KNOWING THE WORLDS
The great, beguiling promise of Rudolf Steiner's "spiritual science" is the claim that, by using the techniques of this "science," we can objectively know the spirit realm.
In general, Steiner said that there are two higher or spiritual worlds above us: the soul world and the spirit world.*
In his book KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT [GA 10], Steiner tells us how to gain direct understanding of those worlds.
On this page, we will survey that book and the guidance it offers us.
A few preliminary notes:
• Steiner does not always make clear distinctions. Thus, for instance, while he sometimes speaks of higher worlds (plural), he also sometimes talks about a single higher world — one that presumably includes its constituent realms or regions. Likewise, the terms he applies to various realms or regions ("worlds") shift around a bit. For instance, in addition to speaking of the “soul world,” he also speaks of “the soul and thought world” and the “world of thought and feeling.” The reader is left to decide how these terms relate to one another.
• Most of the quotations below touch on at least one world of one kind or another — often the soul world or the spirit world. But there are also references to other "worlds" such as the "world of hearing," the "world of plants," and so forth. How carefully Steiner was choosing his words** in the latter instances, and how various worlds are connected to other worlds, is again left to the reader to decide. Still, taken all in all, the quotations create a verbal map of the universe that Steiner asks us to accept as reality.
• The following is not a complete summary, but a survey, intended to convey the general structure and contents of the book, both the highs and the lows. Inevitably, there are gaps; not everything in the book can be included unless we reprint the entire book, which is not feasible. But the book itself also has large gaps — Steiner intentionally withheld various bits of information that, he said, you may acquire only through the process of occult initiation.
• Much of what you are about to read is confusing. You may suspect that I have created the confusion by manhandling Steiner's statements, twisting them to make them seem absurd. I plead not guilty. I claim that I have presented Steiner fairly. How can you judge? Get the book and read it yourself. I am confident you will find that I have not distorted Steiner's work.
• Although far from clear, the picture Steiner paints is attractive. He stresses certain high moral qualities and he advocates admirable forms of purification, as almost any religious leader would. He couches his preachments in Bible-like language,* he offers certainties and reassurances that virtually anyone would wish to receive, and he promises wondrous possibilities for continued — indeed immortal — life beyond our present existence. Some people find these offerings and promises so compelling that they give Steiner their belief and allegiance. Others, however, find many points of emptiness, dubiety, and even moral falsehood in Steiner's teachings. If you are considering a Waldorf school for your child, you should determine which side of this divide you come down on. The teachings you are about to review are fundamental to the theology that underlies Waldorf education. Unless you find great and certain truth in them, you may ultimately find no virtues in the educational approach that arises from them.
— Roger Rawlings
* He also indicated that there are additional worlds above those, but they are all but unknowable to us at our present stage of development. “[Our] ascent into the Macrocosm can of course proceed to still higher stages ... Man can ascend into even higher worlds; but it becomes more and more difficult to convey any idea of these worlds. The higher the ascent, the more difficult this becomes.” — Rudolf Steiner, MACROCOSM AND MICROCOSM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1985), pp. 110-111. For our present purposes, following Steiner's indications, we will essentially ignore those supremely mysterious, august worlds.
** The original text, of course, is in German. The formulations we find in English-language editions are often as attributable to the translators as to Steiner himself. Still, in most instances, we are dealing with language that Steiner's followers have considered accurate enough to merit publication. On points in doubt, the only way to absolutely confirm Steiner's meaning is to consult the German text. A less sure approach, but still helpful, is to consult more than one English translation.
This is one of numerous editions that have appeared in English
[Anthroposophic Press, 1947]
— Chapter 1 —
How Knowledge if Attained
> Conditions <
1. "There slumber in every human being faculties by means of which he can acquire for himself a knowledge of higher worlds. Mystics, Gnostics, Theosophists — all speak of a world of soul and spirit which for them is just as real as the world we see with our physical eyes and touch with our physical hands." [Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1947), p. 1.]
It is perfectly true that various mystical and religious traditions speak of various worlds beyond our own. This does not mean that such worlds exist, however, and we should note as we proceed that Steiner gives no evidence to support his own claims. He makes many claims, and occasionally he points out that others have made similar claims, but this is hardly conclusive. Steiner tells us of what he apparently wants to believe, and many individuals may want to believe the same (or something similar), but this is hardly a demonstration of "knowledge" — although knowledge is Steiner's topic.
2. "It is a natural law among all initiates [i.e., those who possess occult knowledge] to withhold from no man the knowledge that is due him but there is an equally natural law which lays down that no word of esoteric knowledge shall be imparted to anyone not qualified to receive it. And the more strictly he observes these laws, the more perfect is an initiate. The bond of union embracing all initiates is spiritual and not external, but the two laws here mentioned form, as it were, strong clasps by which the component parts of this bond are held together. You may live in intimate friendship with an initiate, and yet a gap severs you from his essential self, so long as you have not become an initiate yourself. You may enjoy in the fullest sense the heart, the love of an initiate, yet he will only confide his knowledge to you when you are ripe for it. You may flatter him; you may torture him; nothing can induce him to betray anything to you as long as you, at the present stage of your evolution, are not competent to receive it into your soul in the right way." [Ibid., pp. 4-5.]
Steiner's system depends on various extremely dubious propositions, such as that occult knowledge exists, that we can gain access to it through a process of initiation, that there is such a thing as clairvoyance, and so forth. If these propositions are false (and they are), then his system collapses.
There is another problem. Steiner warns us that he will withhold a lot of his professed "knowledge." He is a self-described initiate who claims to possess an enormous amount of marvelous, secret knowledge, but by the rules of the enterprise he cannot divulge much of it to us. (If he met you in person, and perceived that you were ready for more advanced occult information, he would give it to you. But since he will not meet you in person...)
3. "The methods by which a student is prepared for the reception of higher knowledge are minutely prescribed. The direction he is to take is traced with unfading, everlasting letters in the worlds of the spirit where the initiates guard the higher secrets. In ancient times, anterior to our history, the temples of the spirit were also outwardly visible; today, because our life has become so unspiritual, they are not to be found in the world visible to external sight; yet they are present spiritually everywhere, and all who seek may find them." [Ibid., p. 5.]
According to Steiner, there are strict rules and laws governing the process of occult initiation. So, really, his hands are tied. He can't tell you much (initiates guard their secrets). If you had lived long ago (as indeed you did, due to the process of reincarnation), you would have perceived spiritual truths more readily. But to find such truths now, you must scrupulously abide by the directives he will give. There is, really, just one path — the path of the methods that are "minutely prescribed," the path traced by "everlasting letters." Steiner will point out the one and only true path (his path), and you should take his directives to heart. Although Steiner often spoke of freedom, really you have none if you want the rewards he offers. Seek — and obey — and ye shall find.
4. "[The student] must begin with a certain fundamental attitude of soul. In spiritual science this fundamental attitude is called the path of veneration, of devotion to truth and knowledge. Without this attitude no one can become a student. The disposition shown in their childhood by subsequent students of higher knowledge is well known to the experienced in these matters. There are children who look up with religious awe to those whom they venerate. For such people they have a respect which forbids them, even in the deepest recess of their heart, to harbor any thought of criticism or opposition. Such children grow up into young men and women who feel happy when they are able to look up to anything that fills them with veneration. From the ranks of such children are recruited many students of higher knowledge. Have you ever paused outside the door of some venerated person, and have you, on this your first visit, felt a religious awe as you pressed on the handle to enter the room which for you is a holy place? If so, a feeling has been manifested within you which may be the germ of your future adherence to the path of knowledge." [Ibid., pp. 5-6.]
Set aside any idea that you should think for yourself. You must abide by the rules. Be like the children who feel awe and veneration. Approach the door of a guru (such as Steiner himself) with these attitudes. Renounce any desire to criticize or oppose. Believe. Obey. Follow.
5. "The power obtained through devotion can be rendered still more effective when the life of feeling is enriched by yet another quality. This consists in giving oneself up less and less to impressions of the outer world, and to develop instead a vivid inner life." [Ibid., p. 14.]
Close your eyes, more and more, to the outer world (i.e., the real world). Look inward. Have a "vivid inner life." Use imagination, i.e. clairvoyance. This is the path toward the higher worlds. (Some would say it is the path toward self-deception, escape from reality, and — in its most extreme forms — madness.) Mystics, romantics, spiritual aspirants, and others have long dreamed that we have an "inner man," that we can find objective truth by looking inward, that our inner nature reflects the true nature of the universe. It is a long-standing dream, and an attractive one. But we have little or no evidence that it is true.
> Inner Tranquility<
6. "At the very beginning of his course, the student is directed to the path of veneration and the development of the inner life. Spiritual science now also gives him practical rules by observing which he may tread that path and develop that inner life. These practical rules have no arbitrary origin. They rest upon ancient experience and ancient wisdom, and are given out in the same manner, wheresoever the ways to higher knowledge are indicated. All true teachers of the spiritual life are in agreement as to the substance of these rules, even though they do not always clothe them in the same words. This difference, which is of a minor character and is more apparent than real, is due to circumstances which need not be dwelt upon here." [Ibid., pp. 17-18.]
Steiner drives home what he has already stressed: There is one true path (his). There are rules, and they are not arbitrary. All "true" teachers agree with him (so, by definition, anyone who disagrees with him is not a true teacher).* True teachers reach back to the ancients for their wisdom. Modern science and scholarship are faulty, but the ancients were very, very wise. So we see Steiner turning his back on reality and real knowledge, opting for ancient ignorance instead. [See, e.g., "The Ancients".]
* This is sometimes called the "true Scotsman" fallacy. You define things to suit yourself. Example: Let's say that you are a patriotic Scotsman who believes that no Scotsman would act shamefully. But then you hear of a Scot who has acted shamefully. Instead of recognizing that your belief (no Scotsman would act shamefully) has been disproved, you preserve your belief by declaring (ex cathedra, as it were), "The man who acted shamefully is no true Scotsman." You don't face facts; you abolish them with a willful act of redefinition. Steiner commits logical fallacies of this sort and many other sorts over and over.
7. "One of the first of these rules can be expressed somewhat in the following words of our language: Provide for yourself moments of inner tranquility, and in these moments learn to distinguish between the essential and the non-essential [sic] ... The student must set aside a small part of his daily life in which to concern himself with something quite different from the objects of his daily occupation ... [T]he student should wrest himself entirely free from his work-a-day [sic] life. His thoughts and feelings should take on a different coloring. His joys and sorrows, his cares, experiences and actions must pass in review before his soul; and he must adopt such a position that he may regard all his sundry experiences from a higher point of view ... For every human being bears a higher man within himself besides what we may call the work-a-day man. This higher man remains hidden until he is awakened. And each human being can himself alone awaken this higher being within himself. As long as this higher being is not awakened, the higher faculties [of spiritual vision: clairvoyance] slumbering in every human being, and leading to supersensible knowledge [i.e., knowledge beyond the reach of our normal senses], will remain concealed. The student must resolve to persevere in the strict and earnest observation of the rule here given, so long as he does not feel within himself the fruits of this inner tranquility. To all who thus persevere the day will come when spiritual light will envelop them, and a new world will be revealed to an organ of sight of whose presence within them they were never aware." [Ibid., pp. 19-23.]
Some of the tips Steiner gives are perfectly sensible, if a bit self-evident. Yes, distinguishing between the essential and the non-essential is always wise. Yes, quietly meditating on life is different from living life full-throttle. Yes, we gain a new perspective on our lives when we slow down and reflect. But whether this will lead to the development of "higher faculties" (clairvoyance) or that an "organ of sight" (an incorporeal organ of clairvoyance) is an entirely different matter. Based on all the real information we possess, there is no such thing as clairvoyance, and thus Steiner's promise (it will work for everyone who really tries) is attractive but empty.
8. "[S]omething begins to live within [the student] which ranges above the purely personal. His gaze is directed to worlds higher than those with which every-day [sic] life connects him. And thus he begins to feel and realize, as an inner experience, that he belongs to those higher worlds. These are worlds concerning which his senses and his daily occupation can tell him nothing. Thus he now shifts the central point of his being to the inner part of his nature. He listens to the voices within him which speak to him in his moments of tranquility; he cultivates an intercourse with the spiritual world. He is removed from the every-day world. Its noise is silenced." [p. 29.]
Steiner's system boils down to the use of a faculty for which we have no evidence (clairvoyance) to study places for which we have no evidence (higher worlds). Seen in the clear light of reason, this does not seem promising. Indeed, it seems worrisome. Steiner encourages us to listen "to the voices within." If we have an inner man with a hotline to the gods, then his voice is surely worth listening to. But generally when people listen to inaudible voices, something quite different from wisdom is developing. Hearing things that aren't there and seeing things that aren't there are usually symptoms of serious mental imbalance. Maybe Steiner was not insane. Maybe none of his followers is insane. But think long and hard before following Steiner's directives.
— Chapter 2 —
Stages of Initiation
> Preparation <
9. "Certain exercises enable the soul to attain to a conscious intercourse with the spiritual world." [p. 35.]
This is Steiner's promise; it is the thesis of the book. I imagine that everyone can feel the allure. But as you proceed through the book, you may find the exercises less than impressive. Some faithful followers have undertaken these exercises for decades, only to be disappointed. They conclude, too often, is that there is something wrong with them, not with Steiner's system. Steiner has told them how to become clairvoyant, and they have failed. Steiner couldn't be wrong, so the fault lies in themselves. Depression and even something approaching despair can be the result.
Of course, some people think the exercises have worked for them. They think they have become clairvoyant; they think they can "see" and "hear" the things Steiner told them to see and hear. This would be extremely impressive, if they really had acquired psychic powers. But if what they are deceiving themselves, we may be less impressed and more concerned. Here is one way to describe the Steiner enterprise: People with implicit faith in Steiner learn from him what they are supposed to see and hear; in a spirit of veneration, they try to follow his instructions; exerting their will, they sometimes convince themselves that they have succeeded. Do you see any problems in this methodology?
[For more detailed descriptions of the exercises, pointers, admonitions, and warnings given by Steiner in this chapter, see "Exercises" near the end of this page.]
