Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Piercing the Veil of Maya
The East in the Light of the West. Lecture 2 of 9
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 24, 1909:
In this and the succeeding lectures we shall make it a special point to consider the wisdom of the Eastern world, that is to say humanity's treasures of ancient wisdom in general, in the light which may be kindled by the knowledge of the Christ impulse and all that the course of the centuries has gradually evolved from this Christ impulse in the form of the wisdom of the Western world. If Anthroposophy is to be a living thing it must not consist in views and opinions of the higher worlds which are already in existence, taken from history and then taught, but it must comprise all the knowledge obtainable by us today about the nature of the higher worlds. Not only in olden times were there people who could turn their gaze towards these higher worlds and see them in the same way as we see the outer world with our physical eyes and understand it with our intellect. There have been such people at all periods of human evolution and there are such today. Humanity never has been dependent on the mere study of truths recorded in history, nor is man dependent on receiving these teachings about the higher worlds from any special physical place. Everywhere in the world the current of higher wisdom and knowledge may be tapped. It would be no wiser for our schools to teach mathematics or geography today by means of old documents, written in ancient times, than it is for us, when studying the great wisdom of the supersensible worlds, to consider only ancient, historical accounts. Therefore it will be our present task to approach the things of the higher worlds, the beings of the supersensible regions themselves, to review many things that are known, less known, or quite unknown about these higher worlds, and then to ask ourselves what the people of older and of ancient times had to say about these things. In other words, we shall allow Western wisdom to pass before our souls, and then enquire how that which we learn to know as Western wisdom accords with what we may learn to know as Eastern wisdom. The point is that the wisdom of the supersensible worlds, if related to man, may be grasped by the intellect. It has often been emphasized by me that any unprejudiced mind may grasp and comprehend the facts of the higher worlds. Although this unprejudiced common sense is a very rare faculty in our present time it does exist, and whoever is willing to exercise it can understand everything that is related of the result of clairvoyant investigation. It is true that these facts of the higher worlds can only be collected and investigated by so-called clairvoyant research, through the ascent into the higher worlds of people who have prepared themselves for this special purpose. And as in these higher worlds beings live which, in relation to man, we may call spirits or gods, the investigation of the higher worlds is in reality an association of the clairvoyant or the initiate with spirits or gods. Consequently a clairvoyant can only investigate the higher worlds by ascending the stages which lead to intercourse with the spirits or gods.
Much already has been said about these things at different times and places, and only the most essential part is here repeated. The first requisite for a person who wants to become clairvoyant in order to penetrate the higher worlds is nothing less than the acquisition of the faculty of seeing, knowing, and experiencing without the help of the outer senses, not only without the help of instruments which have been built into our body such as eyes and ears, etc., but also unaided by the instrument which more especially serves our intellect, namely, our mind. No more than we can see the supersensible worlds with physical eyes, or hear in them with physical ears, can we learn to know them through the intellect which is bound up with our physical brain. Thus man has to become independent of the activity which he exercises when using his physical senses and his physical brain.
Now we know already that in normal human life there is a condition in which man is outside the instrument of his physical body, viz. the condition of sleep. We know that of the four principles of human nature — the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body, and the ego — the latter two, the astral body and the ego, gain a certain independence during sleep. During our waking life, from morning till we fall asleep at night, they are closely connected with the other two principles, with the physical and etheric bodies. But when we are asleep these four principles separate in such a way that the physical body with the etheric body remain lying on the bed, and the astral body and the ego are liberated and live in another world. Thus in the normal course of his life man is for some hours out of every twenty-four in a condition in which he is free from the instruments which are built into his physical body; but he has to pay for this liberation from his sense-body in a certain way with darkness; he cannot perceive the world in which he lives during sleep.
