Old and New Methods of Initiation
12 February 1922, Dornach
Considerations such as those we embarked on yesterday are, of course, not necessarily set out for the purpose of inviting anyone to start practising what is needed for attaining super-sensible knowledge. To a certain extent this intention is, of course, also present. But the main reason is to make known what kind of higher knowledge can be attained by such means. A declaration stating that one thing or another is possible in man's development is, at the same time, a declaration about the intrinsic nature of the human being. It can be stated that the human being seeking initiation is capable of extricating his soul and spirit element from his physical body, either by the means described yesterday with reference to the ancient Mysteries, or by means suitable for today, which I am about to discuss briefly. A statement such as this shows that the element of soul and spirit is an independent entity which has its own existence over and above that of the body. So a discussion about higher knowledge is, at the same time, a revelation about the being of man; this is, in the first instance, what is important for the dissemination of anthroposophical wisdom.
Yesterday I described how in the ancient Mysteries the bodily nature of man was treated so that it became able to free its soul nature in both directions. I said that the two main aspects of this in the ancient Mysteries were, on the one hand, the draught of forgetfulness, and, on the other hand, the occasioning of states of anxiety, fear, shock. The draught of forgetfulness, I said, wiped from memory everything pertaining to ordinary earthly life. But this negative effect was not the main point. The main point was that during the process of coming to Mystery knowledge the brain was actually made physically softer, as a result of which the spiritual element which is usually held off was no longer held off by the brain but allowed through, so that the pupil became aware of his soul and spirit element and knew that this had been in him even before birth, or rather, even before conception.
The other aspect was the shock which caused the organism to become rigid. When the organism grows rigid it no longer absorbs the soul and spirit element in the way it usually does with regard to its expression in the will. On the one hand the rigid bodily organism withdraws from the element of soul and spirit, and on the other hand the element of soul and spirit becomes perceptible to the pupil. Through the softening of the brain the thought aspect of the soul became perceptible to the pupil of the ancient Mysteries, and through the rigidifying of the rest of the organism the will aspect became perceptible. In this way, initiation gave the pupil a perception, a picture of the element of soul and spirit within him. But this picture was dreamlike in character. For what was it that was freed on the one hand towards the thought aspect, and on the other hand towards the will aspect? It was that part which descends from realms of spirit and soul to unite with the physical, bodily nature of man. Only by taking possession of the body can it become capable of making use of the senses and of the intellect. It needs the body for these things. Without the use of the body these things remain dreamlike, they remain dull, twilit. So by receiving his detached soul and spirit element as a result of the processes described, the pupil received something dreamlike, which, however, also contained a thought element.
As I said yesterday, if people were to follow these procedures today, the condition induced in consequence would be a pathological condition. For since the Mystery of Golgotha human beings have progressed in such a way that their intellect has become stronger by comparison with their earlier, more instinctive manner of knowing. This strengthening of intellectual life has come over mankind particularly since the fifteenth century. It is extremely significant that throughout the Middle Ages people still knew that in order to attain higher knowledge, or indeed to lead a higher kind of life, it was necessary to extricate the soul from the body.
If Schiller had managed to write a great drama he had planned, Die Malteser (The Knights of Malta), German literature would probably have been all the richer for a work on this medieval knowledge about the super-sensible world, a work on the relationship of the Middle Ages to super-sensible matters. It is a most interesting aspect of German culture that, precisely in the years when Napoleon destroyed the Order of the Knights of Malta, 1 Order of the Knights of Malta: In 1798 Napoleon seized and occupied Malta on his way to Egypt. Schiller was planning to write a drama about them, about the siege of Malta by the Turks and its defence by the grand master of the Order, de La Valette. Schiller was obviously prevented from writing this drama. He left it on one side and wrote Wallenstein (Wallenstein's Camp) instead. The Order of the Knights of Malta originated at the time of the Crusades. Schiller's drama would have shown clearly that the members of such an Order, which had the external task of working for the community and caring for the sick, considered that they could only do such work if they at the same time strove towards the attainment of a higher life.
