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The Effect of Occult Development Upon the Self and the Sheaths of Man
GA 145

Lecture III

22 March 1913, The Hague

The changes which take place in the pupil through his occult or theosophical development as regards his muscular system, and especially as regards his senses, his sense organs, lead over, as it were, from man's physical system of sheaths to the etheric-system, the etheric body. With respect to the muscular system, the pupil not only feels this muscular system gradually becoming more mobile—as may also be said with respect to the other physical organs—but, besides becoming more alive, he feels this muscular system permeated by a delicate inner consciousness. It is as though consciousness actually extended to the muscular system. And without inaccuracy, speaking as it were in paradox about this experience, we might say that in the course of his esoteric or theosophical development the student gradually becomes conscious of his several muscles and his muscular system in an inner dreamy way; he always carries his muscular system about with him in such a way that he entertains vague thoughts, dreams of its activity in the midst of his ordinary waking consciousness.

It is always very interesting to grasp the reason of this changing of the physical sheath because in this perception the student has something which informs him that in a certain direction he has made progress. When he begins to feel his several muscles, so that when for example, contracting and extending them he is faintly conscious of what is going on, he has a dim feeling of sympathy which means: something is going on in the muscles. When the movements of his muscles become ideas to him it is a proof that he is beginning gradually to feel the etheric body impregnating the physical body; for what he then actually feels are the forces of the etheric body which are active in the muscles. So that when a man begins to have a shadowy feeling of his several muscles, a dreamy consciousness of himself, as it were, just as in text-books on anatomy one may see the picture of a man whose skin has been removed so that only the muscles appear, that is the beginning of the perception of the etheric body. Indeed, when one begins to perceive the etheric entity, it is in a certain sense like this ‘drawing off one's skin’ and having a shadowy consciousness of one's several members as of a jointed doll.

Less comfortable, but nevertheless present, is the sensitiveness when the bone-system begins to draw upon the consciousness. This is a more uncomfortable feeling, because to become aware of this bone-system is to be forcibly struck by the fact of increasing age. It is not precisely pleasant to notice the faculty for sensation with respect to the bone-system—not usually felt at all in ordinary life; but a man begins to feel his bone-system as something like a shadow within him, when he is developing etherically. And he then realises that the symbolical representation of death as a skeleton was in accordance with a certain clairvoyant faculty of mankind in primeval times, for they knew that in his skeleton a man gradually learns to feel the approach of death.

But much more significant than all this is the experience which the student has during his esoteric or theosophical development with respect to his sense organs. Now we know that these sense organs must really be stripped off when the pupil undergoes an esoteric development; they must be silent, as it were. The physical sense organs thereby feel that during esoteric development they are condemned, as it were, to inactivity; they are disconnected. Now when they are disconnected as physical sense-organs, something else comes in their place. The student first becomes gradually conscious of the sense-organs as distinct worlds which penetrate him. He learns to feel the eye, the ears, even the sense of warmth, as if they had been bored into him. But what he thus learns to feel are not the physical sense organs, but the etheric forces, the forces of the etheric body, which act constructively upon the sense organs. So that when he shuts off the activity of the senses, he sees the nature of these sense-organs appearing as so many etheric organisations penetrating him. It is extremely interesting.

To the extent that during his esoteric development the student shuts off his eyes, for example, and no longer thinks of physical sight, to that extent does he learn to recognise something that penetrates his own organisation like organisms of light, he then really learns to recognise that the eyes have gradually come into being through the working of the inner forces of light upon our organism. For during the time that he withdraws from all the activity of the physical eyes, he feels the field of vision to be permeated by the etheric light-forces which organise the eyes. This is a peculiar phenomenon: when one shuts off the eyes themselves, one learns through them to know the forces of light. All physical theories are nothing as compared to the knowledge of the inner nature of light and its activity which the student experiences when he has accustomed himself to eliminate the physical seeing-power of the eyes, and gradually becomes able, in place of the physical use of the eyes, to perceive the inner nature of the etheric forces of light.