10. "A new world is opened to the student if he systematically and deliberately surrenders himself to [certain] feelings. The soul-world, the so-called astral plane, begins to dawn upon him. Growth and decay are no longer facts which make indefinite impressions on him as of old, but rather they form themselves into spiritual lines and figures of which he had previously suspected nothing. And these lines and figures have, for the different phenomena, different forms. A blooming flower, an animal in the process of growth, a tree that is decaying, evoke in his soul different lines. The soul-world (astral plane) broadens out slowly before him. These lines and figures are in no sense arbitrary. Two students who have reached the corresponding stage of development will always see the same lines and figures under the same conditions." [p. 40.]
Steiner described both a soul-world and, above it, a spirit-world. The descriptions in KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS are quite vague, but Steiner gave somewhat fuller descriptions elsewhere, which means the conscientious student has to undertake a certain amount of research. Meanwhile, following such exercises as meditating upon things that are alive and other things that are dead, and developing the right feelings about these things, the student hopes that a new level of reality — the soul-world — will open up. Steiner claims that this newly perceived reality is objectively real. He says that every student at the same level of development will perceive the same things. He is probably correct, at least, that people who scrupulously follow his directions will see the things he has told them to see. It depends on how well you control your feelings and imaginings. If you control them well enough, you can probably feel or "perceive" anything you like. You can create your own imaginary universe — or the imaginary universe Steiner created for you — and, quite possibly, lose yourself within it.
11. "In the soul and thought world, feelings and thoughts react upon each other just as do physical objects in the physical world. As long as the student is not vividly permeated with this consciousness, he will not believe that a wrong thought in his mind may have as devastating an effect upon other thoughts that spread life in the thought world as the effect wrought by a bullet fired at random upon the physical objects it hits ... There can be no progress, however, on the path to higher knowledge unless we guard our thoughts and feelings in just the same way we guard out steps in the physical world. If we see a wall before us, we do not attempt to dash right through it, but turn aside. In other words, we guide ourselves by the laws of the physical world. There are such laws, too, for the soul and thought world, only they cannot impose themselves on us from without. They must flow out of the life of the soul itself." [pp. 42-43.]
Steiner's message was generally upbeat and positive. Unlike some religious leaders, he did not place great stress on the punishments people will suffer if they fail to heed him. But his teachings are not wholly devoid of threats and warnings. If you have a "wrong thought" (i.e., one that runs counter to Steiner's teachings, which are the one true path recognized by all true teachers), you may produce "devastating effects." Try not to do this. There are "laws" in the "soul and thought world" that must be obeyed. If you violate the laws Steiner alludes to, you may sink downward instead of rising to new heights. Some people sink so low that they cease to be human and fall into various conditions of perdition. [See "Hell".]
12. "[I]f we regulate our inner life in this way, we shall soon find ourselves becoming rich in feelings and creative with genuine imagination. In the place of petty emotionalism and capricious flights of thought, there appear significant emotions and thoughts that are fruitful. Feelings and thoughts of this kind lead the student to orientation in the spiritual world. He gains a right position in relation to the things of the spiritual world; a distinct and definite result comes into effect in his favor." [p. 43.]
There is a paradox at the heart of some spiritual traditions. You must be selfless, loving, moral. You must not think mainly of yourself. But, paradoxically, selflessness will redound to the benefit of yourself — it will produce effects in your favor. In other words, you will gain by trying not to gain. This is the flip-side of the warning Steiner gave above: this is the reward one can receive: "fruitful emotions and thoughts" will lead you upward, yielding "to orientation in the spiritual world." All of this depends on "regulating" your "inner life," controlling your emotions and thoughts so that they are what they should be. Steiner taught that we find truth more through emotion than through thought, and he taught that the truest forms of thought (e.g., "genuine imagination") are clairvoyant receptions of the "living thoughts" produced by the gods. Thinking for yourself (such as "criticism and opposition," which he deplored earlier) is out. It can lead to "devastating effects."
Among other things, these doctrines explain why Waldorf school promote feeling and imagination while downplaying brainwork. Truth does not come through the brain, Steiner taught. [See, e.g., "Thinking" and "Steiner's Specific".] This is a potentially devastating attitude for an educational system to embrace. It is what we might call a wrong thought.
13. "The student has also to bestow a further care on the world of sound. He must discriminate between sounds that are produced by the so-called inert (lifeless) bodies, for instance, a bell, or a musical instrument, or a falling mass, and those which proceed from a living creature (an animal or a human being.) ... It is with the latter kind of sound that the student sets to work ... Through such exercises, if systematically and deliberately performed, the student will develop within himself the faculty of intermingling, as it were, with the being from which the sound proceeds. ... This implants a new faculty in his world of thought and feeling." [pp. 44-45.]
Spiritual disciplines are just that — disciplines. In this, Steiner's system is no different from many others. You must buckle down and follow the rules. Fair enough. Will following Steiner's rules work? There is precious little reason to think so, but you won't know for sure, perhaps, until you try. So, buckle down.
Meanwhile, we might note more implications of all this for Waldorf schools. According to Steiner, learning how to hear properly (physical sounds and spiritual sounds) and learning how to see properly (physical sights and spiritual sights) is very important. Spirit beings come to Earth through sounds and colors, and we can ascend to higher worlds through music and the visual arts. This is the reason the arts are stressed in Waldorf schools. [See "Magical Arts".] Spiritual colors can be perceived as such things as auras [see "Auras"]; this depends on developing clairvoyance. Spiritual sounds can be detected in all sorts of ways and places, through the use of a psychic power called clairaudience. "In addition to spiritual vision or clairvoyance in this spirit-world, there is another faculty, which may be termed spiritual hearing or clairaudience. As soon as the clairvoyant rises out of the realm of souls into that of spirits, the archetypes are not only seen but heard. This is a purely spiritual process and must be conceived without any ides of a physical sound." — Rudolf steiner, INVESTIGATIONS IN OCCULTISM SHOWING ITS PRACTICAL VALUE IN DAILY LIFE (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1929), p. 96. [For more on these matters — and reasons to be skeptical — see "Clairvoyance".]
14. "[T]he soul develops a new sense of hearing. She is now able to perceive manifestations from the spiritual world which do not find their expression in sounds perceptible to the physical ear. The perception of the 'inner word' awakens. Gradually truths reveal themselves to the student from the spiritual world [sic: he means the truths come from the spiritual world, not the student]. He hears speech uttered to him in a spiritual way. Only to those who, by selfless listening, train themselves to be really receptive from within, in stillness, unmoved by personal opinion or feeling only to such can the higher beings speak of whom spiritual science tells. As long as one hurls any personal opinion or feeling against the speaker to whom one must listen, the beings of the spiritual world remain silent." [p. 48.]
The "beings of the spiritual world" are gods. In the Steiner system, you work to develop clairaudience so that you can hear the gods speak. To do this, you must be silent and refrain from negative thoughts and feelings. You must surrender yourself.
Anthroposophy makes much of Christ, so most outsiders think that Steiner's system is basically Christian. It isn't. For one thing, unlike Christianity, Anthroposophy is polytheistic — the soul and spirit worlds team with gods, according to Steiner. For another, the Christ recognized in Anthroposophy is not the person of the triune God worshiped by Christians. The Anthroposophical Christ is the Sun God, the same god — centered on the Sun — whom other faiths have recognized by other names such as Ra and Balder. [For more on these matters, see "Polytheism" and "Sun God".]
15. "All higher truths are attained [from within]. But this does not mean that it is unimportant for us to acquaint ourselves with the writings of spiritual science ... On the contrary, the reading of such writings and the listening to the teachings of spiritual science are themselves means of attaining personal knowledge ... To the practice of all that has here been indicated must be added the ardent study of what the spiritual researchers impart to the world ... [A]ll other methods will prove ineffective if due receptivity for the teachings of the spiritual researcher is lacking." [p. 49.]
This is a crucially important passage. It tells us that the student must depend on his teachers, the spiritual authorities above him. Read the "writing of spiritual science" (mainly written by Rudolf Steiner). Listen to the "teachings of spiritual science" (mainly provided by Rudolf Steiner). Absorb the research of "spiritual researchers" (such as Rudolf Steiner). "All other methods with prove ineffective" otherwise. All of them.
Ultimately, in spite of everything he says about freedom and having an inner man and finding the truth within oneself — ultimately, what Steiner says is to believe him. Have faith. Listen, learn, submit. Believe. "All other methods with prove ineffective" otherwise. All of them.
> Enlightenment <
16. "The first step is taken by observing different natural objects in a particular way; for instance, a transparent and beautifully formed stone (a crystal), a plant, and an animal. The student should endeavor, at first, to direct his whole attention to a comparison of the stone with the animal in the following manner. The thoughts here mentioned should pass through his soul accompanied by vivid feelings, and no other thought, no other feeling, must mingle with them and disturb what should be an intensely attentive observation. The student says to himself: 'The stone has a form; the animal also has a form. The stone remains motionless in its place. The animal changes its place. It is instinct (desire) which causes the animal to change its place. Instincts, too, are served by the form of the animal. Its organs and limbs are fashioned in accordance with these instincts. The form of the stone is not fashioned in accordance with desires, but in accordance with desireless force.' ... By sinking deeply into such thoughts, and while doing so, observing the stone and the animal with rapt attention, there arise in the soul two quite separate kinds of feelings. From the stone there flows into the soul the one kind of feeling, and from the animal the other kind ... Out of these feelings and the thoughts that are bound up with them, the organs of clairvoyance are formed ... The organs thus formed are spiritual eyes. The students gradually learns, by their means, to see something like soul and spirit colors. The spiritual world with its lines and figures remains dark as long as he has only attained what has been described as preparation; through enlightenment this world becomes light ... Every stone, every plant, every animal has its own particular shade of [spiritual] color. In addition to these there are also the beings of the higher worlds who never incarnate physically, but who have their colors, often wonderful, often horrible. Indeed, the wealth of color in these higher worlds is immeasurably greater than in the physical world." [pp. 50-53.]
This is the sort of exercise Steiner prescribed, and the sort of reward he promised: the development of invisible "organs of clairvoyance" (i.e., organs, comparable to the organs in your body, but not made of physical matter, and enabling you to become clairvoyant). Let this sink in. This is the sort of thing taught by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education. This is the sort of thing Rudolf Steiner's followers believe. And Rudolf Steiner's followers run Waldorf schools. If you cannot accept these beliefs, you should look for a different kind of school for your child.
17. "If this point has been reached, the way to a great deal lies open. But it is inadvisable to proceed further without paying careful heed to what is said or otherwise imparted by the spiritual researcher. And for that, too, which has been described, attention paid to such experienced guidance is the very best thing." [p. 54.]
Once again we learn that, despite everything else he has said and promised, Steiner ultimately requires us to believe him, take our truths from him, accept his authority. This is "the very best thing."
18. "[D]uring the elementary exercises on enlightenment, the student must take care always to enlarge his sympathy for the animal and the human worlds, and his sense for the beauty of nature. Failing this care, such exercises would continually blunt that feeling and that sense; the heart would become hardened, and the senses blunted, and that could only lead to perilous results." [p. 55.]
"Enlightenment," as Steiner uses the term here, is a spiritual concept: receiving the spiritual light. It should be distinguished from philosophical enlightenment of the sort that rose to prominence in the 18th century: an intellectual movement placing emphasis on rationality and individualism. For better or worse, Steiner's doctrines are heavily anti-intellectual and irrational. Hence his emphasis on the heart, emotions, feelings, and subjective states. Steiner often used attractive rhetoric ("sympathy," "beauty of nature"), and there is appeal in his romantic faith in the possibility of finding in inner truth. But we should also recognize that his teachings are essentially a throwback to gnostic and even pagan traditions. [See "Gnosis" and "Pagan".].
> The Control of Thoughts and Feelings <
19. "[The student] can easily lose heart and abandon all attempts after a short time. The powers and faculties to be developed are of a most subtle kind, and differ entirely in their nature from the conceptions previously formed by the student. He had been accustomed to occupy himself exclusively with the physical world; the world of spirit and soul had been concealed from his vision and concepts. ... [T]here is a possibility of discouragement for those setting out on the path to higher knowledge, if they ignore the experience gathered by responsible investigators. The teacher is aware of the progress made by his pupil long before the latter is conscious of it...." [p. 57]
The teacher (Rudolf Steiner) cannot stop telling us to rely on the teacher (Rudolf Steiner) . He knows best. Do not ignore the experience he has gathered; he knows what you do not. But don't lose heart. Listen, learn, believe. (It is a matter of faith. And, indeed, this is the case. There is, sadly, little or no factual evidence for the things Steiner wants you to accept. Clairvoyance. Clairaudience. They are fantasies. "After thousands of experiments, a reproducible ESP phenomenon has never been discovered, nor has any individual convincingly demonstrated a psychic ability." — David G. Myers, PSYCHOLOGY (Worth Publishers, 2004), p. 260. Emphasis by Myers.)
20. "Everyone must say to himself: 'In my own world of thought and feeling the deepest mysteries lie hidden, only hitherto I have been unable to perceive them.' [sic] In the end it all resolves itself into the fact that man ordinarily carries body, soul and spirit about with him, and yet is conscious in a true sense only of his body, and not of his soul and spirit. The student becomes conscious of soul and spirit, just as the ordinary person is conscious of his body." [p. 59.]
Drawing on ancient traditions, Steiner made elaborate distinctions in his descriptions of spiritual realities. Thus, he said that a human being has both a soul and a spirit, and he said that above us there is both a soul world and a spirit world. Such distinctions convince his followers that he possessed highly detailed esoteric knowledge. On the other hand, Steiner's descriptions of supernatural realities were often quite vague. His followers clutch at this too, inferring that the spirit realm is so unlike our ordinary existence that human language is scarcely able to describe it — but Steiner came closer than anyone else ever has.
The doctrine that the deepest mysteries — and the truths underlying the deepest mysteries — are within us, available for our discovery, lies at the heart of Anthroposophical belief and practice. One way to describe this belief is to say that the human being is a microcosm of the universe, the macrocosm. We contain, internally, everything that exists externally. Thus the path to knowledge of the higher worlds is to look inward — down, as it were, not up. [See "The Center".]
21. "It is not surprising that all this appears to many as illusion. 'What is the use of such visions,' they ask, 'and such hallucinations?' And many will thus fall away and abandon the path. But this is precisely the important point: not to confuse spiritual reality with imagination at this difficult stage of human evolution, and further-more [sic], to have the courage to press onward and not become timorous and faint-hearted. On the other hand, however, the necessity must be emphasized of maintaining unimpaired and of perpetually cultivating that healthy sound sense which distinguishes truth from illusion. Fully conscious self-control must never be lost during all these exercises, and they must be accompanied by the same sane, sound thinking which is applied to the details of every-day life. To lapse into reveries would be fatal." [p. 63.]
