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True and False Paths in Spiritual Investigation
GA 243

8. Potential Aberrations in Spiritual Investigation

Torquay, 19 August, 1924

When we develop the levels of consciousness of which I have already spoken, then each particular level opens the door to a specific cosmic sphere. I propose to describe in outline the relationship between the nature of man's perception and the different spheres to which we can attain by developing the appropriate conditions of consciousness. Of course I can only depict these spheres as contiguous, although, in reality, they interpenetrate. (drawing on blackboard). I have already shown how the Moon and Mercury spheres permeate our own sphere.

Let us suppose we develop the level of consciousness which enables us to be in touch with the dead in the years immediately after their death. This world borders on our world.

The next level of consciousness by means of which we penetrate further into the life of the deceased after he has retraced his earthly life (in kamaloka) in reverse order is that which I have called the emptied consciousness, but a waking consciousness in relation to the physical world. We then enter into a wider realm where we are intimately associated with the Mercury beings, with the events and occurrences characteristic of the sphere of Raphael. Here we become aware especially of the healing forces inherent in human nature.

Thus with each state of consciousness we enter into a specific region of the universe and so we learn to know the beings who belong to these regions at any particular time. If we wish to inform ourselves of the conditions under which men live immediately after death, we must develop the appropriate consciousness in order to enter the world in which they dwell. Their true form is only revealed to us in the world to which they belong. If we wish to observe the Mercury beings we must share the consciousness of their world. Thus we can take it for granted that these worlds are, in a certain sense, insulated from each other and that each world has its specific condition of consciousness. Indeed, if we would understand the universe aright, this is a prerequisite, for only in this way can we prepare ourselves to know these beings in their true character. I propose to show you by means of a simple example in what direction such knowledge leads — a knowledge that seeks to develop in the right way the state of consciousness appropriate to a particular cosmic sphere.

Let us assume we have before us a plant with its leaves and flowers. We have already learned that a plant is the reflected image of the archetypal form existing in the spiritual world and which forms the plant-being on Earth. And when we gain knowledge of the plant kingdom by raising our consciousness into this world of archetypal forms something of vital importance is disclosed, namely, that w; must clearly differentiate between the kinds of plants found on Earth. When we examine a particular specimen, the cichorium intybus (chicory), for example, with the appropriate spiritual perception, its appearance is different from that of many others. Let us take as a typical example the common violet and compare it with belladonna, the deadly nightshade. When we study the plant kingdom in the way I have indicated, we shall find, when we participate in the world to which the violet belongs, that is, in the world of the emptied, waking consciousness, that the violet stands revealed in all its innocence to the eye of the spirit.

The deadly nightshade, belladonna, on the other hand, derives its being from other worlds. We understand the being of the common plant when we perceive that it possesses a physical and etheric body and that the flowers and fruit are surrounded by the universal cosmic element. We see the organic life of the plant sprouting everywhere out of the Earth, the etheric body around it and the astral element seemingly enveloped in cloud. Such is the nature of plants like the violet. Plants like the deadly nightshade have a different arrangement. The belladonna develops its bell-shaped flowers inside which the fruit is formed and the astral element penetrates into the fruit. The violet develops its capsule only in the etheric element. The fruit of the deadly nightshade assimilates the astral element and in consequence the plant is poisonous. All plants which in any of their parts assimilate astrality from out of the Cosmos are poisonous. Those forces which enter into the animal, provide it with an astral body and fashion it inwardly into a sentient being, are also the source of the toxic element in plants.

This is most interesting. We find that our astral body is the bearer of forces which prove to be poisonous when assimilated by plants. This is how we must think of poison. We can only acquire an inner understanding of poison when we realize that man's astral body contains in effect the forces of all existing toxins, for they are an integral part of his being.

In this discussion I simply wish to present a clear-cut point of view which will be of service later in helping us to distinguish between true and false paths in spiritual investigation. What do we learn from the examples of the violet and belladonna? When we have developed the consciousness appropriate to the world of each plant we perceive that the violet is a being that remains within the world proper to it and attracts to itself nothing from a world that is alien to it. The deadly nightshade, on the other hand, attracts to itself something from an alien world; it assimilates something that is the prerogative of the animal kingdom and not the plant kingdom. This is true of all poisonous plants. They assimilate something which should not belong to the being of the plant, but which belongs in reality to the animal kingdom.

