Old and New Methods of Initiation
11 February 1922, Dornach
Today 1 Today: In his introduction to this lecture (contained in GA 255), Rudolf Steiner spoke words of appreciation for the way in which Albert Steffen had reported in the journal Das Goetheanum on a lecture denigrating Anthroposophy. I should like to discuss a theme which can perhaps lead to some points of view from which to assess present-day cultural and spiritual life in connection with what has gone before in human evolution. As I have often said, cultural life since the first third of the fifteenth century is entirely different from that of earlier times, and now we are faced with the necessity to return, but in full consciousness and with deep thought, to an understanding of the spiritual part of our life in the cosmos. The spiritual part of our life in the cosmos was understood in ancient times by an instinctive clairvoyance, and this was the case most of all in the most ancient ages of earthly civilization. Then the capacity to push through to the spirit receded more and more, until a time came when mankind needed a new impetus, whereupon the Mystery of Golgotha took place.
Today I should like to mention that, before the Mystery of Golgotha, people who were concerned with spiritual life looked to those institutions known in general human cultural life as the Mysteries. In those most ancient days of human evolution it was unthinkable that spiritual vision and spiritual knowledge could have any other source than the Mysteries. When we try to observe the consciousness of those who turned to the Mysteries in those ancient days, if knowledge was what they desired, we arrive at the following picture: All external knowledge not stemming from the Mysteries, all intellectual knowledge gained by human beings by themselves, did not come into being until the later part of the Greek era. Only then did people want to discover certain truths out of themselves, without the help of the Mysteries. That is why the course of scientific development is reckoned, by those who understand these things, to have started in the time of Thales. 2 Thales of Miletus, c.640-545 B.C. I have discussed this in my book Riddles of Philosophy. 3 Rudolf Steiner, Riddles of Philosophy, Anthroposophic Press, New York 1973. Before that time knowledge was sought with the help of the Mysteries. When we examine the consciousness on which this was founded, we discover that those who conducted the Mysteries, and also their pupils, saw something most important in what they called ‘the prince of this world’ — they meant the earth — as opposed to the princes — that is, the spiritual beings — of other worlds.
In today's language, ‘the prince of this world’, as he lived in the consciousness of ancient times, would be called the being of Ahriman. The being of Ahriman would more or less be equivalent to this prince of earthly life. The spiritual revelations which can be derived from ‘the prince of this world’ are none other than those of intellectual knowledge. The leaders of the Mysteries would certainly have considered all that lived in the knowledge that grew up in Greece outside the Mysteries to have been inspired by ‘the prince of this world’. In contrast, they saw it as the task of the Mysteries to lead human beings towards a spiritual vision which tends away from ‘the prince of this world’, which tends to lead human souls into realms which are not ruled by ‘the prince of this world’. We cannot help but make use of such expressions in order to show properly what is meant, and no one should think that there is anything superstitious about using these expressions.
Let me give you a picture of what someone initiated in the ancient Greek, or the Egyptian, or Persian Mysteries would have thought in those old days about ‘the prince of this world’. We have to understand that these people also spoke about the Christ-being, though they used other names. Using the name of Christ is not the only way of speaking about the Christ-being. We naturally use the name of Christ when we want to speak about the Christ-being, for Christ to us actually means that Being who underwent the Mystery of Golgotha and united himself with earthly civilization. Before the Mystery of Golgotha this Being was not yet united with earthly civilization. He still lived as the great Sun-being outside the earthly world. The Mystery of Golgotha denotes the uniting with the earthly world of this Being who lived outside the earthly world. But those initiated in the Mysteries certainly knew this Being who lived outside the earthly world. And the being known as ‘the prince of this world’ — that ahrimanic being — also knew him. That being — I am describing what lived in the consciousness of the initiates — felt himself to be the lord of the earth. He considered that whatever human beings possessed through the forces of the earth was something they had from him. But he knew that the Christ-being lived outside the earth and also had an influence on human life by way of the Mysteries, whose teachings were then popularized and brought amongst the peoples.
