When higher members of man's nature are observed by supersensible perception, the perception is never exactly similar to one that is given by the outer senses. When by the touch of an object we have a sensation of heat or warmth, a distinction must surely be made between what comes from the object — streaming from it, so to speak — and what our soul experiences. The inner experience of the sensation of heat is not the same thing as the heat emitted by the object. Now think of this actual experience in the soul, without the object; think of the soul's experience of the sensation of warmth, without any outer physical object being there to cause it. If such an experience arose without any cause, it would be mere fancy. The student of spiritual science has such inner perceptions for which there is no physical cause, above all no cause attributable to his own body. But at a certain stage of development, from the way in which these perceptions appear, he can know by the very nature of the experience (as was explained in an earlier chapter) that the inner perception is no mere fancy but is due to a being of soul and spirit belonging to a supersensible outer world, just as the ordinary sensation of heat, for example, is due to some physical object.
It is the same with a perception of color. A distinction must be made between the color of the object and the soul's inner experience of the color. Now think of what the soul experiences when perceiving a red object in the physical world. Let us picture to ourselves that we retain a vivid memory of the impression but look away from the object. The memory-picture of the color is an inner experience; we can distinguish between the inner experience evoked by the color and the external color as such. These inner experiences are substantially different from the immediate outer sense-impressions. They bear much more the stamp of feelings of pain or joy than do our normal and immediate sensations. We have to picture an inner experience of this kind arising in the soul without being caused either by an outer, physical object, or by the memory of such an object. Such an experience may come to someone who is on the way to attaining supersensible knowledge. Moreover he will be able to know in a given case that it is no mere figment of the mind, but that a real being of soul and spirit finds expression in it. And if evoking the same impression as a red object of the physical world, the being may be said to be “red.” With a physical object, however, the outer impression will always come first and be followed by the inner experience. In true supersensible vision, for a human being of the present epoch, the process must be the reverse; first the inner experience — shadowy, like a mere memory of color — and then a living picture, growing ever more vivid. Unless it is realized that such must be the sequence, it will be hard to distinguish between genuine spiritual perception and the delusions of fancy (hallucinations, and the like.)
Whether in a spiritual perception of this kind, the picture becomes truly vivid and alive — whether it remains shadowy, like a dim inkling, or its effect grows as intensely real as that of an outer object — depends upon the stage of development which the aspirant has reached.
The general impression which the seer has of the ether-body of man may now be described as follows. If the aspirant for supersensible knowledge has developed such strength of will that even when a physical man is standing in front of him he can turn his attention right away from what is seen by the physical eyes, he will be able to look with supersensible consciousness into the space occupied by the physical man. Naturally, will-power must e greatly enhanced before it is possible to divert attention not only from what is in one's own mind but from something with which one is actually confronted, so that the physical impression is entirely obliterated. But such enhancement of the will is possible and is achieved by means of the exercises for the attainment of supersensible cognition. It is then possible for the student to have, to begin with, a general impression of the ether-body. There arises in his soul the same inner experience which he has at the sight, let us say, of the color of a peach-blossom; this experience then becomes vividly alive, and he can say: the ether-body has a “peach-blossom” color. Then he perceives the several organs and currents of the ether-body. But the ether-body can also be described in terms of other experiences of the soul — experiences which correspond to sensations of warmth, impressions of sound, and so on, for it is not only a color-phenomenon. Moreover the astral body and other members of man's being can be described in like manner. Bearing in mind what has here been said, it will be realized how the descriptions of spiritual science are to be understood. (Compare Chapter II.)
The Astral World
As long as the physical world alone is being observed, the Earth — man's dwelling place — appears as a separate heavenly body. When supersensible cognition rises to other spheres, there is no longer this separation. Hence it was possible to say that together with the Earth, Imaginative consciousness perceives the Old Moon condition, such as it has become up to the present time. The world thus entered is one to which not only the supersensible nature of the Earth belongs; other heavenly bodies, physically separated from the Earth, are part of it as well. In that realm the knower of supersensible worlds observes the supersensible nature not only of the Earth but of other heavenly bodies too. (It is, once more, the supersensible nature of other heavenly bodies which he observes to begin with. This should be borne in mind by those who feel impelled to ask why the seer does not tell us what it looks like on Mars, and so on. In putting questions of this kind they think of physical and sense-perceptible conditions.) Hence in the course of this book it was also possible to speak of relationships obtaining between the evolution taking place on Earth and simultaneous evolutions on Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and so on. When man's astral body is drawn away in sleep it belongs not only to the Earth and earthly conditions, but to worlds in which other cosmic realms — stellar worlds — participate. Moreover, these worlds permeate into man's astral body even in the waking state. Therefore the term “astral body” appears justified.
