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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Original Impulses for the Science of the Spirit
GA 96

IX. The Way to Higher Knowledge and Its Stages I: The Rosicrucian Way

20 October 1906, Berlin

A picture will be given of this way, and we shall also consider its fruits. You know some of the main aspects already, but even those of you who have heard lectures on the subject or read Lucifer,60From 1904 onwards the complete title of the journal was Lucifer-Gnosis; see Rudolf Steiner, an Autobiography, tr. R. Stebbing 1977, chapter 32. The passages from issue No. 32, to which Rudolf Steiner was referring, make up the chapter on 'Imagination' in his Stages of Higher Knowledge, tr. 1930. especially No. 32, will hear something that is new to you, for we are going to consider the subject in a way that is only possible when we are among ourselves like this, as students in the science of the spirit. It will essentially be a matter of considering the way in so far as it exists in the Western Rosicrucian tradition which has been spiritually guiding and directing European cultural life by means of hidden threads.

The Rosicrucian movement was working in completely hidden ways up to the last third of the 19th century. No book would tell people about true Rosicrucianism, and the matter was not for public discussion. In about the last thirty years, some of the Rosicrucian principles have been made known to the world in general through the theosophical movement; before that they were taught only in closely restricted groups. The most elementary principles are in many respects part of theosophy, as it is called today, but only the most elementary. It will only gradually be possible to let people gain deeper insight into the wisdom taught in European Rosicrucian schools from the end of the 14th century.

In the first place we have to understand that there is not just one way, but there are three to be considered. This should not be taken to mean that there are three different truths. The truth is one and one only, just as everyone has the same view from the top of a mountain. But there are different ways of getting to that mountain top. During the ascent, the view changes at every step. Only at the top and one can climb the mountain from different sides—does one have the full, open view as one sees it with one’s own eyes. It is the same with the three ways of gaining higher knowledge. One is the Oriental yoga way, the second the Gnostic Christian way, and the third the Rosicrucian Christian way. These three ways lead to the one and only truth.

There are three ways because people differ in nature here on this earth. We may distinguish three types of people in this respect. Just as it would not be right for people wanting to climb the mountain to choose a path that is not the nearest to them but a long way away, so it would not be right for people to chose a spiritual training that is not the right one for them. People still have rather confused ideas about this, even within the theosophical movement, which is still only in its early stages. Many people think that there is only one way, meaning the yoga path. But neither is the Oriental yoga way the one and only one, nor is it in fact the right one for people living within European civilization. Taking a superficial view, one might find it difficult to see what this is about, for basically speaking human nature does not seem to differ that much between the races. However someone with occult powers who considers the big differences between types of human beings, will find that something which may be right for Oriental people, and perhaps also for individual people in our own culture, is certainly not right for everyone. There are people, but only a few of them in the European context, who can follow the Oriental yoga way, but it is impossible for most Europeans. It creates illusions and destroys the soul. Eastern and Western nature may not seem that different at first sight, even to a modern scientist, but they are completely different. An Oriental brain, Oriental powers of imagination and an Oriental heart function very differently from the organs of Western people. You should never ask the things of Western people that you can ask of someone who has grown up in Oriental conditions. You'd have to believe that climate, religion and social life have no influence on the human mind and spirit to think that the external conditions under which someone goes through occult training do not matter. If you know the profound spiritual influence all these outer circumstances have on human nature, however, you will understand that the yoga way is suitable for only few Europeans, really only individuals who completely and radically tear themselves away from European conditions of life, and that it is not possible for people who remain within the European culture.

People who are still inwardly straight and honest Christians, to whom some of the main theses of Christianity still mean much, may chose the Gnostic Christian training. This does not differ much from the cabalistic way. Generally speaking, however, the Rosicrucian training is the only right one for Europeans. This will be considered today, with the different things people are asked to do and the fruits that beckon for those who choose it. No one should think that it is only for people with scientific training, or indeed academics. Any ordinary person can take it up. When one does take it up, one will soon be able to meet every objection based on European science that is raised against occultism. One of the main tasks of Rosicrucian masters was to arm those who followed the road to higher insight so that they would be able to defend occult knowledge and follow that road also in the world in general. An ordinary person who has just a few of the popular notions gained from modern sciences, or even none of them, but an honest desire to know the truth, will be able to take up the Rosicrucian way just as well as the most highly educated and academic people.

