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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Occult Science
GA 13

I. The Character of Occult Science

Occult science, an ancient term, is used for the contents of this book. This term can arouse in various individuals of the present day feelings of the most contrary character. For many, it possesses something repellent; it arouses derision, pitying smiles, perhaps contempt. These people imagine that the kind of thinking thus designated can only be based upon idle, fantastic dreaming, that behind such “alleged” science there can lurk only the impulse to renew all sorts of superstitions that are properly avoided by those who understand “true scientific methods” and “pure intellectual endeavor.” The effect of this term upon others is to cause them to think that what is meant by it must bring them something that cannot be acquired in any other way and to which, according to their nature, they are attracted by a deep, inner longing for knowledge, or by the soul's sublimated curiosity. In between these sharply contrasting opinions there exists every possible kind of intermediate stage of conditional rejection or acceptance of what this or that person imagines when he hears the term, “occult science.”—It is not to be denied that for many the term, occult science, has a magical sound because it seems to satisfy their fatal passion for knowledge of an “unknown,” of a mysterious, even of an obscure something that is not to be acquired in a natural way. For many people do not wish to satisfy the deepest longings of their souls by means of something that can be clearly understood. Their convictions lead them to conclude that besides what can be known in the world there must be something that defies cognition. With extraordinary absurdity, which they do not observe, they reject, in regard to the deepest longing for knowledge, all that “is known” and only wish to give their approval to something that cannot be said to be known by means of ordinary research. He who speaks of “occult science” will do well to keep in mind the fact that he is confronted by misunderstandings caused by just such defenders of a science of this kind—defenders who are striving, in fact, not for knowledge, but for its antithesis.

This work is intended for readers who will not permit their impartiality to be taken away from them just because a word may arouse prejudice through various circumstances. It is not here a question of knowledge which, in any respect, can be considered to be “secret” and therefore only accessible to certain people through some special favor of fate. We shall do justice to the use of the term, occult science, employed here, if we consider what Goethe has in mind when he speaks of the “revealed secrets” in the phenomena of the universe. What remains “secret”—unrevealed—in these phenomena when grasped only by means of the senses and the intellect bound up with them will be considered as the content of a supersensible mode of knowledge.1It has happened that the term “occult science,” as used by the author in earlier editions of this book, has been rejected for the reason that a science cannot be “something hidden.” That would be correct if the matter were meant in this way. But such is not the case. The science of nature cannot be called a “natural” science in the sense that it belongs by “nature” to everyone, nor does the author consider occult science as a “hidden” science, but one that has to do with the unrevealed, the concealed, in the phenomena of the world for ordinary methods of cognition. It is a science of the “mysteries,” of the “revealed secrets.” This science, however, should not be a secret for anyone who seeks knowledge of it by the proper methods.—What is meant here by “Occult Science” does not constitute science for anyone who only considers “scientific” what is revealed through the senses and the intellect serving them. If, however, such a person wishes to understand himself, he must acknowledge that he rejects occult science, not from well-substantiated insight, but from a mandate arising from his own personal feelings. In order to understand this, it is only necessary to consider how science comes into existence and what significance it has in human life. The origin of science, in its essential nature, is not recognized by means of the subject matter it is dealing with, but by means of the human soul-activity arising in scientific endeavor. We must consider the attitude of the soul when it elaborates science. If we acquire the habit of exercising this kind of activity only when we are concerned with the manifestation of the senses, we might easily be led to the opinion that this sense-manifestation is the essential thing, and we do not become aware that a certain attitude of the human soul has been employed only in regard to the manifestation of the senses. It is possible, however, to rise above this arbitrary self-limitation and, apart from special application, consider the characteristics of scientific activity. This is the basis for our designating as “scientific” the knowledge of a non-sensory world-content. The human power of thought wishes to occupy itself with this latter world-content just as it occupies itself, in the other case, with the world-content of natural science. Occult science desires to free the natural-scientific method and its principle of research from their special application that limits them, in their own sphere, to the relationship and process of sensory facts, but, at the same time, it wants to retain their way of thinking and other characteristics. It desires to speak about the non-sensory in the same way natural science speaks about the sensory. While natural science remains within the sense world with this method of research and way of thinking, occult science wishes to consider the employment of mental activity upon nature as a kind of self-education of the soul and to apply what it has thus acquired to the realms of the non-sensory. Its method does not speak about the sense phenomena as such, but speaks about the non-sensory world-content in the way the scientist talks about the content of the sensory world. It retains the mental attitude of the natural-scientific method; that is to say, it holds fast to just the thing that makes natural research a science. For that reason it may call itself a science.

