25 March 1910, Vienna
A rather difficult task confronts us today but my listeners will be willing to submit to the greater demands made upon them if it is said at the outset that this study will enable us during the next few days to feel firmer ground under our feet. In Spiritual Science, unless we are content to remain with abstractions, we must also listen from time to time to information belonging to the higher regions of spiritual knowledge. It may also be added that our study today will in no way consist of deductions or theoretical inferences, but of matters which have always been known to those who have penetrated more deeply into these subjects. We shall therefore be dealing with knowledge possessed by actual individuals.
We heard yesterday how a man would be able to find his bearings within the inner Organisation of his astral body if he could, on waking, descend consciously into this astral body; and we were able to form an idea of what it means to pass the Lesser Guardian of the Threshold. In point of fact, what was said yesterday was rather hypothetical, for actually in normal life the moment never comes when merely through waking a man can penetrate consciously into his inner being. At most he can prepare himself by mystical deepening for conscious entry into his external bodily sheaths. What this means, and the preparation it entails, will only become clear in the course of these lectures. For normal consciousness it may happen — very occasionally — that a man has such moments of conscious awakening as a result of conditions belonging to his previous incarnations. This can and does happen to certain individuals. They wake up with a certain sense of oppression. This sense of oppression is due to the fact that the inner man, who during sleep felt outspread and free in the Macrocosm, returns again into the prison of his body. There may also be another feeling. Under these abnormal conditions a man feels a better being at the moment of waking than during the course of the day; he feels that there is something within him that he might call his better self. Again the reason for this is that on waking a feeling has remained with him that something has streamed into him during sleep from worlds higher than the world of his own sensory experiences. These are feelings that may arise under abnormal conditions even in ordinary life and what has now been said can be regarded as a confirmation of statements made in the lecture yesterday. Nevertheless it is only the genuine mystic to whom the experience can come in its full intensity.
The question now is whether it is possible to go further. What has been experienced in the way described is the inner side of the astral body, of the spiritual part of man. But it is possible to descend still more deeply, into parts of human nature which manifest in ordinary life in a form less purely spiritual. Nevertheless, their foundations are spiritual, for that is true of everything in the outer world. The question is whether it is possible to descend even further, into the physical body, and whether there is anything between the astral body and the physical body. Yes, as is made clear in anthroposophical literature, between the physical and the astral bodies there is the etheric body, so that in descending to that level we should encounter our etheric body and perhaps also traces of our physical body, which otherwise we see only from without but which we can recognise from within when we penetrate into it consciously.
Generally speaking, however, it is not good, nor is it without danger, to take a further step in mystical deepening beyond those mentioned yesterday. Everything spoken of then can be carried out cautiously by one who has acquired some knowledge of what is contained in the book>Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment or in the second part of Occult Science — an Outline. 1Notably Chapter V. Knowledge of Higher Worlds. Concerning Initiation, p. 222 in the 1962-3 edition. Up to this point a man can progress independently. To go further along the path leading into the inner self, however, is not without danger; moreover it cannot be done at all in the way in which a man of the present day likes to acquire his spiritual knowledge. Accordingly a different path to knowledge is chosen in our time.
In modern civilisation it is no longer right to take the path leading to a deeper descent into the inner being without troubling about any other considerations. The fundamental characteristic of spiritual life today is that man subordinates himself to a certain degree only and wishes to tread his path of knowledge in the fullest possible freedom. We shall see that there is a path into the spiritual world which takes this desire into full account: it is the Rosicrucian path of knowledge. This is the true path of modern times. It did not exist in those Mysteries of antiquity where man was initiated into the deeper secrets of existence. There were Mysteries in which a man was simply led past the Lesser Guardian of the Threshold into his own inner being and there were others in which he was led out into the Macrocosm, necessarily in a kind of ecstasy. These were the two most usual paths in ancient times. The path of descent into the inner self was followed especially in those places of Initiation which are called the Mystery Sanctuaries of Osiris and Isis. And now, in order to explain what man can experience by descending into his inner being, we will speak of the experiences undergone by a pupil of the Osiris and Isis Mysteries. As we shall hear in the next lectures, it is possible today to attain the Initiation which brings knowledge of these Mysteries, but the path leading to that Initiation differs from what it once was.
