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Community Life, Inner Development, Sexuality and the Spiritual Teacher
GA 253

V. Sexuality and Modern Clairvoyance, Freudian Psychoanalysis and Swedenborg as a Seer

14 September 1915, Dornach

YESTERDAY I inserted a talk on psychoanalysis into this lecture series, since that subject is of concern to all of us at the moment because of the case at hand. You will have noticed that I first characterized the psychoanalytic view as distinguishing between consciousness and the unconscious in our inner life. I then went on to describe, if only briefly, how the psychoanalytic point of view as a whole is swimming in sexuality, and you could see that with this second aspect, an extremely unfortunate (you might even say “terrible”) element has entered our culture. This points to something characteristic of current intellectual trends in general.

There can be no doubt that in distinguishing an unconscious that exists alongside the conscious mind, psychoanalysis has made a legitimate contribution to our culture. We can look at it like this: These people are on the right track in thinking that the human soul goes beyond what our ordinary consciousness encompasses. However, these same people have also taken their materialism to extremes. It has done more than engulf their thinking, which is what happened in the case of what is now erroneously known as monism. The materialism of the psychoanalysts, however, also pulls the lower human drives into their theory and incorporates them into it. As a result, sexual drives, the most subjective element possible, become the motivating impulse in scientific activity.

We must look particularly closely at such modern cultural phenomena, because they show us that something independent of human individuals is compelling even the crassest materialists among us to recognize a higher spiritual element than the one we are immediately aware of. After all, the followers of Freud are deeply rooted in materialism, in their intellect as well as their instincts; yet the objective world compels even them to investigate something beyond the scope of ordinary consciousness. That is the objective side of the matter.

On the other hand, the subjective aspect is that these people are so tangled up in materialism that their lowest and most subjective drives are immediately drawn into the business of formulating their outlook on life. That is part and parcel of materialism just as much as the left hand belongs to the right hand or the left eye to the right eye. And tumbling right down into the very lowest human drives is the inevitable consequence of getting stuck in materialism if people really let themselves go.

However, my friends, we can really understand this way of looking at the world only if we can get to the bottom of many a riddle of the world order. The dangerous thing about philosophies like psychoanalysis is that people are on the right track, but drag their impure instincts into what is true. It is much less harmful when impure instincts are incorporated into something completely erroneous than it is when they are incorporated into a partial truth. And the truth in the psychoanalytic view lies in its recognition of the fact that so much of what is at work in human life is unconscious, truly unconscious. That is where psychoanalysts are on the right track and have come upon many things that are true and correct.

Let us follow up how psychoanalysts stumble onto the right track. In the book I told you about yesterday, the head of the psychoanalytic school of thought attempts to explain certain customs among primitive people on the basis of certain psychoanalytic theories. He does so in accordance with connections he assumes to exist between early childhood and neurotic conditions later in life.

We saw yesterday how the element of sexuality plays into these theories. In his book Totem and Taboo, in the essay “Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence,” Freud compares some of the views and ideas of primitive people with certain infantile characteristics of civilized human beings that manifest in neuroses, in certain types of nervous or psychological disorders. [ Note 1 ] From what we discussed yesterday, you will recall that psychoanalysts explain many things as the result of impulses that affect people in the early years of their life and then retreat to islands in these people's psyche where they work on in the unconscious. This means that infantile psychological activity is still going on in civilized adults. According to this view, neurotics, or at least a certain type of neurotics, are walking around at age forty with psyches in which earliest childhood experiences, infantile experiences, are still especially influential.

Freud then compares certain primitive beliefs with the experience of neurosis. For example, he says:

A Maori chief would not blow on a fire with his mouth; for his sacred breath would communicate its sanctity to the fire, which would pass it on to the pot on the fire, which would pass it on to the meat in the pot, which would pass it on to the man who ate the meat, which was in the pot, which stood on the fire, which was breathed on by the chief; so that the eater, infected by the chief's breath conveyed through these intermediaries, would surely die. [ Note 2 ]

My patient's husband purchased a household article of some kind and brought it home with him. She insisted that it should be removed or it would make the room she lived in “impossible”. [ Note 3 ]

That is what the patient tells the psychoanalyst. A spiritual scientist using healthy understanding to contemplate a patient like this would have to consider the problem from many different angles. Psychoanalysts, too, might or might not be able to follow the clues in a case like this. And a false mystic might come up with all kinds of profound ideas about magical influences at work on this person or proceeding from this very refined personality who has reached such an advanced stage of evolution that she cannot tolerate having certain objects in the same room with her!

The psychoanalyst says of his patient:

She had heard that the article had been bought in a shop situated in, let us say, “Smith” Street.