Man's Life After Death
Reference has been made in the course of this book to the period of time during which the astral body remains united with the ether-body after a man's death. A gradually fading memory of the whole of the life just ended is present throughout this time (see Chapter III.) It varies in duration with different individuals, depending upon the tenacity with which the astral body holds the ether-body to itself — in other words, the power which the astral body has over the etheric. Supersensible cognition can get an impression of this power by observing a human being who, by the state of his soul and body, ought really to be sleeping but keeps himself awake by sheer inner strength. It becomes evident that different people can, if need be, remain awake without being overcome by sleep for different periods of time. The memory of the life just ended — which means that the connection with the etheric body is still maintained — lasts for about as long after death as the extreme length of time for which, if compelled to do so, the individual would have been able to stay awake.
When the ether-body is detached from the human being after death (see Chapter III,) something that may be described as a kind of extract or quintessence of it remains for the whole of his future evolution. This extract contains the fruits of the past life. It is the bearer of the “seed” of his coming life — the seed which is developing throughout man's spiritual evolution between death and a new birth.
The length of time between death and a new birth is determined by the fact that as a rule the I of man returns into the physical world only when this world has been so transformed as to give opportunity for new experiences. While the Ego is in the spiritual worlds, man's earthly dwelling-place is changing. In one respect this change is connected with the changes that are taking place in the great Universe — changes for example, in the relative position of the Earth to the Sun. Periodic changes involving cosmic repetitions are connected with the development of new conditions on the Earth. They find expression, for example, in the fact that the region of the heavens where the Sun rises at the vernal equinox makes an entire circuit in about 26,000 years. Throughout this period of the vernal point has therefore been moving from one region of the heavens to another, and in a twelfth of this period of time — that is to say, in about 2,100 years — conditions on the Earth will have altered sufficiently for the soul to be able to have essentially new experiences upon Earth. Moreover as these experiences differ according to whether one is incarnating as a woman or as a man, two incarnations will as a rule take place during this time — one as a man, one as a woman. However, these things also depend upon the forces gathered during earthly life — forces the individual takes with him through the gate of death. Therefore all such indications as have been given here are only valid in the most general sense; there will be many and manifold individual variations.
Thus it is only in one respect that the length of the human Ego's sojourn in the spiritual world between death and new birth depends upon the above-mentioned cosmic data. In another respect it will depend upon the stages of the evolution through which the human being passes in the spiritual world. After a time this very evolution brings the I of man into a spiritual condition where he no longer finds sufficiency in the inner experiences of the Spirit. He beings to long for that altered consciousness which is reflected in physical experience and derives satisfaction from this reflection. The re-entry of the human being into earthly life is an outcome of these two factors: the inner thirst of the soul for incarnation, and the cosmically given possibility of finding a suitable bodily nature. Two factors therefore have to work in conjunction. Hence in one instance incarnation may result even before the “thirst” has reached its full intensity, a well-adapted incarnation being within reach; while in another it may have to wait till the thirst has outlived its normal culmination, since at the proper time no opportunity to incarnate was given. In so far as it is due to the whole character and quality of his bodily constitution, a man's prevailing mood and attunement to life will also be the outcome of these conditions.
The Stages of Man's Life
Fully to understand the life of man and its successive stages between birth and death, it is not enough to consider only the physical body as seen by the outer senses. It is essential also to take into account the changes undergone by the supersensible members of man's nature. They are as follows. At physical birth man is released from the physical integument of the maternal womb. Forces hitherto shared by the human embryo with the mother's body must from now on be functioning independently in the body of the little child. Now the fact is that for supersensible perception other events of this kind are undergone in the further course of life — supersensible events, analogous to that of physical birth as seen by the outer senses. For his etheric body man is enveloped by an ethereal sheath — an etheric integument — until about the change of teeth, the sixth or seventh year, when the etheric integument falls away. This event represents the “birth” of the etheric body. After it man is still enveloped by an astral sheath, which falls away at the age of puberty — between the 12th and 16th year. The astral body in its turn is “born.” Then at an even later point of time the I is born. (The very helpful educational points of view arising from these supersensible realities are set forth in my booklet The Education of the Child in the Light of Spiritual Science, where the facts briefly indicated here are described in greater detail.)
