Rudolf Steiner Archive

Calendar of the Soul

Northern Hemisphere
Week 26

O Nature, your maternal life
I bear within the essence of my will.
And my will's fiery energy
Shall steel my spirit striving,
That sense of self springs forth from it
To hold me in myself.

Southern Hemisphere
Week 52

When from the depths of soul
The spirit turns to the life of worlds
And beauty wells from wide expanses,
Then out of heaven's distances
Streams life-strength into human bodies,
Uniting by its mighty energy
The spirit's being with our human life.

—Translation by Ruth and Hans Pusch

See GA 40 for full calendar and German text.

Initiation and Its Results
GA 10

II. The Constitution of the Etheric Body

The cultivation of the astral body, as it has been described in the foregoing chapter, permits of a person perceiving supersensual phenomena, but he who would really find his way about the astral world must not tarry at this stage of evolution. The mere motion of the lotus-flowers does not really suffice. The student should be able to regulate and control the movement of his astral organs independently, and with complete consciousness. Otherwise, he would become, as it were, a plaything for external forces and powers. If he does not wish to become such, he must acquire the faculty of hearing what is known as “the inner word,” and to effect this it is needful to evolve not merely the astral but also the etheric body. This is the fine body which to the eyes of the clairvoyant appears as a kind of wraith of the physical body. It is to some extent a medium between the physical and the astral bodies. If one is equipped with clairvoyant powers, one can quite consciously suggest away the physical body of a person. On that higher plane it is no more than what is ordinarily an exercise of one's attention. Just as a person can withdraw his attention from anything that is before him so that it does not exist for him, so can the clairvoyant blot out a physical body from his observation so that it becomes, for him, physically transparent. If he applies this power to a human being who stands in front of him, nothing remains in his soul-sight except the etheric body and the astral body, which is greater than either of the other two and interpenetrates them both. The etheric body has approximately the size and form of the physical body, so that it practically fills the same space. It is an extremely delicate and finely-organized vehicle. 1I would request the physicist not to resent the expression “etheric body.” The use of the word “ether” is merely an attempt to suggest the fineness of the phenomenon under consideration. It has practically no connection at all with the hypothetical ether of the physicist. Its principal color is different from the seven contained in the rainbow. He who is able to observe it is introduced to a color which is not observable by the sense-perceptions. It can be compared to the color of a young peach-blossom as accurately as to any. If one desires to contemplate the etheric body alone, one has to extinguish one's observation of the astral body by an exercise of attention similar to that already suggested. If one omits to do so, one's view of the etheric body is confused by the complete interpenetration of the astral body.

Now the particles of this etheric body are in continual motion. Countless currents pass through it in every direction. By these currents life itself is supported and regulated. Every body that has life, including the animals and plants, possesses such an etheric double. Even in minerals there are traces of it perceptible to the attentive observer. These currents and movements are almost entirely independent of the human will and consciousness, just as the action of the heart or stomach in the physical body is independent of our will. As long as a person does not take his development (in the sense of acquiring supersensual faculties) in-to his own hands, this independence remains. For his development at a certain stage consists precisely in adding to the unconscious independent outrayings and movements of the etheric body that by which the individual is enabled to influence them in a conscious manner by himself.

When his occult education has progressed so far that the lotus-flowers described in the foregoing chapters begin to bestir themselves, then the student is given certain directions which lead to the evocation of particular currents and movements within his etheric body. The object of these directions is to fashion in the region of the physical heart a kind of center from which these outrayings and movements, with their manifold forms and colors, may go forth. The center is, in reality, not merely a given point, but a most complicated structure, a really wonderful organ. It glows and shimmers with all kinds of color and displays forms of the greatest symmetry-forms which are capable of transformation with astonishing speed. Other forms and outrayings of color proceed from this organ to the other parts of the body, as also to those of the astral body, which they entirely pervade and illumine. The most important of these rays move, however, toward the lotus-flowers. They pervade each petal and regulate its revolutions; then, streaming out at the points of the petals, they lose themselves in the surrounding space. The more evolved a person may be, the greater becomes the circumference to which these rays extend.

