Secrets of the Threshold
24 August 1913, Munich
If you will think back to the dramatic scenes we have had before us these last few days, you will find that they lead into what we will consider in this lecture cycle. First of all, I would like to call to mind Scenes Nine, Ten and Thirteen of The Souls' Awakening. These are scenes whose effect one could call simple and straightforward. After the happenings in the Spirit Realm (Scenes Five and Six) and the Egyptian initiation (Scenes Seven and Eight), some people might have expected a much more forceful sequel coming before their eyes of soul, more tragic, perhaps, or more emphatic in speech, not just a subsiding into inner quietness. However, anything formed differently in Scenes Nine, Ten, and Thirteen would appear untruthful to the occult eye.
We see on stage various developments of soul. It should be said immediately that we have also given theoretical descriptions of the development into higher worlds, and these contain points of reference for every person on his or her path towards the spiritual world. Nevertheless, soul development is necessarily different for each one, according to his own special nature, character, temperament and circumstances. We can therefore gain a deeper understanding of an esoteric soul development only when we observe its diversity: how differently it takes place in Maria, how differently in Johannes Thomasius, how differently in the other characters of the drama.
Scene Nine is first of all directed to that psychological moment when the consciousness breaks into Maria's soul of the experiences that had penetrated to her very core but not altogether consciously during the devachanic 1Devachan, devachanic (Sanscrit, deva-divine being) The spirit world. In An Outline of Occult Science Steiner describes it as “The manifestation of the Spirit World in its fullness.” time before birth and in the ancient Egyptian initiation. In what was presented to us as “Spirit Realm,” we are concerned with soul experiences between death at the end of a medieval incarnation and birth into our present time. The events of all four Mystery Dramas, with the exception of the episode in The Souls' Probation that represents the spiritual review of his previous life by Capesius, take place at the present time, a time linked to the spiritual past spent in Devachan, between the death of the various characters after their incarnation in the Middle Ages (this being the content of the episode mentioned) and their present life.
The experiences of the devachanic period differ according to the preparation our souls have made on earth. It must be understood that it is a significant experience when a soul can go through what is called the Cosmic Midnight with consciousness. Souls that are not prepared for it will sleep through that part of the time called the Saturn period of Devachan (one can designate the successive periods a soul undergoes between death and a new birth as connected with the various planets: Sun, Mars, Mercury periods, and so on). Many souls sleep through the whole Cosmic Midnight. Souls that have been prepared are awake in this period of their spiritual life, but there is no guarantee that souls so prepared will also bring a clear memory of this experience into their life on earth when they come back into physical existence.
Maria and Johannes were well prepared for the experience of the Cosmic Midnight during their time in the spirit between death and new birth. Nevertheless a kind of soul darkness prevailed at the beginning of their earth lives, continuing over long periods of time and shrouding the experience of the Cosmic Midnight; then at a later stage of their present life, this rose to the surface. It reappeared only when a certain inner calmness and resolution of soul was reached. Significant and profound are the experiences of the Cosmic Midnight when the soul is awake to them. The earthly memory of all this must come as a calm inner experience, a luminous inner experience, for the effect of such a perception of the Cosmic Midnight is this: what formerly was only subjective, working inwardly as soul force, now appears as a living being or beings before the soul. As shown in Scene Nine of The Souls' Awakening it presents itself before Maria in the forms of Astrid and Luna as real beings. To Johannes Thomasius the Other Philia becomes a living being of the spiritual world, and to Capesius, Philia, in Scene Thirteen. These characters had to learn to feel perceptively that what before this were only abstract forces within themselves now could appear to them in a spiritually tangible form.
