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Occult Reading and Occult Hearing
GA 156

1. The Human Being and his Relationship to the World

3 October 1914, Dornach

You must not expect that these four lectures can be a substitute for those which were planned for Munich. [It had been Dr. Steiner's intention to give a course of lectures on the theme ‘Occult Reading and Occult Hearing’ in August 1914, after the production of a new Mystery Play, but this was prevented by the outbreak of the War.] I will try to give a brief outline of what was to have been the content of the Munich lectures but the most important and essential information that was to have been given there must be reserved for less turbulent times. I am astonished to find certain people thinking that the strenuous efforts required for giving very important teachings of Spiritual Science—as was intended in Munich—can be applied in times such as those in which we are now living. But it will be realised one day that this simply is not possible, that the highest truths cannot be communicated when storms are raging. As far as my theme is concerned, I will give a course of lectures on it later on, when karma permits, in substitution for what was to have been given in Munich. But in view of the desire to hear something about this subject, I will try to meet this wish as far as is possible at the present time.

The essential findings of Spiritual Science are acquired through occult reading and occult hearing. We hear something about the methods by which the spiritual investigator reaches his experiences, when he speaks of the actual processes of occult reading and occult hearing. Absurd theories still prevail at the present time about the way in which results are obtained in Spiritual Science. Before I pass on to the central theme I will speak of a trivial matter—trivial, that is to say, in comparison with what our stream of spiritual life would like to attain. A certain modern Professor wrote a review of my book Theosophy. This review was published a few years ago, and the author was obviously irritated most of all by what is said in the book about the human aura, about thought-forms and so forth. Among many things that I will not mention here, this review also contains something that is absolutely comprehensible from the point of view of a typical thinker of the present day. It is said that if there is anything in these statements about the aura and thought-forms, some of those who can see thought-forms should subject themselves to an experiment. There would have to be an experiment where a number of those who claim to be able to see such things stand in front of others who have certain thoughts and feelings, and then the former should be asked: ‘What do you see in these people standing or sitting in front of you?’ Then—according to the reviewer—these so-called occultists should state what they have observed, and the others should confirm that they had actually had these thoughts and feelings. If the seers' statements all tallied with each other, then they could be believed.

Let me say here that there is nothing more natural than this argument. Any thinker schooled in modern natural, science must use it because it inevitably appears to be completely reasonable. Nevertheless, one thing holds good. The Professor who said this had certainly read the book before writing his review. We must assume this at any rate. As the review gives the impression of honesty, we can certainly assume it. But he could not read it in the real sense because, comprehensible as it is that the objections should be made as long as there is no knowledge of the truths contained in the book, it ought also to be comprehensible that such objections would not be brought forward if the book had been read with understanding. With these words I am saying something that will be considered outrageous by every normal scientific thinker of to-day—he will think it outrageous because it must inevitably be incomprehensible to him; he simply cannot understand it. Among the things to be found in that book, there is also the following.—It is said that if the seer really desires to look into the spiritual world and see the truth, he must, above all, practise a self-education which enables him to penetrate into things with absolute selflessness, to silence his own wishes and desires in face of the spiritual world. Yes, but if five or six people are brought together in order to make an experiment according to the methods of natural science, as is demanded, those four or five people start off with the wish to reach a certain result—as a matter of fact a result that is demanded by science itself. The whole thing is arranged as happens when there are desires and wishes in ordinary life—which is just what should be avoided. It is obvious that every true impression of the spiritual world will be eliminated by such an experiment. For this experiment is arranged entirely according to the thinking of the physical plane and it is just these thoughts of the physical plane that must be overcome, together with all the desires and wishes connected with them. It may be said that it is a question of being passive. Certainly—but such conditions cannot be arranged from the standpoint of the physical plane and with the methods of the physical plane. They must be arranged only from the standpoint of the spiritual world and with the methods of the spiritual world.