Now in the Cosmos there are many beings belonging to different regions. In the region where we meet with the dead and can follow them for ten, twenty or thirty years after their death until they leave this region, are to be found a number of beings who are undoubtedly real, but who, unperceived by men, enter into our physical world. Perhaps I can best describe them as a particular kind of elementary being. When, therefore, we follow the dead after they have passed through the gates of death, we enter into a world inhabited by all kinds of elementary beings who are endowed with form and who really belong to that world. We may say therefore that, since these beings appertain to that world, they ought in reality to utilize only the forces pertaining to it. Now amongst these elementary beings will be found some who do not confine their activities to their own world, but who observe men when they write, for example, and who follow all the activities within the world of men between birth and death. We are permanently surrounded by such beings who are spectators of our activities.

Now this spectator rôle is not in itself harmful, for the essence of the entire plan underlying what I am now describing is that all the worlds which border on our own, the world we enter immediately after death, the world where we contact the dead many decades after death, all these worlds lack everything that man acquires through his association with the physical world. In this world of the dead there is, for example, neither writing nor reading; there are no aeroplanes, no motor cars or coaches-and-four as we know them.

We cannot say that here on Earth we construct motor cars, write, read and write books, in all of which Angels do not also participate. We cannot say that all these things have no significance for the Cosmos in general. The fact is that those beings which I have just described are ‘commissioned’ from the world immediately adjacent to our own. They have to keep an eye on the activities of man. From other worlds they are charged with the mission to concern themselves with human nature and to preserve what they learn in that field for future times.

As human beings we are able to carry over our karma from one life to the next and also the effects of external culture upon our karma. We can carry over from one earthly life to another our experiences associated with the motor car, but not the construction of the car itself. We cannot ourselves carry over from one life to the next that which is born of earthly forces alone. In the course of civilization, therefore, mankind has laid the foundations of something that would be lost to it if other beings had not come to its aid. Now the beings of whom I have spoken are ‘detailed’ for the task of preserving for the future that which man cannot carry over from one earthly life to another.

Since in past ages it has been most difficult for many of these beings to fulfil their tasks, much of what had been discovered in ancient times has again been lost to humanity. The salient point I am trying to establish is that we are surrounded by beings who, in accordance with the cosmic plan, have been charged with the mission to carry over into the future that which man himself is unable to transmit from one earthly life to another, especially the abstract content of our libraries, for example. The spiritual beings with whom man is in direct contact cannot do it and therefore we as human beings cannot do it either. These beings must enlist into their service others who had long been alien to them, who had experienced a totally different evolution from the spiritual beings associated with man. These beings with their different evolution I have called in my books, Ahrimanic beings. Despite their different evolution there are occasions when they come in contact with our own, when, for example, we build a motor car. They are beings who are able by virtue of their Ahrimanic cosmic forces to understand modern techniques such as the construction of a motor car. They transmit to future ages the technical achievements of civilization which man himself cannot carry over from one incarnation to the next.

With this information at our disposal we are now in a position to describe what a medium really is. We must of course distinguish between a medium in the widest sense and a medium in the literal sense of the word. Taking the term ‘medium’ in the widest sense, we are all mediums fundamentally. We are all beings of soul and spirit before we incarnate to live out our life between birth and death. Our spiritual essence is incarnated in the physical body. The physical body is an intermediary for the activities of the spirit. Taking the word ‘medium,’ then, in the widest sense, we can say that every being is to some extent a medium. This is not the meaning we attach to the term ‘a mediumistic type’ in the normal sense. In the world between birth and death a mediumistic person is one who has developed certain sectors of the brain in such a way that they can be isolated from his total being. Thus, at certain times, those parts of the brain which sustain the Ego-activity in particular, no longer serve as a basis for this Ego-activity.