Steiner was aware of the arguments that could be made against him, and he often spoke in an apparently reasonable manner. But the effect of such language, for his followers, is often simply to reinforce their determination to seek nonexistent clairvoyant powers; it reinforces their faith in their fantasies, because their leader has assured them that they are thinking in a "sane, sound" manner. But in truth Steiner's teachings lure his followers away from reality, and the cloak of rationality he throws over his mysticism serves only as a disguise.
(We will skip ahead several pages here; and we will do so again, later. But don't be overly concerned. We will return to much of the skipped material, in the section titled "Exercises".)
22. "Here again is another important rule for the student: know how to observe silence concerning your spiritual experiences. Yes, observe silence even toward yourself. Do not attempt to clothe in words what you contemplate in the spirit, or to pore over it with clumsy intellect. Lend yourself freely and without reservation to these spiritual impressions, and do not disturb them by reflecting and pondering over them too much." [p. 71.]
Steiner often urged his followers to keep mum. And he often encouraged them not to think too much. These are both wise admonitions if people are engaged in something that may wilt if exposed to the light of day or the light of rational thought. [For Steiner's take on thinking, see, e.g., "Thinking" and "Steiner's Specific".] Steiner repeatedly told his followers to depend on their feelings and to disregard the promptings of their brains.
23. "If the student has acquired these [clairvoyant] faculties up to a certain point, he is then ripe to hear the real names of things, which are the key to higher knowledge. For initiation consists in this very act of learning to call the things of the world by those names which they bear in the spirit of their divine authors. In these, their names, lies the mystery of things. It is for this reason that the initiates speak a different language from the uninitiated, for the former know the names by which the beings themselves are called into existence." [p. 77.]
What, you may wonder, are the secret names of things? Steiner doesn't say. Remember, you are uninitiated, so you should not be told. (Steiner spills the beans from time to time, a little here, a little there. But most of the beans remain hidden.)
The "divine authors" are the gods who created the universe. There is no One and Only God in Anthroposophy; the Waldorf belief system is polytheistic. The gods create things by speaking them: The words of the gods take form as realities. Steiner said that we will possess this power ourselves, one day. This is why he said that the larynx will replace the womb as the organ of procreation. “The larynx is the future organ of procreation and birth. At present we give birth to words through it, but in future this seed will develop the capacity to give birth to the whole human being once we have become spiritualized.” — Rudolf Steiner, EVIL (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997), p. 50.
> Initiation <
24. "[T]he first instructions given to the candidate...are the so-called trials, which he has to undergo, and which constitute a normal course of inner development resulting from due application to such exercises as are described in the preceding chapters....
"The would-be initiate must come into contact with certain things and facts belonging to the higher worlds, but he can only see and hear them if his feeling is ripe for the perception of the spiritual forms, colors and tones described in the chapters on Preparation and Enlightenment.
"The first trial consists in obtaining a truer vision than the average man has of the corporeal attributes of lifeless things, and later of plants, animals and human beings. This does not mean what at present is called scientific knowledge, for it is a question not of science but of vision. As a rule, the would-be initiate proceeds to learn how the objects of nature and the beings gifted with life manifest themselves to the spiritual ear and the spiritual eye. In a certain way these things then lie stripped — naked — before the beholder. The qualities which can then be seen and heard are hidden from the physical eyes and ears. For physical perception they are concealed as if by a veil, and the falling away of this veil for the would-be initiate consists in a process designated as the process of Purification by Fire. The first trial is therefore known as the Fire-Trial [sic].
"For many people, ordinary life is itself a more or less unconscious process of initiation through the Fire-Trial. Such people have passed through a wealth of experience, so that their self-confidence, courage and fortitude have been greatly strengthened in a normal manner while learning to bear sorrow, disappointment and failure in their undertakings with greatness of soul, and especially with equanimity and unbroken strength. Thus they are often initiates without knowing it, and it then needs but little to unseal their spiritual hearing and sight so that they become clairvoyant. For it must be noted that a genuine fire-trial is not intended to satisfy the curiosity of the candidate. It is true that he learns many uncommon things of which others can have no inkling, but this acquisition of knowledge is not the end, but the means to the end; the end consists in the attainment, thanks to this knowledge of the higher worlds, of greater and truer self-confidence, a higher degree of courage, and a magnanimity and perseverance such as cannot, as a rule, be acquired in the lower world." [pp. 79-81.]
Initiation is not for the timid or fearful. You will be put through the wringer. In Waldorf belief, life on Earth is a form of torment or trial. Here, we are more wholly removed from the spirit realm than ever before in our evolution (on/during Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon), and more than we will be in the future (on/during Future Jupiter, Future Venus, and Future Vulcan). [See "Here's the Answer" — The Creed.] Indeed, life on Earth is rather like life in hell, a region of fire. Steiner taught that here, on Earth, we advance through a series of horrible calamities (the sinking of Atlantis, the War of All Against All) — trials that are necessary for us. But some of us will fail these trials. Some will fall lower than Earthly life, sinking to a form of perdition called the Eighth Sphere. [See "Sphere 8".]
25. "[A] certain writing-system generally adopted in esoteric training must now be revealed to him. The actual teachings manifest themselves in this writing, because the hidden (occult) qualities of things cannot be directly expressed in the words of ordinary writing ... The occult script reveals itself to the soul when the latter has attained spiritual perception, for it is traced in the spiritual world and remains there for all time ... It becomes immediately apparent to the candidate that the signs he is now learning correspond to the forms, colors, and tones which he learned to perceive during his preparation and enlightenment. He realizes that all he learned previously was only like learning to spell, and that he is only now beginning to read in the higher worlds. All the isolated figures, tones, and colors reveal themselves to him now in one great connected whole. Now for the first time he attains complete certainty in observing the higher worlds." [pp. 82-83.]
Steiner does not reveal the occult writing system any more than he revealed the occult words used by the gods. This writing, however, is what the initiate finds in the "Akashic Record" — a celestial storehouse of all knowledge, written on starlight (or something very like starlight, a "universal ether"). One who can read the Record becomes virtually omniscient. Steiner could read it (according to himself). [See "Akasha".]
26. "[T]he student must in no way neglect any of his duties in ordinary life because he is living and working in higher worlds. There is no duty in a higher world that can force a person to neglect any single one of his duties in the ordinary world." [p. 85.]
Steiner claimed to be scientific and practical — he said that his teachings lead to greater wisdom and higher development not just in the future but here and now. And his followers take seriously the injunction to work for the improvement of mankind here and now. One of the primary efforts they make in this regard is opening and running Waldorf schools. As a former Waldorf teacher has written, "The reason many [Steiner or Waldorf] schools exist is because of the Anthroposophy, period. It's not because of the children. It's because a group of Anthroposophists have it in their minds to promote Anthroposophy in the world. That's the Michaelic spiritual task [i.e., the spiritual task directed by the archangel Michael]. Educating children is secondary in these schools; or, it's the means by which these many Anthroposophical and cosmic Christian [i.e., gnostic] impulses are incarnated." [See "Ex-Teacher 7".]
27. "The candidate will not be moved to action by external pressure, but only through adherence to the rules of conduct revealed to him in the occult script. He must now show in this second trial that, led by such rules, he can act with the same firmness and precision with which, for instance, an official performs the duties that belong to him. For this purpose, and in the course of his further training, he will find himself faced by a certain definite task. He must perform some action in consequence of observations made on the basis of what he has learned during preparation and enlightenment. The nature of this action can be understood by means of the occult script with which he is now familiar. If he recognizes his duty and acts rightly, his trial has been successful. The success can be recognized in the alteration produced by his action in the figures, colors, and tones apprehended by his spiritual eyes and ears. Exact indications are given, as the training progresses, showing how these figures appear and are experienced after the action has been performed, and the candidate must know how to produce this change. This trial is known as the Water-Trial [sic], because in his activity in these higher worlds the candidate is deprived of the support derived from outward circumstances, as a swimmer is without support when swimming in water that is beyond his depth. This activity must be repeated until the candidate attains absolute poise and assurance." [pp. 86-87.]
You might notice that although KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT promises to tell you how to gain the needed spiritual consciousness to apprehend the spirit realm, actually it conceals fully as much as it reveals. You will be assigned a "water trial." What will it be? Mum's the word. You must do your "duty" and "act rightly." What, specifically, does this mean? Mum's the word. You must know how to "produce this change." How can you do it? Mum's the word. But don't worry. If you have learned to read the "occult script" (which doesn't exist) by using your clairvoyance (which doesn't exist), all will go swimmingly.
28. "Through his experiences in the higher worlds, the candidate develops [a desirable] quality in a short time to such a high degree that he would otherwise have to go through many incarnations, in the ordinary course of his development, before he could acquire it to the same extent. It all centers around the fact that he must be guided only by the results of his higher perception and reading of the occult script, in order to produce the changes in question in these higher regions of existence." [pp. 87-88.]
Steiner taught that good humans are evolving upwards. (Bad humans are devolving downwards and may wind up in the Eighth Sphere or some other undesirable location or condition.) We evolve through reincarnation, working out our karma as we go. The process can be long and slow, but you can speed it up a lot by listening to Steiner. Gain access to the higher worlds, do what you should there, and you can chop many incarnations off your future: You will evolve much, much faster. The key requirement is developing "higher perception" (i.e., clairvoyance, which does not exist) in order to read the "occult script" (which does not exist). So get hopping.
29. "People whose mode of thought tends to fancifulness and superstition can never make progress on the path to higher knowledge. It is indeed a precious treasure that the student is to acquire. All doubt regarding the higher worlds is removed from him ... Dreamers and fantastical people are as unfit for the path to higher knowledge as superstitious people." [p. 90.]
Sometimes Steiner made perfectly true statements. Superstitious people and fanciful dreamers will not be able to make any real progress; they will not acquire real knowledge. True. What Steiner does not acknowledge, however, is that he and his followers cling to superstitions and fantasies — they themselves make the very errors Steiner deprecates. [See, e.g., "Superstition", "Magic", "Gnomes", "Auras", "Planetary Humans", "Early Earth", and virtually any other page that details Anthroposophical beliefs.]
30. "If the candidate is in this way sufficiently advanced, a third trial awaits him. He finds here no definite goal to be reached. All is left in his own hands. He finds himself in a situation where nothing impels him to act. He must find his way all alone and out of himself ... Failure to find this inner strength will leave him standing where he was ... [H]e must here find his higher self [sic] in the truest sense of the word. He must rapidly decide in all things to listen to the inspiration of the spirit. There is no time for doubt or hesitation. Every moment of hesitation would prove that he was still unfit....
"At this stage, no less than at the others, ordinary life is itself an esoteric training for many. For anyone having reached the point of being able, when suddenly confronted with some task or problem in life, to come to a swift decision without hesitation or delay, for him life itself has been a training in this sense. Such situations are here meant in which success is instantly lost if action is not rapid. A person who is quick to act when a misfortune is imminent, whereas a few moments of hesitation would have seen the misfortune an accomplished fact, and who has turned this ability into a permanent personal quality, has unconsciously acquired the degree of maturity necessary for the third trial. For at this stage everything centers round the development of absolute presence of mind. This trial is known as the Air-Trial [sic], because while undergoing it the candidate can support himself neither upon the firm basis of external incentive nor upon the figures, tones, and colors which he has learned at the stages of preparation and enlightenment, but exclusively upon himself." [pp. 91-93.]
Despite what we learned above (see point 28: speeding things up), we must realize that the process of gaining knowledge of the higher worlds will be arduous, long, and regimented. Don't assume you will make quick progress. Don't assume, indeed, that you will succeed. It hinges on your fitness. If you fail, the reason will lie in yourself. The path is true. Steiner is true. Only you will have been found false.
Don't complain that no one warned you of all this. You have now been duly warned. You will undergo at least three trials (fire, water, and air), and you will confront other barriers as well (we will discuss them in due course). Essentially, you must reach a stage at which you have absolutely no doubts and absolutely never hesitate. (Before setting out on the path toward such a condition, however, you might ask yourself if the condition Steiner describes sounds like wisdom or fanaticism.)
31. "[T]he student is [eventually] permitted to enter the temple of higher wisdom [sic] ... The task now to be performed is often expressed in the statement that the student must take an oath never to betray anything he has learned. These expressions, however, 'oath' and 'betray', are inappropriate and actually misleading ... The candidate learns how to apply the higher knowledge, how to place it at the service of humanity. He then begins really and truly to understand the world. It is not so much a question of withholding the higher truths, but far more of serving them in the right way and with the necessary tact ... The only obstacle to giving information in these matters is the lack of understanding on the part of the recipients....
"If the candidate is found fit for the foregoing experiences, he is then given what is called symbolically the draught of forgetfulness. [sic] This means that he is initiated into the secret knowledge that enables him to act without being continually disturbed by the lower memory." [pp. 93-95.]
To many people, much of what Steiner discusses will sound like magical mumbo-jumbo ("the temple of higher wisdom," "the draught of forgetfulness") and/or brainwashing (shutting down your "lower memory" so that you never again recollect anything that might shake your faith). But from the perspective of his followers, Steiner offers a wondrous reward: secret knowledge, occult wisdom. And more than that, he offers a secret oath or pledge or understanding, a position of superiority from which one wisely, humanely judges others and decides on their suitability. You have been found fit, and now you may judge the fitness of others. You will do this for their own good, of course. With your great wisdom, you will now serve humanity in ways that most mortals do not comprehend and cannot enact. Not yet.
— Chapter 3 —
Some Practical Aspects
32. "A particular effort must be made to cultivate the quality of patience. Every symptom of impatience produces a paralyzing, even a destructive effect on the higher faculties that slumber in us. We must not expect an immeasurable view into the higher worlds from one day to the next, for we should assuredly be disappointed. Contentment with the smallest fragment attained, repose and tranquility, must more and more take possession of the soul." [p. 99.]
This is good advice. Anyone who wants to use Steiner's exercises to gain knowledge of the higher worlds will indeed need plenty of patience. The "smallest fragment" might, in and of itself, be a great attainment under Steiner's system. Steiner was wise to counsel patience — lots and lots of patience — as he did more than once.
