(Given at the conclusion of the General Meeting of the German Section of the Theosophical Society)
22 October 1905, Berlin *
Source for the text.
Shorthand notes by Franz Seiler; made ready for publishing by Marie Steiner von Sivers.
May I once more make it known 1 The first announcement was most probably given during the General Meeting of the German Section which had taken place beforehand. that I intend to hold a lecture tomorrow morning about certain contemporary occult questions connected with Freemasonry. And that will take place, following an ancient occult practice, separately for men and for women. The lecture for men will take place at ten o'clock; for women at half past eleven. Perhaps you may ask why this custom is retained, since — only through the theosophical view of things — it will become superseded. That will become clear through the content of the lecture. I would also like to say that the Besant Branch 2 The then name of the Berlin Branch which held its usual evening meetings. will have its regular meeting tomorrow evening at eight o'clock.
Now I would like to speak about the relationship of occultism to the theosophical movement and about a few other connected questions. On that topic, it is very often debated whether the theosophical movement, and the Theosophical Society in particular, should be an occult movement, or whether it must be kept distinct from all occultism.
The theosophical movement as such, in so far as it expressed in the Theosophical Society, cannot be an occult movement. An occult movement is based on different assumptions from those which can find expression in the Theosophical Society. There have been occult societies in all periods. One thing above all else has been necessary for them; namely, that, on account of the whole manner of their endeavours, they have some kind of hierarchy in their Organisation. That means that the members of such a society, of such a brotherhood, were ranked by degree. Every degree, from the first up to the ninetieth, had its quite specific task. In each degree there were quite specific tasks. Nobody could be promoted to a higher degree until he had fulfilled the tasks of the lower one.
I can only indicate very broadly why that is so. We must then speak only generally about the tasks of such occult brotherhoods. The honoured friends will understand me all the better today, who have so often heard me speak about such things. Occult brotherhoods are the guiding brotherhoods of mankind. They have the task of preparing the things of the future. Everything which is to happen in the future is indeed preparing itself now, is finding its expression now, as an idea, as a plan, and will then be realised in the future. Even when you consider the development of the human race on the outward physical plane, you would then find that things which later find fulfillment were much earlier in the bud as ideas, bursting to find expression in the minds and souls of leading personalities and individualities. Take the steam engine for example: you will find, if you trace the matter back, how the steam engine developed itself from the simplest facts; how the pan filled with boiling water already contained the idea of the steam engine, which then developed itself from this simplest form to the most complicated mechanism.
These are however trifles compared with the great structure of humanity that we confront. The most important matters are based on much greater and more significant perspectives. They presuppose that what is to happen in the far distant future is already, in a specific way, being prepared today. How can anything happen in this way? Through it being in one's grasp today already to introduce forces into the world which will take effect in the future. Whatever is going to take place here on the physical plane in the future has prepared itself on the astral and Devachanic plane, long before its physical manifestation; so that the forces bringing about really distant future events can be identified in the higher planes and worlds. However, man cannot satisfactorily influence the future unless he prepares the effect in the light of a knowledge of the influencing forces. Man is a self-aware creature, and has to take his destiny into his own hands. Therefore, there have always been advanced Brothers of our human race, who can see not only on the physical plane but also on higher planes.
Let us seek to conceive what it means to have foresight on higher planes. Let us suppose you have water in a pond. You can foresee that the pond will become frozen if the temperature falls, so that skating and so on will be possible. In a similar way do we have [foresight] with the relationship of the so-called astral plane to the physical plane, that is to the world in which we are involved. If therefore one follows events on the astral plane one could then in fact see what will be, in a later period, with the help of astral happenings, as if it were a thickening of them. And so one can watch those astral events which subsequently step forth, solidified, on the physical plane. Physical events are nothing else than such thickened occurrences which have already taken place in the higher worlds.