When we consider the significance of natural science in human life, we shall find that this significance cannot be exhausted by acquiring a knowledge of nature, since this knowledge can never lead to anything but an experiencing of what the human soul itself is not. The soul-element does not live in what man knows about nature, but in the process of acquiring knowledge. The soul experiences itself in its occupation with nature. What it vitally achieves in this activity is something besides the knowledge of nature itself: it is self-development experienced in acquiring knowledge of nature. Occult science desires to employ the results of this self-development in realms that lie beyond mere nature. The occult scientist has no desire to undervalue natural science; on the contrary, he desires to acknowledge it even more than the natural scientist himself. He knows that, without the exactness of the mode of thinking of natural science, he cannot establish a science. Yet he knows also that after this exactness has been acquired through genuine penetration into the spirit of natural-scientific thinking, it can be retained through the force of the soul for other fields.

Something, however, arises here that may cause misgivings. In studying nature, the soul is guided by the object under consideration to a much greater degree than is the case when non-sensory world contents are studied. In the latter study, the soul must possess to a much greater degree, from purely inner impulses, the ability to hold fast to the scientific mode of thinking. Since many people believe, unconsciously, that this can be done only through the guidance of natural phenomena, they are inclined, through a dogmatic declaration, to make their decisions accordingly; as soon as this guidance is abandoned, the soul gropes in a void with its scientific method. Such people have not become conscious of the special character of this method. They base their judgment for the most part upon errors that must arise if the scientific attitude is not sufficiently strengthened by observation of natural phenomena and, in spite of this, the soul attempts a consideration of the non-sensory regions of the world. It is self-evident that in such cases there arises much unscientific talk about non-sensory world contents. Not, however, because such talk, in its essence, is incapable of being scientific, but because, in such an instance, scientific self-education in the observation of nature has been neglected.

Whoever wishes to speak about occult science must certainly, in connection with what has just been said, be fully awake in regard to all the vagaries that arise when, without the scientific attitude, something is determined concerning the revealed mysteries of the world. It would, however, be of no avail if, at the very beginning of an occult-scientific presentation, we were to speak of all kinds of aberrations, which in the souls of prejudiced persons discredit all research in this direction, because they conclude, from the presence of really quite numerous aberrations, that the entire endeavor is unjustified. Since, however, in the case of scientists, or scientifically minded critics, the rejection of occult science rests in most instances solely upon the above mentioned dogmatic declaration, and the reference to the aberrations is only an often unconscious pretext, a discussion with such opponents will be fruitless. Nothing, indeed, hinders them from making the certainly quite justifiable objection that, at the very outset, there is nothing that can definitely determine whether the person who believes others to be in error, himself possesses the above characterized firm foundation. Therefore, the person striving to present occult science can simply offer what in his estimation he has a right to say. The judgment concerning his justification can only be formed by other persons; indeed, only by those who, avoiding all dogmatic declarations, are able to enter into the nature of his communications concerning the revealed mysteries of cosmic events. To be sure, he will be obliged to show the relationship between his presentations and other achievements in the field of knowledge and life; he will have to show what oppositions are possible and to what degree the direct, external, sensory reality of life verifies his observations. He should, however, never attempt to present his subject in a way that produces its effect by means of his art of persuasion instead of through its content.