At the time when the Order of the Knights Templar and the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John — which later became the Order of the Knights of Malta — were founded, and indeed throughout the Middle Ages, people had the certain feeling that human beings must first transform themselves before they can undertake such tasks in the right way. This is a feeling about the nature of the human being which has become entirely lost in more recent times. This can be put down to the fact that the human intellect has grown so much more intense and strong, with the result that modern man is totally intellectual because the intellectual aspect predominates entirely.
Now, in our own time, there is once more a great longing amongst mankind to overcome the intellectual aspect. Though literature and, above all, journalism, still express the opposite, nevertheless amongst the broad masses of mankind there is a longing to overcome the intellectual element. One thing that shows this especially is the fact that talks about spiritual matters are extremely well received in the widest circles. Another thing, even though it is not yet fully understood, is the way our eurythmy impresses the widest circles — not intellectually, but in what comes from the imaginative foundation of human beings. This became very obvious during my more recent lecture tours and especially the recent eurythmy tour. Eurythmy makes a very strong impression, even in circles where it cannot be understood in its deepest sense when it is seen for the first time. Nevertheless, it is felt to be something which has been called up out of the profoundest foundations of human nature, something that is more than what comes out of the intellect.
Now what is this intellectual element which is so much a part of the human being today? Let me draw you another diagram. As I said yesterday, with regard to the human brain (white), we can imagine how, as a result of the draught of forgetfulness, the element of spirit and soul, which usually came to a halt before penetrating too far inwards, now penetrated the brain (red). In the pupil of the ancient Mysteries the element of spirit and soul then rose up through the brain which had been thus prepared. Compared with ancient times, let us say prior to the Mystery of Golgotha, today's intellectual faculties are as they are because the element of soul and spirit is inwardly much stronger and more intense. The people of ancient times were far less intellectual. Their soul and spirit element was not etched with such sharp lines of thought as is the case today. Intellectuals think in straight lines, which is not how people thought in more ancient times. In those days thoughts were more like pictures, they were dreamlike and softer. Now, thoughts are endowed with sharp edges, clear contours. Yet, even though the element of soul and spirit is much stronger than it used to be, human beings today are still nevertheless incapable of grasping these thoughts with their soul and spirit element.
Please do not misunderstand me, my dear friends. Human beings today are considerably stronger in their soul and spirit than were people of old. They dream less than did people of old, and their thoughts are firmer. But their thoughts would be just as dull today as they used to be, if the element of soul and spirit alone were at work in them. Even today, human beings cannot think out of their soul. It is their body which relieves them of the power of thought. Sense perceptions are received by the element of soul and spirit. But to think these sense perceptions we need the help of our body. Our body is the thinker. So nowadays the following takes place: The sense perception works on the human being; the element of soul and spirit (red, top) penetrates and mingles with the sense perception; but the body acts like a mirror and keeps on throwing back the rays of thought (arrows). By this means they become conscious. So it is the body which relieves human beings of the effort of thinking, but it does not relieve them of the effort of perceiving with their senses. So today, if human beings want to strive for initiation with regard to the thought aspect, they must turn their exercises towards strengthening their element of soul and spirit even more. We know these exercises from Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and from the second part of Occult Science. Thus will they gradually make their soul and spirit element so independent that it no longer needs the body.
So let us understand one another: When we think in ordinary life today, our element of soul and spirit does participate. Above all it takes in the sense perceptions. But it would be incapable by itself of developing the thoughts which are developed today. So the body comes along and relieves us of the effort of thinking. In ordinary life we think with our body, our body is our thinking apparatus. If we pursue the exercises described in the books mentioned, our soul will be strengthened to such an extent that it would no longer need the body for thinking but would itself be able to think. This is, basically, the first step on the path towards higher knowledge; it is the first step when the soul and spirit element begins to dismiss the body as the organ that does the thinking so far as higher knowledge is concerned. And it cannot be stressed often enough that a person who ascends to higher knowledge — that is, to Imagination — must remain at his own side with his ordinary good sense, keeping a watch on himself and being his own critic. In other words, he must remain the same person he always is in ordinary life. But out of the first person that second one develops, capable now of thinking without the help of the body, instead of with it.
