Metamorphoses of the Soul II
III. What is Mysticism?
10 February 1910, Berlin
The subject of today's lecture 13On this subject and the mystics mentioned in the lecture cf. also Rudolf Steiner, Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age, Multimedia Publishing Corp., New York, 1980. is one on which widespread confusion prevails. Not long ago I heard a cultured scholar declare that Goethe should be numbered among the mystics, for he had admitted the existence of a dark, inscrutable element, beyond the range of knowledge. And many people would probably agree with that opinion. What indeed is not called mysticism or mystical nowadays? When a person is not clear about something, if his response to it hovers between not-knowing and a dim inkling, he will call it mystical or mysterious. When people are tempted by a certain lack of thought and psychological knowledge to assert that nothing reliable is known about something, and then go on to deny that anyone else may have knowledge of it, as is the wont today, they dismiss it as mystical.
If, however, we study the historical origin of the word, we shall gain a quite different idea of what great men have understood by mysticism and of what they believed it offered them. We shall see that there have been men who, far from regarding that which is obscure and inscrutable as the content of mysticism, have spoken of its goal as attainable only through a higher clarity, a brighter light in the soul; so much so that for them the clarity of science leaves off where the clarity of mysticism begins. That is the conviction of those who believe they have experienced real mysticism.
We find some mysticism in the earliest periods of human evolution, but what was called mysticism in the Mysteries of the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Asiatic peoples is so far removed from our conceptual thinking that it is hard to give any idea of mysticism if we go by those old forms of mystical experience.
We can come nearest to present-day concepts if we start with the still fairly recent forms of mysticism found among the German mystics from Meister Eckhart 14Meister Eckhart, 1260–1327. onwards, during the 13th and 14th centuries, up to their culmination in that incomparable mystic, Angelus Silesius. 15Angelus Silesius, 1624–1677. If we examine their mysticism, we find that it sought to reach a true knowledge of the deepest foundations of the world by a purely inward soul-experience; above all, by the liberation of the soul from all external impressions and perceptions, so that the soul would draw back from the outer world and try to plunge into the depths of its own inward life. In other words, a mystic of this type believes that by this means he can find the divine ground of the world, which he would not be able to do if he attempted to analyse natural phenomena, however intensively, and to grasp them with his intellect. His view is that outward sense-impressions form a kind of veil through which human cognition cannot penetrate in its search for the divine foundations of the world. The inward experiences of the soul, however, form a much thinner veil, and it is possible to penetrate through this to the divine ground, which also lies at the foundation of external appearances. This is the mystical way of Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler 16Johannes Tauler, c. 1300–1361. and Suso 17Heinrich Suso, c. 1300–1366. and other mystics of that century, leading to Angelus Silesius.
We must be clear that these mystics were expecting to find more than only that which could be regarded as the immediate result of their inward search. In the course of this winter's lectures we have dealt with this inward search in all its manifold aspects. We saw that if we look into what is rightly called man's inner being, we come first to the darkest depths of the soul, where the soul is still subject to emotions of fear, terror, anxiety and hope, and to the whole gamut of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow. We called this part of the soul the sentient soul. We went on to distinguish in these dark foundations of soul experience what we call the intellectual soul, which is achieved when the ego assimilates external impressions and quietly allows that which emerges in the sentient soul to live itself out and find equilibrium. We said also that inner truth, as we may call it, arises in the intellectual soul. When the ego then works further on what it has gained on its way to the intellectual soul, it raises itself to the consciousness soul, where for the first time a clear knowledge of the ego is possible, and where man is led out from inner life to a real knowledge of the world. If we keep before us these three members of the soul's life, we have the outline of what we find when we sink ourselves directly into our inner being; and we find out how the ego works on the three soul members.
Those mystics who sought for knowledge in the way described, believed that they could find something else through this immersion in the depths of the soul. For the inward experiences of the soul's life were for them only a veil they had to pass through in order to reach the source of being. Above all, they believed that if they attained to that source, they would themselves undergo, as a further inward experience, what is presented in external history as the life and death of Christ.