To describe more closely what lived in their consciousness, we may say that the initiates in the Mysteries thought as follows: The chief influence of ‘the prince of this world’ is on the physical bodies of human beings. These wholly do his bidding and he feels he is the lord of human physical bodies. But he could not feel himself to be the lord of the etheric and astral natures of human beings, of their life-bodies and their souls. The life-body and the soul were seen to be under the influence of a Being who lived outside the earth; the forces of the Christ-being had always been seen to flow into these. But with the forces of their own soul human beings were quite unable to receive what ought to flow into them from the Christ-being. They could only do so by turning to what the Mystery initiate received after the proper preparation. The Mysteries were seen to take hold of what came from outside the earth and pass it on to human beings. So ‘the prince of this world’ said to himself: Here on earth I am the master. From the earth the physical bodies of human beings draw their forces, and one of these forces is the human earthly intellect. Here I am the master and nothing can contest this here on earth. By way of the Mysteries, something from outside the earth flows into it. This I will tolerate.
But ‘the prince of this world’ rebelled against the Mystery of Golgotha because from then on he would have had to share his supremacy with the Christ who descended to the earth through the Mystery of Golgotha. ‘The prince of this world’ felt the Christ to be a rival in his mastery of the earth. He would have tolerated the sharing of the rulership with another being from outside the earth, but he would not tolerate a rival here within the earthly realm.
Here, then, out of the spirit of the ancient Mysteries, we have an indication of the real opposition of ‘the prince of this world’ towards the Christ. Among those with knowledge about such things this opposition was strongly felt throughout the Middle Ages until well into the fifteenth century. Any mention of ‘the prince of this world’ and of the Christ took it into account. There was a certain awareness of two dominions. One of these had rightfully ruled the bodily nature of man before the Mystery of Golgotha, but since then this sovereignty over the bodily nature of man has had to be shared with the other, with the Christ. For now Christ no longer influences only man's soul element, that is, his astral and etheric bodies; his purpose is now to influence also man's physical bodily nature, or rather whatever is expressed by this physical bodily nature, namely, everything to do with the intellect and with man's own capacities in the widest sense. Christ should live in every aspect of human nature. This is what entered into mankind through the Mystery of Golgotha.
Prior to the Mystery of Golgotha it never occurred to those who knew about such things to seek knowledge of external matters in any sphere which the human head or even the other soul or heart forces can reach on their own. Such things were left to the Mysteries. So before the Mystery of Golgotha there was certainly a strong awareness of the distinction between earthly wisdom and earthly sensing on the one hand, and a sensing of super-earthly forces on the other. The unique spiritual configuration of the early medieval centuries is only comprehensible in the light of a clear understanding of this fact.
Now this fact can be greatly clarified by something that was regarded as being of paramount importance in very many Mystery centres. The preparation and subsequent trials undergone by the Mystery pupils on the path of initiation varied, of course, in the different centres. But these variations were only really like the different paths up a mountain which, despite their different routes, all lead to one and the same summit in the end. They all led to one and the same Mystery goal. Despite the modifications, there were two measures within the Mysteries which every pupil had to undergo and which could be termed as being of paramount importance. These were, on the one hand, the draught of forgetfulness and, on the other hand, something which worked on the human being during the Mystery procedures like a powerful shock — like entering into a powerful fear. It is no longer permissible to use either of these for the purpose of achieving higher super-sensible knowledge. Today everything has to take place in the realm of soul and spirit, whereas the Mystery pupils in ancient times underwent procedures which always had to call on their physical body. What is achieved today is similar, but higher knowledge must now be striven for in the sphere of consciousness only, whereas in earlier times it took place in the sphere of instincts and dreams. Because all the Mysteries included something akin to the draught of forgetfulness and also something akin to the physical shock, the pupils’ external intellect was damped down. This intellect was less clear than it is today, but it nevertheless held sway in connection with everything relating to the external world.
