or backwardness will be turned into good in the course of evolution. It is obvious that this affords no justification for bad actions on man's part.
Why does a wise Providence allow certain beings to lag behind and not reach their goal? There will be good reason for it at the time following the formation of such a purpose. For it was when nations were not yet able to guide and govern themselves that the teachers of particular periods and individuals arose. And all the different race-teachers, Cadmus, Cheops, Pelops, Theseus, etc, are, in one aspect, angel-beings in the depths of their souls. From this it appears that in this respect also, humanity is really subject to direction and guidance.
Now, at every stage of evolution there are beings who lag behind and do not attain the possible goal. Let us look once more at the ancient Egyptian civilization which ran its course thousands of years ago in the Nile valley. Super-human teachers manifested themselves to the Egyptians, who said that these teachers guided mankind like gods. At the same time, however, other beings were also at work, who had only half or partially attained the angelic stage. Now we must fully understand that the souls of people of the present day had attained a definite stage in the Egyptian period. But it is not only man who gains by letting himself be guided; the beings directing him attain thereby something which furthers their evolution. For instance, an angel is something more after he has guided humanity for a while than he was before that guidance began. His guiding work helps him to progress, and this is true not only of one who has completed his evolution as an angel but also of one who has lagged behind. All beings are able continually to advance; everything is in a state of perpetual development; but at every stage beings are left behind. Thus, in accordance with what has just been said, there can be distinguished in the ancient Egyptian civilization the divine leaders or angels, the semi-divine leaders who did not quite attain the angelic stage, and the men.
But certain beings in the ranks of the angels again lag behind; they do not bring all their powers into expression when guiding humanity, but remain behind as angels during the ancient Egyptian stage of civilization. Similarly some of the incomplete angels lag behind. Thus while men below were progressing, certain of the beings above, the dhyanic spirits or angels, fell behind in their evolution. When the Egypto-Chaldæic civilization came to an end, and the Graeco-Roman period began, certain guiding spirits from the former period, who had fallen behind in their evolution, were present. But they could not use their powers, for other angels or half-angelic beings had replaced them, and that meant that their own evolution was at a standstill.
Hence there comes under our notice a category of beings who might have used their powers during the Egyptian period, but did not at that time use them fully. In the ensuing Graeco-Roman period they were not able to use them, because they were replaced by other guiding spirits, and all the conditions of that time made their intervention impossible. But just as the beings who had not reached the angelic stage on the old Moon were, during the Earth-period, once more allotted the task of interposing actively in human evolution, so also the beings who, as guiding spirits in the Egypto-Chaldæic civilization, had stopped short in their development, had lagged behind, later received the mission of intervening again in civilization. We shall be able to watch a later period of civilization in which beings sent to be guides are certainly there to direct the normal progress of evolution, but in which, at the same time, other beings are intervening who were left behind at an earlier stage, and more particularly those who fell behind during the ancient Egyptian period.
The civilization to which we are referring is our own. We live at a time when, side by side with the normal directors of humanity, others are interposing who were left behind in the ancient Egyptian and Chaldæic period.
Now, we have to look upon the evolution of events and beings in such a way that occurrences in the physical world must be considered only as effects or manifestations, the true causes of which are to be sought in the spiritual world. On the one hand our civilization is in the main marked by an upward movement towards spirituality, and this tendency of certain people towards spirituality is the manifestation of the spiritual directors of our contemporary humanity, who have attained their own normal stage of development. In everything which tends to lead man up to the great spiritual wisdom-truths transmitted to us by theosophy, these normal guides of our evolution are manifested.
But the beings outdistanced during the Egypto-Chaldæic civilization are also affecting the tendencies of our age. They are manifest in much that is being thought and done at the present and will again be manifest in the near future. They are revealed in everything which gives a materialistic stamp to our civilization, and may often be seen even in aspirations after spiritual things. In our age we are virtually experiencing a revival of Egyptian civilization. The beings who are to be looked upon as the invisible directors of that which takes place in the physical world fall accordingly into two classes. The first includes those spiritual individualities who have passed through their own normal course of development up to the present time. They were able to interpose in the guidance of our civilization, while the directors of the preceding Graeco-Roman period were gradually finishing their task of guiding civilization during the first thousand years of Christianity The second class, who work simultaneously with the first class of beings, are spiritual individualities who did not complete their evolution during the Egypto-Chaldæic civilization. They were obliged to remain inactive during the ensuing Graeco-Roman period, but are now able to resume their activity because our present age has points of resemblance to the Egypto-Chaldæic period. It thus comes about that many things arise in contemporary humanity which look like a revival of ancient Egyptian forces, but there is also much which is like a materialistic resuscitation of forces which then worked spiritually. To illustrate this, we may point to an example of the way in which ancient Egyptian knowledge has been revived in our days.