Now when this mystical descent into the soul occurs, even if only in the mediaeval sense, the process is as follows. The mystic has in front of him the external world, with its realms of light and colour and all the other impressions it makes on his senses, and he works on all this with his intellect. But he remains in thrall to the external world and cannot penetrate through its appearances to their source. His soul retains conceptual images of the outer world, and above all it retains all its experiences, whether as pleasure or pain, sympathy or antipathy, from the impressions it receives. A human being's ego, with his interests and his entire inner life, always directs him towards the outer world and the impressions the latter makes upon him. When, therefore, a mystic first attempts to turn away from the outer world, he has to reckon with everything that the outer world has engendered in his soul from morning till evening. So at first his inner life appears to him as a repetition, a reflected image, of outer life.
Is the soul left empty, then, when it exerts itself to forget everything reflected within it from the outer world, to obliterate all impressions and conceptual images drawn from that world? The true mystical experience depends on the fact that the soul has other possibilities, so that when it banishes not only its memories but its feelings of sympathy and antipathy, it still has some content. The mystic feels that impressions of the outer world, with their brightly coloured pictures and their effects on the soul, have the result of suppressing something which exists in the soul's hidden depths. The mystic feels that when he is open to the external world, its life is like a powerful light which outshines and blots out the finer experiences of the soul. But when all impressions from the outer world are erased, the inner spark, as Eckhart calls it, shines forth. He then experiences in the soul something which had previously seemed not to be there, for it was imperceptible in face of the dazzle of the outer world.
For the sake of clarity, the mystic then asks if what he experiences in the soul is comparable with what he encounters in the outer world. No: there is a radical difference. Our relation to things in the outer world is such that we cannot penetrate into their inwardness, for they show us only their outer sides. When we perceive colours and sounds, it is possible for us to realise that behind them lies something which for the moment we must regard as their hidden side; but with the experiences that arise in the soul it is different once we have obliterated the impressions and conceptual images of the outer world: we cannot say that they show us only their outer side, for we are within them and are part of them. And if we have the gift for opening ourselves to the inner light, they show themselves to us in their true being, and we see them to be entirely different from anything we encounter in the outer world. For the outer world is subject everywhere to growth and decline, to flowering and withering, to birth and death. And when we observe what reveals itself in the soul when the little spark begins to shine, we see that all ideas of growth and decline, of birth and death, are not applicable to it, for here we encounter something independent; and we see that concepts which belong to the outer world, including that of outside and inside, are not relevant to it. Hence it is no longer the surface or outer side of things that we grasp, but the thing itself in its true being.
It is precisely through this inward knowledge that we gain assurance of the imperishable element in ourselves and of its kinship with what we must think of as the spirit, the primal basis of everything material. This experience leads the mystic to feel that he must overcome and kill all his former experiences; that his ordinary soul-life must die, and then his real soul, the victor over birth and death, will arise within him. This awakening of the inner kernel of the soul, after the death of ordinary soul-life, is experienced by the mystic as an inner resurrection, an analogue of the historical life, death and resurrection of Christ. Thus he sees the Christ-event taking place in his soul and spirit as an inner mystical experience.
If we trace out this mystical path, we find that it must lead to what may be called a unity of all experience. For it belongs to the nature of our soul-life that we pass from the multiplicity of sense-perceptions, the flow and ebb of perceptions and feelings and the rich variety of thoughts, to a simplification; for the ego, the centre-point of our life, is always working to create unity in our entire life of soul. It is clear, then, that when the mystic treads the path of soul-experiences, they come before him in such a way that everything manifold and multiple strives towards the unity prescribed by the ego. In all mystics, accordingly, we find an outlook which could be called spiritual monism. When the mystic raises himself to the knowledge that the inner being of the soul has qualities radically different from those found in the external world, he experiences in his inner being the consonance of the soul's kernel with the divine-spiritual ground of the world, which he therefore represents as a unity.