So the pupil was led into a dulled consciousness both by the draught of forgetfulness and by the shock, which might be compared with the inducement of a state of fear. What was the significance of the draught of forgetfulness? The point was not the forgetting, though the pupil did forget. The effect it was to have came from its ceremonial preparation, from the special way it was mixed, to the accompaniment of certain preparations before it was drunk by the pupil. It was definitely a physical draught which, through the way it was served, brought it about that the pupil forgot the whole of his life since birth. This is something which is achieved nowadays through development in the realm of soul and spirit. Nowadays a clear consciousness of a great tableau of life encompassing everything that has occurred since birth is first conjured up. This is then suppressed and, in consequence, the human being is led into the spiritual form of his life before birth, or before conception. The same was achieved in a more physical way through the ancient draught of forgetfulness.
But the forgetting was not the essential point. Negative things are never the essential point. The positive thing achieved was that the pupil's thinking became more mobile and more intense. At the same time it became less clear. It became dreamy because the effect was achieved by influencing the physical organism. The effect of the draught of forgetfulness on the physical organism — it can be exactly described — was that the brain, if I may put it this way, became more fluid than it is in everyday life. Because the brain was made more fluid, because the pupil began to think more with his cerebral fluid than with the solid parts of the brain, his thoughts became more mobile and more intense.
Nowadays this must be achieved more directly, by means of developing soul and Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and in the second part of Occult Science. But in those days the brain was made more fluid by external influences. The goal was to make the spirit and soul element of the pupil — as it was before he made the connection with a physical body through conception: in other words, as it is in the spiritual world — capable once more of penetrating through the brain. This is the essential point.
In a drawing it would look like this. Suppose this is the mass of the brain (green). Once the human being has been born his spirit and soul element stops short before it (red). The brain is so constituted that the human being's inner spirit and soul element cannot pass through the brain. In his brain the human being is not filled with his spirit and soul element. Instead, external perceptions can enter and make themselves felt in the brain through the senses — let me draw an eye here. Put another way, the constitution of the brain is such today that the eternal aspect of the human being cannot rise up into it. Instead, external impressions can enter. By being given the draught of forgetfulness the pupil gained the possibility of receiving into his brain what was his spiritual and soul element before conception or before birth (red). That is the one side.
The other side is the shock which was administered to the pupil. Think how a shock affects human beings. They are as though paralysed. There can be shocks which bring about the paralysis of the whole human being. A paralysed person, a cataleptic person, cannot move about because his muscles are rigid. But in a human being who can go about his life in the ordinary way, his body absorbs this eternal aspect (white with red). In our blood, in our muscles down below, the element of spirit and soul, the eternal element, is absorbed. But because of this it cannot be perceived. It cannot penetrate the brain, but lower down it is absorbed. It cannot be perceived, but when the muscles go rigid it steps out freely as a matter of course.
The rigidity of the muscles was brought about by the effect of the shock. As a result, the element of spirit and soul was not absorbed by the rest of the organism — apart from the brain — but was freed. So now the spirit and soul element was in the brain because the brain had been softened by the draught of forgetfulness, while the rest of the organism was at the same time prevented from absorbing it. Thus the element of spirit and soul came to be perceived. From two sides came the possibility of perceiving the element of spirit and soul. In ordinary life the human being was incapable of perceiving it because the brain, with which everything else was perceived, was unable to take it in; it could not enter the brain. Neither could it be perceived from the rest of the organism, the will and so on, for the rest of the organism had absorbed it. But now the pupil's brain was softened — of course, only for the moment at which knowledge was to enter. So his element of spirit and soul rushed into his brain. Meanwhile, the rest of his body became rigid so that it could not absorb the spirit and soul element. There the pupil stood, with his softened brain on the one side and a rigidified organic system on the other, as though encased in a capsule. There he stood in his spirit and his soul which had been given to him from two sides.
