Secrets of the Threshold
28 August 1913, Munich
I should like to help everyone understand, if I can, the characteristics of the spiritual realms we are studying in these lectures. For this reason, I am going to add a little story to shed light on the questions we have already considered and on those ahead of us. 13See also Rudolf Steiner, Three lectures on the Mystery Dramas, (Spring Valley, Anthroposophic Press, 1983).
Some time ago Professor Capesius was inwardly quite disturbed and puzzled. It came about in the following way. You will have noticed in The Portal of Initiation that Capesius is a historian, a professor of history. Occult research has shown me that a number of well-known modern scholars have become historians through a particular connection with an Egyptian initiation in the third post-Atlantean epoch, either directly within an initiation cult or else by being attracted in some way or other to the Temple Mysteries. You will notice that Capesius is a historian who depends not only on external documents; he tries also to penetrate to the historical ideas that have played a part in human evolution and in the development of civilization.
I must admit that in characterizing Capesius in The Portal of Initiation, The Probation of the Soul, and The Guardian of the Threshold, I was continuously aware of his link to the Egyptian cult of initiation shown in detail in Scenes Seven and Eight of The Souls' Awakening. We must keep in mind that what Capesius's soul experienced during his Egyptian incarnation forms the foundation for his later destiny and for his present-day soul. Capesius has therefore become a historian, concerned in his professional life chiefly with what has been brought about in successive epochs by the varying character of peoples, civilizations and individuals.
One day, however, Capesius came across some literature about the philosophy of Haeckel. Up to then he had not paid much attention to these ideas, but now he studied various articles on Haeckel's atomistic view of the world. This was the reason for his tortured state of mind; a peculiar mood descended on him when he met this atomistic philosophy at a relatively late period in his life. His reason told him: We really cannot get behind natural phenomena properly unless our explanations involve atoms by way of a mechanistic conception of the universe. In other words, Capesius came more and more to recognize what is, in a sense, the one-sided correctness of atomism and a mechanistic view of nature. He was not one to fight fanatically against a new idea, for he had confidence in his own intelligence, which seemed to find these ideas necessary to explain the natural phenomena around him. Yet it troubled him. He said to himself, “How desolate, how unsatisfying for the human soul this conception of nature is. How poorly it supports any ideas one would like to acquire about spirit and spiritual beings or about the human soul!”
Capesius was thus driven back and forth by doubt; therefore he set out — almost instinctively, I might say — on the walk he so often took when his heart was heavy, to the Baldes' little cottage. Talking over things with those warmhearted people had many times provided him with a real emotional lift, and what Felicia Balde gave him in her wonderful fairy tales had refreshed him. And so he went there. As Dame Felicia was busy in the house when he arrived, he met first his good friend Felix, whom he had gradually grown fond of. Capesius confided his troubles to Felix, describing the doubts that the knowledge of Haeckelism and the atomistic theory had brought. He explained how logical it seemed to apply it to the phenomena of nature, but on the other hand how barren and disheartening such a conception of the universe is. In his distress, Capesius more or less sought help for his state of soul from his fatherly friend.
Now Felix is quite a different character from Capesius. He goes his own unique way. Turning aside at once all Haeckel's ideas and theories, he explained how the matter really stands. He said: “Certainly there must be atoms; it is quite correct to talk about them. But we have to understand that atoms, in order somehow to form the universe, must stratify and arrange themselves in such a way that their relationships correspond in measure and number; the atoms of one substance form a unit of four, another of three, another of one or two; in this way the substances of earth came about.”
It seemed to Capesius, who had a good grasp of history, that this was somewhat Pythagorean. He felt that a Pythagorean principle had the upper hand in Felix, who was arguing that there is nothing we can do about the atoms themselves but that within them we find the wisdom of measure and number. More and more complicated became the argument, with ever more complicated numerical relationships, where — according to Felix — cosmic wisdom in combining the atoms revealed itself as a spiritual principle among them. More and more complicated became the structures that Father Felix built up for Capesius, who gradually was overcome by a peculiar mood. You could describe it by saying that he had to strain every nerve so much in deciphering this complicated stuff that, even though the subject interested him immensely, he had to suppress a desire to yawn and to sink into a kind of dream state.
