Lecture 1 of 4
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, February 3, 1913:
In these lectures I should like to bring before you a picture of the nature of the Mysteries and their connection with the spiritual life of humanity. First, by way of introduction, we must come to an understanding with regard to various experiences on the path to the higher worlds. We shall have to bring forward things which in a certain connection have already been touched upon in the course of our anthroposophical studies; but during the next few days we shall need certain points of view which may have so far received less attention, at least in their necessary setting.
Everything that belongs to the Mysteries in their true nature is founded ultimately on the experiences of Initiates in the higher worlds. It is from the higher worlds that the knowledge and the impulses for practical training in the Mysteries have to be brought. We have often emphasised that as human evolution in different regions takes on different forms in successive periods, so is it with everything that we call the nature of the Mysteries. It is not for nothing that our souls pass through successive human lives; we go through them because in every incarnation we experience something fresh and can add it to what we have garnered in previous incarnations. In most cases the appearance of the external world has completely changed when, after our passage through the spiritual worlds between death and a new birth, we enter again through birth into physical existence, And for reasons that we can easily recognise, the principle of Initiation must also change in the successive epochs of humanity. In our own time the principle of Initiation has already undergone a great change, in that Initiation can be attained up to a certain stage without any personal guidance; for it has been possible to set out publicly the principles of Initiation as far as has been done, for example, in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. Anyone who tries quite seriously to work through the experiences described in this book can go very far in relation to the principle of Initiation. He can go so far that the existence of the spiritual world becomes for him a matter of knowledge, equally with his knowledge of the external physical world. By slowly and gradually applying to his soul in due sequence the exercises given, he will break through to an understanding of the spiritual worlds. The Way of Initiation can now be described and pursued without exposing the soul to certain events which could lead it into particular catastrophes and revolutions.
Up to this point, accordingly, it is possible to-day to discuss in public the Way into the higher worlds. But it must be said also that for anyone seriously resolved to go further, the Way is even to-day bound up with the enduring of certain pains and sorrows, and with some quite special experiences which can have a dismaying, revolutionary effect on a man's life, and for these he must have undergone a thorough preparation. I must again emphasise, however, that anyone can follow through everything that has been published without risk of harm, and by this means he can go very far along the Way. The path to the higher worlds, one need hardly say, is never closed, but anyone who wishes to follow it beyond a certain frontier must be specially prepared if he is to reach the end of it without having his inner life shaken — not morbidly, but shaken through and through. Even these shocks pass quite naturally over the soul when the whole course of Initiation is carried out rightly. But it is very necessary that it should be carried through in the right way.
Now we must understand clearly that if anyone wants to plunge into the Mysteries, everything in his soul-life must gradually become different. The change can be characterised in a few words by saying: for anyone wishing to penetrate the Mysteries, the aims and goals that figure in ordinary soul-life must all become a means to higher purposes, higher goals. In ordinary life a man perceives the external world through his senses. He perceives it in colours, forms and sounds and other sense-impressions. He lives within this world of sense-impressions. At the moment when Initiation is to enter a certain stage, he must not simply experience blue or red or any other colours all the time; without losing these experiences he must learn to make them a means to higher ends. In ordinary life a man looks out on a clear day into space and sees the blue sky and enjoys the sight. But if he wants to be an Initiate of a certain degree he must come to the point of being able to see the blue of the heavens as completely transparent. While normally it is a limit or boundary, it must now become transparent, and he must be able to see what he wants to see through the blue sky. For him it must no longer be a boundary. Or let us take a rose: for external vision the surface of the rose is bounded by its red colour. At the moment of Initiation the red colour ceases to be a boundary. It becomes transparent, and behind it appears that which is being sought. The colour does not cease to produce its own natural effect; but the Initiate perceives something different when he looks through the blue sky, when he looks through the red of the rose, and again when he looks through the rosy dawn, and so on. The colour is experienced in a quite definite manner, but for unmediated vision it becomes transparent and is eliminated by the soul-force which has been acquired through the training that leads to clairvoyance. So it is with all sense-impressions. Whereas previously they were in themselves a complete experience, after Initiation they become merely a means of experiencing what lies behind them.