In ancient Egypt something was necessary against which human nature, as it is today, would rebel. It was necessary in those times that at the point when the candidate for Initiation was to penetrate into the higher worlds — or even shortly before — he should not attempt to progress independently along his own path of knowledge but should entrust himself to an initiated teacher, to a Guru — the term used in oriental philosophy. Otherwise the path was too dangerous. As a general rule, even the steps towards mystical deepening described yesterday were undertaken under the guidance of a Guru.
What was the real purpose of this guidance by an initiated teacher? When we descend in the morning into our bodily nature, our soul is received by three Powers which have been called by names take from ancient terminology — the names of Venus, Mercury and Moon. Man can deal by himself with what is generally understood as the Venus influence when he is descending into his inner being. A certain training in humility and selflessness will enable him to hold his own in face of the Venus power. Before setting out on the path into the unknown realm of his own inner being he must suppress all impulses of egoism and self-love and cultivate selflessness. He must make himself into a being who feels love and sympathy, not for his fellow-men only but for all existence. Then, if need be, be can safely surrender himself in his conscious descent to the power known as that of Venus.
But it would be more dangerous if a man were to leave himself unaided at the mercy of the Mercury powers. In the ancient Egyptian Initiation he was therefore under the guidance of a great teacher whose own earlier experiences made him capable of being a leader because he was fully conscious of the way in which these Mercury powers could be controlled. A candidate for Initiation was therefore guided by a Hermes- or Mercury-priest. This entailed strict submission to whatever demands the teacher made upon the pupil. The pupil was compelled to make the resolve to eliminate his own Ego completely, to submit to no impulses of his own and to carry out meticulously what the Hermes-priest instructed him to do. It was essential for the pupil of the Osiris and Isis Mysteries to submit to this domination which would be repugnant to a man of today and to which, moreover, he need not subject himself. Obedience to the teacher through many years was necessary, not merely in the pupil's outer actions, but in those Mysteries he was compelled to entrust himself to the teacher's guidance even in his thoughts and feelings, in order to be able to descend without danger into a deeper level of his own inner being.
The lecture yesterday described what is meant by acquiring knowledge of the inner nature of the astral body. We will now consider what the pupil of the Osiris and Isis Mysteries was able, with the help of his teacher, to experience in connection with the etheric body. The elimination of his Ego caused him to see with the spiritual eyes of the teacher, to see himself through the teacher's eyes, to think the teacher's thoughts and to become a kind of external object to himself. In this way remarkable experiences came to him. They were experiences in which he felt as if his life were going backwards in time, as if his whole being — which he was now seeing with the spiritual eyes of the Hermes-priest — were spreading out and expanding; and simultaneously he felt as if he were going backwards in time into periods preceding his present life. Gradually he came to feel as if he were going back many, many years, a span of time very much longer than his life since birth. During this experience he saw, through the eyes of the initiated priest, first of all himself, and then, far out beyond, many generations whom he felt to be his forefathers. For a certain time the candidate for this Initiation had the feeling that he was moving backwards along the line of his ancestors — not as if he were identical with them, but as if he were hovering above them — moving backwards to a definite point, to a primeval ancestor. Then the impression faded — the impression of seeing earthly figures with whom his existence was in some way related.
The teacher had now to make clear to the candidate what it was that he had actually seen. Only in the following way can this become intelligible. — When we come into existence, having passed through the spiritual world between death and rebirth, we bear within us not only the characteristics derived from our preceding life but also our inherited traits. We are born into a family, into a people, into a race; we bear the inherited qualities of our ancestors. These qualities are not derived from the last incarnation but have been inherited from generation to generation. Now why is it that a man, with his inborn nature, incarnates in a particular family, in a particular people or race? Why, on descending to birth, does he seek out certain definite, inherited characteristics? He would never do so if he had no relation at all to them. In point of fact he was already connected with these attributes long before his birth. If we were to start from a particular individual and go back to his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and so on, we should find — if we were able to follow the line with inner vision — the inherited characteristics through a whole series of generations, as far back as one in particular, where all trace of heredity would vanish. The inherited characteristics are still present in their most attenuated form until finally they are lost altogether.
