Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Guardian of the Threshold and life in the supersensible world

Initiation, Eternity, and the Passing Moment. Lecture 3 of 7.
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 27, 1912:
If we would speak of initiation and its significance for human life and evolution, we must try to probe into the essential nature of all this with the concepts and modes of thought that are indispensable to any true description of supersensible worlds. It is comprehensible that at every stage of its development the human soul should experience the deepest longing to discover the nature of the worlds more or less justifiably described as eternal. Surely it is also comprehensible that, at first, human souls should try to probe into higher worlds without much preparation and with the ordinary ideas and concepts of the life of the senses. I expressly say that this is comprehensible, and this may, to a certain extent, apply where the longing after eternity is satisfied by one or other of the religious faiths. But when it is a question of gaining a deeper insight into the course of all spiritual things, particularly into the course of all life of the soul in the real anthroposophical sense, we must gradually accustom ourselves to the necessity of submitting our ideas, concepts, and modes of thought to a certain change before we are able to form correct ideas of the higher, supersensible worlds. Because this is particularly necessary for an actual description of the Christ event, as we shall see in the next lectures, I may perhaps be allowed to say a few words today about the transformation and re-molding of man's conceptual life that is necessary if he would arrive at ideas about the supersensible worlds.
For this, we must become familiar with the idea that everything is different in the supersensible world from what it is in the world of the senses because an exact repetition of any world existence is nowhere to be found in the universe. If everything is different, why should it be assumed that human conceptions and representations hold good in the higher worlds as they do in the life of the senses? They certainly do not. Anyone really pursuing the practical path into the worlds opened to him by initiation, anyone having actual experience of supersensible life, well knows that not only must he transform many things in himself — I might equally say, leave them behind with the Guardian of the Threshold — but he must also lay aside many of his habits, representations, and concepts before he can enter the higher worlds.
We will proceed first of all from certain ideas to which we must all undoubtedly be subject in physical life. Here two concepts, or systems of concepts, have a decisive effect. In our life of the senses they stand side by side; they run parallel. The one consists of all the ideas we form about the natural world, about the forces and laws of nature. Side by side with all these ideas of ours, there exists in ordinary sensory life what we call the moral world order, the sum of our moral conceptions, thoughts, and ideas. If a man takes accurate stock of himself, he must soon come to the conclusion that in the life of the senses these two systems of concepts — natural order and moral world order — must be kept distinct. If we are describing a plant, we analyze it according to natural forces and natural laws. Let us suppose it is a poisonous plant. We do not confuse our description with the issue of whether or not it is morally responsible for being poisonous. We maintain that it is part of sound thinking in the life of the senses, when describing the world of nature, to rid ourselves of what we call moral concepts and ideas. We know that we must do the same, too, when we want to gain a clear and objective idea of the animal world. We feel, for instance, that it would be senseless to hold a lion responsible for its cruelty in the same way as we should a man. But if many modern naturalists are finding something like moral conceptions in the animal kingdom — I might say more as a matter of preference than from any real necessity — to a certain extent this may be justified. At the same time, we can at most speak of an echo, of a suggestion, of moral concepts in what animals do and in what happens in the animal kingdom. A simple development of the interpretation of nature requires that we should free ourselves from moral concepts so long as these interpretations are confined to the world of the senses. Then, however, as unprejudiced and thoughtful observation of oneself must affirm, the moral world order enters with authority into our life, making unconditional and absolute demands. We know it is his moral ideas that decide the world of a man, and indeed not only his worth in human social life. It also makes one able to say that even a man who is not moral, if he be granted grace at some special moment to reflect quietly about himself, will determine his own value as a human being according to the moral ideas that light up in his consciousness. It must repeatedly be emphasized that these two systems of concepts must be kept properly distinct.
