[Steiner e.Lib Icon]
Rudolf Steiner e.Lib Section Name Rudolf Steiner e.Lib

Occult Science - An Outline

Rudolf Steiner e.Lib Document

Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

Highlight Words

Occult Science - An Outline

Chapter I

The Character of Occult Science

An ancient term — ‘Occult Science’ — is applied to the contents of this book. The term is likely to evoke the most contrary feelings among the people of our time. To many it will be downright repugnant, calling forth derision, a supercilious smile, even contempt. A way of thought — they will opine — which thus described itself, must surely rest on idle dreams, and the mere arbitrary play of fancy. Its claim to be a science can only be a blind, behind which is the wish to revive all manner of superstitions, justly eschewed by those who are familiar with the scientific spirit, the quest of genuine knowledge. Others are differently affected. They feel that what is signified by this term will bring them something unattainable in any other way, something to which they are drawn — according to their disposition — by a deep inner longing for knowledge or a refined curiosity of soul. Between these two sharply divergent opinions there are a multitude of intermediate views, implying conditional rejection or acceptance of the diverse things which people think of when they hear the term ‘Occult Science.’

For some people, undeniably, it has a magic ring because it bids fair to satisfy their craving for information, inaccessible by straightforward methods, about something ‘beyond our ken’ — something mysterious, nay perhaps vague and confused. Or there are those who do not want to meet the deepest longings of the soul with anything that is capable of being clearly known. In their conviction, beyond what is knowable there must be something more in the world that eludes our knowledge. It is a strange contradiction, which they fail to notice. Precisely where the deepest yearning for knowledge is concerned, they would set aside clear knowledge and want to cherish what is incapable of discovery by natural and sound research. Whoever speaks of ‘Occult Science’ will do well to bear in mind the likelihood of misunderstandings due to the efforts of such champions, who in reality desire, not a true science but the reverse.

The contents of this book are addressed to readers who will not let their openness of mind be impaired because, for a variety of reasons, a word tends to awaken prejudices. Of knowledge claiming to be ‘occult’ in the sense of secret — accessible only to a few, by special favor or good fortune — there will be no mention here. The reader will do justice to our use of the term ‘Occult Science’ if he considers what Goethe had in mind when he spoke of the ‘manifest secrets’ in the phenomena of Nature. Whatever remains ‘secret,’ that is to say unmanifest in these phenomena when we apprehend them only with the outer senses and with the intellect that is bound to the outer senses, will here be treated as the subject-matter of a supersensible way of knowledge.1

Needless to say, for anyone who will admit as science only what is manifest to the senses and to the intellect that serves them, what is here named ‘Occult Science’ can be no science. Such a man, however, if willing to understand his own position, should candidly admit that his categorical rejection of any kind of ‘Occult Science’ springs not from reasoned insight but from an ipse dixit, due to his own individual feeling. To see that it is so, he need only reflect how sciences arise and what is their significance in human life. How a pursuit comes to be a science cannot in the nature of the case be ascertained from the subject-matter to which it is devoted, but only by recognizing the mode of action of the human soul while engaged in scientific endeavor. What is the attitude and activity of the soul in the elaboration of a science? — this is the thing we must observe. If one is used to apply this mode of activity only where sense-data are concerned, one easily slides into the idea that sense-data are the essential factor. One misses the real point, which is that a certain inner attitude of the human soul has been applied to the revelations of the senses. For we can go beyond the self-imposed limitation. Apart from the special case to which it is here applied, we can envisage the character of scientific activity as such. Such is the underlying idea when in this book the knowledge of non-sensible World-contents is spoken of as ‘scientific.’ The human mind here sets to work at these World-contents, as in the other case it does at the World-contents given to Natural Science. Occult Science seeks to free the scientific method and spirit of research, which in its own domain holds fast to the sequence and relationship of sense-perceptible events, from this restricted application, while maintaining the same essential attitude and mode of thought. Thus it would speak of the non-sensible in the same spirit in which Natural Science speaks of the sensible. While Natural Science, in the employment of scientific thought and method of research, stops short within the sense-perceptible, Occult Science would like to regard the work of the human soul on Nature as a form of self-education, and apply the faculties, thus educated in the soul, to the realms of the non-sensible. Such is its method and procedure. It does not speak of sense-phenomena as such, but of the non-sensible World-contents in the same mood as does the natural scientist of those accessible to sense-perception. It preserves the essential bearing which the soul maintains in scientific procedure — i.e. the very element whereby alone our knowledge of Nature becomes a science. Hence it may justly call itself a science.

