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Rosicrucian Esotericism
GA 109

1. Rosicrucian Esotericism

Budapest, June 3, 1909

My task in these lectures will be to give you a picture of the theosophical conception of the world based upon the so-called Rosicrucian method. Please do not misunderstand this statement by expecting an historical account of Rosicrucianism. The expression “Rosicrucian method” is intended only to imply that theosophy will be presented in accordance with the method always adopted in the Mystery Schools of Europe since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and called Rosicrucian training.

You know that theosophy is the truth that was imparted to mankind in ancient times in order that there might be formed in hearts everywhere a basic fount of human knowledge. But the further back we go into the past, the greater was the secrecy in which this knowledge was held. What was the reason for such secrecy? In the course of these lectures I shall return to the question why this universal wisdom was communicated in secret schools and centers to individuals who were destined not only to learn but to undertake training that transformed their souls to such an extent that they developed clairvoyance and insight into higher worlds. Such individuals were then sent out as emissaries, charged with guiding and leading others. But progress consists in the fact that more and more human beings become capable, through their power of judgment and intellect, of grasping this wisdom. Hence it has become necessary for what was formerly kept secret gradually to be made publicly known.

In the course of the nineteenth century, as the result of external conditions that we shall come to know, it became necessary to allow a great deal, indeed, a very considerable amount, of knowledge of occult science to make its way into the open for the sake of the well-being and progress of humanity. In the nineteenth century the Guardians of this knowledge said to themselves that in earlier times the communications of spiritual teaching made to human beings in the religions or by other means, were able to satisfy their needs in regard to eternal truths. But the needs of humanity change. So these Guardians of the primeval wisdom were obliged to realize that in the future there would be an increasing number of human beings whose souls could no longer be satisfied by the old forms of communicating spiritual truth.

Such people can find satisfaction in anthroposophy. This new form of communication springs from observation of a need of humanity in the modern age. The Guardians of the secret knowledge were naturally aware that such conditions were inevitable in the future, but not until a certain point of time was it necessary to make actual preparation for the influx of this wisdom into humanity and to emphasize that these secrets must also be grasped by the general intelligence prevailing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

This was realized in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. There were few at that time who were aware of this starting point of preparation in Europe. The first Rosicrucians were those who gathered around a significant individuality known as Christian Rosenkreutz. It was he, Christian Rosenkreutz, who could affirm with the most convincing clarity, “From the Mysteries we have received a treasure-store of knowledge and wisdom of the super-sensible. If we adhere to this, we may hope in the future, too, to succeed in doing what was done in the past, namely, to send out individuals trained in our schools to instruct others when they have learnt and discerned the secrets of the primeval wisdom.”

This old method of promulgating the primeval wisdom was to continue, but preparation was to be made for something else as well. He, Christian Rosenkreutz, spoke as follows. He said, “A far greater number of human beings who long for the primeval wisdom will come to us and we could communicate it to them in the form in which we now possess it. But its acceptance demands belief in and recognition of our authority in a high degree—an attitude that will progressively disappear from mankind. The more men's power of judgment increases, the less will be their belief in those who teach them. Belief and trust were preconditions for the earlier form of communication.”

At the present time one would have to say, “People will come who wish to test for themselves what is communicated to them. They will insist that they wish to apply to what is told them the same logical intellect that is used for observation of the material world. They admit that something in addition to this intellect is necessary for investigation of the spiritual world, but for all that they insist upon testing things by means of this intellect.” Hence, at the beginning of our epoch it was necessary to clothe the primeval wisdom in new forms. The work of the Rosicrucians was to give expression to the primeval wisdom in a form enabling it to be acceptable to the modern mind and the modern soul.

What is theosophy when presented according to the Rosicrucian method? Theosophy in itself is always and everywhere the same. A Rosicrucian theosophist today is a theosophist of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the forms it takes, its wisdom is adapted exactly to what human beings desire and need to understand. What is the specific characteristic of our time? The course of the evolution of humanity was such that men were obliged to become ever more familiar with outer, physical reality. Look back into olden times, for example into the ancient Egyptian culture, and you will realize with what simple measures and forces men worked, erected their buildings, satisfied their personal needs. Then think of our modern life with all its ingenious gadgets for physical comfort. What tremendous spiritual force and mental activity are expended on the physical needs of daily life! This, of course, was necessary, because the specific task of the Western world was so to shape external culture and gain such control of outer nature that the physical plane came truly under the control of the human spirit. A world such as our own needs measures different from those current in antiquity to be capable of imbibing the wisdom guarded in the secret schools.