What comes to souls spiritually tangible as genuine self-knowledge has to appear in complete soul quietness, the result of meditation: this is essential if such happenings are to be experienced in the true sense of the word for genuine strengthening of the soul. If a person wanted to experience the Cosmic Midnight as retrospective memory or to experience what is shown as the Egyptian initiation not in the clear light of meditation but as intense tragedy, he would not be able to experience them at all. For the spiritual happening that is taking place in the soul would place itself like a dark veil before it, so that any impressions recede from observation. A soul that has experienced the Cosmic Midnight and in its deepest core received a momentous impression of the kind shown in Scenes Seven and Eight of The Souls' Awakening can remember the past happening only when the soul in completely lucid calmness can perceive thoughts approaching, thoughts about earlier experiences in the spiritual life or in the former earth life. This is what is expressed in the words at the beginning of Scene Nine:
A star of soul ... there ... at the spirit shore ...
it draws near ... nears in spirit brightness ...
my Self it brings... and nearing,
its light gains strength ... gains calmness too.
You star within the circuit of my spirit ... what,
approaching, shines on my beholding soul? 2Rudolf Steiner, The Souls' Awakening, contained in Four Mystery Dramas, (Vancouver, Steiner Book Centre, 1978).
Only when the soul is in this calm mood, so that the experience does not whirl in upon it with tragic vehemence, can one feel the arising memory of the Cosmic Midnight and the experiences of the previous incarnation as occultly true. When it is experienced and lived through, the Cosmic Midnight has a profound significance for a person's emotional life. There one lives through what can only be expressed as follows: In the Cosmic Midnight things are experienced that he hidden deep, deep down under the surface, not only of the sense world but also under the surface of the various worlds to which a dawning clairvoyance can lead. The sense world recedes, and also there recedes from clairvoyant vision in some of those who have already been able to discern various layers below the sense world, what we may call (and we will speak of it at length later on) — the Necessities in cosmic events. The Necessities are rooted in the foundations of things, where also the deepest part of the human soul rests. This, however, evades the physical gaze and also the dawning clairvoyant gaze, revealing itself to the latter only when something is experienced like the Saturn period scenes. One may therefore say that to such a clairvoyant gaze, which indeed must first appear between death and a new birth, it is as if lightning flashes were crossing the soul's whole field of vision, lightning whose terrifying brilliance was illumining the Cosmic Necessities, which at the same time were themselves so blindingly bright that the cognitive gaze dies away in the radiant light. Then from this expiring glance of cognition there come forth picture forms that enweave themselves into the cosmic web like the forms from which grow the destinies of the cosmic beings. One discovers in the foundations of the Necessities the fundamental causes of human destinies and those of other beings, but only when one gazes with glances of cognition that die away in the knowing, destroyed by the lightning flashes; they then remodel themselves as if into forms that have died but that live on as the impulses of destiny in life.
All that a true self-knowledge can discover in itself — not the self-knowledge so bandied about in Theosophical ranks but the highly serious self-knowledge that comes to pass in the course of esoteric life 3Theosophical Society: The German section of the Theosophical Society, headed by Rudolf Steiner until 1912, diverged from the beginning from the rest of the Theosophical Society which was headed by Annie Besant. In 1912, the German section broke away and the Anthroposophical Society was founded. — all that a soul can perceive within itself, with all the imperfections it has to ascribe to itself, all this is heard at the cosmic midnight as if enwoven into rolling cosmic thunder, rumbling in the underground of existence.
