Metamorphoses of the Soul: Paths of Experience. Volume 1, lecture 1
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, October 14, 1909:
This year I shall again be giving a series of lectures on subjects related to Spiritual Science, as I have done now for several years past. Those of my audience who attended those previous lectures will know what is meant here by the term "Spiritual Science" (Geisteswissenschaft). For others, let me say that it will not be my task to discuss some abstract branch of science, but a discipline which treats the spirit as something actual and real. It starts from the premise that human experience is not unavoidably restricted to sense-perceptible reality or to the findings of human reason and other cognitive faculties in so far as they are bound up with the sense-perceptible. Spiritual Science says that it is possible for human beings to penetrate behind the realm of the sense-perceptible and to make observations which are beyond the range of the ordinary intellect.
This introductory lecture will describe the role of Spiritual Science in present-day life, and will show how in the past this Spiritual Science — which is as old as humanity — appeared in a form very different from the form it must take today. In speaking of the present, I naturally do not mean the immediate here and now, but the relatively long period during which spiritual life has had the particular character which has come to full development in our own time.
Anyone who looks back over the spiritual life of mankind will see that “a time of transition” is a phrase to be used with care, for every period can be so described. Yet there are times when spiritual life takes a leap forward, so to speak. From the 16th century onwards, the relationship between the soul and spiritual life of human beings and the outer world has been different from what it was in earlier times. And the further back we go in human evolution, the more we find that men had different needs, different longings, and gave different answers from within themselves to questions concerning the great riddles of existence.
We can gain a clear impression of these transition periods through individuals who lived in those days and had retained certain qualities of feeling, knowing, and willing from earlier periods, but were impelled to meet the demands of a new age.
Let us take an interesting personality and see what he makes of questions concerning the being of man and other such questions that must closely engage human minds — a personality who lived at the dawn of modern spiritual life and was endowed with the inner characteristics I have just described. I will not choose anyone familiar, but a sixteenth-century thinker who was unknown outside a small circle. In his time there were many persons who retained, as he did, mediaeval habits of thinking and feeling and wished to gain knowledge in the way that had been followed for centuries, and yet were moving on towards the outlook of the coming age. I shall be naming an individual of whose external life almost nothing is historically known. From the point of view of Spiritual Science, this is thoroughly congenial. Anyone who has sojourned in the realm of Spiritual Science will know how distracting it is to find attached to a personality all the petty details of everyday life that are collected by modern biographers. On this account, we ought to be thankful that history has preserved so little about Shakespeare, for instance; the true picture is not spoilt — as it is with Goethe — by all the trivia the biographers are so fond of dragging in. I will therefore designate an individual of whom even less is known than is known about Shakespeare, a seventeenth-century thinker who is of great significance for anyone who can see into the history of human thinking.
In Francis Joseph Philipp, Count von Hoditz und Wolframitz, who led the life of a solitary thinker during the second half of the seventeenth century in Bohemia, we have a personality of outstanding importance from this historical point of view. In a little work entitled Libellus de nominis convenientia — I have not inquired if it has since been published in full — he set down the questions which occupied his soul. If we immerse ourselves in his soul, these questions can lead us into the issues that a reflecting man would concern himself with in those days. This lonely thinker discusses the great central problem of the being of man. With a forcefulness that springs from a deep need for knowledge, he says that nothing so disfigures a man as not to know what his being really is.
Count von Hoditz turns to important figures in the history of thought, for instance to Aristotle in the fourth century B.C., and asks what Aristotle says in answer to this question: What really is the essential being of man? He says: Aristotle's answer is that man is a rational animal. Then he turns to a later thinker, Descartes, and puts the same question, and here the answer is that man is a thinking being. But on reflection he comes to feel that these two representative thinkers can give no answer to his question; for — as he says — in the answers of Aristotle and Descartes he wanted to learn what man is and what he ought to do. When Aristotle says that man is a rational animal, that is no answer to the question of what man is, for it throws no light on the nature of rationality. Nor does Descartes in the seventeenth century tell us what man ought to do in accordance with his nature as a thinking being. For although we may know that man is a thinking being, we do not know what he must think in order to take hold of life in the right way, in order to relate his thought to life.