There are major differences in the three ways. The first concerns the relationship between pupil and occult teacher; the latter gradually becomes the guru or mediates the relationship to the guru. The nature of the Oriental yoga way is such that this relationship is the strictest imaginable. The guru is absolute authority to the pupil. If this were not so, the training would not give the right result. Oriental yoga training is quite impossible unless one makes oneself strictly subservient to the guru’s authority. With the Gnostic Christian and the cabalistic way, the relationship to the guru on the physical plane is less strict. The guru guides the pupils towards Christ Jesus, he acts as a mediator. With the Rosicrucian way the guru becomes more and more a friend whose authority is based on inner assent. The only possible relationship in this case is one of complete personal trust. The least bit of distrust between teacher and pupil would break the bond that has to exist between them, and then the powers that come into play between teacher and pupil would not longer be effective.

The pupil will sometimes have the wrong idea about his teacher’s role. It may easily seem to him that he simply must speak to the teacher at some point or another and often needs to be physically with him. Now it may sometimes be that a teacher must physically approach a pupil as a matter of urgent necessity, but this is not as often as the pupil may think. In the early stages a pupil cannot properly judge the influence the teacher has on him. A teacher has means that only gradually reveal themselves to the pupil. Many a word which the pupil thinks has been spoken at random is of tremendous significance. It continues to influence the pupil's soul at an unconscious level, like a guiding principle that gives him his direction. When a teacher makes rightful use of occult influences, the bond between him and his pupil will be a very real one. Then there are also influences sent from a distance, influences based on loving sympathy, which the teacher always has at hand and which the pupil will only come to recognize gradually as time goes on and he finds his way into the higher worlds. The one thing that is absolutely essential is the most complete trust; without this it would be better to undo the bond between teacher and pupil.

Brief mention will now be made of the rules that play a certain role in Rosicrucian training. They need not be exactly the way they are presented here. Depending on the person, their occupation and age, the teacher will have to select various elements from different areas and arrange them in one way or another. Only an overview will be given.

One thing that is extremely important in Rosicrucian training is not normally given much consideration in all occult training. This is clear, logical thinking, or at least the effort to do so. The first step is to give up all confused or biased thinking. One has to get used to seeing things as they are in the world, from a great, selfless points of view. The best way of doing this for an ordinary person wanting to follow the Rosicrucian way is to study the elementary things taught in the science of the spirit. There is no justification in saying: ‘What good will it do for me to study the things taught about higher worlds, human races and cultures, karma and reincarnation when I am unable to see and perceive these things for myself.’ It is not an acceptable objection, for working with these truths cleanses one’s thinking and disciplines it, so that one will then be ready for the steps that follow in occult training. In ordinary life people are generally very chaotic in their thinking. The guiding principles and stages of human development and planetary evolution made known by those able to perceive them bring order to one's thinking. All this is part of Rosicrucian training. The teacher will therefore ask the student to think himself into the elementary teaching of reincarnation and karma, the three worlds, the akashic record, the evolution of the earth and the human races. The whole elementary subject matter now taught in the science of the spirit is the best possible preparation for the ordinary person.

Those able to give greater acuity to their thinking and enter with greater intensity into the actual basic supporting structure of the human soul, may study the books that have been specially written to discipline people’s thinking. The books written for this purpose—and they may not actually include the word ‘theosophy’—are my Truth and Science and Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. One does of course write such books so that they may serve a purpose. People wishing to take their thinking through energetic training to enable them to take their studies further, will do well to subject their minds to the ‘mental and spiritual gymnastics’ these books demand. This will give them the foundation on which to build their Rosicrucian studies.