Whoever ponders on the significance of Natural Science in human life will find that its significance is by no means exhausted in the acquisition of so much detailed knowledge about Nature. The detailed items of knowledge can, in effect, only lead to an experience of what the human soul is not. The soul is living, not in the finished propositions about Nature, but in the process of scientific knowledge concerning Nature. In working upon Nature, the soul experiences her own conscious life and being, and what is livingly acquired in this activity is something more than so much information about Nature. It is an evolution of the Self that is experienced in building up our scientific knowledge of Nature. It is this gain in self-development which Occult Science seeks to activate in realms that lie beyond mere Nature. Far from misjudging Natural Science, the occultist thus values it even more than does the scientist himself. He knows that he can found no science without the integrity of thought with which Natural Science is imbued. And what is more, he knows that this integrity, once gained by really penetrating into the spirit of natural-scientific thinking, can by the requisite inner strength be maintained for other realms of being.

One thing, admittedly, can make one hesitate at this point. In contemplating Nature the soul is guided by the object of her study in a far higher degree than in the contemplation of non-sensible World-contents. The purely inner incentive whereby the essence of the scientific way of thought is maintained, must be far stronger in the latter case. Many people — unconsciously — imagine that it can only be maintained by holding to the leading-strings of natural phenomena. Hence they incline to decide ex cathedra that as soon as these leading-strings are left behind, the scientific endeavor of the mind and soul will needs be groping in the dark. Such people have never consciously faced the question: What is the essence of scientific procedure? They usually base their judgment on the inevitable aberrations which occur when scientific thinking has not been adequately strengthened by working at the phenomena of Nature, and the soul nevertheless sets out to contemplate the non-sensible or super-sensible domains of the World. Needless to say, much unscientific talk concerning these World-contents arises in this way. The reason is, however, not that the subject must in the nature of the case be outside the pale of science; it is only that in the given instance there has not been adequate self-discipline through the scientific study of Nature.

With due regard to what has just been said, those who would speak of Occult Science must indeed have a watchful eye for all the vagaries that arise when the ‘manifest secrets’ of the World are treated in an unscientific spirit. It would however be unfruitful if we were to deal with all these aberrations at the very outset of our exposition. In prejudiced minds, no doubt these aberrations bring discredit on any form of research into Occult Science. Their very existence — and they are only too numerous — is taken to justify the conclusion that the whole effort is fallacious. Yet as a rule the rejection of Occult Science by scientists or scientifically minded critics is only due, in the last resort, to the aforesaid, ex cathedra decision. The reference to aberrations is but a pretext, howsoever unconscious. Lengthy initial argument with such opponents will therefore not be very fruitful. After all, they can observe with perfect justice that on the face of it there is no telling whether in seeing how others are caught up in error we ourselves are standing on the requisite firm ground. Therefore the claimant to Occult Science can do no other than simply bring forward what he has to say. Others alone can judge if he is right — though it must be added, only those others who will refrain from ex cathedra pronouncements and enter with open mind into the tenor of his communications about the ‘manifest secrets’ of the World. It will then be for him to show how what he brings forward is related to the existing achievements of life and knowledge. He must meet possible objections and point out where the external, sense-perceptible realities of life confirm his statements. Nor should he ever speak or write in such terms as to rely on eloquence or on the arts of persuasion rather than on the pure content of his descriptions.

