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Occult Reading and Occult Hearing
GA 156

2. Identification with the Signs and Spiritual Realities of the Imaginative World

4 October 1914, Dornach

We will remind ourselves again of what I told you yesterday about the actual relationship of man to the world. I said: In reality it is Maya, illusion, to assume that as human beings of soul-and-spirit we are inside our skin, that things are merely round about us and we take their images into ourselves. In reality, as human beings of soul-and-spirit, we live in the things themselves. We could not become aware of them if our experiences were not reflected to us by our organism. Living in the ordinary physical world, the things are reflected by our physical organism, by its sensory system, by its thinking system, feeling system, willing system.

The truth, then, is this: our organism is a reflecting apparatus. What we experience is not produced in us by our physical organism—which is an erroneous conception of materialism—but it is reflected. Now just as little as a mirror produces what is seen in it, does our organism produce what we experience in our life of soul about the things around us. And the materialist who asserts that the brain or some other organ produces the experiences in our life of soul, is stating, in regard to these things, the same as one who declares that the face he sees when looking in a mirror, belongs not to him but has been produced by the mirror.

The truth of the matter, therefore, has to be experienced when we progress, in the way described yesterday, to the stage of occult reading. After due preparation we experience the more fleeting, more fluctuating beings and happenings of the spiritual world—more fleeting and fluctuating by comparison, of course, with the physical world. We see them inasmuch as we experience them in our astral body and they are mirrored by our etheric body. And we experience these reflections as pictures.

I said yesterday that, generally speaking, we can regard these pictures merely as signs of the spiritual reality. I made this clear by pointing out that anyone who experienced these pictures as dream-pictures (although they are far more living than ordinary dream pictures) would be subject to error. To regard these dream pictures as reality would be like someone who regarded the word BAU (building) not merely as the sign of the building but as the reality itself. We have to envisage that when those fleeting, fluctuating pictures of the spiritual world are reflected from outside by our etheric body, we have the world before us like an open book, like a book which has been opened for us but which we must first learn to read in the right way. In general terms, this is correct. But there is one principle which applies to experiences of the higher worlds far, far more strongly than to those of the physical plane: it is the principle that there are exceptions to everything, real exceptions. Especially are there exceptions to those things of which I have been speaking. Z his must be realised. What I have said holds good in general and if we pay heed to it we can find our bearings in the spiritual world. But there are exceptions and I will explain more concretely the extent to which this is so.

I will take a definite case. Let us suppose that somebody who has developed certain genuine clairvoyant powers, endeavours—and this lies near to the hearts of many people—to find, in the spiritual world, one who recently or some time previously has passed through the gate of death and is now living in the spiritual world in the existence which we describe as the life between death and a new birth.

As I emphasised yesterday, such a search is dependent upon the grace of the spiritual world. It is an act of grace on the part of the spiritual world to be able actually to behold the dead whom we are seeking. As a rule, in such striving, curiosity will certainly not be satisfied. Anyone who were to start merely with the intention of satisfying his curiosity in searching for someone who is dead, would either see nothing at all or inevitably be exposed to errors of every possible kind.

But now we will assume that this is not the case, that there is an important reason, recognised by the Beings of the spiritual world, for meeting the dead. Let us assume that everything is in order—to use a trivial expression—and that a meeting with the dead is permissible. Here again I speak quite generally. It will not be a simple matter of the clairvoyant concerned transporting himself through meditation into the spiritual world and there directing his desires, his wishes or his thoughts to the dead in order to have the grace of vision bestowed upon him. To embark on such an undertaking presuming in advance that it will succeed, would be an error. For as a rule, something quite different will happen.

Please realise that one can only describe special cases; it is not possible to give general, abstract theories when one is speaking, as I am doing now, of a theme like this which concerns the occult world. I can only give an example.