When we say “I” to ourselves, when we are fully Ego-conscious, this consciousness is rooted in specific parts of the brain. These parts of the brain are insulated by the medium and, instead of the human Ego, certain entities of the class I have just described feel an urge to slip into these parts of the brain. Such a medium then becomes the vehicle of those beings whose real function is to transmit to the future the achievements of civilization. When these entities take possession of a brain from which, at certain times, the Ego is absent, they feel an overwhelming desire to establish themselves in this brain. And when a medium is in a trance condition, when the brain is insulated, an entity of this kind which is subject to Ahrimanic influences and whose function is to transmit the achievements of civilization to the future, slips into the brain. Instead of being the bearer of the human Ego, such a medium is, temporarily, the vehicle of an elementary being which is neglecting its duty in the Cosmos. I want you to take quite literally the expression: a being which is neglecting its duty in the Cosmos.

The duty of such a being is to observe how men write. Men write with the forces which are rooted in these parts of the brain of which I am speaking. Instead of merely observing, as is the normal practice, these beings are on the lookout at all times for a mediumistic brain that can be insulated. Then they slip into it and introduce into the contemporary world what their observation has taught them of the art of writing. Thus, with the help of mediums they project into the present that which, in accordance with their mission, they ought to communicate to the future. Mediumism depends upon the fact that what is to become future capacities is already developed in the present in a vague and chaotic manner. This is the origin of the prophetic gift of the medium and the fascination he has for others. Indeed its operations are more perfect than those of man today, but it is introduced by beings in the manner already described.

Just as the belladonna mediates the astral world — acts as a medium for certain astral forces that it absorbs into its fruit — so a human being through his particular type of brain is a medium for these elementary beings who at some future time must participate in our civilization, because men cannot carry over everything from one earthly life to another. This is the real secret of mediumship — possession by a certain class of beings.

Now you may conclude that these beings are, on the one hand, actual creations of Ahrimanic beings. Ahrimanic beings exist in the Cosmos and possess an intelligence far superior to that of mankind. When we encounter the Ahrimanic beings in the world immediately adjacent to our own or, having attained insight, encounter them in the physical world as well, we are astonished at their vast, outstanding intelligence. Their intelligence ranges far beyond that of human kind. And we first learn to respect them when we realize how infinitely intelligent they are. Something of this intelligence passes over to their progeny, the elementary beings who slip into mediumistic brains, so that in this way significant information may be revealed by mediums. We may learn much of capital importance, especially if we attend to what they communicate in fully developed consciousness. When we rightly understand the nature and constitution of the spiritual world, we cannot deny that mediums are able to impart much authentic information. Though we may learn much of importance from them, this is not the right path to spiritual knowledge.

You will realize this from the example of plants which are plant mediums, mediums for certain astral forces which are responsible for the toxicity in plants. It is only through a rightly developed consciousness that we realize how this situation arose. I should like to describe this in the following way, for when discussing the spiritual world, it is better to provide a clear, concrete description than to deal in abstract concepts.

Let us assume that with Initiation-knowledge we enter into the world where the dead live in their life after death. When we accompany the dead in this way we first enter into a world totally different from our own. I have already described it to some extent and have pointed out that it gives an impression of far greater reality than the world in which we live between birth and death.

When we enter this world we are astonished at the remarkable beings to be found there, apart from the souls of the dead. The souls of those who have recently died are surrounded by strange demoniac forms. At the entrance to this intermediate world which the dead must enter and in which we can accompany them with a certain clairvoyant vision, we meet with demoniac figures with enormous webbed feet — enormous by earthly standards — like the duck or the wild duck species and other aquatic animals, huge webbed feet that are perpetually changing shape. These beings have a form somewhat similar to that of the kangaroo, but half bird, half mammal. And when we accompany the dead we pass through vast areas where such beings dwell.

If we ask ourselves where these beings are to be found, we must first have a clear idea of the location of such beings, of where we imagine them to exist. They are always around us, for we inhabit the same world as the dead, but you must not look for them in this hall. It is at this point that the path to real and exact investigation begins.

Suppose you are walking through a meadow where many plants of the species colchicum autumnale, the autumn crocus, are to be found. If, as you are standing amongst the autumn crocuses, you try to evoke the state of consciousness that is able to follow the dead, you will see, wherever an autumn crocus is growing, a being of the kind I have just described, with webbed feet and strange kangaroo-like body. Such a being emerges from every autumn crocus.