Thus our philosopher sought in vain for an answer to this vital question, a question that must be answered if a man is not to lose his bearings. At last he came upon something which will seem strange to a modern reader, especially if he is given to scientific ways of thought, but for our solitary thinker it was the only answer appropriate to the particular constitution of his soul. It was no help for him to know that man is a rational animal or a thinking being. At last he found his question answered by another thinker who had it from an old tradition. And he framed the answer he had thus discovered in the following words: Man in his essence is an image of the Divine. Today we should say that man in his essence is what his whole origin in the spiritual world makes him to be.
The remaining remarks by Count von Hoditz need not occupy us today. All that concerns us is that the needs of his soul drove him to an answer which went beyond anything man can see in his environment or comprehend by means of his reason. If we examine the book more closely, we find that its author had no knowledge gained direct from the spiritual world. Now, if he had been troubled by the question of the relation between Sun and Earth, he could, even if he were not an observer himself, have found the answer somewhere among the observations collected by the new forms of scientific thought. With regard to external questions of the sense-world he could have used answers given by people who had themselves investigated the questions through their own observations and experiences. But the experiences available to him at that time gave no answer to the questions concerning man's spiritual life, his real being in so far as it is spiritual. Clearly, he had no means of finding persons who themselves had had experiences in the spiritual world and so could communicate to him the properties of the spiritual world in the same way as the scientists could impart to him their knowledge about the external world. So he turned to religious tradition and its records. He certainly assimilated his findings — this is characteristic of his quality of soul — but one can see from the way he worked that he was only able to use his intellect to give a new form to what he had found emerging from the course of history or from recorded tradition.
Many people will now be inclined to ask: Are there — can there be — any persons who from their own observation and experience are able to answer questions related to the riddles of spiritual life?
This is precisely what Spiritual Science will make people aware of once more: the fact that, just as research can be carried out in the sense-perceptible world, it is possible to carry out research in the spiritual world, where no physical eyes, no telescopes or microscopes are available, and that answers can thus be given from direct experience as to conditions in such a world beyond the range of the senses. We shall then recognize that there was an epoch, conditioned by the whole evolutionary progress of humanity, when other means were used to make known the findings of spiritual research, and that we now have an epoch when these findings can once more be spoken of and understanding for them can again be found.
In between lay the twilight time of our solitary thinker, when human evolution took a rest, so to speak, from ascending towards the spiritual world, and preferred to rely on traditions passed down through ancient records or by word of mouth. In certain circles it began to be doubted whether it was possible for human beings to enter a spiritual world through their own powers by developing the cognitive faculties that lie hidden or slumbering within them. Are there, then, any rational grounds for saying that it is nonsensical to speak of a spiritual world that lies beyond the sense-perceptible? A glance at the progress of ordinary science should be enough to justify this question. Precisely a consideration of the wonderful advances that have been made in unraveling the secrets of external nature should indicate to anyone that a higher, supersensible knowledge must exist. How so?
If we study human evolution impartially, we cannot fail to be impressed by the exceptional progress made in recent times by the sciences concerned with the outer world. With what pride — and in a certain sense the pride is justified — do people remark that the vast, ever-increasing advance of modern science has brought to light many facts that were unknown a few centuries ago. For example, thousands of years ago the Sun rose in the morning and passed across the heavens, just as it does today. That which could be seen in the surroundings of the Earth and in connection with the course of the Sun was the same then, for external observation, as it was in the days of Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Copernicus, and so on. But what could men say in those earlier ages about the external world? Can we suppose that the modern knowledge of which we are so justly proud has been gained by merely contemplating the external world? If the external world could itself, just as it is, give us this knowledge, there would be no need to look further: all the knowledge we have about the sense-perceptible world would have been acquired centuries ago. How is it that we know so much more and have a different view of the position of the Sun and so on? It is because human understanding, human cognition concerning the external world, has developed and changed in the course of hundreds or thousands of years. Yes, these faculties were by no means the same in ancient Greece as they have come to be with us since the 16th century.