Let us therefore assume that a seer has a justified reason for coming into contact with someone who is dead and through meditation, through concentration of his thoughts finds measures which enable this contact to take place. To describe the character of these measures would lead us too far today but let us assume that they are right. If through meditation and concentration the soul is really in the condition in which the dead can be perceived, the seer may possibly, to begin with—if he has not already had experiences in this sphere—be very easily inclined to see something that he does not connect at all with the manifestation of the dead or with anything to do with him. He may see before him a widespread world of pictures, pictures that are far more living than those of ordinary dreams. Again, and again I must emphasise, because so many errors are current in this respect, that this world of pictures is a world of signs, signs of the higher world. It is this world of signs that we learn to understand. We experience inwardly mobile pictures, all kinds of happenings that are connected with this or that personality. This is experienced—only to begin with there is hardly any resemblance to be found between what we are seeking and the pictures that are experienced. But one thing reveals itself when we are not on the wrong track: within this moving world of pictures we shall experience something that seems to be the most essential point. In the case of the other pictures, you will say to yourselves: these pictures contain something that reminds you of all kinds of things which might also arise from your own memory. Although you have no remembrance of these actual events, nevertheless it is possible—because they are connected with what you have experienced—for them to have given rise to remembrances that are interwoven with fantasy. It is precisely now that the genuine clairvoyant must be on the alert and remember that he is here concerned with a world of pictures which might have been gathered together from his memories. But there is some one point which no memory presents. You can therefore make a precise distinction between what might possibly be the result of fantasy in connection with memories and the other element that is there on its own, and around which everything else groups itself. Of that one point you know that it is not a memory, that it could never have come in a dream into your field of vision. Certainly, one must have had a certain practice in distinguishing dream-pictures from reality before this difference can be seen quite precisely. But then the point comes where one knows: There is something there.

I will try to speak quite precisely. As a rule, this one thing among the pictures may, in a sense, seem even to be paradoxical, absurd. It is possible for something strange and very curious to appear in a sequence of pictures which may otherwise be so beautiful, so splendid, so powerful. The seer will very often find that this experience passes away from him again, that he really cannot begin to make anything of it. Then, of course, he must make the attempt over and over again, from the start. After he has had certain practice in seership, he will find as a rule that again and again such a sequence of pictures comes before him, pictures perhaps of a quite different kind, but there will always be among them something that is certainly the same as what previously constituted the central point of the series of pictures.

Now a certain stage of seership must have been attained if one is to succeed at the first or second attempt in doing the right things with these pictures. When the pictures are in front of us, we must grasp them, be completely conscious so that they do not fade away like dream-pictures. We must face them just as we face a thing in the external world, when we have it in our hand and can say: ‘I am here, and you are there.’ We must be able to distinguish ourselves from the picture and must not be absorbed by it.

In order to achieve this, it is good to try deliberately to change something in the picture as it stands before one. Let us suppose that the picture is there in front of us and we have a conscious hold of ourselves, being able to distinguish ourselves from the picture … let us suppose that some personality comes into the pictures and looks at us with a frowning, unfriendly expression. And now try, while remaining in the whole situation and without freeing ourselves from the clairvoyant vision, now try to feel: How would it be if I were really kind to this person, so that he no longer looks at me frowningly, but with friendliness? If something then changes in the world of pictures it is at once easier to maintain our position within it.

The next stage must be this … it is difficult to find the right words because the affairs of the spiritual world are so different from those of the physical world. ... The next stage is that we must identify ourselves with the picture, with all the pictures, sink down into them, become one with them. For by becoming one with them we put an important truth into execution, as we shall see. If I may use another trivial expression here—we have to consume this whole, series of pictures spiritually, devour them, take them into ourselves, identify ourselves with them, sink into them. In other words, we must realise and know: I have now distinguished myself from these pictures, I have maintained my position outside them, and now, by my own will, I sink into them, just as if I were jumping into water in order to swim in it.—And now comes the important experience—for now you experience in your own soul everything that is expressed in this series of pictures, as if one person were fighting or wounding another or being kind to him. The experience, therefore, is: I am the wounder, also the one who is wounded. I am everything that is in this picture. It is as if you had a picture before you, let us say, of someone who is being beheaded and you experience yourself simultaneously as the one who is doing the beheading and the one who is being beheaded. It is in this real way that you experience yourself in this whole fluctuating world of pictures. You yourself are every picture, every movement in it. Then the picture as such, as an Imagination, becomes invisible, but the inner experiences as such become all the more full of meaning. You cease, now, to behold the picture, but you live in a world of rich experience.

When we really succeed in living right in the pictures, the second act begins. But it needs by no means follow immediately.

