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An Outline of Occult Science, GA# 13
Rudolf Steiner
A Science of Revealed Secrets
Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8 — Initiation, Future of Evolution, Misc.
Published by Anthroposophic Press of Hudson/NY in 1972
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2003


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In 1996 when I first read my copy of this book, I wrote a short review of it that you can read in A Reader’s Journal, Volume 1. Seven years and over a hundred Steiner books later, it is time for me to devote myself to an in-depth re-reading of this book. I can confirm that what Steiner had to say in those many books, “if inserted in this book in the proper place” would appear as “an amplification of the outline” given in this book. (Page xvi) One cannot appreciate the scope of this book or its degree of condensation unless one understands that all of the words he spoke in over 6,000 lectures from 1900 through 1925 provided an elaboration of some part of this book.

My reasons for re-reviewing this book are threefold. One, it will give me a chance to re-study Occult Science with a grounding of knowledge I didn’t have the first time. Two, it gives me a chance to present Steiner’s great insights in a vernacular that can reach a greater audience today. Three, I hope to make Steiner’s insights available to everyone, mothers, engineers, hairdressers, scientists, managers, philosophers, physiologists, psychologists, and business professionals, among others, not just to anthroposophists. Few people of the 17th Century read Isaac Newton’s Principia — it was those who read it in Latin and converted Newton’s insights into everyday prose who brought about the Newtonian Revolution almost a hundred years later when Edmond Halley’s prediction, based on Newton’s laws, of the return of a comet was confirmed.. One hundred years since Steiner began working on this book, it’s time for a Steinerian Revolution of thought and spiritual outlook.

To devote myself properly to the task of reviewing this book, I have broken it up into three reviews which will divide the book into three almost equal parts. This review is Review 3 (Work in Progress) in the list below. Reviews 1 (Completed) and 2 (Completed) are linked below.

Review 1: Chapters 1, 2, 3 — Nature of Humankind
Review 2: Chapter 4 — Evolution of the Cosmos and Humankind
Review 3: Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8 — Initiation, Future of Evolution, Misc. (this review)

This is a landmark book, written in 1909 by Rudolf Steiner who, in his Preface to the Fourth Edition, suggests that it really ought to be called “An Outline of the Supersensible World Conception.” (Page xxiv) I disagree strongly with those who would weaken the foundation of this fine work by giving it the name “An Outline of Esoteric Science” in a well-meaning effort to popularize Steiner’s books. Steiner cannot be any clearer than when he describes his choice of the word “occult” to describe the science he outlines within this book. He says that “Occult Science” is a science in which what was previously hidden from view or occult is revealed for all who read this book. He cannot be any clearer as to his choice of the word “occult” for the title of his book than in these two passages:

[page xiii] The fact that I have entitled this book Occult Science has immediately called forth misunderstandings. From many sides was heard, "What claims to be science must not be secret, occult." How little thought was exercised in making such an objection! As though someone who reveals a subject matter would want to be secretive about it. This entire book shows that it was not the intention to designate anything "occult," but to bring everything into a form that renders it as understandable as any science. Or do we not wish to say when we employ the term "natural science” that we are dealing with the knowledge of "nature"? Occult science is the science of what occurs occultly insofar as it is not perceived in external nature, but in that region toward which the soul turns when it directs its inner being toward the spirit.

[page 4] This work is intended for readers who will not permit their impartiality to be taken away from them just because a word may arouse prejudice through various circumstances.

In other words, if one is put off by the word occult in the title of the book, but overcomes that prejudice and reads the book, one thereby shows exactly the independence of thought that allows one to receive full benefit from the book. Those, on the other hand, who are put off by the word occult and read the book to find sustenance for their prejudices will find ample reason to criticize the book severely and will receive no other benefit from their reading whatsoever. They will have, in effect, stumbled over the raw Kimberley diamond and cursed the rock containing it!

Chapter V: Cognition of the Higher Worlds.