The following objection is often heard in regard to the statements of occult science: “These latter do not offer proof; they merely assert this or that and say that occult science ascertains this.” The following exposition will be misjudged if it is thought that any part of it has been presented in this sense. Our endeavor here is to allow the capacity of soul unfolded through a knowledge of nature to evolve further, as far as its own nature will allow, and then call attention to the fact that in such development the soul encounters supersensible facts. It is assumed that every reader who is able to enter into what has been presented will necessarily run up against these facts. A difference, however, is encountered with respect to purely natural scientific observation the moment we enter the realm of spiritual science. In natural science, the facts present themselves in the field of the sense world; the exponent of natural science considers the activity of the soul as something that recedes into the background in the face of the relationships and the course of sensory facts. The exponent of spiritual science must place his soul activity into the foreground; for the reader only arrives at the facts if he makes this activity of the soul his own in the right way. These facts are not present for human perception without the activity of the soul as they are—although uncomprehended—in natural science; they enter into human perception only by means of soul activity. The exponent of spiritual science therefore presumes that the reader is seeking facts mutually with him. His exposition will be given in the form of a narration describing how these facts were discovered, and in the manner of his narration not personal caprice but scientific thinking trained by natural science will prevail. It will also be necessary, therefore, to speak of the means by which a consideration of the non-sensory, of the supersensible, is attained.—Anyone who occupies himself with an exposition of occult science will soon see that through it concepts and ideas are acquired that previously he did not possess. Thus he also acquires new thoughts concerning his previous conception of the nature of “proof.” He learns that for an exposition of natural science, “proof” is something that is brought to it, as it were, from without. In spiritual-scientific thinking, however, the activity, which in natural-scientific thinking the soul employs for proof, lies already in the search for facts, These facts cannot be discovered if the path to them is itself not already a proof. Whoever really travels this path has already experienced the proving in the process: nothing can be accomplished by means of a proof applied from without The fact that this is not recognized in the character of occult science calls forth many misunderstandings.

The whole of occult science must spring from two thoughts that can take root in every human soul. For the occult scientist, as he is meant here, these two thoughts express facts that can be experienced if we use the right means. For many people these thoughts signify extremely controversial statements about which there may be wide differences of opinion; they may even be “proved” to be impossible.

These two thoughts are the following. First, behind the “visible” there exists an invisible world, concealed at the outset from the senses and the thinking bound up with the senses; and second, it is possible for man, through the development of capacities slumbering within him, to penetrate into this hidden world.

One person maintains that there is no such hidden world, that the world perceived by means of the human senses is the only one, that its riddles can be solved out of itself, and that, although the human being at present is still far from being able to answer all the questions of existence, a time will surely come when sense experience and the science based upon it will be able to give the answers.

Others state that we must not maintain there is no hidden world behind the visible, yet the human powers of cognition are unable to penetrate into it. They have limits that cannot be overstepped. Let those who need “faith” take refuge in a world of that kind: a true science, which is based upon assured facts, cannot concern itself with such a world.

There is a third group that considers it presumptuous if a man, through his cognitive activity, desires to penetrate into a realm about which he is to renounce all “knowledge” and be content with “faith.” The adherents of this opinion consider it wrong for the weak human being to want to penetrate into a world that is supposed to belong to the religious life alone.

It is also maintained that a common knowledge of the facts of the sense world is possible for everyone, but that in respect of supersensible facts it is only a matter of the personal opinion of the individual, and that no one should speak of a generally valid certainty in these matters.

Others maintain still other things.

It can become clear that the observation of the visible world presents riddles that can never be solved out of the facts of that world themselves. They will never be solved in this way, although the science concerned with these facts may have advanced as far as is possible. For the visible facts, through their very inner nature, point clearly to a hidden world. Whoever does not discern this closes his mind to the riddles that spring up everywhere out of the facts of the sense world. He refuses to perceive certain questions and riddles; he, therefore, thinks that all questions may be answered by means of the sensory facts. The questions he wishes to propound can indeed all be answered by means of the facts that he expects will be discovered in the future. This may be readily admitted. But why should a person wait for answers to certain things who does not ask any questions? Whoever strives for an occult science merely says that for him these questions are self evident and that they must be recognized as a fully justified expression of the human soul. Science cannot be pressed into limits by forbidding the human being to ask unbiased questions.

The opinion that there are limits to human cognition that cannot be overstepped, compelling man to stop short before an invisible world, must be replied to by saying that there can be no doubt about the impossibility of finding access to the invisible world with the kind of cognition referred to here. Whoever considers that form of cognition to be the only possible one cannot come to any other opinion than that the human being is denied access to a possibly existent higher world. Yet the following may also be stated. If it is possible to develop another kind of cognition, this then may well lead into the supersensible world. If this kind of cognition is considered to be impossible, then we reach a point of view from which all talk about a supersensible world appears as pure nonsense. From an impartial viewpoint, however, the only reason for such an opinion can be the fact that the person holding it has no knowledge of this other kind of cognition. Yet how can a person pass judgment upon something about which he himself admits his ignorance? Unprejudiced thinking must hold to the premise that a person should speak only of what he knows and should not make statements about something he does not know. Such thinking can only speak of the right that a person has to communicate what he himself has experienced, but it cannot speak of the right that somebody declare impossible what he does not know or does not wish to know. We cannot deny anyone the right to ignore the supersensible, but there can never be any good reason for him to declare himself an authority, not only on what he himself can know, but also on all that a man can not know.