What I have now been saying should be regarded simply as descriptive. It is impossible to reproduce in a modern sense what the mystic reveals except in the form of individual mystical experience passed through by the soul as its most intimate concern. Then the strange things told us by the mystic can be compared with one's own experience. But external criticism is not possible if one has no personal experience, because another person's description of individual experience has to be relied on. But from the basic standpoint of these lectures we can form a clear picture of the mystic's path. It is essentially a path into the inner life, and the history of human development shows it to be one of the paths taken by the human spirit in its search for enlightenment. Various opinions as to which is the right path may be held, but if we are to give a clear answer to the question “What is mysticism?”, we must throw some light on the other path that can be pursued.
The mystic's path leads him to unity, to one divine-spiritual Being. This he does by following the path which leads into his inner being where the ego gives him the unity of soul experience. The other path is the one that the human spirit has always taken when it seeks to pierce through the veil of the external world to the foundations of existence. Here, in conjunction with many other things, it has been above all the human thinking which has tried to reach a deeper understanding of what lies behind the surface of things through that which can be perceived by the senses and grasped by ordinary intelligence. Whither does such a path necessarily lead, in contrast to the goal of mysticism? If all relevant relationships are taken into account, it must lead from the manifold variety of external phenomena to the conclusion that a similar multiplicity of spiritual grounds must exist. In modern times such men as Leibniz 18Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, 1646–1716. Cf. for example his Monadology, a short treatise which he wrote in 1714 (without title) as a summary of his philosophy of unities. and Herbart, 19Johann Friedrich Herbart, 1776–1841. Philosopher and pedagogue. who followed this way of thought, have seen that one cannot explain the wealth of external phenomena in terms of any kind of underlying unity. In brief, they found the true antithesis — monadology — to all mysticism. They reached the view that the world is founded on the activities of a multiplicity of monads, or spiritual beings.
Thus Leibnitz, the great thinker of the 17th and 18th century, said to himself: When we look at what comes to meet us in space and time, we go astray if we believe that it all springs from a unity; it must come from many unities working together. And this reciprocal activity of monads, a world of monads or spiritual beings, brings about the phenomena perceived by human senses.
I cannot go further into this today, but a deeper study of spiritual development would show that all those who have sought for unity on the outward path were subject to an illusion, for they projected outwards, like a sort of shadow, the unity which is experienced inwardly in mysticism, and they believed that this unity was the basis of the external world and could be apprehended by thinking. Healthy thinking, however, finds no unity in the outer world, but recognises that its manifold variety arises from the inter-working of a variety of beings, or monads. Mysticism leads to unity because the ego works in our inner being as a single centre of the soul. The path through the external world leads by necessity to multiplicity, plurality, monadology, and thus to the view that many spiritual beings must work together in order to engender our world, while human knowledge of the world is achieved through a multiplicity of organs and observations.
Now we come to a point of far-reaching importance which receives all to little attention in the history of thought. Mysticism leads to unity; but its recognition of the divine ground of the world as a unity derives from the nature of the ego, the inner constitution of the soul.
The ego sets its seal of unity when the mystic looks up to the Divine Spirit. Contemplation of the external world leads to a multiplicity of monads. But it is only our way of observing the outer world and the way in which it comes to meet us that lead to multiplicity and which therefore prompted Leibniz and Herbart to postulate multiplicity as the foundation of the world. Deeper research leads to a realisation that unity and multiplicity are concepts inapplicable to the divine-spiritual ground of the world, for we cannot characterise it as either a unity or a multiplicity. We must say that the divine-spiritual transcends these concepts and cannot be fathomed by them.
This is a principle which throws light on the supposed conflict between monism and pluralism, so often portrayed as opposites in philosophical debates. If the disputants would only realise that their concepts are inadequate for any approach to the divine ground of the world, they might come to see the subject of their debate in the right light.
Now we have learnt what the essence of real mysticism is. It is an inner experience of such a kind that it leads the mystic to real knowledge. He will not be justified in regarding the unity he experiences as objective truth, for its appearance of unity derives from his own ego, but he may truly say that he experiences the substantiality of spirit as one living within it.