Observing the physical plane, you gain sensory impressions in colour and light, heat and cold, smell and taste, sensations of pressure and touch, and auditory perceptions. Thought and the rational mind are brought to bear on these. The rational mind and thought, are still part of the physical plane. You can perceive all these things on the physical plane. Perceptions gained on the astral plane look very different. And those made on the devachan plane are very different again, let alone those in even higher regions of the spirit. Someone who has not yet gained insight into the higher worlds can, however, picture them to himself. The way I habitually seek to describe things is also intended to provide images of those worlds. Anyone who then rises to the higher regions will see for himself how they influence him. We learn new things on each plane. One thing, however, remains the same through all worlds up to the devachan. It is trained logical thinking. Only on the buddhi plane will thinking no longer have the same value as on the physical plane, then a different way of thinking has to develop. But thinking is the same for the three worlds below the buddhi plane—the physical, astral and devachanic planes. If therefore you train your thinking well by means of study in the physical world, this thinking will prove a good guide in the higher world, so that you do not stumble as easily as someone who wants to ascend into regions of the spirit with confused thinking habits. Rosicrucian training therefore teaches people to move freely in the higher worlds by encouraging them to discipline their thinking. Reaching those worlds you will get to know ways of perceiving things that do not exist on the physical plane, but you will be able to control them with the thinking you have developed.

The second thing a student following the Rosicrucian way learns is vision in images. You prepare for this by gradually learning to enter into the kind of ideas expressed in images that represent the higher worlds in the sense of Goethe’s words ‘All things that are transient are but a likeness.’61Goethe, J. W. von. Faust 2, last scene, Chorus mysticus. The way we usually move through the physical world, we take in the things as they present themselves to the senses and not the things that are behind them. We shall only be free of this physical world when we learn to take the things that surround us as allegories or symbols. We therefore have to try and develop a moral relationship to them. Teachers will give directions on how external phenomena may be seen as symbols of spiritual elements, but pupils can also do a great deal themselves. You may look at an autumn crocus, for instance, and a violet. Seeing the autumn crocus as a symbol for a melancholy state of mind, I have taken it not just the way it presents itself on the outside, but as an allegory for a quality. The violet, on the other hand, may be seen as an allegory for a quiet, godly mind. You thus move on from one thing to another, from plant to plant, animal to animal, and see spiritual qualities reflected in them. This will make your ability to form ideas flexible, freeing it from the hard outlines of sensory perception. You may begin to see a quality reflected in every animal species, taking one animal to be the symbol of strength, another of cleverness. We have to pursue this seriously, wherever we are, and not be superficial about it.

Essentially the whole of human language is in symbols. Language is nothing but speaking in symbols. It has to be used even in science, where people feel the need to be objective in referring to things, and the words act as symbols. If you speak of the ala or wings of the nose, you know they are not wings, but they are given that name. For those who wish to remain on the physical plane it will be better not lose themselves too much in such symbolism, but advanced students will not lose themselves. Going into the matter one comes to realize the depths of our language in its original form.

Deep thinkers like Paracelsus62Paracelsus (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493–1541). German alchemist and physician. and Jakob Böhme63Mime, Jakob (1575–1624), theosophical mystic. His first biography was written by Abraham von Franckenberg (died 1652). Later biographies in German: Fechner H.A., Jakob Böhme, sein Leben und seine Schriften, Gorlitz 1857; Claasen J. Jakob Barnes Leben und seine theosophischen Werke, 3 Bde, Stuttgart 1885; Martensen H. Jakob Böhme, London 1949; in English: Hobhouse S. Jakob Böhme, His Life and Teaching 1950. partly owed their development to the fact that they did not hesitate to enter into conversation with country people and tramps and study the imaginative quality of language. At their time, words like ‘nature’, ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ still had much more of an influence. A country woman plucking a feather from a goose would call the inner part of the feather its ‘soul’. The student must find such symbols in the language for himself. He then comes free of the physical world and learns to rise to seeing in images. When the world thus becomes parable, likeness, to the student, this has a powerful effect. If he practises this for long enough he'll notice the effects. Looking at a flower, for instance, something will gradually come away from the flower. The colour which at first was merely there on the flower's surface rises like a small flame and floats freely in space. The ability to see in images thus develops. It will be like this with all objects, as if their surface comes free. The whole of space fills with the colour which floats away in space like a flame. And so the whole world of light seems to withdraw and come apart from the physical reality. When such a colour image comes free to float in space, it soon begins to attach itself to something. It does not stop somewhere at random; it embraces an entity which then shows itself in the colour as a spiritual entity. The colour which the student has drawn away from the objects of the physical world clothes the spiritual entities in astral space.

