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Occult Science - An Outline

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

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Occult Science - An Outline

Chapter IV

Man and the Evolution of the World

(Part 1)

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We have seen from the foregoing chapters that the being of man is built up of four members: physical body, life-body, astral body, and the bearer of the Ego. The I or Ego of man works in the three other members and transforms them. Through this transformation arise at a lower stage sentient soul, intellectual soul and spiritual soul, while at a higher stage of man's existence Spirit-Self, Life-Spirit and Spirit-Man are evolved. These several members of man's nature stand in the most varied relations to the whole Universe. Their evolution is connected with the evolution of the Universe, and by a study of the latter we can gain insight into the deeper secrets of the being of man.

It can easily be seen that the life of man is related in many different directions to the environment, to the dwelling place wherein he evolves. External science has already by its own recognized facts and data been driven to the conclusion that the Earth — this dwelling-place of man in the widest sense of the word — has itself undergone evolution. It can tell us of conditions that once prevails in the Earth, where man in his present form did not yet exist upon our planet, and can then go on to show how humanity has evolved, slowly and gradually, from quite simple conditions of civilization to those that obtain today. Thus has external science too been led to the idea that there is a connection between the evolution of man and that of the heavenly body on which he lives — the Earth.

Spiritual science1 traces this connection by means of a cognition that derives its facts from a perception that has been quickened by the spiritual organs. It follows man back on the path of his development, and perceives how the real, inner, spiritual being of man has passed through a succession of lives upon this Earth; and as it continues to pursue these researches, it arrives at length at a far distant point of time, when the inner being of man first entered upon an outward life (in the present-day meaning of the word.) It was in that earliest earthly incarnation that the I or Ego first began its activity within the three bodies — astral body, life-body and physical body; and it took with it, on into the life that followed, the fruits of this activity.

When we go back in the way thus indicated, we become aware that at that distant point of time the Ego finds the Earth in a condition wherein the three bodies of man are already evolved and have a certain connection with one another. Now for the first time the Ego unites with the entity that consists of these three bodies, and from this point onwards partakes in their further evolution. Hitherto, they have been evolving without a human Ego and have in this way reached the stage at which the Ego finds them.

Spiritual science must go still further back with its researches if it would find an answer to the question: How did the three bodies reach a stage of evolution such as enabled them to receive into themselves an I, and then too to the further question: How did the I itself come into being and how did it acquire the ability to work within the bodies?

An answer to these questions is possible only by tracing the rise an devolution of the Earth-planet itself in the light of spiritual science. By means of such research we arrive at a beginning of this Earth-planet. The mode of thought which builds on the facts of the physical senses alone, cannot pursue its inferences far enough to deal at all with this beginning of the Earth. There is a theory which, by inferences of this kind, arrives at the result that all the substance of the Earth has evolved from a primeval nebula. There is no occasion for us to enter her into a discussion of such ideas as this. For spiritual research as to consider not merely the material processes of Earth evolution, but before all the spiritual causes which lie behind all matter and substance. If we see before us a man in the act of lifting up his hand, this can start us on two different lines of thought. We may investigate the mechanism of the arm and of the remained of the body with the intention of describing how the action takes place as a purely physical process. But we can also direct our mind's eye to that which is going on in the man's soul and constitutes his motive for lifting up his hand. In a similar way the scientist trained in spiritual perception sees spiritual processes behind all the processes of the world of the physical senses. For him, all the changes in the material nature of the Earth-planet are manifestations of spiritual forces which are there behind the material. And as his spiritual observation reaches farther and farther back in the Earth's life, he comes at length to a point in evolution where the material first begins to be. The material evolves out of the spiritual; until then, the spiritual alone existed. By the exercise of spiritual observation we perceive the spiritual, and note how, as time goes on, it partially condenses, so to speak, to the material. We watch this taking place and, but that the process is on a higher level, it is very much as though we might be looking at a vessel filled with water, where by a finely regulated cooling process, lumps of ice were gradually taking shape. We see the ice condense out of what was water through and through. Similarly, by spiritual observation we can trace how the material things, events and entities condense, as it were, out of a previous existence which was spiritual through and through.

Thus the Earth-planet has evolved out of a cosmic spiritual entity. Everything material connected with the planet has condensed out of what was once united with it spiritually. But we must not imagine that a time ever came when all spiritual being had been transformed into material. That which confronts us in the latter is never more than part of the original and spiritual. Even throughout Earth's material evolution, the spiritual always remains the guiding and directing principle.

It stands to reason that the way of thought which would hold fast to the physical, sense-perceptible processes alone — and to what the intellect is able to infer from these — can say nothing whatever about the spiritual of which we are here speaking If a being could exist, endowed with senses to perceive only the ice and not the finer state of water from which the ice on cooling separates itself, then for such a being the water would not be there; he could perceive nothing of it until some of it was changed into ice. So too for the man who will admit only what presents itself to the physical senses, the spiritual which underlies the earthly processes must ever remain hidden. And if form the physical facts that he perceives today he is able to form correct conclusions as to earlier conditions of the planet, he will still reach back only to that evolutionary point where the spiritual began its partial condensation to the material. His mode of thought will not perceive the spiritual that preceded that process, any more than it can perceive the spiritual substance which even now holds sway, invisibly, behind the world of matter.