Let us think of Kepler. He was quite possessed by the feeling of the harmony of the cosmos, and this idea was expressed in his important mathematical laws of the mechanism of the heavens, the so-called laws of Kepler. These are outwardly very dry and abstruse, but in Kepler they were the outcome of an understanding of the harmony of the universe. We may read in Kepler's writings that in order to discover what he did, he was obliged to go to the sacred Egyptian mysteries, purloin their temple-vessels, and by this means bring knowledge into the world the importance of which to humanity would only be known in later times.
This utterance of Kepler's is by no means an empty phrase, but contains a dim consciousness of a revival of what he had learned in the Egyptian period, during a former incarnation. We may certainly entertain the idea that Kepler assimilated the ancient Egyptian wisdom during one of his previous lives, and that it reappears in his soul in a new form, adapted to a later age. That a materialistic impulse should enter our civilization through the Egyptian spirit is quite intelligible, for Egyptian spirituality had a strong materialistic tendency, which found expression, for instance, in embalming the physical bodies of the dead. This meant that the Egyptian attached value to the preservation of the physical body. This has come down to us from the Egyptian period in a different form, but in one corresponding to our time. The same forces which had not then run their course affect our age, but in a different way. The temper of mind which embalmed dead bodies gave rise to that which idolizes the merely material. The Egyptian embalmed dead bodies and thereby preserved what he accounted valuable. He thought that the development of the soul after death was connected with the preservation of the physical material body. The modern anatomist dissects what he sees, and thinks that in this way he understands the laws of the human organism. Thus in our modern science are living the forces of the ancient Egyptian and Chaldæic world. At that time progressive forces, they now lag behind, and must be recognized for what they are if a correct estimate is to be formed of the character of the present time. These forces will injure a man of the present day if he does not know their real significance. If he knows their effect and thereby brings himself into the right relation to them, he will take no harm from them, but will turn them to good account. They must be used, for without them we should not have the present great achievements in technology and industry. They are forces belonging to Luciferic beings of the lowest stage, and the danger lies in the fact that if they are not recognized aright, the materialistic impulses of the present time are thought to be the only possible ones, and the other forces, which lead up to the spiritual world, are not taken into consideration.
For this reason any clear diagnosis is certain to discern two currents of thought in the present age. Now, if a wise Providence had not allowed certain beings in the Egypto-Chaldæic period to fall short in their evolution, our contemporary civilization would have been wanting in necessary weight. In that case only those forces would be operative which would bring man into the spiritual world by main force. People would be only too ready to yield themselves up to those forces, and would become dreamers. The only life they would wish to know about would be one which is being spiritualized as fast as possible, and their standard of action would be a view of life showing a certain degree of contempt for what is physical and material.
But the present epoch of civilization can only fulfill its mission if the forces of the material world are brought to the fullest perfection, and if thus by degrees their sphere too is won for spirituality. Just as the fairest things may become corrupters and tempters of mankind if pursued in a one-sided way, so if this one-sidedness took root there would be great danger that all kinds of good efforts would come into manifestation as fanaticism, True though it is that humanity is helped forward by its noble impulses, it is also true that wild and fanatical advocacy of the noblest impulses may bring about the worst of results as far as true evolution is concerned. Only when people strive after the highest modestly and sensibly, not out of wild fanaticism, can anything beneficial to the progress of humanity take place. In order that the work done on Earth at the present day may have the necessary weight, and that material beings of the physical plane may be understood, the wisdom which directs the government of the world left those forces behind which would normally have completed their evolution during the Egyptian period; and it is these which are now directing man's attention to physical life.
It is obvious from the foregoing that evolution takes place under the influence both of normally progressive beings and of those who lag behind. Clairvoyant vision is able to trace the cooperation of both classes of beings in the supersensible world, and hence is able to comprehend the spiritual events of which the physical facts surrounding humanity are the manifestations.
We observe that in order to understand cosmic events it is not enough to have spiritual eyes and ears opened to the spiritual world by some kind of exercise. This only means that we see what is there, that we are cognizant of spiritual beings and know that they are entities of the soul-world or spirit-sphere. But it is also necessary to recognize what kinds of beings they are. We may meet some being of the soul or spirit world, but we do not necessarily know whether it is progressing in its evolution or whether it belongs to the category of powers that have lagged behind; whether therefore it is pushing evolution onwards or hindering it. Those people who acquire clairvoyant faculties and do not at the same time gain complete understanding of the conditions of human evolution which we have described may know absolutely nothing of the nature of the beings whom they meet. Mere clairvoyance must be supplemented by clear judgment of what is seen in the supersensible world. There is urgent necessity for this especially in our own time, but it had not always to be so much considered. If we go back to very ancient civilizations, we find different conditions. If in the most ancient Egyptian times a person was clairvoyant, and was confronted with a being from the supersensible world, the latter had, as it were, written on his forehead who he was. The clairvoyant could not mistake him. Now, however, the possibility of misunderstanding is very great. Whereas humanity in early times still stood very near the kingdom of the spiritual hierarchies and could see what beings it was meeting, it is now very easy to be mistaken. The only protection against being severely injured is the effort to gain ideas and conceptions like those indicated above.