This is the point where the occult teacher's counsel is needed; otherwise the pupils might easily lose the ground from under their feet, which may be for one of two reasons. One is that every pupil has to go through one particular experience. The ideas we gain of physical things, not only through colour, but also smell and sound, show themselves in peculiar, ugly and sometimes also beautiful forms—animal faces, shapes of plants and also ugly human faces. This first experience is a mirror reflection of one’s own soul. One's own passions and drives, the evil that still lies in the soul, appear in astral space before the pupil as though in a mirror. Pupils then need their occult teacher’s counsel; their teacher will tell them that this is not something objective but a mirroring of their own inner nature.

You’ll realize that the pupils depend on their teacher's counsel if we also consider the way in which such images appear. It has often been stressed that everything is the other way round in astral space, everything is in mirror images. The pupil may easily be misled by delusive visions, especially if they mirror his own nature. The mirror image of a passion not only presents itself as an animal coming towards you—that would be the least of your problems—but you also have to take something else into account. Let us assume someone has a really evil passion lying hidden within. Such a drive or an appetite will very often show itself in enticing forms in the reflection, whilst good qualities sometimes do not look at all attractive. This is something legend speaks of in a most beautiful way. You find an image of it in the myth of Hercules. As he set out on his way, his bad and good qualities presented themselves to him, with vice clad in the enticing form of beauty and virtue wearing the garment of unpretentiousness.

There is also something else. Even if a pupil is already able to see things objectively, there is always still the other possibility, which is that inner arbitrariness acts as a power that guides and directs the phenomena. Pupils have to learn to see through this and understand it, for wishes have tremendous power on the astral plane. Everything that gives direction here in the physical world will not be there when you enter into the world of images. If you’ve deceived yourself into thinking you have done something here on the physical plane when in fact you have not done it, you'll soon discover the truth of it, for the facts will show it to you on the physical plane. It is not like that in astral space. There your own wishes present illusory images to you, and you need the guidance of someone who knows how these imaginative images must be put together to show their true significance.

The third element in Rosicrucian training is to learn the occult script. What is this? There are certain images, symbols, shown in the form of simple lines or combinations of colours. Such symbols are a specific occult sign language. The following may serve as an example. There is a process in the higher world that also has an effect in the physical world—a rotating vortex. You can see this in a stellar nebula, the Orion nebula for instance. There you see a spiral. This, however, is on the physical plane. But you can also see it on all other planes. This (Fig. 8a) is a figure found in all kinds of configurations on the astral plane. If you understand this figure, you will also understand, with its aid, how one human race changes into another. When the first sub-race of our present root race came into being, the sun was in the sign of the Crab. At that time, therefore, one race swung into another; because of this the occult sign for the Crab is this (Fig. 8b). The signs of the zodiac are thus all occult signs. We only have to get to know and understand their significance.

spiral, crab, star
Fig. 8

The pentagram is another such sign (Fig. 8c). The pupils learn to connect particular inner responses and feelings with this sign. They are the counter image of things that happen in the astral world. This sign language, the occult script which pupils learn, is no more and no less than reflecting the laws of higher worlds. The pentagram thus is a sign for several things. Just as the letter B is used in many different words, so the signs of the occult script may have different meanings. The pentagram, the hexagram, the angle and other figures may be used together in occult writing which in itself is a signpost in the higher worlds. The pentagram is the sign for the five-fold human being, the sign for reticence, keeping silent, and also the sign behind the species soul of the rose. If you connect the petals of a rose in your picture, you have pentagram. Just as the letter B means something different in ‘band’ and in ‘bibber’, so do the signs signify different things in occult writing. You learn to arrange them in the right way. These are the signposts on the astral plane. Just as someone who is illiterate may be seen relative to someone who is able to read, so someone only seeing the images as images relates to someone who has learned the occult script. The letters used on the physical plane are often arbitrary, but originally they reflected the astral sign language. Take an ancient astral symbol, the staff of Hermes with the serpent. In our script it has become the sign E (Fig. 9).