With the birth of the I, man's adult life begins. With the three members of the soul (Sentient Soul, Intellectual or Mind-Soul and Spiritual Soul) progressively awakened and activated by the I, he finds his proper place in life amid the prevailing world-conditions, to which he makes his own active contribution. At length however there comes a time when the etheric body begins to decline, reversing the development it enjoyed from the seventh year onward. There is a change in the functioning of the astral body. To start with it unfolded the potentialities brought with it from the spiritual world at birth. After the birth of the Ego it was enriched by all the experiences coming to it from the outer world. But now the moment comes when in a spiritual sense the astral body begins to feed on its own etheric body. It draws on the etheric body and consumes it. And in the further course of life the etheric body in its turn begins to draw upon the physical body and consume it. There facts are closely related to the physical body's degeneration in old age.
The life of man is thereby naturally divided into three epochs. First is the time during which the physical and etheric bodies grow and develop. In the middle period the astral body and the I come into their own. The third and last is the period of bodily decline when the youthful development of the etheric and physical bodies is in a sense reversed. Now in all these events — from birth until death — the astral body is concerned. Moreover inasmuch as it is not spiritually born until the 12th to 16th year, and in the final epoch is obliged to draw upon the forces of the etheric and physical bodies, what the astral body has to achieve by virtue of its own faculties and forces unfolds at a slower rate than it would do if it were not inhabiting a physical and etheric body. Hence after death (as explained in Chapter III,) when the physical and etheric bodies have been cast off, the evolution of the astral body through the “time of purification” takes about a third as long as the past life between birth and death.
Higher Regions of the Spiritual World
Through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition supersensible cognition gradually reaches up into the regions of the spiritual world where it can apprehend the Beings who participate in the evolution of the World and Man. There too it can perceive and, in perceiving, find intelligible the life of man between death and a new birth. Now there are even higher regions of existence, though we can do no more than briefly allude to them here.
Having once risen to the stage of Intuition, supersensible cognition lives and moves amid a world of spiritual Beings. But the spiritual Beings too are evolving. The concerns of present-day mankind reach up, as it were, into the spiritual realm accessible to Intuition. True, in the course of his development between death and a new birth man receives influences from yet higher worlds, but he does not experience them directly; the Beings of the spiritual world convey them to him. In the Intuitive contemplation of these Beings we perceive all that they are doing in and on behalf of man. Their own concerns however — what they require for themselves to enable them to guide human evolution — can only be apprehended by forms of cognition higher than Intuition.
In saying this we refer to worlds among those lower functions are the highest that are known to us on Earth. Reasoned resolves for example are among the highest things on Earth; the actions and reactions of the mineral kingdom among the lowest. For the sublime worlds to which we are now referring, reasoned resolves have approximately the same value as have the mineral reactions on Earth. Beyond the realm of Intuition is the region where the great cosmic plan is being woven out of purely spiritual causes.
The Members of Man's Being
Toward the end of Chapter II it was described how the I or Ego works upon the members of man's being to transform them — the astral body into Spirit-Self, the etheric body into Life-Spirit, the physical body into Spirit-Man. This was in reference to the working of the Go on man's nature by virtue of the highest faculties — faculties, the development of which has only been beginning during the successive stages of Earthly evolution. Now there is also a preliminary transformation on a lower level, whereby the Sentient Soul, the Intellectual or Mind-Soul and the Spiritual Soul are developed. AS in the course of man's evolution the Sentient Soul comes into being, far-reaching changes are going on in the astral body. So too the development of the Intellectual Soul and of the Spiritual Soul involves a transmutation of the ether-body and of the physical body respectively. Much of this was incidentally described in the chapter on the evolution of the Earth.
Thus in a sense it is true to day that the Sentient Soul is due to a transmuted astral body, the Intellectual Soul to a transmuted ether-body, and the Spiritual Soul to a transmuted physical body. But it may equally well be said that all three members of the soul are part and parcel of the astral body. The Spiritual Soul, for example, can only come into being as an astral entity in an appropriate physical body. It lives an astral life in a physical body molded and worked upon to be its proper habitation.