In the case of those who declare that it is presumptuous to penetrate into the domain of the supersensible an occult-scientific exposition has to call attention to the fact that this can be done, and that it is a transgression against the faculties bestowed upon man if we allow them to stagnate, instead of developing and making use of them.

Whoever thinks, however, that the views concerning the supersensible world must belong entirely to personal opinion and feeling denies what is common to all human beings. It is certainly true that the insight into these things must be acquired by each person for himself, but it is also a fact that all human beings who go far enough arrive, not at different opinions about these things, but at the same opinion. Differences of opinion exist only as long as human beings wish to approach the highest truths, not by a scientifically assured path, but by way of personal caprice. It must again be admitted, however, that only that person is able to acknowledge the correctness of the path of occult science who is willing to familiarize himself with its characteristics.

At the proper moment, every human being can find the way to occult science who recognizes, or even merely assumes or divines, out of the manifest world, the existence of a hidden world and who, out of the consciousness that the powers of cognition are capable of development, is driven to the feeling that the concealed is able to reveal itself to him. To a person who has been led to occult science by means of these soul experiences there opens up not only the prospect of finding the answer to certain questions springing from his craving for knowledge, but also the quite different prospect of becoming the victor over all that hampers and weakens life. It signifies, in a certain higher sense, a weakening of life, indeed a death of the soul, when a human being sees himself forced to turn away from the supersensible, or to deny it. Indeed, under certain conditions it leads to despair when a man loses hope of having the hidden revealed to him. This death and despair in their manifold forms are, at the same time, inner soul opponents of occult-scientific striving. They appear when the inner force of the human being dwindles. Then all force of life must be introduced from without if such a person is to get possession of any life force at all. He then perceives the things, beings, and events that appear before his senses; he analyses these with his intellect. They give him pleasure and pain, they drive him to the actions of which he is capable. He may carry on in this way for a while yet at some time he must reach a point when he inwardly dies. For what can be drawn from the world in this way becomes exhausted. This is not a statement derived from the personal experience of one individual, but the result of an unbiased consideration of all human life. What guards against this exhaustion is the concealed something that rests within the depths of things. If the power to descend into these depths, in order to draw up ever new life-force, dies away within the human being, then finally also the outer aspect of things no longer proves conducive to life.

This question by no means concerns only the individual human being, only his personal welfare and misfortune. Precisely through true occult-scientific observations man arrives at the certainty that, from a higher standpoint, the welfare and misfortune of the individual is intimately bound up with the welfare or misfortune of the whole world. The human being comes to understand that he injures the whole universe and all its beings by not developing his forces in the proper way. If he lays waste his life by losing the relationship with the supersensible, he not only destroys something in his own inner being—the decaying of which can lead him finally to despair—but because of his weakness he creates a hindrance to the evolution of the whole world in which he lives.

The human being can deceive himself. He can yield to the belief that there is no hidden world, that what appears to his senses and his intellect contains everything that can possibly exist. But this deception is only possible, not for the deeper, but for the surface consciousness. Feeling and desire do not submit to this deceptive belief. In one way or another, they will always crave for a concealed something, and if this is withdrawn from them, they force the human being into doubt, into a feeling of insecurity of life, indeed, into despair. A cognition that reveals the hidden is capable of overcoming all hopelessness, all insecurity, all despair, in fact all that weakens life and makes it incapable of the service required of him in the cosmos.

This is the beautiful fruit of the knowledge of spiritual science that it gives strength and firmness to life, and not alone gratification to the passion for knowledge. The source from which this knowledge draws its power to work and its trust in life is inexhaustible. No one who has once really approached this source will, by repeatedly taking refuge in it, go away unstrengthened.

