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Occult Signs and Symbols
GA 101

I. The Creative Cosmic Tone.

September 13, 1907, Stuttgart

Flooding Colour and the Formative Forces of the Akasha.

These four lectures to be given here in Stuttgart will strike a somewhat more intimate note since it can be assumed that the audience is, for the most part, composed of members who have been acquainted with the fundamental ideas of occult teaching for some time. Hence, they may well wish to learn of more intimate details out of the realm of spiritual science. What will be taken up in these lectures are the occult symbols and signs in relation to the astral and spiritual worlds, and a series of them will be set forth in their deeper meaning. I bid you note that much in the first two lectures will sound unusual and will only be fully explained later in the third and forth lectures. This, of course, lies in the nature of the material because lectures on spiritual science cannot be like lectures in other areas, which are built up mathematically out of simple elements. Much that at first will appear vague will later become clear and understandable.

Symbols and signs, not only in the profane world, but also in the theosophical world, often give the impression of something arbitrary that only “signifies” something. This is not correct. You know, for example, that the various planets of the universe are indicated by signs. You know that a familiar sign in theosophical allegories is the so-called pentagram. Furthermore, you know that in various religions light is mentioned in the sense of wisdom, of spiritual clarity. If you should now ask about the meaning of such things, then you could hear or read that it means this or that—a triangle, for instance, would mean the higher trinity and the like. Frequently also in theosophical writings and lectures, myths and legends are interpreted; they are said to “mean something”. To reach behind the sense, behind the meaning, to recognize the reality of such symbols shall be the task of these lectures. Just how this is meant we can make clear with an example.

Let us consider the pentagram. You know that much abstruse thinking has been spent on it; this is not the concern of occultism. In order to understand what the occultist says about the pentagram, we must at first call to mind the seven fundamental parts of the human being, and it is, above all, the etheric body that is especially relevant in this consideration. You know that the etheric body belongs to the sphere of the occult; it is not to be seen with physical eyes. To perceive it, clairvoyant methods are necessary. Then it will become evident that the essentiality of the etheric body does not consist in its appearing as a fine nebulous formation. It is characteristic of it that it is indeed, the architect, the creator of the physical body. Just as ice forms out of water, so does the physical body fashion itself out of the etheric body, which, like the ocean, is flooded through by many currents flowing in all directions. Among them are five main currents. When you stand with feet apart and arms outstretched, you can accurately follow the direction of these five currents. They form a pentagram.

Everybody has these five currents hidden in him. The healthy etheric body appears so that these currents are, as it were, his bony framework. You must not suppose however, that everything pertaining to the etheric body is only within, because when a person moves, for instance, the currents actually go through the air. This pentagram is as mobile as a man's physical bony framework. Thus, when the occultist speaks of the pentagram as the figure of man, it is not a matter of something that has been thought out, but rather he is speaking of it as the anatomist does of the skeleton. This figure is really present in the etheric body. It is a fact.

From these brief considerations we see how matters stand with regard to the real meaning of a symbol. All signs and symbols that we meet in occultism direct us to such realities, and what is most important is the fact that in due course one receives indications in the use of such figures. They then are the means toward reaching cognition or clairvoyance. No one who ponders the pentagram deeply will be unsuccessful if only he does so with patience. He must immerse himself in the pentagram, as it were; then he will find the currents in the etheric body.

There is no sense in thinking out contrived, arbitrary meanings for these signs. One must place them before one's inner eye; then they lead to occult realities. This is the case not only with what can be found in the confines of theosophy, but also with the symbols and signs contained in the most varied religious documents because these documents are based on occultism. Whenever a prophet or a founder of a religion speaks of light and would thereby point to wisdom, this he does not do because he considers it an ingenious picture. The occultist bases his thinking on facts. Hence, it is not important to him to be ingenious, but truthful! As an occultist one must give up lawless thinking; one must not draw arbitrary conclusions and pass judgments. Step by step, with the help of spiritual facts, correct thinking must be developed. This image of the light, therefore, has a deep significance or, rather, it is a spiritual scientific fact. In order to recognize this, let us turn again to the human being.