Before our good professor dropped completely into a dream, however, Dame Balde joined them and listened for a while to the expounding of numbers and structures. She sat there patiently, but she had a peculiar habit. When something not altogether pleasant or congenial bothered her, and she had to control her boredom, she would clasp her hands together and twirl her thumbs around each other; whenever she did this, she was able to swallow her yawns. And now after she had twirled her thumbs for a short time, there came a pause. She could finally try to stir up Capesius with a refreshing story, and so Felicia told her good friend the following tale.
Once upon a time there stood in a very lonely region a great fortress. Within it lived many people, of all ages; they were more or less related to one another and belonged to the same family. They formed a self-contained community but were shut off from the rest of the world. Round about, far and wide, there were no other people nor human settlements to be found, and in time this state of things made many of the people uneasy. As a result, a few of them became somewhat visionary, and the visions that came to them might well, from the manner in which they appeared, have been founded on reality.
Felicia told how a great number of these people had the same vision. First, they saw a powerful figure of light, which seemed to come down out of the clouds. It was a figure of light bringing warmth with it as it came down and sank into the hearts and souls of the people in the fortress. It was really felt — so ran Felicias' story — that something of glory had come down from the heights of heaven in this figure Of light from above.
But soon, Felicia continued, those who had the vision of light saw something more. They saw how from all sides, from all around the mountain, as though crawling out of the earth, there came all kinds of blackish, brownish, steel-grey figures. Whereas it was a single figure of light coming from above, there were many, many of these other forms around the fortress. Whereas the figure of light entered into their hearts and their souls, these other beings — one could call them elemental beings — were like besiegers of the fortress.
For a long time the people, of whom there was a fairly great number, dwelled between the figure from above and those besieging the fortress from outside. One day, however, it happened that the form from above sank down still further than before, and that the besiegers come closer in towards them. An uncomfortable feeling spread among the visionaries in the fortress — we must remember that Felicia is telling a fairy tale — and these visionaries, as well as all the others, fell into a kind of dream state. The figure from above divided into separate clouds of light, but these were seized upon by the besiegers and darkened by them, so that gradually the people of the fortress were held in a dream. The earth life of the people was thereby prolonged for centuries, and when they came to themselves, they found that now they were divided into small communities scattered over many different parts of the earth. They lived in small fortresses that were copies of the great, original one they had inhabited centuries before. And it was apparent that what they had experienced in the ancient fortress was now within them as strength of soul, soul richness and soul health. In these smaller fortresses they could now bravely carry on all sorts of activities, such as farming, cattle raising and the like.
They became capable, hard working people, good farmers, healthy in soul and body.
When Dame Felicia had finished her story, Professor Capesius felt as he usually did, pleasantly cheered. Father Felix, however, found it necessary to provide some explanation for the images of the story, for this was the first time Felicia had told this particular tale. “You see,” Felix began, “the figure that came from above out of the clouds is the luciferic force, and the figures that came from outside like besiegers are the ahrimanic beings....” and so on; Felix's explanations became more and more complicated. At first Dame Felicia listened, clasping her hands together and twirling her thumbs, but finally she said, “Well, I must get back to the kitchen. We're having potato pancakes for supper and I don't want them to get too soft.” So she slipped away.
Capesius sank into such a heavy mood through Felix's explanations that he no longer could listen properly and though he was really very fond of Father Felix, he could not altogether hear what was being explained.
I must add that what I have just been relating happened to Capesius at a time when he had already met Benedictus and had become what one could call his pupil. He had often heard Benedictus speak about the luciferic and ahrimanic elements, but though Capesius is an extremely intelligent man, he never could quite fathom these remarks of Benedictus. Something seemed to be missing; he could not begin to understand them. So this time when he left the Balde cottage, he turned over in his mind the story of the fortress that multiplied itself. Almost every day he pondered the tale.
