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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Original Impulses for the Science of the Spirit
GA 96

III. Past and Future Ways of Perceiving the Spirit

7 May 1906, Berlin

On the eve of the day we call White Lotus Day let us remember the great individual to whom we are indebted for giving the impulse for the theosophical movement Fifteen years ago on the 8th of May, Mrs Blavatsky18Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna, née Hahn (1831–91). Born in Yekaterinoslav in the Ukraine, went to the USA in 1873. In 1875 she founded the Theosophical Society with Henry Olcott. Later she continued her work in India. left the physical plane. We speak of the anniversary not of her death but of a second, different birthday when we remember the day when this individual, who did great things for humanity when in her physical body, was called to other spheres from where to continue her work. This day should arouse feelings and inner responses in us through which we get a sense of the way of working which human beings are called on to follow when they are no longer on the physical plane. This work may be all the more significant if they find suitable instruments for it on the physical plane. The members of the theosophical movement are meant to be such instruments. They are able to be such through the truths gained in the science of the spirit which you take into your hearts and minds all the year round.

The individual who was so incomparably selfless and the first to give the great messages that are taken up in the theosophical movement, may be brought a bit closer to us on this anniversary. Not many of us have an idea what Helena Petrovna Blavatsky truly was and will continue to be for the world. What does it matter? In the first century after Christ, Tacitus, a historian of incomparable significance, lived in Rome.19Tacitus (c. AD 55–120). Annales XV, 44. A century after the spiritual movement on which the whole of our western culture has been based had arisen he had no more to say about it than that far away, on the edge of the Roman empire, an insignificant sect was reported to have been founded by a certain Jesus, a Nazarene.

Is it surprising, then, if academics, professors and many educated people know nothing of Mrs Blavatsky's mission, or at least have only wrong and confused ideas and prejudices? There are laws according to which a great person appearing in this world must arouse contradiction, prejudice and misunderstanding. It will happen again and again that something minor and insignificant is only slowly and gradually overcome by something great that holds certainty for the future. The event which has come into the world through Helena Petrovna Blavatsky is one that cannot be measured in a short time span. It was an event in the face of which our words today have grown too shadowy. If the potential that lay in Mrs Blavatsky's mission comes to realization, a new stage will be reached not only in the way humanity understands the world and sees things, but also in the way human beings feel and inwardly respond. Let us consider the tremendous change that will come today for some and for many more in the future.

So that we may understand one another, let me paint a picture for you. Let us go far back to ancient Greek times. The magnificent sculptures, poetic works and scholarship that have come down to us from that time, the divine poetry of Homer, the penetrating thoughts of Plato, the teaching of Pythagoras—all this comes together for us if we cast an eye on what we may call the Greek mysteries. Such a mystery centre would be both school and temple. It was not open to those who were not yet able and worthy to take in those truths, but only to those who had prepared themselves to face truth with hallowed feelings. When they were admitted to the centre from which all the art, poetry and scholarship came, onlookers who were not yet initiated into clairvoyant power were able to see in an image—those in whom the dormant powers of mind and spirit had already been awoken would see the reality of it—how the god descended into matter, embodying himself there, and now rests in the realms of nature to await his resurrection. The mystery pupil would see that all realms of nature, the mineral, plant and animals worlds, have the sleeping god at their foundation, and that man is called to experience the resurrection of this god in himself, knowing his soul to be part of the godhead. Everywhere out there the human being can perceive something from which he is meant to arouse the slumbering godhead. In his own soul, however, he feels the divine spark itself, feels himself to be the god and gains certain knowledge of his immortality, of being at work and alive in the infinite universe. Nothing compares with the sublime feeling the mystery pupils would experience in such centres. Everything was to be found there—religion, art, knowledge. His religious feelings were aroused by the objects of veneration, holy feelings of wonder and awe would be kindled by works of art, and the riddles of the world were revealed to him in beautiful images that inspired devotion. Some of the greatest people who knew this were to say: It is only through initiation that a human being rises above the transitory and earthly to reach the eternal. Perhaps the most beautiful word we can use to speak of a scholarship and art that is deeply immersed in the sacred flame of religious feeling is ‘enthusiasm’, which means ‘to be in god’.