If we pass on from this general account of mysticism to individual mystics, we often encounter facts which are called in evidence against mysticism by its opponents. The inner experience of individuals takes various forms, so that the experiences of one mystic may not agree entirely with those of another. But if two persons have different experiences of something, it by no means follows that their reports are untrue. If one person sees a tree from the right and another sees it from the left, and each describes it from his own point of view, it will be the same tree and both descriptions may be correct. This simple example will show why the soul-experiences of mystics differ: after all, a mystic's inner life does not come before him as a complete blank. However much it may be his ideal to obliterate external experiences and to withdraw his attention from them completely, they will yet leave a trace in his soul, and this makes a difference. The mystic will be subject also to some influence from the character of the nation from which he descends. Even if he casts out from his soul every external experience he has had, his inner experience will still have to be described in words and concepts drawn from his own life. Two mystics may experience exactly the same thing, but they will describe it differently as a result of their earlier lives. It is only if we are able through our own personal experience to allow for these individual variations in description and representation that we can come to recognise that fundamentally the reality of mystical experience is always the same. It is just as though we were to photograph a tree from various angles: the photographs would differ but they would all be of the same tree.
There is another point, which might in a sense be considered an objection against mystical experience, and since I must speak quite objectively, with no bias one way or the other, I have to say that this objection is valid and applies to all forms of mysticism. Just because mystical experience is so intimate and inward, and has an individual character derived from the mystic's earlier years, it is extraordinarily difficult for anything he says about his mystical life, closely bound up as it must be with his own soul, to be rightly understood or assimilated by another soul. The most intimate aspects of mysticism must always remain intimate and very hard to communicate, however earnestly one may try to understand and enter into what is said. The point is that two mystics, if both are far enough advanced, may have the same experience — and anyone well-disposed will then recognise that they are speaking of the same thing — but they will have passed through different experiences during their earlier years, and this will give their mysticism an individual colouring. Hence the expressions used by a mystic and his style of utterance, in so far as they derive from his pre-mystical life, will always remain somewhat incomprehensible unless we make an effort to understand his personal background and so come to see why he speaks as he does. This, however, will divert our attention from what is universally valid to the personality of the mystic himself, and this tendency can be observed in the history of mysticism.
With the deepest mystics, especially, we must set aside any idea that the knowledge they have gained can be imparted and assimilated by other people. Mystical knowledge cannot at all easily be made part of general human knowledge. But this only goes to strengthen our interest in the personality of the mystic, and it is endlessly attractive to study him in so far as the universal human image is reflected in him. What the mystic describes and values only because it leads him to the foundations and sources of existence will in itself have little interest for us as regards the objective nature of the world; what interests us will be the subjective side of it and its bearing on the mystic as an individual. In studying mysticism, accordingly, we shall find value in precisely what the mystic tries to overcome — in the personal, the immediate, his attitude to the world. Certainly we can learn a great deal about the depths of human nature if we observe the history of mankind from the aspect of the mystic as it were, but it will be very hard for us — this can never be too strongly emphasised — to find in a mystic's words as he expresses them anything that can have direct validity for us.
Mysticism is the opposite of monadology, or pluralism, which derives from observing and reflecting on the external world which all men have in common. The resulting systems of the latter may contain error upon error, but they can be discussed and something made of them from whatever point of development the individual has reached.
The mysticism I have been describing here can thus be extremely attractive, but we shall recognise its limits quite objectively if we allow our souls to assimilate what has just been said about it.
Further light is thrown on mysticism if we assess it in relation to the method of spiritual science, a method drawn from the deeper levels of present-day spiritual life with the aim of penetrating to the primal foundations of existence. If a subject gives difficulty because of the subtlety of its ideas, the best way of understanding it is often to compare it with some related subject.
You have often heard it said in these lectures that there is a path of ascent to the higher worlds. In a certain sense it is a threefold path. We have described the outward path, and then the inward path taken by the mediaeval mystics, and we have defined the limits of the latter. Now we will turn to what can be called the proper path of spiritual science, or spiritual research.