The element of spirit and soul which revealed itself to the pupil of the ancient Mysteries came out of the body and penetrated through the brain, and as it oozed forth the pupil perceived it. Today what is perceived in initiation is a strengthened thinking which does not in any way make use of the brain. The pupil in ancient times drew what he saw in the way of spirit and soul out of his own bodily organization. Today the human being perceives the soul and spirit element, as far as thoughts are concerned, in such a way that they penetrate into him in the same way as sense perceptions penetrate into him. In taking this first upward step towards higher knowledge the human being must accustom himself to saying: I am beginning to perceive myself with regard to my eternal element of soul and spirit, for this comes in through my eyes, it comes in from outside in every way.
In a public lecture 2 See the lecture of 2 November 1921 in Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophie und Wissenschaft, Dornach GA 75 (not yet published). in the Bernoulli Hall in Basel I said: Anthroposophical spiritual science has to regard perception through the senses as its ideal. We have to take our start from perceiving with our senses. We must not return to dreamlike perception, but have to go forward to even clearer perception than that of perceiving with our senses. Our own being must come towards us, just as colours and sounds come towards our senses.
I showed two things in the last diagram. Both this (top) and this (bottom), the element of soul and spirit, are supposed to be one and the same thing. And they are one and the same, but seen from different sides. When a human being descends from the world of spirit and soul to physical incarnation, his element of soul and spirit, in a way, dies from the point of view of the soul and spirit world. When a human being is conceived and prepares to be born he dies as regards the spiritual world. And when he dies here in the physical world and goes through the portal of death he is born in the spiritual world. These concepts are relative. We die in respect of the spiritual world when we are born. And when we die in respect of the physical world we are born in the spirit. Death in the physical world signifies spiritual birth, birth in the physical world signifies spiritual death. Birth and death, then, are relative concepts. There is something which makes its appearance when the soul is on its way to birth, something that would not be capable of surviving in the spiritual world; it would disintegrate in the spiritual world, and so it streams towards a physical body in order to preserve itself.
In a diagram it can be depicted like this: The element of spirit and soul (red coming from the left) descends from the spirit and soul world. It arrives, you might say, in a cul-de-sac; it can go no further and is forced to equip itself with physical matter (blue). But the physical matter actually only works in the way I have described — from the brain, but not from the rest of the organism. As regards the rest of the organism the spirit and soul element does indeed travel onwards, having recovered through not being allowed to pass by the brain, through finding resistance and support in the brain. It is able, after all, to come to meet itself (red, right) throughout the rest of the organism, especially the system of limbs and metabolism. This blue part in the drawing is the head organism. Here (yellow) is the system
of limbs and metabolism; under normal conditions it absorbs the element of soul and spirit, but only to a certain extent.
As we grow up from childhood our spirit and soul element keeps making an appearance. At the moment of conception, and all through the embryonic stage in the mother's womb, the element of spirit and soul descending from the spiritual world is absorbed into matter. But because it finds a support it recovers again. Because of the shape of the embryo, at first that of the head, the element of spirit and soul finds a support (see drawing). Then the rest of the organism begins to grow, and once again the element of spirit and soul oozes through, as I have shown in the diagram.
As we grow up through childhood our element of spirit and soul gradually becomes ever more independent. I have often described this in detail and also shown how at major points of transition, such as the change of teeth and puberty, the element of spirit and soul becomes increasingly independent. As we grow up our physical body recedes more and more as we attain an independent spirit and soul element. This independent element is more intense today than it was in ancient times. But it would still be incapable of thinking. As I have said, it needs the help of the body if it wants to think. If this were not there, whatever grew towards us would remain forever dreamlike.
Initiates in ancient times strove to make their brain porous, so that what was then the element of spirit and soul could ooze through as it descended; in a certain way they could still see their life before birth through their softened brain. Today initiates are not concerned with that; they are concerned with what evolves during the course of life. This awakens a higher intensity with regard to the thought aspect. Initiates in ancient times would not have been capable of this. They would have been unable to take such a firm hold of the new spirit and soul element that begins to develop in the child — to begin with in an unclear way, and which later passes through the portal of death. In a way they slew the physical aspect, they paralysed it, so that the element of spirit and soul could emerge that had existed before conception.
