An Esoteric Cosmology
In the month of May, 1906, Rudolf Steiner came to Paris with a number of students to give a series of private lectures to a small circle of friends. I myself had never seen him and did not then even know of his existence, but I had entered into correspondence on the subject of one of my dramas (Les Enfants de Lucifer) with his friend Mademoiselle von Sivers, who later on became his wife and his most understanding colleague. It was she who brought her teacher to my house one happy morning.
I shall never forget the extraordinary impression made upon me by this man when he entered the room. As I looked at that thin, powerful face, at the black mysterious eyes flashing light as if from unfathomable depths, it was borne in upon me that for the first time in my life I was face to face with one of those supreme seers who have direct vision of the great Beyond. Intuitively and poetically, I had described such seers in The Great Initiates, but I had never hoped to meet one in this world. The impression was instantaneous, irresistible — of the unexpected as well as of the already known. Even before he opened his lips, an inner voice said to me: Here is a true master, one who will play an all-important part in your life.
Our subsequent relations were to prove that this first impression was not an illusion. The programme of the daily lectures, which was told me in advance by the speaker, aroused my keenest interest. The lectures were to cover the whole field of his philosophy although it was only possible to develop certain outstanding points. One would have said that the teacher's aim was to give a vista of the general plan from its own heights. His fervent, convincing eloquence, irradiated by invariable clarity of thought, struck me at once as possessing two outstanding and unusual qualities. First, its artistic power, — When Rudolf Steiner spoke of the phenomena and beings of the invisible world he seemed to be living in his own home. With striking details and in familiar terms he told of events in these unknown realms just as if he were speaking of the most ordinary things. He did not describe, he actually saw and made others see the objects, scenes and cosmic vistas in clear-cut reality. Listening to him, one could not doubt the power of his astral vision; it was as limpid as physical vision, only much more penetrating. Again, another characteristic, no less remarkable, — This philosopher-mystic, this thinker-seer related all experiences of soul to the immutable laws of physical Nature. These laws were used to explain and classify the super-physical phenomena which, to begin with, appear before the seer in overwhelming variety and almost bewildering abundance. Then, by a wonderful counterstroke, these subtle, fluidic phenomena, proceeding from cosmic Powers grouped in a mighty hierarchy, began to illumine the edifice of material Nature. The diverse parts of Nature were linked together, related to these cosmic Powers from the heights to the depths, from the depths to the heights, and a vista of the mighty architecture of the universe opened up from the inner world where the visible is ever coming to birth from the womb of the invisible.
I took no notes of the first lecture, but it made such a vivid impression upon me that when I reached home I felt impelled to write it down without forgetting a single link in the chain of these illuminating thoughts. I had absorbed the lecture so completely that I found no difficulty at all. By a process of involuntary and instantaneous transmutation, the German words, which had ingrained themselves in my memory, changed into French. The same thing, repeated after each of the eighteen lectures, gradually grew into a dossier which I keep as a rich and rare store of treasure. These lectures, never having been steno-graphed or revised by Rudolf Steiner, do not exist in the archives of his public lectures or in the collection of lectures duplicated for members of the Anthroposophical Society. They are, therefore, entirely unedited. A number of members of the French Group of the Society have expressed the desire to publish them in book form and Mademoiselle Rihouet, the editor of La Science Spirituelle, has kindly offered the pages of this magazine. I respond all the more readily to this desire because these priceless lectures mark a significant phase of Rudolf Steiner's thought — that of the spontaneous burst of his genius and its first crystallisation. And, furthermore, it gives me joy to pay this new tribute to the teacher to whom I owe one of the great revelations of my life.
1. The Origin of Esoteric Christianity
These lectures give a kind of summary of what Rudolf Steiner calls Anthroposophy. In this Foreword I do not pretend to give anything like a resume of this vast and all-embracing philosophy. Its principles are contained in a theogony, cosmogony and psychology complete in themselves. It lays down the basis of a moral philosophy, an art of education, a science of aesthetics. The teaching of this thinker-seer extends into all and every domain of life. His sweeping vision embraces the whole history of mankind and imbues modern science with spiritual conceptions without by one hair's breadth distorting it from its exactitude and pristine clarity. My only aim here is to draw my reader's attention to the most strikingly new chapters, for they lead us again to the very roots of this sublime thought.