This is the aim of these procedures which are described in such a practical manner. I must expressly point out, though, that these things cannot be imitated nowadays. People would, anyway, be at a loss as to how to imitate them and, if they tried, the result would not be agreeable. These days all such things have to be attained by working with soul and spirit. But of the past it can certainly be said: Having been enabled to perceive their element of spirit and soul by partaking of the draught of forgetfulness and by being shocked into physical rigidity, the pupils in the Mysteries became ‘Christians’. In the Mysteries they became Christians.
The early fathers of the church were certainly aware of this. But today people are not told about it, or it is even denied. But the early church fathers knew that human beings had been made Christians through the Mysteries. There are passages in the writings of the early church fathers 4 For instance, St Justin Martyr, Apologia I, 46. which state that Heraclitus and Socrates, though they lived before the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, were Christians, even though they were called atheists in their own time. I have often quoted from such passages in the writings of the early church fathers. It was the view of the ancient Mystery leaders and initiates that ‘the prince of this world’ was not interested in that human being who came forth out of the other; he left this human being to Christ. But he did not want Christ to come down to the earth in order to take hold of the human being in his entirety. This is described in the gospels in the way it is said that the demons, the lower servants of ‘the prince of this world’, when they heard that Christ had come, began to rebel. They recognized him and were furious.
We have to understand, when speaking about earthly evolution, that the spiritual powers whose influence on the human physical body was perfectly legitimate before the Mystery of Golgotha had, after the Mystery of Golgotha, to share this influence with the Christ. This is an essential aspect of the Mystery of Golgotha. That is why in the Middle Ages ‘the prince of this world’ came to be called ‘the unlawful prince of this world’. This expression would not have been justified in the ancient heathen world but when it came to be used in the Middle Ages it was a correct title, befitting the circumstances.
The essential aspect of all this, with regard to the spiritual evolution of mankind, is that in more ancient times the physical body was withdrawn from the element of spirit and soul. The working of the brain was counteracted because the brain was softened by the draught of forgetfulness, and the powers of absorption of the rest of the organism were counteracted by the hardening of the rest of the organism by means of the shock. So in these older times the body was withdrawn from the element of spirit and soul.
Today, our aspiration is not to withdraw the body but to draw out the spirit, by strengthening and enhancing our forces of spirit and soul. The opposite of what used to take place must happen now; now the spirit must be drawn out. No changes must be allowed to take place in the physical, bodily aspect. Since the fifteenth century the human being has been organized in such a way that changes in the physical body, of the kind that were customary in those of Mystery pupils, would denote a condition of sickness. It would be a pathological condition, which must not be allowed to come about in normal development.
I am describing all this in order to give you an idea of what is to be understood by the concept of ‘the prince of this world’, which keeps recurring in olden times. ‘The prince of this world’, who in the Middle Ages became ‘the unlawful prince of this world’, is an Ahriman-like being. We can find such a being everywhere, in external nature and in the inner being of man. Indeed, only when we are in a position to find such a being in its manifestation both in external nature and in the inner being of man can we gradually come to an understanding of its essence.
Look at external nature. You will find there two contrasts, but what matters is to be able to sense the essence of these contrasts. Think of the blue sky. Of course in southern climes the blue sky must be seen rather differently than is the case here. When the envelope of air round the earth is filled by the effect of the sun, this is not the pure essence of the blue sky, for it is then overcast with something else. But the pure effect of the blue sky is that of coldness. The blue sky as such is cold. What you sense in the coldness of the blue sky, unmitigated by earthly sultriness — this is an all-embracing ahrimanic influence. The ahrimanic influence causes space to be petrified, congealed into blueness. Take note of this expression! It is unusual, but if you gradually come to sense what it means to say that space is petrified, congealed into blueness, you will have discovered the ahrimanic tendency in external nature.
The contrasting effect is that of the reddish, yellowish clouds sailing past. The effect is one of warmth, exactly the opposite. This, too, can be disguised by the coldness of the earth's environment but, all in all, a cloud lined with red, a yellowish cloud, has something warm about it. This is the contrasting effect, the effect of air. Between these two polar opposites something takes place, and that is what benefits the earthly life of man. We can say, then, that the effect on the earth of space petrified, congealed into blueness was seen in the Middle Ages to be the cosmic working of ‘the prince of this world’.
