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Occult Science
GA 13

Preface, Sixteenth to Twentieth Edition

Originally, it was my plan to add its essential content as final chapters to my book Theosophy, which had been published previously. This proved to be impossible. At the time of the publication of Theosophy the subject matter of Occult Science did not yet live in me in its final form as was the case with Theosophy. In my imaginative perceptions the spiritual nature of individual man stood before my soul and I was able to describe it; the cosmic relationships, however, which had to be presented in Occult Science did not yet live in my consciousness in the same way. I perceived details, but not the complete picture.

I, therefore, decided to publish Theosophy with the content I had seen as the nature of the life of individual man, and then to carry through Occult Science in the near future, without undue haste.

The contents of this book had, in accordance with my soul mood at that time, to be given in thoughts that are further elaborations of the thoughts employed in natural science, suited for the presentation of the spiritual. In the preface to the first edition, reprinted in this book, it will be noted how strongly responsible I felt toward natural science in all that I wrote at that time about the science of the spirit.

What reveals itself to spiritual perception as the world of spirit cannot, however, be presented in such thoughts alone. For this revelation does not fit into a mere thought content. He who has experienced the nature of such revelation knows that the thoughts of ordinary consciousness are only suited to express what is perceived by the senses, not what is seen by the spirit.

The content of what is spiritually perceived can only be reproduced in pictures (imaginations) through which inspirations speak, which have their origin in spiritual entity intuitively perceived.1All that it is necessary to know concerning the nature of imagination, inspiration, and intuition is to be found in this book, Occult Science, in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment, also in The Stages of Higher Knowledge.

But he who describes imaginations from the world of spirit cannot at present merely present these imaginations. For in doing so he would be presenting something that would stand as quite a different content of consciousness alongside the content of knowledge of our age, without any relationship whatsoever to it. He has to fill modern consciousness with what can be recognized by another consciousness that perceives the world of spirit. His presentation will then have this world of spirit as content, but this content will appear in the form of thoughts into which it flows. Through this it will be completely comprehensible to ordinary consciousness, which thinks in terms of the present day but does not yet behold the world of spirit.

This comprehensibility will only then be lacking if we ourselves raise barriers against it, that is, if we labor under the prejudices that the age has produced regarding “the limits of knowledge” through an incorrectly conceived view of nature.

In spiritual cognition everything is immersed in intimate soul experience, not only spiritual perception itself, but also the understanding with which the unseeing, ordinary consciousness meets the results of clairvoyant perception.

Those who maintain that anyone who believes he understands is merely suggesting the understanding to himself have not the slightest inkling of this intimacy.

But it is a fact that what expresses itself merely in concepts of truth and error within the scope of comprehension of the physical world becomes experience in regard to the spiritual world.

Whoever permits his judgment to be influenced—be it ever so slightly—by the assertion that the spiritually perceived is incomprehensible to the everyday, still unperceiving consciousness—because of its limitations—will find his comprehension obscured by this judgment as though by a dark cloud, and he really cannot understand.

What is spiritually perceived is fully comprehensible to the unprejudiced, unperceiving consciousness if the seer gives his perceptions thought form. It is just as comprehensible as the finished picture of the painter is to the man who does not paint. Moreover, the comprehension of the spirit world is not of the nature of artistic feeling employed in the comprehension of a work of art, but it bears the stamp of thought employed in natural science.

In order, however, to make such a comprehension really possible, the one who presents what he perceives spiritually must bring his perceptions up to a point where he can pour them into thought form without loss of their imaginative character within this form.

All this stood before my soul as I developed my Occult Science.

In 1909 I felt that, under these premises, I might be able to produce a book which, in the first place, offered the content of my spiritual vision brought, to a sufficient degree, into thought form, and which, in the second place, could be understood by every thinking human being who allows no obstructions to interfere with his understanding.

I say this today, stating at the same time that in 1909 the publication of this book appeared to be a risk. For I knew indeed that professional scientists are unable to call up in themselves the necessary impartiality, nor are the numerous personalities able to do so who are dependent on them for their judgment.

But, before my soul there stood the very fact that at the time when the consciousness of mankind was furthest removed from the world of spirit, the communications from that world would answer a most urgent necessity.