An example: throughout antiquity there were mysteries. These had the task of receiving individual men and initiating them into the secrets of existence, or — as John of the Apocalypse says — showing what must ‘shortly,’ that is to say in the future, come to pass. In the precincts of such temples, the pupils who were to be received into the first degree were instructed. Now there was a further instruction for each successively higher level of development in the pupils. The first stage was for the candidates to purify their astral bodies. This meant that they did not merely embrace the ordinary bourgeois ethic; the bourgeois ethic was the preliminary requirement, what was then involved had to be followed in the strictest performance of duty. For, as the pupil progressively advanced to higher ideals, passing beyond the passions and instincts of ordinary life to yearnings above human pettiness, so purifying his sympathies and antipathies that the great world-embracing affairs of the human race became his own — as he reached out beyond himself in his feelings and perceptions, then he was on the way to completing what one calls the purification of the astral body. Then he was allowed to work upon the denser bodies. He was allowed to work upon his etheric body, and was no longer restricted to reshaping the soft, flexible and compliant astral substance of his soul and spirit bodies, but was allowed to work on his etheric body. He was then what is called a Chela. Such a Chela is one who acknowledges not only higher duties, who has undertaken not only enough purification to make humanity's duties his own, but is so advanced that he has outgrown the lower and higher affairs of individual nations and even of individual creeds. His gaze is now addressed to the life of the whole of humanity. And through his by now thoroughly structured etheric body he becomes a participant in the great affairs of the building of the earth. To do all this, the following must happen.
The Chela has to immobilise all the forces which hinder his work on his etheric body. If you have a human being before you, he has indeed a physical body, an etheric body and an astral body. The Chela has refined his astral body, and is allowed to work upon his etheric body. What happens when the astral body has been purified? What then penetrates the etheric body? — that which is organised in the astral body. The things which live in the astral body stamp themselves on the etheric body. The more you work at your astral body, the more you can redress its defects; the astral substance is thin and soft, you can always bring it back into balance again. However, if a person has begun to develop his etheric body as a Chela, then these qualities stamp themselves on the etheric body, and that is much more permanent. The man who made his earthly defects permanent would thereby become dangerous as a member of humanity. Hence the constant stress on necessary purification. The etheric body is stamped by the forces that work on it. Think of it separated from the physical body, it would then have quite a different elasticity. If it is fixed in [the physical body] this is held in by the form; but so long as it remains there, it is at first too weak to stamp into itself what has undergone catharsis as astrality.
Therefore throughout ancient times the following had to be done. One had to set aside those forces which impeded the elasticity of the etheric body. That was achieved by bringing the whole physical body into a lethargic condition. The human being lay down, and the etheric body was drawn out of the physical body. While the physical body lay as if dead, the astral body came to be formed by its autonomous forces. That is the entombment, the [body] concerned being kept in a lethargic state for three to three and a half days. And then he could work on the etheric body. And then, after he had formed his etheric body in conformity with his astral body, he returned into his physical body. He had thus awakened an inner life in himself; he was one of the resurrected and was given a new name.
This was a transaction on the astral plane. Everything which I have described took place on the astral plane; the physical body had nothing to do with it. This event repeated itself in all the ancient mysteries. Every initiate knew it. Now imagine it densified, translated down into the physical plane, so that something [physical] has happened, through this event, which had previously only happened astrally; analogous to, for example, your having a piece of ice where you had water before. Many such astral events must combine, must flow together, for the physical thickening eventually to become possible. Through this means the Mystery of Golgotha became historically possible, it could be translated down on to the physical plane, in that, through the appearance of Christ, things happened on the physical plane which previously had happened over and over again on the astral plane. We learn to conceive, through this example, how the future is actually prepared in the occult brotherhoods.
