Old and New Methods of Initiation
1 January 1922, Dornach
Yesterday 1 See lecture of 31 December 1921 in Rudolf Steiner, The Rediscovery of Spiritual Reality in Nature and in Man. English text available in typescript only. I spoke about initiation science. Today 2 Rudolf Steiner, Soul Economy and Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner Press London and Anthroposophic Press New York, 1986. I shall describe some aspects of what nowadays gives expression to initiation science. A profound breach now runs through the whole of civilization, a breach which brings much chaos to the world and which people who are fully aware cannot but experience with a sense of tragedy. One expression of this breach is the fact that human beings, when considering human dignity and their worth as human beings, can no longer find any connection with a world to which they look up — that world which gives the human soul religious feelings both profound and uplifting — namely, the world of moral values.
People look instead to the world of nature, to which, of course, they also belong. During the course of recent centuries the world of nature has come to appear before the human soul in such a way that it has absorbed the whole of reality, has absorbed every aspect of actual existence. The world of nature, with its laws which are indifferent to moral values, runs its course in accordance with external necessity, and in their everyday life human beings, too, are tied up in this necessity. However the bounds of this necessity are defined, if human beings feel themselves enclosed within such bounds, it is impossible for them to discover what it is that makes them human. Human beings have to look up from the world of nature to the world of moral values. We have to see the content of this moral world as something which ought to be, something which is the ideal. Yet no knowledge which is current today is capable of showing us how moral ideals can flow into the laws of nature and how necessity can be made to serve moral values.
We have to admit that today's world is divided into two parts which, for modern consciousness, are incompatible: the moral world and the material world. People see birth and death as the boundaries which encompass the only existence recognized by present-day knowledge. On the other hand they have to look up to a world which lies above birth and death, a world which is eternally meaningful, unlike the endlessly changing material world; and they have to think of their soul life as being linked with the eternal meaning of that world of moral values. The Platonic view of the world, containing as it did the last remnants of orientalism, saw the external world perceptible to the senses as a semblance, an illusion, and the world of ideas as the true, real world. But for modern human beings, if they remain within the confines of present-day consciousness, this Platonic world view has no answers.
But now initiation science wants to enter once again into human civilization and show us that behind the world perceived by our senses there stands a spiritual world, a mighty world, powerful and real, a world of moral values to which we may turn. It is the task of initiation science to take away from natural existence the absolute reality it assumes for itself and to give reality back once more to the world of moral values. It can only do so by using means of expression different from those given by today's language, today's world of ideas and concepts.
The language of initiation science still seems strange, even illusory, to people today because they have no inkling that real forces stand behind the expressions used, nor that, whatever kind of speech is used — whether ordinary everyday speech or speech formation — language cannot give full and adequate expression to what is seen and perceived. What, after all, do the words ‘human being’ signify, when only the speech sounds are considered, compared with the abundant richness of spirit, soul and body of an actual human being standing before us! In just such a way in initiation science a spiritual world — behind the world of the senses — living in the world of moral values, storms and flows, working in manifold ways. This initiation science has to select all manner of ways of expressing what, despite everything, will be far richer in its manifestation than any possible means of expression.
Today I should like to speak about certain expressions of this kind with regard to man's immediate existence, expressions which have been discussed here in one connection or another over the last few days and which are well known to those of you who have concerned yourselves over a period of time with anthroposophical spiritual science.
It is both right and wrong to say that the true being of man is beyond understanding. It is right in a certain sense, but not in the sense frequently meant nowadays. Yet the true being of man is indeed revealed to initiation science in a way which defies direct definitions, descriptions or explanations. To make use of a comparison I might say that defining the being of man is like trying to draw a picture of the fulcrum of a beam. It cannot be drawn. You can draw the left-hand and the right-hand portions of the beam but not the fulcrum upon which it turns. The fulcrum is the point at which the right-hand and the left-hand portions of the beam begin. In a similar way the profoundest element of the human being cannot be encompassed by adequate concepts and ideas. But it can be grasped by endeavouring to look at deviations from the true human being. The being of man represents the state of balance poised between deviations that constantly want to go off in opposite directions. Human beings throughout their life are permanently beset by two dangers: deviation in one of two directions, the luciferic or the ahrimanic. 3 Regarding luciferic and ahrimanic beings, see the chapter ‘Man and the Evolution of the World’ in Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science — An Outline, Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1979.
