The Occult Movement in the Nineteenth Century
24 October 1915, Dornach
If you recall what was said in the lecture yesterday, it will be clear to you that, fundamentally speaking, the appearance of materialism — I do not say the materialistic conception of the world, but materialism itself—has its very good sides. The harm occurs when materialism is made the basis of a conception of the world. As a method for investigating the external phenomena of the physical world, materialism is good; it is a good instrument for investigating the mineral world in Earth-evolution. Again it is of importance that man is embodied in this mineral world, for thereby he develops those faculties which can be acquired only in the physical-mineral body. Intelligence and free will must be acquired to a certain degree during the Earth-period. In the Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan periods, man will possess these faculties, but a being of soul such as he is, can acquire them only by being incarnated during the Earth-period in a mineralised body.
A counterbalance to this evolution in mineralised earthly bodies is created by the fact that man passes ever and again, without a mineralised body, through the life of soul between death and a new birth. It can be said that man must undergo very much on the Earth, on account of the fact that between birth and death he has a mineralised body. But what he undergoes, as it were to his cosmic disadvantage, by being embodied in a mineralised body, is balanced out by what he lives through between death and a new birth, when he is not a corporeal being but entirely a being of soul— using the word in its right sense.
To examine into the mineral element contained in stones, plants, animals and men is the task of materialism and its method; in practising this method in the course of the centuries man acquires that which, fundamentally speaking, he must acquire during the Earth-period. The modes of investigation preceding those of materialism were all still influenced by the clairvoyance inherited by man from his previous evolutionary states. And when, after our fifth postAtlantean, and the post-Atlantean epoch as a whole, he has passed through his mineral evolution and enters a different form of evolution, the closeness of his relationship to the spiritual world will depend upon whether he has already acquired, during the Earth-period, the intelligence and the measure of free will foreordained for him; otherwise he will not have fulfilled the purpose of his evolution.
Viewed in this light, the method of materialism assumes great significance; but it must remain “method”, a method for investigating the physical, material world. It is there that, even in the higher sense, it has its truly great significance. In that man observes and also investigates the purely mineral world, is active in the mineral world, he gradually unfolds his free will. For while he stands in the mineral world, what really underlies this world is veiled from him.
We have heard during recent weeks what is the outcome if man limits himself to theoretical speculation within the perimeter of physical sense-perceptions. The outcome is atomism, and as we have also heard, atomism is nothing else than a subjective delusion. But if a man who allows himself to be thus deluded were to go out into the world where he looks for the atoms, he would find Ahriman and his beings. For through those spiritual beings of whom I spoke yesterday and whom man encounters when he breaks through the veil of nature, he will be led to develop forces of destruction. These beings, too, it must be remembered, are cosmic beings.
Thus we can understand what has to be said about materialistic methods. They provide man with illusion, maya. But this illusion is actually advantageous to man, for when he sees through it, he enters, to begin with, into the kingdom of Ahriman and his spiritual hosts — beings who are out for destruction and death and who cause him to develop certain subtly destructive forces in his own human nature. Intellect in particular, purely external cleverness, is developed in him by the powers into whose realm he enters, so that he becomes crafty, astute in a subtle way. If his earthly intelligence is not sufficiently developed to see through these things, he becomes unconsciously, but subtly cunning and crafty. It may therefore be said that materialistic philosophy represents a period during which man can mature and thus be able, later on, to enter this realm of Ahriman without danger.
So it is evident that materialistic natural scientists or philosophers follow a certain justifiable instinct. The custodians of the ancient symbols had not dared to make esotericism public and so hand over the secrets to men. The natural scientists said to themselves — not literally, of course, but one can put it in this way — ‘we do great good if we lead men only so far as the veil and not behind it.’ Naturally they do this instinctively, but they do it, nevertheless. Fundamentally speaking, they render humanity good service, for if the natural scientists were to succeed in piercing the veil, they would make man acquainted with the forces of those destructive beings of whom I spoke yesterday, beings who are in the service of Ahriman. And the consequence would be that men still unprepared would come into possession of the forces proceeding from that realm and would be able to bring about very much by their means — but it would all tend towards destruction, towards extermination of the good. Thus even the ignorance in which man is left through the natural scientific view of the world has in a certain sense something good about it. That is one side of the matter. But the other side is this.—
Man has been living, already for a number of centuries, in this world of illusions into which, instinctively, he is placed by the scientists. Yes — but this has not been without its effects on human nature! When a man is living in illusion he is not living in the world of reality. This illusion does not affect his forces of soul as strongly as reality would affect them, and the consequence is that doubt upon doubt heaps up in the soul — doubts which make themselves felt even in the domain of science. Natural scientists of great eminence have declared: Ignorabimus — we shall never know. The second half of the nineteenth century did everything to cause men to be beset by doubt upon doubt. But the truth is that we are facing the approach of an era brought about by the fact that man is living more and more in illusion, while believing he has reality. He steeps himself more and more deeply in the materialistic view of the world, but doubts about its validity constantly increase, and it would not take long for every human being to be living in a condition of unalloyed doubt as the outcome of scientific philosophy. People would then no longer be able to hold fast to anything; doubt would inevitably arise over every problem, every task. Scepticism would become a vast ocean in which the human soul would inevitably be engulfed.
