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At the Gates of Spiritual Science
GA 95

2. The Three Worlds

23 August 1906, Stuttgart

When one speaks of the knowledge of higher realms possessed by Initiates but not yet accessible to ordinary people, one often hears an objection to the following effect: What use to us is this knowledge you say you have of higher worlds if we cannot look into these worlds for ourselves?

I will reply by quoting some beautiful words by a young contemporary whose destiny it has been to become widely known—Helen Keller.6Helen Keller, 1880–1968, American writer. At the age of nineteen months she became blind and deaf. In her second year she became blind and deaf, and even in her seventh year this human child was little more than an animal. Then she met a teacher of genius,7Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan (Mrs Macy).a woman who gave her love, and now, at the age of twenty-six, Helen Keller is certainly one of the most cultured of her compatriots. She has studied the sciences and is astonishingly well read; she is acquainted with the poets, both classical and modern; she also has a good knowledge of the philosophers, Plato, Spinoza and so on. Although the realms of light and sound are for ever closed to her, she retains an impressive courage for living and takes delight in the beauty and splendour of the world. In her book, Optimism,8an essay by Helen Keller, 1903. there are some memorable sentences. “Night and darkness lay around me for years and then came one who taught me, and instead of night and darkness I found peace and hope.” Or again, I have won my way to heaven by thinking and feeling.” Only one thing could be given to her, deprived as she was of sight and hearing, with the sense-world accessible to her only through the communications of others. The lofty thoughts of men of genius have flowed into her soul, and through the reports of those who can speak with knowledge she shares in our familiar world.

That is the situation of anyone who hears of higher worlds only through the communications of others. From this comparison we can see how important such communications are for a person who is himself not yet able to see into these higher worlds. But there is a difference here. Helen Keller has to say to herself: “I shall never be able to see the world with my own eyes.” But every normal person can say to himself: “I shall be able to see into the higher worlds when the eyes of my spirit are opened.” The spiritual eyes and ears of everyone can be opened, if he brings enough patience and perseverance to the task.

Others again ask: How long will it take me to achieve this faculty of spiritual sight? To this an admirable reply has been given by that notable thinker, Subba Row.9Subba Row (Rao), 1856–1890, a learned Indian. He wrote articles for the journal, The Theosophist, which were later collected and published under the title, Esoteric Writings, second edition, 1931, Adyar, Madras. He says: One man will achieve it in seventy incarnations, another in seven; one in seven years, another in seven months or seven days or seven hours; or it will come, as the Bible says, “like a thief in the night”. As I have said, the eyes of the spirit can be opened in every person, if he has the necessary energy and patience. Everyone, accordingly, can derive joy and hope from the communications of another, for what we are told about the higher worlds is not mere theory, unrelated to life. As its fruits it brings us two things we must have if we are to lay hold of life in the right way—strength and security—and both are given in the highest measure. Strength comes from the impulses of the higher worlds; security comes when we are consciously aware that we have been created from out of the invisible worlds. Moreover, nobody has true knowledge of the visible world unless he knows something also of two other worlds.

The three worlds are:

  1. The physical world, the scene of human life.
  2. The astral world or the world of soul.
  3. The devachanic world or world of spirit.

These three worlds are not spatially separate. We are surrounded by the things of the physical world which we perceive with our ordinary senses: but the astral world is in this same space; we live in the other two worlds, the astral and devachanic worlds, at the same time as we live in the physical world. The three worlds are wherever we ourselves are, only we do not yet see the two higher worlds—just as a blind man does not see the physical world. But when the “senses of the soul” are opened, the new world, with its new characteristics and new beings, emerges. In proportion as a man acquires new senses, so are new phenomena revealed to him.

Let us turn now to closer study of the three worlds. The physical world need not be specially characterised. Everyone is familiar with it and with the physical laws which obtain there.

We get to know the astral world only after death, unless as initiates we are already aware of it. Anyone whose senses are opened to the astral world will at first be bewildered, because there is really nothing in the physical world with which he can compare it. The astral world has a whole range of characteristics of its own and he has to learn many new things. One of the most perplexing aspects of this world is that all things appear reversed, in a sort of mirror-reflection, and he has to get used to seeing everything in a new way. For instance, he has to learn to read numbers backwards. We are accustomed to read the figures 3, 4, 5, as 345 but in the astral world we have to read them backwards as 543. Everything appears as its mirror-reflection, and it is essential to be aware of this.

The same law applies also to higher things—in the field of morality, for instance. People do not at first understand this. It may happen that they see themselves surrounded by black, malignant forms which threaten and terrify them—this happens with very many people and they mostly have no idea what it signifies. The fact is that these figures are their own impulses, desires and passions, which live in what we call the astral body. Ordinary people do not see their own passions, but these may sometimes become visible as a result of processes active in the brain and soul, and then they appear as mirror-images. You see the mirror-images of your desires in the same way as when looking into a mirror you see reflected images of the objects around you. Everything that comes out of you seems to be going into you. Further, time and events move backwards. In the physical world you see first the hen and then the egg. In the astral world you see the egg and then the hen that laid it. Time in the astral moves backwards: you see first the effect and then the cause. This explains how prophecy is possible—if it were not for this reversal of the time-sequence it would be impossible to foresee events.