The end of Chapter 4 summarizes what we can expect in the remaining chapters of this book:

[page 254] At present, however, the dawn of the sixth post-Atlantean cultural period already proclaims itself. For what is to arise in human evolution at a certain time begins to ripen in the preceding age. What is already able to show its beginnings at present is the discovery of the link that unites the two impulses in the human breast: material culture and life in the world of the spirit. For this purpose it is necessary that the results of spiritual perception are comprehended, and also that the manifestations of the spirit are recognized in the observations and experiences of the sense world. The sixth cultural epoch will bring the harmony between these two impulses to complete development. With this, the considerations of this book have advanced to a point where they can pass over from a view of the past to one of the future. It is, however, better if this view is preceded by a consideration of the knowledge of the higher worlds and of initiation. Then we shall have an opportunity to present briefly this view of the future, as far as this is possible within the framework of this book.

Where do we go from here? We have been shown a means of understanding the nature of humankind. We have been shown a means of understanding the nature of the cosmos in which we exist. Now our guide, Rudolf Steiner, will systematically show us the means for understanding our means of understanding these amazing things. In short, he will show us that Imaginations alone would appear to us as writing does to a pre-literate savage, meaningless. Only with the addition of Inspirations can these Imaginations be formed into meaningful understanding of the spiritual beings these Imaginations reveal to us. And only with the addition of Intuition can we understand the inner nature of these beings themselves. But, let us start at the beginning, as Dorothy had to when she entered Oz. She was dazzled by spectacular sights and displays. Once she was able to pull back the curtain (Imagination), she could see the Wizard pulling the levers. Then she was able see that those spectacular displays were related to the movement of his levers (Inspiration), and only later was she able to understand what motivated the Wizard to do what he did (Intuition). Dorothy's trek into initiation was every bit as tortuous and fraught with horrors and dangers as the one each of us will take eventually as we proceed into our cognition of the Oz in which we find ourselves. And we complete our trip to the far reaches of Oz, we will find ourselves back home where we started. The A—N section of our lives will resemble what we found in the O—Z section of our filing cabinet called LIFE and the microcosm of Kansas will resemble the macrocosm of OZ(1). That is the adventure we come to in these final four chapters of Steiner tales of humankind's initiation into higher worlds — its visit to the Land of Oz and back while still in the flesh.

[page 256] — In the preceding descriptions some information has been given about higher worlds. In this chapter — as far as it is possible in this book — we shall deal with the means through which the state of consciousness necessary for this method of research is developed.
       This state of consciousness resembles sleep only in a certain respect, namely, through the fact that all outer sense activities cease with its appearance; also all thoughts are stilled that have been aroused through these sense-activities. Whereas in sleep the soul has no power to experience anything consciously, it is to receive this power from the indicated state of consciousness. Through it a perceptive faculty is awakened in the soul that in ordinary life is only aroused by the activation of the senses. The soul's awakening to such a higher state of consciousness may be called initiation.

Such initiation may come unbidden through "a sort of involuntary self-awakening", but Steiner warns us that we should not wait for such self-initiation, but should rather prepare ourselves through proper training. He gives us a thought to ponder about whether to embark on such training:

[page 258] "Wise spiritual guidance has given me certain faculties; it did not bestow them upon me to be left unused, but to be employed. The wisdom of this guidance consists in the fact that it has placed in me the germinal elements of a higher state of consciousness. I shall understand this guidance only when I feel it obligatory that everything be revealed to the human being that can be revealed through his spiritual powers."

This initiation can only be safely embarked upon by the willing participation of the disciple in this stage of human evolution. The guide can only give us, as Steiner does, the rules of conduct to achieve initiation or supersensible sight, and then we choose whether to carry them, in complete freedom. No one should be asked to follow any rules in blind faith. We are given the reasons for the various rules and can "understand correctly the way of working of these rules prior to their practice. But it can be experienced only during training."

He also warns us against the childish idea that having the gift of supersensible observation would make us like Superman with his X-Ray vision and we could use this super power in our everyday life. It would injurious to us to attempt to use supersensible observation in such a way.

[page 261, 262] The function of this observation is as much separated from ordinary functions of life as the state of waking is from that of sleeping. The one cannot disturb the other in the least. Whoever, for example, wishes to permeate the ordinary course of life with impressions of supersensible perception resembles an invalid whose sleep would be continually interrupted by injurious awakenings.