We have already seen that this way of knowledge does not simply require the student to take either the outward path, leading to the spiritual basis of the sense-world and therefore to plurality, or the inward path leading to the deeper foundations of one's own soul and finally to the mystical unity of the world. Spiritual science says that a man is not bound to follow only those paths which his own immediate knowledge opens for him, but that he possesses hidden, slumbering faculties of cognition, and that starting from them he can find other paths than the two just mentioned.
A person who follows either of these two paths remains as he already is and has become; he may seek to pierce the veil of the sense world and penetrate to the foundations of existence; or he may obliterate external impressions and allow the inner spark to shine out. But in spiritual science it is fundamental that man need not remain as he is today, with his existing faculties of knowledge. Just as man has evolved to his present stage, so, by using the appropriate method, he can develop faculties of knowledge higher than those he has now.
If we are to compare this method with the mystical mode of knowledge, we must say: If we eliminate outer impressions we can discover the inner spark, and see how it shines when all else is extinguished, but we are still only drawing on what is already there. Spiritual science is not content with that; it comes to the spark, but does not stop there. It seeks to develop methods which will turn the little spark into a much stronger light. We can take the outward path or the inward path, but since we are to develop new powers of cognition, we take neither path immediately. The modern form of spiritual scientific research is distinguished both from mediaeval mysticism and from pluralism and also from the old teachings of the Mysteries, by developing inner faculties of cognition in such a way that the outward path and the inward path are brought together. Thus we follow a path that leads equally to both goals.
This is possible because the development of higher faculties by the methods of spiritual science leads man through three stages of knowledge. The first stage, which proceeds from ordinary knowledge and goes beyond it is called Imagination; the second stage is called Inspiration, and the third is called Intuition, in the true sense of the word. How is the first stage attained and what is accomplished in the soul for higher faculties to arise? The way in which they are developed will show you how pluralism and mysticism are transcended along this path. The example most helpful for an understanding of Imagination, or imaginative cognition, has already been mentioned more than once: it is drawn from the methods applied by the spiritual scientist to himself. It is one of many such examples and is best given in the form of a dialogue between master and pupil.
The teacher who wants to educate a pupil in the higher faculties leading to Imagination would say: “Look at the plant; it grows up out of the soil and unfolds leaf by leaf until it is a flower. Compare it with man as he stands before you. Man has something more than the plant, for the world is reflected in his ideas, feelings and sensations; he excels the plant in possessing human consciousness. But he has had to pay for this consciousness by absorbing into himself on his way towards becoming man, passions, impulses and desires which may lead him into error, wrong and evil. The plant grows according to its natural laws; it unfolds its being according to these laws, and it stands before us, pure, with its green sap. Unless we indulge in fancies we cannot attribute to it any desires, passions or impulses which could divert it from the right path. If now we observe the blood as it circulates through man, the blood which is the external expression of human consciousness, of the human ego, and contrast it with the green chlorophyll sap permeating the plant, we shall realize that this streaming, pulsating blood is the expression as much of man's rise to a higher stage of consciousness as it is of the passions and impulses which drag him down.
“Then” — the teacher might continue — “imagine that man develops further; that through his ego he overcomes error, evil and ugliness, everything which tries to drag him down to evil; that he purifies and refines his passions and affections. Picture an ideal which man strives to realise, when his blood will no longer be the expression of any passions, but only of his inner mastery of all that might drag him down. His red blood may then be compared with what the green sap has become in the red rose. Just as the red rose shows us the plant sap in all its purity, and yet at a higher stage than it had reached in the plant, so the red blood of man, when purified and refined, can show what man becomes when he has mastered everything that might drag him down.”
