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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 V

Knowledge of the Higher Worlds

(Concerning Initiation)

Part 5

Part 1 |  Part 2 |  Part 3 |  Part 4 |  Part 5 |  Part 6 |  Part 7 |  Part 8 |  Part 9 |  Part 10  ]

The organs of soul and spirit, the lotus flowers, that are in course of development in one who is undergoing training, reveal themselves to supersensible consciousness in the neighborhood, as it were, of particular bodily organs. From among the number of these organs of the soul, mention will here be made of the following. There is, first, the organ that is perceived as though about midway between the eyebrows (the so-called two-petalled lotus-flower;) then, the organ in the region of the larynx (the sixteen-petalled lotus-flower;) thirdly, the organ in the region of the heart (the twelve-petalled lotus-flower;) and then a fourth in the neighborhood of the pit of the stomach. Others come to view near other parts of the physical body. (The appellation two-or sixteen-petalled is not inappropriate, for the organs in question are in appearance comparable to flowers with these numbers of petals.)

The lotus-flowers become manifest to the consciousness of the pupil in his astral body. As soon as he has developed one or other of them, he knows that he has it. He feels he can make use of it and that in doing so he does actually enter a higher world. The impressions he receives there still resemble in many respects those of the physical world. One who has attained Imaginative cognition will thus be able, in speaking of this new higher world, to describe his impressions by reference to sensations, for example, of warmth or of cold; or he may compare them to hearing music or speech, or to the effect upon him of light or color. For this is the kind of feeling he has of them. He is however conscious that perceptions acquired in the Imaginative world tell of something altogether different from those acquired in the world of sense. He knows that what gives rise to them is not physical or material, but of the nature of soul and spirit. Suppose he receives an impression resembling the sensation of warmth. He will not ascribe it, for example, to a piece of hot iron, but will consider it as emanating from some soul situation or event of a kind that he has hitherto been aware of only in his inner life of soul. He knows that his Imaginative perceptions are due to things and happenings of the nature of pure soul and spirit, even as his physical perceptions are due to facts and entities of a material, physical nature.

Along with this resemblance of the Imaginative to the physical world there is at the same time a significant difference between them. One ever-present feature of the physical world shows itself in the Imaginative world in a totally different way. In the physical world we can observe a continual coming into being and passing away again, a constant alternation of birth with death. In the Imaginative world we find instead perpetual transformation taking place — one thing changing into another. For instance, in the physical world we see a plant droop and die. In the Imaginative world, as the plant fades away, another form — invisible to the physical senses — is all the time seen to be arising, into which the dying plant gradually changes. When the plant has quite disappeared, before us in its place is this new form, fully developed. Birth and death are conceptions which lose their meaning in the Imaginative world. In their place we have the concept of transformation or metamorphosis — one thing changing into another.

This is how it is that the truths concerning the being of man which have been communicated in the chapters on “the Nature of Humanity” become accessible to Imaginative cognition. With the physical senses, only the processes of the physical body can be perceived, and these take place in the “realm of birth and death.” The other members of man's nature — the life-body, the sentient body and the I — are subject to the law of transformation; Imaginative cognition is therefore able to perceive them. One who has progressed to this stage can see how at death something as it were releases itself from the physical body and lives on further in a different kind of existence.

But spiritual development does not come to an end in the Imaginative world. If we wanted to remain in that world and go no farther, we would be unable to give any explanation for the changes that were taking place; we could not find our bearings in the world to which we had gained access. The Imaginative world is a restless place. Everywhere in it there is movement, nothing but movement and change; nowhere does it come to rest. Only when we develop beyond the stage of Imaginative cognition and reach what may be called “cognition through Inspiration” do we find a resting-place.

It is not essential that one who sets out to attain knowledge of the supersensible world shall first acquire Imaginative knowledge in full measure and only then proceed to Inspiration. A pupil's training may be so regulated that exercises leading to Imagination are continued side by side with exercises for the development of Inspiration. He will then, in due time, come into a higher world where he does not merely perceive but can also orientate himself — a world in which he can begin to see meaning. In point of fact, it will indeed generally happen that as the pupil progresses, glimpses of the Imaginative world are first of all vouchsafed him, and that then, after a time, he has the feeling: Now I am beginning also to find my bearings.

