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The Wrong and Right Use of Esoteric Knowledge
GA 178

Lecture II

Dornach, 19th November, 1917

We have been considering the emergence of a search for knowledge with inadequate means, and this has opened up wide historical perspectives. Now with regard to these matters, and also to what I said with the same intention when I last spoke here, I must ask you to realise that we are concerned not with a theory or with a system of ideas but with the communication of facts. That is the point to keep in mind; otherwise these matters will not be clearly understood. I am not setting out historical laws or ideas, but stating facts—facts that are connected with the plans and purposes both of certain personalities who are held together in brotherhoods and of other beings who work on these brotherhoods and whose influence is also sought. They are beings who are not incarnated in the flesh, but are embodied in the spiritual world. It is essential to keep this in mind when you hear what I told you yesterday. For where these brotherhoods are concerned, we have to do with various parties (as indeed you will have learnt from explanations given in earlier lectures, e.g. The Occult Movement in the 19th Century (See p. 71)). Thus there is one party which stands for keeping certain higher truths absolutely secret; and again, allowing for various shades of opinion, there are brothers, particularly since the middle of the fifteenth century, who hold that certain truths, if only those called for by the needs of the moment, should be carefully and pertinently disclosed. Besides these two main parties there are other variations; hence you will see that whatever influence is finally exerted on human evolution from the side of these brotherhoods will very often reflect some kind of compromise.

Early in the 1840s, those brotherhoods who have knowledge of the spiritual impulses that play into history saw coming on that battle of certain spiritual beings with higher Spirits which terminated in 1879, when certain Angel-beings, Spirits of Darkness, were cast down, an event symbolised by the victory of Michael over the dragon. When therefore, in the middle of the nineteenth century, these brotherhoods felt that this event was approaching, they had to decide what attitude to take towards it and to consider what should be done.

Those brothers who wished above all to reckon with the demands of the moment were actuated up to a certain point with the best intentions, but they were mistaken in their approach to the materialism of the time; they thought that men who were prepared to accept only what could be known in physical terms should be offered something from the spiritual world in a materialistic form. So it was with good intentions that Spiritualism was launched on the world in the 1840s.

Since at that time a critical mentality, concerned solely with the external world, was due to prevail on earth, it was necessary to give people at least some inkling, some feeling, that a spiritual world existed around them. And so now this compromise, as is the way with compromises, was put into effect. Those brothers who were altogether against communicating spiritual truths to mankind found themselves outvoted, one might say; they had to give in and agree. Even so, it was not their original intention to introduce the phenomena connected with Spiritualism into the world. Where collective groups of people are concerned one always gets compromises, and naturally, when a collective decision has been reached, not only those who favoured it will be looking for results, but those who at first opposed it will be expecting something or other from it.

Thus the well-meaning members of these brotherhoods took the mistaken view that through the use of mediums people would be convinced of the presence around them of a spiritual world; then on the basis of this conviction it would be possible to impart higher truths. This could indeed have happened if the phenomena that came through the mediums had in fact been interpreted in the intended way, as evidence for the presence of an interpenetrating spiritual world. But—as I explained yesterday—something quite different resulted. The mediumistic phenomena were interpreted by those who took part in the seances as coming from the dead. Hence the experiment was a disappointment for all concerned. Those brothers who had allowed themselves to be outvoted were very grieved that the séance manifestations could be spoken of—sometimes correctly—as coming from the spirits of the dead. The well-intentioned progressive brothers had not expected any mention of the dead, but rather of a general elemental world, so they too were disappointed.

These activities, however, are pursued above all by persons who have been in some way initiated. And besides the brotherhoods already mentioned, we have to reckon with others, or with sections of the same brotherhoods, wherein a minority of members, or even a majority, consists of initiates who within their brotherhoods are known as “brothers of the left;” they are those who treat every impulse that enters into human evolution as a question of power. Naturally, these brothers expected all sorts of things from Spiritualism.