From this point onwards, a great deal of discouragement may be in store for seership. It may quite well happen that the moment comes when the resolve is made to sink down into the pictures, to swim in them, and lo! they have vanished like a dream or like something that is forgotten. It may happen—but it will be in the rarest of cases—that the experience of which I shall now speak, comes immediately. But most often of all, what will happen is that the whole episode seems to have entirely vanished, like a dream. Now as genuine clairvoyants we must realise that it need not necessarily be a fact that it has gone altogether. The second experience—which, as I have said, follows in the rarest of cases immediately upon the first—may come much later, may come right out from among the day or night experiences. For very often, what we have thus consumed takes time to be wholly united with us, to be wholly ‘digested,’ by the soul. It may take a long time. ... But when we are sufficiently united with the experience, when it is sufficiently digested, the moment comes when we know: Now I am connected with the personality, or rather with the individuality of the dead and he is sending his thoughts into me. Now I am thinking what the dead is experiencing in his soul. That is what I am thinking now. I am connected with him; he is now speaking to me and I am listening to him.

In reality it is the picture with which we have united ourselves or the series of pictures we have taken into ourselves which has now become one with us—it is this that really hears and takes in the truth. As a rule, this hearing, this spiritual hearing is no longer bound up with pictures but is borne by the consciousness that the soul of the seer is connected with the dead and is enabling the dead to say to him things that cannot be heard by the physical ear, nor perceived with physical sight but are received together with the thoughts. Then the seer knows: This is not thy thought; it is what the dead is saying to thee.—

As you can realise, a certain preparation is necessary to come near an individual who has passed through the gate of death—a preparation which can be described as I have just done. Then, when we have reached this stage of hearing the dead, after having identified ourselves with the picture, all possibility of delusion is eliminated. For delusion could only be like a delusion on the physical plane if I were to meet a human being and take him to be somebody else. That, as a rule, will not occur; a human being is recognised on the physical plane. When I meet a Mr. X on the physical plane, I need not prove to myself on the basis of theoretical principles: ‘That is Mr. X.’ The being himself whom I meet enables me to recognise him. As soon as we stand before a being of the spiritual world, we know that we are in his presence ... although in the spiritual world he naturally speaks to us in a spiritual way, communicating something to us in a spiritual way.

What I have just described to you denotes the transition from the signs with so many meanings which we read and do not attempt to interpret with the intellect, but by absorbing, become one with them. We ‘consume’ them, as it were. Through the process which is set going in the soul as the result of having become one with the pictures, we prepare ourselves to hear the objective process, the objective reality.

The reading is a truly living process—one's very soul has to be directed to it. Something quite different is demanded than is ever demanded on the physical plane. Suppose someone were to publish a book on the physical plane and were to demand that in order to understand the book, we must first eat it, consume it ... Then suppose we were so organized that we could digest an ‘A’ in a different way from an ‘I’ and, through the inner process, realise the difference. If we could experience all this, then the process would be comparable with the spiritual process just described.

We cannot approach a spiritual happening or a spiritual being until we have given up our whole soul to understanding the happening or being concerned. We must ourselves have become one with the signs or letters of the spiritual world. We must read—and then, while we are reading, we must hear, spiritually.

I have said that this holds good as a general principle. But in Spiritual Science we must speak quite accurately. I say, ‘as a general principle,’ for there are also exceptions. For instance, it may happen that some seer, when in a clairvoyant state, does not only experience a series of pictures as I have described, but actually experiences as a picture, as an Imagination, something that resembles the dead as he was in life, as an external figure. Then, of course, the seer may think that he is confronting the dead. But he can never be quite sure. It may be so, but it need not necessarily be absolutely certain. In order to explain this case, let me again make a comparison. Our ordinary script, printed script or writing script, consists of signs. If I write the word BAU (building), this word in itself has no resemblance whatever to a building. But it was not always so in the evolution of writing. If we go back to olden times we find a picture-script. Men drew pictures which still had a resemblance to what they were meant to represent. And it was out of this pictorial script that our script, consisting of signs or letters, evolved.

It is the same with the clairvoyance which may arise as the result of development by our Rosicrucian methods or the atavistic, more or less primitive clairvoyance which may arise as the result of certain conditions.

Just as our modern script of signs and letters is something that has developed, and the pictorial script is more primitive, so the clairvoyance which immediately sees what is being looked for, is a more primitive form. It is precisely developed clairvoyance that often will not immediately be able to see what is there to be seen. With developed clairvoyance things will be as I have described. But there are also exceptions, as for example a man may have the powers, without having trained his clairvoyance, simply from the nature of his organism. In the pictures which come to a natural clairvoyant there may be far more similarity with the spiritual happenings than there is in the pictures which come to the trained clairvoyant who has to go through the whole procedure I have described. Naturally, however, primitive clairvoyance can never succeed in reaching true Imaginations, can never learn anything with certainty. And even when things are known with certainty, they are only happenings which are connected with earthly life.

