Lecture 8 of 10
Rudolf Steiner, Christiania, Norway, June 10, 1912:
Rudolf Steiner, Christiania, Norway, June 10, 1912:
The attainment of occult knowledge — it is necessary we should remind ourselves of the fact now and again — is no child's play; and if anyone approaches it with the idea that it will offer him theories to which he can either remain indifferent or, if they are not so remote as all that, still theories that require no more than the intellect to grasp them, he will find he is very much mistaken.
Generally speaking, what remains, for example, after an impression of color or of light is by no means an appearance of color or light. Indeed, we can say that if it is color or light, then it is illusion! It is a tone, of which one is quite certain that it has not been heard with the ear, that the ear has had no part in its reaching us. What remains can also be some other impression, but it is always different from the external impression. The occultist has to learn completely to overcome external impressions, for occultism is there for the blind, for example, who have never in their life seen an external object, never once had any external impression of light by means of the eye. Most of the ghostlike figures that people see are merely memory pictures of sense impressions that have been changed by the play of fancy. Occult experience is not dependent on whether a person can use some particular sense organ or not; it occurs quite independently of the sense organs.
Having now made himself an accurate picture of the complete human figure, the pupil must hold it firmly before him. It must live before him as an Imagination. With which of the senses or in what manner he fixes the human form is of no account. What is important is that in some way or other he fixes this human form — that is to say, through the human form a picture, an Imagination, is evoked in him, a living picture. The pupil may now take for his starting point the external picture of the human form. It is, however, also possible for him to start from the inner feeling of the body, the feeling he has of being within the form.
When the occultist succeeds in experiencing in this way something like an after-image in respect of the human form — when, that is to say, having first comprehended this human form as he finds it in the physical world, he allows it then to “echo on” in him in the way that an after-image echoes on — when he is able to have this experience and afterwards to wait until the image of the human form is past and gone, he will obtain a picture of the human form which is no longer an image of the physical form but is experienced in the ether body.
You see, for the pupil in occultism it is a question of experiencing himself in the ether body. And when the pupil has come to the point of experiencing himself in this way in the ether body, then this experience is indeed a profound one! It falls at once into two distinct experiences. It does not remain whole and single. And these two experiences have to be expressed by two words. We have to say that the pupil experiences first, death, and second, Lucifer.
Since the experiences of which we are now speaking are not of the senses, but are in their very essence and nature higher experiences, it is naturally not altogether easy to describe them. Words are for the most part taken from the world of the senses and they remind us always, in their application, of the world of the senses. But these are experiences that we feel to be inward rather than outward; and if we make use of words to describe them, it is rather for the purpose of evoking some conception, some picture only, of what is in very truth experienced.
The experience of death is somewhat as follows. The pupil knows that the human form, which he has first perceived and then taken as his starting point, has no continuance outside Earth existence. It is bound up with Earth existence. Whoever wants to go beyond Earth existence, whoever wants to reckon at all with a supersensible life, must realize that this human figure can be experienced as such only on Earth; it must go to pieces — it does so before his eyes — the moment he passes beyond Earth existence, and show itself as death. In the ether body the human form can show itself in no other way than as given over to death.
This, then, must be the first impression, and here the pupil may easily founder; for the impression made by the shattered and destroyed human form is one that sinks very deeply into the soul. It is a fact that many who have aspired to be occultists have not been able to surmount this first impression and have said to themselves: “Fear of what may be still to come stops me from going any further.” It is necessary for the pupil to behold death, for the simple reason that only so can he know in all certainty that in the Earth body it is impossible to experience the higher world; one must come right out of the body, one must leave it.
That is actually the next impression the pupil receives. I do not mean to imply that the higher world can never be experienced while in the Earth body. But the pupil in occultism must inevitably come at this point to the experience and knowledge that I have described. It may be expressed in the words: He experiences Lucifer.
Lucifer is there before him, and directs his attention to a fact which carries with it for the pupil a very great temptation. If we had to put into words what is experienced in making the acquaintance of Lucifer, we might express it in the following way. Lucifer makes the pupil attentive to the frailty and destructibility of the human form. He says: “Look at this human form. See how destructible it is; a destructible form have the Gods given you — the Gods who are my enemies.” That is what Lucifer tells him, and he points out to him that the Higher Gods were placed under the necessity of making man destructible in his form; he shows the pupil that They could not do otherwise, owing to certain conditions of which we shall speak later. And then he shows him what he, Lucifer, wanted to make of man, what man would have become if he had been given the handling of him — alone, unhindered by his opponents.