Just as we see the inherited characteristics finally disappearing, so by starting from an individual we can see how the qualities of the son are most similar to those of the father, rather less similar to those of the grandfather, still less similar to those of the great-grandfather, and so on. In the ancient Egyptian Mysteries of Osiris and Isis the priest led the candidate for Initiation back as far as the ancestor who still possessed characteristics which had been transmitted, through heredity, to the pupil himself. It was revealed to the pupil that man is connected in a certain way with his inherited qualities. Thus he established a relationship, spiritually, with that primeval ancestor from whom some quality in himself was derived. It was also revealed to him that the human being spends a long time preparing for himself in the spiritual world the qualities he is ultimately to inherit. Nor does he merely inherit them; in a certain sense he actually inculcates them into his ancestors. He continues to work through the whole series of generations until finally that physical body can be born towards which he feels drawn. Strange as it may seem, we ourselves have worked out of the spiritual world at the physical bodies of our own forefathers, in order gradually to shape and mould the attributes we finally receive at birth as inherited characteristics.
These things are revealed when a man descends into his own etheric body; it then becomes evident to him that the etheric body has a long history behind it. Long, long before entering existence through birth, he was himself working in the spiritual world at the preparation of the etheric body he now bears. He began to work at this etheric body when the most ancient ancestor from whom he still inherits qualities, came to the Earth. When it is said that man consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and so on, this is merely an indication. The only possibility of learning about it in greater precision is to acquaint ourselves with the information given by those who have themselves descended consciously into their bodily sheaths.
Thus man learns to move in the regions through which he passed before entering physical existence. He comes to know a portion of his life before birth, a portion which comprises centuries; for centuries have elapsed since the time when, between his last death and present birth, he began to form the archetype of his etheric body. It was then that there was laid into his blood the first seed of those special characteristics which were progressively elaborated, until the etheric body had reached the point of being able to absorb these characteristics at birth.-That is one side of the experience. What we inherit is a reconstruction, so to speak, of everything we ourselves have had to do previously in the spiritual world in order to be able to enter into physical existence. Therefore the qualities that are concentrated as it were in the present etheric body and were given their stamp through the foregoing centuries, have always been called the “Upper” — meaning the heavenly or spiritual man. This is the technical expression for the fact that by penetrating into his etheric body man learns to know his “upper” nature. The expression “heavenly” or “spiritual” man was also used because it was realised that these attributes had been formed and fashioned from the spiritual world through which the man had passed during the period between his last death and the present birth.
And now as to the other side of the experience. — When the pupil had been led to a certain stage by the priest of Hermes, he was confronted by something that may at first have seemed strange, but was explained by his teacher as a phenomenon that should not be altogether unknown to him. The pupil soon recognised that he was being confronted with something he himself had left behind, something intimately connected with him, though it now faced him as a foreign entity. What was this? We shall understand it best by considering the moment of death in the light of what spiritual investigation discloses. At that moment a man discards his physical body; his Ego and astral body remain — namely, those members of his being which every night pass into the state of sleep — and also, for a short time, what we are now trying to study from within, namely, the etheric body. For a few days after death man lives in these three members of his being. But then the main part of the etheric body passes away from him like a second corpse. It is always said — and I myself have constantly indicated it — that what then departs as a second corpse is dispersed in the etheric world; the man takes with him only an extract, a seed, of it into the life he is now beginning between death and his next birth. What there passes over as a second corpse into the universal ether needs a considerable time to dissolve; and it is the last traces of the dissolving etheric body of his previous life that the candidate for Initiation finds as a foreign entity when he has passed backwards spiritually to the point where he arrives at the last ancestor from whom he has inherited any quality. There he makes contact with the last remnants of his previous etheric body. And now, if he continues the process of Initiation, he must penetrate as it were into this last etheric body of his, which he has left behind. Then he lives backwards through further years — almost, but not quite as long as the period he previously lived through until he encounters his earliest ancestor. The time is in the ratio of five to seven. The man now lives through a time in which he finds, as it were in ever denser form, what confronts him as the last remnant from his past life; as it becomes more and more definitely formed, its resemblance to his last etheric body grows until he finally recognises the form his etheric body had assumed at the moment of his last death. And now, after this form has still further condensed, has more and more assumed human shape, he is face to face with his last death. At that moment, for one who is initiated, there is no longer any doubt that reincarnation is a truth, for he has actually gone back to his last death. Thus we have now come to know what man finds as a remnant of his last earthly life. In spiritual science this has at all times been called the “Lower” or the “earthly” man. The pupil now connected the “Upper” with the “Lower” man; he followed the “Lower” to the point where he reached his last life on Earth.