All these experiences may take place with great anguish and solemn resolve between death and a new birth as an awakening at the Cosmic Midnight. If the soul is mature enough to allow the consciousness of this to enter the physical sense world, it must happen in the quiet clarity of the meditative mood hinted at by Maria at the beginning of Scene Nine. What, however, the soul has perceived within its spiritual life must have preceded this, as if something of itself, something belonging intimately to itself but not always dwelling in what one can call the Self, had approached from world distances. The mood in which something in the spirit world approaches one like a part of oneself, yet as though coming from far away: this was attempted in the words Maria speaks in the Spirit Realm (Scene Six):
The flames are nearing — nearing with my thinking
from distant cosmic soul-shores of my being. —
A heated battle nears — and my own thinking
must battle with the thoughts of Lucifer;
within another soul my thinking fights. —
Hot light is wafted — out of fierce dark coldness. —
It flashes lightnings, this hot light of soul —
the light of soul — in cosmic fields of ice —
The memory of the experience that can be expressed in such words as this can be rendered again in the words of Maria mentioned above at the beginning of Scene Nine (“A star of soul ...”). What, however, the soul has to feel in order to have such a memory of the Cosmic Midnight must also lie in one's earth life, for here the human soul goes through events which bring to it the moods of inner anguish, inner resolve, inner dread, that one can only express in such words given to Maria to speak at the end of Scene Four. Indeed, one has to have felt that the individual self tears itself away from what one generally calls the inner life; that the power of thinking, with which one feels so confidently connected in life, tears itself out of the inner being and seems to go off towards the far, far limits of one's field of vision; and one must have found alive in oneself as soul presence what is expressed in such words — though naturally these will seem complete nonsense, overflowing with contradictions, to the sort of comprehension limited to the external senses and tied to the brain. One must first have experienced the feeling of one's own self moving away, of one' s thinking moving away, if one is to live through again in complete calm the memory of the Cosmic Midnight. The memory during earth life must be preceded by the experience of the Cosmic Midnight in the spiritual life, if what is in Scene Nine should take place.
To make this possible, however, there must again have been the soul mood expressed at the end of Scene Four. The flames do in truth take flight; they do not come earlier into earthly consciousness; they do not approach the calm of meditation, before they have first fled away, until this soul mood has become a truth:
The flames are fleeing ... fleeing with my thinking;
And there at distant cosmic shores of soul
a furious battle ... my own thinking fights ...
at flowing nothingness — cold spirit light ...
my thinking wavers, reels ... cold light ...
it strikes out of my thinking flaming waves of darkness ...
what now emerges from the fierce, dark heat?
in red flames storms my Self ... into the light ...
into cold light ... of cosmic fields of ice.
These things are linked together; their being connected in this way strengthens the inner soul faculties. What at first was only an abstract soul force now steps before the soul in a spiritual body, so that in one sense it is a special entity, on the other hand it belongs to one's self, as Astrid and Luna appear to Maria. These beings, who are real and at the same time perceived as soul forces, appear in such a way that they can stand on stage with the Guardian of the Threshold and with Benedictus as they do in Scene Nine. The most important thing is to sense the mood of this scene so that in a quite different, individual manner, when the inner soul force corresponding to the Other Philia takes on bodily form, an awakening takes place, that is, the memory of the Cosmic Midnight and of the ancient Egyptian time in Johannes Thomasius. To such a finely attuned soul as Johannes Thomasius the words of the Other Philia: “Enchanted weaving of your own being...” have a special meaning, as well as what is connected with them during the rest of the Mystery Drama. Because of this, the Spirit of Johannes' Youth, Benedictus and Lucifer appear as they do at the end of Scene Ten. It is important to bring before the mind's eye in just this scene how Lucifer approaches Johannes Thomasius and the same words are spoken that were heard at the end of Scene Three in The Guardian of the Threshold. In these words one discovers how the battle Lucifer wages moves through all the worlds and through every human life, and one also discovers the mood that resounds out of the words of Benedictus in answer to Lucifer. Try to feel what lies in these words which sound from Lucifer both in The Guardian of the Threshold at the end of Scene Three and in The Souls' Awakening at the end of Scene Ten:
Lucifer: I mean to fight.
Benedictus: And fighting serve the gods.
Let us note very carefully something else at this point, that although the same words are spoken in these two places, they can be spoken so that in each place they mean something quite different. What they mean at the end of Scene Ten of The Souls' Awakening is determined by the fact that the preceding words of Maria are transformed from words spoken in The Guardian of the Threshold, while in Maria's soul there lives what she had spoken:
Maria, as you have desired to see her,
does not exist in worlds of radiant truth.
My holy, solemn vow rays forth new strength
to hold for you what you have gained.
She says now:
You'll find me in bright fields of light ...
She no longer says:
And you will find me in cold fields of ice ...
You'll find me in bright fields of light
where glowing beauty brings forth powers of life.
Seek me in grounds of worlds where souls
must struggle to achieve their feeling for the gods
through love, which in the All beholds the Self.