First of all, the matter in question would have to lie in the spiritual world itself, not in the brain of a curious professor. The intention would have to emanate from the spiritual world that human beings who are seers here on the physical plane should experience something of the thoughts and feelings of other human beings; through the karma of the spiritual world a handful of people would have to be brought together—brought together, not by a professor but as if through a nexus of destiny. Then, from the other side, the seers too would themselves have to be brought together by karma. Again, from out of the spiritual world the feelings and so forth within the individuals would have to be revealed to the various seers. If the experiment could be arranged in this way it would undoubtedly succeed.

If anyone reads my book Theosophy with real understanding, he will know that what I have just said is a self-evident truth of the spiritual world but that such procedures are not possible in our age. And one has, after all, to reckon with this fact.

Because the review in question showed me that people are not able to read the book with sufficient understanding to discover such a thought by themselves, in the sixth edition—the proofs of which I am now correcting—I have added what I have just told you. One of the essentials in a book that has grown out of Spiritual Science is that one not only assimilate its actual contents—that is of minimal importance—but that having read it a change shall have taken place in thinking and feeling; standards and judgments otherwise applied in the everyday world should have progressed. The difficulty still standing in the way of understanding books on Spiritual Science is that people read them just as they read other writings and imagine that their contents can be absorbed in the same way, whereas the truth is that something will be changed within us when we have understood a genuinely occult book. It is therefore quite understandable that genuine occult books are rejected by most human beings to-day. For what ought to take place in someone who reads such a book at the present time? He takes the book ... and he is clever ... as everyone is clever to-day. He considers that he is capable of judging the contents of the book, and he is convinced at the outset that there can be no better judge of that book than himself. And now, after having read it, is he supposed to learn to judge differently? Of course, he cannot do so; he is clever already and has impeccable judgment! He does not admit that there is anything to change in his power of judgment. Needless to say he will realise nothing of the basic trend and intention of the book. At most he comes to the conclusion that he has learnt nothing from its contents and that it is all so much juggling with words and concepts. It must necessarily be so if he does not constantly have in mind the basic principle of Spiritual Science which is that in any circumstance, no matter how trivial, after reading a genuine book on Spiritual Science, a different kind of perception and judgment of the world must arise.

There is one essential to be remembered if the words ‘Occult Reading and Occult Hearing’ are to mean anything to us. We must, as it were, say farewell to the ordinary kind of thinking, the ordinary judgments applied to the physical world. I have often emphasised that one must, of course, remain a reasonable human being. Although a new kind of judgment, of thinking and of feeling must be acquired for the spiritual world, healthy judgment as regards the events and beings of the physical plane must be maintained. That goes without saying. But there is something that is necessary for the higher worlds and does not hold good for the physical plane. I will start from an experience that is certainly familiar

On the physical plane we are accustomed through our thinking, feeling and willing to relate ourselves to that plane. When we think, we create for ourselves mental pictures of the things and beings of the physical plane and the processes connected with then. Anything of which we opine that it is present in space or takes place in time, we thereby make into our own spiritual property. We learn, through our mental pictures, to know something. It is the same with feeling. We confront some object—for instance, we delight in a rose; we take the rose into our world, into our feeling, into our own soul. We make something that goes out as an impression from the rose and works upon our soul, into our own inner possession. In willing, we incorporate into the external world something that is contained in our intention. Relationships between ourselves and the external world are clearly evident when we observe our behaviour and conduct on the physical plane. Nothing we thus apply in acts of thinking, feeling and willing, nothing we do when we enter into relation with the outer world through the physical body, serves us in the remotest degree—in the form in which it is practised on the physical plane—for getting to know anything of the higher world. Whatever helps us for example, to know something about the physical world, whatever we apply in the form of feeling or thinking in order to know about the things of the physical world—this can serve only as preparation for spiritual-scientific investigation.