He finds out that she has heard that the item in question was bought in a store on Smith Street—increasing mystification! He continues:

“Smith,” however, was the married name of a woman friend of hers who lived in a distant town and whom she had known in her youth under her maiden name. This friend of hers was at the moment “impossible” or taboo.

Consequently the article that had been purchased here in Vienna was as taboo as the friend herself with whom she must not come into contact.

As the psychoanalyst in question has found out, the patient had had a friend with whom she had once gotten into trouble. The friend's name was Smith. This fact survives on an island in her psyche. Nothing of it is present in her ordinary waking consciousness, but although she is unaware of the connection, it remains in her unconscious. Only the name provides the connecting link inasmuch as the friend whom she hated in her youth—a hatred the patient was not conscious of—is called Smith and the article in question was bought on Smith Street. The similarity of the names provides the connection; that is how the subconscious works up into the realm of consciousness.

People with a strong mystical bent make much of names that sound alike. They make such associations very readily and are led to all kinds of mystical conclusions without ever becoming fully aware of the connection. For example, it could happen that a person who once played the role of Persephone might come to believe that she was an actual reincarnation of Persephone because she thinks she once heard someone she didn't know call out the name Persephone as she went past. It could well be, however, that she simply overheard someone saying he saw a woman telephoning, and that she understood “Persephone” from that sequence of sounds. The person in question misheard “Persephone” when what was actually said was “telephoning,” and that is enough for her to go on spinning her mystical threads. This is all strictly hypothetical, of course, but it does correspond to how such things can actually happen.

I could give you many other examples from the essays of Dr. Freud and his followers that would show you that the philosophy of psychoanalysis is in fact seeking the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. However, as I described yesterday, as a result of certain tendencies of our times, all it finds down there in the unconscious is sexuality. This is an extremely important point, and we must take a very close look at it.

The day before yesterday, I told you about Swedenborg and his clairvoyance, for in his own way, Swedenborg was an extremely distinguished and advanced clairvoyant. I explained that he was characteristically unable to cross the threshold into a different state of consciousness, to say “I am being observed” instead of “I am observing.” Swedenborg always wanted to observe everything himself. He observed his Imaginations. He himself was not being observed from the sphere of the Angeloi, but was observing that sphere with the same kind of consciousness he used on the physical plane. Let's take a good look at this once more so as to be clear about the right way to ascend from the physical plane to a higher plane of existence. We must be very clear that on the physical plane, we perceive various objects which are mirrored by means of our physical body and thus become our concepts. That's how we arrive at the important insight that we are looking at objects, and this is the basis of our consciousness.

As soon as we ascend to a higher state of consciousness, however, all this changes fundamentally. There we are received with our I by beings of a higher order, and then we become aware of being perceived, of being looked at by them.

Swedenborg presents a third state of consciousness in which a whole world of objects not present on the physical plane is perceived by him exactly as he perceived objects on the physical plane, although in a more refined state. Thus Swedenborg perceives spiritual objects presented to him in the form of Imaginations just as if the spiritual world were nothing more than a finer version of the physical world. He looks at the spiritual world in the same way we look at the physical world in everyday life. What is the cause of this?

We have already traced the process Swedenborg went through. He discovered certain spiritual beings who made it clear to him that they came from Mars. These beings were incomprehensible to him because they repressed all expressions of emotion and expressed themselves only in thought-gestures. As I told you on Sunday, he realized that he could not understand these beings because they had acquired the ability to conceal their soul life. If Swedenborg had been able to see with the kind of consciousness available to the Angeloi (which is what would have happened if he had really ascended to the spiritual world—that is, if he had also carried his consciousness up into the spiritual world), he would have been able to understand the nature of these Mars beings even though they concealed all their emotions. As it was, however, the content of the Mars beings' soul appeared to Swedenborg as a cold world of thoughts. This is all very strange.

Just think how terribly afraid most people here on the physical plane are of the cold and abstract world of reason. You hear all kinds of derogatory comments about this cold and abstract world of thoughts, and people do everything possible to try to avoid it, to avoid thinking in pure thoughts. Someone who expects people to ascend to pure thought is held to be out of touch with and hostile to real life. That's how people on the physical plane feel about the abstract world of thoughts.

This point of view is very widespread. I will give you an example; present company is always excepted, of course, so I am sure there will be no hurt feelings. For a number years now, a great many people have been reading my The Philosophy of Freedom, which is a work of pure thought. [ Note 4 ] It first appeared in the 1890s. It would be interesting to find out how many of the people in our movement who are now reading The Philosophy of Freedom would have read it on its own merits, without knowing anything about me and our movement, if it had fallen into their hands back in the early 1890s. How many people would have read it back then and how many would have said, “I can't get through this tangled web of thoughts; it just doesn't make any sense!”? You can just imagine, then, how many people are reading this work of pure thought for strictly personal reasons. (Present company excepted, of course.) The only ones who are reading it for other than personal reasons are the ones who would have read it even if they had never met me in person. We have to admit to this quite soberly; it shows how horrified we on the physical plane are of so-called abstraction.

