Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Occult Science - An Outline
GA 13

Preface to the 1925 Edition

Fifteen years having now elapsed since the first publication of this book, it may be suitable for me to say something more about the spiritual circumstances and my own state of mind when it originated. It had been my intention that its main content should form part of a new and enlarged version of my Theosophy, published several years before. But this did not prove possible. At the time when Theosophy was written the subject-matter of the present volume could not be brought into an equally finished form. In my Imaginative perceptions I beheld the spiritual life and being of individual Man and was able to describe this clearly. The facts of cosmic evolution were not present to me to the same extent. I was indeed aware of them in many details, but the picture as a whole was lacking.

I therefore resolved to make no appreciable change in the main content of the earlier volume. In the new edition as in the first, the book Theosophy should describe the essential features of the life of individual Man, as I had seen it in the spirit. Meanwhile I would quietly be working at a new and independent publication, Occult Science—An Outline.

My feeling at that time was that the contents of this book must be presented in scientific thought-forms—that is, in forms of thought akin to those of Natural Science, duly developed and adapted to the description of what is spiritual. How strongly I felt this “scientific” obligation in all that I wrote at that time in the field of spiritual knowledge, will be evident from the Preface to the First Edition (1909), here reproduced. But the world of the spirit as revealed to spiritual sight can only partly be described in thought-forms of this kind. What is revealed cannot be fully contained in mere forms of thought. This will be known to anyone who has had experience of such revelation. Adapted as they are to the exposition of what is seen by the outer senses, the thoughts of our every-day consciousness are inadequate, fully to expound what is seen and experienced in the spirit. The latter can only be conveyed in picture-form, that is, in Imaginations, through which Inspirations speak, which in their turn proceed from spiritual reality of Being, experienced in Intuition. (Concerning “Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition,” the necessary explanations will be found both in the present volume and in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment.)

Today, however, one who sets out to tell of the spiritual world in Imaginations cannot rest content with such pictorial descriptions. He would be foisting on to the civilization of our time the outcome of a state of consciousness quite unrelated to existing forms of knowledge. It is to the normal consequences of the present age that he must bring home the truths which can indeed only be discovered by a higher consciousness of the present age that he must bring home the truths which can indeed only be discovered by a higher consciousness—one that sees into the spiritual world. The subject-matter of his exposition, namely the realities of the world of spirit, will then be case into forms of thought which the prevailing consciousness of our time—scientifically thoughtful and wide-awake, though unable yet to see into the spiritual world—can understand.

An inability to understand will at most be due to hindrances that are self-imposed. The reader may have fixed in his mind some definition of the inherent limitations of human knowledge, due to a mistaken generalization of the limits of Natural Science. Spiritual cognition is a delicate and tender process in the human soul, and this is true not only of the actual “seeing” in the spirit, but of the active understanding with which the normal “non-seeing” consciousness of our time can come to meet the results of seership. People with half-formed notions who allege auto-suggestion in this regard have little idea of the real depth and intimacy of such understanding. For the scientific understanding of the physical world there may be truth or error in our theories and concepts. For the spiritual world, it is no longer a merely theoretic issue; it is a matter of living experience. When a man's judgment is tinged however slightly by the dogmatic assertion that the ordinary (not yet clairvoyant) consciousness—through its inherent limitations—cannot really understand what is experienced by the seer, this mistaken judgment becomes a cloud of darkness in his feeling-life and does in fact obscure his understanding.

To an open mind however, though not yet “seeing” in the spirit, what is experienced by the seer is comprehensible to a very full extent, if once the seer has cast it into forms of thought. It is no less intelligible than is a finished work of art to the non-artist. Nor is this understanding confined to the realm of aesthetic feeling as in the latter instance; it lives in full clarity of thought, even as in the scientific understanding of Nature.

To make such understanding possible, however, the seer must have contrived to express what he has seen, in genuine forms of thought, without thereby depriving it of its “Imaginative” character.

Such were my reflections while working at the subject-matter of my Occult Science, and, with these premises in mind, by 1909 I felt able to achieve a book, bringing the outcome of my spiritual researches, up to a point into adequate forms of thought—a book moreover which should be intelligible to any thoughtful reader who did not himself impose unnecessary hindrances to understanding.