33. "Special attention must be paid in esoteric training to the education of the life of desires. This does not mean that we are to become free of desire, for if we are to attain something we must also desire it, and desire will always tend to fulfillment if backed by a particular force. This force is derived from a right knowledge. Do not desire at all until you know what is right in any one sphere. [sic] That is one of the golden rules for the student. The wise man first ascertains the laws of the world, and then his desires become powers which realize themselves." [p. 103.]
How can one obey the injunction to learn "the laws of the world" — that is, the spiritual laws of reality — before one has entered the spirit realm? How can you know the spiritual laws when your spiritual eyes are still blind? Only through faith. Only through obedience to a guru. [See "Guru".] And thus we recognize again that "spiritual science" is no science. It is a religion, in which you must proceed by faith, not knowledge. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?" and "Faith".]
34. "If we become angered, vexed or annoyed, we erect a wall around ourselves in the soul-world, and the forces which are to develop the eyes of the soul cannot approach. For instance, if a person angers me he sends forth a psychic current into the soul-world. I cannot see this current as long as I am myself capable of anger. My own anger conceals it from me. We must not, however, suppose that when we are free from anger we shall immediately have a psychic (astral) vision [i.e., clairvoyance]. For this purpose an organ of vision must have been developed in the soul. The beginnings of such an organ are latent in every human being, but remain ineffective as long as he is capable of anger." [pp. 104-105.]
Our thoughts and feelings create spiritual realities. Negative thoughts and feelings create negative spiritual realities that become self-created barriers to advancement. Thus, such thoughts and feelings must be avoided. But even then, you will need to be patient — very patient — before you begin to reap any rewards from Steiner's program. Before you can gain any knowledge of the higher worlds, you must become clairvoyant. And before you can become clairvoyant, you must develop organs of clairvoyance. This may take a while. (In fact, it may take forever. Almost certainly, anyone who thinks s/he has developed organs of clairvoyance and, thus, possesses powers of clairvoyance is deluding her/himself — fantasizing, not perceiving.)
35. "Gentleness and patient reserve open the soul to the soul-world and the spirit to the spirit-world. Persevere in silent inner seclusion; close the senses to all that they brought you before your training; reduce to absolute immobility all the thoughts which, according to your previous habits, surged within you; become quite still and silent within, wait in patience, and then the higher worlds will begin to fashion and perfect the organs of sights and hearing in your soul and spirit. Do not expect immediately to see and hear in the world of soul and spirit, for all that you are doing does but contribute to the development of your higher senses, and you will only be able to hear with soul and spirit when you possess these higher senses." [pp. 108-109]
The path toward spiritual enlightenment, as described by Steiner, requires you shut off your senses and shut down your brain. Don't perceive with the senses, don't think with the brain. Perhaps this is good advice. Perhaps not. Does wisdom really come from shutting yourself down? Or does wisdom come from careful observation (with the senses) and careful accumulation of knowledge (with the brain)? Steiner's system is negative, requiring rejection, refusal, retreat. Maybe this is the path to wisdom. But maybe...
In any event, Steiner again urges patience, and again we see why this would be needed.
36. "[U]nder all circumstances it is well if the student seeks, now and again, his environment in the restful peace, the inner dignity and sweetness of nature. Especially fortunate is the student who can carry out his esoteric training surrounded by the green world of plants ... Yet no city-dweller should fail to give to the organs of his soul and spirit, as they develop, the nurture that comes from the inspired teachings of spiritual research ... There are many ways to the summit of insight ... Suddenly, while silently seated in his quiet chamber, spiritual light envelops him; the walls disappear, become transparent for his soul, and a new world expands before his eyes that have become seeing, or resounds in his ears that have become spiritually hearing." [pp. 111-113.]
Steiner's words are often alluring. He often spoke in terms that attract us and perhaps even inspire us. Delivering such words is not hard to do; most religious or spiritual leaders do it. Still, even those of us who find no real worth in Steiner's directives — no real wisdom or truth — must acknowledge the attractions of Steiner's rhetoric and vision. The test, perhaps, is to determine whether there is any substance beneath the alluring surface.
— Chapter 4 —
The Conditions of Esoteric Training
37. "The conditions attached to esoteric training are not arbitrary ... [N]o one can receive esoteric training who is unwilling to meet the demands considered necessary by the teacher. In the main, the latter can give nothing but advice, and everything he says should be accepted in this sense. He has already passed through the preparatory stages leading to a knowledge of the higher worlds, and knows from experience what is necessary. It depends entirely upon the free-will [sic] of each individual human being whether or not he choose to tread the same path." [p. 114.]
Steiner spoke often of freedom, and surely he is correct that deciding whether to traverse the path he describes is a matter of individual free choice. No one can make the decision but yourself. You are a free agent.
On the other hand, note how little leeway he allows you. Once you decide to follow the path, you will confront "demands" that "are not arbitrary." You must accept "everything" your teacher says (it is only "advice," but if you don't take the advice you will get nowhere). Your teacher (who in this case is Steiner himself) possesses the "knowledge of the higher worlds" that you seek, and he "knows from experience what is necessary." You better listen to him. You are "free" to refuse, but this amounts to choosing to fail in your quest. You teacher will not be your teacher unless you faithfully accept his word for things. [For more on Steiner's version of "freedom," see "Freedom".]
38. "He [i.e., the student] should be at pains to do justice to life on every occasion. All one-sided and extravagant tendencies in his sentiments and criticisms should be avoided. Failing this, he would find his way merely into worlds of his own imagination, instead of higher worlds; in place of truth, his own pet opinions would assert themselves. It is better for the student to be matter-of-fact, than excitable and fantastic." [p. 119.]
When Steiner says something true, it tends to be because he is saying something self-evident — something for which no great spiritual wisdom is required. Of course it is better to affirm life than death. Of course it is better to avoid "one-sided and extravagant tendencies." Of course following "imagination" (here Steiner means this word in the common sense: fantasy) is not the path to truth. Of course pet opinions usually get us nowhere. Of course it is better to avoid the "excitable and fantastic." Of course. But we already knew all of this.
39. "The student must work his way upward to the realization that his thoughts and feelings are as important for the world as his actions. It must be realized that it is equally injurious to hate a fellow-being as to strike him. [sic] The realization will then follow that by perfecting ourselves we accomplish something not only for ourselves, but for the whole world. The world derives equal benefit from our untainted feelings and thoughts as from our good demeanor, and as long as we cannot believe in this cosmic importance of our inner life, we are unfit for the path that is here described." [p. 121.]
This is questionable. If I hate you, whom do I hurt? I hurt myself more than you; I twist my own soul, not yours. On the other hand, if I murder you, whom do I hurt? You, for one. Me too, probably, for another. So my evil action is more injurious than my evil emotion, and it does more overt damage in the real world. Of course, Steiner is not speaking of the real world — he is speaking of the "higher world(s)" he has concocted, and he is affirming that feelings and words and thoughts create tangible realities there. That is his doctrine, take it or leave it.
40. "Anyone regarding himself as a product of the outer world, as a result of the physical world, cannot succeed in this esoteric training, for the feeling that we are beings of soul and spirit forms its very basis. The acquisition of this feeling renders the student fit to distinguish between inner duty and outward success." [p. 122.]
This may well be true. You aren't going to get very far in the invisible "higher" worlds if you don't believe they exist. If you think the physical universe is the whole show, and that you exist only in the physical universe, then that may be as far as you can go. The question, however, is whether the higher worlds as described by Steiner actually exist. He asserts that they do — he asserts it over and over — but he offers no evidence. You can follow him only if you have faith in his pronouncements. If, for whatever private reason, you decide to believe Steiner, then you can begin the process of attempting to perceive his "higher worlds." Whether this will get you anywhere remains to be seen. And at a minimum, you should be honest with yourself about one thing: You are launching out on a religious quest. You are proceeding on faith, not — despite Steiner's assurances — knowledge. You don't have knowledge of the higher worlds yet, and for all you know Steiner doesn't have knowledge of them either. He says he does. But without knowledge of your own, you can choose to believe him only as a leap of faith.
41. "[A]ll actions arising from desire are worthless in relation to the higher worlds. There, love for an action is alone the decisive factor. In this love, every impulse that impels the student to action should fulfill itself. Undismayed by failure, he will never grow weary of endeavoring repeatedly to translate some resolution into action ... He will learn to sacrifice his actions, even his whole being, to the world, however the world may receive his sacrifice." [pp. 123-124.]
Previously Steiner said that desires are inevitable, even on spiritual quests. (See point 33.) Here he says that desires are worthless (and possibly self-defeating) on spiritual quests. You should act out of love of the action; you should do it for its own sake, because you love it, not because you foresee a reward. (Although Steiner elsewhere has promised a reward. See, e.g., point 12.) You must be selfless.
Possibly this is true. To save yourself, you may need to sacrifice yourself. This is a paradox, yet it is quite possibly true. Most spiritual and philosophical systems recognize it as such. When you love, as when you are heroic — in other words, when you reach the highest levels of human morality — you transcend yourself.
42. "All perception of truth, all life and activity in the world of the spirit, become subtle and delicate in comparison with the processes of the ordinary intellect and of life in the physical world ... [T]here is one and only one opinion regarding higher truths and this one opinion is within reach of all ... Opinions differing from the one true opinion can only be arrived at when people, insufficiently prepared, judge in accordance with their pet theories, their habitual ways of thought, and so forth. Just as there is only one correct opinion concerning a mathematical problem, so also is this true with regard to the higher worlds ... Only the experienced can advise how [to find truth]. Such advice is found in spiritual science ... It is true that everyone could find this way unaided, but only perhaps after many incarnations. By esoteric training this way is shortened. We thus reach more quickly a point from which we can cooperate in those worlds where the salvation and evolution of man are furthered by spiritual work.
"This brings to an end the indications to be given in connection with the attainment of knowledge of higher worlds." [pp. 128-130.]
So. The end (as it were). Are you satisfied? If you are not satisfied with my series of excerpts, you should read the chapters from which I drew them. I encourage you to read Steiner's complete text. I suspect you won't find it any more satisfactory than what we have seen here. But in any event, you need to recognize again how severely Steiner wants to hem you in. Despite his talk of "freedom," he insists that there is "one and only one" true "opinion" about the higher worlds; just "one opinion" — to wit, his. It is the "one true opinion;" all others arise from insufficient preparation, pet theories, habitual ways of thinking, and so on. There is only one true solution to a math problem and only one true path to the higher worlds. His math; his path. You can come to his path now, and thus save yourself a lot of unnecessary work in future incarnations; or you can incarnate over and over again until you come to his path. But if you want the truth, the one true "opinion," the one true path, you must accept what Steiner says. That's it. Period.
So much for freedom.
Having now told us everything he knows about how to gain knowledge of the higher worlds, Steiner next turns his attention to certain ancillary matters. Stay tuned.
— Chapter 5 —
Some Results of Initiation
43. "Some effects produced upon the soul of the student will here be indicated. For only those who know such things as they are here communicated can undertake in full consciousness the exercises that lead to knowledge of the higher worlds. Without the latter no genuine esoteric training is possible, for it must be understood that all groping in the dark is discouraged, and that failure to pursue this training with open eyes may lead to mediumship, but not to exact clairvoyance in the sense of spiritual science." [pp. 131-132.]
Rudolf Steiner claimed that he did not possess just any old form of clairvoyance; he claimed to possess "exact" clairvoyance. [See "Exactly".] And this is the sort of clairvoyance he promised you can develop, if you follow his instructions (accept no substitutes). His clairvoyance was exact, therefore there is no arguing with him. His knowledge of spiritual matters was essentially unarguable. He didn't clam to be omniscient — but he came close.
The alternative to Steiner's "exact" clairvoyance is, inferentially, inexact clairvoyance. Some mediums (crystal ball gazers, fortune tellers, and the like) may be fake, Steiner suggests. But some may be real; some may possess clairvoyance, but only of a low, unreliable kind. So heed them not. (Actually, you may want to withhold your belief from everyone who claims to be clairvoyant, including Steiner. The value — or lack thereof — of Steiner's teachings is indicated, perhaps, by his willingness to believe, even tentatively, in any mediums at all. He has to admit the possibility of mediumship, since he has opened the door by affirming the existence of clairvoyance. But it lands him in a sticky corner.)
At this stage, we are about to embark on several lengthy statements by Steiner — so lengthy that (to your relief, I imagine) I will remain silent. Get the feel of Steiner's rhetoric; get the sense of his thinking. Using, perhaps, the information we have gained previously, weigh his words. In any event, for the next several quotations, Steiner will hold the stage alone.
44. "The further the student advances in his inner development, the more regular will be the differentiation within his astral body ... The organs [of the astral body] now to be considered are perceptible to the clairvoyant near the following part of the physical body: the first between the eyes; the second near the larynx; the third in the region of the heart; the fourth in the so-called pit of the stomach; the fifth and sixth are situated in the abdomen. These organs are technically known as wheels, chakrams, or lotus flowers. They are so called on account of their likeness to wheels or flowers, but of course it should be clearly understood that such an expression is not to be applied more literally than is the term 'wings' when referring to the two halves of the lungs. Just as there is no question of wings in the case of the lungs, so, too, in the case of the lotus flowers the expression must be taken figuratively. In undeveloped persons these lotus flowers are dark in color, motionless and inert. In the clairvoyant, however, they are luminous, mobile, and of variegated color. Something of this kind applies to the medium, though in a different way; this question, however, need not be pursued here any further.
