Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Secrets of the Threshold
GA 147

Lecture VI

29 August 1913, Munich

A few more remarks may be added to what was said in yesterday's lecture. We have seen how necessary it is—in order to cross the threshold rightly and enter the spiritual world with clairvoyant consciousness—to leave behind us all the perceptions of the physical world as well as everything we ordinarily think, feel, and will in this world. We have to be prepared to confront beings and happenings whose characteristics bear no relation at all to what can be perceived in the sense world. First, we have to strengthen the soul and its faculties, and then these strengthened, fortified soul faculties must be carried upwards with us. When we cross the threshold into the spirit realm, we must take something with us. We have pointed out that everything the sense world can give us, as well as the ideas and feelings we acquire there, are all images of what is perceptible to the senses. Nothing we acquire in this way can be of use in the spiritual world.

On the other hand, whatever is not an image of the sense world and has no significance for it—although it can there be aroused, called forth and given shape in free, inner soul experience—must be carried up into super-sensible worlds. In the last lecture we suggested using certain images of triads in their numeric relationships, images of the harmonious working together of opposites (especially the luciferic and ahrimanic elements) and of the intermediate condition. Such ideas have no immediate significance for the physical world—one can get on quite well without them—but one must have formed them in the physical world in order to carry them into spiritual worlds. That is why we tried to show through the teachings of Benedictus how the luciferic, the ahrimanic and the middle condition work into the triad of thought, word and writing in the development of human culture.

In connection with this I would like to mention something that can be of greatest use in understanding the life of humanity when looked at in the right way; it is what people from now on must acquire if our civilization is ever to progress properly. People will eventually see that they can no longer make do with the ideas that easygoing human beings today like to form in order to understand the times and social conditions. In Europe there are folk groups that speak different languages and there are also those that differ in their script. The western Europeans write with what are called Roman letters, but others use an entirely different form of writing, which is known as Black Letter or Gothic; these exist side by side. This is a significant phenomenon for anyone wishing to form a judgment about European culture. Although such things seem unimportant, they are symptoms arising out of very deep foundations of existence. When folk groups use different forms of writing, they will come to a genuine, mutual understanding only by taking up spiritual initiatives and aims together. Nations writing a different script give the ahrimanic impulse special points of attack; it is not enough to look for mutual understanding merely based on the requirements of the physical plane. A spiritual element must be taken up by both peoples, and through this, harmony can be sought. For nations that write with Roman letters, it will be necessary—in order to understand one another—to carry the spiritual element so far that understanding takes place even in regard to facts on the physical plane. One who understands such things can recognize this in regard to the relationships in European national life. It is of deep significance that in Central Europe both kinds of writing, expressing the peculiar relationship of ahrimanic and luciferic elements, exist side by side. The reason for this is that here a middle condition cannot be reached without special difficulties: the Roman alphabet, exposed more to the ahrimanic element, must be brought into a certain opposition to the Gothic, which is more open to the luciferic element; it shows a certain trend that in their handwriting many people have to mix together both scripts. Such an intermingling of scripts is of immense importance, for it points to something lying deep in the substrata of the soul, i.e., that such people have to come to terms with both the luciferic and ahrimanic elements in a special way. Much will depend on their making a tremendous effort (if they are writing in German) not to fall into Gothic when they intend to write Roman and not to fall into Roman when they intend to write Gothic. It is becoming more and more necessary to observe life in such minute details and to look at the symptoms which bring to the surface what is happening in hidden depths. In this way we shall learn how to acquire in the physical sense world the concepts, ideas and feelings we can carry fruitfully across the threshold into the realm of the spirit.

We will certainly have to recognize what extraordinary talent—even genius—for superficiality there is in our modern culture in regard to anything expressing itself as spirituality. Somehow we will have to acquire in the physical world the concepts for what shines out of the spiritual world and sends its rays into the physical sense world. Let us therefore look at another sphere where the luciferic and ahrimanic elements play into the physical world; we will speak first of the realm of art. In this we still hold to what has already been said, that in all human artistic development the luciferic element plays a part, that the luciferic element is present to the greatest extent in the development of art. But something more must be added. There are, in general, five principal arts to be found in the physical world: the art of building or architecture, sculpture, painting, music and poetry. Other arts combine and mix together the elements of these five; the art of the dance, we could say, is a combination of several arts. When one rightly understands dance, one does so on the basis of fundamental preconditions in the other arts. Naturally these can be combined.

Of the five arts, architecture and sculpture are those most particularly open to the ahrimanic impulse. In these arts we are concerned with form. To accomplish anything in architecture and sculpture we must find our way into the form element, which is dominant on the physical plane, for here the Spirits of Form are the ruling forces. To get to know them, one must plunge into their spiritual element, as I said before, when speaking figuratively of putting one's head into an ant hill. A person who has anything to do with sculpture must plunge his head into the living element of the Spirits of Form. In the realm of the physical world these Spirits work cooperatively with the ahrimanic element.