If we were now to ask ourselves: what then is really happening here? — then we should answer: One can certainly comprehend a great deal in thought, in ideas. But ideas have no real existence. An idea is nothing more than what has been brought down from higher planes to the physical plane. What man thinks about [something] is however the most ineffectual aspect, since this is only extant on the physical plane. It is different when such an idea is brought face to face with something which also originates from the higher spheres. Take as an example Pythagoras's teaching about the music of the spheres 3 The principle teaching of Pythagoras (ca. 580–500 B.C.) was that the universe was conceived in the form of a harmoniously ordered whole (the harmony of the spheres). as he imparted it to his pupils. Philosophers try to make the occult music of Pythagoras out to be quite a simple notion. Reason could easily grasp it. But what was important [for Pythagoras] was that the pupil only approached this [subject] when his soul, his disposition had been prepared for it. Thus it is impossible to explain the deeper meaning of Raphael's Sistine Madonna to anyone who has no feeling for pictures which originate in the astral. One has to raise heart and soul up to it. What leaves one cold as an idea, appears in the picture as artistically full of life, as divine universal thinking, as something the divine forces followed in creating the world — and a simple line becomes something holy! Thought, by twining itself around a divine element, is brought face to face with divine influence. Thus, what matters in this sort of training is to prepare man step by step, as he is able to approach the great world thoughts, as he receives them. Then he will gradually combine with that influencing but otherwise occult power that penetrates these great world thoughts and which is already preparing, on the astral plane, the future of the physical plane. If the leading brother of mankind perhaps has pupils who follow such spirit-filled ideas, then these will be a force which also helps him forward in his work for the outward world; great centres of spiritual activity will spring up. You see, therefore, that what I have called occultism really has very much to do with the progress of humanity. And in our times we have a quite particularly important task. Let us seek just to indicate, in a few words, how we have come to this our task.
We are within the great Root Race of humanity, which has peopled the earth, since the land on which we now live rose up out of the inundations of the ocean. Ever since the Atlantean Race began slowly to disappear, the great Aryan Race has been the dominant one on earth. If we contemplate ourselves, we here in Europe are thus the fifth Sub-Race of the great Aryan Root Race. The first Sub-Race lived in the distant past in Ancient India. And the present-day Indians are descendants of that first Sub-Race, whose spiritual life is still extant in the ancient Indian Vedas. 4 Veda (Sanskrit word for ‘sacred knowledge’). The Vedas are the complete collection of the oldest religious documents of the Hindus, written in Sanskrit, to which a supersensible origin has been attributed. They contain a comprehensive literature which was handed on by word of mouth for many ages. The Vedic manuscripts are divided mainly into the following: 1. the Sanhitas; 2. the Brahmanas; 3. the Aranyakas and Upanishads. The Sanhitas are the anthologies of songs, sacrificial formulae and magical incantations. Four such anthologies are distinguished, usually referred to simply as ‘the four Vedas.’ The Vedas are indeed only echoes of the ancient culture of the Rishis. At that time there was of course no writing yet — there was only tradition. Then came the second, third and fourth Sub-Races. The fourth Sub-Race adopted Christianity. Then, halfway through the Middle Ages, we see that the fifth Sub-Race formed itself, to which we and the neighbouring nations belong.
The ancient Indians of the first Sub-Race lived under conditions different from ours, and were also basically organised differently. Even the modern descendants, the Indians of today, are essentially differently organised from our European races. He who, as an occultist, investigates the difference finds that, in the ancient Indian people, the etheric body was much less closely fettered to the physical body, had not so totally submerged itself in the physical body, and that it was much easier to influence it from the astral body. The corollary of that is that the Indian race can easily transfer something from the astral to the etheric body, can easily work on the etheric body. That signifies no less than that the Indian can more easily attain to certain higher perceptions through occult training. The easier it is for the etheric body to be influenced through the astral body, the easier it is to work into the etheric body with pictures, without abstract concepts. And the easier it will be for someone who undergoes yoga training in the astral to come into contact with higher realms through pictorial concepts. These work into the etheric body, which is still pliable. One does not have to work with harsh concepts, since one can work upon the soul of an Indian person with very straightforward pictorial images; and he will [thereby] be able to arrive at very high stages of development.
The human race has undergone change through the various Sub-Races. Our etheric body is today much more strongly under the influence of the physical body than was the case with the ancient Indians. And thus it comes about that we have to work much harder and more inwardly in order to influence the etheric body. We cannot grasp half-dreamlike concepts. We must subject everything to rigorous concentration, we must work upon our inner being by strongly concentrating our soul in the purely super-sensible, not merely by means of imaginative concepts. Such a concept which brings about a strong concentration of our inner being, can then influence the etheric body fettered to the physical body much more strongly. For the astral body to be able to work upon the etheric body, it had in earlier times to be drawn out of the etheric [physical?] body. Nowadays, however, the etheric body can be influenced by the astral body even inside the physical body. Were we to make the same experiment that was customary in the ancient Mysteries, and induce a state of lethargy, we would then be in a position to influence the etheric body. But when the earthly consciousness, the mobility of thought, returned, what the astral body had imprinted on to the etheric body would immediately be erased again. We have to influence the etheric body very strongly if we want it to retain what we have impressed upon it. The occult task has become different today and is now more inward.