Let it be remembered, therefore, that in the physical world whatever we do in thinking, feeling and willing in order to have some knowledge of that world or to do something for it—all this serves only as preparation for knowledge of the higher worlds. Whatever we may think about something belonging to the physical world, no matter how astutely, gives us no knowledge of the higher worlds. Through thinking our soul is merely prepared, merely trained in such a way that it gradually becomes capable of penetrating into the spiritual worlds. And the same applies to willing and feeling in connection with things of the physical world. In order to be doubly clear, let me say this. A learned researcher, through his scientific methods, gets to know something belonging to the external world. When he has investigated it he is wont to say: I know this and that belonging to the external world. This kind of investigation, this kind of thinking, does not help him in the very least to penetrate into the spiritual world. His thinking and investigation are of significance only because they exercise the powers of his soul. The effect, as far as penetration into the spiritual worlds is concerned, is that through this thinking and investigation the soul becomes more capable of living its own life, of activating its own forces. The activities that are normally carried out in the physical world are of use for spiritual-scientific investigation only as an education of a man's own soul.

I will choose still one more comparison to make the matter clearer. Suppose someone is a carpenter; he has learnt carpentry and intends to make furniture. In his work as a carpenter he makes certain pieces of furniture and continues to do so for many years. This is his job. But something else happens as well; he becomes more skilful, his manipulations more effective; he acquires something else, inasmuch as his own organism becomes more skilful. This is a kind of supplementary achievement. It is the same with spiritual activities. If, as a botanist, I think and make great efforts for years in the sphere of botany, that is all to the good, but as well as this my mind becomes more flexible. That is also of help. I am better ‘drilled’ than I was some decades ago. Please do not take the expression in its ordinary trivial sense, if I say that the spiritual scientist must have been previously ‘drilled.’ He must use his drilling to make his spiritual powers more mobile, more flexible. Then, when everything that is otherwise practised in the world is placed directly in the service of self-education as happens in meditation and concentration, in the exercises that are given for the purpose of penetrating into the spiritual world—we duly prepare ourselves for this. Please take the words, ‘we prepare ourselves,’ as something infinitely important, for in reality we can never do anything more than prepare ourselves to enter the spiritual world; the rest is an affair of that world itself; the spiritual world must then come to us. It will not do so if we remain in the usual state of human beings on the physical plane. Only when we have transformed our soul-forces in the way indicated can we hope that the spiritual world will come to us. It cannot be anything like investigation in the physical world, for then we go towards the things we are investigating. We can only prepare so that when the spiritual world comes towards us, it will not escape us, but make a real impression upon us.

It must therefore be said: All that we can do to develop the capacity for spiritual investigation is to prepare ourselves worthily, in order that when karma wills that the spiritual world shall confront us, we shall not be blind and deaf to it. We can so prepare ourselves, but the manifestation of the spiritual world is an act of grace by that world and must be thought of as such.

And so to the question: How can one succeed in penetrating into the spiritual world?—the answer must be: We must prepare ourselves by adopting every measure that makes our actions more skilful, more mobile, that trains our thinking, makes our feeling and perception more delicate, more full of devotion. And then: Wait, Wait, Wait! That is the golden rule—to be able to wait in restfulness of soul. The spiritual world does not allow itself to become accessible in any other way than this: individuals must make themselves worthy of it and then develop a mood of expectation in restfulness of soul. That is the essential. We acquire it in the way I have described in detail in my books, by making ourselves ready to receive the spiritual world. But we must also acquire that absolute restfulness of soul which alone makes it possible for the spiritual world to approach us.

In lectures I have used the following example. In the physical world, if we want to see something we must go to it. Those who want to see Rome must go to Rome. That is quite natural in the physical world, for Rome will not come to them. In the spiritual world it is just the reverse. We can do nothing except prepare ourselves through the methods described, in order to be worthy to receive the spiritual world: we must acquire restfulness of soul, poise where we stand ... then the spiritual world comes to us. We must wait for it in restfulness of soul—that is the essential. And this that comes to us, where is it? Of this too I have often spoken and will speak of it merely by way of introduction so that we may have a good foundation upon which to proceed.