Anyone who studies these changes without prejudice must say to himself: Men have acquired something new. They have learnt to see the outer world differently because of something added to those faculties which apply to the external sense-world. Hence it became clear that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth; these new faculties compelled men to think of the Earth as going around the Sun.
No-one who is proud of the achievements of physical science can have any doubt that in his inner being man is capable of development, and that his powers have been remodeled from stage to stage until he has become what he is today. But he is called upon to develop more than outer powers; he has in his inner life something which enables him to recreate the world in the light of his inward capacity for knowledge. Among the finest words of Goethe are the following (in his book about Winckelmann): “If the healthy nature of man works as a unity, if he feels himself within the world as in a great, beautiful, noble, and worthy whole, if harmonious ease offers him a pure and free delight: then the universe, if it could become conscious of itself, would rise in exultation at having reached its goal and would stand in wonder at the climax of its own being and becoming.” And again: “Man, placed at the summit of Nature, is again a whole new nature, which must in turn achieve a summit of its own. He ascends towards that height when he permeates himself with all perfections and virtues, summons forth order, selection, harmony, and meaning, and attains in the end to the creation of a work of art.”
So man can feel that he has been born out of the forces he can see with his eyes and grasp with his reason. But if he applies the unbiased observation we have mentioned, he will see that not only external Nature has forces which develop until they are observed by the human eye, heard by the human ear, grasped by the human reason. In the same way a study of human evolution will show that something evolves within man — the faculties for gaining exact knowledge of nature were at first asleep within him, and have awakened by stages in the course of time. Now they are fully awake, and it is these faculties which have made possible the great progress of physical science.
Is it then inevitable that these inner faculties should remain as they are now, equipped only to reflect the outer world? Is it not perfectly reasonable to ask whether the human soul may not possess other hidden powers that can be awakened? May it not be that if he develops further the powers that lie hidden and slumbering within him they will be spiritually illuminated, so that his spiritual eye and spiritual ear — as Goethe calls them — will be opened and will enable him to perceive a spiritual world behind the sense-world?
To anyone who follows this thought through without prejudice, it will not seem nonsensical that hidden forces should be developed to open the way into the supersensible world and to answer the questions: What is man in his real being? If he is an image of the spiritual world, what, then, is this spiritual world?
If we describe man in external terms and call to mind his gestures, instincts, and so forth, we shall find all these characteristics represented imperfectly in lower beings. We shall see his external semblance as an integration of instincts, gestures, and forces which are divided up among a number of lower creatures. We can comprehend this because we see around us the elements from which man has evolved into man. Might it not be possible then, to use these developed forces to penetrate similarly into a spiritual external world and to see there beings, forces, and objects, just as we see stones, plants, and animals in the physical world? Might it not be possible to observe spiritual processes which would throw light on man's inner life, just as it is possible to clarify his relationship to the outer world?
There has been, however, an interval between the old and the modern way of communicating Spiritual Science. This was a time of rest for the greater part of mankind. Nothing new was discovered; the old sources and traditions were worked over again and again. For the period in question this was quite right; every period has a characteristic way of meeting its fundamental needs. So this interlude occurred, and we must realize that while it lasted men were in a special situation, different both from what had been in the past and from what would be in the future. In a certain sense they became unaccustomed to looking for the soul's hidden faculties, which could have given insight into the spiritual world. So a time drew on when men could no longer believe or understand that the inner development of hidden faculties leads to supersensible knowledge. Even then, one fact could hardly be denied: that in human beings there is something invisible. For how could it be thought that human reason, for example, is a visible entity? What sort of impartial thinking could fail to admit that human cognition is by its nature a supersensible faculty?
Knowledge of this fact was never quite lost, even in the time when men had ceased to believe that supersensible faculties within the soul could be developed so as to give access to the supersensible. One particular thinker reduced this faculty to its smallest limit: it was impossible, he said, for men to penetrate by supersensible vision into a world that comes objectively before us as a spiritual world, just as animals, plants, and minerals and other people are encountered in the physical world. Yet even he had to recognize impartially that something supersensible does exist and cannot be denied.