Having contemplated this picture and now letting our thoughts move to the present time we see not only that it has all become separated for us—beauty, wisdom and religious devotion—but that our civilization has grown so abstract and rational that the living fire of those times has been lost and grown shadowy by nature.

Some of the outstanding representatives of cultural life in our present age who felt they were not understood and thus isolated, therefore looked back to those great periods in the infinitely distant past when human beings still had communion with the spirits and the gods. They knew this, and in the stillness of the night would often long to be back in the past, at the Eleusinian Mysteries. Those were the last, wonderful times of the ancient Greek mysteries. A profound German thinker, one of those who had contemplated the riddles of existence, reflects for us the mood that would come on him when his thoughts went back to the ancient centres of Greek wisdom—the mood of one who went far away in the spirit. It was Hegel, that great master of thought, who sought to encompass the images once seen by the pupils in the mysteries.20Hegel (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, German philosopher, 1770–1831) He wrote:

Eleusis
To Hölderlin21Hegel sent the work Eleusis to his friend the poet Hölderlin in 1796.

Around me, in me, calm is reigning.
The ever-active cares of busy people sleep.
They give me freedom and a breathing space.
Thank you. O night.
That frees me—White mists are drawn
Over the distant hills to veil them By the moon.
The bright ribbon of the lake Reflects a gentle light.
Memory puts far away the endless noise of day,
As if many years had passed since.

Those are the words of the reflective thinker as he looks deeply into the riddles of the world, being able to encompass all that lived in his own heart in his thoughts only. Looking back now to the Mysteries of Eleusis he continued:

Your image, beloved, comes before me,
And the joy of days now gone. But it soon yields
To sweeter prospects of seeing you again.
Now the longed-for ardent embrace becomes a picture
That I see before me; then the scene where questions come,
And more secretly, looking to see
What may have changed in my friend's
Demeanour, mien, way of thinking
Since we last met; delight in being sure
Of finding the old trust again, grown firmer, riper,
A union that no oath did ever seal—
To live for free and open discourse,
And never, never make a pact with statutes
That regulate opinion and the way we feel.
Now the great wish that took me to you
So easily over mountains and across rivers
Is negotiating with inert reality
But soon a sigh marks division between them
And with it, the dream sweet fantasy created soon is gone.

My eye is raised to the eternal vault of heaven,
To you, O brilliant star of night!
And from your eternal space there flows
Forgetfulness of all my wishes, all my hopes.
My mind is lost as I thus gaze,
All that I called my own has vanished.
I give myself to the immeasurable.
I am in it, am all, and am but it
Thought when it returns to me feels alien,
It fears the infinite and in a maze
It fathoms not the depths that are beheld.
Fantasy brings the eternal close to the mind,
Marrying it with form and figure. Welcome,
Sublime spirits, lofty shades
Whose brows do radiate perfection!
Be not afraid, I feel it is my heartland, too,
The glory and solemnity that shines around you.

So we have a thinker calling up the spirits who in truth did appear to the pupils at Eleusis. Then he calls up the goddess Ceres who was at the heart of the Eleusinian Mysteries. For Ceres is not only the goddess of earth's fruitfulness but also the one who fructifies cultural life.

Ha! If the gates to your sanctuary were to open now,
O Ceres, once enthroned in Eleusis!
Overcome with enthusiasm I'd now feel
The shivers of your nearness,
Understand your revelations,
I'd tell the images' sublime meaning, hear
The hymning at the meal the gods would take.
The sublime words of their counsel.