The sense of warmth is at a lower stage, as it were, and it is extremely difficult really to shut off sensitivity to heat and cold; this end is best attained during esoteric development, by trying not to be disturbed during the time of meditation, by any feeling of heat. It is therefore good to perform meditation while surrounded by a temperature which is neither hot nor cold, so that no irritation is produced by either feeling. If this can be done, the inner nature of the heat-ether which radiates through space can gradually be recognised, only then does a student feel himself in his own body as though permeated by the true activity of the warmth-ether. Having no longer the external perception of heat, he can learn the nature of the warmth-ether through himself.

By shutting off the sense of taste—of course, it is shut off during the esoteric exercises—but when he attains the faculty of calling up the sensation of taste as a memory, that becomes the means of recognising the so-called chemical ether, still finer than the light-ether. This also is not very easy, but it can be experienced.

In the same way, by shutting off the sense of smell, one may recognise the life-ether.

The shutting off of the hearing yields an unique experience. For this, however, such a power of abstraction must be attained, that even if something audible is going on around, it is not heard. Everything audible must be shut out. Then come towards one, as if piercing one's organism, the forces in the etheric body which organised our organ of hearing. Thereby a remarkable discovery is made. These matters really belong to the secrets of still higher and higher regions. Therefore, there is no difficulty in stating that it is not possible to understand all at once all that is said regarding experiences with such a sense as that of hearing. We make the discovery that this ear, as man bears it in its wonderful organisation, could not possibly have been formed through the etheric forces which play around the earth as such. The light-forces, the etheric forces of light which play around the earth are inwardly connected with the formation of our eyes; even though the foundations for the eyes were already in existence, yet by the formation of the eye, by its position in the organism, it is inwardly connected with the forces of the light-ether of the earth. In the same way, our sense of taste is connected with the forces of the chemical-ether of the earth, out of which for the most part it is developed. Our sense of smell is connected with the life-ether of the earth; it is organised almost exclusively from the life-ether which plays round the earth. But when our organ of hearing is met with in occultism during esoteric development, it shows us that it owes an infinitesimal part of its being to the etheric forces playing round the earth. It might be said that the etheric forces which play round the earth have given the finishing touch to our organ of hearing; but the latter has been so influenced by these etheric forces that they have really made it—not more perfect, but more imperfect; for they can only work upon the ear by their activities in the air, which continually offers resistance to them. Hence we may say—although a paradox—that our organ of hearing is the degenerate manifestation on earth of a much more delicate organisation previously existing; and at this stage, through his own experience, the developing student will know that he brought the ear, the complete organ of hearing, with him to the earth when he made his way from the ancient Moon to the Earth; indeed, he will find that this organ of hearing was much more perfect on the ancient Moon than it is upon the earth. With respect to the ear, we gradually learn to feel—we are often obliged to make use of paradoxical expressions—that we might be saddened by this thought, because the ear belongs to those organs which, in their entire arrangement, in their entire structure, bear witness to past perfections. And one who is gradually approaching the experience we have thus briefly indicated will understand the occultist who really gains his knowledge from still deeper powers, the occultist who tells him: on the ancient Moon, the ear had much greater significance for man than it has now. At that time the ear enabled him to live entirely, as it were, in the music of the spheres which still rang out, in a certain sense, on the ancient Moon. The ear was so related to the sounds of the sphere-music, which, although weak as compared to what it had been before, still rang out on the Moon; it was so related to these sounds that it received them. On account of its perfection on the ancient Moon, the ear was, so to say, always immersed in music. This music on the ancient Moon was still imparted to the whole of the human organisation; these waves of music still permeated the human organisation on the ancient Moon, and the inner life of man was in sympathy with all the music around him, adapted to the whole musical environment; the ear was the organ of communication, so that the outer sphere-music might be imitated in corresponding inner movements. On the ancient Moon, man still felt himself to be a sort of instrument on which the cosmos with its forces played, and the ears in their perfection were at that time on the ancient Moon intermediary between the players of the cosmos and the instrument of the human organism. Thus the present arrangement of the organ of hearing serves to awaken a remembrance, connected with the idea that by a sort of deterioration of the organ of hearing man has become incapable of hearing the music of the spheres; he has emancipated himself from it, and can only catch the reflection of the sphere-music in the music of the present day, which, however, can, in reality, only play in the air surrounding the earth.