This thinker was Kant, who thus brought an earlier phase of human evolution to a certain conclusion. For what does he think about man's relationship to a supersensible, spiritual world? He does not deny that a man observes something supersensible when he looks into himself, and that for this purpose he employs faculties of knowledge which cannot be perceived by physical eyes, however far the refinement of our physical instruments may be carried. Kant, then, does point to something supersensible; the faculties used by the soul to make for itself a picture of the outer world. But he goes on to say that this is all that can be known concerning a supersensible world. His opinion is that wherever a man may turn his gaze, he sees only this one thing he can call supersensible: the supersensible element contained in his senses in order that he may perceive and grasp and understand the existence of the sense-world.
In the Kantian philosophy, accordingly, there is no path that can lead to observation or experience of the spiritual world. The one thing Kant admits is the possibility of recognizing that knowledge of the external world cannot be attained by the senses, but only by supersensible means. This is the sole experience of the supersensible that man can have.
That is the historically important feature of Kant's philosophy. But in Kant's argument it cannot be denied that when man uses his thinking in connection with his actions and deeds, he has the means to affect the sense-perceptible world. Thus, Kant had to recognize that a human being does not follow only instinctive impulses, as lower animals do; he also follows impulses from within his soul, and these can raise him far above subservience to mere instinct. There are countless examples of people who are tempted by a seductive impulse to do something, but they resist the temptation and take as their guide to action something that cannot come from an external stimulus. We need only think of the great martyrs, who gave up everything the sense-world could offer for something that was to lead them beyond the sense-world. Or we need only point to the experience of conscience in the human soul, even in the Kantian sense. When a man encounters something ever so charming and tempting, conscience can tell him not to be lured away by it, but to follow the voice that speaks to him from spiritual depths, an indomitable voice within his soul. And so for Kant it was certain that in man's inner being there is such a voice, and that what it says cannot be compared with any message from the outer world. Kant called it the categorical imperative — a significant phrase. But he goes on to say that man can get no further than this voice from the soul as a means of acting on the world from out of the supersensible, for he cannot rise beyond the world of the senses. He feels that duty, the categorical imperative, conscience, speak from within man, but he cannot penetrate into the realm from which they come.
Kant's philosophy allows man to go no further than the boundary of the supersensible world. Everything else that resides in the realm from which duty, conscience, and the categorical imperative emanate is shut off from observation, although it is of the same supersensible nature as the soul. Man cannot enter that realm; at most he can draw conclusions about it. He can say to himself: Duty speaks to me, but I am weak; in the ordinary world I cannot carry out fully the injunctions of duty and conscience. Therefore I must accept the fact that my being is not confined to the world of the senses, but has a significance beyond that world. I can hold this before me as a belief, but it is not possible for me to penetrate into the world beyond the senses — the world from which come the voices of moral consciousness, duty, and conscience, the categorical imperative.
We will now turn to someone who in this context was the exact antithesis of Kant: I mean Goethe. Anyone who truly compares the souls of these two men will see that they are diametrically opposed in their attitudes towards the most important problems of knowledge. Goethe, after absorbing all that Kant had to say about these problems, maintained on the ground of his own inner experience that Kant was wrong. Kant, says Goethe, claims that man has the power to form intellectual, conceptual judgments, but is not endowed with any contemplative faculty which could give direct experience of the spiritual world. But — Goethe continues — anyone who has exercised himself with the whole force of his personality to wrest his way from the sense-world to the supersensible, as I have done, will know that we are not limited to drawing conclusions, but through a contemplative power of judgment we are able actually to raise ourselves into the spiritual world. Such was Goethe's personal reply to Kant. He emphasizes that anyone who asserts the existence of this contemplative judgement is embarking on an adventure of reason, but he adds that from his own experience he has courageously gone through this adventure!