I will give you an example. Suppose someone has died and before his death put a Will somewhere, without being able to tell anyone where it is. He dies. Some person endowed with primitive, untrained clairvoyance may, in a kind of trancelike, imaginative condition, come into connection with the dead man. This person can be led by the dead so that he can actually discover the place where the Will was placed. The clairvoyant in question may even be able to show the place, the cupboard, for example, where it lies. Such things may happen, but these cases are always connected with the physical plane and with something that has happened on the physical plane. They may be very complicated, but they are always connected in some way with the physical life.

One will not come much further than this in the sphere of primitive clairvoyance. To move about with absolute clarity and certainty in the spiritual world the preparations of which I have spoken are necessary.

In order that in the following lectures we may get down to details of spiritual reading and hearing, I must still say something more precise about what I have told you.

I said that what lies behind the Maya of external experience becomes a truth the moment we enter the spiritual world in the way described. It is not enough to see a picture through clairvoyance and just to see pictures as we see beings on the physical plane. That is not enough. We must be able to plunge right into the pictures, we must make it come true that we are in the spiritual world. We do this by submerging ourselves in the pictures. We put ourselves consciously into a condition in which we also are under other circumstances, but without knowing anything about it. If, therefore, I have this series of pictures, with what I have described as the centre-point of them, I must go right into them, I must consume them, must be within them.

What I have described is a spiritual experience and what matters about a spiritual experience is that we understand it. To understand it we must be able to practice spiritual self-observation. During the process of submerging ourselves in the pictures, something happens that we feel—we feel it in ourselves. Just think ... I have told you that we become conscious of our own position—separate from the Imagination ... and then we sink into the pictures. When we are still consciously standing before them, the feeling is different from what it is when we have sunk down into them. I must try to describe these two feelings.

The moment we have sunk down into them, knowing that now we have made these pictures disappear by identifying ourselves with them, in that moment we are seized with the feeling of insufficiency concerning ourselves. These things are difficult to describe. The feeling is this: ‘I am now only a part of what I was before—only one part.’

Naturally, such observations must be made again and again before we are able to interpret these things rightly.

Again, a comparison is best. It is just as though one had a 12 kilos weight, and then, without anything happening, the 12 kilos weight suddenly became only a 1 kilo weight. The feeling is: ‘You are only one-twelfth of yourself and the other eleven-twelfths are outside in the universe.’ It can be expressed in a diagram. One feels oneself somewhere out in the Universe, but with one's whole being. One feels: ‘Out there in the Universe are still eleven-twelfths of me; my being is distributed.’ It can be expressed by saying: ‘I myself am at some point in a circumference and the other eleven-twelfths are distributed around that circumference. Here am I, at the point AI and there are the other eleven-twelfths.’

At this stage we realise that we are actually within the Universe; we have become one-twelfth part of ourselves. We have left the other eleven-twelfths of our being in a circumference.

The occult expression can be used here. We can say: Man becomes a living Zodiac. Man has himself become the Zodiac. Then comes the hearing; it comes from within that Zodiac. So, if I keep my former example, that of speaking with one who is dead, the dead is speaking from within the Zodiac.

Just think of the difference between this and an experience in the physical world. In the physical world we feel enclosed within our skin; objects are outside, and they seem to come into us as we look at them. In the spiritual experience we are outside at some point, in one-twelfth of the spiritual horizon. Now the world at which we are looking is within our circumference. We look inwards from outside; in ordinary life we look outwards from within. And now there come what seem to be spiritual voices from within, with which the dead speaks to us—we become aware of them when we accustom ourselves to listen in a different way, when we learn to pay attention in a different way. More exact details will be given—I will now just indicate it figuratively. At this stage we may have the feeling: ‘I am aware of what the dead is saying; he is speaking within the circumference ... I hear him only when my spiritual ear is turned for instance, to the 5 (see diagram). Now he ceases to speak there ... but he goes on again, and now I only hear him when I turn my spiritual ear to another point (i i) and so on.’ Knowledge comes gradually when seven voices, seven different voices are distinguished within the circumference. Seven voices have to be distinguished. They are heard in the most diverse ways, according to the point from which they are heard. Everything that we experience here speaks from within the circumference, as it were from seven voices.