Thus you see also how great differences arise in the course of time in the successive occult schools. The yoga system of the Indians is something different from the instruction of the Rosicrucians. The Rosicrucian teaching takes into account what I have just explained. But something else still crops up. For such a step forward to be able to occur at all, the reasoning power had to be influenced. The reason was exerted much more than hitherto, and could then develop its process of transference towards comprehending the super-sensible. In more recent times, therefore, much more was learnt in concepts; more importance was ascribed to the development of reason and to the ability to conceptualise abstractly.
Just compare the transubstantiation in culture between the ancient Indian age and our own. In ancient India you have high intuition and very little outward expression of civilisation; nowadays, in our time, it is the other way round. The consequence is that even the position of occultism has become something quite different; the consequence is that much of what was formerly kept secret has today become a matter of common knowledge. Many, many such perceptions and concepts were formerly guarded within the occult brotherhoods, and people only came near to these things if their whole hearts had been transformed. Today this no longer lies in the hands of the occultist. Much of what was formerly reserved for the later stages of instruction must now be acknowledged as having been revealed in the culture of the outward world. The initiate in the mysteries must reckon with that. And so many of the truths which had been taught in the occult schools were perforce gradually disseminated on the physical plane.
Even what is taught in present-day elementary schools would deflect us from the spiritual, if occult backgrounds did not come into play from another side. In earlier times the pupil knew that behind what he received in school and in the academic world as precepts, there was something still higher, and that he himself might perhaps one day attain this higher knowledge. He knew that he was a cell in a spiritual organism. Today, in the democratic world, one receives many concepts which do not lead to such an insight. Therefore to the structure of outer democratic knowledge the apex of the pyramid has, as it were, to be added. The elementary knowledge of the powers hidden in the world had now been imparted; the apex was missing still, which would lead to a spiritual view of the world. To provide this, a world-embracing movement had to be founded. The theosophical movement was conceived as such. Hence, in certain brotherhoods, it was resolved, as the popularisation of the hitherto secret knowledge went still further and further, to share with the world as much as was necessary of the underlying secrets, in order to bring the knowledge of the outer world into harmony with the all-embracing occult knowledge of the brotherhoods.
We have here arrived at the point where we can see the connection of the theosophical movement and the Theosophical Society with occultism. The theosophical movement is no occult movement, no occult brotherhood, for it is formed on a democratic basis by which each member is as worthy as the next. Nevertheless, it is another matter if one is to understand the Theosophical Society's task. The Society's task is on the physical plane. If one wishes to grasp it fully one must be able to see into the higher worlds. But the point is not that the theosophist is already able to see into higher worlds, but that, within the movement, occult forces are indeed being developed, so that the Theosophical Society can be a place from which occultism can emanate and come to be discussed. It is a different question, whether a society is an occult brotherhood, or whether it says to itself: We are, indeed, no occult brotherhood, but, in our society, occultism comes to be discussed.
Today, when basically the whole of mankind longingly gazes towards the higher worlds without finding the way there, yet another installment of occult knowledge must be popularised in a form appropriate for them. And the occultism within the Theosophical Society has this task. Spiritual movements have always had a fruitful influence on cultural development, even on the physical plane. Its outward expression is nothing else than the realisation on earth of what has been spiritually prepared. What difference is there, if we contemplate, for example, the works of Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci? In these works you have something spiritual conjured up on to the wall in colour and form; the picture is permeated with what first lived in the soul of the artist as something spiritual. The spiritual preceded its subsequent expression as a manifestation in the material world.
And the materialistic external culture is only the copy of the materialistic tendency in mankind's inner convictions. The purely materialistic urban culture has spread itself throughout civilised countries since 1850. We can see the great things that it has achieved on the physical plane, but we also see what it has been unable to achieve. In the realm of art, for instance, no really new style has been evolved, with one exception, and that is the style of the department store. This is something which, in relation to our outward civilisation, is inwardly real. All else, what has been inherited from the past, has no relation to the present. Only if we have formed a society whose members are seized by a spiritual power such as that which used to live in Christianity, and as it still lives as a longing in the best Christian souls, and can be won back again, then we will again have a spiritual culture. And such a culture will again produce artists in all spheres of life. Only let theosophy live in the souls of men and it will flow out of those souls again as style, as art, it will be visibly and audibly there. The world can again be an outward expression of the spiritual, if this can already be brought to life in such a society today.