The organs and instruments necessary for man when he wishes to see in the spiritual world, in which he lives with his ego and his astral body at night, must of course be built into his astral body — relatively speaking into his ego. And the difference between a normal person of our time and a clairvoyant investigator consists in the fact that the astral body and the ego of the normal person are in a certain way unorganized and lacking organs of perception when they withdraw from the physical and etheric bodies at night, while in the astral body and ego of the clairvoyant investigator organs have been developed similarly to the eyes and ears of the physical body, though the organs are of a different kind. Thus the first task which the person who wants to become a clairvoyant investigator has to undertake is that of building into his hitherto unorganized astral body and ego spiritual eyes, spiritual ears, etc., and of doing all that is necessary to develop these spiritual organs.
But that is not the only thing necessary. Let us suppose that a person has progressed so far that, by the methods which we shall presently mention he has equipped his astral body and ego with spiritual eyes and ears, etc. Such a person would then have an astral body different from that of an ordinary person since he would have an organized astral body. He would, however, not yet be able to see in the spiritual world, or at any rate he would not be able to reach certain stages of seeing. Therefore something more is necessary. If in our present conditions man really wishes to ascend to conscious clairvoyance, it is not only necessary for spiritual eyes and ears to be developed in his astral body, but also for all that is thus plastically formed in this astral body to be imprinted upon the etheric body, even as a seal is stamped on sealing-wax. Real, conscious clairvoyance begins when the organs — the spiritual eyes and ears, etc. — formed in the astral body imprint themselves on the etheric body.
Thus the etheric body has to help the astral body and the ego if clairvoyance is to be brought about; or in other words, all the principles of man's nature that we possess — the ego, astral body, and etheric body — with the sole exception of the physical body, have to work together to this end. Now, there are greater difficulties for the etheric body than for the astral body in this respect. For the astral body and ego are, we might say, in the fortunate position of being free from the physical body once every twenty-four hours. From morning when we wake till evening when we go to sleep they are united with the physical body, and all that time the astral body and the ego are bound up with the forces of the physical body, which prevent the astral body and ego from developing their own organs. The astral body and ego are delicate soul-beings; they follow, by their own elasticity, the forces of the physical body, conforming themselves to it and taking on its form. Therefore at night the astral body and ego of normal persons still have these forces of the physical body within themselves as after-effects, and only by special measures can we free the astral body and ego from these after-effects and enable the astral body to develop its own form, that is to say its spiritual eyes and ears, etc. But we are at least in the fortunate position of having the astral body free in the course of every twenty-four hours; that is to say we have the possibility of working on it in such a way that it no longer follows the elasticity of the physical body at night but its own elasticity.
The preparatory exercises taken up by the clairvoyant investigator consist essentially in spiritual activities performed during waking life, which strongly influence the astral body and the ego, and which have such strong inner effects that when at the moment of falling asleep the astral body and ego withdraw from the physical and etheric bodies, they experience the after-effect of what has been done by way of special preparation for clairvoyant research.
Let us now consider two cases. The ordinary person living a normal life surrenders himself from morning till evening to the impressions of the outer world, which works on the outer senses and the intellect. He falls asleep at night; his astral body goes out of his physical body and is then given over entirely to the experiences of the day, following the elasticity of the physical body, but not its own. But when through meditation, concentration, and other exercises given to those who wish to tread the path to higher knowledge a person strongly influences his soul, that is his astral body and ego, during waking life — in other words, when he has certain moments which he sets apart from ordinary daily life and in which he does something entirely different from the pursuits of ordinary waking life, and when in these particular moments he does not surrender himself to what the outer world has to say to the senses and to the intellect but to what is a revelation from and a product of the spiritual worlds, a marked change takes place. When a man surrenders himself to such things, when he spends part of his daily waking life in meditation, concentration, and other exercises, for however short a time it may be, they affect his soul so strongly that the astral body experiences the effects of this meditation, concentration, etc., at night when it leaves the physical body, and follows an elasticity different from that of the physical body. The method for the attainment of clairvoyant powers employed by the teachers of this research is drawn from the knowledge which has been tested for thousands of years in the way of exercises, meditation,s and concentrations, which have to be followed in waking life in order that they may have after-effects in sleeping life and produce a different organization of the astral body. It is a great responsibility which the person who gives such exercises to his fellow men takes upon himself. Such exercises are not invented; they are the result of spiritual labor in the Mysteries, in the occult schools. It is known that that which is prescribed in these exercises works on the soul in such a way that when this soul withdraws from the physical body in sleep it develops its spiritual eyes and ears and its spiritual thinking in the right way.
