Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

At the Gates of Spiritual Science
GA 95

12. Occult Development

2 September 1906, Stuttgart

You will have gathered from yesterday's study how important it is to develop a feeling of fellowship, which means overcoming all regard for your own Ego if you wish to penetrate more deeply into the spiritual life. For example, anyone who aspires to occult development must among other things get rid of the following form of egoism. He must not say: “What good is it for me to hear about occult things from others when I cannot see them for myself? That implies a lack of trust. He must trust a person who has reached a certain stage of development. People work together, and if someone has achieved more than others, he will not have achieved it for himself alone but for all the others, and they are called upon to listen to him. By this means his own powers are enhanced, and his hearers, through the very fact of having first given him their trust, will gradually become able to gain knowledge for themselves. You should not want to take a second step before the first.

There are three paths of occult development: the Eastern, the Christian-Gnostic and the Christian-Rosicrucian, or simply the Rosicrucian. They are distinguished above all by the extent to which the pupil surrenders himself to his teacher. What, then, happens to a man who enters on occult development? What are the necessary preconditions for it?

Let us first consider the life of an ordinary man nowadays. From early till late he is occupied with his work and his daily experiences; he makes use of his intellect and his outer senses. He lives and works in what we call the waking state. But that is only one state; between waking and sleeping there is another. In this state he is aware of pictures, dream pictures, passing through his soul. These pictures are not directly related to the external world and ordinary reality. We may call this the dream-state, and it is interesting to study how it takes its course. Many people suppose that dreams are nonsense, but this is not so. Even with people today dreams have a meaning, but not that of experiences in waking life. When we are awake, our mental pictures always correspond to definite facts and experiences; in our dreams they do not. For instance, you may dream that you hear the clatter of horses' hooves, and when you wake up you realise that you were hearing the ticking of the clock by your bedside. Dreams are symbolic pictures. You may have a dream which tells a whole story. A student, for instance, may dream about a duel and all its preliminary details, from the request for pistols to the report of the shot which wakes him—and then he realises that he has knocked down the chair that stood by his bed. Or again, a peasant woman may dream that she is on her way to church; she enters; she hears the priest utter lofty sayings, with his arms moving; suddenly his arms turn into wings and then the priest starts to crow: she wakes up and hears the cock crowing outside!

You can see from these examples that in dreams we live in a very different sort of time from that of our waking consciousness. The actual cause of the dream I have quoted was the last event in point of time. The reason is that such a dream flashes through the soul in a moment and has its own inner time. You must picture it in this way: when you wake up and remember all the details, you extend this inner time yourself, so that the events seem to have occurred in that extended period. This will also help you to get some idea of how time appears in the astral world. A small experience thus creates a long dramatic course of events. The dream flashes through the soul in a moment and in a flash arouses a whole series of pictures. In this way you yourself transpose time into the dream.

Inner conditions may also be represented symbolically in dream: for instance, you may have a headache and dream that you are in a cellar with a lot of cobwebs. Or the beating of your heart or a feeling of being hot may be represented in a dream by a fiery stove. Some people who possess a particular inner sensitivity may have a different experience: they may dream, for instance, that they are in an unhappy situation. Here the dream is prophetic—a symbol of some latent illness which will come out in a few days' time. Many people even dream of the remedy for such an illness. In short, our manner of perception in dreams is quite different from that of ordinary life.

The third state is that of dreamless sleep, sleep without consciousness, when nothing comes before the soul. Now if you begin to be aware of higher worlds as a result of inner development, the first indication you will notice is that your dreams become more regular and meaningful. Above all, you will gain knowledge through your dreams, provided only that you pay careful attention to them. Later, you may notice that your dreams become more frequent, until you come to feel that you have been dreaming all night through. Again, you may notice that your dreams are concerned with things which do not exist at all in the outside world and which you cannot possibly experience physically. You will find that in your dreams you no longer see things which originate in the outer world or symbolic conditions such as those I described above, but, as I have just said, you will experience pictures of things which have no existence in the sense-world, and you will then notice that your dreams are saying something important. For instance, you may dream that a friend of yours is in danger from fire and you may see him getting nearer and nearer to the danger. The next day you may learn that this friend was taken ill during the night. You did not actually see him falling ill; you saw a symbolic picture of it. Thus your dreams may be influenced from higher worlds, so that you experience something which does not exist in the physical world; that is how impressions from higher worlds pass over into dreams. This is a very important bridge to higher occult development.