If you were to move on to another area where the belladonna, the black deadly nightshade, grows by the roadside and if you transpose yourself into the state of consciousness of which I have spoken, you will meet with totally different beings, horrible, demoniac beings who also belong to this world. Colchicum autumnale and belladonna therefore are mediums which permit beings of the next world to enter into them and which in their other aspect really belong to the world of the dead.

If we bear this in mind, we shall realize that everywhere around us is another world. It is essential that we should enter this world consciously, that we should perceive the colchicum autumnale and the belladonna not solely with the normal consciousness, but with the higher consciousness that is in touch with the dead.

Now consider the following. Here is a meadow, we will suppose, where the autumn crocuses are growing. In order to find the plants that bear the belladonna flowers you might have to travel far and climb a mountain-side. On the physical plane, belladonna and autumn crocus are not found together. But in the spiritual world they are found in close proximity. Space is of a different order. Objects that may be situated far apart in the physical world may be in close proximity in the spiritual world. The spiritual world has its own primordial laws; there everything is different.

Now suppose we meet with these plants in the world of the dead. When we are first in touch with the dead, we discover that these plants by no means evoke in them the horrible impression they evoke in us. They, the deceased, know that the presence of these demoniac beings is in accordance with a wise cosmic plan. When therefore we are in touch with the dead, we find that the intermediate world is populated with demoniac forms corresponding to the poisonous plants. If we then progress further towards the realms from which the dead withdraw after ten, twenty or thirty years in order to enter into a higher realm, we find the related forms of the non-poisonous plants. Thus the plant kingdom plays a significant part both in the physical and the next higher world. In the latter, however, it assumes different forms.

That which belongs in its true form to the world of the stars has its counterpart on Earth in the form of a belladonna, an autumn crocus or a violet. It has also its counterpart in the world of the dead where its true form is reflected in the manner already described. Everything in the one world reacts upon the other worlds. But in order to have real knowledge of these things we must enter consciously into the world where they really belong.

The same applies to the beings of these other worlds. We can only know what the elementary beings are, the progeny of the Ahrimanic powers, when we enter into the world immediately bordering on our own. Now these beings manifest through mediums. They take possession of the mediums and in this way temporarily enter our world. If we contact them through a human medium only, we learn to know them in a world that should really be foreign to them; we do not know them in their true form. Therefore those who learn to know them only by their manifestations through mediums cannot possibly arrive at the truth since these beings are manifesting in a world that is foreign to them. Spiritual revelations are undoubtedly transmitted, but it is impossible to understand them when they issue from a world to which they do not belong. The deceptive and highly hallucinative element in everything connected with mediumistic consciousness is explained by the fact that those who contact these beings have no understanding of their real nature.

Now because they enter the world in this way a unique destiny is reserved to these beings. The knowledge of the universe that I have described serves to enlarge our field of knowledge. When we enter the world of the dead and traverse the demoniac forest of colchicum autumn ale, digitalis purpurea (purple foxglove), datura stramonium (thorn-apple) and so on, we realize that violets will undergo a metamorphosis and in future will assume totally different forms. They have a significance for the future of the Cosmos. By its very nature the autumn crocus prepares the death for which it is destined. The poisonous plants are moribund plants, species that are dying out, with no possibility of future development. In future times they will be replaced by other poisonous species. The poisonous species of today are already dying out in our epoch. The epoch of course is of long duration, but these poisonous plants have the seeds of death within them. And this will be the fate of all vegetation. When we survey the world of vegetation with this spiritual vision we perceive forces of growth and development with a dynamic urge towards the future and a world that is dying and doomed to perish.

And so it is with the beings who take possession of the mediums. They detach themselves from their companions whose task is to carry over the present into a distant future. Through the agency of mediums they invade the world of the present, are there caught up in the destiny of the Earth and sacrifice their future mission. In this way they deprive man to a large extent of his future mission. And this is what faces us when we understand the real nature of mediumism, for mediumism implies that the future shall perish in order that the present may be all important. When therefore we attend a séance with insight into the real occult relationships and into the true nature of the Cosmos, we are at first astonished to find that the entire circle participating in a spiritistic manifestation is seemingly surrounded by poisonous plants. Every spiritualistic séance is surrounded in fact by a garden of poisonous plants which no longer bear the same aspect as in the kingdom of the dead, but which grow up around the spiritualist circle, and from their fruits and flowers demoniac beings are seen to emerge.