As I told you yesterday, it was these brothers of the left who were specially responsible for dealing in the way I described with the souls of the dead. Their interest was centred on observing what came out of the seances, and by degrees they got control of the whole field. The well-intentioned initiates gradually lost all interest in Spiritualism; they felt in a certain sense ashamed, because those who had all along opposed Spiritualism said they might have known from the start that nothing would come of it. But the result was that Spiritualism came under the power of the brothers of the left. Yesterday I said that these brothers had been disappointed in the following way. They saw that Spiritualism could bring to light what they had set on foot, and they were above all anxious that this should not happen. Since the persons attending the seances believed they were in touch with the dead, communications from the dead might reveal what the brothers of the left were doing with the souls of the dead. The very souls which they were misusing might manifest in the course of a séance.

You must please once more keep in mind that I am not expounding theories but relating facts—facts that go back to particular individuals. And when individuals are united in brotherhoods, they will differ in what they expect from the same event. When one speaks of facts that belong to the spiritual world, it is always a question of looking for the outcome of individual impulses. In ordinary life one action will often contradict another. If theories are discussed, the rule of contradiction must be observed. But when one is speaking of facts, then—just because they are facts—we shall very often find that facts in the spiritual world agree just as little as do human actions on the physical plane. Therefore I ask you to keep this in mind. One cannot talk of realities in these matters unless one talks of individual facts. That is the point. Therefore we must keep the various streams apart and distinguish between them.

This is connected with something very important, which must be kept clearly in view by anyone who hopes to arrive at a more or less satisfying outlook on the world. It is a fundamental point, and we must bring it before us, even though it is somewhat abstract.

A person who tries to build up a world-picture rightly endeavours to bring its separate elements into harmony. He does this from habit—a thoroughly justified habit, connected for many centuries with the dearest possession of our souls: with monotheism. He tries therefore to lead back the whole range of his experience of the world to a unitary principle. This is valid enough in its own way—not, however, in the sense in which it is usually applied, but in quite another sense of which we will speak next time. To-day I will deal only with the essential principle.

If we approach the world with the preconceived idea that everything must be explicable without contradiction, as though it came from a single source, we shall be disappointed again and again when we look without prejudice at the world and the experiences it affords. We have acquired the habit of treating everything we perceive in the light of the didactic concept which says that everything leads back to a unitary divine origin—everything derives from God and so must admit of a single mode of explanation.

But this is not so. The experiences we encounter in the world do not spring from a single ground, but from diverse spiritual individualities, who all play a part in producing them. That is the essential point. We will speak tomorrow of the sense in which monotheism is justified. Up to a certain stage, and indeed up to a high stage, we must think of independent individualities as soon as we cross the threshold of the spiritual world. And then we cannot expect to explain everything we experience in unitary terms. Take any series of events—let us say the experiences encountered from 1913 to 1918. A diagram will naturally show them taking their course from two directions at once ...

Diagram 1

An historian will always try to reduce the whole process to the working of a single principle, but that is not how things happen. Directly we cross the threshold of the spiritual world, whether downwards or upwards—it is one and the same—we find that different individualities, relatively independent of each other, are working into these events. We shall never understand the course of events if we assume a single source for them; we shall see them rightly only if in the turbulence of events we reckon with the activities of individualities who are working either with or against each other.

This is something that belongs to the deepest secrets of human evolution. For centuries, even for millennia, it has been obscured by monotheistic feeling, but you must take it into account. If to-day we are to come closer to ultimate questions, we must above all not confuse logic with abstract freedom from contradictions. In a world where independent individualities are simultaneously at work, contradictions are bound to occur, and to expect them not to occur leads to an impoverishment of ideas; to ideas which cannot embrace the whole of reality. The only adequate ideas will be those that are able to grasp a world replete with contradictions, for that is the real world.