It is important, we will see, especially in such cases, not simply to assert in a superficial way that we have to protect ourselves from the ahrimanic element. We should always realize that such beings as the luciferic and ahrimanic ones have their particular domains, where normally they live and work, and that bad effects come about only when they overstep their boundaries. The ahrimanic impulses have their absolutely legitimate domain in architecture and sculpture.

On the other hand, we find that music and poetry are two arts where luciferic impulses are at work. Just as thought takes place in the solitude of the soul and thereby separates it from the rest of the world, the experience of music and poetry, too, belongs to our inner nature where these arts directly meet the luciferic impulse. In architecture and building we have to consider folk differences, simply because wherever Ahriman is, Lucifer will play a part as well, but these arts are directed only to some extent by the character of a people; in general this element remains neutral. However, poetry is essentially bound to the luciferic element, which comes to expression in the differences of folk character. Although one notices this less in music, here too things lead to differentiation, much more than in architecture and sculpture.

In this we see again that in order to form concepts for the higher worlds we cannot get on in the comfortable way many people would like to do. It is absolutely correct to say that the ahrimanic element works in architecture and sculpture, the luciferic more in music and poetry, yet it must also be said: as soon as we have to do with concepts that are valid also in the higher worlds, it is not so easy to answer the question once and for all, “In sculpture is Ahriman more active, or is Lucifer?” It is certainly easy in the physical world to answer the question, “What color is common chicory?” with the statement, “It is blue.” People would like things to be as easy as that for the higher worlds, but it is wrong to suppose that one can obtain such quick answers. Still, although all this holds good, the following is true. In architecture it is generally the case that the ahrimanic impulse is the stronger, but in sculpture the luciferic influence opposing Ahriman can be so strong that in some sculptural works Lucifer is more dominant than Ahriman. Nevertheless, what we said before is correct, for in the spiritual world there is not only the faculty of metamorphosis but one can say, everything is everywhere. In truth, every spiritual element tries to permeate everything. There can be luciferic sculpture and though poetry is chiefly under the influence of Lucifer, the ahrimanic influence can work very strongly on music, so that we can find music with more of Ahriman than of Lucifer.

In the middle between what is generally ahrimanic in architecture and sculpture and what is luciferic in poetry and music lies painting. In a way it is a neutral region but not such that we can comfortably settle down and say to ourselves, “Now I'll go ahead with painting, for here neither Lucifer nor Ahriman can get at me.” Actually it is just here in the middle that we are exposed on both sides most strongly to their attacks; at every moment we must be on our guard. In the realm of painting we are in the highest degree vulnerable to one or the other influence. The middle line is always the place where we have to bring about, in the very strictest sense of the word, the harmonious balance of polarities by means of human will and human action.

Looking at the sphere of art as we have done—it could have been any other sphere—you see that we acquire certain concepts without which, of course, we can manage quite well on the physical plane. For it is obvious that when we are willing to remain shallow and superficial, we can get along easily enough on this plane even if we don't find music luciferic and architecture ahrimanic! But if we want to manage without such concepts, we will not be able to form on the physical plane any ideas, thoughts, or feelings that will strengthen our soul and enable it to cross the threshold successfully and rise into the realm of spirit; we will have to remain here below on the physical plane.

We must therefore acquire concepts, feelings and ideas for the realm of the spirit if we really wish to cross the threshold, and while these must indeed be invoked by the physical, they will nevertheless have to rise above the physical-sense realm. Then with strengthened soul we will cross the threshold and become familiar with this world already characterized as a place of living thought-beings, engaged in spiritual conversation. With our strengthened soul we will become familiar with a world of beings that consist of thought-substance; through this thought-substance they are more alive, more individual, more real than any human being on earth. These beings within their thought-substance are just as real as any man of flesh and blood on the physical plane. We can gradually find our way in this world where a thought-language passes between one being and another, and where our soul is forced to carry on thought-conversations with the thought-beings if we want to arrive at a relationship with them. I have intimated this in my book The Threshold of the Spiritual World; more details can now be added. Because of the great responsibility in writing all this, I have tried to avoid in the book a systematic description and instead have put in aphoristic form the things that can be useful even if you have already absorbed everything in earlier lecture cycles and books.

As living thought-beings, we have to adjust to the spiritual realm of which it can be said:

At this place words are deeds
and further deeds must follow them.14The Guardian of the Threshold, Scene 3.