Such is the experience of the clairvoyant at a spiritualistic séance. For the most part he goes through a kind of cosmic thicket of poisonous plants that are activated from within and are part animal. Only by their forms do we recognize that they are poisonous plants. We learn from this how everything at work within this mediumistic form that ought to advance the course of human evolution and bear fruit in the future is relegated to the present where it does not belong. In the present, it works to the detriment of humanity.

Such is the inner mystery of mediumism, a mystery of which we shall learn more in the course of these lectures.

It is now possible to indicate precisely what aspect of mediumism presents a major problem to the constitution of man. In this context my account must of necessity appear somewhat abstract, but it will help you a little towards some understanding of the nature of mediumism.

Now the human brain lying in the cranial cavity has an average weight of 1500 grammes or a little more. That is really a considerable weight and if the human brain were to press with its own weight on the delicate veins at the base of the brain, they would immediately be crushed. However long we live, the weight of our brain never presses upon the network of veins beneath it. We understand this immediately if we interpret it in the right way. Let us take man as he is at present constituted. The spinal canal passes upwards and terminates in the brain. With the exception of certain portions, the spinal canal is filled with fluid and the brain floats in this fluid.

Now let us consider the law of Archimedes. You will be familiar with it from your study of physics. It is said that he discovered it in a flash of inspiration whilst he was in his bath. He made the following experiment: with his body wholly immersed in the bath he lifted first one leg and then the other out of the water. He noted that his legs had a different weight according to whether they were in the water or out of it. They lost weight when they were immersed in the water. For a man such as Archimedes this experience had wider implications. He discovered that when an object is wholly immersed in a fluid the apparent loss of weight is equal to the weight of water displaced.

A beaker filled with water is placed on a bench and a solid body suspended by a thread from the hook of a spring balance is lowered into the water. We find that the weight of the body is less in water than in air. When a solid body is immersed in a fluid it experiences an up-thrust equal to the weight of the fluid displaced. This is the law of Archimedes.

And this principle is of great benefit to man for the brain floats in the cerebral fluid; the apparent loss in weight of the brain is equal to the weight of the cerebral fluid displaced. Thus our brain does not weigh 1500 grammes. Its loss in weight is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced, that is, 1480 grammes, so that in accordance with the law of Archimedes its effective weight is only 20 grammes approximately.

In our brain organisation we have something that is much lighter than its real weight. Our brain weighs only 20 grammes, but we must treasure these 20 grammes for they alone can harbour our Ego.

Now our whole body contains all manner of solid constituents which also float in a fluid medium — the blood corpuscles, for example. They all suffer loss of weight and only a fraction of their weight remains. They also harbour the Ego. Thus the Ego is diffused in the blood that is not subject to gravity. In the course of our life we must carefully observe everything within us that has perceptible weight. We must pay the strictest attention to what is situated in the heavy part of the brain and which still possesses weight in the literal sense. For there and nowhere else our Ego may be situated — otherwise astral body, etheric body and so on, take over.

The medium is a human being in whom this solid part of his constitution, the 20 grammes brain, no longer contains the Ego. The Ego is expelled from those parts which still retain weight and then elementary beings can enter immediately.

A materialistic mode of thinking seeks to localize everything and wants to know in which part of the human being the elementary being is situated when it takes possession of the medium. This is the language of the materialistic mind that thinks mechanically and mathematically. Life, however, does not proceed mechanically or mathematically, but dynamically. We must not say, therefore, that the medium is possessed at some place or other that can be localized purely mathematically and geometrically. We must say: the medium is possessed in those parts of his constitution that possess weight or gravity, in the part that is attracted to the Earth. There the Ahrimanic beings can enter; and not only there, but also elsewhere. This description that I have presented to you gives only the crudest aspect of the matter. We have yet to discuss a more subtle aspect.