Yet silence now reigns in your halls, O goddess!
The gods have gone away to Olympus,
Away from desecrated altars;
Gone away from the tomb of humanity profaned
Is the genius of innocence whose magic once brought them here.
The wisdom of your priests is silent.
Nothing from the blessed sacraments
Has survived for us, and in vain does now
The curiosity of scholars look for more than love
Of wisdom. The seekers own it now, and despise you.
To master it, they delve for words
That would express your sublime reality.
In vain! It is but dust and ashes they discover,
In which your life will not return in all eternity.
Yet those eternally dead, content in moderation
Also liked to delve in decay, with soul all gone. In vain.
No sign remained of your fastness, no trace of any image.
To the son of sacred faith, sublime things taught,
Unspoken depth of feeling, were much too sacred
To let dry signs and symbols take their place.
Thought cannot encompass the soul,
For outside time and space, immersed in its sense
Of vast infinity, it forgets itself and once again awakens
To full awareness. Wanting to speak of this to others,
E'en in angels’ tongues, you'd know the poverty of words.
He shudders, having thought so small the sacred,
Made it so small that words seem sinful now;
Trembling he keeps silent.
Thus the initiate imposed on himself a silence that a wise
Law bid lesser spirits never to proclaim
What they did see, hear, feel in the holiness of night,
Lest the clamour of their nonsense disturb the better man
In his devotions; the hollow sound of words
Make him wax angry at the sacred thing itself, that it
Should not be trodden in the mire, entrusted
Even to memory, that it should never be
The toy and merchandise of sophists,
Selling for a pittance,
Nor a mantle for wordy pretenders, nor a rod
Upon the back of cheerful lads, and be so empty
In the end, that its life roots would lie
But in the echoes of alien tongues.
Avariciously, goddess, your sons did not
Take your honour into alleyway and market, keeping it
Within the sanctum in their breast.
You therefore did not live upon their lips.
Their life did honour you. You live on in their deeds.
During this night, too, I did hear you, sacred goddess.
Often the life of your children also reveals you to me.
I often sense you to be the soul of their doings!
You are sublimity of mind, steadfast faith
Unshaken in a divine spirit, though all else may perish.

In recent times need arose to bring the power of thought to expression in an ideal way on the one hand and a more materialistic way on the other. Hegel, too, was no longer understood, being altogether one of the lost spirits of humanity. In the second half of the 19th century the spirit of materialism entered into everything, and it now prevails almost everywhere. If it were to keep the upper hand, materialism would cause human culture to turn to stone in every way.

A strange attitude came to the fore in the second half of the 19th century. In the 18th century, Lessing was still saying that a faith need not be meaningless just because it arose in the pure, innocent childhood of humanity.22Lessing. Gotthold Ephraim (1729–81), German writer. Erziehung des Menschengeschlechtes (education of the human race) p. 78 ff. Berlin 1844. Materialists will, however, say that this faith, which is the basis of culture for all peoples, represents childish fantasies, and that only the thoughts created by means of scientific thinking reflect a mind that is both male and mature. Everyday life has become a hustle and bustle for material goods to satisfy purely physical needs, and much worse things will arise from this in future. Scientists who pride themselves on their achievements consider themselves far above anything humanity has achieved in the past to gain a relationship to the world—the priestly wisdom of ancient Chaldaea and Babylon, the teaching of Pythagoras and others. It is said of Plato, that great mind, that one cannot make head or tail of the confused ideas he has bequeathed to us. His Timaeus is said to be incomprehensible, but people do not ask for the reason why it cannot be understood.23The dialogue in this book, written late in Plato's life, shows the connection between the world of space and the cosmic soul; this has also given rise to the laws that govern the movements of heavenly bodies. Summing up, Plato wrote: ‘It has been shown how this world evolved—evolved uniquely and on its own, perfect in its nature and phenomena, visible and encompassing the great fullness of all things visible, a living organism within which all other mortal and immortal organisms have their being, the sense-perceptible image of a god who can only be conceived in thought.’ Timaios 92 C. Here we may think of Lichtenberg's words that when a head collides with a book and there is a hollow sound this may not be due to the book. In practice, materialism has also given rise to hypocrisy; above all people are not prepared to admit that life is governed entirely by materialistic aims. There has hardly ever been so much talk of ideals and such lack of understanding as in our time.