Yet it must also be realized that the world if Inspiration is something different and new, compared to that of Imagination. With Imaginative cognition we perceive events and processes in mutual transformation. With Inspiration we come to know the inner qualities of the beings who are undergoing transformation. With Imagination we see the manifestation of these beings in the realm of soul. With Inspiration we penetrate to their inner spiritual nature; above all, we come to know a multiplicity of beings and learn of the connections between them. In the physical world we also have to do with a multiplicity of beings or entities of various kinds, but in the world of Inspiration this multiplicity is of quite another character. There each single being has its distinctive connections with other beings, connections that are determined, not as in the physical world by some outward impressions that the beings make upon one another, but by their inner character and spiritual nature. When we perceive a being in the world of Inspiration, we are not looking at some external influence that the being is exerting upon another being, comparable with the influence exerted by one physical being upon another; what confronts us there is a relationship between two beings that comes about solely through the inner character both of the one and of the other. There is in the physical world one kind of relationship to which this may bear comparison — such a relationship as obtains between the several sounds or letters of a word. Say we have before us the word “bold.” The word comes about through the sounding together of the sounds b-o-l-d. The sounds b and o, for example, do not collide or react on one another in some external way; they act together and each fulfils it part within the whole by virtue of its inner character. The activity of “observing” in the world of Inspiration can therefore be compared with reading. The beings in that world present themselves to the observer like letters that he must first learn and that will then be revealed to him in their several relationships, forming as it were a spiritual script or supersensible writing. Spiritual science may therefore avail itself of this comparison and call the knowledge acquired through Inspiration: the Reading of the Hidden Script.

How the Reading of the Hidden Script is done, and how what is read may be communicated shall now be explained with reference to the earlier chapters of the present book. A description was given in the first place of the being of man, telling of how it is built up of several members. Then it was shown how the world in which man is evolving has itself passed through various stages of evolution — the Saturn condition, then the Sun, the Moon and now the Earth condition. Imaginative cognition brings within our reach perceptions that make us acquainted, on the one hand with the members of man's being, on the other hand with the successive conditions of our Earth and the changes it has undergone up to the present time. We then had to go further and learn of the relationship that exists between the Saturn condition of our Earth and the physical body of man, between the Sun condition and his ether-body and so on. We were shown how the seed for the physical body came into being as long ago as the Saturn condition, and has continued developing throughout Sun, Moon and Earth conditions right up to its present form. It became necessary also to show, for example, what changes came about in the being of man owing to the separation of the Sun from the Earth, and again what further changes were wrought in him by the parallel event in respect of the Moon; and then what kind of co-operation was needed to bring about those still later changes in mankind that found expression during the Atlantean time and the epochs that followed it — the Indian, Persian, Egyptian and so on. The picture that was given of these connections was derived not from Imaginative perception, but from knowledge attained through Inspiration, from Reading in the Hidden Script. In relation to this “reading” the perceptions of Imagination are like the individual letters or sounds. Nor is it only explanations of this kind for which the reading is required. The course of man's life could not be understood if we were to study it with the help of Imaginative knowledge alone. We would, it is true, perceive how at death the soul-and-spirit members disengage themselves from what remains behind in the physical world; but we would not understand how the events that happen to man after death are related to past and future conditions, unless we already know our way about the world we perceived Imaginatively. Without the knowledge acquired through Inspiration, the Imaginative world is like a script at which we merely stare, without being able to read it.

When the pupil of the Spirit goes forward from Imagination to Inspiration, he very quickly realizes what a mistake it would be to neglect to cultivate an understanding for the great events and phenomena of the Universe and to want to restrict his attention to the facts that bear upon his more immediate human interests. It can easily happen that one who has not been initiated into these matters will say: “The one thing of importance for me is to learn about the destiny of the soul of man after death. If I can receive information upon that, then I am satisfied. Why does spiritual science set before me such remote matters as the Saturn and Sun conditions of our Earth, the separation of the Sun — and later of the Moon — from the Earth, and so on? Whoever has been introduced in the right way to the whole subject of higher knowledge will come to see that he cannot attain authentic information about man's destiny after death, until he has first learned about those greater themes that might have seemed unnecessary. A picture of the condition into which man is brought after death will remain for him quite unintelligible and therefore worthless, if he cannot bring it together with conceptions that have grown out of these more remote themes. The very simplest observation that can be made by means of supersensible cognition requires him to be acquainted with them. When, for instance, a plant passes from the flowering stage and begins to bear fruit, then if we are watching it with supersensible powers of observation, we see a change taking place in an astral entity which in the flowering time has been enveloping the plant from above like a cloud. But for the “fertilization” as it is called (leading from flower to fruit,) this astral entity would have passed on into an altogether different form from the one it has assumed in consequence of fertilization. And we can only comprehend the whole process when seen with supersensible perception if we have prepared our understanding by studying the great cosmic event which the Earth and all her inhabitants experienced at the time of the separation of the Sun. Before fertilization the plant it is in a similar condition to that of the whole Earth before the Sun went out from her. After fertilization, the flower of the plant is like the Earth was when the Sun had left and the Moon forces were still within her. If we have mastered the conceptions that can be acquired by studying the separation of the Sun from the Earth, then the significance of the “fertilization” of a flowering plant will present itself to us in a way we can express by saying that before it the plant is in a Sun-like, and after it in a Moon-like condition. It is not too much to say that the smallest event in the world can only be rightly comprehended when we recognize in it an image of the great cosmic events. Without this recognition we are as far from understanding its real nature as we would be from understanding a Raphael Madonna that was all covered over except for one little patch of blue.