If something wrong is done, or wrong exercises are practiced, certain results also follow. Effects do not fail to appear, but in this case abnormal forms (or if we want to use an expression of the sense-world we might say ‘unnatural’ forms) are built into the astral body. What is the meaning of unnatural forms being built into the astral body? It means that forms are built into it which contradict the great universe, which do not harmonize with it. It would correspond in this sphere to building organs in our physical body which could not hear outer sounds in the right way or see the outer light in the right way, and which would not be in accord with the outer world. Through wrong meditation and concentration man would therefore be brought into a position of contradiction to the universe with regard to his astral body and his ego; and he would, instead of receiving organs through which the spiritual world could gradually reveal itself, be shattered by the influences of the spiritual world. He would experience these influences of the spiritual world not as something which benefited and enriched him, but as something which shattered his life, and if the methods were quite wrong, tore his being asunder.
It is important to take particular notice that we are here confronted with the fact that something which exists in the outer world — and we speak now of the spiritual outer world — may be beneficial to man in the highest degree, as well as harmful in the highest degree, according to the way in which he brings his own being to meet it. Let us suppose that a man with a wrongly developed astral body exposes himself to the spiritual world around him. This world works in upon him. Whereas this spiritual world will flow in on him and enrich him with the mysteries if he has cultivated his organs in the right way, it will tear him asunder and shatter him if he has developed them in the wrong way. It is one and the same outer world which in one case carries man upwards to the highest, in the other case shatters and ruins him; the same external world, of which he will say that it is a divine and beneficent world when he carries within himself the right organs of perception, and a world of ruin and destruction when he has within himself an inner being which is not developed in the right way. In these words lies much of the key to an understanding of good and evil, of what is fruitful and what is destructive in the world. And this should enable us to see that the effect which any kind of beings of the outer world have on us is no standard by which to judge these beings themselves. According to the way in which we confront the outer world, the same being may either be beneficial or destructive to us, god or devil to our inner organization, and it is therefore imperative to bear this continually in mind.
We have now placed before our minds what the preparation for clairvoyant investigation is like with regard to our astral body and ego. And we have emphasized that we human beings are in a certain respect in a fortunate position, because we have our delicate astral body and ego outside our physical and etheric bodies for at least a certain time during each twenty-four hours. But the etheric body does not leave the physical body at night; it remains united with it. We know that not till the moment of death is the physical body deserted by the etheric body, which then withdraws along with the astral body and the ego. We need not mention today what becomes of these three principles of human nature between death and a new birth; we will only clearly present to our minds the fact that at death man is set free from his physical body and from all that is built into this physical body, free from the physical sense-organs and free from the brain, the instrument of the intellect which works physically. The ego, the astral body, and the etheric body are then united in an appropriate fashion and can work together. Therefore it is that from the moment of death true clairvoyance sets in with regard to the previous life, although this at first lasts only for a short time. This has been often stated.
Such a cooperation as normally only takes place at the moment of death must be made possible to the ego, the astral body and the etheric body during life if complete clairvoyance is to be brought about. The etheric body must be liberated from the condition in which it is imprisoned during normal life; it must arrive at being able to use its elasticity and to become independent of the elasticity of the physical body, as the astral body is at night. For this purpose more intense, more strenuous, and in a certain respect higher exercises are required. All these things will be mentioned again in their corresponding connection in the course of the next lectures; for the present it will suffice to understand that such exercises are necessary, and that it is not sufficient to have practiced the preparatory exercises which have the effect of developing spiritual eyes and ears in the astral body, but that exercises for giving the etheric body independence and freedom from the physical body are also required.