On the other hand, when we compare the knowledge possessed by the Chaldeans and their grasp of spiritual realities with our present knowledge, the Chaldeans admittedly tower heavens high above us. Today we admire a Copernicus, a Galileo and what is recorded by external science, but this is all child's play compared with the wisdom of the ancient Chaldeans. To the modern researcher the planet Mars, for example, is an objective body whose course and movement can be measured. But the Chaldeans knew as well what forces and entities are connected with Mars, what divine will governs all this, what connection there is between these forces and man. The mystery and sway wielded by these spiritual forces were known to the Chaldeans. That is why the modern researcher is so powerless in face of the inner character of this ancient Chaldean culture. External means for its investigation are at his disposal but there are no longer any inner means. Theosophists and Rosicrucians, however, have the spiritual, esoteric possibilities for penetrating into the spirit of that ancient culture.

The great scientific authorities, of whom we read that they excavate clay cylinders and fragments covered with inscriptions of the ancient Babylonian wisdom, stand before these objects like three-year-old children facing some electrical apparatus. The researcher does not know what to make of what he excavates from such ancient sites, so penetrating, so unbounded was the spiritual knowledge current in that era. But to produce by means of the intellect and the external devices of our civilization what we justifiably admire today as evidence of the great progress made during recent centuries—this was first possible for modern science. Such an era, however, needs a different kind of thinking and perception in order to understand the spiritual. At this point, perhaps, a warning may be given. People speak so much today about higher or lower degrees of evolution, arguing about whether Buddha or Christ is the greater. But that is not the essential. Whether the Assyrian wisdom or our own is the higher is not important. We are living in the present, materialistically-minded age and the inflow of spiritual knowledge into our culture is needed in order that mankind's longing for such knowledge may be satisfied. It is the Rosicrucian wisdom that gives this knowledge to modern man in the form suitable for him. What is being said here may possibly seem rather daring, but please accept it now for what it is and later on it will become clear. As a matter of fact, Rosicrucian wisdom has been more greatly misunderstood than anything else in the world.

As time went on, the great individuality who was Christian Rosenkreutz foresaw what demands of understanding would be made by rationalistic thought and he realized that already in that period it had become necessary to promulgate all spiritual knowledge in the form demanded by the modern age. We must realize that for the Rosicrucians it was much more difficult than for any similar movement of an earlier period, because their initial activity in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries took place at the time when materialism was approaching apace. All modern achievements such as steam engines, telegraphy and so on were bound to place human beings firmly on the physical plane. The Rosicrucians were obliged to work for an era when men's thinking would be guided by mathematical principles. They were obliged to make their preparations with this in view and hence were entirely misunderstood. For this reason one cannot be informed truly about Rosicrucianism by what is said about it in public. Nothing of what was cultivated in true Rosicrucianism is to be found in literature. The deepest spiritual truths cultivated by the Rosicrucians were interpreted in such a mistaken way as to suggest that spiritual phenomena can be produced in alchemists' cellars with the help of retorts and so forth! This conception of alchemy gave rise to the materialistic caricature of Rosicrucianism that is presented in literature today. The task of the Rosicrucians was to formulate a science by means of which they would be able to let their wisdom flow gradually into the world.

From all this you will realize that when we present theosophy to people today it must be Rosicrucian theosophy. By using an older terminology we could win over a certain number of people, but they would necessarily be individuals who are connected with every fiber of their being with the modern world and its culture. There are egoists who withdraw from the tasks of the present age. We, however, wish to take modern life and its forms of expression seriously. We must accept our epoch as it actually is but endeavor to influence it spiritually. This is the conception that Rosicrucian theosophy must have of its task.

In the course of this Congress there will have been opportunity for you to realize what a fruitful effect theosophy can have, for example, in the sphere of medicine. Suppose medicine continues to develop along materialistic lines. If you could see forty years ahead you would be horrified by the brutality of the procedures to be adopted by medicine, by the forms of death with which medical science will set out to cure human beings. How does medical science today investigate the effects of its remedies? By means of the human material it finds in the hospitals and elsewhere; therefore, by outer observation. But spiritual wisdom, by its very nature, penetrates into the inner relationships of the spiritual, knows what in the physical world corresponds to the spiritual. A completely new creation of all medical science will proceed from what is called Rosicrucianism. But that is only one domain.

Compare the complicated conditions of our existence today with those of the ancient Chaldeans. Think what an amount of intellectual energy and what complicated cooperative measures are essential to enable a check issued in New York to be cashed in Tokyo. An era of this character, which has spread such culture over the globe, needs methods of spiritual activity different from those of earlier epochs. Occultists are aware of this. Modern thinking is simply unable to cope with and master the chaos of outer conditions and tasks in which man is becoming so deeply involved. Thinking itself will become rigid. Today we are living in an age of transition but thinking will soon no longer be sufficiently fluid and flexible to grapple with and transform the complicated conditions of life.