There is something extraordinarily seductive in the picture Lucifer gives of what man would have become if he, Lucifer, alone had had the making of him. For Lucifer says “Look around you and see what remains of you when your human form has gone to pieces.” When the human form has been destroyed, when man turns around, as it were, and sees himself flayed — spiritually speaking — when his form has been taken from him, then he beholds two things. In the first place he sees that what remains is in fact conformable to the supersensible world, is in a certain respect immortal, whilst the body is mortal. This fact puts a powerful argument in the hands of Lucifer, wherewith he may tempt man. Man's attention has first been directed to the image of God which he has, which, however, is destructible and bound to the Earth. Then Lucifer directs him to something else in him that is immortal, not subject to death. Therein lies the temptation. But when man comes to consider and observe that which is immortal in him, when he contemplates that which shakes off the external form after it has broken up into the three parts of which we have discovered it to be composed, then man sees himself and sees at what cost Lucifer has made him immortal. For man, when he looks back upon himself, discovers he is no longer man. Threefold man, as we have described him, has always been expressed in occult symbolism in certain pictures. These pictures, these Imaginations, have throughout the ages had something to say to man. Very few, however, have understood their wonderful significance. The upper man, as man sees him when he turns back to look upon himself, is different in different people. The picture that presents itself here is also more or less transient. It gives nevertheless an approximate idea of the impression man experiences. There is no longer a human countenance; the countenance is suggestive of a bull, or else of a lion. Experiences in the supersensible world have often a quite grotesque appearance; and it transpires that, although not always, yet generally speaking, a woman who looks back in this way perceives herself more like a lion, a man more like a bull. There is no getting away from it, it is really so! And connected with these two pictures — which are intermingled, for the man is not entirely devoid of lion, nor the woman entirely devoid of bull, the two merge into one another — blended in at the same time with these is the picture of a bird, which has always been called the eagle and which belongs in the whole picture.
Nor has the worst yet been told! Many a man might be ready to make up his mind to be a bull, a lion, or an eagle as a price for immortality. That is, however, only the upper man. The continuation down below is a wild, savage dragon. Here you have the source of all the numerous sagas and stories of the dragon. Traditional religious symbolism has always given man the four pictures, — Man, Lion, Bull, Eagle; but it has given no more than indications, as, e.g., in the account of the Fall, that a wild Dragon also belongs to man. The dragon, however, has its place in the totality of man, it is to be found there; and man has to say to himself: Lucifer is indeed able to promise you immortality — it is a sure and well-founded promise — but only at the cost of your form and figure, so that you go on living in the form you have become under the influence of Lucifer. And now we can see how it has come about that we have received such an inner form; it is because of the influence of Lucifer in Earth evolution. We perceive also that this Earth evolution has under the influence of Lucifer given to man supersensible gifts one after another. Wisdom and everything connected with wisdom comes to man by many and manifold paths from Lucifer. Lucifer can show man, when he meets him, how much man really owes to him. But what I described just now has also to be reckoned among the things man owes to Lucifer.
The question is bound to arise: “Is there then no ray of comfort in this self-knowledge?” For, when all is said, it is not exactly comforting if this new insight only leads to a description of how man is degraded to the rank of an animal. The animal is, moreover, tripartite and does not belong to the “higher” animals; rather is man debased to the animal stage that exists on the Earth in the picture of an amphibian. No, such a conception can hardly be called comforting!
This is the experience which I described to you before as being so extraordinarily fleeting and transient. One needs great presence of mind to grasp the impression at all, to get a view of it, as it were. It goes past one so swiftly. That is the disadvantage of starting from the human form. People do not as a rule have sufficient presence of mind to grasp death and Lucifer and then turn round, spiritually, and survey themselves. Nothing we see brings any comfort, for ultimately we have only two courses to choose from. We can hold to what is mortal and destructible in us and comes from the Gods, the opponents of Lucifer; or we can choose immortality and along with it the degradation of the human form.
The presence of all these things, the impression made by them, is in the first moment terrible and paralyzing. For this reason a great part of the task of the occult teacher consists in warning people not to pay too much heed to such impressions, or indeed to any first supersensible impressions, because these impressions, whether they are of a kind to occasion joy or pain, can never be trusted as guides. The right course is to wait patiently, very patiently. It may well be that when one has carried out the experiment described, a feeling of absolute hopelessness comes over one; to persevere then in calling forth the impression again and again requires courage. But this is what we must do if we would make practical progress in occultism, and a time will come when we find, as it were, ground for our feet.