It is by no means useless to recognise these peculiarities of the astral world. Many myths and legends are concerned with them in a wonderfully wise way—for example, the story of the choice of Hercules. Hercules, we are told, once felt himself to be in the presence of two female forms, one beautiful and seductive who promised him pleasure, good fortune and happiness, the other plain and serious, who promised him hard work, weariness and renunciation. The two forms represent vice and virtue, and the story tells us quite rightly how the two natures appeared to Hercules in the astral, one urging him to evil, the other to good. In the mirror-picture they appear as the forms of two women with opposite qualities—vice as beautiful, voluptuous and fascinating, virtue as ugly and repulsive. All such images appear in the astral world reversed. Scholars attribute these legends to the folk-spirit (Volksgeist) but that is not true. Nor do these legends grow up by chance: the great Initiates created them out of their wisdom and imparted them to humanity. All myths, legends, religions and folk-poetry help towards the solution of the riddles of the world, and are founded on the inspiration of Initiates.

The higher worlds convey to us the impulses and powers for living, and in this way we get a basis for morality. Schopenhauer10Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788–1860, philosopher. The quoted sentence is the motto affixed to his “Prize Essay on the Foundation of Morality”, 30 January, 1840. His essay, “On the Will in Nature”, 1836, contains the sentence: “The upshot is easy, but to provide a foundation for morality is difficult.” once said: “To preach morality is easy, to find a foundation for it, difficult.” But without a true foundation we can never make morality our own. People often say: Why worry about the knowledge of higher worlds so long we are good men and have moral principles? In the long run no mere preaching of morality will be effective; but a knowledge of the truth gives morality a sound basis. To preach morality is like preaching to a stove about its duty to provide warmth and heat, while not giving it any coal. If we want a firm foundation for morality, we must supply the soul with fuel in the form of knowledge of the truth.

In occultism there is a saying which can now be made known: In the astral world, every lie is a murder. The full significance of this saying can be appreciated only by someone who has knowledge of the higher worlds. How readily people say: “Oh, that is only a thought or a feeling; it exists only in the soul. To box someone's ears is wrong, but a bad thought does no harm.” No proverb is more untrue than the one which says: “You don't have to pay for your thoughts.” Every thought and every feeling is a reality, and if I let myself think that someone is a bad man or that I don't like him, then for anyone who can see into the astral world the thought is like an arrow or thunderbolt hurled against the other's astral body and injuring it as a gunshot would. I repeat: every thought and every feeling is a reality, and for anyone with astral vision it is often much worse to see someone harbouring bad thoughts about another than to see him inflicting physical harm. When we make this truth known we are not preaching morality but laying a solid foundation for it. If we speak the truth about our neighbour, we are creating a thought which the seer can recognise by its colour and form, and it will be a thought which gives strength to our neighbour. Any thought containing truth finds its way to the being whom it concerns and lends him strength and vigour. If I speak lies about him, I pour out a hostile force which destroys and may even kill him. In this way every lie is an act of murder. Every spoken truth creates a life-promoting element; every lie, an element hostile to life. Anyone who knows this will take much greater care to speak the truth and avoid lies than if he is merely preached at and told he must be nice and truthful.

The astral world is composed in the main of forms and colours similar to those of the physical world, but the colours float freely, like flames, and are not always associated with a particular object, as they are in the physical world. There is one phenomenon in the physical world—the rainbow—which can give you some idea of these floating colours. But the astral colour-images move freely in space; they flicker like a sea of colours, with varying and ever-changing forms and lines.

The pupil gradually comes to recognise a certain resemblance between the physical and astral worlds. At first the sea of colour appears uncontrolled, unattached to any objects; but then the flakes of colour merge together and attach themselves, not indeed to objects but to beings. Whereas previously only a floating shape was apparent, spiritual beings, called gods or devas, now reveal themselves through the colours. The astral world, then, is a world of beings who speak to us through colour.

The astral world is the world of colours; above it is the devachanic world, the world of spirit. The pupil learns to recognise the spiritual world through a quite definite event: he comes to understand the profound utterance of Indian wisdom, “Tat tvam asi”11Tat tvam asi. Sanskrit, from the Vedas.—“That thou art”. Much has been written about this saying, but to the pupil its true meaning becomes clear for the first time when he passes from the astral world into the world of Devachan. Then for a moment he sees his physical form outside himself and says, “That thou art”; and then he is in the world of Devachan. And so another world appears to him; after the world of colours comes the world of musical sounds which in a certain sense was there already without the significance it now has. The world of Devachan is a world of sounds the sounds which Pythagoras12Pythagoras, Greek philosopher, sixth century B.C. called the music of the spheres. The heavenly bodies as they pursue their courses can be heard resounding. Here we recognise the harmony of the Cosmos and we find that everything lives in music. Goethe,13Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 1749–1832. as an Initiate, speaks of the Sun resounding; he indicates the secret of Devachan. When Faust is in heaven, in the spiritual world, surrounded by Devas, the Sun and the spheres speak in music:

The day-star, sonorous as of old
Goes his predestined way along,
And round his path is thunder rolled,
While sister-spheres join rival song.*Faust, Part I, Act I. Prologue in Heaven.
Translation by Philip Wayne.
Penguin Classics, 1949.