When he later came to Benedictus, Benedictus noticed that something had taken place in Capesius. Capesius himself was aware that every time he recalled the story of the fortress, his soul was peculiarly stirred within him. It seemed as if the story had worked upon his inner being and strengthened it. Consequently he was continually repeating the tale to himself — as if in meditation. Now he came to Benedictus, who perceived that the forces of Capesius' soul had been newly strengthened.
Benedictus began therefore to speak about these things in a special way. Whereas earlier Capesius — perhaps because of his great learning — would have had more trouble grasping it all, he now understood everything extremely well. Something like a seed had fallen into his soul with Felicia's story and this had fructified his soul forces.
Benedictus said the following. Let us look at three different things: First, consider human thinking, human concepts, the thoughts that a person carries around within himself and ponders when he is alone to help him understand the world. Everyone is able to think and to try to explain things to himself in complete solitude. For this he doesn't need another person. In fact, he can think best when he shuts himself up in his own room and tries as best he can, in quiet, self-contained pondering, to understand the world and its phenomena.
Now then, said Benedictus, it will always happen to a person that a feeling element of soul rises up into his solitary thoughts, and thus there will come to every individual thinker the tempting attraction of the luciferic element. It is impossible for someone to ruminate and cogitate and philosophize and explain everything in the world to himself without having this impulse coming out of soul sensitivity as a luciferic thrust into his thinking. A thought grasped by an individual human being is always permeated to a great extent by the luciferic element.
Capesius had earlier understood very little when Benedictus spoke about luciferic and ahrimanic elements, but now it was clear to him that there must lurk in the solitary thoughts a person forms in himself the allurements of luciferic temptation. Now, too, he understood that in the human activity of individual thought Lucifer will always find a hook with which he can snatch a human being out of the forward-moving path of world evolution; then, because a person separates himself with this kind of thinking from the world, he can be brought to the lonely island that Lucifer — himself separated from the rest of the cosmic order — wants to establish, setting up on that island everything that separates itself into a solitary existence.
Benedictus, after directing Capesius's attention to the nature of lonely, personal, inner thinking, said, Now let us look at something else. Consider what writing is: a remarkable factor of human civilization. When we look at the character of thought, we have to describe it as something that lives in the individual human being. It is accessible to Lucifer who wants to lead our soul qualities out of the physical world and isolate them. This solitary thinking, however, is not accessible to Ahriman, for it is subject to the normal laws of the physical world — that is, it comes to life and then passes away. Writing is different. A thought can be put into writing and snatched from destruction; it can be made permanent. I have sometimes pointed out that Ahriman's effort is to reclaim what is alive in human thinking as it goes toward destruction and to anchor it in the physical sense world. That is what typically happens when you write something down. The thoughts that otherwise would gradually disperse are fixed and preserved for all time — and thus Ahriman can invade human culture.
Professor Capesius is not the sort of reactionary who wants to forbid the teaching of writing in the early grades, but he understood that with all the books and other reading matter people are piling up around themselves, the ahrimanic impulses have entered the evolution of human culture. Now he could recognize in solitary thought the luciferic temptation, in what is written or printed, the ahrimanic element. It was clear to him that in the external physical world, human evolution cannot exist without the interplay of ahrimanic and luciferic elements everywhere in everything. He realized that even in our forward-moving evolution, writing has gained greater and greater importance (and to recognize this, one does not have to be clairvoyant but need only look at the developments of the last couple of hundred years). Ahriman is therefore continually gaining in importance; Ahriman is seizing more and more influence. Today when the printed word has acquired such immense significance — this was quite clear to Capesius — we have built great ahrimanic strongholds. It is not yet the custom (spiritual science has not brought things completely to the point where the truth can be openly spoken in public) that when a student is on his way to the library, he would say, “I've got to hole up and cram for an exam in such and such a subject down at Ahriman's place!” Yet that would be the truth. Libraries, great and small, are Ahriman's strongholds, the fortresses from which he can control human development in the most powerful way. One must face these facts courageously.