Just now, however, we will only consider the result. It is not difficult to imagine, from what has been said what this result must be. In normal cases it is only at the moment of death that the astral body and the etheric body can work together, free from the physical body. So if clairvoyance is to be aroused, something must take place which can only be compared with what sets in for man at the moment of death; that is to say, man must, if he wishes to become consciously clairvoyant, reach a stage of development where he is just as independent of his physical body and the use of the members of his physical body during life as he is at the moment of death.
By what means can man acquire such independence of his physical body, and bring himself into a condition which resembles the moment of physical death? Only by cultivating certain feelings and shades of feeling which stir the soul so forcibly that by their power they seize the etheric body and lift it out of the physical body. Such strong impulses of thought, feeling, and will must work in the soul that an inner force is aroused which frees the etheric body from the physical body, at any rate for certain moments. In these moments, however, the physical body must absolutely be as if dead to ordinary, normal human life.
But this cannot be brought about by external, physical methods in our period of human evolution. Anyone who thinks that such things can be brought about by physical methods would become the victim of a stupendous delusion. Such a person would wish to enter the spiritual worlds by adhering to the methods of the physical world; that is to say he would not yet have attained to a real belief in the force of the spiritual worlds. For purely subjective experiences, impulses proceeding from the strong, energetic life of the soul, are alone competent to bring about this death-like condition.
And speaking in the abstract, we may say for the present that the most essential thing for bringing about such a condition is that man experiences a change, as it were a turning upside down of his sphere of interests. For ordinary life provides man with certain interests. These interests play their part from morning till night. Man is interested — and quite rightly, for he must live in the world — in things that appeal to his eyes, his ears, his physical intellect, his physical feelings, etc.; he is interested in what confronts him in the outer world; one thing interests him more, another less; he pays more attention to one thing and less to another; and that is natural. In these fluctuating interests, binding him to the tapestry of the outer world by a certain power of attraction, man lives, and by far the greater part of our present humanity lives in these interests alone. Nevertheless it is possible for man, without detriment to the freshness and intensity of these interests, to bring about moments in his life in which these outer interests are not at all active, in which, if we wish to express it radically, this whole outer sense-world becomes absolutely indifferent to him, in which he kills out absolutely all the interest forces which fetter him to this or that object in the world of the senses. It would be wrong for a man not to reserve this deadening of his interests in the outer world for certain ‘festival moments’ in life, it would be wrong to extend it over his whole life. He would then become incapable of taking part in the work of the outer world, whereas we are called to take part in the outer world and in its life.
We must therefore reserve for ‘times of high festival’ this possibility of letting all interests in the surrounding world die out; we must, so to say, acquire this twofold nature. On the one hand we must feel a fresh and vital interest in everything which goes on in the outer world in the way of joy and sorrow, of pleasure and pain, and of life which is blossoming and flourishing and of life which is dying. This freshness and originality of our interest in the outer world must be kept alive in our earthly life; we must not become strangers upon Earth, for then we should act from egoism and deprive the stage to which our forces must be devoted in our present evolution of these forces. But on the other hand we must, if we wish to ascend into the higher worlds, cultivate the other side of our being, which consists in killing out during ‘moments of Holy Day’ all our interests in the outer world, of letting them die out. And if we have patience and perseverance and energy and strength to practice this as long and as much as our karma demands, this deadening of interest in the outer world at last liberates a strong energetic force in our inner being, because that which we kill out in this way in the outer world reappears as higher and more abundant life in the inner world. We experience an entirely new kind of life; we experience the moment in which we can say: That which we can see with our eyes and hear with our ears is only a small part of life. There is an entirely different life, life in the spiritual world; a resurrection in the spiritual world, a transcending of what we usually call life, a transcending in such a way that not death but a higher life is the result.