Thus during his Initiation the pupil passed through a cycle leading from his last earthly life to his present earthly life. He united himself in an act of spiritual vision with what he had become in his previous incarnation. In spiritual science this process has always been called a “cycle” and it was originally expressed by the symbol of the snake biting its own tail. This same symbol was used in connection with many happenings, among them for the experience just described, the experience undergone by one who was initiated in the Mysteries of Osiris and Isis.
Obviously, therefore, there is much more to be said about the etheric body than merely stating that it is one member of man's being. The essential nature of the etheric body can only become known by descending into our own inner self; we then come to know the two beings who are united in every man, and we also recognise how karma works. We are then able to explain to ourselves how it happens that we enter existence through birth in a quite definite way. We were obliged as it were to wait from the preceding death until the new birth, until the old etheric body had dissolved; only then could a beginning be made with forming the new one. This makes it evident that in fact a man has not completely got rid of the products of his dissolved etheric body. And by descending into his own inner being he may also find the other part which has actually dissolved, because he has retained an extract of it. If this were not the case it would be impossible for him to find any trace of it again.
When these things are communicated gradually, even in public lectures on Spiritual Science, you will realise how well-founded they are. You are now at the point where you can see the reason for the statement made, even in exoteric lectures, that an extract or essence of the etheric body remains. All these data are the result of spiritual investigation and are based upon the deepest imaginable foundations.
Thus a man has gone back as far as his last death, and in following the process we have heard of certain qualities which one who is entering into deeper forms of mystical experience learns to know through his Initiation. Yesterday we heard of astral qualities — the feeling of infinite gratitude on the one side and, on the other, the feeling of greatly enhanced obligation and responsibility experienced by the mystic in his astral body. Today we have beard of the “Upper” and the “Lower” man, the “Above” and the “Below”, experienced by the mystic when he descends into his etheric body.
The further steps on the path of Initiation then lead the pupil to the point where, after having arrived in his spiritual retrospect at his last death, he can go further and come to know his last earthly life. But again this is by no means an easy matter. Under his teacher's guidance the pupil is once again reminded that he must not go further until he has achieved complete forgetfulness of self; for it is impossible to make real progress as long as there remains any shred of personal self-consciousness of this present incarnation, this present life between birth and death. As long as a man still calls anything his own he cannot attain knowledge of his preceding incarnation. In the ordinary, normal life between birth and death he cannot come to know the being who in the preceding incarnation was a completely different personality. He must be capable of regarding himself as some quite different being — that is the important point — and yet not lose hold of himself when obliged to have this experience. He must be capable of transformation to the degree of being able to feel himself slipping as it were into a quite different bodily sheath. Having attained the degree of selflessness where everything to do with the present incarnation is forgotten, and having utterly given himself up to the teacher, the pupil is then able to pass back through the last incarnation from the death to the birth. Then he experiences, not the things that were seen externally during that last incarnation, but what he made of himself by his endeavours during that life. What the eyes saw, the ears heard and what confronted him in the outer world is experienced in a different way. What is now experienced are the efforts he made in the bygone incarnation with the object of advancing a step forward.
Having re-experienced these efforts the pupil is led back again by the teacher to his present incarnation. The step from the previous to the present incarnation is taken rapidly and then the pupil finds his bearings again. He now has a strange feeling of being two personalities, as if he has brought an additional one with him from the spiritual world into his present personality. This gives rise to the feeling of living in the physical body. A man cannot experience himself in the physical body except by feeling that he has entered it with the fruits of a preceding incarnation.
I have repeatedly reminded you that in normal everyday life a man sees the physical body only from outside. Now for the first time he realises what it means to see the physical body from within. To see himself within his own physical body is only possible in the light of the experiences of his preceding incarnation. But that is not enough; only little can be learned from it about the present physical body. When the teacher has brought the pupil to the point of standing consciously within his own being together with his previous personality, he must take him back once again over the path already followed. The pupil now retraces the path from the penultimate birth to the penultimate death; he undergoes again what he experienced in his “Upper” and “Lower” being, and through the penultimate death reaches back to the penultimate incarnation. A single cycle brings him back to the last incarnation only; thereupon the second cycle must be undertaken, bringing him back to the penultimate incarnation. This gives rise to the feeling of being a third personality who is included in the two preceding personalities.