Experiences also emerge with respect to other senses, but they become more and more indistinct, and it would be of little avail to follow the experiences connected with other sense-organs, for the simple reason that it is difficult to explain by means of ordinary human ideas these changes which take place in one through esoteric development. For example, of what use would it be as regards what man can now experience on earth if we were to speak of the sense for language—I do not mean the sense for speaking? Those who heard the lecture on Anthroposophy in Berlin already know that there is a special sense for language. Just as there is a sense for sound, so there is a special sense, which only has an organ inwardly but none externally, for the perception of the spoken word itself. This sense has deteriorated still further, so that to-day there remains but a last echo of what it was, for instance, on the ancient Moon. That which to-day has become the sense for language, the understanding of the words of our fellow-men, served on the ancient Moon to enable a man to feel himself consciously in the whole environment, with imaginative consciousness, to move round the ancient Moon, as it were. There the sense for language dictated the movements to be made, showed how to find the way. A gradual acquaintance with this experiencing the sense for language is made when the student acquires a perception of the inner value of the vowels and consonants, as exemplified in mantric sentences. But what the earthly man generally attains in this respect is but a faint echo of what the sense for language was at one time.

Thus you see how the pupil gradually gains the perception of his etheric body; you see how that from which he turns away in his occult development, namely, the activity of his physical senses, compensates him on the other side, for it leads him to the perception of his etheric body. But it is peculiar that when we experience the perceptions of the etheric body of which we have just spoken, we feel as if they did not really belong to us, but as we have already said—as though they penetrated us from outside. We feel the body of light as though it were drilled into us, we feel something like a musical movement inaudible on the earth penetrating us through our ear; the warmth-ether, however, we do not feel as penetrating but as permeating us; and we learn to feel in place of the eliminated taste the activity of the chemical ether working in us, etc. Thus as compared with what is known as the normal condition, the pupil feels his etheric body transformed, as though other conditions were grafted on to it from outside, as it were.

The pupil now, however, begins to perceive his etheric body more directly. The most striking change that takes place in the etheric body, which many do not appreciate at all, and which is not recognised as a change in the etheric body, although it is such, is that as a result of esoteric or theosophical development it becomes very distinctly evident that the power of memory begins somewhat to diminish. Through esoteric development, the ordinary memory almost invariably suffers diminution. At first one's memory becomes poorer. If the student does not wish to have a less efficient memory, he cannot undergo an esoteric development. Especially does that memory cease to be strongly active which may be described as the mechanical memory, best developed in human beings in childhood and youth, and generally meant when memory is alluded to. Many esotericists have to complain of the diminution of their memory, for it soon becomes perceptible. In any case, this depreciation of the memory can be observed long before one perceives the more delicate things which have just been explained. But as the student, by pursuing correct theosophical training, can never suffer injury in his physical body—in spite of its becoming more mobile—neither will his memory be injured for long. But care must be taken to do the correct thing. As regards the physical organisation, while the external body is growing more flexible, while inwardly its organs are becoming more independent, so that it is more difficult to bring them into harmony than before, inner strength must be sought. This is done by means of the six exercises described in the second part of my book, An Outline Of Occult Science (