The twelve-petalled lotus-flower has a peculiarly close connection with the center already described. The rays move directly into it, and from it proceed, on the one side, toward the sixteen-petalled and the two-petalled lotuses, and, on the other, the lower side, to the lotuses of eight, of six, and of four petals. This is the reason why the very greatest care must be given to the development of the twelve-petalled lotus. If any imperfection be there allowed, the entire formation of the whole structure must remain disorderly. From what has been been said, one may imagine how delicate and intimate is this occult education, and how strictly one has to conduct oneself if everything is to be developed in the proper way. It will now be quite evident that instruction concerning the development of supersensual faculties can only be given by one who has already experienced everything which he desires to awaken in another, and who is unquestionably in a position to know whether his instructions will be rewarded with success.

If the student follows out what is prescribed for him in these instructions, he introduces into his etheric body outrayings and vibrations which are in harmony with the laws and the evolution of the world to which he belongs. Consequently, these instructions are reflections of the great laws which govern the development of the world. They consist of special exercises in meditation and in concentration, which, if appropriately practised, produce the results described. The content of these instructions may only be imparted to the individual during his occult education. At certain periods these instructions must entirely pervade his soul with their content, so that he is inwardly, as it were, filled with it. He starts quite simply with what is necessary above all things, a deepening and an interiorization of the reasonable and sensible thought of the head. This thought is thus made free and independent of all sense-impressions or experiences. It is in a certain manner concentrated into a point which is entirely in the power of the individual. By doing this a preliminary center for the rays of the etheric body is formed. This center is not yet in the region of the heart, but in that of the head, and it appears to the clairvoyant as the outgoing point of the vibrations. Only that occult educational course is successful which creates this center first. If this center were from the outset transferred to the region of the heart, the clairvoyant could doubtless obtain glimpses of the higher worlds; but he would yet lack any true insight into the connection between these higher worlds and that of our senses, and this for the individual at a certain stage of the world's evolution is an unconditional necessity. The clairvoyant must not become a mere enthusiast; he must retain his footing upon firm earth.

The center in the head, when it has become duly settled, is then transferred further down, that is to say, to the region of the larynx. This change is again induced by a particular exercise of concentration. Then the characteristic vibrations of the etheric body stream forth from this point, and illuminate the astral space that surrounds the individual.

A further exercise enables the student to determine for himself the position of his etheric body. Hitherto this position depended upon the forces which came from without or proceeded from the physical body. By means of such development the individual is able to direct the etheric body to all sides. This faculty is effected by outrayings which move approximately along both hands and are centered in the two-petalled lotus that is situated in the region of the eyes. As a result of all this, the rays which flow forth from the larynx are shaped into round forms of which a quantity proceed to the two-petalled lotus, and from there take their way as undulating currents along the hands.

One finds as a further development that these currents branch out, ramify in a delicate manner, and become in a certain sense like wicker-work, so that the entire etheric body is enmeshed in a network. Since hitherto the etheric body has had no closure to externals, so that the life-currents of the great ocean of life flowed freely in and out, it now becomes necessary that impacts from outside should pass through this cuticle. Thus the individual becomes sensitive to these external streams: they become perceptible to him. The time has now come to give the complete system of rays and vibrations a center in the heart. That, again, is accomplished by means of a meditative and concentrative exercise, and simultaneously the student attains the point at which he can hear the “inner word.” All things now acquire for him a new significance. They become audible, as it were, in their innermost nature; they speak to him from their true being. The currents already described place him in touch with the interior of the world to which they appertain. He begins to mingle his life with the life of his environment, and can let it reverberate in the vibrations of his lotus-flowers. Thus the individual enters the spiritual world. If he has come so far, he acquires a new understanding of all that the great teachers of humanity have uttered. The sayings of the Buddha, for instance, now produce a new effect upon him. They pervade him with a beatitude of which he had never dreamed before. For the sound of the words now follows the movements and rhythms which he has formed within himself. He is now able to know directly how a person like the Buddha did not proclaim his own individual revelations, but those which flowed into him from the inmost being of all things. A fact must here be explained which could only be comprehended in the light of what has already been said. The many repetitions in the sayings of the Buddha are not rightly understood by the people of our present evolutionary stage. For the occult student they are like something upon which he may gladly let his inner senses rest, for they correspond to certain rhythmic movements in the etheric body. Devotional musing on these, with complete inward peace, creates a harmony with these movements, and because they themselves are echoes of certain universal rhythms which also at particular points repeat themselves and make regular returns to their former modes, the individual, listening to the wisdom of the Buddha, puts himself into harmony with the secrets of the universe.

