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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

Preface to the 1913 Edition

One who sets out to present results of spiritual science such as this book contains must reckon with the certain fact that in wide circles they will be held to be impossible. For in these pages many things are put forward which in our time — supposedly on good philosophic and scientific grounds — are pronounced inaccessible to man's intelligence.

The author can appreciate the weighty reasons leading so many serious thinkers to this conclusion. Therefore again and again he would renew the attempt to show up the misunderstandings underlying the all-too categorical belief that human cognition can never reach into the supersensible worlds.

Two things come into question here. The first is this: On deeper reflection no human soul can lastingly ignore the fact that the most vital questions about the purpose and meaning of life must be for ever unanswered if there is really no way of access to supersensible worlds. Theoretically we may deceive ourselves about it, but in our heart of hearts we do not share the deception. Those who refuse to listen to the voice of their inmost soul will naturally reject teachings about the supersensible worlds. But there are people — and not a few — who can no longer turn a deaf ear in this direction. They will forever be knocking at the doors which — as the others say — must remain barred and bolted, denying access to things “beyond human comprehension.”

But there is also the second aspect. The “good philosophic and scientific grounds” above-mentioned are I no way to be underrated, and those who hold to them in earnest deserve to be taken seriously. The writer would not like to be counted among those who lightly disregard the stupendous mental efforts that have been made to define the boundaries to which the human intellect is subject. These efforts cannot be dismissed with a few derogatory phrases. Seen at their best, they have their source in a real striving for knowledge and are worked out with genuine discernment. Nay, more than this. The reasons which have been adduced to show that the kind of knowledge, accepted nowadays as scientific, cannot reach into the supersensible are genuine and in a sense irrefutable.

People may think it strange that the author should admit all this and yet venture to put forward statements concerning supersensible worlds. It seems almost absurd that one should make however qualified an admission that there are valid reasons for asserting that supersensible worlds are beyond our ken, and yet go on to speak and write about these worlds.

Yet it is possible to do this, while understanding full well how contradictory it may appear. Not everyone can realize the experiences one undergoes when drawing near the realm of the supersensible with intellectual reflection. For it emerges then that intellectual proofs however cogent, however irrefutable, are not necessarily decisive as to what is real and what is not. In place of theoretical explanations we may here use a comparison Comparisons, admittedly, have not the force of proof, but they are helpful in explaining.

In the form in which it works in everyday life, also in ordinary science, human cognition cannot penetrate into the supersensible worlds. This can be cogently proved, and yet there is a level of experience for which the proof has no more real value than if one set out to prove that the unaided eye cannot see the microscopic cells of living organisms or the detailed appearance of far-off heavenly bodies. That our unaided vision cannot reach to the living cells is true and demonstrable, and so it is that our ordinary faculties of cognition cannot reach into the supersensible worlds. Yet the proof that man's unaided sight falls short of the microscopic cells does not preclude their scientific investigation. Must then the proof that his ordinary faculties of cognition cannot reach into the supersensible worlds of necessity preclude the investigation of these worlds?

We can imagine the feelings this comparison will arouse in many people. Nay, we can sympathize if doubt is felt, whether the one who has recourse to it has any inkling of all the painstaking and searching thought that has gone into these questions. And yet the present author not only realizes it to the full but counts it among the noblest achievements of mankind. To demonstrate that human vision, unaided by optical instruments, cannot see the microscopic cells would be superfluous; t become aware of the nature and scope of human thought by dint of thought itself is an essential task It is only too understandable if men who have given their lives to this task fail to perceive that the real facts may yet be contrary to their findings. Whereas this preface is certainly not the place to deal with would-be “refutations” of the first edition by most people void of sympathy or understanding — people who even direct their unfounded attacks against the author personally — it must be emphasized all the more strongly that serious philosophic thought, whatever its conclusions, is nowhere belittled in these pages. Any such tendency can only be imputed by those deliberately blind to the spirit in which the book is written.