And he gives us a second caveat against expecting that some enhancement to our physical body would accompany the gift of supersensible sight. Any training which promises such changes "is not true spiritual training but its distortion."

[page 262] A second misunderstanding would arise were it believed that any soul function leading to supersensible knowledge might produce changes in the physical organism.

Our eyes were formed by the impinging of light upon our head causing an irritation which evolved into sensory organs for perceiving the impinging light. Steiner points out in several places that fishes in deep caves in Kentucky are found to have lost their eyes due to the prolonged absence of light. We have as human beings spiritual organs similar to our eyes which will be called into action by the impinging not of light, but of thoughts and visualizations upon them.

[page 263, 264] The best visualizations for this purpose are emblematic or symbolical. . . . The essential is not what is visualized; what is essential is that fact that the visualization, through the way it is visualized, liberates the soul from dependence on the physical.

My daughter painted an image of an angel hovering over a broken vase from which a living vine was springing. As I meditated on this painting, I came to notice that no sign of humus had spilled from the clay pot and yet a healthy vine was growing out of the dead clay of the pot. This visualized image had to be formed in her consciousness and not in the external world where such an image could not exist. I came to see this painting of hers offered the type of emblematic or symbolical image that Steiner was suggesting we meditate upon for developing supersensible sight. We need "a visualized image formed in the consciousness by an act of independent will" and then we shall "be able by degrees to attain the effect upon which everything depends." (Page 265)

Another form of meditation is illustrated by a person who finds joy in an idea independent of a process in the sensory world. A contemplating soul, Steiner tells us, may find joy in observing a kindness someone does out of goodness of heart, but there is another level of contemplation which transcends the observable deed that the soul may contemplate.

[page 270] It may perhaps think how kindness of heart arises by the one soul absorbing, so to speak, the interests of the other soul and making them its own, and it may now feel joy about this moral idea of kindness of heart. This is not the joy in this or that process in the sense world, but joy in an idea as such.

The methods of contemplation can vary from person to person, but the keys are tranquility, patience, and perseverance if one is to achieve the process of Imagination or imaginative cognition, "the first of the higher stages of knowledge." Imagination is usually thought of as any unreal imaginings, but it refers here to a soul faculty which arises for spiritual cognition.

[page 271] In spiritual science, however, "imaginative" cognition is to be conceived as something coming into existence through a supersensible state of consciousness of the soul.

[page 272, 273] The important point is that through concentration upon the visualization or picture in question the soul is compelled to draw forth much stronger powers from its own depth than it employs in every life or everyday cognition.

It is as thought Steiner were exhorting us: "Reach deep — for your stronger sword is deep within your scabbard." When we do this we reach a state in which we are released from our bodily nature as if in sleep, but one in which we remain completely conscious.

[page 273] Although this soul state may be compared with sleep in regard to the liberation from the body, yet it may be described as an enhanced waking state when compared with everyday waking consciousness. Through this the soul experiences itself in its true inner, independent nature, while in the everyday waking state it becomes conscious of itself only through the help of the body because of the weaker unfolding of its forces in that state, and does not, therefore, experience itself, but is only aware of the picture that, like a reflection, the body (or properly speaking its processes) sketches for it.

Then the soul undergoes two experiences, one of giving birth to a new ego and beholding it outside of itself as a woman who had just given birth would behold her child: a part which had been one with oneself is now separate.

[page 278] Two soul experiences are important in the process of spiritual training. Through the one, man may say to himself, "Although I now disregard all the impressions the outer physical world may offer, nevertheless, I do not look into myself as though at a being in whom all activity is extinguished, but I look at one who is conscious of himself in a world of which I know nothing as long as I only permit myself to be stimulated by sense impressions and the ordinary impressions of the intellect." At that moment the soul has the feeling that it has given birth . . . to a new being in itself as the kernel of its soul nature.