In spite of being such a great scholar, when Swedenborg encountered the beings I described, this particular class of Mars beings, on the astral plane, he was incapable of understanding the pure thoughts, free of any emotion, that were active in their souls. Transferred to the physical plane, this is the same as if someone would say about The Philosophy of Freedom, “It's all Greek to me; no sensible person can read that kind of language,” meaning that it seems totally incomprehensible. In the same way, Swedenborg found these Mars beings incomprehensible on the astral plane.

It is important, however, that we at least have the good will and make the effort to advance to the kind of thinking that is free of emotion—to begin with, free of the emotions we know so well in ordinary life. If the content of The Philosophy of Freedom appeals to people because their feelings incline them to a more spiritual way of looking at things, they have not yet achieved pure thinking. Only those people who take it in because of the thoughts' logical sequence and the way they support each other are relating to the book in the right way.

Swedenborg, on the other hand, in spite of being such a great scholar, could not conceive of being drawn to a world of pure thoughts free of emotional motives. We must try to understand, my friends—and the means of doing so are available in our anthroposophical literature—to what extent in everyday life our choice of truths is dictated by emotional impulses, by impulses provided for us on the physical plane through our karma or upbringing. We are only free of subjectivity when we have really moved on to a realm of thinking in which thoughts sustain each other and no longer have any subjective content.

After that, however, there is still one more thing we must accomplish. When we have really reached the stage of thinking in pure thoughts, when a sequence of pure thoughts is present in our soul, then our personal mind or subjective I is no longer involved. This accounts for the severity we experience when we reach this stage of pure thinking. It is no longer possible to bend things to fit into the mold of how we subjectively would like to have them. Take a train of thought like that of The Philosophy of Freedom. It is impossible to construct it in any other way. It cannot be arbitrarily tampered with; you have to let it grow inside you like a living organism. Then your I is really uninvolved; it is thinking itself that is doing the thinking.

However, your thinking only becomes mature if what it has been emptied of—your own I—is replaced with something else. In place of the contents of your personal mind, the mind-content of spirits belonging to higher hierarchies must fill this emotion-free thinking. When you have come so far as to be able to gradually rid your emotion-filled thinking of its subjective content so that it contains only pure concepts, then divine content, the content that comes from above, can flow in.

Swedenborg never reached this stage. In spite of being a great scholar, he could not extricate what he was thinking from his personal emotions. When he ascended to the astral plane, beings such as the Mars dwellers who could think in pure thought were completely alien to his thinking, confined as it still was to his own personality, and they were therefore incomprehensible to him. As far as he was concerned, their gestures could not be understood at all. But why was Swedenborg barred from entering the world of higher consciousness? Why did he carry a mode of perception appropriate to the physical plane up into the spiritual world, to which he really did gain access? We need not investigate why certain spirits were able to keep their thoughts free of subjective emotional content, but why was Swedenborg unable to understand their words and gestures?

The answers to all these questions will become apparent if we first ask what was actually going on in Swedenborg's case and what he took with him onto the astral plane. It seems he was not completely able to extricate his spiritual nature from his physical person, for if he had been able to do so, he would have seen his I as an object in the realm of higher consciousness. His I would have become like a remembered object, something like the broken pots in a comparison I used some time ago. He was unable to wrest himself sufficiently free of himself. However, as you know from what I have already said about him, it was characteristic of Swedenborg's clairvoyance that he did not just see illusions. He did not just see maya—he could actually recognize objective facts; for instance, he knew he was dealing with beings from Mars and could see what they were like. That was all correct, but he was seeing the spiritual world in its maya aspect, through a veil of illusion, so to speak. He was in fact looking at real beings from Mars, but could not understand that they were actual spiritual beings.

Now, my friends, let me ask you to be really, really clever for a moment, and clever in a way that people who want to develop their clairvoyance usually are not. Obviously, Swedenborg did not perceive these beings from Mars with his ordinary senses, with his ordinary sense of sight. After all, he was seeing them in the spiritual world. In other words, he could not see them with his sense of sight or hear them with his sense of hearing or even understand them with his ordinary capacity for thought. As I have explained to you, this capacity for thought was actually a gift of the ancient Moon stage, that is, something that developed before the Mars forces came into play… [ Note 5 ] [gap in the stenographic record]. Among all the powers of cognition known to human beings, there was nothing that could have enabled him to understand these beings.