What the present moment affords — on that can man most assuredly not rely. Everything he achieves in life is seen now to be destructible, impermanent. Lucifer promises something eternal. But not to that either can man hold. A moment comes, however, when there is one thing of which he can take firm hold; it is not anything of the present, but a memory that can remain with him from ordinary life on Earth. This memory must stay with him like a thought out of Earth life, and intermingle in the meeting with death and Lucifer. It streams over from Earth life, and is suddenly there, this memory, this thought, which alone can give man support and stay. But it is singularly feeble, and great energy is required to hold it. This one and only thing in life which man can recall as something sure and certain is the thought of Self, of “ I.” It is the thought: Over there I have been a Self. There is, as we said, extreme difficulty in holding this thought. Many of you will know how difficult it is to bring over a dream from the other state of consciousness into the present moment. And it can happen all too easily that when man has entered the supersensible world, this “ I” thought is like a dream that he has had in the Earth world and does not remember. Like a forgotten dream is this “ I ” thought, when he has come into the other consciousness; and the difficulty of holding it has even increased for man in the course of evolution. In ancient times, in times that lie far back in the remote past, it was comparatively easy to carry over the “ I ” picture from here on Earth to the Beyond, but in the course of the evolution of mankind it has become more and more difficult.
When I say “The thought of the I comes,” you must think of it in the following way. For the present-day pupil in occultism, the thought often does indeed come. It does not merely remain with man as a dream picture — no, it can flash up in him beyond as a sudden memory. For this to happen, however, help is needed. It can happen, but not without help — an important point. When the pupil enters the supersensible world, then under present-day conditions of evolution the I would almost certainly remain behind like a forgotten dream, if help were not forthcoming.
If I am to give a name to the help that the pupil in occultism needs today in order that he may not forget the thought of the I when he ascends into the supersensible world, there is but one expression I can use, and that is being together with the Christ Impulse on Earth. That is what helps! In present-day conditions of Earth evolution everything depends at this point on what sort of a relation man has had with the Christ Impulse during his life on Earth, and in what measure he has let It become alive in him. On this depends whether the thought of the I is lost in forgetfulness when man ascends into the supersensible world, or whether it remains with him as the one and only sure support that he can take over with him from Earth into the supersensible world.
The Christian of today has many remarkable and beautiful things to say about the Christ Impulse. But one who consciously in the Christian sense enters the higher worlds knows still more of the Christ Impulse. And this more that he knows is exceedingly important and significant. He knows that the Christ Impulse is the one and only thing that can come to our help when we are in danger of forgetting the I of Earth evolution. How is it that in addition to all that the Christ Impulse has already been able to be for man on Earth, in addition to the untold blessings that man has received and is still receiving from It, for his comfort, for his goodness of heart and mind, for his education and culture, there is also this — that the Christ Impulse in the measure in which It works in man, can bring it about that the I of Earth does not need to be forgotten? Where can we look for the explanation of this?
If I am to give you an answer to this question I must draw your attention to facts which, although you may not know them from occultism, you can yet acquaint yourselves with by an intelligent study of the Gospels. For there are two ways of coming to a knowledge of the reasons why the Christ Impulse can give this help. The first is the path of occultism — an occultism such as rightly belongs to the stage of evolution reached by man in our times. And the second is the path of a thoroughly intelligent and deep study of the Gospels. The Gospels have one remarkable and unique feature, as compared with other religious records. People do not always notice it, but it is there, none the less. Take all that you can find in the external history of religions, take the whole content of the religions founded even in post-Christian times, and compare with this what you read in the Christian records, the Gospels. If you look into the history of the founder of any religion and take pains to understand him, you will find you can only do so by learning to know and understand the supersensible inspirations or intuitions which he received. Inquire of the pre-Christian founders of religion whence came their wisdom and you will be told — in the case of Buddha, for example, how he acquired under the Bodhi tree that great and high enlightenment which enabled him to proclaim what he called the “holy doctrine.” You are directed, that is to say, if you want to know the ground and source of Buddha's teaching, to a supersensible enlightenment.