In the theosophical handbooks we meet with four attributes which must be developed by the student on what is called the probationary path, in order that he may attain the higher knowledge. The first is the faculty for discriminating between the eternal and the temporal, the true and the false, the truth and mere opinion. The second is a right estimate of the eternal and true as opposed to the perishable and illusory. The third faculty is that of practising the six qualities already mentioned in the foregoing chapters: thought-control, control of action, perseverance, tolerance, good faith, and equanimity. The fourth attribute necessary is the longing for freedom. A mere intellectual comprehension of what is included in these attributes is utterly worthless. They must become so incorporated into the soul that they endure as inner habits. Let us take, for instance, the first of these attributes — the discrimination between the eternal and the temporal. One must so educate oneself that quite naturally one discriminates in everything that confronts one between its impermanent characteristics and those that will endure. This can only be accomplished if in one's observation of the external world one continues again and again to make this attempt. At last the gaze in quite a natural way discerns what endures, just as hitherto it had satisfied itself with the impermanent. “All that is impermanent is only a parable”— that is a truth which becomes an obvious conviction for the soul. And so, too, must it be with the others of the four attributes an the path of probation.

Now under the influence of these four spiritual habits the etheric body actually transforms itself. By the first — the discrimination between the true and the false — the center already described is formed in the head and that in the larynx is prepared. The exercises of concentration, before mentioned, are above all things essential to any true formation. It is they that create, while the four spiritual habits bring to fruition. If the center in the larynx has been prepared, the free control of the etheric body, as above explained, will follow, and its separation, its network covering, be produced by the correct estimating of the eternal as opposed to the impermanent. If the student acquires this power of estimation, the facts of the higher worlds will gradually become perceptible. Only it must not be thought that one has merely to perform those actions which appear to be important when measured by the intellect alone. The smallest action, every little thing accomplished, has something of importance in the vast household of the world, and it is only necessary that one should become conscious of this importance. It is not a question of underestimating the daily affairs of life, but of rightly estimating them. Enough has been said in the previous chapter of the six virtues of which the third attribute is composed. They are connected with the development of the twelve-petalled lotus in the region of the heart, and this, as already indicated, is associated with the life-current of the etheric body. The fourth attribute, which is the longing for freedom, serves to bring to fruition the etheric organ situated in the heart. If these attributes have become real spiritual habits, the individual frees himself from everything which only depends upon the capacities of his personal nature. He ceases to contemplate things from his own separate standpoint. The limits of his narrow self, which fetter him to this outlook, disappear. The secrets of the spiritual world reveal themselves to his inner self. This is liberation. For all fetters constrain the individual to regard things and beings as if they corresponded to his personal limitations. From this personal manner of regarding things the occult student must become independent and free.

From this it will be clear that the writings which have proceeded from the mighty sages can become effective in the innermost deeps of human nature. The sayings concerning the four attributes are just such emanations of “primeval wisdom.” They can be found under one form or another in all the great religions. The founders of the great religions did not give mankind these teachings from vague feeling. They based them an much firmer foundations, because they were mighty Initiates. Out of their knowledge did they shape their moral teachings. They were aware how these would react upon the finer nature of men, and desired that the culture of these qualities should gradually lead to the organization of that finer nature. To live according to these great religions is to work out one's own spiritual perfection, and only in so doing can one really serve the world. Self-perfection is in no wise selfish, for the imperfect man is also an imperfect servant of humanity and of the world. The more perfect one becomes the more does one serve the world. “If the rose adorns herself she adorns the garden.”