The realms of nature that lie around us come into being in a very remarkable way. In all that we call nature, the nature we approach through science on the one hand and through aesthetic perception on the other, various individualities are at work. But in the present phase of human evolution a wise Providence has ordained an arrangement which is a great blessing for mankind. We can lay hold of nature with ideas that assume a monistic dispensation, because sense-perception allows us normally to experience only as much of nature as is in accord with that principle. Behind the tapestry of nature there lies something different which is sustained from a quite other direction; but sense-perception shuts it out, admitting only as much of nature as can pass through its sieve. Everything contradictory is strained out, and nature is communicated to us in the guise of a monistic system. But directly we cross the threshold and bring the true facts to bear on the interpretation of nature—the facts concerning the elemental spirits or the influence of human souls, which can also act on nature—then we are no longer able to speak of a monistic system applicable to nature. Once again we see clearly that we have to do with the workings of individualities who may either oppose or reinforce one another.

In the elemental world we find earth-spirits, gnomes; water-spirits, undines; air-spirits, sylphs; fire-spirits, salamanders. They are all there, but they do not form a single united band. Each of the four kingdoms is in a certain sense independent; they do not work only in rank and file as a single system, but they oppose one another. Their purposes are, to begin with, entirely distinct; the outcome reflects the interactions of their purposes in the most varied ways. If we know what these purposes are, we can discern in a given phenomenon the working together, let us say, of fire-spirits and undines. But we must never suppose that behind them is a single authority which gives them definite orders. This way of thinking is widespread to-day; and philosophers such as, for example, Wilhelm Wundt (whom Fritz Mauthner described with some justice as “an authority by the grace of his publisher”—yet before the war he ranked as an authority almost everywhere)—these philosophers are out to force into a unity all the manifold life of the soul, its concepts, its feeling, its willing, because they say that the soul is a unity, and therefore all this must belong to a unitary system. But that is not so, and the strongly conflicting tendencies in human life, which psycho-analysis indeed brings out, would not occur if our conceptual life did not lead back beyond the threshold into regions where it is influenced by individualities quite different from those that influence our feeling and our willing.

Really it is strange! Here (drawing on blackboard) we have in the human being a conceptual life, a life of feeling and a life of willing—yet a systematiser such as Wundt cannot get away from the idea that all this must form a single system. In fact, the life of concepts leads into one world, the life of feeling into another world, and the life of willing into another again. The function of the human soul is precisely to bring together into a unity activities which in the pre-human world—and therefore in the still existing pre-human world—are threefold.

All these things must be taken into account as soon as we study the impulses which have played into human evolution. I have already said that each post-Atlantean epoch has a special task, and I have described the task for mankind in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch as that of coming to terms with evil as an impulse in world-evolution. We have spoken of what this means from various points of view. The indispensable need is that the forces which manifest as evil when they appear in the wrong place shall be overcome by human endeavour during this epoch, so that men can begin to make out of these forces something favourable for the whole future of cosmic evolution. Hence the task of this fifth post-Atlantean epoch is quite specially arduous, and many temptations lie ahead. And as the powers of evil make their appearance in gradual stages, men are naturally much more inclined to give way to them in all realms instead of battling to place what appears as evil in the service of the rightful course of world-development. This, nevertheless, is what has to come about—up to a certain point evil must be turned to good ends. Failing that, we shall not be able to go forward into the sixth post-Atlantean epoch, which will have a quite different task. Its task will be to enable men, while still connected with the earth, to have the spiritual world continually in view and to live in accordance with spiritual impulses. It is precisely in connection with the task of opposing evil during our own epoch that a certain darkening of the human personality can occur.