All this becomes quite different the moment the higher, supersensible worlds are entered, and one gains the power of perceiving, observing, experiencing, and living outside the physical body. When such observation is really attained, it takes place at first in the etheric body of which I spoke yesterday. Then, later, the world, or rather a second supersensible world, is observed with the astral body. The further we rise into higher worlds, the more do the concepts and ideas that we have worked upon and acquired in the ordinary physical world lose their significance. They must be transformed if we are rightly to describe and understand what comes to meet us in the supersensible worlds. In the ordinary world of sense existence we have only one thing to remind us of a fundamental fact familiar to every clairvoyant, and that is when we speak in symbols and metaphors so that our words re-echo what in actual reality is only experienced in higher worlds. When the expression is used that greed or jealousy or hate “burns,” there is something in such an expression that belongs to the many wonderful mysteries of the creative activity of speech, where there shines down into primitive, elementary human consciousness what in its reality is only present in the higher worlds. Everyone knows that when he speaks of a “burning hate” he does not mean a burning like the burning of a fire in the external world. He knows that he is speaking figuratively, but that it would avail him nothing to try to explain the objects and processes of nature by calling moral ideas to his aid. In speaking, however, of processes in the higher worlds, it is not in the same metaphorical, figurative sense that we use such expressions. I may perhaps remind you that in my mystery play The Guardian of the Threshold certain processes of the soul — feelings and desires — are twice spoken of as “burning” in the higher world. This expression is not to be taken as a metaphor; it stands for something quite real and actual, a spiritual reality. Lucifer, for instance, would never say that something burned him in the same sense as a man in the physical world would speak of hate burning him. Lucifer would say it in a real and literal sense. For what in supersensible worlds might be compared to the natural order, to the natural processes of the sense world, is far more intimately connected with what may be called the moral world within the supersensible world than is the case with these two ideas in the world of the senses.
We can gain some idea of all this at once if we turn to man's etheric body. When speaking of the physical body, we can talk of raising a hand to perform a moral action. We can see the hand with our physical eyes and, to explain its functions, we can investigate it through knowledge belonging to the material world. This description of the hand in physical existence is not essentially different whether we have to do with a hand performing a moral or an immoral action. So far as we can give a description of the hand in physical life at all, we have no business to mix with the question of how the hand is formed and all that we bring to its explanation, the other question of whether it is in the habit of performing moral actions or not.
The matter is different where a man's etheric body is concerned. Suppose that to clairvoyant vision a man's etheric body, or some particular part of it, appears incompletely developed. On enquiring into the true cause of such being the case with some particular organ, we find that the reason for the imperfect development lies in a moral fault, in some moral deficiency in the man. Thus, man's moral qualities are actually expressed to some extent in his etheric body. They are still more distinctly and more intensively expressed in his astral body. While, therefore, in the case of a man we should be doing him a great injustice by assuming that some physical deformity was the expression of something in his moral nature, in what concerns the moral world it is certainly true that if we think of the expressions natural order, natural processes, and moral causes as merging into one another in the higher worlds, moral qualities are actual natural causes and are there expressed in forms and processes. To avoid any misunderstanding, I should like expressly to state that the perfect or imperfect development of man's higher organism — his etheric and astral bodies, his higher bodies, if we may so call them — need have nothing to do with the perfect or imperfect development of his physical body. A man may even have some physical organ crippled from birth, while the corresponding etheric organ may not only show a perfectly normal development but, in certain circumstances, a more perfect development, more complete in itself, when the corresponding physical organ is thus crippled or deformed. The idea, therefore, that moral qualities are faithfully expressed in the form of the body cannot be applied to physical existence, but it is nevertheless absolutely true of the part of man that belongs to supersensible worlds.
Thus we see that the natural order and the moral order, which apparently run side by side in the ordinary life of the senses, are interwoven in the supersensible worlds, and in speaking of some part of the etheric body, we can well say that such and such a form is due to hate. Hate shows itself in this member of the etheric body in quite a different way from how love is expressed. We may speak thus where the supersensible worlds are concerned, but it would have no meaning were we confined to a description of nature in the world of the senses. This necessity to change our concepts when the higher worlds are in question is a particularly distinctive feature as regards what, in ordinary sensory life, are reckoned as cravings or desires. We may ask how cravings, desires, and emotions appear to us in the life of the senses. They appear in such a way that we seem to see them arise from the very recesses of man's soul being. If we see any particular craving aroused in a man, we are then able to recognize something of his inner condition and how it causes this craving to arise. We can see that it is above all the inner nature of the soul that determines the character of the man's desires. We know quite well, for instance, that a piece of veal will call up quite different cravings in two different men. It does not depend on the veal, but on all that a physical man has in his soul. A Raphael Madonna may leave one man completely cold, while another may experience a whole world of feeling. We may thus say that man's world of desire is kindled within his inmost nature.