The founders of religions are therefore the great magicians. That which comes from them flows into the souls of men and women, and thus with humanity the whole world moves forward. The founders of religions have consciously worked with this evolutionary process of humanity. One only understands the true meaning of religious instructions when one realizes that they are the result of actual knowledge concerning the innermost depths of human nature.

The leaders of religion were mighty sages, and it is out of their knowledge that the ideals of humanity have sprang. Yet the individual comes nearer to these leaders when he uplifts himself in his own evolution to their heights.

If a person has evolved his etheric body in the manner just described, an entirely new life is opened up before him, and at the proper period in the course of his training he now receives that enlightenment which adapts him to this new existence. For example, he sees (by means of the sixteen-petalled lotus) the shapes of a higher world. He must then realize how different are these forms when caused by this or that object or being. In the first place, he should notice that he is able, in a certain manner, to influence some of these forms very powerfully by means of his thoughts and feelings, but others not at all, or only to a limited extent. One species of these figures will be altered immediately if the observer thinks to himself when they appear, “that is beautiful,” and then in the course of his contemplation changes his thought and thinks “that is useful.” It is particularly characteristic of the forms which come from minerals or from objects artistically made, that they possess the peculiarity of changing under every thought or feeling which is directed upon them by the observer. In a lesser degree this is also true of the forms that proceed from plants, and to a still smaller extent of those that are connected with animals. These forms are full of life and motion, but this motion only pertains to that part which is under the influence of human thought or feeling, and in the other parts it is effected by forces upon which a person can exercise no influence. Now there appears within this whole world a species of forms which are almost entirely unaffected by activities an the part of human beings. The student can convince himself that these forms proceed either from minerals or artificial shapes, and not from animals or plants. In order to make these things quite clear, he must now observe those forms which he can realize to have proceeded from the feelings, impulses, and passions of human beings. Yet he may find that upon these forms his own thoughts and feelings still hold some influence, even although it be comparatively small. There always remains a residuum of forms in this world upon which all such influences are less and less effective. Indeed, this residuum comprises a very large proportion of those forms which are usually discerned by the student at the outset of his career. He can only enlighten himself concerning the nature of this species by observing himself. He then learns that they were produced by himself, that what he does or wishes or wills finds expression in these forms. An impulse that dwells in him, a desire that he possesses, a purpose that he harbors, and so forth, are all manifested in these forms; indeed, his whole character displays itself in this world of shapes. By means of his thoughts and feelings a person can exercise an influence upon all the forms which do not come from himself; but upon those which are sent into the higher world from his own being he possesses no power when once he has created them.

Now it follows from what has been said that from this higher aspect of human inner nature one's own world of impulses, desires, and conceptions is seen to express itself in outward shapes, just like all other beings or objects. To the higher knowledge the inner world appears as a part of the outer world. Just as anyone in the physical world who should be surrounded with mirrors could look at his physical form in that way, so, too, in a higher world does the spiritual self of man appear to him as an image reflected in a mirror.

At this stage of development the student has arrived at the point when he overcomes the “illusion of the personal self,” as it has been expressed in theosophical books. He can now regard that inner personality as something external to himself, just as previously he recognized as external the things which affected his senses. Thus he learns by gradual experience to master himself as hitherto he mastered the beings around him.