Why do we promulgate theosophy? In order to achieve practical effects. Theosophical thoughts make thinking more elastic, more flexible, enable a more rapid survey of far-reaching circumstances. Rosicrucianism has therefore to fertilize every domain of life. To realize the practical effect of theosophy you may turn to my essay, The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy. It is impossible for you to under-stand its content without Rosicrucian theosophy, which must not remain theory but become a helping hand in practical life. This element is simply not present in the earlier forms of theosophy. The role of Rosicrucian theosophy or occultism is to satisfy the spiritual longings of men and to enable spirit to flow into the daily round of their duties. Rosicrucian theosophy is not there for the salon or for the hermit, but for the whole of human culture.

Wisdom is always and forever one. But just as the individual man lives and evolves to further and further stages, so too does humanity as a whole. For this reason the forms of the wisdom revealed to men must change in order to be in keeping with the course of their evolution. The great teachers of humanity are working among us today, as always. We, too, who are present here as souls, were incarnated in earlier times, have lived through all the periods of evolution, the Greco-Latin, the Egypto-Chaldean and epochs still further back in time, in order to benefit from constantly new achievements and acquire constantly new knowledge. Think of a soul in an Egyptian incarnation, surrounded by the gigantic pyramids and mysterious sphinxes. What a different effect all this had upon the soul from what surrounds it today! For as long as the earth has something new to display—and the earth is forever making progress—for so long does the soul undergo constantly new experiences.

The soul does not incarnate on the earth in order to please the gods, but in order to learn! The face of the earth was quite different when the soul incarnated for the first time and will again be different when the final incarnation is reached. We return to this earth when, and not until, there is something new to be learned here. That is why the interval between two incarnations is lengthy. Only think how greatly Northern Europe, merely as landscape, differed from what it is today at the time when Christ was on the earth. We do not come to the earth twice without being able to learn something new. Everything in the world is in process of evolution, but evolution means the elaboration and later manifestation of the new.

Not only men but all beings evolve. We have to seek the way to beings who are at stages of evolution higher than that reached by man, although in this life he comes into relation with them in many ways. These beings are also subject to the law of evolution and just as our souls were different thousands of years ago, so, too, in earlier epochs, were the beings now revealing themselves. They also are perpetually learning. When we are speaking of one of the higher beings who has descended to our world in order to reveal to us with the resources of the spirit the mysteries of the higher worlds, we must affirm that that is a sublime art that must be mastered. Even a god has to master it.

Human beings of today must be addressed differently from those who were living ten thousand years ago. The higher beings, like men, undergo evolution, and what I have said during this Congress about the event of Damascus indicates how they evolve. A man with spiritual vision sees not only the outer environment but also everything that belongs to the spiritual aura of the earth. Just as human beings are surrounded by an aura, so, too, are the cosmic bodies. A clairvoyant is eventually able to perceive the aura of a cosmic body. What a clairvoyant would have seen in the earth's aura two thousand years ago would be quite different from what would have been seen a thousand years ago and different again from what would be seen by one who has developed clairvoyance today. Just as the picture of outer nature changes, so, too, does the picture of the spiritual world into which vision penetrates.

I shall now refer to an event of which I shall speak again later on, namely, the event of the burning thorn bush and the proclamation from Sinai. What happened to Moses at that time? His clairvoyant power had developed to a certain stage and he beheld the super-sensible reality in the physical phenomenon. An individual who was not clairvoyant would simple have seen a happening in nature. Moses, however, beheld in the burning thorn bush the Being who proclaimed Himself as “I AM the I AM.” He knew that this Being was there in very truth, that the fire was not only outer fire but harbored a spiritual reality. A Being belonging intimately to the whole further evolution of humanity, who announced His name as the “I AM the I AM,” had revealed Himself to Moses. What was it that was now known to all the pupils of Moses? In the Mystery Schools of that era they had learned that the same Being who had revealed Himself on Sinai would one day come down to the earth, live in a human body, and speak for three years in a man, Christ Jesus. This was known to the initiates. It was also known to Saul, who later became Paul. But he said to himself, “This Being exists in very truth and will come down to the earth. But I cannot conceive that the Being who revealed Himself in the burning thorn bush as Jehovah could suffer the shameful death on the Cross.” What was it that eventually convinced Saul? The event of Damascus! At the moment when he became clairvoyant and the earth's aura was visible to him, when in that aura he beheld the Christ, the living Christ, who revealed Himself as the same Being who had died on the Cross, at that moment Saul became Paul.