The mission of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky came at this time. Perhaps it may be permitted to state, without saying anything against her as a person, that her soul was given a task that was really too much for it. To solve the riddle as to why it was this woman in particular who was called upon to give to the world the message of theosophy, we find that she was the only possible means the spirits could find to make themselves understood by Western peoples. People in official positions had not the least conception of the spiritual realities humanity needed. The very idea of the spirit had been lost, and when anyone would speak of the spirit those were but empty words. This strange woman, who even as a young person had unusual psychic and spiritual gifts, was called upon to give the world a message which no academic person could give. From her earliest days her view of the world differed to some degree from that presented at schools and universities in the 19th century. She was able to perceive spiritual entities in everything around us, and they were as real to her as tangible objects are. From her young days, she felt great veneration for a sublime spirit. No human soul will even gain higher insight without such veneration. You may have a brilliant mind or a clear, rational mind, you may even have developed dim powers of clairvoyance, but you will not progress to genuine, true insight without the feeling we call ‘great veneration’. True insight can only be given to us by spirits who are well ahead of humanity in their evolution. Everyone will admit that people differ in their levels of development. Maybe people don't like to admit it so much in this day and age, but it cannot be denied that there are differences. Most people will, however, believe that the level of insight they have gained is indeed the highest, and they will not easily admit that there are more highly developed minds, greater than Goethe and Francis of Assisi. This, however, is the basic condition if true insight is to be gained. No one can gain it unless they have this great veneration, something that has been completely lost in our levelling age.

An important fact relates to this great veneration. We all come from worlds of spirit, from an original life in the spirit. The part of our soul that is divine comes from a divine source and origin. There was a time for each of us when the ability to look out from the soul world into the world perceived through the senses first awoke in us. In very early times, human beings had dim but clairvoyant perception. Images would arise from the soul that pointed to a real world around them. Conscious awareness in the senses, as we know it today, only came later. There was a particular moment in the development of each of us—shown symbolically for Eve in the paradise story25Genesis 3:5—when the serpent of knowledge came to us, in an incarnation that happened a long, long time ago, and said the words: ‘Your eyes will be opened, you will know good and evil in the visible world around you.’ The serpent has always been the symbol of the great spiritual teachers. Every human being had such an advanced teacher and on one occasion was with one of them when he spoke the words: ‘One day you will know the world around you as it is perceived through the senses.’

A human being who has developed great veneration will meet such a teacher once more in life, when the senses for the spirit are opened up for him. In occult terms this is known as ‘finding the guru again’, the great teacher. Each must seek his guru and will only be able to find him if he is capable of great veneration and also knows that there is something that goes beyond run-of-the-mill humanity.

This great veneration and knowledge of the existence of the great teachers lived in Mrs Blavatsky, and it was because of this that she was called to make something about these great teachers known to humanity. The guru works in hidden ways and can only be recognized by someone who has found his way to him of his own accord. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky thus had the right inner feeling that enabled her to give present-day humanity something that is quite new.