The words are turned around from what they are in Scene Two of The Souls' Awakening. It is through this that the dialogue between Lucifer and Benedictus at the end of Scene Ten: “I mean to fight” — “And fighting serve the gods,” becomes entirely different from what it was at the end of Scene Three in The Guardian of the Threshold. In understanding this, light is shed on something of an ahrimanic thrust, one can say, that prevails in all intellectual thinking, in the whole intellectual culture of today.
It is one of the most difficult things for people with this superficial faculty of intellect in our modern culture to realize that the same words in a different context mean something different. Modern civilization is such that people think that the words they use — in so far as they have been coined on the physical plane — must always mean the same thing. Here we have precisely the place where Ahriman has people most firmly by the throat, and where he hinders them from understanding that words only become living in their deepest sense when one looks at them in the connection in which they are uttered. Nothing that reaches out beyond the physical plane can be understood if one does not keep this occult fact in mind. It is especially important today that an occult fact of this kind should work upon our hearts and souls as a counterbalance to the external intellectual life that has taken firm hold of every human being.
Among the many things that have to be considered in these Mystery Dramas, notice how indeed in The Souls' Awakening the remarkable figure of Ahriman steals in quietly at first, 4The Souls' Awakening, Scene 3. how it seems to insinuate itself among the other characters and how it continually gains in significance towards the end of the drama. I shall endeavor to bring out for you a special piece of writing about Lucifer and Ahriman, and other things as well, entitled The Threshold of the Spiritual World; 5Rudolf Steiner, A Road to Self-Knowledge and The Threshold Of The Spiritual World (London, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1975). it will be on hand during this lecture course, for these seem to me the subjects particularly necessary to illumine for our friends at this time. It is not easy to get a clear understanding of such figures as Ahriman and Lucifer. Perhaps it may be useful for some of you to observe how precisely in The Souls' Awakening he who is not quite in a fog about the ahrimanic element in the world may be able to think of things which someone else through unconscious ahrimanic impulses may be thinking, too, but in a different frame of mind. There will be many among you, dear friends, who can enter into all the circumstances which stream into such words as those expressed by Ahriman while he is insinuating himself among the various persons:
Do not permit him to confuse you quite.
He guards the threshold faithfully indeed,
although he shows himself in borrowed clothes
which you have patched together in your mind
from odds and ends that look like melodrama.
You as an artist could, of course, avoid
producing him in such a wretched style,
though later you will surely do it better.
But even his distorted image serves.
It does not need too much of emphasis
to show you what his present stature is.
You should take notes of how the Guardian speaks:
too mournful is his tone, too much of pathos. —
Forbid him this, and he will show to you
from whom today he borrows to excess. 6The Souls' Awakening, Scene 13.
I can imagine that many people — from some aesthetic point of view or other — will shake their heads at the way these Mystery Dramas are put before us. My dear friends, these objections as well as others raised against anthroposophy can be set aside by those who put themselves in the mood of Ahriman. The hypercritical people of our time who denounce anthroposophy certainly belong to those described by the poet: “The devil's never noticed by some folk, even when he has them by the neck!” We can judge these opponents of anthroposophy a bit by what Ahriman is saying here while he prowls around. He meets us in his more serious form when the death of Strader gradually plays into the events presented in the drama; it comes about then that the forces flowing out of this death must be sought by soul vision in the effect they have on everything else that happens in The Souls' Awakening.
It must be said again and again that this awakening takes place in different ways. For Maria it happens that, through special circumstances, the soul forces that find their bodily-spiritual expression in Luna and Astrid appear before her soul. For Johannes Thomasius it takes place when he experiences in himself the enchanted weaving of his inner being, on the Other Philia's appearance in a spiritually palpable form, if one may use such an absurd expression. For Capesius it happens through Philia in a still different way. In many other forms this awakening can gradually dawn upon souls, for instance, as we see it dawn upon Strader in Scene Eleven. Here we do not meet what we have just described as the spiritually tangible forms of Luna, Philia, Astrid and the Other Philia; we have the still imaginative pictures that radiate spiritual experiences into the physical consciousness. This stage of the awakening of the soul that takes place in Strader can be represented only by such an imaginative perception as the image of the ship in Scene Eleven.