But that vision could not previously have been possible. Earlier than two thousand years ago Christ was not yet present in the earth's aura but He was still visibly present in the sun. Zarathustra beheld the sun surrounded by an aura he called Ahura Mazdao, the great Aura of Ormuzd. But this Being had descended, had first revealed Himself to Moses in the burning thorn bush and had then lived on earth as a man in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Hence Christ could say of Himself, “I am the Light of the World.” Before then, nobody could have spoken these words, because the Light of the World had not previously been present in any being.

We will study these themes until they are fully understood. Today, however, it will merely be indicated that it was not possible for the Christ Being always to reveal Himself as He did, for example, in the case of Paul. The Christ Being had first to muster the necessary power, to develop it to the point where this revelation was possible. Earlier than two thousand years ago this could not have taken place. Each soul, in each incarnation, makes progress. This is what has happened in the case of leading individualities. We must realize that Christ has not always been the same and in His distinctive ways of working we must recognize how He, too, advances from one evolutionary stage to another. It gives rise to an overwhelming feeling of exultation when a man is made aware that just as in the case of his own soul and its incarnations and progress, the spiritual beings also reach higher and higher stages and become more and more powerful. This realization gives one a living feeling of evolution. It is an essential part of Rosicrucian esotericism to show how a being such as Christ has worked both in the past and at the present time, in Moses and in Paul, and to see from this how even a Being of such sublime eminence makes progress. This gives a rise to an intimate concept of evolution.

Now let us think of a child. He is born, sees the light of the world—this is the usual expression—and in the very first years of life changes particularly quickly. Compared with the later epochs of life it is then that the course of evolution is the most rapid. Materialistic science itself could make many relevant discoveries here. When the brain is examined, which is possible by external means, it can be observed how on the top of a child's head at the place that remains soft for a considerable time, the skull bones do not close immediately and the brain itself takes shape only gradually. The function of articulation is to pro-duce an instrument for a power of which the child will only later be capable, namely, the power to think, to correlate his perceptions. A clairvoyant sees how during the very first weeks and months after birth the child is surrounded by intensely active, powerful forces belonging to the etheric body, the second member of man's constitution. We know that in an adult human being of today the dimension of this etheric body is practically the same as that of the physical body, but in a young child it still extends far beyond the physical body, especially around the head. The activity of the forces, which to a clairvoyant seems to be like a play of light, is particularly strong here. It is wonderful to see how certain forces surge up from the body below and then stream from the nape of the neck in all directions, wherever hair appears; the forces radiate in a living play of light to become an astral-etheric radiance in the child's etheric body, a radiance that fades away in the course of time. In this radiance lie the forces that create the connective tissues in the brain. The brain is formed out of spiritual substance after the child has been born. Forty to fifty streams of forces can be seen working together. The body of light is composed of these streams. A wonderful spectacle is presented by a child during the first weeks of life. This body of light gradually presses into and is then within the child's brain. To begin with, the etheric body was outside the child, surrounding the head, and was entirely primitive. This was surrounded by a body of light from which the etheric body gathered forces, and now it penetrates gradually into the child's head and remains there as the complicated etheric organism.

What is so wonderful about the process of evolution is that everything physical is produced from the spiritual, formed by the spiritual, which we then receive into ourselves. The psyche has itself fashioned the dwelling place in which it subsequently resides. So we see that what takes place in the microcosm, the little world, in the brain of a human child, also takes place in the macrocosm, the great world. Now think of an outstandingly advanced individuality, such as Jesus of Nazareth, in whose body Christ lived as soul for three years. Just as in a child the etheric body itself prepares the physical brain into which it subsequently passes, so, too, had Christ previously prepared the abode in which He was to dwell. He had to accomplish this by His own activity. To begin with He was only outwardly connected with the earth, which could not yet have received Him. The most highly evolved souls had, however, worked at the earth in such a way that the Christ was able to draw nearer and nearer, and He Himself had participated in this work. Who, then, had so transformed the body of Jesus of Nazareth and finally brought it to the stage where it was able to receive the Christ? The Christ Himself had done this! To begin with He had worked upon the body from outside and was subsequently able Himself to pass into the human being concerned.

What takes place in the microcosm also takes place in the macrocosm, and it is because the beings above us also develop that evolution is possible. It was only because Christ could reveal Himself supersensibly that He became the planetary Spirit of the Earth. The microcosmic invariably tallies with the macrocosmic.

I have not been able today to present even the first chapter of Rosicricianism to you. All I have done is to indicate how a man of the present age should learn to think and perceive. The true meaning of the mandate, “Know thyself!” lies in our following in this way the evolution of the cosmos. Where is our self? Certainly not in us alone! To think that would be egoistic. The self is formed out of, born out of the whole universe and our own ascent leads us finally to merge in the whole cosmos. The aim of self-knowledge is to give man his place in the great world in order to reveal to him there the true meaning of the word, self-knowledge.