And when we look into human beings we find that they can be in a condition which makes them pale. You know how there is something livid, something blueish about palor in human beings. When human beings turn pale, when they feel their way into coldness, they are then sensing something ahrimanic working in them. Flushed redness, on the other hand, shows something luciferic at work in their nature. Out of all these details together we can gradually build up a full picture of what this ahrimanic being, ‘the prince of this world’, really is. People's pallid, often so clever, thoughts, running along always in straight lines — the whole intellectual aspect of man — this is the ahrimanic influence, the influence of ‘the prince of this world’, on the working of the human head.
These things must be understood from the point of view of spirit and soul. In the livid blueness, in the way human beings grow pale, in the way they devour themselves inwardly and feel their way into coldness, in the way they are filled with pale, abstract thoughts — in all this we have to feel the ahrimanic influence, the rulership of ‘the prince of this world’. And then we have to feel the warming influence of the Christ-impulse.
For the present time it is rather revealing and also necessary to recognize how different was initiation in ancient times compared with the principle of initiation today. There are certainly people today who still lack the courage to approach the Anthroposophical Movement but who have a deep longing for what, in the end, only the Anthroposophical Movement can give. They long for a transformation of their soul, after which they would find their way to the knowledge they seek. Obviously the greater part of mankind today rejects this transformation of the soul and imagines that any knowledge man is capable of reaching can be achieved through the ordinary state of soul which is brought about by our ordinary education and through our ordinary life. On my last tour I met a man who was greatly concerned to achieve some knowledge through the philosophical possibilities offered today, but not through Anthroposophy. He said that it would be interesting and important to ascertain in Anthroposophy how this higher knowledge might be achieved, for everywhere — this ‘everywhere’ is very relative, of course — the different world views were recognizing that the achievement of real knowledge was a matter not only of the intellect but also of the will. And in the ancient Mysteries, too, it was a matter of transforming the will.
In the description of the ancient Mysteries in my book Christianity as Mystical Fact 5 Rudolf Steiner, Christianity as Mystical Fact, Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1972. you will find that the decisive, radical difference between the ancient striving for knowledge and that of today lies in the fact that in ancient times it was necessary to prepare the will. The will had to be turned in a direction different from that of ordinary life. The will had to be purged, purified; it had to be transformed and lifted to a higher stage. The pupil had to give a new direction to his everyday will, which was dominated by ‘the prince of this world’. Through cultivation of his will, the pupil had to reach the point at which knowledge can be attained. Today, on the other hand, people imagine that we can stop at whatever point we have reached through our ordinary studies. And our intellectual life is merely the product of the ordinary configuration of our brain. If it is softened, as I have indicated, there is a strong possibility that thoughts can be willed, that everywhere thoughts can be willed. And when will becomes conscious through the rigidifying of the body, then thoughts appear in the will itself. This can also happen today when, on the path I have described, knowledge of higher worlds has become possible.
It is a very important sign today that once more there are people who know that the intellect alone is not enough and that it is necessary to cultivate the will in order to reach whatever knowledge is possible for man. So by looking at what is going on in a general way we come to see that a great many people are approaching who want to hear about spiritual matters. Also, from things which are shown to us as we go along, we see that there are people who once again realize that the will must be cultivated, if knowledge is to be achieved. All this goes to show that there is an urgent need for spiritual life today. Unfortunately, though, because people lack the courage to approach Anthroposophy, because they think Anthroposophy is something peculiar, they imagine that they can achieve what they are searching for along some other path. The world will have to come to the conviction that what is wanted can only be achieved on the anthroposophical path. Please do not misunderstand me. It is not my intention to maintain that what Anthroposophy has revealed so far is necessarily generally valid or particularly obvious. But I want to point out the importance of the direction in which Anthroposophy is going. This is what can lead to the satisfaction of the powerful longing that exists today, a longing which must be satisfied if human civilization is to move forward at all.