Nor is it any different in post-Christian times. Take Muhammed. You must look to the visions, the revelations Muhammed received from supersensible worlds, in order to explain why this or that was spoken in such and such a way. It is the same with all founders of religions; and not only with founders of religions, but with all who have given authentic revelations. We are directed to their divine inspiration, to the supersensible that shone into them. We have quite exact knowledge of this in the case of Pythagoras. And in Plato's writings we can find everywhere indications that while he did not give all he knew, for what he did communicate he received inspiration through the Mysteries — that is to say, he underwent evolution into higher worlds. Even in the case of Socrates we read of a “Daimon,” and indeed it would be absurd to leave out the Daimon in speaking of Socrates. What Socrates developed for man on the foundation of pure intelligence, he received through his Daimon. Look where you will, everywhere you will find the same.
Now let me ask you to turn from these examples to the Gospels. Go through them carefully and you will find but one single occasion in the whole three years of His sojourn on Earth when, in the sense of initiation experience, Christ Jesus looked into, or had to look into, the supersensible world. The only time that you will find anything of this kind is in the scene of the Temptation, and even there you are not told that Christ had to learn to hold fast to a supersensible good God, but only that He had a meeting with that which was for Him the “evil” — with Satan, with Lucifer.
We are told that this Temptation was for Him from its very beginning no temptation. Read the passages through for yourselves and you will see how unique is the picture given us in the Gospels. Christ passed through what the initiators have always had to pass through, but from the beginning He holds steadfastly to His God, withstands the attacks and utters the word: “Get thee hence, Satan! For it is written, Thou shalt worship God, thy Lord, and Him only shalt thou serve.” Lucifer cannot tempt Him any further and leaves Him. In all the other scenes and events that follow the Temptation, in everything else the Gospels have to tell, we can discover nothing at all to be compared with the accounts that have to be given of the life of initiates, where we read a description of how and in what manner they learned in the course of their life to penetrate into the spiritual worlds.
We can speak of the Christ right from the very beginning as of an “initiate” — that is, one who has direct and immediate connection with the supersensible world. I have done this in my book Christianity as Mystical Fact and continually in lectures. But one cannot in the case of the Christ speak of His “initiation,” one cannot speak in His case of progress through initiations. We can say that He is an “initiated” one, but we can say nothing at all about how He became “initiated.” That is a profound distinction.
Compare all that is told of the life of the “initiated” with the account you have in the Gospels. Perhaps you will observe — I have shown it in my book Christianity as Mystical Fact — that the writers of the Gospels needed only to take the ancient ritual in accordance with which initiation was carried out, in order to describe the life of Christ. In relating the ritual they were relating the events of the life of Christ Jesus. But they could never say that He actually underwent what they were describing. Take such a scene — pregnant with deep meaning — as the Transfiguration, or the Prayer on the Mount of Olives. These are events which if you had set out to relate them of some other initiated person you would have had to describe in quite a different way. You could not merely say that he went up to the Mount of Olives and that there drops of sweat fell from him like blood; in the case of another initiated person you would have to tell what he experienced there, how he was changed on the Mount of Olives. Christ was not changed. The meeting with His God on the Mount of Olives was not of such a character that we can feel He has anything to learn there. Similarly, what He passed through at the Transfiguration was not for Himself an enlightenment. For the others, for His companions, it was an enlightenment, but not for Him. For Him it was perfectly natural and comprehensible; He could not learn anything new from it.
What on the other hand should we expect to be told concerning any other initiated person? We must be shown how he advanced step by step on the path of knowledge. In the case of higher initiates we may expect to be told of how they brought a great deal with them from earlier incarnations and perhaps only needed still to pass through the very last stage. We find nothing of all this with the Christ. We have the story of the Temptation, and that is all. What we find in the Christ is that He was permeated through and through in the very highest degree with Divine Self-consciousness. This marks the opening scene of the three-year life of Christ. And then we have before us this wonderful picture — the picture of highly exalted divine revelations proceeding directly and immediately from One who is Earth Man. In the case of any other initiated person we have to tell how he first attained to this or that stage of initiation and was then able to make this or that revelation. With Christ Jesus on the other hand it all wells up freely in Him from the very beginning, and we are not told that in the course of the three years of His life this or that stage of initiation was passed. If anyone were to treat the description of the Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus as though they were such stages, it would only demonstrate his failure to perceive the fact that the Resurrection took place by virtue of the power that was already there in the living Christ. The Resurrection is not an act of initiation. Christ Jesus was not awakened to life by some other initiate but by the Divine Power that comes from beyond the Earth, the Power that was communicated to Him through the Baptism. The Resurrection was given at the time of the Baptism, it was already there in that moment; whereas the act which in the case of other initiated persons is called “Resurrection” has to be brought about by the deeds and instructions of an elder initiate.