Someone might say that all this was only dreamt—how can any significance be read into it? But that is a wrong approach. Take the following example: it is said that Edison37Thomas Alva Edison, 1847–1931. once dreamt how to make an electric light bulb; he remembered the dream and made the light bulb in accordance with it. Suppose someone had then come along and said: “The lamp is no good—it was only a dream.” You can see that what matters is not the mere fact of dreaming but whether the dream has significance for life. Quite often dreams of this sort go unheeded because we fail to notice them. That is wrong; it is just these delicate points that we should attend to; then we shall make progress.

Later comes a stage when the nature of reality is disclosed to the pupil in dream, and he can then test the dream by the reality. When he has advanced so far that he has the whole picture-world present before him in daylight and not only during sleep, he is then able to analyse with his intellect whether what he sees is true. This means that it is wrong to use dream-pictures as a foundation for wisdom; the pupil must wait for them to enter into his daytime experience. If he exercises conscious control over them, a stage is soon reached when the pupil not only sees what is physically present but can truly perceive the astral element in a man, his soul and his aura. He then learns to understand what the shapes and colours in the astral body signify—what passions, for example, they express. So he learns gradually to spell out, as it were, the soul-world. But he must always realise that everything there is symbolical.

Here it might be objected that if you see symbols only, some particular event might be symbolised by all sorts of images, and you could never be sure that a given image has a consistent meaning. But when you reach a certain stage, one image always does stand for one thing, just as in the ordinary world one object is always represented by the same mental concept. For instance, you will find that a given passion is always represented for everyone by the same image. The important thing is to learn how to read the images correctly.

Now you can understand why the sacred books of all religions tend to speak almost entirely through symbolic images. Wisdom, for example, may be described as light: the reason is that to anyone who is occultly developed the wisdom of man and other beings always appears as astral light. Passions appear as fire. The ancient religious documents do not tell only of things on the physical plane, but also of events on higher planes; they owe their origin to seers and are concerned with higher worlds; hence they have to speak to us in pictures. Everything narrated from the Akashic Record38Everything that has been recounted from the Akasha Chronicle”. The reference is to the communications “From the Akasha Chronicle” published by Rudolf Steiner in his journal, Lucifer-Gnosis, from July 1904 to May 1908. Collected edition, Dornach, 1964. English translation published in America with the title: Cosmic Memory: Prehistory of Earth and Man. has for the same reason been presented in pictures of this kind.

The next condition experienced by the pupils is called “continuity of consciousness”. When an ordinary person is completely withdrawn from the sense-world in sleep, he is unconscious. This is no longer so with a pupil who has reached the stage just mentioned. By day and by night, with no interruption, he lives in a state of fully clear consciousness, even when his physical body is at rest.

After some time the pupil's entry into a new but quite specific state of consciousness is marked by the fact that sounds and words are added to the images. The images speak to him in an intelligible language. They tell him what they are, without any possibility of deception. These are the sounds and speech of Devachan, the Music of the Spheres. Everything speaks forth its own name and its relation to other things. This comes in addition to astral sight, and it marks the seer's entry into Devachan. Once a man has reached this Devachanic state, the lotus-flowers, the Chakrams or wheels begin to revolve at specific places in the astral body, turning like the hands of a clock from left to right. These are the sense-organs of the astral body, but their mode of perception is an active one. The eye, for example, is at rest; it allows the light to enter and only then perceives it. The lotus-flowers, on the other hand, perceive only when they are in motion and take hold of an object. The vibrations caused by the revolving lotus-flowers bring them into contact with the astral substance, and that is how perception on the astral plane occurs.

What are the forces which activate the lotus-flowers, and where do they come from? We know that during sleep the exhausted forces of the physical and etheric bodies are restored by the astral body; by its inherent regularity it can make up for irregularities in the physical and etheric bodies. It is these forces, normally used for overcoming fatigue, which animate the lotus-flowers. When a man enters on occult development, he is thus really withdrawing certain forces from his physical and etheric bodies. If these forces were to be withdrawn permanently from the physical body, the man would fall ill; he would find himself utterly exhausted. If therefore he does not want to injure himself, morally as well as physically, he must find something to replace these forces.