Benedictus then had something more to explain to Capesius. On the one hand, he said, we have the thoughts of the individuals, on the other, the written works that belong to Ahriman — but between them there is something in the center. In whatever is luciferic we have a single whole; men strive after unity when they want to explain the world to themselves in thought. In what is written, however, we have something that is atomistic. Benedictus now disclosed what Capesius could understand very well, for his mind and heart had been so enlivened by Dame Felicia's tale.
Between these two, solitary thought and writing, we have the Word. Here we cannot be alone as with our thinking, for through the spoken word we live in a community of people. Solitary thinking has its purpose and a person needs no words when he wants to be alone. But speech has its purpose and significance in the community of other human beings. A word emerges from the solitude of the single individual and unfolds itself in the fellowship of others. The spoken word is the embodied thought but at the same time, for the physical plane, it is quite different from thought. We need not look at the clairvoyant aspects I have mentioned in various lectures; external history shows us — and being a historian, Capesius understood this very well — that words or speech must originally have had quite a different relationship to mankind from what they possess today.
The further you go back into the past, you actually come — as occult research shows — to one original language spoken over the whole world. Even now when you look back at ancient Hebrew — in this regard the Hebrew language is absolutely remarkable — you will discover how different the words are from those in our own languages of western Europe. Hebrew words are much less ordinary and conventional; they possess a soul, so that you can perceive in them their meaning. They themselves speak out their inner, essential meaning. The further you go back in history, the more you find languages like this, which resemble the one original language. The legendary Tower of Babel is a symbol of the fact that there was really once a single primeval human language; this has become differentiated into the various folk and tribal languages. That the single common language disintegrated into many language groups means that the spoken word moved halfway towards the loneliness of thought. An individual does not speak a language of his own, for then speech would lose its significance, but a common language is now found only among groups of people. Thus the spoken word, has become a middle thing between solitary thought and the primeval language. In the original common language one could understand a word through its sound quality; there was no need to try to discover anything further of meaning, for every word revealed its own soul. Later, the one language became many. As we know, everything to do with separation plays into Lucifer's hands; therefore as human beings created their different languages, they opened the door to a divisive principle. They found their way into the current that makes it easy for Lucifer to lift human beings out of the normal progress of the world, foreseen before his own advent; Lucifer can then remove them to his isolated island and separate them from the otherwise progressive course of human evolution.
The element of speech, the Word, finds itself therefore in a middle state. If it had been able to remain as originally foreseen, without Lucifer's intervention, it would belong to a central divine position free from the influence of Lucifer and Ahriman; then, in accordance with the progress of the divine world order, mankind could have set sail on a different current. But language has been influenced on the one side by Lucifer. While a thought grasped in solitude is the complete victim of the luciferic forces, the Word itself is laid hold of only to a certain extent.
On the other hand, writing, too influences language; the further mankind progresses, the more significant is the effect of the printed word on spoken language. This comes about when folk dialects, which have nothing to do with writing, gradually disappear. A more elegant kind of speech takes their place, and this is even called “literary speech.” The name indicates how speech is influenced by writing, and you can still notice how this happens in many localities. I am often reminded how it happened to me and my schoolmates. In Austria where there are so many dialects all mixed up together, the schools insisted on the pupils' learning the “literary speech,” which the children to a great extent had never spoken. This had a peculiar result; I can describe it quite frankly, for I myself was exposed to this literary language over a long period of my life, and only with the greatest effort could I get rid of it. It sometimes even now slips through. Literary speech is peculiar in this: that one speaks all the short vowels long and all the long vowels short, whereas dialect, the language born out of the spoken word, pronounces them correctly. When you mean the Sonne, “sun” that is up there in the sky, dialect says d'Sunn. Someone, however, who has gone through an Austrian school is tempted to say, Die Soone. Dialect says, der Sun for Sohn (“son”); the school language says der Sonn.
