World evolution and human evolution always go hand in hand, and one who goes to an esoteric school must take his age into account. But since one is connecting oneself with evolution's eternal values through an esoteric training something went through an Egyptian mystery school, for instance, that's of lasting importance for a pupil, namely words that can work on a modern just as well s they did back then. Such words from the past are the following: I arrived at the portal of death; I got to know the four elements; I saw the sun at midnight; I got close to the upper and lower Gods. I returned to the outer world.
What does “I arrived at the portal of death” mean? In our meditations we'll gradually start to feel like a double personality, where we no longer feel that our I belongs to what we previously identified with our ego — the physical body. When a man dies, it's only natural that he no longer looks upon his physical body as something that belongs to him. But he must already attain this through his training. If a man had developed in the way that the good Gods wanted, he would have directed his body from outside. For instance, if a man had wanted to travel from one city to another, he would have directed his body there from outside through a magical will impulse. His body would have been like a weight that belonged to him. We can make this clear to ourselves if we suppose that a Mars dweller was suddenly placed on earth, and the first man whom he met was carrying a weight in each hand. Since the Mars dweller had never seen a man before, he might think that the two weights were grown together with the body. Likewise, we think that we are grown together with our body too much. But if we train ourselves properly, we'll increasingly get the feeling that our ego is splitting and that one part of it is directing the other from outside. As we come in contact with sublime, creative beings with our I that's lifted out — which we should humbly feel to be grace — it may happen that we increasingly identify this I with the sublime beings. For we have no idea of how permeated we are by pride and vanity. However, there's a good way to counteract this vanity.
When men's predecessors on earth, the Elohim, appeared, how did they do this? They didn't vainly bask in their glory. The Bible tells us that they created and that they then looked at their deeds and saw that they were good. So we should look at the deeds of our ego, at what the ego has achieved; then we'll see how bad everything still is. Let's take our handwriting. This is an expression of our ego, a part of us that we place outside. Now man would be so vain as to think that his handwriting was very beautiful. And if a man looks at many of his achievements more closely, he will find them rather deficient.
Now what does “I got to know the four elements” mean? The first element in which man was created was warmth. And in earth evolution it was really intended that a man was supposed to send streams of warmth into his body from outside. The heat of summer and winter's cold that he now experiences in his body as a single man he was, as it were, supposed to feel as his ego streaming towards him from outside. He was supposed to feel that this ego was connected with all other egos The fact that warmth has moved into our blood is Lucifer's deed. Air is the second element with which we're closely connected. We should really have the feeling that we are the air that's outside there, that we stream into the body with every breath to re-enliven it. Instead of this, we feel that air is something that comes to us from outside, and we give it back as something that kills. Ahriman comes towards us in this lethal air.
We only identify ourselves with the solid and fluid elements in us — the physical body and its blood. But we should identify ourselves so little with our respective personality that even if we get to know our previous incarnations, we only look upon these as through stations. We should never say that we were this or that personality. For thereby, we combine our eternal I with something perishable.
(Rudolf Steiner's version of the Egyptian verse above:
went up to the boundary of death
I crossed Proserpina's threshold.
after I had gone through all the elements
I came back again.
midnight I saw the sun
Radiating with bright, white light.
stepped before the lower and upper Gods, face to face
And prayed to them from close up.