One often hears it objected that works on Occult Science do not prove what they adduce; they merely make their statements and declare: ‘This is what Occult Science teaches.’ It would be a misunderstanding to think that anything put forward in these pages was intended in this spirit. Our purpose is different; it is to encourage what is developed in the human soul through the knowledge of Nature to go on evolving, as indeed it can do by its own inherent power. We then point out that through this evolution the soul will encounter supersensible realities. The premise is that every reader, able to adopt this course, is bound to meet with these realities. There is however an important difference, the moment we enter the spiritual-scientific realm, as compared with natural-scientific study. In Natural Science the facts lie spread out before us within the sense-perceptible world. The scientist who describes them regards his own activity of mind and soul as something that recedes into the background over against the given sequence and relationship of the pure facts of the sense world. The spiritual scientist, on the other hand, puts the activity of the soul into the foreground and cannot but do so, for the reader will only reach the facts when by appropriate methods he makes this activity of soul his own. In Natural Science, the facts — however little understood — are there for man's perception even without the soul's activity. Not so the facts of Spiritual Science. They only enter the realm of man's perception by dint of the soul's activity. Thus the exponent of Spiritual Science has to presume that the reader is looking for the facts together with him. This will determine the character of his descriptions. He will narrate the discovery of the facts; and yet the style of his narration will be dominated not by any idiosyncrasies of his own but by the purely scientific spirit, trained and developed through Natural Science. Hence he will also be obliged to speak of the means and methods whereby man rises to a contemplation of the non-sensible — that is to say, the super-sensible.

Anyone who really enters into the descriptions of Occult Science will presently perceive that in the process he acquires ideas and concepts he did not have before. He begins to have quite unexpected thoughts concerning what he formerly imagined to be the essence of a ‘proof.’ In natural-scientific thinking it is different. Here, the activity which is applied to the proof in natural-scientific thinking, already lies inherent in the seeking for the facts. One cannot even find the facts without the path towards them carrying its own inherent proof. Anyone who really goes along this path will in so doing have experienced the proof, and nothing more can be achieved by any added proof from outside. Failure to recognize this essential feature of Occult Science gives rise to numerous misunderstandings.

All Occult Science must spring from two thoughts — thoughts which can take root in every human being. For the occult scientist in our sense of the word, they express facts which every man can experience if he makes use of the proper means. Admittedly, for many people, even these thoughts will appear as statements highly questionable, or even liable to direct refutation.

The two thoughts are as follows. First, that there is behind the visible an invisible world, hidden to begin with from the senses and from the kind of thinking that is fettered to the senses. And secondly, that by the due development of forces slumbering within him it is possible for man to penetrate into the hidden world.

There is no such world, says one. The world man perceives with his senses is the one and only world, and the riddles it presents are soluble within its own domain. However far mankind may be as yet from the ability to answer all the problems, sensory observation and the science founded on it will in due time provide the answers.

No, says another, it cannot be said that there is no hidden world behind the visible; our human faculties of knowledge, however, cannot reach it. They are beset with insurmountable limitations. Let the longing for religious faith have recourse to such a world; genuine science, based on the ascertainable facts, can have no dealings with it.

There is still a third party, who deem it presumption for man to want to penetrate with his own active cognition into a region with regard to which he should resign the claim to knowledge and modestly content himself with faith. Those who adhere to this idea feel it wrong for weak humanity to want to press forward into a world which should belong to the religious life alone.

And then again it is argued that a universally accepted knowledge of the facts of the sense-world is possible; here there is common ground for all men. As to the super-sensible, on the other hand, it can only be a question of the individual's personal opinion; it is fallacious to allege any universally valid certainty upon these matters.

Others put forward many other viewpoints.