Hermes staff
Fig. 9

Or take the W, which indicates the wave motion of water. It is the sign for the human soul and also for ‘word’. The M is nothing but the upper lip of man:

wavy em shape
Fig. 10

All this has grown more arbitrary in the course of evolution. On the occult planes, however, necessity rules. There you can live these things.

The fourth thing is the life rhythm, as it is called. People know very little of this in ordinary life. They go through life egoistically. Only children at school have a certain life rhythm still in their timetable, for the lessons of each day are repeated week after week. But who does such a thing in ordinary life? Yet we only progress to higher development by bringing rhythm, repetition, into our lives. Rhythm prevails everywhere in the natural world. Everything is arranged in rhythms—the movement of the planets around the sun, the annual appearance and fading away of plants, and even the animal world, the sexual life of the animals. Man alone is permitted to live without rhythm, so that he may act out of freedom. But he must bring rhythm into the chaos again by choice. A good rhythm is to do occult things at particular times each day. Pupils must therefore do their meditation and concentration exercises at the same time each day, just as the sun sends its energies down to the earth at the same time in spring. This is one way of bringing rhythm into life. Another way is to make one's breathing rhythmical, as instructed by the occult teacher. Breathing in, holding one’s breath and breathing out must be made rhythmical for a short time each day, and this is done under the occult teacher's experienced guidance. A new rhythm thus replaces the old one. Bringing such rhythm into life is one of the preconditions for ascent to the higher worlds. No one can do this without the guidance of a teacher. Here the aim is merely to tell you the principle of it.

The fifth thing is to learn the correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm, as it is called. It involves the teacher giving the pupils directions to concentrate their thoughts on certain parts of the body. Those of you who have heard the lecture on the way the senses relate to the higher worlds will remember that the whole world has a part in creating the physical body. The eye is created by the light, by the spirits active in the light. Every point in the physical body has a connection with a specific power in the cosmos. Consider the point at the root of the nose. There was a time when the etheric head extended well beyond the physical body. The Atlanteans still had a point on the forehead where the etheric head extended above the physical, as is still the case in horses and other animals today. The ether head of a horse still projects a long way today. In human beings, the ether body and the physical body have been made to coincide in the point I spoke of, and this allows them to develop the parts of the physical brain that enable them to say I to themselves. The organ which enables man to say I to himself is connected with a specific event during the Atlantean period of earth evolution. The occult teacher will instruct his pupil: ‘Direct your thoughts and concentrate them on this point.’ He’ll then give him a mantra64In another set of notes it says: He then spoke a particular word for them. This awakens a power in this part of the head which corresponds to a particular process in the macrocosm. Correspondence is thus established between microcosm and macrocosm. In the same way concentrating on the eye will give understanding of the sun. The whole organization of the macrocosm is thus found in the spirit in our own organs.

change in the shape of man's head
Fig. 11

When pupils have practised this for a sufficiently long time, they will be permitted to enter more deeply into the things they have discovered in this way. They can go to the akashic record for instance and choose the point in time during Atlantean evolution when the point at the root of the nose on which they have been concentrating came into existence, or they find the sun by concentrating on the eye. This sixth stage, entering deeply into the macrocosm, is called ‘contemplation’. It gives the pupils insight into the world, enabling them to take insight into their own nature beyond the personal level. This is different from le popular chit chat about self knowledge. You do not find your self by looking inside yourself, but only if you look beyond yourself. This is the same self which created the eye and brought forth the sun. To look for the part of your self that corresponds to the eye you have to look to the sun. You must perceive the world outside you to be your self Looking inside only leads to hardening in oneself, to a higher form of egoism. When people say: ‘I only have to let my self speak’, they have no idea of the danger this holds. Self knowledge must not be practised unless the pupils following the white path also practise self renunciation. If they learn to say ‘That is me’ to every thing around themselves, they are ripe to have self knowledge, as Goethe let Faust say:

Before my eyes
Opened by you, all living creatures move
In sequence: in the quiet woods, the air.
The water, ...65Goethe, J. W. von. Faust 1, in A Forest Cavern.