All this is changed when we enter the supersensible world. It is foolish to say that one cannot speak of desires and so forth in supersensible worlds. They do actually exist, and they are determined in the great majority of cases by external things — by what a being sees and perceives. Hence, a clairvoyant in these worlds cannot get such a near view of the inner conditions of the being he meets when wanting to discover his desires and cravings, but he has to observe the supersensible surroundings of the being in question. When, therefore, in the supersensible world, he perceives a being having desires, longings, emotions, he does not look at the being himself, as we should do in the physical world, but he looks at the surroundings. He looks to see what other beings are present in the neighborhood. He will always find that the nature of the being's desires and emotions vary according to the kind of beings who surround him, because there, desires and emotions can always be explained by external things.
A case in point may make all this clearer for you. Suppose a man enters the supersensible worlds either through the first stages of initiation or by passing through the gate of death. A clairvoyant then observes him in the supersensible worlds. Let us assume that the man had taken some imperfection belonging to his character with him out of physical existence — some kind of incapacity, a moral imperfection, perhaps some crime committed in the physical world that stays with him in the supersensible worlds as a torturing memory. To make a search for this, it is not so much a question of the clairvoyant looking into the inner soul of the man, as it is of observing his surroundings. Why should this be? It is because this content of soul, this quality of soul that the man carries over with him as an imperfection or moral flaw, performs something real, something actual. It guides the man and brings him to a particular place in the supersensible world, to the very place where there is some being who possesses in perfection what is imperfect in the man who is newly arrived. Thus, this moral flaw, this consciousness of a faculty lacking, has an actual effect. It guides a man along a certain path and confronts him with a being possessing in perfection the very quality lacking in himself, and he is condemned to continual contemplation of this being.
Thus, in the supersensible worlds we come into the presence of beings who possess all that we ourselves do not possess, and they show us what we lack. We are not drawn to them by what in physical life are called desires, but by means of a real process. If the clairvoyant sees what kinds of beings surround a man there, he can, by objective observation, tell what the man lacks and what are his failings. The being into whose presence the man comes, at whom he is condemned to go on gazing, stands there as a continual reproach, one might say. This reproach, standing outside him, has the effect of rousing within him what in supersensible worlds might be called a craving, a desire, to become different. It arouses in him the activity and strength to work his own transformation, so that he may rid himself of his fault, of his imperfection. You need not exclaim that the supersensible worlds must, therefore, always be able to show forth beings having in perfection all that we lack! The supersensible worlds are indeed rich enough to be able to confront us with beings perfect in everything where we are in fault. They are far richer than we in physical life can imagine. Yes, indeed, the supersensible world is always able to confront man with a being having in perfection everything in which he himself is imperfect!
This gives some idea of how desires and cravings are real forces, determining our path in the supersensible world. It is not as though our desires represented something objective in which we could remain stationary. But according to what we are, we are led on our way and placed where all that we lack appears before us as something real, or as an effective reproach. It might easily be said that if this is so, man would be completely without freedom in supersensible worlds because he would be confronted with an external world that would determine how he was to work upon himself. On further observation, however, in supersensible worlds it turns out that while one being may feel the reproach and begin to work toward perfection, another may resist and fight against imitating what is thus placed as a reproach before him. But this resistance works quite differently in the supersensible worlds from how it does in the world of the senses. When a being refuses thus to work on himself, he is driven back into other worlds that are strange to him, where he does not know the way, and where the necessary conditions of life are lacking. In other words, this being condemns himself to a kind of inward process of destruction. One may always either choose the fruitful, helpful process shown to one and behave oneself accordingly, or inoculate oneself with destructive forces by resisting it. One has this amount of freedom. But reciprocal action definitely takes place between what is moral and all that is going on in supersensible space.
A further example of this is that our conceptions of beauty and ugliness, quite in place in the world of the senses, can really no longer be applied when we ascend into supersensible worlds. Indeed, there are manifold reasons why these conceptions can no longer be used there in the way in which they are used in the world of the senses. When we perceive in supersensible worlds, we see above all a significant difference in the various beings that meet us. By virtue of the intuitive knowledge that will then be ours, we will be able to say that the being we are looking at is able, and has the will, actually to reveal in his external appearance all that is within him.