The astral body is the third member of man. It is the bearer of joy and sorrow and a man's inner soul experiences depend upon it. The plant has no astral body and thus does not experience joy and sorrow as do man and animal. If, today, the natural scientist, probing into nature, speaks of the plant's sensitivity, then what he says rests on a complete misunderstanding of what the nature of sensitivity is. We come to a correct representation of this astral body only when we follow up the development that it has passed through in the course of time. We know that a man's physical body is the oldest and most complicated member of his being; his etheric body is somewhat younger; his astral body younger still; the youngest of all is his ego. The physical body has a long development behind it that has come about during the course of four planetary embodiments. At the beginning of this development our earth itself was in an earlier embodiment called the Saturn condition. At that time man did not yet exist in his present form; only the first germ for the physical body existed on Saturn. He lacked all his other bodies—etheric body, astral body, and so forth. It was not until the second embodiment of the earth, on the Sun, that the etheric body was added. At that time the human etheric body bore most decidedly the form of the pentagram. Later, however, this was somewhat modified because, in the third embodiment of our planet, on the Moon, the astral united itself with it. Then the Moon transformed itself into earth, and to the three bodies of man already formed, the ego was added.

Where, then, were these bodies before they embodied themselves in the human being? Where, for example, was what an etheric body had drawn into the physical body on the Sun? Where was this during the Saturn period? It was in the surroundings of Saturn as the air is in the surrounds of the earth at present. The same was the case with the astral body during the Sun period; it only entered into man's being during the Moon period. Everything that moved in later had been in the environment earlier. You can picture the old Sun thus, not of rocks, plants and animals as is the case of the earth today, but of beings who were men who had advanced only to the human-plant stage. There also existed a kind of mineral. These were the two kingdoms of nature present on the Sun. You must not mix up the old Sun with the present one. The old Sun was encompassed by its mighty astral sheath, which was luminous. There was, as it were, an airy sheath surrounding the Sun, but an airy sheath that was at the same time astral and luminous.

Today, man has a physical body, an etheric body, an astral body, and an ego. When the ego works upon the astral body, ennobling it intellectually, morally, and spiritually, then the astral body becomes the spirit self or manas. That has as of now hardly begun, but when in the future it will have been completed, when man will have transformed his whole astral body, then will his astral body become physically luminous. Just as the seed holds the whole plant within it, so does your astral body hold within it the seed of light. This will stream out into the world of space, its development and continuing formation effected by man as he ever more purifies and ennobles his astral body. Our earth will transform itself into other planets. Today it is dark. Were one to observe it from space, then one would see that it appears bright only through the reflected light of the sun. Someday, however, it will be luminous, luminous through the fact that human beings will then have transformed their whole astral bodies. The totality of astral bodies will stream out as light into world space, as it was also at the time of the old Sun. It had higher beings at their human stage, and these beings had luminous astral bodies. The Bible, quite correctly, calls these beings, Spirits of Light or Elohim.

What does a man work into his astral body? What we call goodness and common sense. If you observe a savage who is still on the level of a cannibal, blindly following his passions, you must say of him that he stands lower than the animals because the animal still has no understanding, no consciousness of his deeds. Man, however, even the lowest, already has an ego. The more highly educated person can be distinguished from the savage through the fact that he has already worked on his astral body. Certain passions he has so understood that he says to himself, “This one I may follow, this other I may not follow.” Certain urges and passions he fashions to more refined configurations, which he calls his ideal. He forms moral concepts. All these are transformations of his astral body. The savage cannot do arithmetic or make judgments. This property man has acquired through work on his astral body from incarnation to incarnation. What develops as man gradually ennobles his present imperfect form to become that being of light of whom we spoke is called the assimilation of wisdom. The more wisdom the astral body contains, the more luminous it will be. The Elohim, those beings who dwelt on the Sun, were wholly permeated with wisdom. Just as our souls relate to our bodies, so wisdom relates itself to light that streams out into cosmic space. You see, the relation between light and wisdom is not an image that has been contrived. It is based on fact. It is a truth. Thus is it to be explained that religious documents speak of light as a symbol of wisdom.