Everything that happens to man is in this way an image, having its prototype amid those great events of cosmic evolution with which his existence is bound up. If we would understand what supersensible consciousness perceives in human life — whether in the life between birth and death, or in the life between death and a new birth — we shall find we are able to do so if we take to our help the sublime conceptions that can be gained from dwelling on the great events of cosmic evolution. These will furnish us with the key to an understanding of the life of man. From the point of view of spiritual science, study of Saturn, Sun and Moon evolution is thus at the same time study of man.

Through Inspiration we learn how the Beings of the higher world are related to one another. A still further stage of knowledge opens up the possibility of coming to know these Beings in their innermost nature. This stage may be given the name of Intuitive cognition. (the words “intuitive” and “intuition” are sometimes used for a kind of vague insight or sudden notion that may or may not quite accord with truth. What is here meant by “Intuition” is altogether different. It means a kind of cognition that is of the utmost light-filled clarity, a cognition that carries with it absolute assurance of its validity.) To have knowledge of an object perceived by the senses is to be outside the object and judge it in accordance with the impression it makes upon us from without. To know a Spirit-Being through Intuition is to become one with that Being, to be inwardly united with him. Stage by stage the pupil of the Spirit rises to a knowledge of this kind. With Imagination, he is already beyond feeling that his perceptions reveal the mere external characteristics of the Beings he perceives. Imagination leads him to recognize, in his perceptions, emanations of a living reality of soul and spirit. Inspiration takes him a step further into the inner essence of the spiritual Beings: he learns to understand what they are to one another. In Intuition, he penetrates right into their inner being.

Once again we can refer to the account of evolution that has been given in this book, in order to demonstrate the significance of Intuition. The foregoing chapters do not only relate how Saturn, Sun and Moon evolution took their course, they also tell of Beings who took part in this progress in many different ways. Allusion was made to the Thrones or Spirits of Will, to the Spirits of Wisdom, Spirits of Movement and so forth. And in connection with Earth evolution itself, the Spirits of Lucifer and of Ahriman were mentioned. The whole edifice of the Universe was traced back to Beings who all had their share in bringing it into existence. What can be learned concerning these Beings is acquired by Intuitive cognition. And the Intuitive cognition is likewise needed if we want to understand the course of human life. What is released from the physical body after death passes through various stages, as time goes on. The situation in which man finds himself immediately after death is, up to a point, capable of description by the exercise of Imaginative cognition. What happens later, however, when man is further on in the time between death and a new birth, would have to remain totally incomprehensible if Inspiration did not supervene. Inspiration is required to discover what can be said about the life of man in Spirit-land when the time of purification is over. Then comes a state where even Inspiration no longer suffices, where it loses the way and fails to understand. In the course of man's development between death and a new birth, he enters upon a time where Intuition alone can follow him. The part of man that undergoes this experience is however always in him, and if we would understand it in its true inwardness, then we must look for it also — again by means of Intuition — during the time between birth and death. Whoever is content with a knowledge of man acquired by Imagination and Inspiration will find himself without means of access to what goes on in man's very innermost being from one incarnation to the next. It is therefore only with Intuitive cognition that adequate research can be made into repeated lives on Earth and into the workings of Karma. Everything that claims to be true information concerning these must be derived from research that is made by means of Intuitive cognition. And if man desires knowledge of himself in his inmost being, this too he can attain only through Intuition. By means of Intuition he perceives that within him which goes forward from one Earth-life to another.

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