Thus it is with the whole thought-world. In ordinary life man thinks ... I beg you not to misunderstand this in any way; if you compare it in the right sense with other explanations you will see the agreement, but it is none the less true to say that from a certain stage of Initiation, thinking in the usual sense of the word ceases. It is not that the Initiate could ever come to a time when he would regard thinking as of no significance, but instead of being the aim and object of the life of the soul, thinking must become merely a means to an end. The Initiate, in fact, is entering a new world. In order to experience it, it is necessary for him — besides other things of which we shall have to speak — to pass beyond the standpoint of ordinary thinking on the physical plane. When a man lives on the physical plane he judges things and forms opinions about them. After a certain stage of Initiation these opinions no longer have any meaning or value. But as we are speaking about regions of the soul-life so different from those to which we are accustomed, I must point out that it is very easy for misunderstandings to arise. When this stage of Initiation, which I shall have to describe later on, is reached, then as a rule a person will have to lead a kind of double life. For in everyday life it is impossible not to reflect and form judgments upon things. On the physical plane we are forced to form judgments and to think. Suppose you were sitting in a train and were not thinking, you would go past your station. It could even happen that although an Anthroposophist ought to take care of his membership card, a thoughtless person might leave it lying about, which would be against all the principles that should be observed in looking after it. Well, life is such that we must use our judgment and reflect.
But with this attitude towards judging and thinking we cannot attain to the higher worlds. A mixing of the two attitudes may occur: one can be so absorbed in the urge to reach the higher worlds as to be guilty of such a lapse of memory as I have just mentioned. However, on the whole it should. certainly be possible to keep these two things apart: a truly sound power of judgment for the physical plane, holding all life's duties in view and at the same time never forgetting that what we develop so assiduously for the physical plane can be only a means to an end where the higher worlds are concerned.
Thoughts, ideas, judgments, must be for the would-be Initiate what colours, for example, are for the painter. For him they are not an end in themselves but a means of expressing what he wants to say in his picture. In ordinary physical life thoughts and ideas are an end in themselves; for the Initiate they become the means of expressing what he experiences in the higher worlds. This stage can be reached only when a certain attitude of soul towards one's personal views and opinions has been acquired. A person who has any preference for one view or another; who still prefers one thing or another to be true, cannot enter the stage of Initiation referred to here, but only he who esteems his own views as little as he does those of others, and is prepared to set aside his own opinions and to observe quite objectively what is really there. In general, one of the greatest difficulties of inner experience is to get beyond the standpoint of “opinions” and “points of view”. Here we touch upon certain difficulties which may arise in living together with other people when one is seeking to follow the path into the higher worlds. Anyone who is seeking this path, or has already arrived at a certain stage on it, will take an attitude towards many things in life, through the soul-condition he has attained, which will be different from the ordinary one. Above all, he will reveal the characteristic of knowing quickly, let us say, how one ought to behave in this or that circumstance of life. Then perhaps he is asked by those around him: “Why should we do that?” Certainly, when he can appreciate the other person's point of view, he will always be able to account for this “why”. But first he will have to come down from the level where he sees in a flash what has to be done, and take his stand beside the person, forcing himself to follow the train of thought of ordinary life in order to show what proof there is for what he sees through in a flash. This rapid comprehension of widely varying and complicated circumstances of life is a phenomenon, which accompanies the faculty of rising above personal opinions and views and standpoints.
Apart from this, the attainment that must be sought is connected with various other inner moral qualities. Of these we shall have to speak later. We will point now to only one quality to which allusion has often been made. It is fearlessness. For we must bear in mind that, when the entire soul-life is reduced to being a means, instead of ranking as an end in itself, the experiences into which one enters are transformed. In the first place there will be a quite new mode of experiencing. One is indeed entering into the unknown, and this is at first always accompanied by conditions of fear. And because the whole experience takes place in the intimate depths of the soul, the state of fear may lead to all kinds of inner soul-experiences. Hence the preparations for the path into the higher worlds involves the achievement of a certain fearlessness. This fearlessness must be won by means of definite meditations. It can be done. Only, generally speaking, people lack sufficient perseverance for the kind of meditations required. A good meditation is to give oneself up again and again to the thought that knowing about something makes no difference to the thing itself. If, for instance, someone were at this moment to know that something bad is going to happen in an hour's time, and that nothing he can do could prevent it, his knowledge of it would probably cause him anxiety and fear. But his knowledge does not alter the thing in the least. Hence the fear and anxiety are entirely futile. It is a futility to which all souls quite naturally give way; a folly which assuredly would assail anyone at a certain stage of Initiation if his training had not prepared him for fearlessness by requiring him to say to himself again and again: Is anything at all altered by the fact of knowing about it?