Now, as regards the memory, we must also do the correct thing. We lose the memory belonging to the external life: but we need suffer no injury if we take care to develop more interest, a deeper interest in all that affects us in life, more concern than hitherto. We must especially acquire a sympathetic interest for the things which to us are important. Previously we developed a more mechanical memory, and the working of this mechanical memory was fully reliable for a time, even without any particular liking for the things observed; but this ceases. It will be noticed that when undergoing a theosophical or esoteric development it is easy to forget things. But only those things fly away for which one has not a sympathetic interest, which one does not particularly care for, which do not become part of one's soul, as it were. On the other hand, that which appeals to one's soul fixes itself in the memory all the more. Therefore, the student must try systematically to bring this about. The following may be experienced. Let us imagine a man in his youth, before he came to Theosophy when he read a novel he was quite unable to forget it; he could relate it again and again. Later, when he has come into Theosophy, if he reads a novel, it very often vanishes from his mind; he cannot recount it. But if a student takes a book, of which he has been told—or tells himself—that it might be valuable, and reads it through once and then tries directly afterwards to repeat it mentally, and not only to repeat it, but repeat it backwards, the last matters first and the first last; if he takes the trouble to go through certain details a second time, if he becomes so absorbed in it that he even takes a piece of paper and writes brief thoughts on it, and tries to put the question:—what aspect of this subject specially interests me—then he will find that in this way he develops a different kind of memory. It will not be the same memory. By using it, the difference can be accurately observed. When we use the human memory, things come into our soul as remembrances; but if, in the manner just described, we systematically acquire a memory as an esotericist or theosophist, then it is as though the things thus experienced had remained stationary in time. We learn to look back into time, as it were, and it really seems as though we were looking at what we were remembering; indeed, we shall notice that the things become more and more picture-like and the memory more and more imaginative. If we have acted in the manner just described—for instance, with a book—then, when it is necessary to bring the matter to mind again, we need only meet with something in some way connected with it, and we shall look back, as it were, at the occasion when we were studying the book, and see ourselves reading it. The remembrance does not arise, but the whole picture appears. Then we are able to notice that, while previously we only read the book, now the contents actually appear. We see them as at a distance in time; the memory becomes a seeing of pictures at a distance in time. This is the very first beginning, elementary to be sure, of gradually learning to read the Akashic Record. The memory is replaced by learning to read in the past. And very often a man who has gone through a certain esoteric development may have almost entirely lost his memory, yet he is none the worse for it, because he sees things in retrospect. He sees those with which he himself was connected, with special clearness. I am now saying something which, if it were said to anyone not connected with Theosophy, would only make him laugh. He could not help laughing, because he could not form any idea of what it means when an esotericist tells him that he no longer has any memory, and yet that he knows quite well what has happened, because he can see it in the past. The first man would say: ‘What you have is in reality a very excellent memory,’ for he cannot conceive of the change that has taken place. It is a change in the etheric body that has brought it about.

Then, as a rule, this changing of the memory is connected with something else, viz., we form, we might say, a new opinion about our inner man. For we cannot acquire this retrospective vision without at the same time adopting a certain standpoint as regards our experience. Thus when at a later date a man looks back at something he has done, as in the case described above about the book, for instance, when he sees himself in that position, he will, of course, have to judge for himself whether he was wise or foolish so to occupy himself. With this retrospect there is closely united another experience, viz., a sort of self-criticism. The pupil at this stage cannot do otherwise than define his attitude towards his past. He will reproach himself about some things; he will be glad he has attained others. In short, he cannot do otherwise than judge the past he thus surveys, so that, in fact, he becomes a sterner judge of himself, of his past life. He feels within him the etheric body becoming active, the etheric body which—as may be seen by the retrospect after death—has the whole of his past within it; he feels this etheric body as included in himself, as something that lives in him and defines his value. Indeed, such a change takes place in the etheric body that very often he feels the impulse to make this self-retrospect and observe one thing or another, so as to learn in quite a natural manner to judge of his own worth as a man. While in ordinary life one lives without being aware of the etheric body, in the retrospective view of one's own life it can be perceived, and this gradually rouses in the student an impulse to make greater efforts when he undergoes an esoteric development. The esoteric life makes it necessary for one to pay more attention to one's merits and demerits, errors and imperfections.