Yet in the recognition of what Goethe calls “contemplative judgment” lies the essence of Spiritual Science, for it leads, as Goethe knew, into a spiritual world; and it can be developed, raised to ever higher levels, so as to bring about direct vision, immediate experience, of that world, The fruits of this enhanced intuition are the content of true Spiritual Science. In coming lectures we shall be concerned with these fruits: with the results of a science which has its source in the development of hidden faculties in the human soul, for they enable man to gaze into a spiritual world, just as through the external instruments of the senses he is able to gaze into the realms of chemistry and physics.
It could now be asked: Does this possibility of developing hidden faculties that slumber in the soul belong only to our time, or has it always existed?
A study of the course of human history from a spiritual-scientific point of view teaches us that there existed ancient stores of wisdom, parts of which were condensed into those writings and traditions which survived during the intermediate period I described earlier. This same Spiritual Science also shows us that today it is again possible not merely to proclaim the old, but to speak of what the human soul can itself achieve by development of the forces and faculties slumbering within it; so that a healthy judgment, even where human beings cannot themselves see into the spiritual world, can understand the findings of the spiritual researcher. The contemplative judgment that Goethe had in mind when he spoke out against Kant is in a certain sense the beginning of the upward path of knowledge which today is by no means unexplored. Spiritual Science is therefore able to show, as we shall see, that there are hidden faculties of knowledge which by ascending order penetrate ever further into the spiritual world.
When we speak of knowledge, we generally mean knowledge of the ordinary world, “material knowledge”; but we can also speak of “imaginative knowledge,” “inspired knowledge,” and finally “intuitive knowledge.” These are stages of the soul's progress into the supersensible world which are also experienced by the individual spiritual researcher in accord with the constitution of the soul today. Similar paths were followed by the spiritual researcher in times gone by. But spiritual research has no meaning if it is to remain the possession of a few; it cannot limit itself to a small circle. Certainly, anything an ordinary scientist has to say about the nature of plants or about processes in the animal world can be of service to all mankind, even though this knowledge is actually possessed by a small circle of botanists, zoologists, and so on. But spiritual research is not like that. It has to do with the needs of every human soul; with questions related to the inmost joys and sorrows of the soul; with knowledge that enables the human being to endure his destiny, and in such a way that he experiences inner contentment and bliss even if destiny brings him sorrow and suffering. If certain questions remain unanswered, men are left desolate and empty, and precisely they are the concern of Spiritual Science. They are not questions that can be dealt with only in restricted circles; they concern us all, at whatever stage of development and culture we may be, for the answering of them is spiritual food for each and every soul.
This has always been so, at all times. And if Spiritual Science is to speak to mankind in this way, it must find means of making itself understood by all who wish to understand it. This entails that it must direct itself to those powers which are most fully developed during a given period, so that they can respond to what the spiritual researcher has to impart. Since human nature changes from epoch to epoch and the soul is always acquiring new aptitudes, it is natural that in the past Spiritual Science should have spoken differently about the most burning questions that concern the soul. In remote antiquity it spoke to a humanity which would never have understood the way it speaks today, for the soul-forces which have now developed were non-existent then. If Spiritual Science had been presented in the way appropriate for the present day, it would have been as though one were talking to plants.
In ancient times, accordingly, the spiritual researcher had to use other means. And if we look back into remote antiquity, Spiritual Science itself tells us that in order to give answers in a form adapted to the soul-powers of mankind in those times, a different preparation was necessary for those who were training themselves to gaze into the spiritual world; they had to cultivate powers other than those needed for speaking to present-day mankind.
Men who develop the forces that slumber in the soul in order to gaze into the spiritual world and to see spiritual beings there, as we see stones, plants, and animals in the physical world — these men are and always have been called by Spiritual Science "initiates," and the experiences that the soul has to undergo in order to achieve this faculty is called "initiation." But in the past the way to it was different from what it is today, for the mission of Spiritual Science is always changing. The old initiation, which had to be gone through by those who had to speak to the people in ancient times, led them to an immediate experience of the spiritual world. They could see into surrounding realms which are higher than those perceived through the senses. But they had to transform what they saw into symbolic pictures, so that people could understand it. Indeed, it was only in pictures that the old initiates could express what they had seen, but these pictures embraced everything that could interest people in those days.