While saying this retrospectively today I must however admit that in the year 1909 the publication of this book appeared to me a venture of some temerity. For I was only too well aware that the professional scientists above all, and the vast number of others who in their judgment follow the “scientific” authority, would be incapable of the necessary openness of mind. Yet I was equally aware that at the very time when the prevailing consciousness of mankind was farthest remote from the world of spirit, communications from that world would be answering to an urgent need. I counted on there also being many people feeling so weighted down by the prevailing estrangement from the living spirit that with sincere longing they would welcome true communications from the spiritual world. This expectation was amply confirmed during the years that followed. The books Theosophy and Occult Science have been widely read, though they count not a little on the reader's good will. For it must be admitted, they are not written in an easy style. I purposely refrained from writing a “popular” account, so-called. I wrote in such a way as to make it necessary to exert one's thinking while entering into the content of these books. In so doing, I gave them a specific character. The very reading of them is an initial step in spiritual training, inasmuch as the necessary effort of quiet thought and contemplation strengthens the powers of the soul, making them capable of drawing nearer to the spiritual world.

Misunderstandings were soon evoked by the chosen title, Occult Science. A would-be science, people said, cannot in the nature of the case be “occult” or “secret.” Surely a rather thoughtless objection, for no man will deliberately publish what he desires to be secretive about or to keep obscure. The entire book is evidence that far from being claimed as a special “secret,” what is here presented is to be made accessible to human understanding like any other science. Speaking of “Natural Science” we mean the science of Nature. “Occult Science” is the science of what takes its course in realms which are “occult” inasmuch as they are discerned, not in external Nature—Nature as seen by the outer senses—but in directions to which the soul of man becomes attentive when he turns his inner life towards the spirit. It is “Occult Science” as against “Natural Science.”

Of my clairvoyant researches into the world of spirit it has often been alleged that they are a re-hash, howsoever modified, of ideas about the spiritual world which have prevailed from time to time, above all in earlier epochs of human history. In the course of my reading I was said to have absorbed these things into the sub-conscious mind and then reproduced them in the fond belief that they were the outcome of my own independent seership. Gnostic doctrines, oriental fables, and wisdom-teachings were alleged to be the real source of my descriptions. But these surmises too were the outcome of no very deeply penetrating thought. My knowledge of the spiritual—of this I am fully conscious—springs from my own spiritual vision. At every stage—both in the details and in synthesis and broad review—I have subjected myself to stringent tests, making sure that wide-awake control accompanies each further step in spiritual vision and research. Just as a mathematician proceeds from thought to thought—where the unconscious mind, auto-suggestion and the like can play no part at all—so must the consciousness of the seer move on from one objective Imagination to another. Nothing affects the soul in this process save the objective spiritual content, experienced in full awareness.

It is by healthy inner experience that one knows a spiritual “Imagination” to be no mere subjective picture but the expression of a spiritual reality in picture-form. Just as in sensory perception anyone sound in mind and body can discriminate between mere fancies and the perception of real facts, so a like power of discernment can be attained by spiritual means.

So then I had before me the results of conscious spiritual vision. They were things “seen,” living in my consciousness, to begin with, without any names. To communicate them, some terminology was needed, and it was only then—so as to put into words what had been wordless to begin with—that I looked for suitable expressions in the traditional literature. These too I used quite freely. In the way I apply them, scarcely one of them coincides exactly with its connotation in the source from which I took it. Only after the spiritual content was known to me from my own researches did I thus look for the way to express it. As to whatever I might formerly have read—with the clear consciousness and control above referred-to, I was able to eliminate such things completely while engaged on supersensible research.

But the critics then found echoes of traditional ideas in the terms I used. Paying little heed to the real trend and content of my descriptions, they focused their attention on the words. If I spoke of “lotus flowers,” in the human astral body, they took it as proof that I was reproducing Indian doctrines in which this term occurs. Nay, the term “astral body” itself only showed that I had been dipping into medieval writings. And if I used the terms Angeloi, Archangeloi and so on, I was merely reviving the ideas of Christian Gnosticism. Time and again I found myself confronted with comments of this kind.

I take the present opportunity of mentioning this too. Occult Science—an Outline, now to be published in a new edition, is after all an epitome of anthroposophical Spiritual Science as a whole, and is pre-eminently exposed to the same kinds of misunderstanding.

Since the Imaginations described in this book first grew into a total picture in my mind and spirit, I have unceasingly developed the researches of conscious seership into the being of individual Man, the history of Mankind, the nature and evolution of the Cosmos. The outline as presented fifteen years ago has in no way been shaken. Inserted in its proper place and context, everything that I have since been able to adduce becomes a further elaboration of the original picture.