In ordinary life our state of balance is maintained because only a part of our total, our full being, is harnessed to our bodily form, and because it is not we who hold this bodily form in a state of balance within the world as a whole, but spiritual beings who stand behind us. Thus, in ordinary consciousness, we are on the whole unaware of the two dangers which can cause us to deviate from our state of balance towards one side or the other, towards the luciferic or the ahrimanic side. This is what is characteristic of initiation science. When we begin to comprehend the world in its true nature we feel as though we were standing on a high rock with one abyss on our right and another on our left. The abyss is ever-present, but in ordinary life we do not see this abyss, or rather these two abysses. To learn to know ourselves fully we have to perceive these abysses, or at least we have to learn about them. We are drawn in one direction towards Lucifer and in the other towards Ahriman. And the ahrimanic and the luciferic aspects can be characterized in relation to the body, the soul and the spirit.
Let us start from the point of view of man's physical being. This physical being, which the senses perceive as a unit, is in fact only seemingly so. Actually we are forever in tension between the forces which make us young and those which make us old, between the forces of birth and the forces of death. Not for a single moment throughout our life is only one of these forces present; always both are there.
When we are small, perhaps tiny, children, the youthful, luciferic forces predominate. But even then, deep down, are the ageing forces, the forces which eventually lead to the sclerosis of our body and, in the end, to death. It is necessary for both kinds of force to exist in the human body. Through the luciferic forces there is always a possibility of inclining towards, let me say, the phosphoric side, towards warmth. In the extreme situation of an illness this manifests in a fever, such as a pleuritic condition, a state of inflammation. This inclination towards fever and inflammation is ever-present and is only held in check or in balance by those other forces which want to lead towards solidified, sclerotic, mineral states. The nature of the human being arises from the state of balance between these two polar-opposite forces.
Valid sciences of human physiology and biology will only be possible when the whole human body and each of its separate organs, such as heart, lungs, liver, are seen to encompass polar opposites which incline them on the one hand towards dissolution into warmth and, on the other hand, towards consolidation into the mineral state. The way the organs function will only be properly understood once the whole human being, as well as each separate organ, are seen in this light. The science of human health and sickness will only find a footing on healthy ground once these polarities in the physical human being are able to be seen everywhere. Then it will be known, for instance, that at the change of teeth, around the seventh year, ahrimanic forces are setting to work in the head region; or that when the physical body starts to develop towards the warmth pole at puberty, this means that luciferic forces are at work; that in the rhythmical nature of the human being there are constant swings of the pendulum, physically too, between the luciferic and the ahrimanic aspect. Until we learn to speak thus, without any superstition, but with scientific exactness, about the luciferic and ahrimanic influences upon human nature — just as today we speak without superstition or mysticism about positive and negative magnetism, about positive and negative electricity, about light and darkness — we shall not be in a position to gain knowledge of the human being which can stand up to the abstract knowledge of inorganic nature that we have achieved during the course of recent centuries.
In an abstract way many people already speak about all kinds of polarities in the human being. Mystical, nebulous publications discuss all kinds of positive and negative influences in man. They shy away from ascending to a much more concrete, more spiritual, but spiritually entirely concrete plane, and so they speak in a manner about the human being's positive and negative polarities which is just as abstract as that in which they discuss polarities in inorganic nature. Real knowledge of the human being can only come about if we rise above the poverty-stricken concepts of positive and negative, the poverty-stricken concepts of polarity as found in inorganic nature, and ascend to the meaningful concepts of luciferic and ahrimanic influences in man.
Turning now to the soul element, in a higher sense the second element of man's being, we find the ahrimanic influence at work in everything that drives the soul towards purely intellectual rigid laws. Our natural science today is almost totally ahrimanic. As we develop towards ahrimanic soul elements, we discard anything that might fill our concepts and ideas with warmth. We submit only to whatever makes concepts and ideas ice-cold and dry as dust. So we feel especially satisfied in today's scientific thinking when we are ahrimanic, when we handle dry, cold concepts, when we can make every explanation of the world conform to the pattern we have established for inorganic, lifeless nature. Also, when we imbue our soul with moral issues, the ahrimanic influence is found in everything that tends towards what is pedantic, stiff, philistine on the one hand; but also in what tends towards freedom, towards independence, towards everything that strives to extract the fruits of material existence from this material existence and wants to become perfect by filling material existence.
Both ahrimanic and luciferic influences nearly always display two sides. In the ahrimanic direction, one of these — the pedantic, the philistine, the one-sidedly intellectual aspect — leads us astray. But on the other side there is also something that lies in mankind's necessary line of evolution, something which develops a will for freedom, a will to make use of material existence, to free the human being and so on.