We know that since 1879 the Spirits of Darkness who are nearest to man, belonging as they do to the realm of the Angels, have been roaming about in the human world, because they were cast down into it from the spiritual world. Hence they are present in human impulses and work through them. Just because these beings are able to work invisibly, so close to man, and by their influence to hinder him from recognising the spiritual with his reason—which is also a task for our epoch—so in this epoch there are many opportunities for surrendering to all sorts of errors and observations that belong to the darkness of evil. During this epoch man has to learn by degrees to grasp the spiritual with his reason; for this possibility has been offered to him by the vanquishing of the Spirits of Darkness in 1879, as a result of which more and more spiritual wisdom has been able to flow down from the spiritual worlds. Only if the Spirits of Darkness had remained up there in spiritual realms would they have been able to obstruct this flow. Henceforward they can do nothing to hinder it; but they can continue to create confusion and to darken human souls. We have already described in part the opportunities they have for doing this, and the precautions they have taken to prevent men from receiving spiritual wisdom.

All this, of course, gives no occasion for lamentation but for a strengthening of human energy and aspiration towards the spiritual. For if men achieve what can be achieved in this epoch by taking hold of the forces of evil and turning them to good ends, then they will at the same time achieve something tremendous: this fifth post-Atlantean epoch will gain for human evolution grander conceptions than those of any other post-Atlantean epoch, or indeed of any previous epoch. For example, the Christ appeared and passed through the Mystery of Golgotha during the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, but only in our fifth epoch will it be possible for human reason to encompass the meaning of this event. In the fourth epoch men could comprehend that in the Christ Impulse they had something which would carry their souls beyond death: this was made sufficiently clear through Pauline Christianity. The fifth epoch will bring an even more important development: men will come to recognise the Christ as their helper in the task of transforming the forces of evil into good. But connected with this characteristic of the fifth epoch is a fact we must inscribe daily in our souls and never forget, although we are readily inclined to forget it. In this epoch we have to be fighters for the spirit: we must realise that our forces grow slack unless they are kept constantly in training for the conquest of the spiritual world. In this fifth epoch man is in the highest degree dependent upon his freedom, and he has to experience it to the full. And the idea of human freedom should be the criterion of whatever he encounters in this epoch. For if human energies were to grow slack, everything might turn to evil. Man is no longer in a condition to be guided like a child. If the aim of certain brotherhoods is to treat him in this way, as he was in the third and fourth epochs, they are far from doing right and are not advancing human evolution. Anyone who in this epoch speaks of the spiritual world must constantly remind himself to do so in such a way that acceptance or rejection of it is left to the freedom of the individual. Therefore certain things can only be—said; but the saying is just as important as any other way of presenting them was in other epochs. I will give you an example.

In our time the communication of truths—or, if I may use a trivial phrase, lecturing on them—is the most important thing. People should then be left to a free choice of attitude. One should go no further than the lecture, the communication of truths; the rest should follow out of free decision, just as it does when someone takes a decision on the physical plane. This applies also to the things which can in a certain sense be directed and guided only from the spiritual world.

We shall understand one another better if we go into details. During the fourth post-Atlantean epoch it was still necessary to consider other things, not only the spoken word. What were these other things? Let us take a definite instance. The island of Ireland, to use its modern name, has quite special characteristics which distinguish it from the rest of the world. Every part of the earth has some distinguishing characteristics—there is nothing unusual in that—but the point here is that Ireland has them to an exceptional degree.

You know from my Occult Science that it is possible to look back and discern various influences which have flowed from the spiritual world into the evolution of the earth. You have heard also what things were like in the Lemurian Age and of the various evolutionary developments since then. Yesterday I called attention to the fact that the whole earth must be regarded as a living organism, and that the various influences which radiate out to the inhabitants of particular territories have a special effect on the “double,” also mentioned yesterday. In ancient times people who knew of Ireland gave expression to its peculiar characteristics in the form of myths and legends. One could indeed speak of an esoteric legend which indicated the nature of Ireland within the whole earth-organism. Lucifer, it was said, had once tempted mankind in Paradise, wherefore mankind was driven out and scattered over the earth, which was already in existence at that time. Thus a distinction was drawn—so the legend tells us—between Paradise, with Lucifer in it, and the rest of the earth. But with Ireland it was different. Ireland did not belong in the same sense to the rest of the earth, for Paradise, before Lucifer entered it, had created an image of itself on earth, and that image became Ireland.