Human cognition can be strengthened and enhanced, just as the range of vision of the eye can be. But the ways and means of strengthening the power of cognition are purely spiritual. Inner activities, entirely within the soul — they are described in this book as Meditation and Concentration, or Contemplation. Man's ordinary lie of mind and soul is tied to the bodily organs; when duly strengthened and enhanced it becomes free of them. There are prevailing schools of thought to which the very claim will seem nonsensical — a mere outcome of delusion. From their own point of view, they will prove without difficulty that all our mental and psychological life is bound up with the nervous system. The author from his standpoint can appreciate these proofs. He knows how plausible it is to maintain that it is utterly superficial to speak of any life of soul being independent of the body. Those who maintain this will no doubt be convinced that in the inner experiences, alleged to be free of the body, there is still a connection with the nervous system — a hidden connection which the would-be occultist with his “amateurish” science only fails to discern.

Such are the prevalent habits of thought for which due allowance must be made. They are so diametrically opposed in the main contents of this book that there is generally little prospect of any mutual understanding. In this respect one cannot help wishing for a change of heart in the intellectual and spiritual life of our time. People are far too ready to stigmatize a scientific quest or school of thought as visionary and fantastic merely because they find it radically different from their own. On the other hand, there are undoubtedly many who in our time appreciate the kind of supersensible research presented in this book. They realize that the deeper meaning of life will be revealed not by vague references to the soul, to the “true self,” or the like, but by a study of the genuine results of supersensible research. With due humility, the author is profoundly glad to find a new edition called for after a relatively short interval of time. He realizes only too clearly how far this edition too will fall short of the essential aim — to be the outline of the a world-conception founded on supersensible knowledge. For this edition the entire contents have been worked through again; further elucidations have been attempted and supplementary passages inserted at important points. Often however the author has been painfully aware of the inadequacy, the excessive rigidity of the only available means of presenting the revelations of supersensible research. Thus it was hardly possible to do more than suggest a way of reaching some idea, some mental picture of what this book has to relate concerning Saturn Sun and Moon evolutions. One aspect of this chapter has been briefly re-cast in the new edition. The real experience of cosmic evolution differs so widely from all our experiences in the realm of sense-perceptible Nature that the description involves a constant struggle to find passably adequate forms of expression. A sympathetic study of this chapter may reveal that the effort has been made to convey by the quality and style of the description what is impossible to express in mere prosaic words. A different style has been used for the Saturn evolution, a different style for Sun evolution, and so on.

Amplifications and additions to which the author attaches some importance will be found in the second part, dealing with “Knowledge of Higher Worlds” — the way to its attainment. As clear as possible an account has been attempted of what the human soul must do and undergo so as to liberate the powers of cognition from the confines of the sense-world and fit them or the experience of supersensible worlds.

Acquired though it is and must be by inner ways and means — by the inner activity of each one who gains it — the experience has a more than subjective significance. In our descriptions we have tried to make this clear. He who eliminates in his own soul the personal peculiarities which separate him from the World reaches a common realm of experience — a realm which other men are reaching when they too transform their subjective inner life in the true pathway of spiritual development. Only if thus conceived is the real knowledge of supersensible worlds distinguishable from subjective mysticism and the like. The latter might to some extent be said to be the mystic's merely personal concern. The inner spiritual-scientific training here intended aims at objective experiences, the truth of which has to be recognized, no doubt, in an intimate and inner way by every one who has them; yet in this very process they are seen to be universally valid. Here once again, it is admittedly difficult to come to terms with habits of thought widely prevalent in our time.

In conclusion, the author ventures to express the wish that friendly readers too should take what is here set forth on its own merits. There is a frequent tendency to give a school of thought some venerable name, failing which, its value is somehow depreciated. But it may surely be asked: As to the real contents of this book, what do they gain by being called “Rosicrucian” or given any other label? The essential thing is that with the means that are possible and proper to the human soul in the present epoch, insight be gained into the spiritual worlds, and that the riddles of man's destiny and of his life beyond the frontiers of birth and death be thereby penetrated. What matters is the quest of truth, rather than a quest that claims some ancient title.

On the other hand, the world-conception presented in this book has been given names and labels by opponents, and with unfriendly intention. Apart from the fact that some of these descriptions — meant to discredit the author — are manifestly absurd and untrue, surely an independent quest of truth deserves to be judged on its merits. It is unworthy to insinuate that it be set aside for its alleged dependence on whatsoever cult or school of thought. Nor does it matter much whether this dependence is the critic's own surmise or he is carelessly repeating an unfounded rumor. Necessary as these few words were, the author has no wish — in the present context — to answer sundry charges and attacks in detail.

Rudolf Steiner    

Written in June, 1913

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