Anyone who has had some insight into the places where the truth is represented also realizes that taking hold of something new like this does have its problems. The time then comes for someone who knows something about the search for the truth when he loses his critical approach to the great human spirits. He will no longer consider superficial things about them. People who have no idea of the position which such great people hold in the world will cling to such superficial aspects. Someone able to grasp the situation will be grateful for the gifts those great spirits have given. This is indeed the only possible attitude to a person such as Mrs Blavatsky. ‘Much admired and blamed as much’,26 Faust 2, Before Menelaus' Palace. this woman called Helena came among the people. It would seem that hardly anyone else has had so much nonsense and silly things said and written about them as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, except, of course, for others of the same stature. Some academics have made the strange statement that she had written a great work, her Secret Doctrine,27Published in London, New York, Madras in 1893. which contains the Dzyan verses, which are said to be a very ancient tradition. Others who were opposing them said, however, that Mrs Blavatsky had invented the verses, pretending that they were ancient tradition. Only academics can take foolishness to such a level. Let us assume, just for the moment, that Helena Petrovna Blavatsky had really invented the verses and let us consider them in more detail. If we study them for a while, two or three years maybe, we find that all our scholarship and all discoveries, all the achievements of modern science, may still be of interest but pale into insignificance compared with the great revelations made in these verses. Don't you think that this would make us venerate Helena Petrovna Blavatsky even more? Now of course someone who uses just the short span of two or three years to enter into the profound meaning of these verses will not care if they were written thousands of years ago or by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in the last third of the 19th century. On reflection one even has to say to oneself that in the latter case the miracle would be even greater. It then seems all the more foolish for critics to raise objections which merely show that they have not understood a single word of it all. So there you see some of the great obstacles that rose in the path of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. People who talk of her having had some fault or other clearly have no idea of her true importance.

Mrs Blavatsky spoke of phenomena in the occult worlds. Anyone who knows the path she followed to reach those worlds will also know the dangers connected with this. If you consider how easily our passions are roused even in the world of the senses, and the deep abysses someone had to experience who had to look into the occult worlds in the way it had to be done in order to write a book like Secret Doctrine, will no longer consider the superficial things connected with this important person and those around her. She was strong, but the resistance the world offered almost broke even her. She met so much lack of understanding and false authority, and if we consider the receptiveness and sensitivity of her occult powers, we can understand why she was more or less a broken woman when she came to the end of her life. But the things she has given to the world shall live on in humanity and have a future.

The mood I wanted to recreate for you, using the words of one of the greatest men of our time, this mood of longing must spread more and more. The longing can be satisfied with the things Mrs Blavatsky was destined to give to the world, things that need to be developed more and more. We honour her most if we see her as someone who has given the impetus. She only sought to prevail as a faithful disciple of the great spiritual powers that stood behind her, and the only people to work in harmony with the theosophical stream are those who do so in accord with those spiritual powers. The life of the spirit, which has become shadowy, will come alive again if people come to understand more and more of the things Helena Petrovna Blavatsky wanted to bring into the world with such courage, such energy and boldness. And it is possible to gain deeper insight into the nature of such a Lotus Day if we ignore all historical gossip and make every effort to consider the things that are important.

We have the right understanding for the theosophical movement if we come to realize that the living spirit of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky must continue to act through us for the salvation and progress of humanity. We'll then not merely say in an indolent, sentimental way that her immortal spirit is celebrating another birthday, but actively help it to live and work in the places where it should take effect. It surely was the only personal wish our founder had that the members of the theosophical movement would be a living means of giving expression to the spirit which she herself selflessly put wholly at the service of this spiritual movement. The more members understand this spirit of selflessness, and the more they understand that it behooves us to gain insight and understanding, the more will they do justice to the spirit of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. One always hears people say: ‘Love and compassion are the main thing.’ Of course they are, but it needs insight and understanding to make love and compassion bear fruit. It is not uncommon to be facile, even among those who believe themselves to seek the spirit. To say ‘love’ is something you learn in a second. To gain insight for the salvation and progress of humanity needs an eternity. The meaning the theosophical movement has for us must more and more be that insight is the foundation of all true spiritual activity. It is important, therefore, that we work without respite to follow in the footsteps of our founder—step by step, never giving in to the laziness of wanting to grasp it all in a day rather than learn it properly. We can study this very well in the writings and the work of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and all talk is in vain that is mere refusal to face up to things. What we must learn, continuing the work she herself started on the physical plane, is to seek to gain insight and knowledge in the science of the spirit.