In yet another form can the awakening of the soul gradually prepare itself. You will find this, carefully planned, after Ahriman has been shown in his deeper significance in Scene Twelve: it is hinted at in Scene Thirteen in the conversation between Hilary and Romanus. Let your mind's eye rest on what has been happening in Hilary's soul between the events in The Guardian of the Threshold and those of The Souls' Awakening, expressed in these words of Hilary:
My friend, I thank you for these occult words.
I've heard them often; for the first time now
I feel the secret meaning they contain.
The cosmic ways are hard to penetrate.
And I, dear friend, am called upon to wait
until the spirit shows me the direction
which is in keeping with my spirit sight.
What are the words Romanus had spoken? 7Rudolf Steiner, The Probation of the Soul, contained in Four Mystery Dramas. They are words that Hilary has heard again and again from the place where Romanus stands in the Temple, words that Romanus has so often spoken at this place, yet until this experience, they had passed before the inner vision of Hilary without the deeper understanding one can call understanding of life. It is also a bit of soul awakening for someone to wrestle his way to an understanding of what he has taken in as thought-forms, grasping them pretty well and even lecturing about them but still without having a living, vital understanding. He may have absorbed everything of anthroposophy contained in books, lectures and cycles, may have even imparted it to others, perhaps to their great benefit, and yet discover this: to understand as now Hilary understands the words of Romanus is only possible after a certain experience for which he must calmly wait. This is a definite stage of the awakening of the soul.
O if only a good number of our friends could put themselves into this mood of waiting! If only they could adopt this frame of mind, of awaiting the approach of something whose description in advance both as theories and explanations has apparently been clear enough and yet misunderstood — then something would take place in their souls that is expressed by Strader's words in Scene Three of The Souls' Awakening. Strader stands there between Felix Balde and Capesius, stands there in a remarkable way — he stands there so that literally he hears every word they say and could repeat it, and yet he cannot understand it. He knows what it is, can even consider it to be wisdom, but now he notices that there is something that can be expressed in the words:
Capesius and Felix, both ... to me ...
conceal dark meaning in transparent words ...
Our supremely clever people today will perhaps concede that by chance this or that person can hide meaning — clear meaning — in obscure words. However, it will not easily be granted by these clever people that an obscure meaning can be hidden in clear words. Nevertheless for human nature to concede that in clear words an obscure meaning may be hidden is of the two the higher acknowledgment. Many sciences are clear, as are many philosophies, but something important would happen for the further evolution of mankind if philosophers would finally confess that — although in all philosophical systems they had certainly produced stuff that was clear and ever clearer, so that anyone could say, “These things are clear!” — yet there may be in clear words an obscure meaning. Something important would take place if the many people who think themselves supremely clever, reckoning what they know to be wisdom (and to some degree rightly so), if they could only place themselves before the world as Strader places himself between Felix Balde and Capesius and learn to say:
I often understood — what you are saying; —
I took it then for wisdom; — but no word
of what you say has meaning for me now.
Capesius and Felix, both — to me —
conceal dark meaning in transparent words.
Just imagine some modern philosopher or one from the past, who has brought together in his own way a plausible clear system of philosophy, and who will take a stand by the side of his philosophy (which is of course in its own way the result of all human thought), saying, “I've usually found this comprehensible. Everything I've written I've taken for wisdom — and yet not a single word in all these phrases can I understand. Even in those I wrote myself, much of it is incomprehensible: these pronouncements seem to hide a dark meaning in clear words.”
Well, one cannot easily imagine such a confession coming from one of our recent or slightly older philosophers, nor from one of the highly clever men of our materialistic, or as it's called in more grandiose style, our monistic age either. And yet it would be a blessing for our present life if people could assume the attitude towards the thoughts and other cultural achievements that Strader assumed towards Felix Balde and Capesius. If only such people might become more and more numerous, and if only anthroposophy could in very truth contribute something directly to this self-knowledge!