"Now, when the student begins his exercises, the lotus flowers become more luminous; later on they begin to revolve. When this occurs, clairvoyance begins ... The organ in the vicinity of the larynx has sixteen petals or spokes; the one in the region of the heart twelve, and the one in the pit of the stomach ten ... It is only when the student begins to take his self-education in hand [by following certain disciplines] that the petals become effective ... [Steiner outlines eight needed soul disciplines. The first: The student] must govern his mental life so that it becomes a true mirror of the outer world, and direct his effort to the exclusion of incorrect ideas from his soul ... [#2] He should have well-considered grounds for everything he does ... [#3] The student should utter no word that is devoid of sense and meaning ... [#4] The student tries to adjust his actions in such a way that they harmonize with the actions of his fellow-men [sic] and with the events in his environment ... [#5] The student endeavors to live in conformity with both nature and spirit ... [#6] The student tests his capacities and proficiency, and conducts himself in the light of such self- knowledge ... [#7] He tries to gather a rich store of experience, ever returning to it for counsel ... [#8] The student must, from time to time, glance introspectively into himself, sink back into himself, take counsel with himself, form and test the fundamental principles of his life, run over in his thoughts the sum total of his knowledge, weigh his duties, and reflect upon the content and aim of life. All these things have been mentioned in the preceding chapters; here they are merely recapitulated in connection with the development of the sixteen-petalled lotus. By means of these exercises the latter will become ever more and more perfect, for it is upon such exercises that the development of clairvoyance depends. The better the student's thoughts and speech harmonize with the processes in the outer world, the more quickly will he develop this faculty ... The regulation of the above activities of the soul in the manner described causes the sixteen-petalled lotus to shine in glorious hues, and imparts to it a definite movement. Yet it must be noted that the faculty of clairvoyance cannot make its appearance before a definite degree of development of the soul has been reached ... The first traces of clairvoyance only appear when he has reached the point of being able to live in the specified way ... Now this lotus flower may be made to develop in another way by following certain other instructions. But all such methods are rejected by true spiritual science, for they lead to the destruction of physical health and to moral ruin. They are easier to follow than those here described. The latter, though protracted and difficult, lead to the true goal and cannot but strengthen morally." [pp. 133-143.]
45. "The twelve-petalled lotus situated in the region of the heart is developed in a similar way....
"It must be clearly understood that the perceptions of each single organ of soul or sprit bear a different character. The twelve and sixteen-petalled lotus flowers transmit quite different perceptions. The latter perceives forms. The thoughts and mentality of other beings and the laws governing natural phenomena become manifest, through the sixteen-petalled lotus, as figures ... Quite different perceptions are received through the twelve-petalled lotus. These perceptions may, in a sense, be likened to warmth and cold, as applied to the soul ... The twelve-petalled lotus, when developed, reveals to the clairvoyant a deep understanding of the processes of nature. Rays of soul-warmth issue from every manifestation of growth and development, while everything in the process of decay, destruction, ruin, gives an impression of cold.
"The development of this sense may be furthered in the following manner. To begin with, the student endeavors to regulate his sequence of thought (control of thought) ... An equal consistency in his actions forms the second requirement (control of actions) ... The third requirement is the cultivation of endurance (perseverance) ... The fourth requirement is forbearance (tolerance) toward persons, creatures, and also circumstances ... The fifth requirement is impartiality toward everything that life brings ... The sixth requirement is the cultivation of a certain inner balance (equanimity)....
"[T]he observance of these principles is indispensable. Should [the student] attempt esoteric training without conforming to them, this could only result in his entering the higher worlds with inadequate organs, and instead of perceiving the truth he would be subject to deceptions and illusions. He would attain a certain clairvoyance, but for the most part, be the victim of greater blindness than before. Formerly he at least stood firmly within the physical world; now he looks beyond this physical world and grows confused about it before acquiring a firm footing in a higher world. All power of distinguishing truth from error would then perhaps fail him, and he would entirely lose his way in life. It is just for this reason that patience is so necessary in these matters." [pp. 146-153.]
46. "An inner training of a particularly intimate character is necessary for the development of the ten-petalled lotus flower, for it is now a question of learning consciously to control and dominate the sense-impressions themselves. This is of particular importance in the initial stages of clairvoyance, for it is only by this means that a source of countless illusions and fancies is avoided....
"Still greater difficulty attends the development of the six-petalled lotus flower situated in the center of the body, for it can only be achieved as the result of complete mastery and control of the whole personality through consciousness of self, so that body, soul and spirit form one harmonious whole ...
"The six-petalled lotus flower, when developed, permits intercourse with beings of higher worlds, though only when their existence is manifested in the astral or soul-world. The development of this lotus flower, however, is not advisable unless the student has made great progress on that path of esoteric development which enables him to raise his spirit into a still higher world. This entry into the spiritual world proper must always run parallel with the development of the lotus flowers, otherwise the student will fall into error and confusion ... [T]he development of the six-petalled lotus flower itself provides a certain security against confusion and instability ... And yet, something more than this security is required when, through the development of the six-petalled lotus flower, living beings of independent existence are revealed to his spirit, beings belonging to a world so completely different from the world known to his physical senses. The development of the lotus flowers alone does not assure sufficient security in these higher worlds; still higher organs are necessary....
"The development of the soul-body in the manner described above permits perception in a supersensible world [i.e., the world perceptible only with clairvoyance], but anyone wishing to find his way in this world must not remain stationary at this stage of development. The mere mobility of the lotus flowers is not sufficient. The student must acquire the power of regulating and controlling the movement of his spiritual organs independently and with complete consciousness; otherwise he would become a plaything for external forces and powers....
"When esoteric development has progressed so far [in the student] that the lotus flowers begin to stir, much has already been achieved by the student which can result in the formation of certain quite definite currents and movements in his etheric body [a constellation of formative forces]. The object of this development is the formation of a kind of center in the region of the physical heart, from which radiate currents and movements in the greatest possible variety of colors and forms ... The higher the development of a person, the greater the circumference to which these rays extend.
"The twelve-petalled lotus flower has a particularly close connection with this central organ. The currents flow directly into it and through it, proceeding on the one side to the sixteen and the two-petalled lotus flowers, and on the other, the lower side, to the flowers of eight, six and four petals. It is for this reason that the very greatest care must be devoted to the development of the twelve-petalled lotus, for an imperfection in the latter would result in irregular formation of the whole structure ... If the student follows the directions that have been given him, he introduces into his etheric body currents and movements which are in harmony with the laws and the evolution of the world to which he belongs. Consequently these instructions are reflections of the great laws of cosmic evolution. They consist of the above-mentioned and similar exercises in meditation and concentration which, if correctly practiced, produce the results described. The student must at certain times let these instructions permeate his soul with their content, so that he is inwardly entirely filled with it ... Thus a preliminary center is formed for the currents of the etheric body. This center is not yet in the region of the heart but in the head, and it appears to the clairvoyant as the point of departure for movements and currents. No esoteric training can be successful which does not first create this center. If the latter were first formed in the region of the heart the aspiring clairvoyant would doubtless obtain glimpses of the higher worlds, but would lack all true insight into the connection between these higher worlds and the world of our senses. This, however, is an unconditional necessity for man at the present stage of evolution. The clairvoyant must not become a visionary; he must retain a firm footing upon the earth....
"The currents described above place him in touch with the inner being of the world to which he belongs. He begins to mingle his life with the life of his environment and can let it reverberate in the movements of his lotus flowers.
"At this point the spiritual world is entered. If the student has advanced so far, he acquires a new understanding for all that the great teachers of humanity have uttered." [pp. 153-170.]
47. "In esoteric training there is [a(?)] question of four attributes [sic] which must be acquired on the so-called preparatory path for the attainment of higher knowledge. The first is the faculty of discriminating in thoughts between truth and appearance or mere opinion. The second attribute is the correct estimation of what is inwardly true and real, as against what is merely apparent. The third rests in the practice of the six qualities already mentioned in the preceding pages: thought-control, control of actions, perseverance, tolerance, faith and equanimity. The fourth attribute is the love of inner freedom.
"A mere intellectual understanding of what is included in these attributes is of no value. They must be so incorporated into the soul that they form the basis of inner habits. Consider, for instance, the first of these attributes: The discrimination between truth and appearance. The student must so train himself that, as a matter of course, he distinguishes in everything that confronts him between the non-essential elements and those that are significant and essential. He will only succeed in this if, in his observation of the outer world, he quietly and patiently ever and again repeats the attempt....
"Now these four inner habits do actually produce a transformation of the delicate human etheric body. By the first, discrimination between truth and appearance, the center in the head already described is formed and the center in the region of the larynx prepared ... Once the center in the larynx has been prepared, the free control of the etheric body ... results from the correct estimation of what is true as against what is apparent and non-essential. If the student acquires this faculty of estimation, the facts of the higher worlds will gradually become perceptible to him ... He ceases to view things from his own separate standpoint, and the boundaries of his own narrow self fettering him to this point of view disappear. The secrets of the spiritual world gain access to his inner self. This is liberation....
"A completely new life opens out before the student when the development of his etheric body begins in the way described above, and at the proper time, in the course of his training, he must receive that enlightenment which enables him to adapt himself to this new existence. The sixteen-petalled lotus, for instance, enables him to perceive spiritual figures of a higher world ... To gain complete understanding, he must study those forms which he can realize to have proceeded from the feelings, instincts, and passions of human beings. Yet he can find that these forms too are influenced by his own thoughts and feelings ... He then learns what forms he himself produces, for his will, his wishes, and so on, are expressed in these forms ... To higher knowledge, the inner world appears as part of the outer world. In a higher world man's inner being confronts him as a reflected image, just as though in the physical world he were surrounded by mirrors and could observe his physical body in that way.
"At this stage of development the student has reached the point where he can free himself from the illusion resulting from the initiation of his personal self. He can now observe that inner self as outer world....
"Were the student to obtain an insight into these spiritual worlds without sufficient preparation regarding their nature, he would find himself confronted by the picture of his own soul as though by an enigma. There his own desires and passions confront him in animal or, more rarely, in human forms ... Now, upon entering this [spiritual] world, an entirely new method of judgment must be acquired; for apart from the fact that things actually pertaining to inner nature appear as outer world, they also bear the character of mirrored reflections of what they really are. When, for instance, a number is perceived, it must be read in reverse, as a picture in a mirror: 265 would mean here in reality, 562....
"If the student, before attaining insight into higher worlds, has learned by quiet and sincere self-observation to realized the qualities and the defects of his own character, he will then, at the moment when his own inner self confronts him as a mirrored image, find strength and courage to conduct himself in the right way....
"It is absolutely necessary that the student should experience this spiritual aspect of his own inner self before progressing to higher spheres ... If he has thoroughly realized the nature of his own personality in the physical world, and if the image of his personality first appears to him in a higher world, he is then able to compare the one with the other ... [I]t cannot be too often repeated that the only safe entrance into the higher worlds is at the end of a path leading through a genuine knowledge and estimate of one's own nature.
"Pictures, then, of a spiritual kind are first encountered by the student on his progress into higher worlds; and the reality to which these pictures correspond is actually within himself. He should be far enough advanced to refrain from desiring reality of a more robust kind at this initial stage, and to regard these pictures as timely. He will soon meet something quite new within this world of pictures. His lower self is before him as a mirrored image; but from within this image there appears the true reality of his higher self. Out of the picture of his lower personality the form of the spiritual ego becomes visible. Then threads are spun from the latter to other and higher spiritual realities.
"This is the moment when the two-petalled lotus in the region of the eyes is required ... The currents from this lotus flower flow toward the higher realities ... [T]hese currents disclose spiritual beings of higher worlds.
"...The higher self, which hitherto slumbered unconsciously in an embryonic state, is now born into conscious existence. This is not a figurative but a positive birth in the spiritual world, and the being now born, the higher self, must enter that world with all the necessary organs and aptitudes if it is to be capable of life ... [E]ven as the child, out of a dim life instinct, acquired [before birth] the requisite forces [for life in the physical world], so, too, can man acquire the powers of the spiritual world before his higher self is born. Indeed, he must do this if the latter is to enter the world as a fully developed being....
"[The student] learns how his higher self is connected with exalted spiritual beings and forms with them a united whole. He sees how the lower self originates in a higher world, and it is revealed to him how his higher nature outlasts his lower ... He becomes aware that there are others above him who have already traversed the stages which still lie before him, and he realizes that the teachings and deeds of such men proceed from the inspiration of a higher world. He owes this knowledge to his first personal glimpse into this higher world. The so-called initiates of humanity now become vested with reality for him.
"These, then, are the gifts which the student owes to his development at this stage: insight into his higher self; insight into the doctrine of the incarnation of this higher being in a lower; insight into the laws by which life in the physical world is regulated according to its spiritual connections, that is, the law of karma; and finally, insight into the existence of the great initiates." [pp. 171-187.]
— Chapter 6 —
The Transformation of Dream Life
48. “An intimation that the student has reached or will soon reach the stage of development described in the preceding chapter will be found in the change which comes over his dream life. His dreams, hitherto confused and haphazard, now begin to assume a more regular character. Their pictures begin to succeed each other in sensible connection, like the thoughts and ideas of daily life. He can discern in them law, cause, and effect. The content, too, of his dreams is changed. While hitherto he discerned only reminiscences of daily life and transformed impressions of his surroundings or of his physical condition, there now appear before him pictures of a world he has hitherto not known ... The more regulated dreams of esoteric students whose etheric body has begun its development...cease merely to reflect reality connected with the physical body and physical environment ... [T]hey are mingled with...pictures expressing things and events of another world. These are the first experiences lying beyond the range of waking consciousness.” [pp. 189-191.]
In reality, Steiner's description of controlled, accurate dreams is a delusion. Once again he is telling his followers to trust their subjective fantasies, although he denies this. We have little or no ability to direct out dreams or to attain the psychic power Steiner says will enable us to have "sensible" dreams.
49. “Very soon and as a further result, the student's dreams will no longer remain beyond the reach of intellectual guidance as heretofore, but on the contrary, will be mentally controlled and supervised like the impressions and conceptions of waking consciousness. The difference between dream and waking consciousness grows ever smaller. The dreamer remains awake in the fullest sense of the word during his dream life ... During our dreams we are actually in a world other than that of our senses; but with undeveloped spiritual organs we can form none other than the confused conceptions of it described above ... [I]n addition to our ordinary conscious work-a-day life we lead a second, unconscious life in that other world. We engrave in it all our thoughts and perceptions. These tracings only become visible when the lotus flowers [i.e., organs of clairvoyance] are developed.” [pp. 191-192.]
Here the falsity of Steiner's teachings becomes clearer than ever. There is simply no basis on which to claim that in our dreams we really travel to spiritual worlds. The very existence of those worlds is unproven, and all research into dream states tells us that dreams are essentially the random firing of neurons — dreams have little or no significant content.
50. "[T]hese experiences consist at first merely of pictures engraved in the spiritual world by our mental activity attached to the physical senses. Only developed lotus flowers make it possible for manifestations not derived from the physical world to be imprinted in the same way. And then the etheric body, when developed, brings full knowledge concerning these engraved impressions derived from other worlds." [p. 193.]