Let us assume that such a being has an etheric light-body, that it is one of the beings who do not incarnate into the world of the senses but who only in higher worlds take on a light-body or something of that nature. This light-body may be the expression of what such a being is within. It is not like a man in the sense world who confronts us in a definite form and yet may be hiding within him the most manifold feelings and sentiments, so that he is able to say “My feelings are for myself alone. What is seen of me externally is my natural form, and I am well able to conceal what appears in my soul.” That is not the case with certain beings in the supersensible worlds; their external form is the most direct expression of what they bear within them. In their component parts, what they are lies fully open to view. But there are other beings unable directly to express, to manifest, their real nature in their external supersensible appearance. Confronted by beings of this kind, clairvoyant consciousness has the feeling of something repellent, something from which it wants to get away, something oppressive that may even be offensive.
Thus, we can distinguish two kinds of beings: those who are perfectly willing to expose their inner nature, to reveal what is within them, and beings who give one the feeling that what they expose is definitely distorted and what is within them is concealed and does not issue forth. In man's life of the senses, one cannot say to the same extent, when one person is capable of being secretive and another is perfectly frank, that the difference lies in their natures. Their features may be different, but they belong to the same world as far as their natures are concerned. In the supersensible worlds, however, those who reveal all that they have within them, and those who do not, are two radically different kinds of beings. If we would use the words beautiful and ugly with approximately the meaning we have in the world of the senses, we must apply them to these two kinds of beings. In the supersensible world we only come to the point by calling the beings who reveal everything, beautiful, for in front of them we feel just as we do before a beautiful picture. But the beings who do not reveal their natures in their external form are felt to be ugly. Thus, if we can put it so, beauty or ugliness depends upon the fundamental natures of the beings.
What is the consequence of this? When clairvoyant consciousness enters a world where it must have these feelings about beauty and ugliness, much in its whole mode of feeling must undergo a change. It is quite natural for the clairvoyant to say that a being revealing all that he has within him is beautiful, and the other idea immediately arises that to be beautiful is to be upright and honest. A being is beautiful because he hides nothing, because he bears in his very countenance what is within him. True and beautiful are one and the same when we enter the supersensible world. A being who does not reveal what is within him is ugly. That is immediately felt by clairvoyant consciousness. But there is the further feeling that he lies and does not show what he ought. What is ugly is at the same time untruthful! What is true, upright, and honest is at the same time beautiful; what is ugly is untruthful. In the supersensible worlds a point is reached when a separation between the concepts beautiful and true, in the one case, and between ugly and untrue in the other, loses all meaning. So the expression beautiful must be used of a being who is felt to be honest and upright, while the opposite feeling must be called ugly.
We see here how moral and aesthetic concepts merge when the higher worlds are reached. It is a peculiar feature of this ascent into supersensible worlds that concepts do thus merge into one another, that things to which we refer separately in the world of the physical senses become linked and fused together. Hence, other modes of feeling must be acquired if expressions of the sense world are to be used of supersensible beings. One is almost always obliged to represent these things more simply, and still more in accordance with physical consciousness, than really coincides with a strictly correct representation, because they become so complicated.
To my explanation of how the concepts true, upright, and beautiful, in the one case, and ugly and untruthful, in the other, become linked together, I must add something further. On making one's way into supersensible worlds one may meet a being who, according to all ideas acquired in the life of the senses, must be called beautiful, perhaps even exquisite — beautiful, radiant, and exquisite. There is the picture! But simply because this being appears in such a form is no proof that it is also a good being; it may even be quite an evil being and yet stand before one in this sublime, angelic form. According to the idea of beauty that we have in the sense world, we should call such a being beautiful in its supersensible appearance. How could we help it? Seeing it thus in the world of the senses we should be quite right in calling it beautiful. It may really be the ugliest being in existence, and yet, if one uses the expressions of the sense world, the word beautiful must be used. It may be an utterly evil being, containing hidden wickedness and untruthfulness, a very devil in the form of an angel; this is quite possible in supersensible worlds. Still, in diverse ways of which we still have to speak, one may gradually get to the truth of the matter by approaching it in clairvoyant consciousness. One is confronted by this angelic form and if, during supersensible vision, one has become capable of coherent thought, it is possible for one to say: “I must not let myself be deceived by the fact that I am looking at something angelic or a wonderful form of some kind; anything is possible; it may be an angel but also it could be a devil.” One may now begin with what must so often be undertaken on entering higher worlds: that is, a good examination of oneself.