Yet it is possible to realize quite clearly that the contemplation of the visible world places riddles before man which can never be solved out of the facts of this world alone, even when scientific knowledge has advanced to the very utmost. The visible facts, by their very nature, distinctly indicate a hidden world. The man who does not see this, closes his eyes to the riddles which spring to view on every hand out of the facts of the sense-world. He does not want to see certain facts and problems; therefore he believes that all questions can be answered by the sense-perceptible facts alone. The questions he is willing to admit are indeed answerable by these facts, concerning which he is persuaded that they will all be discovered in course of time. We may concede this without controversy. But how should anyone who asks no further questions, except answers to them? He who aspires to a science of the occult says no more than that for him these further questions are spontaneously there. Why should they not be recognized as a perfectly legitimate expression of the human soul? Science can not be forced into a strait-jacket by forbidding man to put questions freely.

To those who opine that there are limits to human knowledge which man cannot transcend and which compel him to stop short of an invisible world, the answer is: No doubt, with the mode of knowledge they have in mind, man will never penetrate into an unseen world. If one considers this to be the only mode of knowledge they have in mind, man will never penetrate into an unseen world. If one considers this to be the only mode of knowledge, one cannot but come to the conclusion that the human being is denied access to a higher world — if such a world exists. And yet, supposing it to be possible to evolve another mode of cognition, the latter may after all lead into a supersensible world. If such a mode of knowledge is ruled out, then indeed one arrives at a point of view from which any discussion of a supersensible world must appear meaningless. Yet for an open mind the only possible reason for this opinion is that the one who holds it is unacquainted with the other form of knowledge. No man can judge of a thing which from the very outset he declares to be unknown to him. Unbiased thinking must admit that a man should speak of what he knows, and refrain from making pronouncements on what he does not know. Sound thinking can only admit a man's right to communicate what he has really experienced; no man can claim the right to declare impossible what he does not know or does not want to know. We cannot deny a man's right not to concern himself with the supersensible; but he can never have the right to declare himself competent to judge, not only of what is known or knowable to himself, but of what he alleges to be unknowable to ‘Man’ in general!

As to those who think it presumption for man to penetrate into the supersensible, the occult scientist will ask them to reflect, what is man can? Is it not then a betrayal of faculties granted to man if he lets them lie waste instead of evolving and making good use of them?

Lastly, the one who thinks that any views about the supersensible can only be a matter of personal feeling and opinion, denies the common and uniting element in all human beings. It is quite true that each of us can only gain insight into these things through his own efforts, but it is equally true that all those who do, provided they go far enough, reach no divergent views but come to the identical insight. Divergencies exist only so long as men try to approach the highest truths by arbitrary ways, instead of by a pathway that is scientifically sure. Once again it must be unreservedly admitted that he alone who is prepared to enter open-mindedly into the essence of the occult-scientific method will come to recognize its rightness.

The path to Occult Science can be found in due time by every man who perceives — or even only divines or surmises — in the manifest the presence of a hidden aspect. Aware that his powers of knowledge are capable of evolution, he will begin to feel that the hidden can become manifest to him. Once he is led to it by such experiences of the soul, Occult Science will open out to him the prospect not only of discovering the answer to many questions prompted by his thirst for knowledge, but the further prospect that he himself will be able to outgrow whatever may be hindering or weakening his life. For in a higher sense it does denote enfeeblement of life — even a kind of death to the soul — when a man feels himself compelled to turn away from the supersensible or to deny it. It may even lead him to despair when he loses hope that the hidden will ever be made manifest. This death and this despair — manifold in the forms they can assume — are at the same time inner opponents of man's striving towards Spiritual Science. They make themselves felt when his inner strength begins to wane. If he is then to have any strength for life, it has to be brought to him from outside. He perceives the objects and events which confront his outer senses; he analyses and dissects them with his intellect. They give him joy or pain; they impel him to such actions as lie within his scope. For a while he may go on in this way; sooner or later however, he will inevitably reach a point where he begins to die an inner death. Sooner or later, what the outer world can give him in this way becomes exhausted. This is not mere assertion of any one man's personal experience; it derives from an open-minded contemplation of all human life. It is the hidden world, latent in the depths of things, which preserves us from this exhaustion And when the power of fathoming the depths, so as to draw forth from thence ever new strength for life, is waning in man, the outer aspect too will in the end cease to sustain him.