There are people who wish to hear nothing about this knowledge because they see something unhealthy in what has just been said. Such people are quite right in regard to the superficial and external side of life. They do not wish to see stunted what life offers in its so-called reality. They consider it weakness when a person turns away from reality and seeks his salvation in a hidden world that to them appears as a fantastic, imaginary one. If, in our spiritual scientific striving, we are not to fall into an unhealthy dreaminess and weakness, we must acknowledge the partial justification of such objections. For they rest upon a healthy judgment that leads, not to a whole, but only to a half-truth through the very fact that it does not penetrate into the depth of things, but remains on the surface. Were the striving for supersensible knowledge likely to weaken life and to estrange men from true reality, then such objections would certainly be strong enough to remove the foundation from under this spiritual trend.

Also concerning such points of view, spiritual-scientific endeavors would not take the right path if they wished to “defend” themselves in the usual sense of the word. Here also they can only speak out of their own merit, recognizable to every unprejudiced person, when they make evident how they increase the vital force and strength in those who familiarize themselves with them in the right way. These endeavors cannot turn man into a person estranged from the world, into a dreamer; they give him strength from the sources of life out of which his spirit and soul have sprung.

Many a man encounters still other intellectual obstacles when he approaches the endeavors of occult science. For it is fundamentally true that the reader finds in the presentation of occult science a description of soul experiences through the pursuit of which he can approach the supersensible world-content. But in practice this must present itself as a kind of ideal. The reader must at first absorb a comparatively large number of supersensible experiences in the form of communications, experiences that he, however, has not yet passed through himself. This cannot be otherwise and will also be the case with this book. The author will describe what he believes he knows about the nature of man, about his conduct between birth and death, and in his disembodied state in the spiritual world; in addition, the evolution of the earth and of mankind will be described. Thus it might appear as though a certain amount of alleged knowledge were presented in the form of dogmas for which belief based on authority were demanded. This is not the case. What can be known of the supersensible world-content is present in him who presents the material as a living content of the soul, and if someone becomes acquainted with this soul-content, this then enkindles in his own soul the impulses that lead to the corresponding supersensible facts. While reading the communications concerning spiritual-scientific knowledge, we live in a quite different manner than we do while reading those concerning external facts. If we read communications from the outer sense world, we are reading about them. But if we read communications about supersensible facts in the right way, we are living into the stream of spiritual existence. In absorbing the results we, at the same time, enter upon our own inner path to them. It is true that what is meant here is often not at all observed by the reader. Entrance into the spiritual world is imagined in a way too similar to an experience of the senses; therefore, what is experienced when reading about this world is considered to be much too much of the nature of thought. But if we have truly absorbed these thoughts we are already within this world and have only to become quite clear about the fact that we have already experienced, unnoticed, what we thought we had received merely as an intellectual communication. Complete clarity concerning the real nature of what has been experienced will be gained in carrying out in practice what is described, in the second and last part of this book, as the “path” to supersensible knowledge. It might easily be thought that the opposite would be the right way; that this path should be described first. That is not the case. For anyone who only carries out “exercises” in order to enter the supersensible world, without directing the attention of his soul to definite facts concerning it, that world remains an indefinite, confused chaos. We learn to become familiar with that world naively, as it were, by gaining information about certain of its facts, and then we account for the way in which we ourselves, abandoning naiveté, fully consciously acquire the experiences about which we have gained information. If we penetrate deeply into the descriptions of occult science we become convinced that this is the only sure path to supersensible knowledge. We shall also realize that the opinion that supersensible knowledge might at first have the effect of a dogma through the power of suggestion, as it were, is unfounded. For the content of this knowledge is acquired by a soul activity that takes from it all merely suggestive power and only gives it the possibility of appealing to another person in the same way in which all truths speak to him that offer themselves to his thoughtful judgment. The reason the other person does not at first notice that he is living in the spiritual world does not lie in a thoughtless, suggestive absorption of what he has read, but in the subtlety and unfamiliarity of what he has experienced in his reading.—Therefore, by first absorbing the communications as given in the first part of this book, we become participators in the knowledge of the spiritual world; by means of the practical application of the soul exercises given in the second part, we become independent knowers of this world.

In the spirit and true sense of the word, no real scientist will be able to find a contradiction between his science built upon the facts of the sense world and the method by which the supersensible world is investigated. The scientist makes use of certain instruments and methods. He produces his instruments by transforming what “nature” offers him. The supersensible method of knowledge also makes use of an instrument. This instrument is man himself. This instrument, too, must first be made ready for higher research. The capacities and forces given to man by nature, without his assistance, must be transformed into higher capacities and powers. Man is thereby able to make himself the instrument for research in the supersensible world.