These pictures, drawn from real experience, are preserved for us in myths and legends which have come down from the most diverse periods and peoples. In academic circles these myths and legends are attributed to the popular imagination. Those who are cognizant of the facts know that myths and legends derive from supersensible vision, and that in every genuine myth and legend we must see an externalized picture of something a spiritual researcher has experienced, or, in Goethe's words, what he has seen with the spiritual eye or heard with the spiritual ear. We come to understand legends and myths only when we take them as images expressing a real knowledge of the spiritual world. They are pictures through which the widest circles of people could be reached.
It is a mistake to assume — as it so often is nowadays — that the human soul has always been just as it is in our century. The soul has changed; its receptivity was quite different in the past. A person was satisfied then if he received the picture given in the myth, for he was inspired by the picture to bring an intuitive vision much more directly before his soul. Today myths are regarded as fantasy; but when in former times the myth sank into a person's soul, secrets of human nature were shown to him. When he looked at the clouds or the Sun and so forth, he understood as a matter of course what the myth had set before him. In this way something we could call higher knowledge was given to a minority in symbolic form. While today we talk and must talk in straightforward language, it would be impossible to express in our terms what the souls of the old sages or initiates received, for neither the initiates nor their hearers had the soul-forces we have now developed.
In those early times the only valid forms of expression were pictorial. These pictures are preserved in a literature which strikes a modern reader as very strange. Now and then, especially if one is prompted by curiosity as well as by a desire for knowledge, one comes across an old book containing remarkable pictures which show, for example, the interconnections between the planets, together with all sorts of geometrical figures, triangles, polygons, and so on. Anyone who applies a modern intellect to these pictures, without having acquired a special taste for them, will say: What can one do with all this stuff, the so-called Key of Solomon as a traditional symbol, these triangles and polygons and such-like?
Certainly, the spiritual researcher will agree that from the standpoint of modern culture nothing can be made of all this. But when the pictures were first given to students, something in their souls really was aroused. Today the human soul is different. It has had to develop in such a way as to give modern answers to questions about nature and life, and so it cannot respond in the old way to such things as two interlocked triangles, one pointing upwards, the other downwards. In former times, this picture could kindle an active response; the soul gazed into it and something emerging from within it was perceived. Just as nowadays the eye can look through a microscope and see, for example, plant-cells that cannot be seen without it, so did these symbolic figures serve as instruments for the soul. A man who held the Key of Solomon as a picture before his soul could gain a glimpse of the spiritual world. With our modern souls this is not possible, and so the secrets of the spiritual world which are handed down in these old writings can no longer be knowledge in the original sense, and those who give them out as knowledge, or who did so in the 19th century, are doing something out of line with the facts. That is why one cannot do anything with writings such as those of Eliphas Levi, for instance, for in our time it is antiquated to present these symbols as purporting to throw light on the spiritual world. In earlier times, however, it was proper for Spiritual Science to speak to the human soul through the powerful pictures of myth and legend, or alternatively through symbols of the kind I have just described.
Then came the intermediate period, when knowledge of the spiritual world was handed down from one generation to the next in writing or by oral tradition. Even if we study only external history, we can readily see how it was handed down. In the very early days of Christianity there was a sect in North Africa called the Therapeutae: a man who had been initiated into their knowledge said that they possessed the ancient writings of their founders, who could still see into the spiritual world. Their successors could receive only what these writings had to say, or at most what could be discerned in them by those who had achieved some degree of spiritual development.
If we pass on to the Middle Ages, we find certain outstanding persons saying: we have certain cognitive faculties, we have reason; then, beyond ordinary reason we have faculties which can rise to a comprehension of certain secrets of existence; but there are other secrets and mysteries of existence which are only accessible by revelation. They are beyond the range of faculties which can be developed, they can be searched for only in ancient writings.