He must remind himself of the general rule: Rhythm restores power. Here you have an important occult principle. Most people today lead lives devoid of any regular rhythm, especially as regards their thoughts and their behaviour. Anyone who allowed the distractions of the outer world to gain a hold on him would be unable to avoid the dangers to which his physical body would be exposed in the course of his occult development by the withdrawal of these forces of renewal. Hence he has to strive to introduce a rhythmic element into his life. Of course he cannot arrange his days so that each day passes exactly like another. But he can at least pursue certain activities regularly, and indeed anyone who wants to develop on the occult path will have to do this. Thus he should, for example, do certain exercises of meditation and concentration at a chosen time every morning. He can also bring rhythm into his life if in the evening he reviews the events of the day in reverse order. If he can bring in further regularities, so much the better: in that way his life will take its course in harmony with the laws of the world. Everything in the system of nature is rhythmical—the course of the Sun, the passage of the seasons, of day and night, and so on. Plants, too, grow rhythmically. It is true that the higher we go in the kingdoms of nature, the less rhythm we find, but even in animals a certain rhythm can be observed: for instance, animals mate at regular times. Only man now leads an unrhythmical, chaotic life: nature has deserted him.

Man's task, therefore, is deliberately to infuse some rhythm into this chaotic life, and he has available certain means through which he can bring this harmony and rhythm into his physical and etheric bodies. Both these bodies will then gradually develop such rhythms that they will correct themselves when the astral body withdraws. If they are forced out of their proper rhythm during the day, they will of their own accord regain the right kind of movement when they are at rest.

The means available consist in the following exercises, which must be practised in addition to meditation:

I. Thought control. This means preventing, at least for a short time every day, all sorts of thoughts from drifting through the mind, and bringing a certain ordered tranquillity into the course of thinking. You must take a definite idea, set it in the centre of your thinking, and then logically arrange your further thoughts in such a way that they are all closely linked with the original idea. Even if you do this for only a minute, it can be of great importance for the rhythm of the physical and etheric bodies.

II. Initiative in action. You must compel yourself to some action, however trivial, which owes its origin to your own initiative, to some task you have laid on yourself. Most actions derive not from your own initiative but from your family circumstances, your education, your calling and so on. You must therefore give up a little time to performing actions which derive from yourself alone. They need not be important; quite insignificant actions fulfil the same purpose.

III. Tranquillity. Here the pupil learns to regulate his emotions so that he is not at one moment up in the skies and at the next down in the dumps.39at one moment up in the skies and at the next down in the dumps”. From Klärchen's song in Goethe's Egmont, 3, 2. Anyone who refuses to do this for fear of losing his originality in action or his artistic sensibility can never go through occult development. Tranquillity means that you are master of yourself in the most intense pleasure and in the deepest grief. Indeed, we become truly receptive to the joys and sorrows of the world only when we do not give ourselves over egotistically to them. The greatest artists owe their greatest achievements precisely to this tranquillity, because through it they have opened their eyes to subtle and inwardly significant impressions.

IV. Freedom from prejudice. This, the fourth characteristic, sees good in everything and looks for the positive element in all things. Relevant to this is a Persian legend40a Persian legend.” See Goethe: Notes and comments for a better understanding of the West-Östlichen Divan, “Allgemeines”. told of Christ Jesus. One day Christ Jesus saw a dead dog lying by the wayside; he stopped to look at the animal while those around him turned away in disgust. Then Jesus said: “What beautiful teeth the dog has!” In that hideous corpse he saw not what was ugly or evil but the beauty of the white teeth. If you can acquire this mood, you will look everywhere for the good and the positive, and you will find it everywhere. This has a powerful effect on the physical and etheric bodies.

V. Faith. Next comes faith, which in its occult sense implies something rather different from its ordinary meaning. During occult development you must never allow your judgment of the future to be influenced by the past. Under certain circumstances you must exclude all that you have experienced hitherto, so that you can meet every new experience with new faith. The occultist must do this quite consciously. For instance, if someone comes up to you and tells you that the church steeple is crooked and at an angle of 45 degrees, most people would say that is impossible. The occultist must always leave a way open to believe. He must go so far as to have faith in everything that happens in the world; otherwise he bars the way to new experiences. You must always be open to new experiences; by this means your physical and etheric bodies will be brought into a condition which may be compared with the contented mood of a broody hen.