You are all familiar with our anthroposophical literature. Where are the Elemental Beings, where are the Beings of the higher Hierarchies? They are here, everywhere—just where the table is, where the chairs are, where you yourselves are—they are around us everywhere. But in comparison with the things and processes of the external world they are so ethereal, so fleeting, that they escape the attention of men. Men pass unceasingly through the whole spiritual world and do not see it because through their constitution they are still unprepared for it. If you were able to enter the spiritual world, as is the case at night when you are asleep, you would realise that consciousness is so weak that in spite of the fact that man is in the spiritual world from the time he goes to sleep until he wakes, his consciousness is too dull to perceive the spiritual Beings who are around him. He is in the spiritual world the whole night long, he is within this delicate, fluctuating world, but he is not aware of it because his consciousness is too dull.

What must happen in order that man can learn to be aware of this world in which he is really living all the time? Here we have to consider something very important. Above all, we must keep the following in mind. I have tried to describe it more precisely, for the public as well, in the last chapter of the book Riddles of Philosophy. I want to see whether a few individuals who are not in the Anthroposophical Movement are capable of understanding it.

How does external perception come about? As you know, people generally think—especially those who imagine themselves to be very clever—that external perception arises because the objects are there and then man, inside his skin, receives impressions from the objects; they suppose that his brain (if they think materialistically) produces inner pictures of the external objects and forms. Now that is simply not the case; the facts are quite different. The truth is that the human being is not by any means confined within his skin. If someone is looking at a bunch of flowers, then with his Ego and astral body he is actually within it, and his organism is a reflecting apparatus which reflects it back to him. In reality you extend over the horizon which you survey. In waking consciousness, you are also rooted, with an essential part of your Ego and astral body, in your physical and etheric bodies. The process is as I have often described in lectures. Let us assume that here are a number of mirrors. As long as you walk through space and have no mirror, you do not see yourself, but as soon as you come to a mirror you do. The human organism is not the producer of what you experience in your soul, it is only the reflecting apparatus. The soul is united with the bunch of flowers outside. That the soul may be able to see the flowers consciously depends upon the eye, in unison with the brain-apparatus, reflecting back to the soul that with which the soul is living. Man does not perceive in the night, because when he sleeps he draws out what is within him all day—his Ego and astral body. Therefore, the eyes and brain cease to reflect. Going to sleep is just as though you had a mirror in front of you—you look into the mirror and see your own face; take the mirror away, and all at once your face is no longer there!

And so man, with his being of soul-and-spirit, is actually within that part of the world which he surveys; and he sees it consciously, because his own organism mirrors it back to him. In the night this reflecting apparatus is not there, and he sees nothing. We ourselves are the part of the world which we see; during the night that part of the world is withdrawn.

One of the worst forms of Maya is the belief that man remains firmly within his skin. He does not; in reality he is within the things he sees. When I am confronting a human being, I am within him with my astral body and Ego. If I were not to confront him with my organism I should not see him. The fact that I can see him is due to my organism; but with my astral body and Ego I am within him. The failure to realise this is one of the most dangerous results of Maya.

In this way we can form an idea of the nature of perception and experience on the physical plane.

And what about the spiritual world? If we want to experience that of which I have said that it is so fleeting, so mobile compared with the processes and things of the physical world that although we live within it as within the coarse objects of the physical world, we do not experience it because it is too tenuous—if we want to experience this fluctuating, ethereal reality, then our ordinary Ego, the bearer of our individuality, our egoity, must be damped down, must be suppressed. In true meditation this is what we do. What is meditation? We take some content, or mental picture, and give ourselves over entirely to it. We forget ourselves and suppress the egoity of ordinary waking consciousness. We exclude everything that is connected with the egoity of waking consciousness. Whereas we are accustomed to apply egoity on the physical plane, we now suppress it. Instead of living in the physical and etheric bodies, we gradually succeed, by suppressing egoity, in living in the astral body only.

Please note the essential point here. When we meditate or concentrate, our primary goal always is to suppress our egoity. This egoity must not transmit physical experiences; we try to suppress it, to press it into the astral body. When it is in the astral body it is not, to begin with, reflected in the physical body.