I counted upon the fact that there are human beings who feel, more or less desperately, the remoteness from all spirituality as a grave obstacle to life that causes them to seize upon the communications of the spiritual world with inner longing.

During the subsequent years this has been completely confirmed. Theosophy and Occult Science, books that presume the goodwill of the reader in coping with a difficult style of writing, have been widely read.

I have quite consciously endeavored not to offer a “popular” exposition, but an exposition that makes it necessary for the reader to study the content with strict effort of thought. The character I impressed upon my books is such that their very study is the beginning of spiritual training. For the calm, conscious effort of thought that this reading makes necessary strengthens the forces of the soul and through this makes them capable of approaching the spirit world.

The fact that I have entitled this book Occult Science has immediately called forth misunderstandings. From many sides was heard, “What claims to be science must not be secret, occult.” How little thought was exercised in making such an objection! As though someone who reveals a subject matter would want to be secretive about it. This entire book shows that it was not the intention to designate anything “occult,” but to bring everything into a form that renders it as understandable as any science. Or do we not wish to say when we employ the term “natural science” that we are dealing with the knowledge of “nature”? Occult science is the science of what occurs occultly insofar as it is not perceived in external nature, but in that region toward which the soul turns when it directs its inner being toward the spirit.

Occult Science is the antithesis of Natural Science.

Objections have repeatedly been made to my perceptions of the spiritual world by maintaining that they are transformed reproductions of what, in the course of the ages, has appeared in human thought about the spirit world. It is said that I had read this or that, absorbed what I read into the unconscious, and then presented it in the belief that it originated in my own perception. I am said to have gained my expositions from the teachings of the Gnostics, from the poetic records of ancient oriental wisdom, and so on.

These objections are superficial.

My knowledge of things of the spirit is a direct result of my own perception, and I am fully conscious of this fact. In all details and in the larger surveys I had always examined myself carefully as to whether every step I took in the progress of my perception was accompanied by a fully awake consciousness. Just as the mathematician advances from thought to thought without the unconscious or autosuggestion playing a role, so—I told myself—spiritual perception must advance from objective imagination to objective imagination without anything living in the soul but the spiritual content of clear, discerning consciousness.

The knowledge that an imagination is not a mere subjective picture, but a representation in picture form of an objective spiritual content is attained by means of healthy inner experience. This is achieved in a psycho-spiritual way, just as in the realm of sense-perception one is able with a healthy organism to distinguish properly between mere imaginings and objective perceptions. Thus the results of my perception stood before me. They were, at the outset, “perceptions” without names. Were I to communicate them, I needed verbal designations. I then sought later for such designations in older descriptions of the spiritual in order to be able to express in words what was still wordless. I employed these verbal designations freely, so that in my use of them scarcely one coincides with its ancient meaning.

I sought, however, for such a possibility of expression in every case only after the content had arisen in my own perception.

I knew how to exclude what had been previously read from my own perceptive research by means of the state of consciousness that I have just described.

Now it was claimed that in my expressions reminiscences of ancient ideas were to be found. Without considering the content, attention was fixed on the expressions. If I spoke of “lotus flowers” in the astral body of man, that was a proof, to the critic, that I was repeating the teachings of ancient India in which the expression is to be found. Indeed, if I spoke of “astral body,” this was the result of my reading the literature of the Middle Ages. If I employed the expressions “Angeloi,” “Archangeloi,” and so forth, I was simply renewing the ideas of Christian Gnosis.

I found such entirely superficial thinking constantly opposing me.

I wanted to point to this fact, too, now that a new edition of Occult Science is to be published, for the book contains the outline of Anthroposophy as a whole. It will, therefore, be chiefly beset by the misunderstandings to which Anthroposophy is exposed. Since the time when the imaginations that this book presents merged into a complete picture in my soul, I have advanced uninterruptedly in my ability to investigate, by means of soul and spirit perception, the historical evolution of mankind, the cosmos, and so forth. In the details I have continuously arrived at new results. But what I offered as an outline in Occult Science fifteen years ago remains for me basically undisturbed. Everything I have been able to say since then, if inserted in this book in the proper place, appears as an amplification of the outline given at that time.

Rudolf Steiner

January 10, 1925
Dornach, Switzerland