We have now gone out into the circumference of the Universe ... whatever we are to experience is within this circumference. We must learn to feel ourselves as one part of that circumference and with a kind of cosmic humility, shall I say, make no claim to be anything more than one-twelfth of the circumference. But the other eleven-twelfths have to be called to our aid. We must endeavour to acquire the faculty of distinguishing what speaks to us. We must differentiate in all kinds of ways what a being can say to us in this way.

Again here, only a comparison makes things clear.—What speaks to us from within this sphere can really be called: Spiritual Vowels. And everything that we ourselves are, everything that lives at the periphery are Spiritual Consonants. Consonants and vowels work together; the consonants are stationary when we have poured out our being in twelve parts into the Universe; the vowels move within it, bringing to expression what is to be voiced.

Once again, I will return to our example.—I am seeking for one who is dead, trying to come into contact with him. A series of pictures appears to me and, among the pictures, something that seems paradoxical, perhaps even absurd. I realise however that this is something which could not have come to me from my own life of soul. Then I succeed in sinking down into the pictures, I become one with them. At this moment I stand at a definite point—A.

My being is so submerged in what is outside that I have released, as it were, one-twelfth of my being.

You must remember that language must be precise when occult matters are spoken of. I have told you that the series of pictures belongs to us; we have this series of pictures in ourselves; the pictures are within that one-twelfth, and everything else that cannot become one with these pictures is now distributed over the periphery. At, this stage, for a short or long period, we may really be able to receive the spiritual voice, the communication of the dead. Then we hear the dead speaking from the periphery that we ourselves have formed around that with which we want to be related.

What is it that has really been done? We have gone out of ourselves, have become one with the Universe, but with only one part of the Universe. Therefore, we have ourselves to become part of the Universe, to grasp with the whole of our being that of which we want to become aware. We have, as it were, built a spiritual aura around one part ... but we cannot build it completely, we can only stand at one point; we have to build the aura out of what we, ourselves, are not.

Again, let us repeat.—I perceive a series of pictures. To begin with I stand outside these pictures, but then I plunge into them; thereby I build a cosmic sphere around what I want to perceive; I build it with what I have given up, offered up. This cosmic sphere contains within itself—like seven planets—the vowels through which the dead can speak to us when we ourselves form the consonants through the twelve-foldness of our being.

We can only come into connection with a being of the spiritual world by enfolding him, embracing him in such a way that this very act of enfolding forms the cosmic consonants; the being can then announce himself to us in the cosmic vowels: The cosmic vowels can then act together with the cosmic consonants which we ourselves have fashioned. Then reading and hearing work together. Thus, do we penetrate into a particular sphere in the spiritual world.

Now I beg you not to be led by what I have said into the error of thinking that what I have described has anything to do with the physical Zodiac or with the seven physical planets. That is not the case and is not meant so. What happens is that in the twelve-foldness a cosmic sphere is built around the being whom we want to find. We build a world for ourselves.

Whenever, on the physical plane, we want to get to know something, we have to look at it from many different sides, from many standpoints; we have to go around it. In the spiritual world this must become a reality. Not only must we go around it with our whole being, we must so divide our being that we create a periphery around what we perceive. Every time there is a real spiritual perception, a spiritual periphery of this kind has been created. And only because those Divine Beings whom we have learnt to know as the higher Hierarchies have done this on a vast scale, has the Zodiac appeared.

Suppose that what I have described has been attained.—Intercourse with someone who is dead has been achieved. Suppose this intercourse could be consolidated, held static ... then this consolidation would represent a human being—a spiritual human being, of course, divided into twelve parts, twelve fixed stars. If that which is perceived could be consolidated, a planetary system would arise. Inasmuch as the Gods did this and consolidated it into a gigantic plan, our world-system arose. Whereas we, in our single acts of clairvoyance create something transitory which naturally passes away again when the clairvoyance is over.

Our whole world-system is consolidated clairvoyance of the Gods, of the higher Hierarchies. That is why we shall know this world only when our knowledge is based on spiritual foundations.

The physical world is something that is not at all real, it is just as little real as the water of a flowing river is real. The Spiritual alone is real. So it is too, with a whole solar system. Thus, we must learn to know the solar system in its reality, by deciphering it in spiritual reading and hearing. In many respects we have already done this.