Nor does this only concern the individual's personal weal or woe. More than any other thing, the study of true Occult Science gives us the ever-growing certainty that from a higher point of view the weal and woe of the individual is bound up with that of all the world. Here is a path whereby man reaches the insight that he does harm to the whole world and to all other beings if he fails in the right development of own powers. When a man renders his life waste and void by losing his connection with the supersensible, he not only destroys within himself something of which the death may ultimately lead him to despair; by his own weakness he becomes a hindrance to the evolution of the entire world in which he lives.

Now it is quite possible for man to deceive himself. He can give himself up to the belief that there is no hidden side to things; that that which meets his outer senses and his intellect is all-inclusive. This delusion however is only possible on the surface of consciousness, not in the depths. Our feeling-life, our aspirations and desires, do not partake in the illusory belief. In one way or another they will always crave for the hidden side; when it is taken from them, they drive the human being into doubt and bewilderment, even into despair, as we have seen. A way of knowledge which brings the hidden to revelation is apt to overcome all hopelessness, perplexity and despair — in short, all that weakens human life on Earth and incapacitates it from contributing its service to the cosmic whole.

One of the fairest fruits of the pursuit of Spiritual Science is that it lends strength and firmness to life, instead of merely satisfying a man's craving for knowledge. Inexhaustible is the fountain head form which it draws, giving man strength for work and confidence in life. No man who has once truly found his way to this source will ever go away unstrengthened, however often he may have recourse to it.

There are those who will have nothing to do with Spiritual Science because they think there is something unhealthy even in what has just been said. As to the surface, the outward aspect of life, they are not altogether wrong. They do not want any neglect of the ‘realities’ of lie, as they see them. They see it as a weakness when man turns away from these realities and seeks salvation in a hidden world, which for them is equivalent to a world of mere dreams and fancies. If in the quest of Spiritual Science we are not to succumb to morbidity and weakness, we must admit the partial justice of such objectives. They rest on a sound enough judgment, but one which only leads to a half-truth instead of to the whole truth, inasmuch as it stops short at the surface and fails to penetrate into the depths. If the striving for supersensible knowledge were such as to weaken life and turn man away from reality, objections of this kind would assuredly be strong enough to undermine it.

Here too, however, Occult Science would not be taking the right path by seeking to defend itself, in the everyday sense of the word, as against such opinions. Here too it can only try to express — recognizably to any open mind — its own inherent value, making it felt how it can enhance the strength and energy of life for those who devote themselves to it. For the true quest of Spiritual Science will never make a man a dreamer or an escapist from the world; rather will it fortify him from those deeper founts of lie from which as a being of soul and spirit he himself proceeds.

There are yet other hindrances to understanding which for some people bar the way to the pursuit of Occult Science. To mention one: it is true in principle that the reader will find in the expositions of Occult Science a description of experiences of soul which, if he follows them, can lead him towards the supersensible realities. In practice, however, this is an ultimate ideal. The reader must first receive as simple communication a wealth of supersensible discoveries which he cannot yet experience for himself. It cannot be done otherwise, and will be so in this book. The author will be describing what he believes himself to know about the being of man, including what man undergoes in birth and death and in the body-free condition in the spiritual world; also about the evolution of the Earth and of mankind. It might then seem as though he were putting forward all these alleged items of knowledge as dogmas, which the reader was being asked to accept on the writer's authority. But it is not so. For in reality, whatever can be known of the supersensible world, lives — as a living content of soul — in the spiritual investigator who expounds it, and as the reader finds his way into this living content it kindles in his soul the impulses leading towards the supersensible realities in question. The way we live in reading the descriptions of Spiritual Science is quite different from what it is when reading communications about sense-perceptible events. We simply read about the latter; but when we read communications of supersensible realities in the right way, we ourselves are entering into a stream of spiritual life and being. In receiving the results of research, we are receiving at the same time our own inner path towards these results. True, to begin with, the reader will often fail to notice that this is so. For he is far too apt to conceive the entry into the spiritual world on the analogy of sensory experience. Therefore what he experiences of this world in reading of it will seem to him like ‘mere thoughts’ and nothing more. Yet in the true receiving of it even in the form of thoughts, man is already within the spiritual world; it only remains for him to become aware that he has been experiencing in all reality what he imagined himself to be receiving as the mere communication of thoughts.