Sonne (short vowel)
Sohn (long vowel)
This is an extreme example from an earlier time, of course, but it illustrates my point.
You see how writing works back on the spoken language: it generally does work back on it. If you look at how things have developed, you will find that language has already lost what grows out of the earth and soil and is most vital, most elemental, most organic; people speak more and more a book language. This is the ahrimanic element in writing, which continually influences the spoken word from the other side. However, someone who wants to go through a normal development will easily notice from the three things Benedictus gave Capesius as examples, how senseless it is to wish to eliminate Ahriman and Lucifer from human evolution.
Consider these three activities: solitary thought, the spoken word, and writing. No sensible person, even when he fully recognizes the fact of Lucifer's influence on thinking and Ahriman's influence on writing, will wish to root out Lucifer where he is so obviously at work, for this would mean forbidding solitary thought. Admittedly, for some people this would be a most comfortable arrangement, but chances are that none would be willing to advise it openly. On the other hand, we would not want to do away with writing. Just as the positive and negative electric charge indicates a polarity in external physical nature, we will also have to agree that the contrasting ahrimanic and luciferic elements have also to exist. They are two polarities, neither of which we can do without, but they must be brought into the right relationship to measure and number. Then the human being can move between them in the middle ground by way of the spoken word — for indeed the Word was meant to be the vessel for wisdom and insight, the vehicle of thoughts and mental images. A person could say, “I must so train myself in using words that through them I allow everything self-willed and merely personal to be corrected. I must take into my soul the wisdom that past ages have unlocked out of the word. I must pay attention not only to my own opinion, not only to what I myself believe or can recognize correctly through my own ability, but I must respect what has come down through the various cultures, through the efforts and wisdom of the various races in human evolution.” This would mean bringing Lucifer into the right relationship to the Word. We would not do away with isolated thinking but, realizing that the spoken word belongs to the community, we would try to trace it back through long periods of time. The more we do this, the more we give Lucifer his rightful influence. Then instead of merely submitting to the authority of the Word, we protect its task of carrying earth wisdom from one epoch of civilization to the next.
On the other hand, if someone fully understands the matter, he must take it on himself not to submit to the rigid authoritarian principle that belongs to writing — whether it be most holy in content or completely profane — for otherwise he will fall victim to Ahriman. It is clear that for the external materialistic world we have to have writing, and writing is what Ahriman uses to detach thinking from its course toward destruction; this is his task. He wants to hold thinking back from flowing into the stream of death: writing is the best means of keeping thoughts on the physical plane. In full consciousness, therefore, we must face the fact that writing, which carries the ahrimanic element in itself, must never gain the upper hand over mankind. Through our vigilance we must keep the Word in the middle position, so that on the left and on the right — both in our thinking and in our writing — the two polar opposites, Lucifer and Ahriman, are working together at the same time. This is where we should stand and it will be the right place if we are clear in mind and heart that there must always be polarities.
Capesius took hold of all this that he heard, with his soul forces strengthened by Felicia. His attitude to what Benedictus was explaining was quite different now from earlier explanations that Benedictus had given him of the luciferic and ahrimanic elements. Fairy tales flowing out of the spiritual world were more and more fructifying the forces of his soul, so that Capesius himself perceived how inwardly strengthened and fortified his soul capacities had become. In Scene Thirteen of The Souls' Awakening this is represented; a soul force within Capesius designated as Philia appears to him as a spiritually tangible being, not as a merely abstract element of his soul. The more Philia becomes alive in his soul as a real being the more Capesius understands what Benedictus expected from him. At the time when he had first heard the enlivening story of the fortress that multiplied itself into a great number of such buildings, it did not at first affect him. In fact, he almost began to slumber; then when Father Felix was talking about the atoms, he really was practically asleep. Now, however, with his soul so matured, Capesius recognized the threefoldness inherent in the whole stream of world evolution: on one side the luciferic solitary thought, on the other, the ahrimanic writing, the third, the middle state, the purely divine. He now understood the number three as the most significant factor in cultural development on the physical plane; he surmised that this number three can be found everywhere. Capesius viewed the law of number in a different way than before; now, through the awakening of Philia within him, he perceived the nature of number in world evolution. Now too, the nature of measure became clear: in every threefoldness there are two polarities, which must be brought into an harmonious balance with each other. In this, Capesius recognized a mighty cosmic law and knew that it must exist, in some way or other, not only on the physical plane but also in higher worlds. We shall have to enlarge upon this later in more precise descriptions of the divine spiritual world. Capesius surmised that he had penetrated to a law acting in the physical world as though hidden behind a veil and in possessing it, he had something with which he could cross the threshold. If he were to cross the threshold and enter the spiritual world, he must then leave behind him everything stimulated merely by physical experience.