It is the task of Spiritual Science to make men realise that a great ocean of scepticism and doubt threatens to break in and engulf the human soul. And the further task of Spiritual Science is to erect dams which will hold back this flood of scepticism and doubt. We are here facing a vista of something that will inevitably befall man if natural scientific doctrine continues as a view of the world.
What I am now saying is connected with a deep secret: the secret that everything in the outer, material world lives itself out in duality. Two is the number of manifestation; two is the number which governs all material manifestation — but material manifestation only. The world of material manifestation always passes through a certain process of evolution. — Let us think of the evolution of the maya presented by nature — nature-maya. Reaching its zenith in the nineteenth century, this nature-maya gradually emerged together with the natural scientific view of the world. But the consequence of man's living in maya is that underneath this view of the world, something else takes place, namely, the preparation for a different view, the preparation for penetrating into reality. This preparation is going on in the sub-consciousness; but timely care must be taken that the next phase of evolution is steered into reality — otherwise nature-maya will assert itself as scepticism, as the most terrible doubt which will engulf the human soul. Thus we are approaching a time of which it may be said that without Spiritual Science, man will fall more and more deeply into scepticism; but if Spiritual Science is accepted, then in the place of the doubt that would engulf the soul, there will come what men truly need.
There is duality, as you see. Nature-maya continues, but underneath it is the budding life, the preparation for Spiritual Science. In the material world, duality prevails everywhere. Therefore the occultist says: Two is the number of material manifestation. Directly one passes from the material world into another world, the number Two no longer has this significance, and it is entirely erroneous to characterise higher worlds as if duality also prevailed there. It is only the basic law of the material-physical world that can be so characterised. In the higher world, if we are to start from number, we must, for example, start from Three; this governs everything in that world, just as the material world is governed by duality. In the material world, duality prevails; in the spiritual world, threefoldness.
There are circumstances when it is by no means unimportant to understand that if someone says that there is white magic and black magic, this implies duality. But duality can have meaning only in the material world; such a person therefore immediately shows that he has no notion of the fundamental laws of the spiritual world, for in the spiritual world duality can never be a basic principle. True as it is that duality lies at the basis of the physical-material world, it is also true that in the super-sensible world we never have to do with duality.
Now the human being is related to the whole Cosmos; as earthly man he is a microcosm, and in order to understand certain matters it is necessary to learn more about this relationship.
We have heard that when man breaks through the veil of nature and penetrates into the world lying behind nature, he encounters Ahrimanic beings, beings intent upon destruction. In the World Order these beings are bitter enemies of man's earthly nature, so that if, through weakness, he allies himself with them — and this is possible, as I have indicated — he is allying himself with the enemies of man on Earth. That is a fact, and a certain relationship existing between the human being and the Cosmos does much to promote such an alliance.
These beings behind the veil of nature are highly intelligent. I have spoken of human intelligence, but these beings have their own kind of thinking and intelligence; they have feeling, although it is different from human feeling; they also have will, although it, too, is different from human will. They perform certain deeds which come to expression outwardly in manifestations of nature, but the essential substantiality of which lies behind the veil. Now there is a remarkable affinity between something in man and the highest faculties of these beings. I will make this clear in the following way. When man crosses the Threshold of the spiritual world and approaches these beings, it may seem to him as if he were entering a veritable inferno, or whatever he conceives it to be. What matters is that he shall understand the experience aright. What will strike him most forcibly is the remarkable intelligence of these beings. For they are extraordinarily clever, extraordinarily wise. Their faculties of soul come to expression in this cleverness. But the soul-forces, the higher forces of these beings are all related to the forces of man's lower nature. Sensuous urges in man are, in these beings, the very forces which strike one as so significant. Thus there is a relationship between the lowest forces of man and the highest forces of these spiritual beings. That is why they strive to identify themselves with the lower forces in man. When a man enters this other world, instincts of destruction or hatred, or the like, arise in him, because these beings draw up what constitutes man's lower nature to their own higher nature, and with their higher forces work through man's lower forces. Nobody can ally himself with these beings without debasing his own nature, without greatly enhancing the strength of certain sensuous urges and impulses.