This might be true, if a single part of it were real. But our "lotus flowers" — i.e., chakrams, organs of clairvoyance — are fantasies. (As is clairvoyance itself). Ditto our "etheric body." As for "other worlds", unless we mean heaven as described in a recognized holy book, we have no reason to think that any such world exists. (And even then, some may still have doubts.)
51. "This is the beginning of life and activity in a new world, and at this point esoteric training must set the student a twofold task. To begin with, he must learn to take stock of everything he observes in his dreams, exactly as though he were awake. Then, if successful in this, he is led to make the same observations during ordinary waking consciousness. He will so train his attention and receptivity for these spiritual impressions that they need no longer vanish in the face of the physical impressions, but will always be at hand for him and reach him in addition to the others." [pp. 193-194.]
Waldorf school teachers often accept this guidance. Those who are Steiner's followers — usually a major segment of a Waldorf faculty — treat their dreams the same way they treat their waking experiences. They think that they can find objective truth in dreams. Thus, for instance, when they dream of their students, they think they are gaining valid insight into their students. Think this over, parents.
52. "[The student] will learn how to stir to life the spiritual perceptive force in the organ of the heart and control it ... This perceptive force...flows with beautiful radiance through the moving lotus flowers ...Thence it radiates outward into the surrounding spiritual world rendering it spiritually visible ... It is only when this organ of perception can be sent through the etheric body and into the outer world, to illumine the objects there, that the actual spiritual world, as composed of objects and beings, can be clearly perceived. Thus it will be seen that complete consciousness of an object in the spiritual world is only possible when man himself casts upon it the spiritual light ... The heart organ is only the spot where the individual man kindles...this spiritual light organ." [pp. 195-196.]
The "organ in the heart" is not the heart itself — it is the chakram or lotus flower, the organ of clairvoyance, seated in the heart. (We will learn more about chakrams in coming quotations.) Steiner here alludes to one his his central propositions, that truth comes through feelings, through the workings of an organ seated within the heart, not through thoughts or the workings of the brain. Trust your feelings, he tells his followers, just as you trust your dreams. He hedges these bits of advice by stressing the need to school your heart and your dreams. His system stresses laws, directives, rules. But essentially he urges his followers to disbelieve the evidence of their senses and the rational discoveries or intellect (although he denies this); essentially he urges them into a position of radical subjectivity. You believe what you are determined to believe, and then you project it onto the worlds that you are determined to "perceive."
53. "Now, the feelings of an esoterically developed person toward the things of the spiritual world are very different from the feelings of the undeveloped person toward the things of the physical world. The latter feels himself to be at a particular place in the world of sense, and the surrounding objects to be external to him. The spiritually developed person feels himself to be united with, and as though in the interior of, the spiritual objects he perceives. He wanders, in fact, from place to place in spiritual space, and is therefore called the wanderer in the language of occult science. He has no home at first. Should he, however, remain a mere wanderer he would be unable to define any object in spiritual space. Just as objects and places in physical space are defined from a fixed point of departure, this, too, must be the case in the other world. He must seek out some place, thoroughly investigate it, and take spiritual possession of it. In this place he must establish his spiritual home and relate everything else to it ... This founding of a spiritual home is called in the language of occult science the building of the hut." [pp. 196-198.]
Steiner did not hesitate to identify himself as an occultist. Here he gives us some of the terms used in "occult science." Essentially, occult science is what he also called spiritual science, which is what he also called Anthroposophy, which he said is the basis of Waldorf education. Think about this. [For a guide to his book AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE, see "Everything
". For his affirmation of occultism, see "Occultism
54. "Spiritual vision at this stage extends to the spiritual counterparts of the physical world, so far as these exist in the so-called astral world. There everything is found which in its nature is similar to human instincts, feelings, desires, and passions. For powers related to all these human characteristics are associated with all physical objects. A crystal, for instance, is cast in its form by powers which, seen from a higher standpoint, appear as an active human impulse [i.e., human forces cause things like crystals to take the form they have] ... Animal and human impulses are perceptible to [the clairvoyant]...directly as objects; he perceives them just as he perceives tables and chairs in the physical world. The whole range of instincts, impulses, desires and passions, both of an animal and of a human being, constitute the astral cloud or aura in which the being is enveloped." [pp. 198-199.]
Steiner had an interesting habit of attaching the label "so-called" to the things that he himself described. Here he is telling us about the soul world, which he has also called the astral world or astral plane. But this time when he returns to the term, he adds "so-called": the "so-called" astral world. What he means to imply is that the spiritual things he discusses are so profound, so occult and esoteric, that no language we use can adequately describe them. Maybe so. Yet over and over he creates the impression that in reality the things he discusses simply do not exist. He insults our intelligence, over and over. Here, for instance, he tells us about clairvoyance and auras. He is asking us to believe in things for which there is no rational basis; things that in fact have been frequently and powerfully refuted. [See, e.g., "Clairvoyance" and "Auras".] Yet these things stand at the center of his doctrines.
55. "The highest achievement of a clairvoyant who has attained the degree of vision described above is that in which the astral [images] of animal and human impulses and passions are revealed to him ... Senseless desire gives rise to an ugly astral counterpart [i.e., spiritual reality], while a feeling evoked by a high ideal creates one that is beautiful. These astral images are but faintly perceptible during physical life, for their strength is diminished by life in the physical world ... These experiences evoked by the counterparts of the lower soul-nature after death [i.e., astral images of human impulses from physical existence, seen in the soul-world after death] are called the experiences in the soul-world [i.e., we experience them when we enter the soul-world after we die], especially in the region of desires. They only vanish when the soul has purified herself from all desires inclining toward the physical world. Then only does the soul mount to the higher regions, to the world of spirit [i.e., we go first to the soul-world, where we deal with the aftereffects of our earthly impulses, then we go to the spirit-world]." [pp. 200-201.]
Steiner is correct that we create spiritual realities. But we do this in a way very different from what he describes. He says that our feelings and thoughts create spirits that really exist. The truth is that our feelings and thoughts are within us, and they do not shape the world around us — our actions affect the real world, and our feelings and thoughts guide our actions, but in and of themselves feelings and thoughts are subjective states that remain within. The spirit world that we create through our feelings and thoughts is not a reality, as Steiner claims; it is a world of our imagining, a world we conjure up to console ourselves. Why do we do this? The answer is obvious and universally known (although, like Steiner and his followers, many of us shy away from the truth). We are going to die. This intolerable truth leads us to fantasize the sorts of after-death experiences Steiner describes. It is obvious why we want to believe such things. But it is also obvious that, far too often, what we believe in this regard is a fantasy, a lie that we sell to ourselves.
(If you are a person of faith, you may reject at least part of what I have just said. You may be perfectly sure that a higher world exists and that you will have an afterlife in it. I do not mean to question or dispute your faith. My focus is on the faith underlying Waldorf education, and I would encourage you to look at it carefully. Your faith — whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or a member of any other large, recognized religion — is very different from Anthroposophy. If you embrace such a faith, then you should reject Anthroposophy. From your perspective, much of what Steiner taught is heresy. Think carefully before consigning your child to a school built on such a heretical system of belief.)
— Chapter 7 —
The Continuity of Consciousness
56. "In the foregoing chapter a description was given of the alteration ensuing in the dream-life of the person undertaking the ascent to higher knowledge. His dreams lose their meaningless, irregular and disconnected character and form themselves more and more into a world of law and order. With continued development, not only does this new world born out of the dream world come to be in no way inferior to outer physical reality as regards its inner truth, but facts reveal themselves in it representing a higher reality in the fullest sense of the word. Secrets and riddles lie concealed everywhere in the physical world. In the latter, the effects are seen of certain higher facts, but no one can penetrate to the causes whose perception is confined merely to his senses. These causes are partly revealed to the student in the condition described above and developed out of dream life, a condition, however, in which he by no means remains stationary. True, he must not regard these revelations as actual knowledge so long as the same things do not also reveal themselves during ordinary waking life. But in time he achieves this as well: he develops this faculty of carrying over into waking consciousness the condition he created for himself out of dream life. Thus something new is introduced into the world of his senses that enriches it. Just as a person born blind and successfully operated upon will recognize the surrounding objects as enriched by all that the eye perceives, to, too, will anyone having become clairvoyant in the above manner perceive the whole world surrounding him peopled with new qualities, things, beings, and so forth." [pp .203-204.]
A fundamental premise of occultism is that the world is full of "secrets and riddles." These are not the puzzles confronted by ordinary science — they are occult mysteries planted in our path by our creators, the gods. Why the gods should wish to withhold from us the very information we need to possess in order to fulfill their plans is, itself, something of a mystery, but it is the premise from which Steiner works. The gods have given us a puzzling universe, and Steiner can answer the puzzles for us and/or help us to learn to solve the puzzles. If this seems implausible to you, you may not be a good candidate for occult initiation.
Even if the premise of occultism makes sense to you, you may wonder whether Steiner is on the right track. Regulate and use your dreams, he advises. Develop psychic powers — clairvoyance and clairaudience — he advises. If you recognize these bits of guidance as fallacies, you may again be disqualified to follow Steiner. Congratulations.
57. "It is easy to see that this higher perceptive faculty [i.e., clairvoyance] can prove a blessing only if the opened soul-senses are in perfect order, just as the ordinary senses can only be used for a true observation of the world if their equipment is regular and normal. Now man himself forms these higher senses through the exercises indicated by spiritual science. The latter include concentration, in which the attention is directed to certain definite ideas and concepts connected with the secrets of the universe; and meditation, which is a life in such ideas, a complete submersion in them, in the right way. By concentration and meditation the student works upon his soul and develops within it the soul-organs of perception." [p. 210.]
Steiner alternates between advise that seems clearly false and advise that seems more or less sensible. Concentration and meditation: Few people would deny that these can be beneficial. The question is whether you can believe that these activities may lead to the development of "soul-organs of perception" — i.e., organs of clairvoyance, chakrams, lotus flowers. Can you?
58. "By thus conducting himself the student approaches ever nearer to the attainment of that condition, on his path to higher knowledge, in which the unconsciousness of sleep-life is transformed into complete consciousness." [p. 213.]
Steiner reiterates and reiterates that dreams can be reliable guides, providing reliable information. He is serious about it. From some people's perspective, this is all we need to know. Steiner's teachings are empty.
— Chapter 8 —
The Splitting of the Human Personality During Spiritual Training
59. "The soul lives in uninterrupted activity in the higher worlds, even gathering from them the impulse to act upon the physical body. Ordinarily unconscious of his higher life, the esoteric student renders himself conscious of it, and thereby his whole life becomes transformed. As long as the soul remains unseeing in the higher sense it is guided by superior cosmic beings. And just as the life of a person born blind is changed, through a successful operation, from its previous dependence on a guide, so too is the life of a person changed through esoteric training. He outgrows the principle of being guided by a master and must henceforward undertake to be his own guide. The moment this occurs he is, of course, liable to commit errors totally unknown to ordinary consciousness. He acts now from a world from which, formerly, higher powers unknown to him influenced him. These higher powers are directed by the universal cosmic harmony. The student withdraws from this cosmic harmony, and must now himself accomplish things which were hitherto done for him without his co-operation [sic]." [pp. 217-218.]
The "superior cosmic beings" Steiner mentions — the "higher powers" — are the gods. In Waldorf belief, there are nine ranks of gods, ranging from gods just a bit more evolved than human beings, to gods vastly more evolved than ourselves. [See "Polytheism".] The gods serve the "universal cosmic harmony" — the good, creative powers, the divine intention, that may be summarized as the Godhead. [See "God".] Allowing the gods to run one's life would seem advisable, but to attain true autonomy, we must break free. Clearly, there is danger in this action. But according to Steiner, if we listen to him, we will proceed on a course that will ultimately make us the top dogs in the entire spiritual/physical universe: We ourselves will become the highest gods. [See "Tenth Hierarchy".]
60. "[M]uch is found in books dealing with these matters concerning the dangers connected with the ascent into higher worlds. The descriptions sometimes given of these dangers may well make timid souls shudder at the prospect of this higher life. Yet the fact is that dangers only arise when the necessary precautions are neglected ... [Then] there can be no question of injury to health or life. [Still,] the student meets with horrible powers threatening life at every turn and from every side. It will even be possible for him to make use of certain forces and beings existing beyond physical perception, and the temptation is great to control these forces for the furtherance of personal and forbidden interests, or to employ them wrongly out of a deficient knowledge of the higher worlds ... [W]e must realize that the hostile powers are none the less [sic] present, even though we know nothing of them. It is true that in this case their relation to man is ordained by higher power, and that this relation alters when the human being consciously enters this world hitherto concealed from him ... A real danger can only arise if the student, through impatience or arrogance, assumes too early a certain independence with regard to the experiences of the higher worlds ... In these [higher] spheres, modesty and humility are far less empty words than in ordinary life. If the student possesses these qualities in the very best sense he may be certain that his ascent into the higher life will be achieved without danger to all that is commonly called health and life." [p. 218-219.]
There are great dangers awaiting us (although we will be fine if we follow Steiner's lead, Steiner says). There are "horrible powers threatening life at every turn and from every side." These are evil spirits, the enemies of man and the good gods. [See "Evil Ones".] Wayward, deluded, or weak-willed students may ally themselves with the powers of evil, seeking to use them for perverse ends. But all will be well if students don't act independently too soon. Stick with Steiner and his rules — and, of course, with the good gods to whom he directs us — and all will be well.
61. "[A] three-fold [sic] aberration arises for anyone neglecting the injunctions given by esoteric science ... If [the student] is not sufficiently advanced to control completely the higher consciousness and himself restore harmony [i.e., restore it within himself], the will pursues its own unbridled way, continually overpowering its possessor ... A violent nature is the result, rushing from one unbridled action to another.
"A second deviation occurs when feeling unduly shakes off its proper control. A person inclined to the revering of others may then diverge into unlimited dependence, to the extent of losing all personal will and thoughts...
"The third evil is found when thought predominates, resulting in a contemplative nature, hostile to life and locked up within itself...
"These are the three ways of error into which the student can stray: (1) exuberant violence of will, (2) sentimental emotionalism, and (3) cold, loveless striving for wisdom ... [O]nce a mistake is made and one of the soul-forces falls a prey to unbridled excess, the higher soul comes into existence as a miscarriage. The unrestrained force pervades the individual's entire personality, and for a long time there can be no question of the balance being restored." [pp. 225-228.]