These are the feelings and images that the teacher can evoke in the pupil's mind and soul. If the pupil is not a dry stick, if he is able to enter with his feelings into the whole secret symbolised by this comparison, his soul will be stirred and he will experience something which will come before his spiritual vision as a symbolic picture, The picture can be of the Rose Cross: the black cross symbolising what has been slain in man's lower nature and the roses representing the red blood, so purified and refined that it has become a pure expression of his higher soul-nature. Thus the black cross wreathed with red roses becomes a symbolical summing-up of what the soul experiences in this dialogue between teacher and pupil.
If the pupil has opened his soul to all the feelings and images which can make the Rose Cross a true symbol for him; if he does not merely claim to have placed the Rose Cross before his inner vision, but if with pain and struggle he has won through to a heightened experience of its essence, he will know that this picture, or similar ones, call forth something in his soul — not merely the little spark but a new power of cognition which enables him to look at the world in a new way. Thus he has not remained as he formerly was, but has raised his soul to a further stage of development. And if he does this again and again, he will finally attain to Imagination, which shows him that in the outer world there is more than meets the eye.
Now let us see how this way of knowledge came into being. Did we say to ourselves: We will take the outward path and seek for the foundations of things? To a certain extent, yes. We go out to the external world, but we are not searching for the basis of things, or for molecules and atoms; we are not concerned with what the outer world sets directly before us, but we retain something from it. The black cross could not arise in the soul if there were no wood in the world; the soul could not imagine a red rose unless it had received an impression of one from the world around it. Hence we cannot say, as the mystic does, that we have obliterated everything external and turned our attention away entirely from the outer world. We submit to the outer world and take from it something that it alone can give, but we do not take it just as it comes, for the Rose Cross is not found in nature. How was it, then, that rose and wood, drawn from the outer world, were combined into a symbolic picture? It was the work of our own souls. The experience that comes to us when we devote ourselves to the outer world, not merely staring at it but becoming absorbed in it, and what we can learn from comparing plant with man as he develops — all this we have made into an inner mystical experience. But we have not taken immediate possession of our experience, as the mystic does; we sacrifice it to the outer world, and, with the help of what the world can give outwardly and the soul inwardly, we build up a symbolic picture in which outer and inner mystical life are fused. The picture stands before us in such a way that it does not lead directly either to the outer world or to the inner world, but it works as a force. If we place it before our souls in meditation, it creates a new spiritual eye, and then we can see into a spiritual world which previously we could not find, either in the inner world or in the outer. And then we can discern that what lies at the basis of the external world, and can now be experienced through imaginative cognition, is identical with what can be found in our own inner being.
If now we ascend to the stage of Inspiration, we have to strip away the content of our symbolic picture. We have to do something very similar to the procedure of the mystic who takes the inward path. We have to forget the rose and the cross, to banish the whole picture from our mind's eye. However difficult this may be, it has to be done. In order to bring before us inwardly the symbolical comparison between plant and man, our soul had to exert itself. Now we have to concentrate our attention on this activity, on what the soul had to do in order to call up the image of the black cross as a symbol of what has to be overcome in man. When we thus deepen ourselves mystically in the experience of the soul during this activity, we come to Inspiration, or inspirational cognition.
The awakening of this new faculty not only brings the appearance of the little spark in our inner being: we see it lighting up as a powerful force of cognition, and through it we experience something which reveals itself as closely related to our inner being and yet wholly independent of it. For we have seen how our soul-activity is not only an inner process but has exercised itself on something external. So we have here a knowledge of our inner being, as a residue of mysticism, which is also knowledge of the outer world.
Now we come to a task which is opposed to that of the mystic. We have to do something similar to what ordinary natural science does: we have to go forth into the external world. This is difficult, but essential for rising to the stage of Intuition, or intuitive cognition.
Our task now is to divert our attention from our own activity, forget what we have done to bring the Rose Cross before our inner sight. If we are patient and carry out the exercises long enough and in the right way, we shall see that we are left with something which we know for certain is entirely independent of our own inner experience and has no subjective colouring, and yet shows by its objective being that it is akin to the centre of the human being, the ego. Thus in order to reach intuitive knowledge we go out from ourselves and yet come to something which is closely akin to our inner being. So we rise from our own inward experience to the spiritual, which we no longer experience within ourselves but in the external world. Thus on the path of spiritual science, through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition, we overcome the shadow-sides both of pluralism and ordinary mysticism.