This is a fact of which special account must be taken, for it shows us unambiguously how we must picture our relation to the Cosmos. In our own human nature there are lower urges and impulses. But these lower urges are forces which represent lower impulses only in us, as human beings. These same urges are, in these spiritual beings, higher forces. But these beings are working all the time within us. They are always there within our nature. Our progress in Spiritual Science depends essentially upon our recognising them, knowing that they are there. This enables us to say: we have our higher forces and we have our lower forces, and, in addition, those forces which in us are lower forces but in these spiritual beings are higher forces. — This expands the duality of our higher and lower forces into a triad. We are already at the border of the Threshold of the spiritual world when, instead of the duality of our higher and lower forces, we recognise the triad.
Now as I said, in our age it is impossible to adopt the method employed by Father Antonius in dealing with Paul the Simpleton; it is also impossible to do many things in the way certain Orders have been wont to do them. — It amounts to this: the knowledge in its old form cannot be used. For if it were thus presented to men, it would bring about exactly what I have been speaking about. It would without any doubt arouse lower instincts in them.
For example, there actually exists in the world an Order which leads men to knowledge of these mysterious beings without any preparation. In all such men, instincts of destruction are aroused, so that this Order is actually responsible for sending human beings with destructive instincts out into the world. In a passage in one of his writings Nietzsche hinted at the existence of this Order without knowing the actual circumstances. 1Dr. Steiner may have been referring to a passage in The Genealogy of Morals, Section XXIV, page 287 in the translation (together with The Birth of Tragedy) by Francis Golffing. (Doubleday Anchor Books, New York). “When the Christian Crusaders in the East happened upon the invincible Society of Assassins, that order of free spirits par excellence, whose lower ranks observed an obedience stricter than that of any monastic order, they must have got some hint of the slogan reserved for the highest ranks, which ran, ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted.’ ” See also Dr. Steiner's own work, Friedrich Nietzsche. Ein Kampfer gegen seine Zeit, page 25 in the Gesamtausgabe 1963 volume. (Bibl. No. 5).
That is the one side which I have felt it essential to bring to your attention. Here (drawing on the blackboard) is a veil covering the secrets behind nature. The veil represents everything that can be acquired by materialistic methods. The real world lies behind, and to enter this world is verily no simple matter. Let us hold this firmly in our minds.
The other side is that of our life of soul, with its activities of thinking, feeling and willing. But in the form in which this life of soul appears to us inwardly as we actually experience it, it is maya, just as external nature is maya. The true form of our inner life is not that which appears to our own soul as thinking, feeling and willing; the true reality lies behind this thinking, feeling and willing.
Just as the learned scientists today instinctively develop the view that nature herself presents the reality, but ultimately arrive at atomism, so are the representatives of certain religious bodies at pains to indicate that the thinking, feeling and willing of which the soul is aware in the ordinary way are the reality, and continue in human beings after their death. Just as the scientists describe naturemaya, so do the representatives of certain religious bodies describe the maya of the life of soul, and in so doing, again instinctively, bring a certain trend into the evolution of mankind.
You know that already from the early Middle Ages onwards, trichotomy, as it was called — the division of man into body, soul and spirit—began to be a heresy in historical Christianity. As you know, a comparatively early Council abolished the Spirit and decreed that man was to be regarded as a being consisting only of body and soul. And since that time this has become customary in the West. In the Middle Ages it was a most terrible thing to speak of Spirit, of a trichotomy; it was deemed the worst of all heresies, because Spirit had been abolished and body and soul established as a duality. This is evidence of the endeavour to look, even in number as applied to the human being, for what has significance only for this earthly world. The tendency is to keep man within a world that is in truth only maya, because he stops short at the thinking, feeling and willing which are themselves of the same character. Attention is limited to those effects of the present incarnation which last only through the first period between death and a new birth. What is elaborated in man's being in order subsequently to come forth in the next incarnation is left entirely out of account.