At the time when he was delivering these lectures, Rudolf Steiner was still the General Secretary for Germany of the Theosophical Society, which has its Headquarters at Madras. The Theosophical Society, originally founded by H. P. Blavatsky, has as its present President, Mrs. Annie Besant. In spite of many gaps and ultimate digressions, this theoretical system of oriental thought which originated in India and derived its name Theosophy from Alexandrian tradition, served to recall to the uninitiated West, the two fundamental tenets of all esoteric tradition: (1) The plurality of the progressive lives of the human soul under the law of karma, and (2) The ascending evolution of man under the influence of spiritual Powers.
At the time when Rudolf Steiner entered the Theosophical Society — which he had chosen as his first field of action — he was already fully master of the doctrine he owed to his own Initiation. These lectures, given in the year 1906, are proof of this.
The essential difference between Indian Theosophy and Anthroposophy lies in the supreme rôle attributed by Anthroposophy to the Christ in human evolution and also in its connection with Rosicrucian tradition. This appears clearly in the first two lectures, entitled: The Birth of the Human Intellect and The Mission of Manicheism. More clearly than any other occultist, Rudolf Steiner has seen the profound change which has come about in the course of ages in man's constitution of body and soul and in his way of perceiving truth. In ancient, pre-Christian times, man was universally endowed with a faculty of atavistic clairvoyance. In the Atlantean period, he lived more in the ‘world beyond’ than in this world. Clairvoyance was his outstanding faculty and his chief mode of cognition, but his perception of higher worlds was confused and chaotic. This faculty weakened and gradually faded away in the course of subsequent evolution; reason and the mere observation of Nature came to the fore. The Yoga of the Indian Rishis — the source of Aryan mythology and religion — represents an effective endeavour to regain the lost power of clairvoyance and at the same time to regulate it according to cosmic laws. But shortly before the coming of Christ, humanity had reached the last stage of descent into matter and passed through a perilous crisis. The passions emanating from the animal stage, beyond which he had now passed, threatened to engulf man. Civilisation itself was in peril. The human Psyche — having freed herself from primitive darkness by dint of long struggle — threatened to be lost in the decadence of Greece and the orgies of Rome.
2. Jesus the Christ as the Axis of Human Evolution.
The Rosicrucian Initiation
This lecture deals with the dangers which necessitated the Incarnation of the “Word which was in the Beginning,” the Divine Logos Who became man. The mission of Jesus the Christ had long been foretold in the sanctuaries of India, Persia and Chaldea, proclaimed in the vision of the Risen Osiris and of the “Sun at Midnight” in the crypts of ancient Egypt. The human race had reached such a point of materialisation that salvation was only made possible by a manifestation of the Divine Spirit on the physical plane. And so the Light which up till then had not descended further than the Moon, this “Light of grace and truth” came down into the darkness of the lower earthly realms, to incarnate in the man Jesus of Nazareth and become the axis of human evolution.
A mighty revolution, a change of incalculable significance took place in the inner planes — one which was destined to transform the whole world. The result was a complete change in the mentality of man, the two poles of which were in a manner reversed. A separation took place between these two outstanding faculties: sensibility and intelligence, intuition and reason. Up to this time, intuitive seership had predominated and reason had played a secondary part; science had remained the docile hand-maiden of religion. Primordial wisdom had been a combination of the two. The conquest and mastery of the material world had now become the goal of humanity. Reason gained the upper hand and instinctive feeling was henceforward to live its life apart. On the one side there was the triumph of reason in Aristotelian thought; on the other, religious feeling reached its climax in contemplation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Science and religion became two separate powers and then — shortly afterwards — rivals and mortal enemies. In religion, the Cross of Christ was sufficient for salvation. By contrast, science was not long in proclaiming: that alone has reality which has passed through the sieve of physical observation and of syllogism. Hence the dualism which for two thousand years has divided and rent in twain the consciousness of man. The advantage has been the development — to their extreme points — of the two poles of the soul, the two dominating faculties of intelligence. But in our day, when pure reason has hunted intuition from science and insight from education, our materialistic civilisation has reached such a condition of anarchy that its very existence is threatened.
From the outset, the aim of Christian Esotericism was to heal this dualism, to cultivate ideas capable of reconciling the two enemy-powers of religion and science, of intuition and reason, the combined knowledge and operation of which can alone arrive at truth and ensure the healthy development of mankind.