But something deeper becomes perceptible, connected with the etheric body, something that could also be perceived formerly, though not so strongly: that is one's temperament. Upon the changing of the etheric body depends the greater sensitivity of the earnest Theosophist or esotericist towards his own temperament. Let us note a special case in which this can be particularly observed, namely, in a person of a melancholic temperament, inclined to melancholy, a person of such a melancholic temperament who has not become an esotericist, nor studied Theosophy, and goes through the world in such a way, that many things make him surly and morose, many things draw forth his all too disapproving criticism, and he approaches things as a rule in such a manner that they arouse his sympathy and antipathy more strongly than they would perhaps in the case of a phlegmatic person. When a melancholy person of such a disposition, whether of the intense kind inclining to moroseness, turning away from, despising, hating the whole world, or the milder degree of mere sensitiveness to the world's opinion—for there are many grades and shades between these two—when such a person enters upon an esoteric or theosophical development, his temperament becomes essentially the basis from which to perceive his etheric body. He becomes susceptible to the system of forces producing his melancholy and perceives it clearly within him, and, while formerly he merely turned his discontent against the external impressions received from the world, he now begins to turn this discontent against himself. It is very necessary that in an esoteric development self-knowledge should be carefully exercised, and that the student inclined to melancholy should exercise this introspection, which enables him to take this change quietly and calmly. For while formerly the world was very often odious to him, he now becomes odious to himself; he begins to criticise himself, so that obviously he is dissatisfied with himself. We can only judge these things rightly, my dear friends, when we look at what is called temperament in the right way. A melancholy person is such simply because in him the melancholy temperament is accentuated; for fundamentally every human being has all four temperaments in his soul. In certain things a melancholy person is also phlegmatic, in others he is sanguine, in others again choleric; the melancholy temperament only stands out more prominently in him than the phlegmatic, sanguine, and choleric. And a phlegmatic person is not one possessing no other temperament but the phlegmatic, but in him the phlegmatic temperament is more prominent, and the other temperaments remain more in the background of his soul. It is the same with the other temperaments.

Now, just as the change in the etheric body of the decidedly melancholy person takes the form of turning his melancholy against himself, as it were, so do changes and new sensations appear with respect to the other temperamental qualities. But, through wise self-knowledge, esoteric development can bring about a distinct feeling that the mischief occasioned by the predominating temperament can be repaired by bringing about changes in the other temperaments also, changes which will, as it were, balance the principal change in the predominating temperament. It is only necessary to recognise how the changes in the other temperaments appear.

Let us suppose that a phlegmatic person becomes an esotericist—it will be difficult for him, but let us suppose that he can be brought to be a really good esotericist. The phlegmatic person who receives strong impressions is sometimes powerless against them; so that often the phlegmatic temperament, if not yet too much corroded by materialism, is in no sense a wholly bad preliminary condition for an esoteric development; only it must appear in a nobler form than its usual distorted manifestation. When such a phlegmatic person becomes an esotericist, the phlegmatic temperament then changes in a peculiar manner. The phlegmatic person then has a very strong inclination to observe himself very carefully, and for this reason the phlegmatic temperament to which this process gives the least pain is not a bad preliminary condition for an esoteric development when such can be entered upon, because it is practically adapted to a certain calm self-observation. What the phlegmatic person perceives within him does not disturb him as it does the melancholic person, and, therefore, when he makes self-observations, they as a rule go even deeper than those of the melancholic person, who is positively kept back by his wrath against himself. Therefore, a phlegmatic person is, as it were, the best pupil for serious theosophical development.

Now, as already stated, every man has within him all the temperaments, and in the case of a melancholy person the melancholic temperament predominates. He has also within him, for example, the phlegmatic temperament. In the melancholy person we can always find aspects which prove him to be a phlegmatic individual towards certain things. Now, if the melancholy person becomes an esotericist, while, on the one hand, he will certainly set to work severely on himself, so that self-reproaches are bound to come, if one is able to guide him in any way, his attention should be turned to the things with respect to which he was previously phlegmatic. His interest must be aroused in things for which he previously had none. If this can be accomplished, then the evils produced through his melancholy are to a certain extent paralysed.