I may perhaps indicate this diagrammatically in the following way (see diagram). Here is the body (red) and here what lies behind it — which is not visible and could be perceived only by penetrating through the nerve endings. If atoms were not accepted as forming the basis of the world but one were to go out of the body with vision, one would come to the realm where the beings of destruction seize hold of the whole man. And now, within this, I draw the life of soul unfolded by man in the physical world (blue). Thus the red and the blue represent what man is aware of here, namely, his bodily nature and his life of soul. But while we are living between birth and death, the imperceptible (yellow) develops, and remains wholly imperceptible to us. When we die, our thinking, feeling and willing do not continue; they are exhausted, and in the process the yellow is elaborated (the imperceptible). This increases in power between death and a new birth and in so doing becomes the foundation of the new incarnation. We are reincarnated with new thinking, new feeling, new will, and a new bodily nature. Thus when we speak of what is revealed to our soul here on Earth, we are speaking of something that comes to an end, does not go with us into the next incarnation. Of the soul itself, the representatives of certain religious bodies say: the human being dies, goes either to heaven or to hell, and we concern ourselves no more with him. According to certain representatives of religion, this is enough; what passes on to the next incarnation is not important. The aim is to conceal the fact that the spirit in man passes into the spiritual world and lives on until the next incarnation. It can be said that representatives of certain religious bodies are intent upon not allowing man to become aware of the yellow (diagram) in his nature, upon preventing him from knowing anything of it. Here again, they are really obeying a certain sound instinct, but one which shows even more clearly than the instinct prompting the learned naturalists, that in our time it has really lost its value.
The efforts of the representatives of various religious communities all tend quite decisively in the direction of concealing the fact that there is a spiritual world to which belongs the inmost core of our being, which is destined to appear in repeated Earth-lives, and in the intervals between them to pass through an entirely spiritual form of existence; they try to conceal this by offering men the consolation that the life of soul which comes to expression in thinking, feeling and willing is, after all, sufficiently immortal.
In their actions and trend of thinking these pastors of souls instinctively prevent men from coming into contact with certain beings. Man can never penetrate into the world of his true and innermost being without coming into contact with certain beings — just as in the way described he comes into contact with different beings if he desires or is actually able to break through the veil of nature. But the beings with whom he is related in this other world are of a Luciferic order.
If, as the result of certain teachings having been imparted to him without the requisite caution, a man comes into contact with certain destructive beings behind the veil of nature, he will become one who values nothing in the world, and it will soon be apparent that he takes actual pleasure in destruction—which need not necessarily be destruction of external things. Many men to whom this has happened have shown that they take pleasure in tormenting and oppressing other souls. These are the characteristics which come into evidence. But it can never be said that men who have such traits owing to their alliance with Ahrimanic elementary beings, are invariably egotistic. They need not be and indeed usually are not, egotists. They act out of an urge quite different from that of egotism. They act out of a lust for destruction, and they destroy without the slightest benefit accruing to themselves. The beings into whose sphere a man enters are essentially beings of destruction, and they tempt him, lure him, to destroy.
The other beings into whose sphere man comes when he penetrates behind the veil of the life of soul have a quite different character. They have no particular lust for destruction. In point of fact, what we know as destruction does not enter their ken. They have a veritable passion for creating, for bringing something into being — a tremendous urge for activity, for productivity. And they too have certain higher faculties which are less closely related to our thinking than to our feeling, and especially to our will. We enter here into a sphere of beings preeminently related to our will, but — curiously enough — to the noblest sides of our will.
Thus if we enter this world without knowing anything of what the Initiate knows, namely, that behind the world of nature and also behind the world of soul there is a spiritual world, when we fill our will with ideals, when we unfold noble, spiritualised will, this will becomes allied precisely with the lower attributes of these beings into whose sphere we have entered. There is a mysterious bond of attraction between the noble side of our will and the lower urges and desires of these beings.
And now think of it. — If a man's spiritual pastor gives him the consolation of immortality, laying stress on the dignity of the human soul, the majesty of the Divine and the like, it may happen that through some slight incitement, particularly if he was a noble character, he breaks through the membrane of his soul-activity at some point and penetrates behind the secrets of his thinking, feeling and willing. But he then comes into the region of these beings of will, and the consequence is that the idealistic side of his will actually begins to assume a sensuous character. And now, with this in mind, please read the descriptions given by certain mystics of either sex. As you read the biographies of these mystics, notice the sultry, voluptuous atmosphere which pervades them. The most sublime ideals assume a sensuous character. I would remind you of the rapture experienced by mystics in connection with their “soul-bride” or “soul-bridegroom”; in women mystics the mystical union is like a sensuous union with the Saviour, and in male mystics like an actual bond with the bride of the soul, with the Virgin Mary.