Today we take a firmer hold of what we develop — at first in a weak way — through childhood and into adulthood, strengthening and reinforcing the new element of spirit and soul that has been developing since birth. We endeavour to achieve independence of our spirit and soul element over against our physical body, as far as our thought life is concerned. The pupil in ancient times made manifest the element of spirit and soul belonging to him before birth by toning down his physical body. We today endeavour to make manifest that element of spirit and soul which develops more and more from birth onwards. But we do not make it manifest to a degree which would be necessary in order to be able to see independently into the spiritual world. This is the difference.
As regards the will, the situation is as follows. The initiate in ancient times endeavoured to paralyse his will organization. This made it possible for him to perceive the element of spirit and soul he had from before his birth and which was normally absorbed by his will organization. If the body is rigid it does not absorb the element of spirit and soul, and so it is revealed independently. As modern initiates we do not do this; we do it differently. We strengthen our will by transforming the power of will in the manner described in the books already mentioned. It would be quite wrong to bring about a cataleptic condition by means of shocks or anxiety states as was the case in the ancient Mysteries. For modern man, with his highly-developed intellect, this would be something quite pathological. This must not be allowed to happen. Instead we use retrospective exercises — remembering backwards what has happened through the day — and also other will exercises to transform our will in a way which might be described as follows:
Consider the human eye. What must be its constitution if we are to be able to see? A cataract comes about when the physical matter of the eye makes itself independent so that it dresses itself up in physical matter which is not transparent. The eye must be selfless, it must be selflessly incorporated in our organism if we are to use it for seeing; it must be transparent. Our organism is most certainly not transparent for our will. As I have often said, we can think that we want to raise our hand. We form the thought: I want to raise my hand. But what then happens in our organism as this thought slips over into it and performs the action — this is as obscure for us as are the events which take place between going to sleep and waking up. The next thing we see is our raised hand, another perception. We perceive something at the beginning and we perceive something at the end, but what lies in between is a state of sleep. Our will unfolds in the unconscious just as much as the events of sleep unfold in the unconscious. So we can rightly say that for ordinary consciousness our organism is as untransparent as regards perceiving how the will functions as is an eye afflicted with cataract.
Of course I do not mean that the human organism is ill because of this. For ordinary, everyday life it has to be untransparent. This is its normal condition. But it cannot remain so for higher knowledge; it has to become transparent, it must become transparent for soul and spirit. This is achieved by means of the will exercises. Our organism then becomes transparent. We then no longer look down into something indeterminate when our will works, for our organism becomes as selfless as the eye, which is set selflessly into our organism so that we may perceive external objects properly. Just as the eye is in itself transparent, so our organism becomes transparent with regard to the element of spirit and soul; our whole organism becomes a sense organ. Thus, with regard to the will, we perceive the spiritual beings as objectively as we perceive external physical objects through our external eyes. Our will exercises are not aimed at making our body rigid in order to free our element of spirit and soul. They are aimed at developing the element of soul and spirit to such an extent that it becomes capable of seeing through the physical body. This is the main point. We see into the spiritual world only if we look through ourselves. We see external objects with our eyes only by looking through our eyes. And we do not see into the spiritual world directly, but only by looking through ourselves.
This is the other side: development with regard to the will. The whole of evolution in recent times depends, firstly, on our developing our thinking to an extent which makes it independent of the brain, and secondly, on our developing our will to an extent that the whole human being becomes transparent. It is impossible to see into the spiritual world through a vacuum, just as it is impossible to see the world of colours without looking through the eye. We have to look through ourselves, and this is brought about by means of the will exercises.
This, then, is for modern man what can be carried out by initiation. On the one hand, with regard to thinking, the element of soul and spirit can be made independent of the body, and on the other hand the material nature of the body can be overcome so that it becomes transparent for spirit and soul. Thus the element of spirit and soul has become independent through its own strength. This is the great difference between ancient and modern initiation. Ancient initiation transformed the physical body — the brain on the one hand, and the rest of the organism on the other — and, because the body was transformed in this way, the element of soul and spirit became faintly perceptible. Modern initiation transforms the element of spirit and soul, strengthening it with regard to the thought aspect on the one hand, and the will aspect on the other; thus it becomes independent of the brain, and at the same time so strong that it can see through the rest of the organism.