Hence arose the great mediaeval split between those things that can be known by reason and those that must be believed because they are passed down by tradition, are revelation. And it was quite in keeping with the outlook of those times that the frontier between reason and faith should be clearly marked. This was justified for that period, for the time had passed when certain mathematical signs could be used to call forth faculties of cognition in the human soul. Right up to modern times, a person had only one means of grasping the supersensible: looking into his own soul, as Augustine, for example, did to some extent.
It was no longer possible to see in the outer world anything that revealed deep inner secrets. Symbols had come to be regarded as mere fantasies. One thing only survived: a recognition that the supersensible world corresponded to the supersensible in man, so that a man could say to himself: You are able to think, but your thought is limited by space and time, while in the spiritual world there is a Being who is pure thought. You have a limited capacity for love, whereas in the spiritual world there is a Being who is perfect love. When the spiritual world was represented for a human being in terms of his own inner experience, his inner life could extend to a vision of nature permeated by the Divine; then he had consciousness of God. But for particular facts he could turn only to information given in ancient writings, for in himself he had nothing that could lead him into the spiritual world.
Then came the later times which brought the proud achievements of natural science. These are the times when faculties which could go beyond the sense-perceptible emerged not only in those who achieved scientific knowledge, but in all men. Something in the soul came to understand that the picture given to the senses is not the real thing, and to realize that truth and appearance are contraries. This new faculty, which is able to discern outward nature in a form not given to the senses, will be increasingly understood by those who today penetrate as researchers into the spiritual world and are then able to report that one can see a spiritual world and spiritual beings, just as down here in the sense-perceptible world one sees animals, plants, and minerals.
Hence the spiritual researcher has to speak of realms which are not far removed from present-day understanding. And we shall see how the symbols which were once a means for gaining knowledge of the spiritual world have become an aid to spiritual development. The Key of Solomon, for instance, which once called forth in the soul a real spiritual perception, does so no longer. But if today the soul allows itself to be acted on by what the spiritual researcher can explain concerning this symbol, something in the soul is aroused, and this can lead a person on by stages into the spiritual world. Then, when he has gained vision of the spiritual world, he can express what he has seen in the same logical terms that apply to external science.
Spiritual Science or occultism must therefore speak in a way that can be grasped by anyone who has a broad enough understanding. Whatever the spiritual researcher has to impart must be clothed in the conceptual terms which are customary in other sciences, or due regard would not be paid to the needs of the times. Not everyone can see immediately into the spiritual world, but since the appropriate forces of reason and feeling are now existent in every soul, Spiritual Science, if rightly presented, can be grasped by every normal person with his ordinary reason. The spiritual researcher is now again in a position to present what our solitary thinker said to himself: Man in his essence is an image of the Godhead.
If we want to understand the physical nature of man, we look to the relevant findings of physical research. If we want to understand his inner spiritual being, we look to the realm which the spiritual researcher is able to investigate. Then we see that man does not come into existence at birth or at conception, only to pass out of existence at death, but that besides the physical part of his organism he has supersensible members. If we understand the nature of these members, we penetrate into the realm where faith passes over into knowledge. And when Kant, in the evening of an older period, said that we can recognize the categorical imperative, but that no-one can penetrate with conscious vision into the realm of freedom, of divine being and immortality, he was expressing only the experience natural to his time. Spiritual Science will show that we can penetrate into a spiritual world; that just as the eye equipped with a microscope can penetrate into realms beyond the range of the naked eye, so can the soul equipped with the means of Spiritual Science penetrate into an otherwise inaccessible spiritual world, where love, conscience, freedom, and immortality can be known, even as we know animals, plants, and minerals in the physical world. In subsequent lectures we will go further into this.
If once more we look now at the relationship between the spiritual researcher and his public, and at the difference between the past and present of Spiritual Science, we can say: The symbolic pictures used by spiritual researchers in the past acted directly on the human soul, because what today we call the faculties of reason and understanding were not yet present. The pictures gave direct vision of the spiritual world, and the ordinary man could not test with his reason what the spiritual researcher communicated to him through them. The pictures acted with the force of suggestion, of inspiration; a man subjected to them was carried away and could not resist them. Anyone who was given a false picture was thus delivered over to those who gave it to him. Therefore, in those early times it was of the utmost importance that those who rose into the spiritual world should be able to inspire absolute confidence and firm belief in their trustworthiness; for if they misused their power they had in their hands an instrument which they could exploit in the worst possible way.