When you look at this bunch of flowers, you are, in reality, within it. The physical body is a reflecting apparatus and you see the bunch of flowers because the physical body mirrors it to you. If you suppress the Ego with its egoity, then you will be living within the astral body. And the astral body is so delicate that you can perceive the fleeting things of the external world consciously; but they too must first be reflected if you are to see them in reality.

There are many among you who faithfully and sincerely devote yourselves to meditation. Thereby you succeed in suppressing the everyday egoity, and experience in the astral body begins. But reflection must first take place if you are to have conscious experience in the astral body. There are numbers among you who through meditation have already reached the stage of living in the astral body. But now it is a matter of reflection, of mirroring. And just as in ordinary life the physical body must reflect what we experience, so, if we want to perceive consciously in the spiritual world, the experiences of the astral body must be reflected by the etheric body.

But what happens when a man's experiences in the astral body are actually reflected by the etheric body? Something happens of which we must realise, above all, that it is absolutely different from sight in the physical world. Things in the spiritual world are not as convenient as they are in the physical world. Even a bunch of cut flowers is a self-contained object; it remains as it is. We can take a bunch of flowers home and have pleasure in it, put it in a vase and so on. We expect nothing else when the bunch of flowers is there in front of us. But this is not by any means the case with the astral experiences that are reflected to us by the etheric body. Everything there lives and weaves; nothing is still for a single moment. But the essential thing is not how it appears in the reflection. The essential thing about the bunch of flowers is what it actually is, at the time. I take the flowers and I have them. When something is reflected to me by the etheric body, I cannot take it as it is and be satisfied with it. For it simply is not what it appears to be.

Understand me well, my dear friends. For this too I have often used the following analogy. Suppose there are a few strokes here (on the blackboard) let us say B ... A ... U. Now if I could not read when these signs are in front of me I should simply say: ‘I see a few strokes like this which, when joined, form a peculiar pattern.’ I cannot take this home like the bunch of flowers and put it in a vase! If I were to take what stands there, the word BAU (building) and put it in a frame, then I have not got what is essential. What is essential is the actual building outside somewhere. I express the building through these signs, and I merely read the essential thing, in the signs.

On the physical plate the essential things are actually there, in front of me. In ordinary reading I have not the essentials; I have signs for them. So, it is with what I experience in the astral body which is then reflected in the etheric body. It is correct only if I take it as so many signs, realise that these signs mean something else and that it is not sufficient simply to look at what is reflected and assume that it is the essential thing. It is not the essential, any more than the word BAU is the actual building. The essential thing is what these signs mean. First of all, I must learn to read them. In the same way I must learn to read what, to begin with, I perceive in the spiritual world—simply a number of signs which express the truth. We can acquire knowledge of the spiritual world only by taking what it presents to us as letters and words which we learn to read. If we do not learn this, if we think we can spare ourselves the trouble of this occult learning to read, it would be just as clever as a person taking a book and saying: There are fools who say that something is expressed in this book, but that is no concern of mine. I can just turn over the pages and see fascinating letters on them. Such a person simply takes what is presented to him and does not trouble about what is there expressed.

If what I have just said is ignored, one comes into an entirely false relationship to the spiritual world. The essential point is to learn to read and interpret what is perceived. We shall see in the next lectures what is meant by this reading and interpreting.

Thus, we have indications at any rate, which help us to understand the question: What is occult reading? Occult reading begins when man experiences himself in the astral body—just as in the physical world he experiences himself in the Ego—and when the experiences of the astral body are reflected in the etheric body, not as is the case in the physical world, when the experiences of the Ego are reflected in the physical body.

Something else must be remembered here. We are not, as I have also told you to-day, wholly within the objects outside us; we are not only in them with our Ego and astral body; but in waking consciousness the Ego also sends part of itself into the physical body. It is only during sleep that the Ego withdraws from the physical body. This means that in order to live in the physical world we must be able to dive down into our physical body. As regards perception and reading in the spiritual world, we realise, in the first place, that we can live in our astral body, and that things are reflected to us by the etheric body. But we must advance to the further stage of being able to live in the etheric body itself, to come down into the etheric body just as on waking from sleep we come down into the physical body. Please take note too that it is necessary to come down with the astral body into the etheric body.