The characteristic of the sanguine person in external life is that he likes to hurry from one impression to another, unwilling to keep to one impression. Such a one becomes a peculiar esotericist. He changes in a very peculiar way through the alteration of his etheric body: the moment he tries to acquire esotericism, or another tries to impart it to him, he becomes phlegmatic towards his own inner being, so that under certain circumstances the sanguine person is at first the least promising—as regards his temperament—for an esoteric development. When the sanguine person comes to esotericism or theosophical life—as he very frequently does, for he is interested in all sorts of things, and so, among other things, in Theosophy or esotericism, though his interest may not be serious or permanent—he must acquire a sort of self-observation; but he does this with great indifference, he does not care to look into himself. He is interested in this or that in himself, but his interest is not very deep. He discovers all sorts of interesting qualities within himself; but he is at once satisfied with that, and he speaks enthusiastically of this or that interesting quality, but he has soon forgotten the whole matter again—even what he had observed in himself. And those who approach esotericism from a momentary interest and soon leave it again are chiefly the sanguine natures. In the next lecture we shall try to illustrate what I am now explaining in words by a drawing of the etheric body on the blackboard; we shall then sketch, in addition, the changes in the etheric body through theosophical or esoteric development.

It is different, again, in the case of the choleric temperament. It is almost impossible, or, at any rate, very seldom possible, to make a choleric an esotericist; if the choleric temperament is especially prominent in him as personality, it is characteristic that he rejects all esotericism, he does not wish to have anything to do with it. Still, it may happen through the karmic conditions of his life that a choleric person may be brought to esotericism; but it will be difficult for him to make changes in his etheric body, for the etheric body of the choleric proves to be particularly dense, and can only be influenced with difficulty. In the melancholy individual the etheric body is like an india-rubber ball (this is a trivial comparison, but it will convey what I wish to say) from which the air has escaped: when one presses a dent made in it, it remains for some time; in the choleric, the etheric body is like an india-rubber ball well inflated, filled with air. An attempt to make a dent in it not only produces no permanent effect, but is perceptibly resisted. The etheric body of the choleric is not at all yielding, but knotty and hard. Hence the choleric himself has a difficult task to change his etheric body. He can do nothing with himself. Therefore, from the outset he rejects esoteric development, which is to change him; he cannot lay hold of himself, as it were. But when the choleric realises the seriousness of life, or similar things, or when there is a little melancholic ring in his temperament, then by means of this melancholy he can be led so to develop the choleric note in his human organism that he now works with all the intensity of his force on his resisting etheric body. And if he then succeeds in producing changes in his etheric body he rouses within him a very special quality; through his esoteric development he becomes more capable than other people of presenting external facts in an orderly and profound manner in their causative or historical connection. And one who is capable of judging a well-written history—which is not, as a rule, written by esotericists—a history which really depicts the facts, will always find the beginning, the unconscious, instinctive beginning of that which the choleric esotericist could do as an historian, as a narrator or describer. Men like Tacitus, for instance, were at the beginning of such an instinctive, esoteric development; hence the wonderful, incomparable descriptions given by Tacitus. As an esotericist, who reads Tacitus, one knows that this unique kind of history-writing depends upon the very special working of a choleric temperament into the etheric body. This appears especially in writers who have undergone an esoteric development. Even though the outer world may not accept it, this is the case with Homer. Homer owed his vivid glorious power of delineation to the choleric temperament working into his etheric body. And many other things could be pointed out in this realm which in external life would prove, or at least verify the fact, that when he undergoes an esoteric development the choleric renders himself specially capable of clearly representing the world in its reality, in its causative connections. When the choleric undergoes an esoteric development, his works, even in their external structure, one might say, bear the character of truth and reality. Thus we see that in the changes of the etheric body the life of man is very clearly expressed; the form it has hitherto taken is more perceptible than is otherwise the case in the present incarnation. In esoteric development temperaments become more strongly perceptible, and it is specially important in true self-knowledge to take this observation of temperaments into account. We shall speak further on these matters in the next lecture.