VI. Inner Balance. This is a natural outcome of the other five qualities. The pupil must keep the six qualities in mind, take his life in hand, and be prepared to progress slowly in the sense of the proverb about drops of water wearing away a stone.

Now if anyone acquires higher powers through some artificial means without attending to all this, he will be in a bad way. In ordinary life today the spiritual and the physical are intermingled, somewhat like a blue and yellow liquid in a glass of water. Occult development sets going a process rather like the work of a chemist who separates the two liquids. Soul and body are separated in a similar way, and the benefits of the mingling are lost. An ordinary person, because the soul stays in close relation to the body, is not subjected to the more grotesque passions. But as a result of the separation I have been talking about, the physical body, with all its attributes, may be left to itself, and this can lead to all manner of excesses. Thus a man who has embarked on occult development, but has not taken care to cultivate moral qualities, may manifest certain traits which as an ordinary man he had long ago ceased to exhibit. He may suddenly become a liar, vengeful, quick to anger; all sorts of characteristics which had previously been toned down may appear in a violent form. This may happen even if someone who has neglected moral development becomes unduly absorbed in the teachings of Theosophy.

We have seen that a man must first pass through the stage of spiritual sight and only then comes to the stage of spiritual hearing. While he is still at the first stage he has of course to learn how the images are related to their objects. He would find himself plunged into the stormy sea of astral experiences if he were left to fend for himself. For this reason he needs a guide who can tell him from the start how these things are related and how to find his bearings in the astral world. Hence the need to find a Guru41Guru. In oriental Initiation, he who guides the pupil's occult development; leader on the path of knowledge. on whom he can strictly rely. In this connection three different ways of development can be distinguished.

1. The Eastern way, also called Yoga. Here, an initiated man living on the physical plane acts as the Guru of another, who entrusts himself to his Guru completely and in all details. This method will go best if during his occult development the pupil eliminates his own self entirely and hands it over to his Guru, who must even advise him on every action he may take. This absolute surrender of one's own self suits the Indian character; but there is no place for it in European culture.

2. The Christian way. Here, in place of individual Gurus, there is one great Guru, Christ Jesus Himself, for everyone. The feeling of belonging to Christ Jesus, of being one with Him, can take the place of surrender to an individual Guru. But the pupil has first to be led to Christ by an earthly Guru, so that in a certain sense he still depends on a Guru on the physical plane.

3. The Rosicrucian way, which leaves the pupil with the greatest possible independence. The Guru here is not a leader but an adviser; he gives directions for the necessary inner training. At the same time he takes good care that, parallel with the occult training, there is a definite development of thinking, without which no occult training can be carried through. This is because there is something about thinking which does not apply to anything else. When we are on the physical plane, we perceive with the physical senses only what is to be found on that plane. Astral perceptions are valid for the astral plane; devachanic hearing is valid only in Devachan. Thus each plane has its own specific form of perception. But one activity—logical thinking—goes through all worlds. Logic is the same on all three planes. Thus on the physical plane you can learn something which is valid also for the higher planes; and this is the method followed by Rosicrucian training when on the physical plane it gives primary attention to thinking, and for this purpose uses the means available on the physical plane. A penetrative thinking can be cultivated by studying theosophical truths, or by practising mental exercises. Anyone who wishes further training for the intellect can study books such as Truth and Science, and The Philosophy of Freedom, which are written deliberately in such a way that a thinking trained by them can move with certainty on the highest planes. Even a person who studies these books and knows nothing of Theosophy might find his way about in the higher worlds. But, as I have said, the teachings of Theosophy act in the same way.

Here, then, the Guru is only the friend and adviser of the pupil, for by training his reason the pupil will be training the best Guru for himself. But he will of course still need a Guru to advise him on how to make progress in freedom.

Among Europeans, the Christian way is best suited to those whose feelings are most strongly developed. Those who have more or less broken away from the Church and rely rather on science, but have been led by science into a doubting frame of mind, will do best with the Rosicrucian way.