As soon as this pure spiritual force has grown strong enough in our inner being, we may gradually experience moments in which we become rulers and lords over our etheric body, when this etheric body does not take on the shape forced upon it by the elasticity of the lungs and the liver, but the shape forced upon it from above downwards by our astral body. Thus we imprint on our etheric body the shape which, through meditation, concentration, etc., we have first imprinted on our astral body. We imprint the plastic form of our astral body on the etheric body, and we ascend from ‘preparation’ to ‘illumination’ — the next stage of clairvoyant research. The first stage, by which our astral body is changed in such a way that it receives organs, is also called ‘purification,’ because the astral body is purified and purged from the forces of the outer world, and conforms to the inner forces — purification, cleansing, catharsis. But the stage at which the astral body succeeds in imprinting its own form on the etheric body implies that in a spiritual sense, light begins to shine around us, that the spiritual world around us is revealing itself and that ‘illumination’ is setting in.
What I have just described goes hand in hand with certain experiences which man goes through, with typical experiences which are the same for everyone, and which everyone who treads this path experiences the moment he is ripe for it, if he pays the necessary attention to certain things and occurrences which are beyond the physical. The first experience, which occurs through the organization of the astral body and which therefore comes about as an effect of meditation, concentration, etc., might be called an inner experience of the feelings describable as an inward division of the whole of our personality. The moment this is experienced one can say to oneself: Now you have become something like two personalities, you are like a sword in its scabbard. Formerly you might have compared yourself with a sword which does not lie loosely in its scabbard but is one with it, the two consisting of one; you felt yourself one with your physical body; but now you seem, although lying in your physical body like a sword in its scabbard, to be a being which feels itself to be something apart from the sheath of the physical body, in which it is lying. You feel yourself to be within the physical body, but not grown into one with it, not as if consisting of one piece with it. This inward liberation, this inward realization of oneself as a second personality which has emerged from the first, is the first great experience on the way to clairvoyant vision of the world.
The fact must be emphasized that this first experience is an experience of the inner feelings: One must feel that one is lying within one's old personality, and yet feel free and mobile within it. The analogy with the sword and its scabbard is of course rough. For the sword feels itself cramped on all sides by the scabbard, while man, when he has this experience, has a strong feeling of inner mobility, as if he might break on all sides through the limits of his physical body, as if he could forsake it by falling through the skin of his physical body and stretch out his feelers far, far into a world which, although still dark, begins to be perceptible to his feeling in the darkness, one might say, begins to be knowable through inner touch. This is the first great experience man has.
The second great experience is that this second personality, which now exists within the first, gradually becomes capable of really leaving this first personality, of stepping out of it. This experience expresses itself in the fact that, although often only for a short time, one feels as if one could see oneself, as if one stood confronting oneself like a double. This is the second experience, and it is moreover of much greater importance than the first.
With it something is connected which it is very difficult for man to bear. It must never be forgotten that in normal life man is contained within his physical body. That which lives within man's physical body as astral body and ego accommodates itself to the forces of the physical body; it yields as it were to them; it conforms itself to the bodily forces, assuming the shapes of the liver, the heart, the brain, etc. And this is also true of the etheric body, so long as it remains within the physical body. Now we all know what is indicated by the expression brain, heart, etc., what wonderful instruments and organs they are, how complete in themselves, how perfect as creations! What is all human art and human creative work compared with the creative work, the art and technique, necessary for constructing such wonderful instruments as the heart, the brain, etc. What is everything which man can accomplish at the present stage of his evolution in the way of art and technical skill compared with that divine art and technique which have built up our physical body and which, therefore, also guard us as long as we are within it.
So we are not merely in an abstract sense devoted to our physical bodies during daily life, but interwoven with a concrete creation of the gods. Our etheric and astral bodies are fitted into forms created by the gods. If we now become free and independent there will be a change. We free ourselves at the same time from a wonderful instrument of divine creation. Thus we do not leave the physical body as some imperfect thing to be looked down upon, but as the temple which the gods have built for us and in which normally we live during our waking life. Such a temple do we leave on abandoning the physical body. What are we then?