In this sense the Theosophical Society could help to shape the culture of the distant [future]. If we are together, we must be clear that we are the cells that have to combine to create a future culture. In our souls, those powers will be prepared which will so transform the future world that it will be a physical copy of our present state of mind and outlook on life. Everything which is now revealed and manifest, was once occult. Just as electricity is a revealed force today, so it once used to be an occult force. And what is still occult today is destined to become a motive force for the future. Exactly as our human body has been prepared in advance millions of years ago by forces which are all around us, so a higher body is preparing itself in us today, a body of the future; however, this body of the future will only become ours in a far-off time.
Let us briefly trace the path of our evolution. What used to be there? A dim dream-like human consciousness, mirroring a world very different from our own; men had a dreaming awareness. And even when their communal existence developed, they had no parliament for the exchange of opinions; they had nothing of that kind. Everything was merely mirrored in the consciousness which was developing in man. As for present-day bodily organs, how did they originate? Through those forces having worked upon man. Just as the animals in the dark caves of Kentucky lost their ability to see 5 This example is often cited by Rudolf Steiner. The phenomenon of the rudimentary organs was first observed in the American caves. See: Darwin's Origin of Species, Chapter 5, ‘The Laws of Mutation.’ because they did not use it, so too, what we possess in the way of eyes and ears was organised by outward forces. These were formed by the forces of sound and of light, and evolved out of our organism. Our spiritual organism of the future will be evolved out of what lives in us today. Those things which stand before us as the expression of our spiritual culture, the churches and so on, the works of culture which bring beauty and truth to us, these will impress themselves in the higher members of our being. And when one day these unfold themselves towards a self-developing life, then what lives in the outward culture as beauty and truth will rise up in our inner being. What eyes and ears perceive now, these will be the stones for building and organising a higher future. If we contemplate the world from this point of view, then man's inner being takes on a totally different meaning.
Here we are confronted with a fact that can explain in a simple way what is called yoga, or inner training. From the words I have spoken, you will be able to gather that the forces which have created the world, that are working and creating in the world, were formerly taken from our inner being. What is in me today was formerly outside me: that is the fundamental thought in occult training. Before our physical body existed, our etheric body was already there. Again, our etheric body is a structure which has been formed by our astral body. And that is the starting point of the yoga training. Whoever engages in yoga training descends into his etheric body, and knows that he will find forces in it which constructed it once, millions of years ago. The physical body slowly developed itself out from the basis of the etheric body.
I can only describe broadly how the descent into the etheric body takes place. Certain currents exist in the etheric body which are the precursors of the physical bodily organs. The nervous system, the nerves themselves, the sympathetic [nervous] system which extends into the back, the ganglia of the sympathetic nervous system, these are parts which were developed etherically in primeval times. That is a process which took place in the remote past. Then, after man had progressed further and further, there came a time when, within his body — which already contained within it the potentiality to develop the physical nervous system — a structure developed which gave man the ability to develop his inner bodily warmth, which prepared him for warm blood. That, again, is a later structure from the etheric body, which then was already strongly influenced by the forces of the astral body. And out of what we subsequently find to be the basic structure of the brain, the spinal column formed itself, again out of the etheric body, as the other pole of the etheric body, which on the one hand developed towards the brain, and on the other hand towards the inner warm blood. That happened in the past. It was not only natural forces that worked on this development of man, but also higher spiritual beings.