Number and measure — he had learned to feel what they are, to feel them deeply, to fathom them, and now he understood Benedictus, who brought up other things, at first fairly simple ones, to make the principle fully clear. “The same predominance of the triad, of polarity or opposition in the triad, of harmonious balance,” Benedictus told Capesius, “is found in other areas of our life. Let us look from another point of view at thinking, mental images, or ideas. First of all you have mental images; you work out for yourself the answers to the secrets of the universe. The second would be pure perception; let us say, simply listening. Some people are more likely to ponder about everything introspectively. Others don't like to think but will go around listening, will receive everything through listening, then take everything on authority, even if it's the authority of natural phenomena, for there is, of course, a dogma of external experience, when one is pushed around willingly by the superficial happenings of nature.”
Benedictus could soon show Professor Capesius also that in lonely thinking there lies the luciferic attraction, whereas in mere listening, or in any other kind of perceiving, there is the ahrimanic element. But one can keep to the middle path and move between the two, so to speak. It is neither necessary to stop short at abstract, introspective thinking wherein we shut ourselves away within our own souls like hermits, nor is it necessary to devote ourselves entirely to seeing or hearing the things our eyes and ears perceive. We can do something more. We can make whatever we think so inwardly forceful that our own thought appears before us like a living thing; we can immerse ourselves in it just as actively as we do in something heard or seen outside. Our thought then becomes as real and concrete as the things we hear or see. That is the middle way.
In mere thought, close to brooding, Lucifer assails man. In mere listening, either as perception or accepting the authority of others, the ahrimanic element is present. When we strengthen and arouse our soul inwardly so that we can hear or see our thoughts while thinking we have then arrived at meditation. Meditation is the middle way. It is neither thinking nor perceiving. It is a thinking that is as alive in the soul as perception is, and it is a perception of what is not outside man but a perception of thoughts. Between the luciferic element of thought and the ahrimanic element of perception, the life of the meditating soul flows within a divine-spiritual element that alone bears in itself the rightful progress of world events. The meditating human being, living in his thoughts in such a way that they become as alive in him as perceptions of the outside world, is living in this divine, on-flowing stream. On his right are mere thoughts, on his left the ahrimanic element, mere listening; he shuts out neither the one nor the other but understands that he lives in a threefoldness, for indeed life is ruled and kept in order by number. He understands, too, that between this polarity, this antithesis of the two elements, meditation moves like a river. He understands that in lawful measure the luciferic and ahrimanic elements must be balanced in meditation.
In every sphere of life the human being can learn this cosmic principle of number and measure that Capesius learned after his soul had been prepared through Benedictus's guidance. A soul that wants to prepare itself for knowledge of the spiritual world gradually begins to search everywhere in the world, at every point that can be reached, for the understanding of number, above all the number three; it begins then to see polar opposites revealed in all things and the necessity for these opposites to balance each other. A middle condition cannot be a mere flowing onward, but we must find ourselves within the stream directing our inner vision to the left and to the right, while steering our vessel, the third, middle thing, safely between the left and right polarities.
In recognition of this, Capesius had learned through Benedictus how to steer in the right way upwards into the spiritual world and how to cross its threshold. And this every person will have to learn who wants to find his way into spiritual science; then he will really come to an understanding of the true knowledge of higher worlds.