The cycle can be repeated again and again, until the pupil reaches an epoch lying far, far back in the evolution of the Earth, a far distant age of civilisation. Then he finds that as an earlier personality he was incarnated in preceding epochs of culture, for example in the Greco-Latin epoch; earlier still in the Egyptian, in the ancient Persian, in the ancient Indian, and even further back in the Atlantean and the Lemurian epochs. There is then no more possibility of having such experiences as have been described. A man can follow his own course through every conceivable civilisation and race, right back to the beginning of his earthly evolution, to his very first incarnation on the Earth. Then it is found that all the earlier incarnations continue as forces in what may be called the inmost essence of the physical body. So you see, when it is said in exoteric language that man consists of physical, etheric and astral bodies, this means that he consists of something which, when viewed from within, seems like a number of consecutive incarnations superimposed one above the other. In point of fact, all our incarnations are at work in the inmost nature of our physical body. And when we speak of the etheric body we must bear in mind that, viewed from within, it appears as a cycle running backwards from the present birth to the last death. The qualities and characteristics of the sheaths into which we descend in mystical experience are revealed.
When a man has retraced his course right back to his first incarnation, he experiences a great deal more as well. At this point of his retrospective journey he discovers that in a certain epoch of the Earth's evolution he was in an entirely different environment, that the Earth itself was quite different when he was living in his first incarnation.
When we look out into the world today, three kingdoms of Nature confront us: the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms. We also have these three kingdoms within us. We have within us the animal kingdom because we possess an astral body which in a certain way permeates our external, physical body with force and energy; we have within us the plant kingdom because we possess an etheric or life-body, of which something similar may be said; we have the mineral kingdom within us because we take mineral substances into ourselves and let them pass through our organism. When we ascend far enough into the spiritual world to reach our first incarnation while experiencing the physical body from within, we become aware that at that time the Earth has just reached the point of its development when the mineral kingdom in its present form first came into existence and it was therefore possible for us to pass through our first physical embodiment because we were able to take mineral substance into ourselves.
You may say: Yes, but was this mineral kingdom not in existence earlier than the plant and animal kingdoms? Anyone who thinks correctly will realise that ordinary coal is something that has come from the plant; first it was plantlike and then became mineral. Under conditions different from those of today the plant kingdom could exist before there was a mineral kingdom. The mineral kingdom was a later formation. Under different conditions the plant kingdom was already in existence before there was any mineral kingdom. The mineral kingdom was a product of hardening — hardening of the plant kingdom. And at the time of the formation of the mineral kingdom on our Earth, man had his first earthly incarnation. The mineral kingdom has evolved through long periods of time, during which man has been passing through his earthly incarnations. It was then that he first took the mineral kingdom into himself. Before then his bodily make-up was of a quite different consistency, without mineral substance. For this reason it was at all times said in spiritual science that in its evolution the Earth progressed to the point where the mineral kingdom was formed and at the same time man took the mineral kingdom into himself.
So we see how by descending into his own being deeply enough to have knowledge of his physical body from within, man comes to a point where he emerges, comes forth from, himself. What else could be expected? Through our astral body we are related to the animals, through our etheric body to the plants and through our physical body to the minerals. No wonder that when we descend as far as to the physical body we come upon the mineral kingdom and pass into it. Not indeed into the mineral kingdom as it is now, but as it was at the time when it came into existence in the ancient Lemurian epoch. Our present epoch followed that of Atlantis, and the Lemurian epoch preceded Atlantis. Before the great Atlantean catastrophe the face of the Earth was quite different from what it is today. We lived on a great continent stretching between Europe and Africa on the one side and America on the other. This was the Atlantean epoch. In a still earlier epoch the configuration of the Earth was again different. Human beings-we ourselves in earlier incarnations-lived on a continent stretching between Australia, Africa and Asia. This was ancient Lemuria, the name also used by modern science. That was the time when man passed through his first incarnation and when the mineral kingdom of the Earth took shape. That too was the time when the present Moon in the heavens separated from the Earth.