We may seek counsel with ourselves to find out how many bad points such as selfishness or egoism we possess. Then our soul becomes permeated with bitterness and remorse. But this bitterness, this pain, may be the very thing to lead us to purify and cleanse ourselves from our selfishness and egoism. When, through this, one comes to see how little one is free from self, and how necessary it is to struggle to be free, then the whole process in the soul lights up. Now, if we have got so far as not to lose our vision while taking stock of ourselves as usually happens at first, the angel in certain cases may be revealed as no angel at all, but may assume an ugly form. Then one can gradually reach the point of saying to oneself: “I myself gave this wicked being the power to express its wickedness by masquerading before me in a quite different form, but, by permeating myself with purer feelings, I have forced it to show me its true form.”
Consequently, a process of the soul has a compelling force in the supersensible world. We ourselves either make it possible for these beings to lie to us, or we compel them to show themselves in their true form. The appearance of the supersensible world to us depends on how and with what qualities we enter it. What is called the source of illusion must be dealt with in quite a different way from what is customary.
Someone may enter the supersensible world and describe all sorts of glorious things. If you told him he had been deceived he would not believe it, for did he not see it all? But he did not see what he would have seen had he done what I have just described. Had he acted in this way he would at once have seen the truth: It is beautiful when a devil shows himself as a devil but it is ugly for him to appear in the form of an angel.
When we enter the supersensible world we must above all rid ourselves of the habit of speaking of things according to the ideas we gained of them in the world of the senses. If we keep to these ideas we shall first say to the form appearing to us that it is a beautiful angel, and afterwards that it is a hideous devil. But clairvoyant consciousness, if it is to give a correct description, cannot express it thus. On the contrary, it must say of the ugly devil that it is a beautiful devil, even though, according to material conceptions, it is quite hideous. We do not arrive at this point simply by turning upside down all the ideas gained from the life of the senses. That would certainly be an easy way. Anyone could then describe the devachanic plane, for instance, by putting beautiful for all that was ugly in the sense world, ugly for beautiful, red for green, white for black, and so forth. But that cannot be done; the concepts of the supersensible worlds must be acquired by experience. We must acquire them gradually, as a growing child acquires sense conceptions, not by theory but by experience. When we become conscious that we are speaking in the language of the supersensible world, it will no longer seem natural to call a devil ugly if he appears as a devil. Feelings of this kind must be acquired if we are to find our bearings in the supersensible world and to know our way about there. From this it will be easy to form some idea of what is meant when, for the sake of simplicity, we say: “On the one side stands the world of the senses, on the other, the supersensible worlds.” Supersensible existence is entered by crossing the boundary of sensory life, but if it be entered with all that is gained from this life, if the conceptions and ideas acquired in the sense world are applied there, they are of no use and the wrong construction is put upon things. One must learn to transform one's knowledge at the boundary, not just theoretically but in a living way. Ideas acquired in the life of the senses cannot be used at all on crossing over; they must be left behind. So you see how at the boundary much must be left behind of all that is so intimately woven into us in the world of sense existence.
I should like now to describe the matter not theoretically but from the point of view of concrete perception. Let us suppose that someone, having acquired the capacity for crossing the boundary of which we have been speaking enters the supersensible world from the world of the senses. At the boundary he asks himself “What must I leave behind now, so as to feel at home in the supersensible world?” After due reflection he will say: “I must really leave behind everything I have experienced, learned, or acquired in my various earthly incarnations from primeval times up to the present. I must lay everything aside here because I am entering a world in which all that can be learned during incarnation has no further meaning.” It is quite easy to say such a thing, easy to hear and easy to grasp it in the abstraction of a concept. But it is an entirely new inner world really to experience such a thing, to feel it livingly, to lay aside like a garment all that one has appropriated during incarnations in sensory existence in order to enter a world where it no longer has any meaning. If this becomes a living feeling, then one has a living experience that really has nothing to do with theory. It is a living experience such as we have in the world of reality when we actually meet a man and make his acquaintance, and when he speaks and behaves in a certain manner toward us, so that we learn to know him in a way we should were we living with him, not just by making concepts about him.