Esoteric tradition has at all times been characterised by two fundamental principles. First, that of the plurality of progressive existences of the soul and, secondly, a knowledge of the origin of evil and the means whereby man may become its victor. All great teachers of esoteric doctrine have enjoined their pupils to tread two paths of Initiation simultaneously in order the more surely to arrive at truth: the path of mysticism or ecstatic contemplation of the spiritual world, and the path of rationalism, or the synthetic contemplation of the visible universe in the light of archetypal ideas which proceed from the spiritual hierarchies but are attainable by human intelligence through intuition, even when direct seership is not there. I think that everyone will be deeply interested to read the notes of Rudolf Steiner's eighth lecture where he describes how the Rosicrucians strove to unite themselves with the Christ by meditation upon the first fourteen verses of the Gospel according to St. John. In successive visions the Rosicrucians lived once again through the seven stages of Calvary from the scourging and crowning with thorns, the bearing of the Cross to the mystic Death and ineffable Resurrection. Bathed in an ocean of love, they heard the resounding Logos, the “Word which was in the Beginning,” radiating the spiritual Light which pervades the whole universe and is the Creator of souls. The cosmic meaning attached to these stations of the Cross is deeply moving and provocative of thought.
3. The Interior of the Earth and the Problem of Evil
Instead of lingering upon the Rosicrucian Initiation which reveals the axis of Christianity and carries us into the realms of the world invisible, let me specially call readers' attention to the 16th lecture, the novelty of which is no less striking. Rudolf Steiner there gives us a striking example of his mode of contemplating visible Nature in order to penetrate to her essential being. It is as though matter became translucent and the hidden Spirit suddenly revealed.
The highly suggestive title of this lecture is Earthquakes, Volcanoes and the Will of Man. The special significance is that the main theme is related to the very roots of the nature of man.
The mystery of the interior of the Earth, the basis and stage of human evolution, is one of the numerous problems which materialistic science has never been able to solve. Unceasing research has been of no avail. Many scholars think of the interior of the Earth as an igneous mass (which would be capable of bursting the crust of the Earth); others imagine that it is a compact mass of mineral substance (which explains neither the volcano nor the earthquake). Now the Earth is a living being like the planets and suns, endowed with an interior organism indispensable to its functions and its rôle in the Cosmos. Rudolf Steiner sees the constitution of the Earth in the form of nine layers — or rather nine layers embedded one within the other. The eight interior layers under the crust of the Earth represent, as it were, the physiological organs of our planet from which its life emanates and upon which this life depends. The substance of these eight inner spheres does not resemble the mineral matter of which the outer crust and — in a sense — the skin of the Earth is formed. The elements composing these layers are half-liquid and half-gaseous. The Fire principle, the air-fire, mobile and pregnant with life, reservoir alike of impulses of will and the cause of volcanic eruptions, is only one of the spheres which are embedded one within the other. It is the fourth, counting from the centre, the fifth, counting from the outer mineral crust. The interior fire communicates with the crust along paths which are veritably ‘ventilating tracts’ — hence the volcanic eruptions on the surface of the Earth.
If we cast a momentary glance at this interior constitution of the Earth, one fact immediately strikes us. It comprises the forces which are concentrated in the planet and worked at its upbuilding, through successive metamorphoses from the nebula of Saturn, through the Old Sun and Old Moon periods on to its present state. These same forces have worked at the structure of man and are more active than ever in the present age. (1) Egoism and Black Magic constitute the opaque centre of the Earth, for the reason that egoism, love of self for its own sake — of which black magic is the exaggeration and excess — is indispensable to the development of human individuality. The fatal products of egoism are the hatred and strife represented by the two next layers of (2) division, and (3) the prism, where individualities multiply and differentiate in order to battle with each other.
This ternary may be said to represent the kernel of the Earth as it existed in the nebula of the Saturn period. This basis is indispensable to the whole of the Earth's subsequent evolution. It is the ‘spring-board’ from which the individuality can rise to higher worlds, if egoism (the principle of evil) is conquered and transformed by the higher forces proceeding from the Sun and the Firmament — forces of which Divinity is the wellspring and true human freedom the fashioner. The period when the Earth was still united with the Moon is indicated in the Earth's interior by the existence of three other elementary spheres. (4) The Fire principle which lies at the root of impulses of will and is the cause of volcanic eruptions when a path is forged to the mineral crust of the Earth. (5) Above this lies the level of organic plant-life and again (6) there is the still higher level of the vortex of animal forces, where the ethereal embryos of the living beings destined to crawl, to walk and to fly, germinate and quicken in a laboratory of ceaseless activity.