For the student who would develop his capacity for higher seeing, for clairvoyance, it is of great importance to do exercises such as the following. At first, he should picture space as dark, shutting out all light either by the darkness of night or by closing his eyes. Then he should try gradually to penetrate with his own inner forces to a visualization of light. If he does this exercise in the proper way, a visualization can be built up of a fully lighted space. Through inner forces light can be engendered, not physical light, but a precursor of what later will become visible, not to the physical eye, but to finer organs of perception. This inner light in which creative wisdom appears is also called the astral light. When the student engenders light through meditation, the light will truly become for him garments of spiritual beings who are actually present, like the Elohim. These beings of light, such as the human being will one day also become, are even now always present. This is the way all those persons have proceeded who know of the spiritual world out of their own experiences.

Through certain other methods that we shall also discuss in the course of time, the human being can reach a level from which, through his own inner power, as it were, space appears as still something else. When he practices certain exercises, then will space not only be flooded by wisdom's light, but will also sound forth. In the ancient Pythagorean philosophy, as you know, there is mention of the harmony of the spheres. By sphere we are to conceive cosmic space, space in which the stars are hovering. This is usually considered to be a contrived image, but this is again no poetic comparison, rather it is a reality. When one has practiced sufficiently in accordance with instructions, then he learns to hear a real music that wells through cosmic space. When space thus begins to resound spiritually, then it may be said that the person is in devachan. These tones are of a spiritual essence; they do not live in the air, but in a far higher, finer stuff, the Akasha. The space around us is continuously filled with such music, and there are certain basic tones. You can get an idea of this if you follow me into the following consideration, which I am sure will appear to mathematical astronomers as sheer madness. Earlier we mentioned that our earth developed gradually. At first, it was Saturn, then it became Sun, then Moon, and the earth. In time it will become Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan. Now, you may ask, “But today there is still a Saturn in the heavens; in what relation does the first embodiment of the Earth stand to Saturn?” Our present Saturn received its name in ancient times when the wise ones would still give meaningful names to things. It was given its name out of its very nature. Today, this is no longer done. Uranus, for example does not have such a justified name since it was discovered later.

What we see in the heavens as Saturn today stands in relation to our earth as a child to an old man. One day Saturn will become an earth. Just as unlikely as it is that the old man developed himself from the boy who stands next to him, so unlikely is it that the earth has developed itself from the Saturn that stands in the heavens today. It is the same with the other heavenly bodies. The sun is such a body as the earth once was; it has, however, advanced. Just as the boy stands near the old man, so the various planets stand in the heavens. They are at various steps of evolution, which our earth, now in its fourth embodiment, has partly undergone already, and will partly undergo in the future. The planets, however, stand in a certain relationship to each other, and the occultist expresses this relationship differently from the way the astronomer does today.

You know that the earth revolves around the sun, that Mercury and Venus, as sisters of the earth, also revolve, and you also know that the sun itself moves. Now occult astronomy has carried on exact investigations of this relationship. It has investigated not only the movement of the earth and the other planets, but also the movement of the sun itself. Here one comes to a definite point in cosmic space that is a kind of spiritual center around which the sun, and with it our earth and all the planets, turn. The different bodies, however, do not move equally fast. It is just this relationship to the speed of their movements to one another that occult astronomy has determined. It proceeded from the fact that when we view Mars, Venus, and so forth, these heavenly bodies move at a certain speed, but the whole starry heaven is seemingly resting motionless. In the sense of true occult research, this repose is only apparent. In reality, this starry heaven moves a definite distance in one hundred years, and this distance through which the firmament progresses is designated as the basic number. If you assume this movement and compare the planetary movements with it, we find that:

  • Saturn's movement is two and one-half times that of Jupiter's;
  • Jupiter's is five times that of Mars;
  • Mars' twice that of the Moon.
  • Saturn's movement however, is 1,200 times that of the whole celestial dome.