A human being in the physical world carries out his actions through the movement of his hands; we have described how thoughts, living within the cosmic Word, are also direct actions. Whatever is spoken accomplishes a deed. That is what matters in the spiritual world. A being is active towards another being; a being is active in relation to the external spiritual world around it; both of these actions are contained in spirit conversations. The spoken word is action. Therefore we have to bring ourselves upward into spirit regions in order to find ourselves as living thought-beings among other living thought-beings. We must conduct ourselves as do the other thought-beings, that is, allow our own words to be actions, to put it simply.

What do we find in those spirit regions? No longer do we find for our own use what we find down in the physical or even in the elemental worlds. This self that we carry through the physical and elemental worlds is the sum total of our experiences, gathered together from the impressions of the physical world and from everything on the physical plan that thinking, feeling and willing developed in our soul. But neither the impressions nor the feeling, thinking, and willing as they meet us on the physical plane have any significance at all in the spiritual world. There, instead of the so-called human self of the physical and elemental worlds, we find something else; namely, the part of oneself that indeed is always present in the depths of soul even though the ordinary physical consciousness can not know it. Like another being we will find our other self; this second self we find in the spiritual world.

At the close of these lectures, as in the closing section of The Threshold of the Spiritual World, I shall indicate for anyone who wants to ferret out contradictions, how the terms employed here are related to the terminology I used in Theosophy and Occult Science. But here it can be said: a person lives in his physical body in the physical world around him. When he comes away from it and has experiences outside the physical body, he is having those experiences in his etheric body with the elemental world around him; and when he comes out of that world as well, he is experiencing the spiritual realm in his astral body. With this experience—feeling oneself in the astral body—there will be a meeting in the spiritual world, the meeting with the other self, the second self,15See The Guardian of the Threshold, Scene 10. of which Johannes Thomasius speaks at the end of The Guardian of the Threshold, and which stands throughout the whole action of The Souls' Awakening at the side of the first self of Johannes Thomasius, summoning forth his experiences. Let me describe the essence of this other self; it is what a person comes to recognize when he learns within his astral body to perceive and feel and observe in the spiritual world. It is what lives from one life on earth to another, from incarnation to incarnation. In moving from one life on earth to the next one, between death and a new birth, it weaves itself so mysteriously into our being that the physical consciousness usually cannot perceive this other self, for it is actually within the spiritual world even though bound up with our physical being.

How is this other self active? It has just been said that it belongs to the realm of the spirit as a living thought-being among other living thought-beings, whose words are deeds; they accomplish all they do through what we can call Inspiration. The second self acts inspiringly in man's nature. What does it inspire? Our karma, our destiny. Here we discover a mysterious process: whatever our experience, whether painful or joyous, whatever it is that happens in our life, it is inspired by our other self, working from the spiritual world into this one. If you are walking along the street and something happens to you that seems accidental, it is inspired by your other self from out of the spiritual world. So you see that something like Inspiration in the spiritual world reveals itself on the physical plane and brings about your destiny in large and small happenings. Your destiny is inspired by your other self, out of the realm of the spirit.

A clairvoyant soul entering this realm perceives in the spirit-conversation a revelation of what can be put into the phrase: words are deeds. However, everything that happens in the spiritual world stamps itself upon the physical World. Whether you see a stone, a plant, a cloud, or lightning—behind all these stand spiritual beings and spiritual processes. Furthermore, behind the physical events of your destiny stand spiritual beings and spiritual processes. What are they? Inspirations! They are brought about by a conversation in the spiritual world. The cosmic Word is active as the inspirer of human destiny! This is of great significance for your spiritual perception on meeting your other self. You no longer think then of your human personality within its ordinary limits alone, for you extend yourself—and this must include your other self—to cover your entire destiny. You are only then a truly whole human being when—in just the same way that you say, “This finger is part of myself and belongs on the physical plane to my ego”—you also say, “It is part of myself to bang my thumb or take a painful fall, for all these things are inspired by my other self.”

However, we must bear in mind just how we meet this other self on crossing the threshold into the realm of spirit. Again and again we must recollect and make clear to ourselves that in all we have learned, observed and experienced in the physical world and even in the elemental world, there is nothing in them similar to the characteristics of the spiritual world where thoughts are living beings. If we were to enter the spirit realm only with what we have discovered in the physical and elemental worlds, then we would be confronting nothingness. What indeed can we bring into this realm? Let us consider the question carefully. The soul must become accustomed not to perceive or think or feel or will in the spirit realm as it does in the physical or in the elemental worlds. All of that must be left behind. However, it must remember what it perceived, thought, felt, willed in the physical world. Just as we carry into later periods of life the memories of earlier times, so must we carry over into the spirit realm out of the physical plane everything that has been strengthened and invigorated in our soul. We must enter the spiritual world with a soul that recollects the physical world.