Thus we have seen that by descending into and acquiring knowledge of our own being through genuine mystical deepening under the guidance of a teacher, we also emerge from ourselves in a certain sense. The path leads us out of ourselves to the Mineral Earth whence we have derived our physical substance.
This is the one path that I wanted to describe to you, the path which could be followed and was indeed followed by many human beings in the ancient Mysteries of Isis and Osiris. It could only be followed under the guidance of a teacher to whom the candidate for Initiation subjected himself entirely. Unless the individual had submitted his Ego entirely to his teacher he would never have been able to tread the path that has been described, for he would have come to know only the very worst sides of his inner being, what he had made of himself through his own self-seeking Ego.
During the next few days we shall describe the other path by speaking of the Northern Mysteries, where man was led, not into himself but out of himself, into the heavens. Then, as well as these two paths which owing to the progressive development of human nature and its consequent insistence on freedom are no longer suitable, we shall study the path that is right for modern humanity: the Rosicrucian path.
It only remains to be said that certain later mystics strove to find help solely in themselves when they had no Guru or teacher to follow so strictly. They were able to find help in a different way and it is interesting that the path they trod can be explained in the light of what has here been described. Think, for example, of Meister Eckhart, the medieval mystic. He was one who had no leader or teacher as did candidates in the ancient Mysteries of Isis and Osiris. The descent into his inner being would have been fraught with great dangers for him had he persisted beyond a certain point in these efforts to achieve inner deepening by his own method. At a certain moment he could scarcely have escaped the claims of his Ego. For the danger on this descent into a man's inner being is that his Ego may assert itself for its own selfish aims. Long speeches may be made about finding the God within. But people who talk in this vein have usually not made much real progress. If they had, they would inevitably discover that the self-seeking Ego asserts itself with terrific force. It may often be found that such people, when following the ordinary conventions of life, are good and decent characters, but directly they practise mystical deepening and ignore influences from outside, their inner self asserts itself. If education has hitherto made them desire to speak the truth it may happen that as soon as their self-seeking Ego asserts its claims, they begin to lie profusely; they become underhand, more intensely selfish than others. Such traits may often be observed in mystics who have been badly guided, who like to speak constantly of the need to find the “higher man” within themselves. In such cases, however, it is not a “higher man” but a being inferior even by conventional standards. It behoves everyone to protect himself from claims made by his own self-seeking Ego. And mystics with good and healthy propensities, such as Meister Eckhart, tried to do so. In the Egyptian Mysteries the candidate for Initiation was guarded in this respect by the priest of Hermes who had taken charge of him. Meister Eckhart had no leader or teacher in that sense of the word; Tauler had one from a certain time in his life onwards. [* See Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age, by Rudolf Steiner. The teacher who came to Tauler was known as the ‘Friend of God from the Oberland.’] By what means did Meister Eckhart protect himself against the claims of his own Ego? Like nearly all medieval Christian mystics who had no actual Guru because the time was approaching when human nature would rebel against it, Eckhart protected himself by inducing a feeling of the greatest intensity: Now you are no longer yourself; you have become a different being; a being other than yourself is thinking, feeling and willing within you. Let your whole self be filled with Christ! — Eckhart made the saying of Paul a reality: ‘Not I, but Christ in me.’ He was one who had experienced this transformation; he had laid aside his own self. He eliminated his Ego and felt himself filled with a different Ego. The word Entwerdung (as the opposite of “becoming”) was a beautiful expression used by medieval mystics. Mystics such as Meister Eckhart, or the writer of the work known as Theologica Deutsch, let a higher man, a being able to quicken and inspire, speak in them. Hence their constant insistence that their aim was to surrender the self entirely to the being they experienced within them.
From this we see how with the approach of the modern age the medieval Christian mystics put in the place of an external Guru, an inner leader: the Christ.
We shall hear in the next lecture what has now to be done in order that a man rooted in the spiritual life of today may find the path enabling him to maintain intact the character and constitution of his soul. We have spoken of the path taken in the Northern Mysteries in order to experience the Macrocosm into which man enters on going to sleep. We shall begin to-morrow by describing the process of going to sleep and then pass on to speak of the macrocosmic spheres into which man finds his way through methods belonging to the modern path of knowledge leading into the higher worlds.