A person who is able to look into the spiritual world is called esoterically a “clairvoyant,” but merely to be clairvoyant is not enough, for such a man might be able to see well enough although unable to discriminate. He who has acquired the faculty of distinguishing the various beings and events of higher worlds is called an “initiate,” Initiation brings with it the possibility of distinguishing between different kinds of beings. It is possible to be clairvoyant in the higher worlds without being an initiate. In ancient times distinguishing between spirits was not specially important, for when the ancient occult schools had brought a pupil so far as clairvoyance there was no great danger of error. Now, however, this danger exists to a high degree. Therefore in all esoteric training, care should be taken that initiation should be acquired in addition to clairvoyance. In proportion to the extent of his clairvoyance must a man become capable of distinguishing between the various kinds of supersensible beings and events.
In modern times the powers guiding humanity are faced by the special task of bringing about a balance between the two principles of clairvoyance and initiation. Leaders of spiritual training had necessarily to pay attention to this at the beginning of the modern era. Therefore the esoteric spiritual movement which is adapted to present conditions always makes a point of maintaining the right proportion between clairvoyance and initiation. This became necessary at the time when mankind was passing through a crisis with regard to its higher knowledge. That time was the thirteenth century. About the year 1250 was the point of time when mankind felt itself most shut out from the spiritual world. A clairvoyant looking back upon that period sees the following: The most eminent minds of that time who were striving after some kind of higher knowledge could only say to themselves: “What our reason, our intellect, our spiritual knowledge are able to find out is limited to the physical world around us. With all our human endeavor and power of perception, we cannot reach a spiritual world. We only know of it by accepting the information concerning it which our forefathers bequeathed us.” This was the time when direct view of the higher worlds was obscured. That this can be said of the era in which scholasticism flourished is not without significance.
About the year 1250 was the time when men were compelled to fix a boundary between what they were able to apprehend for themselves and what they had to believe from the impression made upon them by the traditions which had been handed down. What they could find out for themselves then became limited to the physical world of sense. Afterwards, however, came the time when there was more and more possibility of again winning a view of the spiritual world. But the new clairvoyance was of a different kind from the old, which virtually became extinct just about the year 1250. In the new form of clairvoyance, Western esotericism was obliged strictly to uphold the principle that initiation must be the guide of spiritual sight and hearing. This was the special task assigned to an esoteric current which then entered the stream of European civilization. As the year 1250 drew near there arose a new kind of guidance into the supersensible worlds.
This guidance was prepared by the spirits then standing behind outer historical events, who centuries before had provided for the kind of esoteric training which would be rendered necessary by the conditions prevailing in 1250. If the term “modern esotericism” be not misused, it may be applied to the spiritual work of those very highly evolved personalities. External history knows nothing of them, but what they did is apparent in every form of civilization which has developed since the thirteenth century.
The importance of the year 1250 for the spiritual evolution of humanity is specially apparent if we look at the result of clairvoyant research given in the following fact: Even those individualities who had attained high stages of spiritual development in previous incarnations, and who were reincarnated about 1250, were compelled for a while to undergo a complete clouding over of their direct view of the spiritual world. Quite enlightened individuals were as though cut off from the spiritual world, and their only knowledge of it was through their remembrance of earlier incarnations. Thus we see how necessary it was that from that time onwards a new element should be brought into the spiritual guidance of humanity. This element was true modern esotericism. By its means it is for the first time possible rightly to understand how that which we call the “Christ-impulse” may intervene to guide, in all eventualities, not alone the individual but the whole of mankind.
Between the accomplishment of the Mystery of Golgotha and the beginnings of modern esotericism lies the first period of the working of the Christ-principle in human souls. During that period people received Christ to a certain degree unconsciously as far as their higher spirit-forces were concerned, and this caused them afterwards, when they were obliged to receive them consciously, to make all kinds of mistakes, and to lose themselves in a maze instead of understanding Christ. In primitive Christian times we may trace the adoption of the Christ-principle by the lower soul- forces. Then came a new period, in which mankind of today is still living. Indeed in a certain respect people are only now beginning to understand the Christ-principle with the higher faculties of their souls. In the further course of this work it will be shown that the decline of supersensible knowledge down to the thirteenth century, and on the other hand its slow revival since that time, coincide with the interposition of the Christ-impulse in human evolution.
We may therefore take modern esotericism to mean the raising of the Christ-impulse to be the motive power in the guidance of souls desiring to work their way to a knowledge of higher worlds, in accordance with the evolutionary conditions of modern times.
Image: Thank you, Kim Graae Munch
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