In this second ternary of forces constituting the interior of the Earth, we have the remains of the period when the Earth was still united with the Moon. In those times, the Earth's surface was a kind of porous substance, the home of hybrid beings, half-vegetable, half-mollusc, with gigantic tentacles, while the germs of terrestrial flora and fauna floated in the semi-liquid, semi-vaporous atmosphere. Wonderful words in the book of Genesis refer to this period: “Darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the Waters.”
The third ternary of the inner organs of the Earth represents its actual form. The last metamorphosis occurs at the time of the separation of the Moon from the Earth and is indicated by the addition of two new elements which are, as it were, the ‘humanised’ replica of the centre of the Earth: (7) Consciousness inversed, where everything changes into its opposite; (8) Negative life, or death. Every living being descending into this realm must instantly perish. It is the Styx of the Greeks, cursed by the Gods of life and of beauty. (9) Above the sphere of death stretches the solid mineral envelope of the Earth, the theatre of humanity.
It must be admitted that this extraordinary description of the interior constitution of our planet cannot be verified by any means of observation adopted by natural science. None but a seer possessed of equal power could contradict or confirm. On the other hand, it is surely impossible to deny that this scheme of the Earth's constitution opens up amazing vistas of man's whole evolution. The seership itself bears a unique power of persuasion and its truth may in a measure be demonstrated by effects which reveal themselves in man. The parallelism between the cosmic fire and human passions, their close relationship, mutual action and reaction, throw a flood of light on the origin of evil. Many historians have stated that the great crises in history (wars, revolutions, social upheavals) are nearly always accompanied and followed by earthly cataclysms (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions). The passions of men have a magnetic action on the interior fire of the Earth, and this fire, when released from its chains, feeds human passions. Thus fire — which is destined to generate life — begets evil by means of the human will.
And yet the Earth, having as its kernel the egoism that is indispensable to the development of individuality, is nevertheless the solid, immutable base on which the soul can find support in order then to soar to the spiritual worlds which shelter and fashion her by the power of the solar Logos. Evil becomes a leaven of evolution, finally, however, to be conquered by Good. The man who has won through to freedom holds the balance between destiny and Providence from the moment he can chose between good and evil. His yearning for the Divine begets enthusiasm. By his own efforts he can draw near to the sublime truth reigning in the universe. Thus Satan-Ahriman — the demon of negation and hatred — is laid low by the genius of infinite Love radiating in the Logos, the Christ. And Lucifer, the Spirit of intelligence and of beauty, released from his sojourn in the lower world of matter, is on the point of taking flight to his star. Yet Ahriman, his dire companion, who is held in check by the Christ, strives to break his chains in order that Lucifer's flight may be stayed.
Anthroposophy is the most potent means in our present epoch to restore the severed harmony between the worlds of matter and of spirit, between science and religion. It is also the agent whereby peace may be established in social affairs.
In very truth the hour is grave. Mankind has never faced so great a danger. The forces of evil are mobilised; not so those of good. That is proved by the unprecedented ravages of Bolshevism which is the. relentless application of destructive materialism. A mustering of all the spiritual forces at the disposal of humanity will be required to combat this scourge. But a wide and high ideal is necessary. Man would fain know whither his feet are wending in this world and in the world beyond. He needs a sublime goal in the one and the beginnings of actual realisation of the other. “Evil can only be conquered by a high ideal” says Rudolf Steiner. “A man without an ideal is weak and powerless. In the life of man ideals play the part of steam in an engine — they are the driving force.”
The knowledge gained by Rudolf Steiner in the course of his life and during his apostolate of a quarter of a century, is scattered through his writings and numerous lecture-courses, most of which have been reported. The peculiar interest attaching to the lectures of 1906 is that they reveal the genius of this thinker-seer at the beginning of his career and the zenith of his inspiration, at the very moment when his all-embracing thought was coming, fully armed, into its own. Those who read these notes may catch, here and there, an echo of the power of the master's living words. A striking example of this impressed itself upon me during a lecture he once gave on Planetary Evolution and the Spiritual Hierarchies: “The thoughts of the Gods are not as the thoughts of men. The thoughts of men are images the thoughts of the gods are living beings.”
Revelations like this flash out into the Infinite. They are an echo from far away of the Word creative invoked by St. John at the beginning of his Gospel. Their vibrations thrill through us like the Sound Primordial whence shines the light — the Sound whose harmonies bring worlds to birth.