Let us understand this clearly. Ireland is that piece of the earth which has no share in Lucifer, no connection with Lucifer. The part of Paradise that had to be separated, so that an earthly image of it might come into being, would have stood in the way of Lucifer's entry into Paradise. According to this legend, therefore, Ireland was conceived as having been first of all that part of Paradise which would have kept Lucifer out. Only when Ireland had been separated off, could Lucifer get in.

This legend, of which I have given you a very incomplete account, is a very beautiful one. For many people it explained the quite individual task of Ireland through the centuries. In the first of my Mystery Plays you will find what has been often described: how Europe was Christianised by Irish monks. After Patrick had introduced Christianity into Ireland, it came about that Christianity there led to the highest spiritual devotion. In further interpretation of the legend I have just described, Ireland—Ierne for the Greeks and Ivernia for the Romans—was even called the island of the saints, because of the piety that prevailed in the Christian monasteries there. This is connected with the fact that the forces which radiate from the earth and lay hold of the “double” are at their very best in the island of Ireland.

You will say: then the Irish should be the best of men. But that is not how things work out in the world! People immigrate into every region of the earth and have descendants, and so on. Human beings are thus not merely a product of the patch of earth where they live; their character may well contradict the influences that come from the earth. We must not attribute their development to the qualities found in a particular part of the earth-organism; that would be merely to succumb to illusions.

But we can say, more or less as I have said to-day, that Ireland is a quite special piece of land and this is one factor among many from which should come a fruitful working out of social-political ideas. Ireland is one such factor, and all these factors must be taken account of in conjunction with one another. In this way we must develop a science of human relationships on the earth. Until that is done, there will be no real health in the organisation of public affairs. That which can be communicated from out of the spiritual world must flow into any measures that are taken. For this reason I have said in public lectures that statesmen and others concerned with public affairs should acquaint themselves with these communications, for only then will they be able to control reality. But they do not do this, or at least they have not done it so far; yet the necessity for it remains.

This speaking, this communication, is the important thing to-day, in accordance with the tasks of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, for then, before speaking leads to actions, decisions have to be taken just as they are taken in relation to impulses on the physical plane. In earlier times it was different; other methods could then be employed.

At a particular time in the third post-Atlantean epoch a certain brotherhood took occasion to send a large number of colonists from Asia Minor to Ireland. These settlers came from the region where much later, in the fourth epoch, the philosopher Thales was born. It was from this same milieu and spiritual background that the initiates sent colonists to Ireland—why? Because they were aware of the special characteristics of a land such as Ireland, as indicated by the esoteric legend I have told you about. They knew that the forces which rise from the earth through the soil of Ireland act in such a way that people there are little influenced towards developing intellectuality, or the ego, or towards a capacity for taking decisions. The initiates who sent these colonists to Ireland knew this very well, and they chose people who appeared to be karmically suited to be exposed to such influences. In Ireland there still exist descendants of the old immigrants from Asia Minor who were intended to develop no trace of intellectuality, or of reasoning power or of decisiveness, but were on the other hand to manifest certain special qualities of temperament to an outstanding degree.

So, you see, preparations were made a very long time in advance for the peaceful interpretation of Christianity which eventually found scope in Ireland, and for the glorious developments which led to the Christianising of Europe. The fellow-countrymen of the later Thales sent to Ireland people who proved well suited to become those monks who could work in the way I have described. Such plans were often carried through in earlier times, and when in external history written by historians who lack understanding—though of course they may be intelligent enough, for intelligence to-day can be picked up in the street—you find accounts of ancient colonisations, you must be clear that a far-reaching wisdom lay behind them. They were guided and led in the light of what was to come about in the future, and the local characteristics of earth-evolution were always taken into account.