Let us suppose that at a certain moment we could leave this physical body without further preparation, let us suppose that some magician (of whatever kind he might be) could assist us to leave our physical body, and that our etheric body accompanied our astral body, and that we, in a certain respect, went through an experience comparable with the moment of death; let us suppose that we could do this without the preparation of which we have spoken; what should we be when, outside the physical body, we confront ourselves? We are then what in the course of the world evolution we have made of ourselves from incarnation to incarnation. As long as from morning to night we are within our physical body, this divine creation, the temple of our physical body, corrects what we have incorporated within ourselves in the course of our incarnations on Earth; but the moment we step out of it, our astral and etheric bodies show what they have accumulated from incarnation to incarnation and appear as they are according to what they have made of themselves.
If a man thus unprepared leaves his physical body, he is not a spiritual being of a higher, nobler, and purer form than the form was which he had in his physical body, but a being laden with all the imperfections heaped up in his karma during his incarnations. All this remains invisible so long as the temple of our body encloses our etheric body, our astral body, and our ego. It becomes visible the moment we step out of our physical body with the higher principles of our being. Then there appear before us, if at the same moment we become clairvoyant, all the inclinations and passions which still remain with us as the result of our former incarnations. In the course of the future evolution of our Earth we have still to go through many incarnations, full of activities and accomplishment. The inclinations, instincts, and passions for much that you will do later are already within you, developed through incarnations in former times. Everything that man is capable of accomplishing in the world in certain directions, all obligations to others incurred by offences against them for which reparation has to be made in the future, are already incorporated in the astral body and the etheric body when he leaves his physical body. We confront ourselves so to say naked as a soul-being, if at the moment of leaving our body we are clairvoyant; that is to say we stand before our spiritual vision in such a way that we know how much worse we are than would be the case if we had attained the perfection possessed by the gods, which made them capable of creating the wonderful building of our physical body. We perceive at this moment how far we are from the perfection which we must hold before us as our future ideal of development. We know at this moment how deeply we have sunk below the world of perfection.
This is the experience which is connected with ‘illumination’; it is the experience which is called the meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold. That which is real does not become more or less real according to our seeing or not seeing it. That shape which we see in the moment just described is always there, is always within us; but because we have not yet got loose from ourselves, because we do not confront ourselves but are within ourselves, we do not see it. In ordinary life, that which we see at the moment that clairvoyantly we step out of ourselves is the Guardian of the Threshold. He shields us from an experience that we must first learn to bear. We must first acquire a strong enough force to enable us to see a world of the future before us, and to look without fear and horror upon what we have become, because we know for certain that we can make it all right again.
The capacity which we must possess for experiencing this moment without being depressed by it must be acquired during the preparation for clairvoyant investigation. This preparation consists, abstractly expressed, in making the active, positive qualities of our souls strong and energetic, in bringing our courage, our feeling of freedom, our love, our energy of thought and our energy of lucid intellect to the greatest possible height, so that we step out of our physical body not as weak people but as strong. If, however, there is too much left in man of what is called anxiety and fear, he will not be able to endure this experience of encountering the Guardian of the Threshold without harm.
Thus we see that there are certain conditions to be fulfilled before looking into the spiritual worlds, those worlds which in a certain respect hold out a prospect of the highest that we can think of for life in our present development of humanity, but at the same time demand of man a complete transformation of his being such as he has to attain in the solemn ‘Holy Day moments’ mentioned before.
It is a real blessing in our present time for the aspirant, before he proceeds to this experience, to be told what those who have gained experience in the higher worlds have seen. We can understand even when we cannot see. But by making increasing efforts to reach an intellectual comprehension of what the clairvoyant tells us, and coming to the conclusion, after a survey of everything life brings us, that the clairvoyant's reports are quite sensible after all, we shall be doing the right thing at the present time. We must become Anthroposophists before aspiring to clairvoyance, and we must learn to know Anthroposophy thoroughly.
If we do this, the great, comprehensive, strengthening, encouraging and refreshing ideas and thoughts of Anthroposophy give to the soul not only a working hypothesis but also qualities of feeling, will, and thought which make the soul like tempered steel. If the soul has gone through this process, the moment of meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold becomes something quite different from what it would have been otherwise. Fear and terror, states of anxiety and care, are conquered in quite a different way if previously we have learned to understand and to grasp what is related about the higher worlds.