The luciferic influence in the human soul is found in everything that makes us desire to fly upwards out of ourselves. This can create nebulous, mystical attitudes which lead us to regions where any thought of the material world seems ignoble and inferior. Thus we are led astray, misled into despising material existence entirely and into wanting instead to indulge in whatever lies above the material world, into wanting wings on which to soar above earthly existence, at least in our soul. This is how the luciferic aspect works on our soul. To the ahrimanic aspect of dull, dry, cold science is added a sultry mysticism of the kind that in religions leads to an ascetic disdain for the earth, and so on.
This description of the ahrimanic and luciferic aspects of soul life shows us that the human soul, too, has to find a balance between polar opposites. Like the ahrimanic, the luciferic aspect also reveals possibilities for deviation and, at the same time, possibilities for the necessary further evolution of the proper being of man. The deviation is a blurred, hazy, nebulous mysticism that allows any clear concepts to flutter away into an indeterminate, misty flickering of clarity and obscurity with the purpose of leading us up and away from ourselves. On the other hand, a luciferic influence which is entirely justifiable, and is indeed a part of mankind's necessary progress, is made manifest when we fill material existence with today's genuine life principles, not in order to make exhaustive use of the impulses of this material existence — as is the case with ahrimanic influences — but in order to paralyse material existence into becoming a semblance which can then be used in order to describe a super-sensible realm, in order to describe something that is spiritually real, and yet — in this spiritual reality — cannot also be real in the world of the senses merely through natural existence.
Luciferic forces endow human beings with the possibility of expressing the spirit in the semblance of sense-perceptible existence. It is for this that all art and all beauty are striving. Lucifer is the guardian of beauty and art. So in seeking the right balance between luciferic and ahrimanic influences we may allow art — Lucifer — in the form of beauty, to work upon this balance. There is no question of saying that human beings must guard against ahrimanic and luciferic influences. What matters is for human beings to find the right attitude towards ahrimanic and luciferic influences, maintaining always a balance between the two. Provided this balance is maintained, luciferic influences may be permitted to shine into life in the form of beauty, in the form of art. Thus something unreal is brought into life as if by magic, something which has been transformed into a semblance of reality by the effort of human beings themselves.
It is the endeavour of luciferic forces to bring into present-day life something that has long been overtaken by world existence, something that the laws of existence cannot allow to be real in present-day life. If human beings follow a course of cosmic conservation, if they want to bring into the present certain forms of existence which were right and proper in earlier times, then they fall in the wrong way under the influence of the luciferic aspect. If, for instance, they bring in a view of the world that lives only in vague pictures such as were justifiable in ancient cosmic ages, if they allow everything living in their soul to become blurred and mingled, they are giving themselves up in the wrong way to luciferic existence. But if they give to external existence a form which expresses something it could not express by its own laws alone — marble can only express the laws of the mineral world — if they force marble to express something it would never be able to express by means of its own natural forces, the result is the art of sculpture; then, something which cannot be a reality in a sense-perceptible situation of this kind, something unreal, is brought as if, by magic into real existence. This is what Lucifer is striving to achieve. He strives to lead human beings away from the reality in which they find themselves between birth and death into a reality which was indeed reality in earlier times but which cannot be genuine reality for the present day.
Now let us look at the spiritual aspect of the human being. We find that here, too, both luciferic and ahrimanic influences are called upon. In life here on earth the being of man expresses itself in the first instance in the alternating states of waking and sleeping. In the waking state the spiritual part of our being is fully given over to the material world. The following must be said in this connection: In sleep, a view of the luciferic and the ahrimanic elements.
As regards the life of mankind through history, too, the pictures we form are only real if we are capable of perceiving the working and surging of the luciferic and ahrimanic elements in the different periods of history. Let us look, for instance, at the period of history which starts with Augustine 4 Aurelius Augustinus 354-430, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. and reaches to the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times, the fifteenth century. Let us look at this period and see how in external life people preferred to allow impulses to work which came from their deepest inner being, out of their emotional life; let us see how people during this period wanted to shape even the external life of society and the state in accordance with what they believed they could discern of the divine impulses within themselves. We feel quite clearly that the luciferic impulse was at work in this period of history.