This is the reason why I had to describe the Christ Event as I did in my book Christianity as Mystical Fact — which was written more than ten years ago and appeared shortly after. We have to see it somewhat in the following way: Christ lived His life on Earth; in this life many events and processes took place. How do we describe these events and processes? We describe them best by relating what an initiated one of olden time had to pass through. What the initiated in olden time passed through in his Mystery school, that unfolded itself in the case of Christ as historical fact. Therefore the Evangelists could use the ancient books of initiation, not in order to describe an initiation of Christ but to write a biography of Him. That is the gist of the argument in my book Christianity as Mystical Fact.
It is evidence of the very deepest misunderstanding of the life of Christ if we speak of Him not as one already initiated but as one who had during Earth evolution to undergo initiation. Anyone who wants to explain the life of Christ as an initiation is making a very great mistake in regard to the spirit of Christianity. He would understand Christianity as though its Founder were not already an Initiated One, but had first to be initiated, as though in describing the life of Christ one were describing processes of His initiation.
It is accordingly necessary in speaking of the life of Christ to make it perfectly clear that the expressions which are used cannot be applied in the same sense as they are applied to the ancient — or any other — initiation, but that they are used in an absolutely physical earthly sense, that they refer to a history, to an event in history, that lies outside initiation.
The importance of this cannot be over-emphasized. No graver mistake could be made than to overlook what has just been explained and speak of an “initiation of Christ” — not in the sense that it is spoken of in my lectures “Before the Gate of Theosophy” or in those on “The St. John Gospel,” but clothing the life of Christ in the garb of an account of an initiation. In doing so, one would from the very outset be placing oneself in contradiction to every reasonable interpretation of the Gospels. It would be impossible to find the way to the heart and kernel of these, or to understand what occultism has to say concerning Christ Jesus. Let us never forget that when we speak of other founders of religion we have to speak of them as men who have become initiated and we are justified and right in understanding their life as comprising within it an initiation, but that the life of Christ has to be described differently. Although this life of Christ, as it takes its course on Earth, had indeed to make divine revelations, we are not to conceive of any process of initiation shining as it were into this life of Christ and enlightening it. No, Christ was Himself an initiator. Read in my book Christianity as Mystical Fact the passage concerning the true meaning of the miracle of the Raising of Lazarus. You will find it was an initiation that Christ then performed. He Himself was able to initiate; but we can by no means say that Christ was initiated on Earth in the same sense as we have to say Lazarus was initiated by Christ.
In the place of initiation we have the baptism by John in the Jordan. If, however, the baptism had been the corresponding act of initiation, it would have been described differently. We would have been told how Christ stood there as one awaiting initiation while a far more exalted initiator performed the act of initiation. The other, however, who stands at His side as the instrument for the act is no higher initiator, but is John the Baptist, who cannot, in accordance with the facts, be placed higher than Christ Jesus Himself.
It has frequently happened that men have made this mistake. But for a right relation to Christianity, for a true understanding of Christianity, such a mistake is always fatal. We must, therefore, beware of speaking as though Christ had passed through various stages — Birth, Childhood, or again, Baptism or Transfiguration or Resurrection — in the sense in which some initiated person may be said to pass through such stages. The moment we apply to the Christ in the same manner the expressions: Birth, Baptism, Transfiguration, Ascension, we show a complete misunderstanding of Christianity.
All this needs to be clearly understood if we would answer the question: How has it come about that the Christ Impulse is what enables man to carry the memory of his I from ordinary life on Earth into the life of the supersensible worlds?
Let me ask you to call up a picture before you of what I have tried to show you today, how man meets with death and with Lucifer and how the pupil in occultism comes into a hopeless and desolate situation from which he can only be released if he is able to retain a memory of the thought of the I. And remember then what I said further that the greatest help for the retention of the I-thought consists, for a man of the present day, in having placed himself during life on Earth in a relation to the Christ Impulse. Recall too, how in order to establish this fact I set out to explain wherein the life of Christ is different from the life of any other initiated person. Christ comes before us from the outset as One of Whom we are certainly told that He performed deeds on Earth, but of Whom we are not told that He was influenced by a Daimon — like Socrates, or that He sat under a Bodhi tree — like Buddha, or that He had visions — like Muhammed. To imagine any of these would make it impossible to understand the Christ. How the Christ Impulse becomes the means for the pupil to let the I-thought live on over into the spiritual world, so that he does not instead have only thoughts that have died, and how the supersensible world then appears to him — of this we will speak tomorrow.