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 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 did not always make clear distinctions. Thus, for instance, while he sometimes spoke of higher worlds (plural), he also sometimes talked about a single higher world — one that presumably includes constituent realms or regions. Likewise, the terms Steiner applied to various realms or regions (or, often, "worlds") shifted around. For instance, in addition to speaking of the “soul world,” he also spoke 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 that Steiner himself leaves undescribed.
** 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, we are generally 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 texts. 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 necessarily 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 there is such a things as occult knowledge, 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 should have, 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," and that we can find objective truth by looking inward, and 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 sort of argument 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 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.
* See "Clairvoyance".
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 being produced. 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 are 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, 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 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 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 generally delivered an upbeat, positive message. 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 define 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 your benefit — 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 (detecting physical sounds and spiritual sounds) and learning how to see properly (detecting 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 in 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-world and the spirit-world 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 physical body, but not made of physical matter; incorporeal organs that enable 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.) So you must have faith.
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 to believe 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 arguments that could be made against him, and he often spoke in an apparently reasonable manner. But the effect of his apparently reasonable 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 he and 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 in KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS, 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 become embodied 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. According to Anthroposophical 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 likely will be at any time 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, producing 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.
A few other editions, under various titles:
From left to right, and top to bottom:
Rudolf Steiner Press, 1963 Light House, 2006
CreateSpace, 2014 CreateSpace, 2016
Anthroposophic Press, 1994 SMK Books, 2018
Use this link to go to the remainder of