Hence in the history of Spiritual Science there are periods of degeneration as well as times of brilliance; times in which the power of untrustworthy initiates was misused. How the initiate in those early times behaved towards his public depended to the utmost degree on himself alone. At the present time — and one might say, thank God for it! — all this is somewhat different. Since the change does not come about all at once, it is still necessary that the initiate should be a trustworthy person, and it will then be justified to feel every confidence in him. But people are already in a different relationship to the spiritual researcher; if he is to speak in accordance with the demands of his time he must speak in such a way that every unbiased mind can understand him, if the willingness to understand him is there. This is, of course, far removed from saying that everyone who could understand must now understand. But reason can now be the judge of what an individual can understand, and therefore everyone who devotes himself to Spiritual Science should bring his unbiased judgment to bear on it.
From now onwards this will be the mission of Spiritual Science: to rise into a spiritual world, through the development of hidden powers, just as the physiologist penetrates through the microscope into a realm of the smallest entities, invisible to the naked eye. And ordinary intelligence will be able to test the findings of spiritual research, as it can test the findings of the physiologist, the botanist, and so on. A healthy intelligence will be able to say of the spiritual researcher's findings: they are all consistent with one another. Modern man will come to the point of saying to himself: My reason tells me that it can be so, and by using my reason I can grasp clearly what the spiritual researcher has to tell. And that is how the spiritual researcher, for his part, should speak if he feels himself to be truly at one with the mission of Spiritual Science at the present time. But there will be a time of transition also today. For since the means to achieve spiritual development are available and can be used wrongly, many people whose purpose is not pure, whose sense of duty is not sacred and whose conscience is not infallible, will find their way into a spiritual world. But then, instead of behaving like a spiritual researcher who can know from his own experience whether the things he sees are in accord with the facts, these pretended researchers will impart information that goes against the facts. Moreover, since people can come only by slow degrees to apply their reasoning powers to understanding what the spiritual researcher says, we must expect that charlatanry, humbug, and superstition will flourish preeminently in this realm. But the situation is changing. Man now has himself to blame if, without wishing to use his intellect, he is led by a certain curiosity to believe blindly in those who pass themselves off as spiritual investigators, so-called. Because men are too comfort-loving to apply their reason, and prefer a blind faith to thinking for themselves, it is possible that nowadays we may have, instead of the old initiate who misused his power, the modern charlatan who imposes on people not the truth, but something he perhaps takes for truth. This is possible because today we are at the beginning of an evolutionary phase.
There is nothing to which a man should apply his reason more rigorously than the communications that can come to him from Spiritual Science. People can lay part of the blame on themselves if they fall victim to charlatanry and humbug; for these falsities will bear abundant fruit, as indeed they have done already in our time. This is something that must not go unnoticed when we are speaking of the mission of Spiritual Science today.
Anyone who listens now to a spiritual researcher — not in a willful, negative way that casts immediate doubt on everything, but with a readiness to test everything in the light of healthy reason — will soon feel how Spiritual Science can bring hope and consolation in difficult hours, and can throw light on the great riddles of existence. He will come to feel that these riddles and the great questions of destiny can be resolved through Spiritual Science; he will come to know what part of him is subject to birth and death, and what is the eternal core of his being. In brief, it will be possible — as we shall show in later lectures — that, given goodwill and the wish to strengthen himself by taking in and working over inwardly the communications of Spiritual Science, he will be able to say with deepest feeling: What Goethe divined and said in his youth is true, and so are the lines he wrote in his maturity and gave to Faust to speak:
The spirit world is ever open,
Dead is thy heart, thy sense-veil closely drawn!
Up, scholar, let thy breast unwearied
Bathe in the roseate hues of dawn!
In the dawn-lines of the Spirit!
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