And later, when a person has had this experience, when he has confronted himself and thus has met the Guardian of the Threshold, the world begins to show itself to him in quite a different way. Everything in the world may be said to wear a new aspect. And a justifiable opinion might be expressed by the following illustrations. I had supposed up till now that I knew what fire is, but that was only an illusion. For what I have called fire up till now would be like calling the tracks of a carriage on a road the only reality, and denying that a carriage in which a person was sitting must have been passing that way. I declare these tracks on the road to be the signs, the outer expression, of the carriage which has passed there and in which a person was sitting. I have not seen the person who passed there, but he is the cause of these tracks, he is the reality. And a person who believed the marks left by the wheels to be something complete in themselves, something real and basic, would be taking the outer expression for the thing itself.
That which our senses see as flashing fire bears the same proportion to its reality, to the spiritual being which stands behind it, as do the tracks on the road to the person who was sitting in the carriage which passed there. In fire we have only an outer expression. Behind what our eyes see as fire and what we feel as heat is the real spiritual entity, which has only its outer expression in the outer fire. Behind what we inhale as air, behind what enters our eyes as light, and behind what our ears perceive as sound are active beings spiritual and divine, whose outer garments only we behold in fire, in water, and in what surrounds us in the different realms of nature.
In the so-called secret teaching, in the teaching of the Mysteries, the experience which is then gone through is called the passage through the elementary worlds. Whereas previously one had lived in the belief that what we know as fire is a reality, one then becomes aware that living beings are hidden behind the fire. We become, so to say, acquainted with fire, more or less intimately, as something quite different from what it appears to be in the world of the senses. We become acquainted with the fire-beings, with what is the soul of the fire.
Just as our souls are hidden behind our bodies, so the soul and spirit of the fire are hidden by the fire which we perceive with our outer senses. We penetrate into a spiritual domain when we experience the soul and spirit of fire in this way, and the experience by which we realize that the outer fire is no reality, that it is a mere illusion, a mere garment, and that we now move among the fire-gods just as we did formerly among people of the physical world, is called ‘living in the element of fire,’ to use the terms of occult science.
It is the same with that which we breathe. The moment that what we breathe as outer air becomes to us only the garment of the living beings within it, we live in the element of air.
And so when one has passed through the meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold, that is to say, when one has acquired true self-knowledge, one can ascend to experiencing the beings in the so-called elements, in the elements of fire, of water, of air, and of earth. These four classes of gods or spirits live a real existence in the elements, and a person who has reached the stage which has just been described is in touch with the divine spiritual beings of the elements. He lives in the elements; he experiences earth, water, air, and fire. That which in ordinary life is designated by these words is only the outer garment, the outer expression, of divine spiritual beings behind it. It becomes plain therefore that certain spiritual divine beings live in that which meets us (speaking according to spiritual science) as solid matter or earth, as fluid matter or water, as volatile matter or air, and as warm fiery matter or fire.
These, however, are not the highest spiritual beings. When we have struggled on through the experiences of the elementary world, we ascend to the entities which stand in the relation of creators towards the spirits who live in the elements. For let us consider our physical surroundings. We find that they consist of the four outer principles of the elementary world. Whether we take plants, or animals, or stones, or anything else on the physical plane, they consist according to spiritual science either of the solid element, that is earth, or the fluid element, water, or the gaseous element, air, or the fiery element, fire. Of these elements the things which physically surround us in the world of stones, of plants, of animals, and of men are composed. And we know that behind what physically surrounds us there are, as creative and fructifying forces, those forces which for the most part come to us from the Sun. We know that the Sun calls forth budding and germinating life out of the Earth. Thus the Sun sends to the Earth forces which — considered physically for the moment — make it possible for us to perceive on Earth with our physical senses that which lives in fire, in air, in water, and in earth. We see the Sun physically because it radiates physical light. This physical light is sustained by physical matter. Man sees the Sun from sunrise to sunset, and he does not see it when the physical Earth substance hides it; he does not see it from sunset to sunrise.