Now we can give an answer to the question — What is mysticism? It is an endeavour by the human soul to find the divine-spiritual source of existence through immersing itself in its own inner being. Fundamentally, spiritual-scientific cognition also must take this mystical path, but it is well aware that it must first prepare itself and not set out prematurely. Mysticism is thus an enterprise which springs from a justified urge in the human soul, thoroughly justified in principle, but undertaken too early if the soul has not first sought to make progress in imaginative cognition. If we try to deepen our ordinary life through mysticism, there is a danger that we may not have made ourselves sufficiently free and independent of ourselves, so that we are unable to form a picture of the world not coloured by our personality. If we rise to the stage of Inspiration, we have poured out our inner being into something drawn from the outer world; and then we have gained the right to be a mystic. All mysticism should therefore be undertaken at the proper stage of human development. Harm is done if we try to achieve mystical knowledge before we are ready for it.
In justified mysticism, accordingly, spiritual science can recognise a stage which enables us to understand the real aim and intention of spiritual-scientific research. There is hardly anything from which we can learn as much in this respect as we can from a devoted study of the mystics. It must not be thought that the spiritual scientist, when he recognises something justified in mysticism, is denying the need for further progress. Mysticism is justified only if it is raised to a certain level of development, so that its methods yield results which are not merely subjective but give valid expression to truths concerning the spiritual world.
We need not say much about the dangers which a premature devotion to mystical methods can incur. They involve a descent into the depths of the human soul before the mystic has prepared himself in such a way that his inner being can grow out into the external world. He will often then be inclined to shut himself off from the outer world, and fundamentally this is only a subtle, refined form of egotism. This often applies to mystics who turn away from the outer world and indulge in those feelings of rapture, exaltation and liberation which flood into their souls when this golden mood pervades their inner life. This egotism can be overcome if the ego is constrained to pass outside itself and make its activity flow into the external world by the creation of symbols. In this way an imaginative symbolism leads to an experience of truth which strips away egotism. The danger incurred by a mystic who strives after knowledge too early in his development is that he may become an eccentric or a refined egoist.
Mysticism is justified, and what Angelus Silesius says is true:
If you transcend yourself in God's prevailing,
Then in your spirit will ascension reign! 20Angelus Silesius, Cherubinischer Wandersmann, Book 4, Verse 56.
It is true that by developing his soul man attains not only to his own inner being but to the spiritual kingdoms which underlie the outer world. But he must take in full earnest the work of transcending himself, and this must not be confused with a mere brooding within himself just as he is. He must take seriously the words of Angelus Silesius, both the first line and the second. We fail to do this if we withdraw from any aspect of the divine revelation; we let God hold sway only if we are able to sacrifice our inner being to all that can flow into us as revelation from the outer world. If we bring this way of thinking into relation with our spiritual-scientific cognition, we shall be taking the second line in the right sense. We let the divine-spiritual ground of the outer and inner worlds hold sway in us, and only then can we hope that we shall be “on Heaven's way.” This means that we shall come to a spiritual realm which is coloured neither by our own inner world nor by the outer world — a realm which has the same ground as the infinite world of stars shining in on us, as the atmosphere which envelops the earth, as the green plant-cover, as the rivers flowing into the sea; while the same divine-spiritual element lives in our thinking, feeling and willing and permeates our inner and outer worlds.
These examples will show that to read a saying such as this one by Angelus Silesius is not enough; we must take it up at the right stage, when we are first able to understand it truly. Then we shall see that mysticism, because it has the right kernel, can indeed lead us to the point where we shall be ripe for learning gradually to see into spiritual realms, and that mysticism in the highest and truest sense can make real for us what can be found in the beautiful words of Angelus Silesius:
When you raise yourself above yourself and truly let the divine spiritual ground of worlds hold sway in you, you will tread the heavenly way to the divine-spiritual sources of existence.