Now the eye is our organ of vision for the external world. The optic nerve, distributed in the eye, is connected with the brain and provides the basis for colour sensation. The materialist tries to explain how the optic nerve transmits the colour sensations to the brain and releases them there. He compares the whole process to the loading of a ship or a railway truck. Something is ‘loaded into’ the optic nerve from without and is transported by the nerves; it is then unloaded somewhere or other and then passes into the soul. The explanation is not quite as crude as this, but that is what it amounts to. The real explanation, however, is totally different.

The function of the optic nerve is not to convey the colour sensation backwards to the brain, but to insulate it at a certain point. The colour exists only at the periphery. The function of the optic nerve is to insulate the colour sensation the nearer it approaches the brain, so that the brain is virtually without colour sensations; only weak, faint colours reach the brain. And not only is colour sensation insulated, but also every kind of relationship to the external world. Hearing and sight are associated with the sense organs. In the proximate area of the brain the optic and auditory nerves and the nerves that register sensation of warmth reduce everything lying at the periphery to a dim impression. This bears the same relationship to the sensation as the 20 grammes to the 1500 grammes, for the 20 grammes give only a faint impression of the weight of the brain. This is all that remains to us. When we take in the magnificent spectacle of the dawn through our senses, the hind-brain registers only a faint shadow, a dim impression of it. We must pay heed to this dim shadow, for it is only there that our Ego can enter.

The moment our Ego is insulated and we manifest mediumistic powers, an elementary being slips into this faint shadow or into the feeble tones that proceed from the auditory sense. This being slips into the parts vacated by the Ego where the external sense-perception is obliterated, and takes possession of the medium. Then it enters into the ramifications of the nerves, into the will-organisation, that is to say, the nerves that govern the formation of the will. In consequence the medium begins to respond actively because that which should be under the control of the Ego has been taken over by the elementary being. All the subtle, shadowy elements, the residual weight of the brain, the remnants of the colour and auditory sensations, possess us like a phantom — for this 20 grammes weight is only a phantom and these feeble shadows of the colours that penetrate into our inner being are phantom-like. The elementary being enters into this phantom and then the medium grows so lethargic that his body becomes wholly passive and everything in the dim, phantom-like shadows that should really be permeated by the Ego — shadows that are normally tenanted by the Ego — now becomes active within him.

A human being can only be a medium when he permits his faculties which are at the service of the normal man to be inhibited by lethargy, by total inertia, and when the phantom that I have described becomes activated. We can observe this, for example, in the way the medium writes. The medium, of course, could not write unless everything within him were lighter as in the case of the brain, for everything possessed of weight floats in a fluid medium, gives a feeling, a sensation of lightness and so the elementary being writes in those areas which are not subject to gravity and where normally the Ego directs the pen. In the medium, then, it is the elementary being that takes over the direction of the pen in this human phantom.

There is no denying the fact that in all mediumistic phenomena we see the intrusion of another world. Just as the Ahrimanic beings of another world can enter into the movements performed by the medium, so too can they enter into the emanations which I described yesterday. Powerful fluid emanations are present notably in the glandular regions of the human organisation. These elementary beings penetrate not only into the fluid emanations but also into the breath emanations and light emanations. Only in the case of the chemical emanations is there conscious intercourse between the individual who makes use of these chemical emanations and the beings who enter into them. At this point black magic sets in — the conscious cooperation with these beings who enter in after the manner I have described.

Mediums and those who experiment with mediums are unaware of the real processes involved. The black magician, however, is fully conscious that he is invoking for his own purposes these beings of the elementary world into the chemical emanations of human beings, more especially into his own. Hence the black magician is perpetually surrounded by a host of subordinates consisting of these elementary beings, and he makes it possible for them to use the occult-chemical impulses in the phenomenal world, either through his own emanations, or through fumigations, perfumes from the burning of aromatic gums carried out in his laboratory.

Thus we learn that just as the belladonna trespasses into an alien world and so becomes toxic, so too through mediumship the spiritual world trespasses into the world we inhabit between birth and death. And fundamentally this danger is always present whenever the consciousness of man, i.e. his full Ego-consciousness, is suppressed, whenever he is in a stupefied, comatose condition or has actually suffered syncope. Whenever man's consciousness is damped down, not through sleep, but through some other factor, there is the danger that man will be exposed to the world of elementary beings. How far this plays a significant rôle in the life of man we shall discuss in the next lectures.