Not until the later chapters of this book will it be possible to speak of the paths whereby man attains the faculty to look back, in spiritual perception, to the earlier conditions of the Earth with which we are now dealing. Suffice it for the moment to point out that for spiritual research the facts of the most distant early times are not obliterated. When a creature has come into bodily existence, its bodily nature are not obliterated in the same way. They leave behind their traces, nay their exact images, in the spiritual foundation of the world. And if we are able to raise our faculty of perception and look through the visible world to the invisible, we arrive at length at a point where we have before us what may be compared to a mighty spiritual panorama wherein all the past events of the world are displayed. These abiding traces of all spiritual happenings may be called the “Akashic Records,” denoting as “Akasha-essence” that which is spiritually permanent in the world process, in contrast with the transient forms. Here once again it must be emphasized that researches in the supersensible realms of existence can only be made with the help of spiritual perception — that is to say, as regards the region we are now considering, by actual reading of the Akashic Records. Nevertheless here too, what has been said already in similar connections holds good: to investigate and discover the supersensible facts is possible only by supersensible perception; once found however, and communicated in the science of the supersensible, these facts can be understood with man's ordinary faculty of thought. There must only be the readiness to approach the subject with an open mind In the following pages the evolutionary conditions of the Earth according to the science of the supersensible will be communicated. The transformations of our planet will be followed down to the state of life in which it is today. Let anyone consider what he has before him today in pure sense-perception, and then give his attention to what supersensible knowledge tells of how this present has evolved from the primeval past. If he be truly open-minded, he will then be able to say to himself: In the first place, what this science tells is inherently logical; secondly if I assume the truth of what is communicated from supersensible research, I find I can understand how it is that things have eventually come to be such as they appear before me now.

The use of the word “logical” in this connection does not of course imply that errors in logic can never be contained in any particular statement from supersensible research. We are using the term here in no other way than it is used in ordinary life in the physical world, where logicality of statement is universally demanded — although some individual describing a particular set of facts may now and again be guilty of mistakes in logic. The situation is just the same in supersensible research. It may even happen that an investigator, able to perceive in supersensible domains, stumbles into errors in respect of logical description, and that a man who does not himself perceive supersensibly but has a good reasoning faculty, is subsequently able to correct him. As logic, however, no objection can be raised against the logic that is applied in supersensible research. Nor should it be necessary to emphasize that exception can never be taken to the facts themselves on merely logical grounds. Just as in the realm of the physical world one can never prove by logic whether or no a whale exists, but only by inspection, so it is with supersensible facts; they can be apprehended by spiritual perception and by that alone.

If cannot, however, be sufficiently stressed that for the student of supersensible realms it is a necessity, before he tries to approach the spiritual worlds with his own perception, to make sure that he is doing so from the right standpoint — the standpoint, that is, that he can reach through the above-mentioned logic and — what is no less important — through having come to recognize that, assuming the statements of Occult Science to be correct, the world wherever it is revealed to the senses appears intelligible. In effect, all conscious experience in the supersensible world remains uncertain, nay dangerous, a kind of groping in the dark, if the student disdains to undergo this preparation. And it is for this reason that the present book, before dealing with the actual path to supersensible knowledge, will communicate first the supersensible facts of Earth evolution.

One other point needs to be borne in mind in this connection. Someone who with pure thinking finds his way into what supersensible knowledge has to relate, is by no means in the same position as a man who listens to an account of some physical process which he is unable to witness for himself. Pure thinking is itself already a supersensible activity. True, inasmuch as it belongs to the life of sense, it cannot of itself take us to the supersensible events. But when applied to the supersensible events that are told out of supersensible perception, pure thinking does of itself grow into the supersensible world. Indeed one of the very best ways to attain perception of one's own in supersensible domains, is to grow into the higher world by thinking over what supersensible knowledge communicates. For with this way of entry the greatest clarity is ensured. Hence a certain school of spiritual-scientific research regards pure thinking as the soundest kind of first step in any spiritual-scientific training.

It will be readily understood that this book cannot set out to show, in connection with every detail of the Earth's evolution as perceived in the spirit, how the supersensible finds again and again its confirmation in the outwardly manifest. This certainly was not implied when we said that the hidden can everywhere be shown and proved in its manifest effects. Rather did we mean that everything man meets in life can become clear and intelligible to him, step by step, if he will but place the manifest events into the light that is made possible for him by Occult Science. Only in a few characteristic instances will reference be made in these pages to the confirmation of the hidden in the manifest, in order to show by a few examples how it is possible to find on every hand such confirmation in the practical pursuit of life, have we but the will to do so.



  1. The term ‘spiritual science’ is here used — as will be evident from the whole context — with the same meaning as ‘Occult Science’ — that is to say, the Science of the Supersensible.


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