That was another way of introducing spiritual wisdom into the world. It should not be adopted to-day by anyone who is following the rightful path. To prescribe the movement of people against their will, in order to partition parts of the earth, would be wrong. The right way is to impart true facts and to leave people to decide their actions for themselves.

Hence you can see that there has been a real advance from the third and fourth post-Atlantean epochs up to the present; and this is something we must grasp quite clearly. We must recognise how this impulse for freedom must penetrate all the dominating tendencies of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. For it is precisely this freedom of the human mind that is opposed by that adversary of whom I have told you—the “double” who accompanies man from shortly before birth until death, though just before death he has to depart. If someone is under the influence which proceeds directly from the “double,” he may bring about all sorts of things which can appear in this epoch but are not in harmony with it. It will then not be possible for him to fulfil his task of fighting against evil in such a way that to a certain extent the evil is changed into good.

Just think of all that really lies behind the situation of humanity in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch! The detailed facts must be seen in their true colours, and understood. For wherever the “double” is strongly active, he will be working against mankind. In this fifth post-Atlantean epoch people have not reached the stage of being able to judge the facts correctly; particularly during these last three sad years they have not been at all inclined to form true judgments.

Take a fact which seems to be far removed from our immediate subject. In a large ironworks, 10,000 tons of cast iron were to be loaded into railway trucks. A definite number of workmen—75—were assigned to the job, and it appeared that each man could load 12½ tons a day.

There was a man named Taylor in whom the influence of the “double” prevailed over the needs of the human soul in our epoch. He first asked the managers if they did not think a man could load a good deal more than 12½ tons a day. They said that in their opinion a workman could load 18 tons a day at the utmost. Taylor then called for some experiments.

So, you see, Taylor proceeded to experiment with human beings! Machine standards were to be carried over into social life. Taylor wished to find out whether it was true, as the managers believed, that 18 tons a day was the utmost a man could load. He ordered rest-periods, calculated in physiological terms to be just long enough for a man to make good the energy he had previously expended. Naturally it turned out that the results varied with individuals. This does not matter with machines—you simply take the arithmetical mean—but it cannot properly be done with human beings, for each individual has his own justified capacity. All the same, Taylor did it—that is, he chose those workmen whose need for rest corresponded to the period he had calculated; the others were simply thrown out. The outcome was that the selected workmen, by dint of fully restoring their energies during the rest-periods, were each able to load 47½ tons a day.

Here we have the mechanics of the Darwinian theory applied to working life: the fit were kept on and the unfit discarded. The fit in this case were those who, with the aid of the given rest-periods, could load 47½ tons, instead of the 18 tons previously regarded as the maximum. In this way the workmen also could be satisfied, for such enormous economies were effected that wages could be raised by 60 per cent. Thus the chosen workmen, who had proved themselves fit in the struggle for existence, were very well pleased. But—the unfit could go hungry!

This is just the beginning of a far-reaching principle. Such things are little noticed, because they are not seen—as they must be seen—in the light of the great issues involved. So far we have not gone beyond the application of faulty scientific ideas to human life; but the underlying impulse remains. The next step will be to make similar use of the occult truths which will be disclosed in the course of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Darwinism contains no occult truths, but its application to direct experiments on human beings would have horrible results. But if occult truths are brought in, as and when they become available, it will be possible to use them for obtaining enormous power over men—if only by a continual selection of the “fittest.” But things will not stop there. There would be an endeavour to use a certain occult discovery for making the fit ever fitter and fitter ... and by that means a tremendous power for utilising human beings—a power directly opposed to the good tendencies of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch—would be achieved.

I wished to give you these inter-related examples in order to show you how such far-ranging intentions begin, and how these matters must be illuminated from higher standpoints. Next time we will turn our attention to the three or four great truths which the fifth post-Atlantean epoch must arrive at, and how they could be misused if, instead of being brought into line with the rightful tendencies of the epoch, they were placed in the service of the “double,” represented by those brotherhoods who wish to set up another being in place of the Christ.