Then we have to endure a certain experience that can be described in the following way: Imagine a moment in your ordinary earth life when all your sense perception suddenly stops; when you can no longer see nor hear, no longer are able, to think or feel or desire anything new. Every kind of life activity stops. You would know only what you remember. In exactly this situation you find yourself, when you rise into the spiritual world with clairvoyant consciousness. There is nothing there at first that will provide new perceptions. Your understanding comes only through remembering; your existence depends on what has remained to you of your memories. Your soul is aware that it can say of itself, “You now are only what you once were; your existence consists of your past; present and future have no meaning for you; your being is made up of what you have been.” One could perhaps say all this easily enough—but to see oneself as nothing but memory, with no perception of the present moment, to speak of one's being as a mere ‘has been,’ is a remarkable experience.

When the clairvoyant soul has penetrated so far and endured this experience, then for the first time the human being will begin to have a true understanding for the being whose name has now been mentioned so often, for Lucifer. The human soul, in passing out into the spirit realm, realizes for a moment, “You are only a being of the past.” Lucifer is the one who has become in the cosmic order forevermore such a being of the past, a mere has-been, a remnant of earth epochs that have died away, of what cosmic epochs had brought to his soul. And Lucifer's life—because the other divine-spiritual beings of normal earth evolution have condemned him to the past—consists in fighting with the aid of his past to gain a present and future.

Thus Lucifer stands before the clairvoyant vision, preserving in his life and soul the divine spiritual glories of world creation, yet condemned to realize, “They were once yours.” And now this eternal struggle begins: fighting to add present and future to his past in the cosmic order. To perceive the macrocosmic resemblance of Lucifer to the microcosmic nature of the human soul as it crosses the threshold between the elemental and the spiritual worlds is to perceive the profound tragedy of this figure of Lucifer. And then we begin to divine something of the great cosmic secrets resting deep in the womb of existence, where not only one being struggles with another but even an epoch of time confronts another in battle, as they evolve into beings. A true picture of the world begins to take shape, pouring deep earnestness and dignity into the soul. Here we will sense something that can be called the breath of Eternal Necessities, such as those experienced in the World Midnight—where lightnings flash into existence, illumining even the figure of Lucifer, but they:

... die on recognition,
and dying shape themselves to scripts of fate
forever actively engraved in souls.16The Souls' Awakening, Scene 6.

The human soul itself, as it grows into life in the spiritual worlds, has a moment where it is a mere “has-been” and confronts nothingness; it is a single point in the universe, experiencing itself only as a point. But then this point becomes a spectator and begins to observe something else. Our human soul, become microscopic, has at first no content—just as a single dot has none, but now it finds itself belonging as a third entity to two others. The first to make its appearance is what lives in our memory. This is like an external world which we look back on, saying, “All that is my past.” At first, without really knowing it, we ourselves stand there next to this past existence that we have brought across the threshold into the spiritual world, providing it with a life as thought-being. If then we have a feeling of utter calmness in our soul, whatever we have brought there as our past begins a spirit conversation with the living thought-beings around it. We can observe—like an objective spectator, standing nearby, though at the same time a mere dot—the other two beginning their conversation. Whatever we have brought with us in the way of thought content unfolds a spirit conversation in cosmic language with a spiritual, living thought-being of that realm; there we listen to what our own past discusses with the living spiritual being. At first we are like nothing at all, but then, even as a nothing, we are born through listening to our own past converse with the spiritual beings of the spirit realm. Listening begins to fill us with new inward contents. We learn now to recognize ourselves when we are like a single point and feel ourselves as such, listening to the conversation of our own past with a living spiritual being. And the more we take in of this spirit conversation between our own past and the future, the more we actually become we ourselves become a spirit being.

In this process in the spiritual world we find ourselves within a triad. One member of the triad is our own past being, which we have carried up into the spiritual world; we have won it for ourselves in so far as it was able beforehand to reveal its spirituality in the sense world, and then across the threshold to perceive itself as our past life. The second member of the triad is the whole spiritual environment; the third member is our self. This is the threefoldness of the spiritual world: Within the triad, through the antithesis of past life and living spiritual being, the third, the middle part, the mere point-like part, develops itself and becomes—through listening to the spirit conversation of the other two—more and more filled out: a being that is developing itself within the spiritual world. In that world we thus “become” ourselves in clairvoyant consciousness.

This is what I wanted to convey to you—using words, of course, that are limited because they have to be borrowed from the language of the physical world. However, one has to try as well as possible with such words to characterize these sublime and profound relationships. For it is through these relationships alone that we can come to know our true being. And this, as I said, we receive in the spiritual world through listening to the two other thought-beings. It has been the task of this cycle of lectures to try to lead us toward understanding our true nature.