If any one obtains a view into this higher world before his nature has been sufficiently prepared, he stands before the character-picture of his own soul as before an enigma. There his own impulses and passions confront him in the shapes of animals or, more seldom, of human beings. It is true that the animal forms of this world have never quite the appearance of those in the physical world, but still, they possess a remote resemblance. By the inexpert observer they may easily be taken for the same. When one enters this world, one must adopt an entirely new method of forming one's judgments. For, seeing that those things which properly pertain to the inner nature appear as external to oneself, they are only discerned as the mirrored reflections of what they really are. When, for instance, one perceives a number, one must reverse it as one would read what is seen in a mirror. 265 would mean in reality 562. One sees a sphere as if one were in the center of it. One has therefore at first to translate correctly these inner perceptions. The attributes of the soul appear likewise as if in a mirror. A wish that is directed toward something outside appears as a form which moves toward the person who wished it. Passions that have their habitation in the lower part of human nature take an the forms of animals or of similar shapes that let themselves loose upon the individual. In reality these passions are struggling outward; it is in the external world that they seek for satisfaction, but this outward striving appears in the mirrored reflection as an attack upon the impassioned person.

If the student, before attaining the higher vision, has learned by quiet, sincere examination of himself to realize his own attributes, he will then, at the moment when his inner self appears to him as a mirrored reflection outside, find courage and power to conduct himself in the right way. People who have not practised such introspection sufficiently to enable them to know their own inner natures will not recognize themselves in these mirrored pictures and will mistake them for something foreign. Or they may become alarmed at the vision and say to themselves, because they cannot endure the sight, that the whole thing is nothing but an illusion which cannot lead them anywhere. In either case the Person, by his unseasonable arrival at a certain stage in the development of his higher organization, would stand disastrously in his own way.

It is absolutely necessary that the student should pass through this experience of spiritually seeing his own soul if he is to press onward to higher things. For in his own self he then possesses that spirituality by which he can best judge. If he has already acquired a fair realization of his own personality in the physical world, and when the picture of that personality first appears to him in the higher world, he is then able to compare the one with the other. He can refer to the higher as to a thing known to him, and in this way can advance on firm ground. If, on the contrary, he were confronted by numbers of other spiritual beings, he would be able to gain hardly any information concerning their nature and attributes. He would very soon feel the ground slipping away from his feet. It cannot too often be repeated that a safe entrance into the higher worlds can only follow a solid knowledge and estimate of one's own nature.

It is pictures, then, that the student meets on his way up to the higher worlds, for the realities which are expressed by these pictures are really in himself. He must soon become sufficiently mature to prevent himself from desiring, at this first stage, veritable realities, but to allow of his regarding these pictures as appropriate. But inwardly he soon learns something completely new from his observation of this picture-world. His lower self only exists for him as mirrored pictures, yet in the midst of these reflections appears the true reality that is his higher self. Out of the pictures of the lower personality the form of the spiritual ego becomes visible. Then from the latter threads are spun to other and higher spiritual realities.

This is the moment when the two-petalled lotus in the region of the eyes is required. If this now begins to stir, the individual attains the power of setting his higher ego in connection with spiritual, superhuman entities. The currents which flow from this lotus move so toward these higher entities that the movements here spoken of are fully apparent to the individual. Just as the light makes physical objects visible to the eyes, these currents reveal the spiritual things of the higher worlds. Through sinking himself into certain ideas which the teacher imparts to the pupil in personal intercourse, the latter learns to set in motion, and then to direct the currents proceeding from this lotus-flower of the eyes.

At this stage of development especially, what is meant by a really sound capacity for judgment and a clear, logical training is manifested. One has only to consider that here the higher self, which had hitherto slumbered unconscious and like a seed, is born into conscious existence. One is here concerned not with a figurative, but with a veritable birth in the spiritual world, and the being now born, the higher self, if it is to be capable of life, must enter that world with all the necessary organs and conditions. Just as nature takes precautions that a child shall come into the world with well-formed ears and eyes, one must take precautions in the self-development of an individual, so that his higher self shall enter existence with the necessary attributes. These laws which have to do with the development of the higher organs of the spirit are no other than the sound, rational, and moral laws of the physical world. The spiritual ego matures in the physical self, as the child in the mother's womb. The health of the child depends upon the normal working of natural laws in the womb of the mother. The health of the spiritual self is similarly conditioned by the laws of common intelligence and reason that work in the physical life. No one who does not live and think healthily in the physical world can give birth to a sound spiritual self Natural and rational life is the basis of all true spiritual evolution. Just as the child, when still in the womb of the mother, lives according to natural forces which after its birth it uses with its organs of sense, so the higher self in a human being lives according to the laws of the spiritual world even during its physical incarceration; and even as the child out of a vague sensational life acquires the powers above mentioned, so can a human being also acquire the powers of the spiritual world before his own higher self is born. Indeed, he must do this if the latter is to enter its world as a completely developed being. It would be quite wrong for anyone to say, “I cannot follow the teachings of the mystic and theosophist until I can see them for myself,” for if he should adopt this view, he could certainly never attain to genuine higher knowledge.