Now go to more recent times and see how people turn and look outwards towards the mechanical and physical aspects of the world which can only be adequately comprehended in the right way by thinking and by contact with the external world. It is obvious that the ahrimanic element is at work in this period. Yet this must not tempt us to declare the period from Augustine to Galileo to be luciferic and the period from Galileo to the present time to be ahrimanic. This would in turn be an ahrimanic judgement, an intellectualistic interpretation. If we want to make the transition from an intellectualistic to a living interpretation, to a recognition of life as an experience in which we share, of which we are a part, then we shall have to express ourselves differently. We shall have to say: During the period from Augustine to Galileo, human beings had to resist the luciferic element in their striving for balance. And in more recent times human beings have to resist the ahrimanic element in their striving for balance.
We must understand ever more clearly that in our civilization as it progresses it is not a matter of whether we say one thing or another. What matters is being able to decide, in a given situation, whether one thing or another can be said. However true it may be to say, in an abstract way, that the Middle Ages were luciferic and more recent times ahrimanic, what matters is that this abstract truth bears no real impulse. The real impulse comes into play when we say: In the Middle Ages human beings maintained their uprightness by combating the luciferic element; in modern times they maintain their uprightness by combating the ahrimanic element. In an external, abstract sense something that is in reality no more than an empty phrase can be perfectly true. But as regards the particular situation of human existence in question, a thing that is real in our life of ideas can only be something that is actually inwardly present. What people today must avoid more than anything else is to fall into empty phrases. Again and again we come across situations in which people who believe themselves to be standing in anthroposophical life say: So-and-so said something which was in perfect agreement with Anthroposophy. We are not concerned with an outward agreement in words alone. What matters is the spirit, the living spirit, the living reality within which something stands. If we concern ourselves solely with the external, logical content of what people say today, we do not avoid the danger of the empty phrase.
In one circle or another recently I have a number of times given a striking example of how strangely certain statements, which are perfectly correct in themselves, appear when illuminated by a sense for reality. In 1884, in the German Reichstag, Bismarck made a remarkable statement when he felt threatened by the approach of social democracy. 5 in a speech on 9 May 1884, ‘I recognize unconditionally the right to work and will defend this so long as I occupy my present position. In doing so, I stand, not on the soil of socialism but on the soil of the Prussian constitution.’ Quoted in Gide and Rist Geschichte der volkswirt schaftlichen Lehrmeinungen, Jena 1921. He wanted to dissuade the majority of the working population from following their radical social-democratic leaders, and this is what spurred him to say: Every individual has the right to work; grant to every individual the right to work, let the state find work for everybody, provide everybody with what they need in order to live — thus spoke the German Chancellor — when they are old and can no longer work, or when they are ill, and you will see that the broad masses of the workers will turn tail on the promises of their leaders. This is what Prince Bismarck said in the German Reichstag in 1884.
Curiously enough, if you go back almost a hundred years you find that another political figure said the same, almost verbatim: It is our human duty to grant every individual the right to work, to let the state find work for all, so long as they can work, and for the state to care for them when they are ill and can no longer work. In 1793 Robespierre 6 Maximilien Francois Marie Isidore de Robespierre, 1758-1794. From 1793 a leading member of the Committee of Public Safety. Guillotined in 1794. wanted to incorporate this sentence in the democratic constitution. Is it not remarkable that in 1793 the revolutionary Robespierre and in 1884 Prince Bismarck — who certainly had no wish to be another Robespierre — said exactly the same thing. Two people can say exactly the same, yet it is not the same. Curiously, too, Bismarck referred in 1884 to the fact that every worker in the state of Prussia was guaranteed the right to work, since this was laid down in the Prussian constitution of 1794. So Bismarck not only says the same, but he says that what Robespierre demanded was laid down in the Prussian constitution. The real situation, however, was as follows: Bismarck only spoke those words because he felt the approach of a threat which arose from the very fact that what stood word for word in the Prussian constitution was actually not the case at all.
I quote this example not because it is political but because it is a striking demonstration of how two people can say the same thing, word for word, even though the reality in each case is the opposite. Thus I want to make you aware that it is time for us to enter upon an age when what matters, rather than the actual words, is our experience of reality. If we fail in this, then in the realm of spiritual life we shall fall into empty phrases which play such a major role in the spiritual life of today. And this transition from mere correctness of content to truth livingly experienced is to be brought about through the entry of initiation science into human civilization, initiation science which progresses from mere logical content to the experience of the spiritual world. Those who view correctly the external symptoms of historical development in the present and on into the near future will succeed, out of these symptoms, in achieving a feeling, a sense, for the justified and necessary entry of initiation science into world civilization. This is what I wanted to place before your souls today by way of a New Year's contemplation.