Thus we are confronted with the strange fact that Swedenborg undoubtedly recognized the beings he saw, but did not recognize them by means of any higher forces. He recognized them by means of some ability he should not have had because he was lacking the necessary consciousness—ordinary powers of consciousness on the physical plane are inadequate to explain what he was seeing. But in that case, how was he actually seeing? Now, Swedenborg had spent his life not only as a great scholar but also as a very pure person, and so a certain energy was transformed within him. All people on the physical plane have this energy, which is somewhat similar to clairvoyant ability. On the physical plane, however, it is used for a different purpose. What was this energy that enabled Swedenborg to see as he did?

Swedenborg was seeing by means of a force that perceives outer appearances without touching them in any way and without making use of the eyes. What kind of a force is that? On earth, on the physical plane, it is the force that comes to expression in sexual activity, the mysterious force that pulls people together in earthly love, a force different from all other powers of perception. Swedenborg had stored up this force, and when he reached a certain age it was transformed in him, although it remained sexual energy in some respects. He used this sexual energy to see spiritual worlds. That is, transformed sexual energy is actually the basis of Swedenborg's clairvoyance.

You can conclude from all this that human beings during their evolution on earth are provided with a force that expresses itself as sexuality during earthly life, but that will be transformed once it is no longer bound to the physical body. On the other hand, you can also come to the conclusion that the forces leading to clairvoyant vision are very intimately related to forces involved in what are now the lowest drives in human nature, and that one of these realms can be attracted by the other, so to speak.

My friends, it follows that clairvoyance is not something to be toyed with. Of course, what I have just said does not apply to spiritual science as such, but it does apply to all kinds of clairvoyance people grab for in passing without working to acquire it legitimately. We cannot take seriously enough the fact that clairvoyance is not to be developed by simply applying a transformation of our usual mode of perception on the physical plane to higher planes of existence. These higher planes require that we work toward a new mode of perception applicable to the spiritual world, a mode of perception that has nothing to do with sexual energy, since that is physical and exists only for the physical plane. Applying the same mode of perception to higher worlds as is applied on the physical plane, that is, the assumption that people can still perceive in the same way as they do on the physical plane, is what makes people relate clairvoyance and sexual energies.

There are several ways of avoiding this, and we are now at a crucial point in human evolution where these things must be understood. What I have just told you is ancient knowledge, and in olden times people knew how to protect themselves. They knew that people approaching the spiritual world had to recognize both their own weakness and the fact that strength of character, inner discipline, and doing away with any unrestrained emotional impulses are necessary for ascending into the spiritual worlds in the right way. Ancient initiates were aware of human weakness and took steps to prevent any possibility of mixing the two spheres.

How did they do it? Simply by keeping people away from the opposite sex whenever truly spiritual matters were being spoken of. That is, the female sex was not allowed to participate in gatherings in which spiritual scientific matters were discussed. That is why in the past women were excluded from all spiritual-scientific gatherings. This measure prevented the men from mixing the two spheres in any way, because they were bound by strictest oath not to discuss what went on in the lodge outside the lodge itself. Women, then, could have no connection to spiritual science other than the white gloves, which were a significant symbol of this whole state of affairs. [ Note 6 ]

Now these times are long gone, and spiritual scientific movements such as ours should attempt to do away with such constraints. However, the spiritual realm must still be kept totally free of the other sphere I mentioned; these two realms are not to be mixed.

What we have seen recently is a case of the worst possible mingling of spheres, a case in which sexual drives were at work but were interpreted as something quite different. They were interpreted as all kinds of mystical things, but in reality they were sexual drives. It is important to face this fact squarely and to understand it from the inside, out of the inner nature of the cosmic order. Only our recognition of the very great dignity and solemnity of spiritual life can guard us against egotism in spiritual activity. Once egotistical mysticism enters, nothing can save us from mixing the two above-mentioned spheres in the worst possible way.

Thus we saw how in Swedenborg's case, repressed sexuality filled his Imaginations that would otherwise have remained empty, but only to a certain extent. When he came into contact with beings who were able to eliminate all emotions from their gestures, he was no longer able to fill that sphere, which was a strictly human one and came about because his sexuality extended to include his Imaginations. Swedenborg, then, is a good example of what to avoid in approaching the spiritual world in modern times. Aspirations that resemble Swedenborg's in any way put people striving for clairvoyance in danger of arousing the sphere of sexuality and having the two spheres mingle.

My friends, we must be able to speak of these things as a matter of course in spiritual scientific contexts. It would be very unfortunate if we were unable to mention them objectively and scientifically, because serious seekers also need to know the dangers they face in their search. That is also why it is so easy for an impure fantasy to misinterpret pure spiritual striving.

We stand at an extremely significant point in our spiritual scientific communications, and what I wanted to do today was sketch the lines converging in this point. Because I want to be very thorough in speaking to you about these things, I will continue to present my reflections on this question tomorrow. We will meet again at the same time, or at whatever time seems best—we can decide that before we leave here today.