It is the endeavour of these beings of will to pour into man's thinking, into his ideals, what he otherwise knows as sensuousness. This is a hard saying. These beings into whose regions a man there enters, strive—and from their own standpoint it is a justified striving — to pour their sensuous instincts into his idealised will. And then the willing that goes out from the head, which otherwise has a certain quality of cool detachment about it, is pervaded by a sultry, voluptuous experience of the spiritual world, which often seems to have the character of fevered mysticism. The representatives of the various religious bodies have an infinite dread of this, and their greatest fear of all is aroused by those among their believers who come forward as mystics.
Verily, we have here Scylla and Charybdis. If we desire to pierce through the veil of nature, we come to Scylla, to the Ahrimanic beings who wish to endow us abundantly with destructive forces of intelligence. If we desire to pierce through the veil of the life of soul, we come to Charybdis, to the Luciferic beings of will, who would fain pervade us with the fumes of spiritual ecstasy, spiritual rapture, spiritual instincts.
Priestly Orders intent upon the cultivation of the religious life were therefore in a certain sense right to take care that when mystics appeared among them, at least the shadow-side of mysticism should not come to the fore. Hence in a certain sense they erected barriers against the entrance into the spiritual worlds. Just think how certain religious Orders — I am speaking, not of occult but of religious Orders — were associated with manual work, with labour that allows delight in nature, delight in what lives in the world around, to arise in the soul; just think how such Orders, if the right principles were understood, insisted upon outer, manual work. Those who founded such Orders said to themselves: “The worst thing we could do would be to isolate men and allow the mystic life to develop in them as the outcome of inertia and idleness.” Read the monastic rules originating in better times and in the better Orders, and you will everywhere see that full account was taken of what I have just mentioned, how mystic rapture and fevered ecstasy were counteracted by manual labour. — And now you will also understand why Father Antonius caused Paul the Simpleton to work, even if it served no useful purpose. Had he allowed him to cultivate idleness for years, Paul the Simpleton would have become a senuous, ecstatic mystic.
We have, as you see, to do with a duality: with objective occultism which, if it is simply handed over to unprepared men, makes them destroyers; and with subjective mysticism, which if it is cultivated or suddenly appears in idealistic natures, makes men egotists — egotists such as are to be met with in numbers of mystics who have developed merely a subtle form of egotism, a subtle mania for fostering their own souls. If you read the biographies of the mystics, you will often be appalled by the egotism they display.
The region of Scylla is that of the spirits who serve Ahriman. We come into their sphere if we cultivate, not egotism but the will for destruction. If we cultivate the subjective mysticism connected with the Luciferic spirits of will into whose sphere we enter, then Charybdis approaches us from the other side; for these spirits do everything to foster egotism, so that our own inner nature forms the world for us. This is the duality in the material world: objective occultism — subjective mysticism. In both realms there may be aberrations.
Fundamentally speaking, in what has been developing for centuries there is present, on the one side, objective occultism, guarded in the Secret Societies and Orders but no longer effectively protected owing to the insistent trend towards publicity. We have heard of the efforts that were made to find a way out of the dilemma. And on the other side there is subjective mysticism.
It follows from this that when we wanted to lay the foundations of Spiritual Science, it behoved us not to allow ourselves to be enticed either by Scylla or Charybdis, but to steer between them; it behoved us neither to cultivate the old, traditional occultism, nor the old, traditional mysticism. And now you have a deeper conception of what gives our Movement its direction. Both objective occultism and subjective mysticism in the old sense had to be avoided. Our Spiritual Science had to be of a character ensuring that Scylla as well as Charybdis are avoided.
I have still to speak to you about the fundamental character which our Spiritual Science must bear in order that it may steer clear of both these dangers. But it obviously cannot be avoided that at the present time, out of mistaken notions, certain people come to us because some of them are looking for an old, objective occultism, while others are hankering after old, subjective mysticism. It is hardly likely that either the one type or the other will find among us what they are looking for. But they believe they find it by simply interpreting our teaching to suit their own liking. The form which our teaching must take, and what our attitude to it must be if our ship is to be steered between Scylla and Charybdis — of this I must speak again tomorrow.