When we learn to read, we learn to live outside the physical body. Just as on waking we come down into the physical body, so must the occultist, without sinking into the physical body, come down into the etheric body. Occultists call this, with reason, ‘being thrust into the abyss.’ What is necessary is that we should not be stupefied when this happens, that we should go down with consciousness and maintain our own bearings, for this descent into the etheric body is not as easy as the descent into the physical body. In very truth it is like being thrust into the abyss. Man's being is split into three. I have spoken of this in the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. Man becomes a threefold being. He cannot consciously descend into his etheric body without being multiplied in the way indicated.

When the human being lives in the physical world alone, and goes to sleep, his Ego and astral body are outside the physical and etheric bodies; his consciousness then is too dull to enable him to see the spiritual world. When he comes down into the physical body which reflects the physical world to him so that he perceives it, this too is a kind of thrust into the abyss; only it is made so easy for us that we do not experience it as a shock. But every morning, if through our exercises we progress to that stage where we can experience something in the spiritual world, if we learn to read in this condition which is like sleep that has become conscious, we also experience what it means to be thrust down, to be divided into three. If we retain our consciousness now, we are also able consciously to penetrate into the things and happenings of the spiritual world that are outside us.

Thus, we learn to live in the astral body and have our experiences reflected by the etheric body. We read as when we are reading a book. As soon as we have come down into the etheric body we become threefold. We can send out these three parts of our being—and they then move about consciously in the spiritual world. In their wanderings they then experience what we call ‘occult hearing.’ As soon as we have been consciously thrust down into our own etheric body, occult hearing begins. Now we penetrate into things in the real sense. Now we notice that what we have previously learnt to read we can actually experience.

Let us therefore repeat what has been said. Through his occult exercises man is enabled to suppress his egoity to such an extent that he learns to live consciously in his astral body. Then, gradually, the beings and happenings of the spiritual world are reflected by his etheric body. When he is able rightly to interpret this reflected world, he has learnt the art of occult reading. At a further stage, when he is able not only to read while outside his etheric body, but to awaken in the real sense in the etheric body, then he sends out the three parts of his being into the world and hears what is going on, hears its inner weaving and activity. At this stage he hears it.

Gradually he develops the faculty of occult reading and occult hearing in such a way that something quite definite is associated with the experience. He succeeds in actually penetrating to the reality of things. For what transpires on the physical plane is not the reality, indeed it is not! Simple contemplation shows us in every region and corner of the world that what we experience in our environment is not the reality, that we attach a false meaning to everything. Someone once said to me on the banks of the Rhine: ‘There is the ancient Rhine.’ It was a beautiful, deeply felt saying. But what, in reality, is ancient in the Rhine? Certainly not the water that one sees flowing by, for the next moment it is no longer there. It shows clearly enough that it is not what is ancient. Ancient, at most, is the hollow that has been burrowed out in the soil, but that is not what is meant when someone speaks of ‘the ancient Rhine.’ What is it, in reality, that is designated by the phrase, ‘the ancient Rhine?’ If one says ‘the hollow’ ... well, there are hollows in the sea-floor too, and also streams. When the Gulf Stream flows through the ocean, not only is the water different at every moment but the hollow too is different. Nothing is permanent in the Physical, nothing whatever. It is the same with the whole physical world. Your own organism is only a stream: the flesh and blood you have to-day was not yours eight years ago. Nothing is real in the Physical, everything is in flow.

To speak of ‘the ancient Rhine’ has meaning only when we are thinking of those elemental Beings who actually have their life in the Rhine, when we are thinking of the elemental River God Rhine—a spiritual Being who is truly ancient. Only then have we said something that has meaning. We must mean the words ‘ancient Rhine’ in a spiritual sense, or we are talking thoughtlessly. It is profoundly true that we penetrate to spiritual realities only when we are guided by the spiritual world. It is then that we penetrate into the true realities. That we do indeed penetrate into these realities will be clear when we describe the details of occult reading and hearing—as far as is possible—in the lecture tomorrow.