What the initiate saw in olden times appeared in ghostly form. Whatever beings of the spiritual world were able to reveal themselves when the procedure had been completed, appeared in a ghostly form. I could say that the spiritual world was seen in etheric shapes. The great anxiety of the teachers in the ancient Mysteries was that the pupils, despite the fact that what they saw of the spiritual world was ghostly, would learn to disregard this ghostly aspect. Ever and again they warned their pupils: What you are seeing appears to be material, but you must regard it as a picture; these ghostly things that you are seeing are only pictures of the spiritual world; you must not imagine that what you see around you in a ghostly form is actual reality. In a similar way, when I draw on the blackboard the chalk marks are not reality but only an image. Of course this expression was not used in olden times, but in modern terms it is a good way of putting it. It was the great concern of the teachers in the ancient Mysteries that their pupils should regard as pictures what they saw in a dreamlike, ghostly form.
In modern initiation there must be anxiety on a different score. Here, knowledge of the higher worlds can only be achieved at all by means of Imagination. Here we have to live in a world of pictures; the pictures have a picture character from the start. There is no danger of mistaking them in their picture character for anything else. But we have to learn to assess them correctly. In order to know how to relate these pictures to the spiritual reality they represent, we have to apply to them the exact thought processes we have acquired as modern human beings. We really have to think within this world of pictures in the very way we have learnt to think in the ordinary physical world. Every thoughtless glance is damaging to modern initiation. All the healthy ways of thinking we have developed as modern human beings must be brought to bear on higher knowledge. Just as we can find our way about the ordinary physical world if we can think properly, so can we only find our way about in the world of the spirit — which we enter through modern initiation — if we are able to penetrate with the thinking we have gained here in the physical world into all the knowledge we attain through Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition. In my book Theosophy, 3 Rudolf Steiner Theosophy, Anthroposophic Press, New York 1986. as well as in Occult Science and Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, I have always stated categorically that this is a characteristic of modern initiation.
That is why it is so important that anyone who desires to enter into the higher worlds in a modern way should learn to think with exactitude and practise thinking with exactitude. This is not as easy as people suppose. To help you understand what I mean let me say the following: Think of something really startling: Suppose our present respected company were to be surprised tomorrow here in the Goetheanum by a visit from, say, Lloyd George 4 David Lloyd George, 1863-1945. British Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922. of course this is only hypothetical, but I want to give an extreme example. If Lloyd George were to turn up here tomorrow you would all have certain thoughts and certain feelings. These thoughts and feelings would not be the result of simply observing all that went on from the moment of his appearance until the moment of his departure. In order to simply follow all this, you would not need to know that it was Lloyd George. If you did not know who it was, you would simply note whatever can be noted with regard to somebody who is entirely unknown to you. Until you learn to disregard everything you already know and feel from elsewhere about something you are observing, as long as you cannot simply follow what is going on without any of this, you are not thinking with exactitude. You would only be thinking with exactitude if you were capable — should Lloyd George really appear here tomorrow — of entertaining thoughts and feelings which applied solely to what actually went on from the moment you first noticed him to the moment when he disappeared from view. You would have to exclude every scrap of prior knowledge. You would have to exclude everything that had irritated you and everything that had pleased you about him and take in only whatever there was to take in at that moment. Only in this way is it possible to learn to think in accordance with reality.
Just think how far human beings are from being able to think with exactitude as regards reality! Only let something stir in your soul and you will see what feelings, living hidden and unconscious in your soul, you allow to rise up. It is extremely difficult to confine oneself solely to what one has seen. Read a description of something and then ask: Is the writer merely describing what he saw or is he not also calling up hundreds and hundreds of prejudices, both in feeling and in thinking, which are bound up with it? Only if you are capable of restricting yourself solely to what you have seen will you be in a position gradually to attain to thinking with exactitude.