Here we stand at the boundary between the life of the senses and spiritual life, confronted not by a system of concepts but by a reality that only works supersensibly, and as concretely and livingly as a human being. This is the Guardian of the Threshold. He is there as a concrete and real being. When we learn to know him, we know he belongs to those beings who, to a certain extent, have taken part in life since primeval times on Earth, but who have not gone through what one experiences as a being of soul. This is the being who, in the mystery play The Guardian of the Threshold, is meant to be expressed dramatically in the words:
Thou knowest well, who has been guardian
Of this realm's threshold since the world began,
What beings need to cross the threshold o'er
Who to thy time and to thy kind belong ...
This “to thy time and to thy kind” is something that proceeds, indeed, from the very essence of the matter. Of other times and other kinds are the men, the beings, who since primeval times have in a certain sense separated themselves from the path of humanity on Earth, and in each of these we meet a being of whom we may say “I have a being before me who experiences and lives through a great deal in the world, but he does not concern himself with all the love and grief and pain that can be experienced on Earth, nor yet with the failings and immorality there. He neither knows nor wishes to know anything of what has taken place up to now in the depths of man's nature.” Christian tradition expresses this in the words: “When confronted by the mystery of man's becoming, such beings veiled their faces.” A whole world is expressed in this contrast between such beings and human beings.
Now a feeling arises as immediately as does the feeling we have on meeting a fair-haired man that “he has fair hair.” There comes this feeling: In passing through various earthly cultures I have naturally acquired faults, but I must get back again to my original state; I must retrace my steps on Earth, and this being can show me the way just because he does not possess my faults. One has before one a being who stands there majestically as an actual reproach, but at the same time spurring one on toward all that one is not. The being shows one this most vividly, and one can feel one's own being completely filled with the knowledge of what he is and what he is not. There one stands before this living reproach. This being belongs to the rank of archangels. The meeting actually takes place, and has the effect of suddenly revealing to us what we have become as earthly man in sensory existence. This is direct self-knowledge in the truest and broadest sense. You see yourself as you are; you also see yourself as you ought to become!
But it is not always fit for man to see himself thus. Today I have only spoken of the world of concept and idea that has to be discarded. But much else must be laid aside. When we reach the Guardian of the Threshold we must really lay aside all that we know of ourselves, but we must still retain something to carry on with us. That is the chief thing. This knowledge that we have to leave everything behind at the threshold is an inner experience in itself to which one must have attained, and the preparation for this stage of clairvoyance must consist in schooling ourselves to bear what would otherwise be full of terror and fear. With proper schooling we need not speak of danger because such a schooling does away with danger. Powers of endurance must be attained through due preparation; they are the fundamental force necessary for all further experience. In ordinary life man is not capable of enduring all that he must endure when standing before the Guardian of the Threshold.
The Guardian of the Threshold is there for a strange purpose. If it is not to be misunderstood it has to be judged from the standpoint of the supersensible world. In man, the activities of the supersensible world are always at work, though he knows nothing of this. Whenever we think and feel and will, it always necessitates a certain activity of the astral body and connection with the astral world. But man knows nothing of this; if he knew what his bodies really were he would not be able to bear it and would be stunned by it. So that when man meets this being without sufficient preparation, everything must be veiled from him, including the being. The being must draw a veil over the supersensible world. He must do this for the protection of man who, while within the world of the senses, could not endure the sight. In this we really see a concept that, in the world of the senses, can only be judged morally, as the most direct ordering of nature. The protection of man from sight of the supersensible world is the function of the Guardian of the Threshold. He must hold man back until he has completed the necessary preparation.
We have here tried to gather up a few ideas that may help us to form a concept of the Guardian of the Threshold. I have tried to collect ideas, concepts, and experiences of this kind in a little book, A Road to Self Knowledge, that will be in your hands in the course of the next few days. It may be helpful to you in conjunction with these lectures. The book will consist of a series of eight meditations, and is so conceived that should the reader carry them out, he will gain something definite for his life of soul. Today I have tried to deal with a few of the ideas that can lead us to the Guardian of the Threshold. Starting from this point we shall pass beyond the Guardian of the Threshold, and try to gain some degree of insight and perspective from which we can reach a yet deeper understanding of the Christ being and of the Christ initiation.

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