The person who is meditating, who has worked up to certain stages of Initiation, then comes to a very remarkable piece of knowledge: the knowledge that in a certain sense things are in a bad way with regard to his inner being, his own human soul.
Beneath the threshold of the consciousness there is indeed something that one would wish to be different, judging by the opinions of ordinary life. In a certain respect it is something quite terrifying. And it would be in the natural order of things that if a man were to be led unprepared into the depths of his own soul, he would get an incredible shock. One must prepare oneself, then, by an ever-repeated meditation on the thought: Things cannot be altered by knowing about them. Of a truth, the thing that is terrifying in the subliminal regions of the soul is not called forth only when one approaches it and looks at it. It is always there, even when one is not aware of it. But through constantly repeated meditation on the thought that things cannot be altered by knowing about them, one expels a great part of the fear that must be got rid of.
Thus you see from just a few things I have mentioned that in the moment when one is preparing to rise into higher worlds, intellectual and moral qualities of the soul intermingle. For the ordinary external knowledge of our time one requires only intellectual qualities. In this connection I call courage and fearlessness moral qualities. Without them, certain stages of Initiation cannot be reached.
Whether we are speaking of Eastern Mysteries or Western Mysteries, all have certain stages in common, Hence for all Mysteries certain expressions have a valid meaning and can be rendered somewhat as follows. Every soul that wishes to attain to a certain stage of Initiation and the Mysteries must go through certain experiences. The first can be called “Coming into contact with the Experience of Death”; the second is “Passing through the Elementary World”; the third was called in the Egyptian and other Mysteries “Seeing the Sun at Midnight”; and a fourth one is “The Meeting with the Upper and the Lower Gods”. These experiences must be gone through by everyone who attains to a certain stage of Initiation. Through inner experience he must come to know what these phrases mean and must be capable, so to speak, of living in two worlds — the actual world in which man lives to-day, the world of the physical plane; and a world in which a man can live only when he knows what is meant by having “come into contact with Death”, by having “gone through the Elementary World”, by having “seen the Sun at Midnight”, and by “meeting with the Upper and. the Lower Gods”.
“To come into the vicinity of Death.” The point here is that in his waking condition between birth and death a man really lives continually, in so far as he lives consciously, in all that concerning which I have just been saying: it must be overcome, must become for the Initiated a mere means to an end. Let us try now to be quite clear as to what a man lives in while he is on the physical plane. On the physical plane he lives in his sense-impressions and in the ordinary experiences of his soul. All this must become merely a means, as soon as he enters into the Mysteries. What then remains, over and above what a man feels himself to be in ordinary life? Nothing remains. Everything sinks down into a reality of secondary degree. A man must lay aside all his usual experiences, both of an inward and of an outward nature. Only think, the blue vault of heaven becomes transparent, is no more there; all boundaries produced by colour on the surface of things vanish, are no longer there. The sounds of the physical world cease, are no longer there; the experience of touch ceases, is no longer there. And I beg you to take note that this becomes actual experience. Thus, for example, the feeling, “to stand with one's feet on solid ground” which is nothing else than an expression of the sense of touch, ceases, and the person feels as if the ground has been taken away from under him and he were standing upon nothing; but he cannot draw back and cannot rise. So it is with all impressions of the senses — with everything for which the physical body is an instrument. All that a man goes through in his normal life between waking and sleeping is brought about through the instrumentality of the body, and all this ceases. A condition from which man in ordinary life is preserved now actually occurs — the condition that would come about if someone while sleeping were suddenly to become conscious without waking up again in his physical body. This is not a condition reached in ordinary dreams. The dream is in a certain sense an extra-physical experience, but the consciousness of it is so lessened that the person is not aware of being outside all physical experience. This intensity of consciousness, “Thou standest outside all physical life”, is not produced until Initiation. During the ascent into the higher worlds a moment comes when a man confronts his physical body, whose hands he can move during waking life, with whose feet he can walk, whose knees he can bend, whose eyelids he can open and shut and so on, but now he feels as though his whole physical body were petrified, as though it were impossible to move the eyelids, the legs, the hands, etc. A moment then comes when he knows that there are eyes in this physical body, but they are of no use for seeing. On the one hand all things become transparent, and on the other the possibility of approaching these things with the usual and familiar means ceases completely. Try to grasp what a contradiction this is, in the ordinary sense of the word. When a man prepares himself to reach this point, he finds all things are, so to speak, transparent, that he sees through everything. But at the moment when this begins — e.g. when the heavens become transparent — the eye ceases to have the power of seeing the blue vault of heaven at all. This means that the first moment in the Mysteries consists in a person coming to the point when he overcomes the method of perception by the senses, and also the act of thinking, but what he should thereby attain is at the same moment taken from him. He has worked his way through to the moment where something quite new is given to him; he reaches precisely the moment in which this new thing comes to meet him — but in this very instant it is also taken away. He now knows nothing but: “Thou hast won thy way through in such manner that thou standest before the Higher Worlds, and now in that very moment they are taken from thee.”