It is necessary to lay aside everything we have been taught or have learned from life with regard to what we see, and follow solely what life presents to us. If you consider this and meditate on it a little you will gradually come to understand what I mean by thinking with exactitude. In ordinary life we have little opportunity under today's conditions to practise thinking with exactitude except in geometry or, over and above that, in mathematics. Here we really do restrict ourselves to what we see.
We have not many prejudices about a geometric form, a triangle for instance. Here is a triangle. Let me draw a parallel line here. This angle equals that angle, and the other one is equal to this one, and the one in the middle equals itself. This is a straight angle, so all three
angles of the triangle equal a straight angle. I am simply taking account of what I see before me, without applying the colossal prejudices I would bring to bear if Lloyd George were to arrive here tomorrow and I were to know about it in advance. In saying what I have just said, I was, of course, merely endeavouring to point out that thinking with absolute exactitude is a good preparation for seeing properly in the higher spiritual world. A kind of thinking in which you have firm control of the beginning of the thought, as well as a clear view of every step of thought along the way, is necessary in order to enter the higher worlds, that is, in order enter there with understanding. Above all a clearly-defined conscientiousness in thinking is necessary, a calling-oneself-to-account about one's thoughts. Ordinary life is very remiss in this, too. In most cases, people have no interest in thinking with exactitude; they prefer to think in a way in which they can enjoy the thought and feel comfortable with it.
For a Catholic priest, for instance, it is frightfully uncomfortable to entertain the thought that there might be something right about Anthroposophy. In such a case there can be no question of developing any exact thoughts. Instead, the matter is approached with all sorts of misconceptions and prejudices, and judgements are formed on the basis of these. Most things in life are decided on the basis of prejudices. Consider, for instance, what a strange impression is created sometimes when a simple attempt is made to describe something entirely objectively. Here we live in the Goetheanum. Nobody would consider me to be less of an admirer of Goethe than anyone else, and yet have I not said a good many things against Goethe? How often have I not attempted to describe Goethe from a narrow, overseeable point of view, whereas usually when Goethe is mentioned a whole host of prejudgements arises in response to his name alone. Merely to mention the name of Goethe sets up an excitement in the soul. It is impossible to approach any new phenomenon without prejudgement if one brings along a colossal collection of prejudices before even starting.
For the most part these things are not taken into account, and people therefore frequently say: Oh well, we can't get any further with our project of entering the spiritual worlds! Indeed, if elementary matters are not attended to first then, naturally enough, there is no way of entering those worlds. People just feel that unreasonable demands are being made of them if it is suggested that they take account of even the most elementary things.
Here is an example: In the nineties 5 On 16 February 1894 Ernst Haeckel celebrated his sixtieth birthday. Rudolf Steiner was one of the invited guests. Bismarck, much admired by Haeckel, was also present. He had been forced to resign his office in 1890. I happened to be in Jena when Bismarck gave a grand speech after his forced resignation. He appeared on the platform in the wake of Haeckel and Bardeleben and other Jena professors. Imagine the huge crowd in the market square in Jena. They were expected to follow Bismarck's speech as they would a speech made by someone they had previously never heard of! Such a thing is unthinkable under normal conditions. And yet for someone who really desires to undergo a kind of initiation it is certainly necessary to develop an impartiality which enables him to take everything he sees as something entirely new, however many prejudices his soul might previously have harboured in that respect. Everything must be treated as though it had arrived like a bolt from the blue. For it is a special characteristic of the spiritual world that we have to win it afresh at every moment if we desire to enter it. And to do this we have to prepare ourselves in a suitable way.
It can be said that the general drift of civilization indicates that mankind is indeed headed in this direction. But for the moment this still appears in a light that is not all that pleasing, namely, in opposition to any kind of authority, and to any kind of received judgement, and so on. These things will have to be ennobled. But meanwhile mankind is indeed moving in the direction of impartiality and freedom from prejudice. But, for the moment, the more negative, the uglier sides of this are more prevalent. We must, therefore, judge the evolution of civilization with regard to the future in the very manner I have just been describing.