Rules, injunctions, controls... The path is straitened; you need Steiner's guidance (he is, after all, the author of the "injunctions given by esoteric science," although of course he pretends that these injunctions are built into the very fabric of the universe). Perhaps the gravest danger of all occurs when "thought predominates." For heaven's sake, don't think too much about the things Steiner says. His statements won't hold up, and then where will you be?
62. "[T]he student should omit nothing which can secure for him unfailing mastery over his whole being. He should never be found wanting in presence of mind or in calm penetration of all situations of life. In the main, a genuine esoteric training gives rise of itself to all these qualities, and as it progresses the student only becomes acquainted with the dangers while simultaneously and at the right moment acquiring the full power to rout them from the field." [p. 230.]
There are dangers, but you're in good hands with Steiner.
— Chapter 9 —
The Guardian of the Threshold
This chapter and the next provide rare instances in which Steiner describes events that occur in the higher worlds — or, more precisely, on the threshold of the higher worlds. I will clam up and let him describe.
63. "The important experiences marking the student's ascent into the higher worlds include his meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold. Strictly speaking, there are two Guardians: a lesser and a greater ... The lesser Guardian is a sovereign being. He does not come into existence, as far as the student is concerned, until the latter has reached the requisite stage of development ... [Then] a truly terrible spectral being confronts [the student], and he will need all the presence of mind and faith in the security of his path [acquired] in the course of his previous training." [pp. 231-232.]
64. "The Guardian proclaims his signification somewhat in the following words: 'Hitherto, powers invisible to thyself watched over thee ... Thanks to their influence thy character formed itself out of thy life-experiences and thy thoughts ... They ordained that measure of joy and pain allotted to thee in thine incarnations, according to thy conduct in lives gone by ... These were till now unknown to thee; their effects alone were made manifest. The karmic powers, however, beheld all thy deeds in former lives, and all thy most secret thoughts and feelings, and determined accordingly thy present self and thy present mode of life. But now all the good and evil sides of thy bygone lives shall be revealed to thee ... [N]ow they become released from thee; they detach themselves from thy personality ... I am that very being who shaped my body out of thy good and evil achievements. My spectral form is woven out of thine own life's record ... I must become a perfect and glorious being, or fall a prey to corruption; and should this occur, I would drag thee also down with me into a dark and corrupt world ... Only when thou hast made good all thy bygone wrongs and hast so purified thyself that all further evil is, for thee, a thing impossible, only then will my being have become transformed into radiant beauty. [And then] shall I again become united with thee for the welfare of thy future activity.
“'...Seek not, then, to cross this Threshold until thou dost feel thyself entirely free from fear and ready for the highest responsibility. Hitherto I only emerged from thy personality when death recalled thee from an earthly life ... Only the powers of destiny who watched over thee beheld me ... I was present at the hour of thy death, and it was on my account that the Lords of Karma ordained thy reincarnation [because you were not yet perfected yourself]....
“'Visible do I thus stand before thee today ... When thou shalt have crossed my Threshold, thou wilt enter those realms to which thou hast hitherto only had access after physical death ... I am indeed the Angel of Death; but I am at the same time the bearer of a higher life without end. Through me thou wilt die with thy body still living, to be reborn into an imperishable existence.
“'Into this kingdom thou art now entering; thou wilt meet beings that are supersensible, and happiness will be thy lot. But I myself must provide thy first acquaintance with that world, and I am thine own creation ... Thou hast formed me, but by so doing thou hast undertaken, as thy duty, to transform me.'” [pp. 232-237.]
65. "If successful, this meeting with the Guardian results in the student's next physical death being an entirely different event from the death as he knew it formerly. He experiences death consciously by laying aside the physical body as one discards a garment that is worn out ... Thus his physical death is of special importance only for those living with him, whose perception is still restricted to the world of the senses. For them the student dies; but for himself nothing of importance is changed in his whole environment. The entire supersensible world stood open to him before his death, and it is this same world that now confronts him after death." [p. 239.]
66. "The Guardian of the Threshold is also connected with other matters. The person belongs to a family, a nation, a race; his activity in this world depends upon his belonging to some such community. His individual character is also connected with it. The conscious activity of individual persons by no means exhausts everything to be reckoned with in a family, a nation, or a race. Besides their character, families, nations, and races have also their destiny. For persons restricted to their senses these things remain mere general ideas; and the materialistic thinker, in his prejudice, will look down with contempt on the spiritual scientist when he hears that for him, family and national character, lineal or racial destiny, are vested in beings just as real as the personality in which the character and destiny of the individual man are vested. The spiritual scientist becomes acquainted with higher worlds of which the separate personalities are members, just as arms and legs are members of the human being. Besides the separate individuals, a very real family and national group soul and racial spirit is at work in the life of a family, a people, or a race. Indeed, in a certain sense the separate individuals are merely the executive organs of these family group souls, racial spirits, and so on. It is nothing but the truth to say, for instance, that a national group soul makes use of each individual man belonging to that nation for the execution of some work." [pp. 239-240.]
67. "[T]he student must turn and glance backward. The Guardian of the Threshold now draws aside a veil which till now had concealed deep life-mysteries. The family, national, and racial spirits are revealed to the student in their full activity, so that he perceives clearly on the one hand, how he has hitherto been led [by them], and no less clearly on the other hand, that he will henceforward no longer enjoy this guidance." [pp. 243-244.]
68. "Without preparation, no one could endure the sight [revealed by the Guardian]. But the higher training which makes it possible at all for the student to advance up to the Threshold simultaneously puts him in a position to find the necessary strength ... His experience at the Threshold will then be attended by a premonition of that felicity which is to provide the keynote of his newly awakened life. The feeling of a new freedom will outweigh all other feelings; and attended by this feeling, his new duties and responsibilities will appear as something which man, at a particular stage of life, must needs take upon himself." [p. 244.]
— Chapter 10 —
Life and Death: The Greater Guardian of the Threshold
69. "Thanks to his insight into the supersensible world, the initiate gains a better knowledge and appreciation of the true value of visible nature [i.e., the physical world] ... [He] knows that without experience in visible reality he would be totally powerless in that other invisible reality. Before he can live in the latter he must have the requisite faculties and instruments which can only be acquired in the visible world ... No one can be born in the spiritual world with spiritual eyes without having first developed them in the physical world....
"From this standpoint it will also be readily understood why the Threshold to the supersensible world is watched over by a Guardian. In no case may real insight into those regions be permitted to anyone lacking the requisite faculties....
"When the student enters the supersensible world, life acquires quite a new meaning for him; he discerns in the physical world the seed-ground of a higher world...." [pp. 246-248.]
70. "The existence of disease and death in the sense-world is thus explained. Death merely expresses the fact that the original supersensible world reached a point beyond which it could not progress by itself. Universal death must needs have overtaken it, had it not received a fresh life-impulse. Thus this new life has evolved into a battle with universal death. From the remnants of a dying, rigid world there sprouted the seeds of a new one. That is why we have death and life in the world." [p. 249.]
71. "[T]he first Guardian confronts man as the counterpart of his two-fold [sic] nature [i.e., mortal and immortal] in which perishable and imperishable are blended ... The extent to which he is entangled in the physical sense-world is exposed to the student's view. The presence of instincts, impulses, desires, egotistical wishes and all forms of selfishness, and so forth, expresses itself in this entanglement, as it does further in his membership in a race, a nation, and so forth; for peoples and races are but steps leading to pure humanity. A race or a nation stands so much the higher, the more perfectly its members express the pure, ideal human type, the further they have worked their way from the physical and perishable to the supersensible and imperishable. The evolution of man through the incarnations in ever higher national and racial forms is thus a process of liberation." [p. 252.]
This crucial passage forces my hand: I will interject a few comments, very briefly. Steiner taught that all people are essentially the same. However, he also taught that members of different races stand at different levels of evolutionary development (some are closer to "the pure, ideal human type" than others are). Some races are "higher" than others. We should evolve upward from low racial form to high racial forms ("peoples and races are but steps leading to pure humanity"). This process occurs through the medium of reincarnation: We live one life at one racial level, then we live another life at another racial level. We evolve toward "higher national and racial forms" (unless we are evil and fall downward into lower national and racial forms). These doctrines are racist. Steiner's followers deny this, but it is clearly so. Racism lurks in the soul of Anthroposophy. [See "Steiner's Racism".]
72. "When the student has recognized all the elements from which he must liberate himself, his way is barred by a sublime luminous being whose beauty is difficult to describe ... [This is] the second Guardian of the Threshold who speaks as follows:
“Thou hast released thyself from the world of the senses. Thou hast won the right to become a citizen of the supersensible world, whence thine activity can now be directed ... Thou hast attained thy present degree of perfection thanks to the faculties thou wert able to develop in the sense-world ... [B]ut now, having thyself become free, thou canst go forth as a liberator of thy fellows ... Thou wilt some day be able to unite with me, but I cannot be blessed so long as others remain unredeemed. As a separate freed being, thou wouldst fain enter at once the kingdom of the supersensible; yet thou wouldst be forced to look down on the still unredeemed beings in the physical world ... To separate thyself from thy fellows would mean to abuse those very powers which thou couldst not have developed save in their company. ... Thou must now share with thy fellows the powers which, together with them, thou didst acquire. I shall therefore bar thine entry into the higher regions of the supersensible world so long as thou hast not applied all the powers thou hast acquired to the liberation of thy companions ... [Failing this] thou wouldst tread the black path [sic], while the others from whom thou didst sever thyself tread the white path [sic].” [pp. 253-256.]
73. "It does not follow that, when called upon to decide, anyone will naturally follow the white path ... The gift he receives in the higher regions of the supersensible world is nothing that comes to him, but only something that flows from him, that is, love for the world and for his fellows. Nothing that egotism desires is denied upon the black path ... No one therefore should expect the occultists of the white path to give him instruction for the development of his own egotistical self. They do not take the slightest interest in the felicity of the individual man ... [T]hey place selfless devotion and self-sacrifice before all other qualities. They never actually refuse anyone, for even the greatest egotist can purify himself; but no one merely seeking an advantage for himself will ever obtain assistance from the white occultists ... Anyone, therefore, really following the instructions of the good occultists will, upon crossing the Threshold, understand the demands of the greater Guardian; anyone, however, not following their instructions can never hope to reach the Threshold." [pp. 257-259.]
74. "The path to supersensible knowledge, as described in this book, leads the soul through experiences concerning the nature of which it is especially important to avoid all illusions and misconceptions ... In this connection one of the most serious mistakes occurs when the whole range of inner experience dealt with in true spiritual science is distorted into appearing in the same category as superstition, visionary dreaming, mediumship (spiritism), and other degenerate practices."
Steiner is right that superstition, visionary dreaming, and the like should be avoided. He is wrong, however, in separating his own teachings from these categories. There is no "true spiritual science." Steiner's teaching depend on nonexistent faculties, clairvoyance and clairaudience. He asserts that these faculties exist; he asserts that his teachings are true; he asserts that his teaching are different from "degenerate practices." But he offers no evidence. His arguments are, over and over, illogical and vacuous. Steiner's teachings are the very things he warns against: superstition, visionary dreaming, and the like.
75. "In the experiences of the visionary and in mediumistic phenomena the human being becomes completely dependent on his body ... Thus the content and productions of his soul are merely revelations of his bodily life. The experiences of the visionary and the phenomena produced by the medium owe their existence to the fact that a person while thus experiencing and producing is, with his soul, less independent of his body than in ordinary perception and willing. In the experience of the supersensible as indicated in this book, the development of soul-life proceeds in just the opposite direction from that taken by the visionary and the medium."
The only real difference between Steiner's teachings and the false doctrines and practices he criticizes is that he says his teachings are true. Period. He makes claims, but does not substantiate them. Indeed, if anything, his claims are more removed from reality than are the teachings of other self-appointed spiritual savants. He bases his practices in "supersensible" organs — chakrams, lotus flowers, organs of clairvoyant. They are invisible, immaterial, supernatural. They sound swell. But there is no evidence — none — that they exist.
76. "Let the reader take this book as a conversation between the author and himself. The statement that the student needs personal instruction should be understood in the sense that this book itself is personal instruction ... It is only to a limited extent correct to say that further personal instruction is necessary beyond that contained in this book. No doubt someone may need assistance, and it may be of importance for him or her; but it would be false to believe that there are any cardinal points not mentioned in this book."
The "conversation" is rather one-sided, wouldn't you say? Steiner states, and you attend. That is his prescription. Take his word for things. Take his word for everything. Period.
You can. of course, consult a personal guru. Maybe that would work. But don't expect to learn anything significant beyond what Steiner has said. He has told you all that you really need to know. (According to himself, that is.)
Steiner's short, strangely insubstantial book is really all the "personal instruction" you need. "It would be false to believe that there are any cardinal points not mentioned in this book."
KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT
is, arguably, Steiner's second most important book.
By the same calculation, Steiner's premier book is
OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE.
For a summary of that tome (an outline of the outline),
For more information on the higher worlds
as described by Steiner,
For another look at occult initiation,
To examine a series of lectures in which Steiner
tried to state his views as clearly as possible,
To examine books of great importance to Waldorf education,
KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT
has been published in many editions and under varying titles.
Here are a few examples:
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2006]
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2009]
[Anthroposophic Press, 1994]
HOW CAN ONE GAIN KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS?
[Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1993]
The mental and spiritual exercises Steiner prescribes constitute the heart of Anthroposophy and the heart of the book we have been reviewing, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS. They are also, in many ways, the dullest of his teachings, and the most disappointing. They don’t work. The exercises do not cause us to grow organs of clairvoyance; they do not produce the clairvoyant ability to objectively study the higher worlds. This is unfortunate but true. Anthroposophy is, at its core, empty.
Still, we should take a look at the exercises. We have done some of this, above. But let’s do more. One complication is that various exercises prescribed by Steiner are presented in various overlapping texts. In addition to KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS (GA 10), other books laying out exercises include AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (GA 13), ESOTERIC LESSONS (GA 266/1), GUIDANCE IN ESOTERIC TRAINING (GA 42/245), etc. Still, many of the most central exercises appear in the book we have been reviewing, and particularly in chapter 2, “Stages of Initiation.” So let’s focus on those. For variety, we’ll work this time from a different — newer, clearer, and somewhat toned-down — translation, HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS (Anthroposophic Press, 1994). The analysis I’ve already provided is probably all (or more than all) that you want to hear from me, so I will refrain from adding any further commentary. I will simply excerpt passages from the text.