The parts of our self are everywhere out there. This is also shown in the myth of Dionysus, for example, and it is why Rosicrucian training puts such value on objective, calm contemplation of the outside world. ‘To see yourself in your reality, look in the mirror of the outside world and essence. You will perceive much more clearly what lives in your soul if you look in the eyes of your fellow human beings than if you concentrate on yourself and enter into your own soul. This is an important, essential truth, and no one who takes the white path dare ignore it. Today many people have transformed their ordinary egoism into a sophisticated egoism. They call it theosophical development when they take their ordinary, everyday self to the highest possible level. They really want to bring out the personal aspect. True occult insight will show, on the other hand, that the inner life opens up when we come to know our higher self in the world.

When the pupil has developed this attitude of mind in contemplation, with the self flowing out over all things, when he feels the flower that grows towards him just as he does the finger he moves towards himself, when he knows that the whole earth and the whole world is his body, he comes to know his higher self. He will then speak to the flower as to a part of his own body: ‘You are part of me, part of my self.’ He will gradually come to feel inwardly what is known as the seventh level of Rosicrucian training—being in harmony with God. This evolves as the element of feeling that guides the human being into the higher worlds, where he must not just think about the higher worlds but, learn to feel in these worlds. The fruits will then be apparent to him, if he endeavours to learn under the continued guidance of his teacher and he need not be afraid that this occult way might lead to an abyss. All the things referred to as dangers of occult development do not arise if development is guided along the right lines. When this happens, the occult seeker of the way becomes a true helper for humanity.

During the Imagination the possibility arises that the individual spends a particular part of the night in conscious awareness. The physical body will be asleep, as usual, but part of this sleep state will be filled with a life of dreams that have meaning and content. This is the first sign of entering into the higher worlds. Pupils will gradually bring their experiences across into ordinary consciousness. They then see the astral spirits everywhere in the world around them—also here, in this hall, among the chairs, or out in the woods and fields.

People reach three levels in the process of imaginative insight. At the first level they’ll perceive the spirits that are behind the sensory impressions gained in the physical world. There is a spirit behind the colour red or blue, behind every rose; every animal has its species or group soul behind it The individuals gain daytime clairvoyance. If the pupil waits a while longer, calmly practising the Imagination, and also entering deeply into occult writing, he will be day-clairaudient. The third level is where he gets to know all the things that are to be found in the astral world and draw human beings down, leading them astray into evil, and they are now really there to guide him upwards. You come to know kama loka.

With the fourth, fifth and sixth parts of Rosicrucian training—life rhythm, relationship between microcosm and macrocosm, contemplation of the macrocosm—pupils reach three more levels. At the first of these they gain insight into conditions of life between death and a new birth. This comes to them in devachan. The next level is the possibility of seeing how forms change into one another—transmutation, the metamorphosis of forms. Human beings have not always had the lungs they have today, for instance; lungs only go back to Lemurian times. During the preceding Hyperborean time human beings had a different form, and before that a different one again, which is because they were in the astral state, and before that because they were in devachan. One also says that at this level pupils get to know the relationship between the different globes,66Concerning 'globes', see Steiner R. At the Gates of Spiritual Science (GA 95). Tr. E. Goddard, C. Davy. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1986; The Apocalypse of St John [= The Book of Revelation] (GA 104). Tr. J. Collis. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1977. that is, they have direct perception of how one globe, or state of form, changes into another. Finally, before they move on to even higher worlds, they have direct perception of the metamorphosis of states of life. They perceive how the different spirits move through the different realms, or rounds and how one realm becomes another. After that they must move to yet higher levels, but these cannot be discussed today.

The things that have been said today will give you enough material to work with for the time being. You really have to work on these things. That is the first step towards reaching the heights. It is good to have the Rosicrucian way presented in an orderly fashion for once. It may be possible to travel on the physical plane even if one does not have a map, but on the astral plane it is necessary to have such a map. Consider the things I have said as a kind of map; this will be useful not only in this life but also when you go through the gate to the higher worlds. Those who gain these things from the science of the spirit will find that the map serves them well after death. The occultist knows that human beings often have a miserable time as they arrive on the other side and have no idea where they actually are in life and what it is that they are experiencing. People who have gone through the teachings of spiritual science know their way about and know how to characterize the things themselves. It would be of great benefit to humanity if people were not to shrink from setting out on the road to higher understanding.