Goethe means the spirit of the Sun, which really does sound forth to us in music if we are in the world of Devachan. We can see that this is indeed what Goethe means because he keeps the same image later, in the Second Part of Faust, when Faust is again caught up into this world:

Hark! the Hours, with furious winging,
Bear to spirit-ears the ringing
Rumour of the new day-springing.
Gates of rock grind back asunder,
Phoebus comes with wheels of thunder:
Light spreads tumult through the air.
Loud are trump and timbrel sounded,
Eyes are dazed and ears astounded,
Sounds unheard of none may hear.**Faust, Part II, Act I.
Translation by Philip Wayne.
Penguin Classics, 1959.

When we enter the devachanic world the astral world remains fully present; we hear the devachanic, and we see the astral, but under a changed aspect, offering us a remarkable spectacle. We see everything in the negative, as though on a photographic plate. Where a physical object exists, there is nothing; what is light in the physical world appears dark, and vice versa. We see things, too, in their complementary colours: yellow instead of blue, green instead of red.

In the first region of Devachan we see the archetypes of the physical world in so far as it has no life—the archetypes, that is, of the minerals—but also the archetypes of plants, animals and men in so far as their physical forms are concerned. This is the region which provides as it were the basic skeleton of Spirit-land. It can be compared with the solid land on Earth and is therefore called the “Continental Mass” of Devachan. When a man is observed over there by an Initiate, the physical space he occupies appears dark, but round him is a radiant halo.

When our senses have become more delicately organised, the archetypes of life are added: everything that has life flows over the Earth like water. Here the minerals cannot be seen because they have no vibrant life; but plants, animals and men can be seen very well. Life circulates in Devachan like blood in the body. This second region is called the “Ocean” of Devachan.

In a third region, the “Atmosphere”, we encounter feelings and emotions, pleasure and pain, wherever they are active in the physical. Physical forms then are like solid foundations, the Continents, of Devachan. Everything that has life forms its Ocean. Everything that pleasure and pain signify are its Atmosphere. The content of all that is suffered or enjoyed on Earth, by men or by animals, is displayed here. Thus to the Initiate a battle appears like a great thunderstorm, fiery flashes of lightning, powerful claps of thunder. He sees, not the physical actions that occur in the battle, but the passions of the opposing armies, and these appear to him like the heavy clouds and lightning-flashes of a thunderstorm.

The fourth region transcends everything that might still have existed even if there had been no mankind. It includes all man's original thoughts which enable him to bring something new into the world and to act upon it, no matter whether the thoughts are those of an ignorant or a learned man, of a poet or a peasant. They need not involve any great discoveries; they may belong to everyday life.

After these four regions we come to the boundary of the spiritual world. Just as the sky at night looks like a hollow globe encircled by stars, so it is with this boundary of Devachan. But it is a highly significant boundary; it forms what we call the Akasha Chronicle. Whatever a person has done and accomplished is recorded in that imperishable book of history even if there is no mention of it in our history books. We can experience there everything that has ever been done on Earth by conscious beings. Suppose the seer wants to know something about Caesar:14Julius Caesar, 100–44 B.C. he will take some little incident from history as a starting-point on which to concentrate. This he does “in the spirit”; and then around him appear pictures of all that Caesar did and of all that happened round him—how he led his legions, fought his battles, won his victories.

All this happens in a remarkable way: the seer does not see an abstract script; everything passes before him in silhouettes and pictures, and what he sees is not what actually happened in space; it is something quite different. When Caesar gained one of his victories, he was of course thinking; and all that happened around entered into his thoughts; every movement of an army exists in thought. The Akasha Chronicle therefore shows his intentions, all that he thought and imagined as he was leading his legions; and their thoughts, too, are shown. It is a true picture of what happened, and whatever conscious beings have experienced is depicted there. (Plants, of course, cannot be seen.) Hence the Initiate can read off the whole past history of humanity—but he must first learn how to do it.

These Akasha pictures speak a confusing language, because the Akasha is alive. The Akasha image of Caesar must not be compared with Caesar's individuality, which may already have been reincarnated again. This sort of confusion may very easily arise if we have gained access to the Akasha pictures by external means. Hence they often play a part in spiritualistic séances. The spiritualist imagines he is seeing a man who has died, when it is really only his Akasha picture. Thus a picture of Goethe may appear as he was in 1796, and if we are not properly informed we may confuse this picture with Goethe's individuality. It is all the more bewildering because the image is alive and answers questions, and the answers are not only those given in the past, but quite new ones. They are not repetitions of anything that Goethe actually said, but answers he might well have given. It is even possible that this Akasha image of Goethe might write a poem in Goethe's own style. The Akasha pictures are real, living pictures. Strange as these facts may seem, they are none the less facts.