OK. Chapter 2. HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS. Exercises, pointers, admonitions, and warnings given by Steiner. (The numbering of the quotes picks up where we left off higher on this page. There is some overlap — some of the quotations below partially duplicate quotes we saw earlier. Thus, for instance, quote #77 returns us to subjects raised in quote #16.)
77. "The stage of preparation consists in a quite definite method of cultivating our lives of feeling and thinking ... The first step is to direct the soul’s attention toward certain processes in the world around us. These processes are life, as it buds, grows, and flourishes; and, on the other hand, all phenomena connected with withering, fading, and dying away ... Whenever we perceive a quite definite form of blossoming and flourishing, we must banish all else from our souls and, for a short time, dwell on this one impression alone ... As we do so, we will soon realize that a feeling that previously only flitted through our souls has now grown and become strong and filled with energy. We must let this feeling quietly echo within us...." [pp. 39-40.]
78. "First, we must look at things as actively and precisely as possible. Only thereafter should we devote ourselves to the feelings coming to life in our souls and the thoughts arising there. It is essential that we give our attention to both feelings and thoughts as they arise in complete inner equilibrium ... We will notice rising up within us new kinds of feelings and thoughts that we never knew before. The more often we focus our attention, first on something growing and flourishing, and then on something withering and dying away, the more lively and active these feelings will become. Eventually, just as the eyes and ears of our physical organism are formed by natural forces out of inanimate matter, so organs of clairvoyant 'seeing' are formed out of the feelings and thoughts that arise in relation to growing and flourishing, withering and dying." [pp. 40-41.]
79. "Processes of withering and dying, on the other hand, will produce an experience that may be compared with what we feel as we watch the slow rise of the moon on the horizon. Cultivated appropriately and trained in ever livelier and more active fashion, these two types of feeling become forces that can lead to the most significant spiritual effects. Deliberately, regularly, and repeatedly surrendering to such feelings, we find a new world opening before us. The soul world or so-called astral plane begins to dawn." [p. 41.]
80. "Once we have advanced to the point where we can see the spiritual forms of what appears physically visible to our outer eyes, then we are not far from the stage of seeing things that have no physical existence at all. Such things, of course, remain completely hidden (or occult) to one who has received no esoteric training. Here it must be emphasized that the spiritual researchers should not lose themselves in reflection upon what this or that might mean." [p. 42.]
81. "Another important point is what esoteric science calls “orientation” in the higher worlds. We achieve such an orientation when we have filled ourselves completely with the consciousness that feelings and thoughts are actual facts, just as real as tables and chairs are in the physical-sensory world." [p. 43.]
82. "[W]e must never allow ourselves false thoughts and feelings. Random musings, playful daydreams, the arbitrary ebb and flow of feeling — all these must be banished from the soul." [p. 44.]
83. "The students of occult knowledge must also direct their attention to the world of sounds. Here we must distinguish between sounds produced by so-called inanimate objects (such as a falling object, a bell, or a musical instrument) and those coming from living beings (animals or human beings) ... In esoteric training, we focus on the second type of sound, concentrating our whole attention on the fact that the sound communicates something that lies outside our own souls. We must immerse ourselves in this “otherness,” inwardly uniting our feelings with the pain or pleasure expressed by the sound. To do this, we must disregard what the sound is for us ... As we learn to do so, a new faculty takes root in the world of feeling and thought. All of nature begins to whisper its secrets to us through its sounds ... [We] begin to hear with our souls." [pp. 44-46.]
84. "Particularly important as we develop as occult pupils is that we also work on the way we listen to other people when they speak. On the path to higher knowledge this listening skill is extremely important. We must become accustomed to listening in such a way that we quiet our own inner life completely when we listen ... Listening to children in this way is especially useful, and even the wisest of us can learn a great deal from them ... We begin to hear through the words, into the other person’s soul. As we consistently practice this new habit, sound becomes the medium through which we can perceive soul and spirit ... Perception of the 'inner word' awakens. Truths are gradually revealed to us out of the spiritual world. We hear ourselves spoken to spiritually." [pp. 46-48.]
85. "All higher truths are attained only through such inward prompting. Whatever we hear from the lips of true spiritual researchers is only what they have brought into experience in this way. This does not mean that it is unnecessary to study esoteric literature ... On the contrary, reading such writings and listening to the teachings of esoteric researchers are themselves a means of achieving knowledge for ourselves ... [T]he exercises described here should be accompanied by the intensive study of what researchers in spiritual science bring into the world ... In fact, all the other methods taken together will not get us anywhere if we do not also absorb the teachings of esoteric researchers. These teachings are drawn forth from the living 'inner word,' from 'living inspiration,' and therefore they themselves are spiritually alive ... [A]s we follow the words of one experienced in esoteric knowledge or read a book based on true inner experience, forces are at work in our souls that make us seers (clairvoyants)...." [p. 48.]
86. "The stage of illumination [i.e., enlightenment] starts from very simple processes. Here, too, as in the stage of preparation, it is a matter of developing and awakening certain feelings and thoughts latent in every one of us ... We begin by examining different natural objects in a particular way: for example...we try to direct our whole attention to comparing a stone and an animal. The thoughts that we form to make this comparison must pass through the soul accompanied by lively feelings. No other thoughts or feelings must be allowed to intrude ... [T]wo very different kinds of feeling come to life in the soul. One kind streams into the soul from the stone, another from the animal ... Eventually, they become something that remains alive in our souls ... Out of these feelings, and the thoughts accompanying them, organs of clairvoyance are formed ... The organs built up in this way are spiritual eyes. They gradually allow us to see soul and spiritual colors." [pp. 49-50.]
87. "Having brought our practice to the point described here, paths to many worlds lie open before us. But no one is advised to proceed further without paying careful attention to what is said or communicated by spiritual researchers. In fact, even with regard to what has already been said, it is always best to heed experienced guidance." [p. 52.]
88. "One precaution, at all events, is essential, and whoever is unwilling to adopt it had better not proceed in occult science at all. As esoteric students, we must not lose any of our human qualities but must remain noble-minded, good people, sensitive to all aspects of physical reality." [p. 52.]
89. "Many people today seek a path to occult or esoteric science. Their quest takes various forms. Many dangerous, and even illicit, practices are tried. Therefore those who believe that they know something of the truth in these matters should give others the opportunity to learn something about esoteric training. This book presents such an opportunity, nothing more." [p. 53.
90. "[W]e should not spend more time and energy on these exercises than is in keeping with our position and duties in life ... If we want real results, we must have patience.... Whoever has not learned to wait, in the noblest and best sense of the word, is unsuited to esoteric work and will never achieve results of any real value." [p. 53.]
91. "[W]e can easily lose heart and give up our efforts ... In the beginning, the forces and capacities that we must develop are extremely delicate ... There is the possibility of error here for anyone who undertakes an esoteric path while remaining ignorant of the experiences gathered by accomplished spiritual researchers. Such spiritual researchers can see our progress long before we are aware of it. They know that delicate spiritual eyes can develop before we are aware of them. Indeed, the instructions of researchers are for the most part designed to keep us from losing our confidence, patience, and perseverance at a time when we cannot yet see our progress for ourselves." [pp. 53-54.]
92. "Courage and self-confidence are two beacons that should never be extinguished on the path to higher knowledge. No one, who cannot patiently repeat an exercise that has failed, to all appearances, countless times before, will travel far on this path." [p. 55.]
93. "Long before we have a clear perception of our progress, we have a vague feeling that we are on the right track. This feeling should be cultivated and nurtured, for it can become a reliable guide." [p. 55.]
94. "It all comes down to giving our feelings and thoughts the right direction. Only then can we gain the ability to see what ordinarily remains invisible ... We place before us a small seed from a plant. Starting with this insignificant thing, the point will be to think the right thoughts intensively, and by means of these thoughts to develop certain feelings. First, we must establish what we are really seeing with our eyes ... Then we ponder the thought: 'This seed, if planted in the ground, will grow into a complex plant.' We visualize the plant, we make it present to and in us. We build it up in imagination. Then we think: 'What I now visualize in my imagination, forces of earth and light will later in reality draw forth from this small seed ... [T]he real seed contains something invisible [that responds to the forces of earth and light]' ... Thoughts and feelings should now focus on this invisible reality. We must imagine that this invisible force or reality will in the course of time change into the visible plant." [pp. 56-57.]
95. "It is important to emphasize that whatever we think we must also feel with intensity." [p. 57.]
96. "[W]e must always cultivate a healthy sense for the distinction between truth and illusion. We should never lose conscious self-control during the exercises. Our Thinking must be as certain and reliable in carrying out the exercises as it is when we apply it to the things and processes of everyday life." [p. 58.]
97. "A further exercise, connected to the seed meditation, is the following. We place before us a mature plant. First, we immerse ourselves in the thought: 'A time will come when this plant will wither and decay' ... We saturate ourselves with the thought: 'The plant form with all its colors will soon no longer be there. But the knowledge that the plant produces seeds teaches me that it will not disappear into nothingness. I cannot see what preserves the plant from disappearance anymore than I could see the future plant in the seed. Therefore it follows that there is something in the plant, too, that I cannot see with my eyes' ... A kind of spiritual flame form will then grow out of the plant ... It will be felt as green-blue at its center and as yellow-red at its periphery." [p. 59.]
98. "[I]t cannot be disputed that some people come to know the phenomena of birth and death through personal vision without undertaking the exercises described here. Some people have considerable psychic gifts, which require only slight stimulation in order to be developed further. But such people are exceptional. The path described here is safer and more generally effective." [p. 60.]
99. "We would be committing a serious error, with far-reaching consequences, if we believed that we could reach our objective more easily by dispensing with the actual object of our meditation and simply forming a mental picture of the seed (or plant) that we then held in our imaginations ... The point of these exercises is not that we arbitrarily create perceptions for ourselves but that reality creates them in us. The truth must well up from the depths of our own souls ... The beings whose spiritual truth I seek to behold must conjure their own truth." [p. 61.]
100. "When, by practicing such exercises, we have discovered in ourselves the first rudiments of spiritual perception, we can then go on to contemplate our fellow human beings ... But before we take this step, we must work sincerely and seriously on the integrity of our moral character ... We must firmly decide never to use for evil ends any power we might gain over other people. Thus, if we seek to penetrate the mysteries of human nature through our own efforts, we must abide by the golden rule of the occult sciences. This rule states: 'For every single step that you take in seeking knowledge of hidden truths, you must take three steps in perfecting your character toward the good.” Whoever follows this rule can do the following exercises.'" [pp. 61-62.]
101. "We visualize a person whom we have observed longing for something, and we direct our attention to this desire ... We try as far as possible to be deaf and blind to everything else going on around us. Above all, we pay close attention to any feeling that the mental image we have formed awakens in our souls. Then we allow this feeling to rise up within us ... [A]fter many attempts, we shall experience in ourselves a feeling corresponding to the inner soul state of the individual we are contemplating. Then, before long, we begin to notice that this feeling produces a force in the soul. This force then becomes the spiritual perception of the other person’s soul state." [pp. 62-63.]
102. ”Here...is another important rule for the student of occult knowledge: “Know how to be silent about your spiritual perceptions. Yes, even be silent about them with yourself. Do not try to clothe in words what you see in the spirit, nor try to understand it with your ordinary, unskilled reason. Give yourself fully to your spiritual perception, and do not disturb it with too much pondering." [p. 63.]
103. "The above exercise may be supplemented by the following complementary one. This time we contemplate a person whose desire or longing has been fulfilled. Following the same rules and precautions as before, we attain another, different spiritual perception. We again see a spiritual flame-form, but now this feels yellow in the center and light green at the periphery." [p. 64.]
104. "Observing and contemplating our fellow human beings in this way, we can easily fall into a moral error. We can lose our love for them. We must do everything imaginable to ensure that this does not happen ... The idea that another person could be merely an object of observation must never, even for a moment, take hold of us." [p. 64.]
105. "These preliminary exercises give two examples of how we may gain insight into human nature ... We will always find ways and means of discovering more and more of human nature that is hidden from our outer senses. As we do so, we gradually progress to the point of glimpsing the mysterious kinship between human nature and all else that exists in the universe." [p. 65.]
106. "Candidates for initiation must bring with them two additional qualities: courage and fearlessness. These have a certain relationship with each other and must be developed together. As esoteric students, we must deliberately seek out situations in which these virtues may be cultivated. Indeed, in occult training they are developed quite systematically. From this point of view, life itself is also a good occult school — perhaps the best. We must be able to look danger calmly in the eye and overcome difficulties without hesitation." [p. 65.]
107. "[A]s we penetrate the higher mysteries, we see things that were previously hidden from us by the illusions of the senses. In fact, it is a blessing that our physical senses do not allow us to perceive the higher truths. In this way they protect us from things that, if we saw them unprepared, would cause us great dismay, things we could not bear to see. As students of the occult, we must train ourselves to bear these sights." [p. 66.]
108. "As initiates, our own souls will be revealed before our seeing eyes as nakedly as all other things. Students must not lose strength in the face of such self- knowledge. They must come to meet it with a surplus of forces. In order to have this surplus, we must learn to maintain our inward calm and certainty in difficult life situations and cultivate an unshakable trust in the good powers of existence." [p. 67.]
109. "Above all, we need to cultivate courage and fearlessness in the inmost depths of our thought life itself. We must learn not to be discouraged by failure. We should be able to think: 'I will forget that I have failed again, and will try once more as if it never happened.'" [p. 67.]
Yes, learning to disregard failure would probably be a good idea. Following Steiner's instructions virtually guarantees you plenty of experience with failure.
For more on Anthroposophical
spiritual exercises, see
"Serving the Gods"
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
[R. R., 2012]
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch,
use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 11. THE WALDORF WORLDVIEW ◊◊◊
PREHISTORY 101Steiner’s extraordinary, sci-fi-like narrative of human evolution.The tale of our ancient past and our distant future, as told by Steiner. It continues in:
EVERYTHINGAn examination of Steiner’s central text