The true character of the experience will be made fully clear to him when he proceeds to carry out in practice what is described in the later portions of this book, namely the ‘path’ leading to supersensible knowledge. It might easily be imagined that the reverse was the right order — the pathway should first be described. But it is not so. One who, without first turning his attention to some of the essential facts of the supersensible world, merely does ‘exercises’ with the idea of gaining entrance there, will find in it a vague and confusing chaos. Man finds his way into the world — to begin with, as it were, naively — by learning to understand its essential features. Then he can gain a clear idea of how — leaving this ‘na´ve’ stage behind him — he will himself attain, in full consciousness, to the experiences which have been related to him. Anyone who really enters into Occult Science will become convinced that this and this alone is the reliable way to supersensible knowledge. As to the opinion that information about the supersensible world might influence the reader by way of ‘suggestion’ or mere dogma, he will perceive that this is quite unfounded. The contents of supersensible knowledge are experienced in a form of inner life which excludes anything in the nature of suggestion and leaves no other possibility than to impart the knowledge to one's fellow-man in the same way as any other kind of truth would be imparted, appealing only to his wide-awake and thoughtful judgment. And if, to begin with, the one who hears or reads the description does not notice how he himself is living in the spiritual world, the reason lies not in any passive or thoughtless receiving of the information, but I the delicate and unwonted nature of the experience.

Therefore by studying the communications given in the first part of this book, one is enabled in the first place to share in the knowledge of the supersensible world; thereafter, by the practical application of the procedures indicated in the second part, one can gain independent knowledge in that world.

A scientific man, entering into the spirit of this book, will find no essential contradiction between his form of science, built as it is upon the facts of the sense-perceptible world, and the way the supersensible world is here investigated. Every scientist makes use of instruments and methods. He prepares his instruments by working upon the things which ‘Nature’ gives him. The supersensible form of knowing also makes use of an instrument, only that here the instrument is Man himself. This instrument too must first be prepared — prepared for the purposes of a higher kind of research. The faculties and forces with which the human instrument has been endowed by ‘Nature’ without man's active cooperation must be transformed into higher ones. Thus can man make of himself the instrument of research — research into the supersensible world.



  1. Critics of earlier editions of this book have objected that the expression Occult Science is a contradiction in terms, since in the nature of the case a science cannot be kept ‘occult’ or ‘secret.’ (The German for ‘Occult Science’ — Geheimwissenschaft — begins with the adjective geheim, the ordinary word for ‘secret.’ The criticism would be just if this were the intention, but it is not so. When we say ‘Natural Science’ we do not mean a science that is ‘natural’ to everyone — as it were, a natural endowment. No more does the author think of Occult Science as a science that is ‘occult’ or ‘secret.’ It is the science of what — to the ordinary methods of cognition — is present but unmanifest in the phenomena of the world. Occult Science is a science concerning the occult — or, to use Goethe's words again, concerning the ‘manifest secret.’ It has no secret to conceal from anyone who is prepared to seek for occult knowledge by the appropriate methods.


Last Modified: 28-Apr-2024
The Rudolf Steiner e.Lib is maintained by:
The e.Librarian: elibrarian@elib.com