In the spiritual world there is no such darkness as reigns in physical life from sunset to sunrise. When the clairvoyant has gained what has been described, when he perceives behind fire the spirits of fire, behind air the spirits of air, behind water the spirits of water, and behind earth the spirits of earth, in that moment he sees behind these divine spiritual beings their higher ruler, their higher Lord, the entity which in comparison to these beings of the element is like the warming, illuminating, beneficent Sun as compared to the budding and germinating life on our Earth. That is to say, the clairvoyant ascends from a contemplation of the elementary gods to the contemplation of those higher divine beings which in the spiritual world may be symbolically compared with the Sun in its physical relation to the Earth. Behind the beings of the elements a high spiritual world is seen, the spiritual Sun. When for the clairvoyant that which otherwise is darkness becomes light, when he attains to clairvoyance, to ‘illumination,’ he realizes the spiritual Sun, that is to say the higher divine spiritual beings, in the same way as the physical eye realizes the physical Sun.
And when does he penetrate to these higher divine spiritual beings? At the moment when, as it were, for other people the spiritual darkness is at its densest. When man's astral body and ego are free — that is to say, from the moment of falling asleep to that of waking — man lives surrounded by darkness because he does not see the spiritual world which then surrounds him. This darkness increases gradually, reaches its densest point, and decreases again until the morning when he awakes. It comes, as it were, to a point in which it reaches its densest degree. This densest degree of spiritual darkness may be compared with what in outer life is called the hour of midnight. Just as normally the outer physical darkness is then at its densest, since it increases towards this moment and then decreases, so there is a densest degree of spiritual darkness, a midnight. At a certain stage of clairvoyance it happens that the spirits of the elements are seen during the time when for other people the spiritual darkness begins to increase, and similarly during the time in which darkness decreases again. In other words if only a lower stage of clairvoyance has been reached, one experiences, so to say, certain gods of the elements, but just at the time of the highest spiritual moment, the midnight hour, darkness may still set in, and ‘illumination’ only begins again after this moment has been passed. When, however, a definite stage of clairvoyance is reached, the midnight hour becomes so much the more ‘illuminated’; and just at this midnight-hour, at the time when the normal person is so to say most shut off from the divine spiritual world, most entangled in maya, or illusion, one ascends into the light. At this time one beholds those spiritual beings which, compared to the gods of the elements, are like the Sun compared to the physical Earth. One beholds the higher creative gods, the Sun gods, in the moment which is technically called: ‘Beholding the Sun at midnight.’
These are the stages which today, as at all times, have to be lived through by those who wish to work themselves up to clairvoyant investigation, who wish to look through the veil which in the shape of the earthly elements is drawn over the real world. They are: the feeling of freedom inside one's ordinary personality, like that of a sword in its sheath; the feeling of being outside the physical body, as if the sword were drawn out of its sheath; the meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold; the experiencing of the gods of the elements, that is, experiencing the great moment when the beings of fire, air, water, and earth become beings among whom we walk and with whom we associate as in ordinary life we associate with human beings; and lastly, experiencing the moment when we behold the king, the commander, the leader of these beings of the elements.
These are the stages which could be experienced at all past times and which can still be experienced today. These are the stages (already often described, for they can be described in many ways, and still the description always remains imperfect) leading upwards into the spiritual worlds. We were obliged to present them to our souls so as to see what man at all times has had to do himself in order to learn to know the divine spiritual beings. And we shall further have to place before our souls what it is which man experiences in these divine spiritual worlds; we shall have to realize some of the more concrete preparations to be gone through in order to meet the gods. And when we have presented this to our souls and the way in which it can be attained by Western initiation, we shall compare what we have thus gained with what has been given to humanity in the way of Oriental tradition and ancient wisdom. And in making this comparison, we shall be shedding the light of the Christ upon the wisdom of pre-Christian times.