Now, when a physical, musical harmony arises, it rests on the fact that different strings move at different speeds. In accordance with the speed with which the single strings move, a higher or lower tone sounds, and the blending of these different tones produces the harmony. Just as you, here in the physical world, receive musical impressions from the strings' vibrations, so does the one who has penetrated to the level of clairvoyance in devachan hear the movements of the heavenly bodies. Through the relationship of the different speeds of the planets, the fundamental tones of the harmony of the spheres arise that sound through the cosmos. The School of Pythagoras was thus justified in speaking of a celestial harmony. With spiritual ears one can hear it. When you spread a fine powder as evenly as possible on a thin brass plate and then stroke the edge with a fiddler's bow, the powder moves into a definite line pattern. All kinds of figures will form depending upon the pitch of the tone. The tone effects a distribution of the material. These are called Chladny figures. When the spiritual tone of the celestial harmony sounded forth into the universe, it organized the planets into their relationships. What you see spread out in cosmic space was arranged by this creating tone of the Godhead. Through the fact that this tone sounded into world space, matter formed itself into a solar system, into a planetary system. You can see that the expression, “celestial harmony”, is thus more than an ingenious comparison. It is a reality.

Now to another consideration. Everyone who has occupied himself for some time with anthroposophy knows that our earth in its present embodiment has undergone several stages of development. In the far-distant past it was in a fiery-fluid condition. What today is stone and metal flowed at that time as today iron flows in an iron works. The objection that at that time there could not have been any living being does not stand up, because the human body was suited to the conditions of that time. The earth transformed itself out of this fiery-fluid condition into what we call the Atlantean epoch. Our forebears then lived on a continent that today forms the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

Naturally, these ancestors were quite differently constituted from the man of today. In certain respects they were clairvoyant, an echo of higher stages of clairvoyance. The Atlantean man would not have been able to see an outer object spatially limited. In the early days of the Atlantean evolution, seeing was quite different. When one person approached another, it was not the outline of his form that was perceived. Rather, there arose within him a coloured image that had nothing to do with the outer, but reflected an inner soul condition. He might, for instance, have seen the feeling of revenge in the other and fled from it. In an up-surging red picture, the feeling of revenge expressed itself. The outer seeing of objects was developed quite gradually. What man saw earlier was a kind of astral colour, and the transformation occurred in that man spread this colour over the objects, so to speak. Naturally, this other kind of perception was bound up with the fact that man at that time looked quite different from man today. In the later Atlantean period man, for example, had a receding physical forehead, while the etheric body stood out like a mighty globe. Then physical and etheric bodies drew together and when both joined together behind the forehead, between the eyes, man had come to an important moment in his evolution. Today, man's etheric head just fits the physical one. This is still not so with the horse, but as the human head changed, other members also transformed themselves. Gradually man's present bodily form emerged. Think vividly back into the end of the Atlantean epoch. Man still had a kind of clairvoyance; the air was saturated with water vapour. In this dense watery air, sun and stars could not be perceived; a rainbow could never have come into being; thick, heavy mist masses covered the earth. Hence it is that the myth speaks of Niflheim, of a mist-home. Then the waters that were so much spread out in the air, condensed. They covered Atlantis. The Flood signifies the mighty condensation of the mist masses into water. When the water separated itself from the air, our present kind of perception came about. Man was only then able to see himself when he saw other objects around him.

The physical body shows many regularities that have a deeper meaning. One of these is the following. If one were to make a chest the height, width, and length of which were in relation of three to five to thirty, the length corresponding to a body length, then the height and width would also correspond to the body's proportions. In other words, herewith the proportions of a normally organized human body are given. When man emerged from the Flood of Atlantis, the proportions of his physical body corresponded to these measures. This is expressed in the Bible in a beautiful way in the following words:

“And God commanded Noah to build a chest three hundred ells long, fifty ells wide, and thirty ells high.” (I Moses, 6-15). In these measurements of Noah's Ark we have stated exactly the measurements for the harmony of the human body. When we came to explain the reasons therefore, we shall be able to look more deeply into the meaning of these biblical words.