He would be in the same position as a child in the mother's womb who should reject the powers that would come to him through the mother, and should intend to wait until he could create them for himself. Even as the embryo of the child learns in its dim life to accept as right and good what is offered to it, so should it be with the person who is still blindfolded in relation to the truths declared in the teachings of mystic or theosophist. There is an insight, based upon intuition of the truth and a clear, sound, all-round critical reason, concerning these teachings, that exists before one can yet see spiritual things for oneself. First, one must learn the mystical wisdom, and by this very study prepare oneself to see. A person who should learn to see before he has prepared himself in this way would resemble a child who was born with eyes and ears but without a brain. The entire world of sound and color would widen out before him, but he could make no use of it.

That which before appealed to the student through his sense of truth, his reason, and his intelligence, becomes, at the stage of occult education already described, his own experience. He now has a direct realization of his higher self, and he learns how this higher self is connected with spiritual entities of a loftier nature and how it forms a union with them. He sees how the lower self descends from a higher world, and it is revealed to him how his higher nature outlasts the lower. Now he can distinguish between what is permanent in himself and what is perishable, and this is nothing less than the power to understand from his own Observation the teachings concerning the incarnation of the higher self in the lower. It will now become plain to him that he stands in a lofty spiritual relation thereto, that his attributes and his destiny are originated by this very relation. He learns to know the law of his life, his Karma. He perceives that his lower self, as it at present shapes his destiny, is only one of the forms which can be adopted by his higher nature. He discerns the possibility stretching before his higher self, of working upon his own nature so that he may become ever more and more perfect. Now, too, he can penetrate into the great differences between human beings in regard to their comparative perfection. He will recognize that there are before him people who have already traversed the stages that still lie in front of him. He discerns that the teachings and deeds of such people proceed from the inspiration of a higher world. All this he owes to his first glimpse into this higher world. Those who have been called “the masters of wisdom,” “the great Initiates of humanity,” will now begin to appear as veritable facts.

These are the treasures which the student at this stage owes to his development: insight into his higher self; into the doctrine of the incarnation of this higher self in a lower; into the laws by which life in the physical world is regulated according to its spiritual connections — in short, the law of Karma; and, finally, insight into the nature of the great Initiates.

Of the student who has arrived at this stage it is said that doubt has entirely vanished away. If he has already acquired a faith which is based upon reason and sound thought, there now appears in its place full knowledge and an insight which nothing whatsoever can make dim.

Religions have presented in their ceremonies, their sacraments, and their rites, external visible pictures of the higher spiritual beings and events. None but those who have not penetrated into the depths of the great religions can fail to notice this; but he who has seen for himself these spiritual realities will understand the great significance of each outward and visible ad. Then for him the religious service itself becomes a representation of his own communion with the spiritual, superhuman world. One often finds it said in theosophical literature, even if not quite so plainly expressed, that the occult student at this stage becomes “free from superstition.” Superstition in its essence is nothing but dependence upon outward and visible acts, without insight into the spiritual facts of which they are the expression.

It has been shown how the student, by arriving at this stage, becomes veritably a new person. Little by little he can now mature himself by means of the currents that come from the etheric body, until he can control the still higher vital element, that which is called “the fire of Kundalini,” and by so doing can attain a completer liberty from the bondage of his physical body.

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