The State of Consciousness In Dreaming
In some respects the dream has been described in the third chapter of this book. Dream-consciousness is on the one hand a relic of the picture-consciousness which man enjoyed on the Old Moon, and -for a long time too — in former periods of Earth evolution. Earlier conditions generally go on working even while evolution is advancing to fresh stages. Dreaming is thus a relic of the normal state of consciousness of former times. And yet the dream-condition of today differs essentially from the old picture-consciousness, for the Ego, which has since developed, influences what goes on in the astral body during sleep while we are dreaming. It is therefore a picture-consciousness transmuted by the presence of the Ego. Yet inasmuch as the Ego's influence on the dreaming astral body is unconscious, nothing deriving from the dream-life can be a direct source of spiritual-scientific knowledge of higher worlds. The same applied to what is often spoken of as visions, premonitions and second sight. In all of these the Ego is more or less eliminated, in consequence of which, relics of earlier states of consciousness can supervene. They have no direct spiritual-scientific application; what man perceives in such conditions cannot be included among the valid researches of true spiritual science.
The Way to Supersensible Cognition
The way to the attainment of knowledge of higher worlds, of which a fairly detailed account has been given in this book, may be described as the “direct path” of knowledge. There is also another way, known as “the path of feeling.” Not that the former way leaves feeling undeveloped; quite on the contrary, it leads to an immeasurable deepening of the life of feeling. But the other path — the “path of feeling” — appeals to the feeling-life directly, seeking to rise from thence to detailed spiritual knowledge. The fact is that a feeling to which a man unreservedly devotes his inner life for a sufficient length of time becomes transformed of its own accord into cognition — into Imaginative vision. If, for example, the soul is deliberately steeped for weeks and months or even longer in feelings of humility, the feeling-content is transformed into spiritual perception. A gradual ascent through this and other feelings of this kind can thus become a pathway into the supersensible. But it is very difficult to carry out in ordinary present-day surroundings. Seclusion — withdrawal from the prevailing conditions especially of modern life — is well-nigh indispensable for this spiritual pathway. For above all in the initial stages, the impressions one is constantly receiving from everyday life in our time disturb and interfere with what the soul would otherwise achieve by dwelling on deliberately chosen feelings. The path of knowledge here described is different; it can be carried through no matter what one's situation is amid the typical conditions of our time.
The Observation of Particular Events and Beings
It may be asked whether by meditation, contemplation and kindred methods of attaining supersensible cognition described in this book, we arrive at the general realities — say, of the life between death and rebirth, and other spiritual facts — or whether we are also enabled to perceive particular events and beings, for example an individual human soul after death. The answer is that one who has thus acquired the ability to see into the spiritual world also becomes able to perceive in detail what is going on there. He does indeed become capable of communication with individuals living in the spiritual world between death and new birth. But in accordance with true spiritual science it can only be done after a regular and proper training has been undergone, for this alone makes it possible to distinguish truth from illusion as to the several beings and events. Those who would claim to recognize the spiritual details, without have undergone a proper training are liable to countless illusions. Even the most elementary requirement, namely the true interpretation of the impressions one receives, presupposes spiritual training — training the more advanced where the impressions relate to detailed facts and individual beings.
Thus the same training which enables one to see the facts of higher worlds described in this work on Occult Science, also enables one to perceive an individual human soul during his life after death, or severally to observe and understand the diverse spiritual beings who influence the manifest from hidden worlds. Yet the reliable observation of the particular is only possible against the background of a more universal knowledge — namely a spiritual knowledge of the great facts of the Universe and Man, facts which relate to all mankind in common. Craving the former without the latter, one will go astray. In observation of the spiritual world it is an unavoidable experience. Into the very regions for which a man is most apt to long, entry is only granted when he has gone along the stern and exacting path of knowledge, where interest is focused upon universal questions and he gains insight into the deeper meaning of all life.
When he has walked along these paths in the sincere and unselfish quest of knowledge, then and then only is a man fit to observe the details, the premature exploration of which would but have satisfied in him a hidden egoism. For in the longing to see into the spiritual world it is only too easy to persuade oneself that one is actuated by pure love — such as the love of an individual friend who has died. Unalloyed insight into the single facts and beings is only possible for those whose sincere interest in the universal truths of spiritual science enables them to receive the detailed revelations too in a scientific spirit and without selfish longing.