When the yogi descends step by step into his etheric body he penetrates into the times gone by in which his spiritual archetypal form was influenced by these forces and beings, times when what lives in us today was produced. When a person thus descends into life, he can then reach that point once again in his descent. He descends from the head down into the lower parts of the body, which were formed in the most ancient times, and then goes back into the head. That is a description, if only a sketchy one, of the path of occult perception. More can be imparted in the occult schools. The pupil of mystery wisdom thus developed the ability to look back into past epochs; so the time comes when he is able to undertake his occult pilgrimage. He attains to this by means of a special exercise through which he overcomes his own personal self and thereby ceases to be a small fettered ego. Only then can he accomplish his ascent into the universe. Once again he descends into the ocean of the past, taking the world forces with him. Then, taking the ascending curve, he can slowly retrace point by point the way that he has thus traveled. Slowly, gradually, the person learns to proceed [further] down into the ocean of his formative forces, and at length he arrives at a point near to [his] origin. Thus must it have been for the person in whom an eye first evolved, with which to direct his gaze into the universe. Then, for the pupil, the flowing together of his ego with the great universal ego blossoms. And now he must learn to say to the little ego: I am not thou.
It is an important moment when he realises what this means: I am not thou. That is a moment when a person begins to understand that in nature there are higher forces than thought, that there is something outside of him, which cannot be expressed in contemporary thought, but which brings it about that two people, both able to speak on the same thing, can in the case of one of them talk clearly but be dull, whereas the other's speech is vibrant with the warm light that will create the future.
When the pupil is this far, he can learn now in another way than has hitherto been possible for him. He thereby experiences something very special. A spiritual being confronts him in the super-sensible world: he meets that individuality with whom he was once, formerly, very close. It is a great and significant mystery, when particular stages of our existence recapitulate themselves. We rise consciously from Manas to the higher forces; we once descended from spiritual worlds, and at that time this same being implanted something in us, whom we now meet again at the level corresponding to that point in the past at which he was with us. It is the teacher, the so-called guru. Long ago we met him for the first time; we now meet him again, when we can grasp consciously what he implanted into us at that time, and was received by us unconsciously. And if we descend still further we meet with the spirits who shared in our creation aeons ago. We meet with the Twelve Spirits: the Spirits of Will, the Spirits of Wisdom, the Spirits of Form, the Spirits of Movement, the Spirits of Personality or of Egoism, the Spirits of Warmth or Fire, the Spirits of Dusk or Twilight, and so on. All of this offers itself to our spiritual sense through this descent into the universe, through this pilgrimage. And this alone makes it possible for us to gaze into the future, makes it possible to anticipate what ‘shortly’ — as the writer of the Apocalypse puts it — will happen.
That is the task of occultism. It is to be discharged, because that discharge is necessary. There are movements in plenty which are idealistic, which are ethical. But the movement called theosophy distinguishes itself from the others, in that occultism consciously comes to expression in this movement.
With that, the connection between occultism and theosophy is made clear. The Theosophical Society can never want to be an occult brotherhood. What must give it the strength to fulfil its task, what must give it life, can only be the things that emanate from occultism. Therefore the Theosophical Society will thrive if the cultivation of occult teaching and occult life is understood. That is stiff not a demand that the members themselves should be occultists. But if the Theosophical Society were to forget that this blood pulses in it, then it might remain an interesting society, but what was intended for it by the sublime powers who assisted at its birth would not be achieved.
Whoever understands this will never want to take away the Theosophical Society's occult character. All the same, whoever thus belongs to the Theosophical Society will be brought into a two-sided situation. He must necessarily give an ear to the side whence flow the occult truths, on the other hand he must turn his attention to the exoteric life of the Society. These aspects must be kept strictly apart; they must never be mixed together. When one talks about the outward Theosophical Society, one must never, however, even mention the occult personalities who stood over its inception. The powers who live on the higher planes and who live for the sake of mankind's evolution, outside of the physical body, never interfere in these affairs. They never impart anything other than impulses. Whenever we are engaged, in a practical way, in extending the Theosophical Society, the great individualities whom we call the Masters are standing at our side; we may turn ourselves to them and allow them to speak through us. When it concerns the propagation of occult life, it is the Masters who speak. When it only concerns the Organisation of the Society then they leave it to those who are living on the physical plane. That is the distinction between the occult current and the framework of the theosophical organisation. Allow me to express the difference between what flows as inward spiritual stream and what manifests through individual personalities, as it can perhaps best be expressed: When it concerns spiritual life, then the Masters speak; when it only concerns Organisation, since error is possible, the Masters are then silent.