Picture this experience to yourselves, and you have the moment which has been designated in the Mysteries of all ages as “The Approach to the Gate of Death.” For the person knows now what is meant by the words: the world is taken from you, i.e. the entire world of impressions. And he knows that he consists of nothing but these experiences of inner impressions. For in reality there exists nothing but these experiences, these inner impressions. As soon as a person falls asleep, when all impressions cease, he normally falls into unconsciousness. This means that he lives in his impressions. Now he overcomes these impressions of ordinary life; he knows he has progressed so far that he can see through everything, but at this moment a new world is taken from him. We shall have to speak more in detail on this point; but first we want to make still clearer what is meant by the expressions used.
In face of this unavoidable halt, with no way of getting further, the only deliverance lies in having developed the inner life — in advance of the actual moment — to such a degree that the aspirant is able to carry with him the only thing which it is at all possible to take beyond that point. He must come to the point where the external world actually denies him all power, and he must have progressed so far in his inner development that at this moment, through training in self-reliance, in self-confidence and presence of mind and other inner virtues (virtues here meaning capabilities), he possesses inner power, inner energy, so that at the moment when the world is taken from him, he has at his disposal a surplus of inner energy. But this brings with it at the same moment an extraordinarily significant experience. Imagine a man coming to the boundary he has striven for, where the world is transparent; then it is taken from him. Now he has preserved nothing; he cannot have saved anything but a certain inner strength through having trained his self-reliance, presence of mind, fearlessness and similar inner qualities. Thereby he comes to the significant experience, one that forces itself upon him: Thou art alone in the world. Thou art quite alone in the world. And then comes an experience which I cannot indicate otherwise than in the words: Thou alone art the whole world. This experience becomes ever stronger and stronger, more and more comprehensive. And the remarkable thing is that from this experience in the soul a whole new world can arise, and truly must arise in him who is to be initiated. He feels he has come to a certain boundary where he has confronted the Void, but that he has brought with him a certain power. It is perhaps quite small at first, but it becomes ever greater and greater and spreads out on all sides. He begins to penetrate into the whole world, to permeate himself with the whole world; and the more he permeates the world with his own being, the more does it appear always different. He extends the power that he has brought with him to one side or the other, and according as he extends it, he will always experience something different. But at first these experiences will be felt to be quite terrifying, because two things are entirely lacking from them. At a certain stage of knowledge the lack of these things may not seem dreadful before it is experienced, because in the ordinary experience of the physical plane the thing is always there, and one first gets a real idea of it only when it is no longer there.
One thing that ceases is every feeling for physical materiality. Everything material has disappeared into indefinite nothingness, the Void — it is not there. The feeling of contacting something hard, or even something soft like water or air — in short, the feeling of being surrounded by matter ceases, is not there. One is concerned only with the qualities of things, not the things themselves. Of heavy, dense physical bodies only the density remains, not the substantiality; of fluid bodies, only the fluidity, but not the water or the fluid; of the air there remains only the tendency to expand in all directions, but not the substantiality. One grows into the qualities of things, but with the feeling that one is growing only into the qualities; that the objects have vanished, all materiality has gone. This is one thing that ceases.
The other thing that ceases for the aspirant at this stage of experience is everything connected with what in ordinary physical life we call sense-perception. This follows from what has already been described. Nothing makes an impression on him, but he is everything himself. The only impression that remains is at the most that of “time” — “Now art thou not yet anything, and after a while thou wilt be something.” But as for having objects external to himself, which are present elsewhere and make an impression on him, nothing like that remains. Either he is something himself, or nothing at all is Elementary there. Everything he encounters becomes himself; he becomes submerged in it, becomes one with it, and finally he becomes as great as the world that is at his disposal; he becomes one with it.
I am picturing actual experience. It is what is generally known in the Mystery centres as “Experiencing the Elementary World”. The aspirant has risen beyond the mere “Contact with Death”, but he is, so to speak, an undifferentiated unity with the whole world that is available to him.
There are now two possibilities. Either the preparation was good or it was not good. If it was good, then the intending Initiate, after having poured himself out to a certain extent over the world, must have so far progressed that he still has surplus strength. In that case — you see that I am describing to-day from a different point of view things I have often described., but we now need this other point of view — then he now has the following experience.
Whereas in the ordinary world, one confronts an object, gazes at it, and the object makes an impression on the eye so that one then knows something about the object, when the point of Initiation which has just been described is reached, such a thing no longer happens. For the aspirant is not concerned with a reproduction of the ordinary world, but from a definite point onwards he must now have sufficient forces at his command to pour more out of himself. Thus, after he has spent force enough in becoming one with the world, he must now have sufficient strength to spin forces out of himself as the spider spins a web. You see how the whole process of the Mysteries shows the importance of developing strong inner energy in the life of the soul; for one must have large reserves in order that all this may take place.
Then the following may happen. The aspirant naturally has no physical eyes, for they belong to the physical body and he has long left this behind. But because he has poured out something from himself and can pour out still more, as the spider spins her web out of herself, something akin to organs is built up, and he can discern that together with what he is himself producing, something absolutely new appears. Things present themselves not as if, for instance, I had my watch here and my eyes there, but as if the eyes were to send out a ray which formed itself into a watch, so that the watch was there through the activity of the eyes. It is not a matter of constructing or creating a subjective world, but of spinning soul-substance out of ourselves, and the higher worlds we are beginning to live in have to choose this indirect way, in order that we may be able to confront them and recognise them. They must first infiltrate our own soul-substance which we have placed at their disposal. In the physical world things confront us without our co-operation. In the higher worlds nothing confronts us unless we first place our own soul-substance at its disposal. That is why it is so difficult at this point to distinguish the subjective from the objective, for what we spin out of our soul-substance is bound to be entirely subjective, and whatever uses our soul-substance in order to become perceptible is bound to be entirely objective.
I have brought forward these things so that you may experience a definite feeling that all training in the Mysteries consisted pre-eminently in a strengthening of the energies of the soul. That was the important thing — to make the soul powerful, strong, energetic. From the outset the candidate for Initiation had to give up the hope that anyone would hand, him the objects and entities of the higher worlds as though on a platter. He had first to develop himself point by point towards the higher worlds. Nothing without effort — absolutely nothing without effort! So it is for everything that has to be reached individually in the higher worlds; so it is for everything that has been reached in the course of human evolution with regard to the higher worlds.
Let us suppose that some being, the Moses individuality for example, was to be incarnated in the course of human evolution and had to work upon this evolution through his spiritual power. It would be childish to suppose that nothing now needed to happen except that human evolution would proceed on its way, and that at some point or other in its course Heaven would send Moses. Moses is now there; men know that he is Moses, and need only carry out what was being done when Moses came! If Moses had been sent anywhere in this way, the result could only have been that those around him would not have recognised him. The point is not that this or that external personality was there, but that a number of persons should be capable of judging what spiritual being lived in this particular personality. One would never have needed to tell these persons: “This one or other is Moses.” One would. have needed only to prepare their souls in the proper way. Then their souls, without being told, “This one or the other is Moses”, would have known that this was the particular spiritual being who was to be recognised as a certain person.
This, then, is what we have to recognise: that the path into the higher worlds is bound up with an energising, a strengthening of the inner soul-powers; nothing can be given from outside, but it all can be attained only through the strengthening of the inner life; for only by this means can the Threshold be passed into those worlds through which a man passes between death and a new birth. That is what I wished to bring before you to-day as an introduction.
To-morrow we will go further, by describing first of all what the worlds are like between death and a new birth, and in how far it has become necessary and important that through the Mysteries something should. be communicated to man during his physical life concerning the knowledge of these higher worlds.