[page 278] The other experience consists in now having the old being like a second alongside the new. What, up to the present, the student knew as enclosing him becomes something that now confronts him, in a certain sense. He feels himself at times outside of what he had otherwise called his own being, his ego. It is as though he now lived in full consciousness in two egos. One of these is the being he has known up to the present. The other stands, like a being newly born, above it. . . . the human being [now] knows what it means to live in the world that he strives to reach through training.

These experiences lead one to the formation of the organs for perceiving the spiritual world which are the equivalent of the sensory organs we have for perceiving the sensory world.

Next Steiner summarizes five qualities of soul for which he gives exercises for developing in detail in his book, "Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment." An excellent study guide for developing these five soul qualities is "Enlivening the Chakra of the Heart" by Florin Lowndes.

[page 289] Thus we have named five capacities of the soul that the student must make his own by correct training:

       1. Control of the direction of thought;
       2. Control of the impulses of will;
       3. Calmness in joy and sorrow;
       4. Positiveness in judging the world;
       5. Impartiality in our attitude toward life.

About twenty years or so ago, long before I encountered Rudolf Steiner's works or thoughts, I came upon a thought that I embodied in an expression that I have since labeled for convenience the "limitation eraser." Some of you might say, "I never heard of the limitation eraser, up until now." And, if you said that, it would be a true statement and an excellent example of the application of the limitation eraser. Something that was true for you every time in the past is no longer true in the moment of the present. Each time you find yourself expressing a limitation of any sort, if you will pause before ending the statement of the limitation and append the words ", up until now" directly before the period, you will have executed the limitation eraser. The comma signals the pause during which you take a deep breath of relief and open the future to the possibility of change. I have been scoffed at by some people for using the limitation eraser, even by some who claim to be students of Rudolf Steiner. This has happened many times, up until now.

What I have discovered in this next passage points to Steiner's express recommendation that we use the limitation eraser in our lives as a means of developing the fifth soul capacity in the list above, "impartiality in our attitude toward life", an impartiality that is not biased to our own self-imposed limitations which we have carried over from the past past and which we would, if undeterred, carry over into the future, up until now. Note the almost exact usage of the limitation eraser by Steiner in the end of the last sentence of this next passage. Through the artifice of translation the words up until now are replaced by the semantically equivalent expression up to the present.

[page 288, 289] Thought linked with will undergoes a certain maturing if we permit ourselves never to be robbed by previous experiences of the unbiased receptivity for new experiences. For the student of the spiritual the following thought should entirely lose its meaning, "I have never heard that, I do not believe that." It should be his aim, during specific periods of time, to learn something new on every occasion from everything and everybody. From every breath of air, from every leaf, from the babbling of children one can learn something if one is prepared to bring to one's aid a certain point of view that one has not made use of up to the present.

Over the years that I have shared the limitation eraser with people I have heard all kinds of objections to its use. "You use it too much." "It sounds silly." And I have heard them misuse it in all sorts of ways. I have heard them say it as if it were a race car speeding past, "I-have-always-been-this-way-up-until-now." They never take a breath, nor do they change their feeling state. They end the sentence exactly as they started it. And then they add, "So what?" as if to say, "That silly thing doesn't work." Or they place the limitation eraser at the beginning of the sentence, "Up until now I have always been this way." What they miss is the tone and tempo of their words reveal the feeling state underlying the words. Or the lack of a feeling state underlying them, up until now. Used rightly, the limitation eraser will create a feeling of hope at the end of the direst statement of limitation. If you do not hear the change of tone or experience the change of feeling, it may be because you have applied it mechanically, up until now.

Steiner raises a key objection, "Should we disregard our past experiences?" and answers it, "No." When we state a limitation we are creating and sustaining a state of imbalance in us that the future will continue to be like the past. When we apply the limitation eraser, we are balancing the past limitation by a future in which that limitation has the possibility of no longer existing.

[page 289] It will, however, be easily possible in regard to such an ability to go wide of the mark. One should not in any way disregard, at any particular stage of life, one's previous experiences. One should judge what one experiences in the present by one's experiences of the past. This is placed upon one scale of a balance; upon the other, however, must be placed the inclination of the student continually to experience the new. Above all, there must be faith in the possibility that new experiences may contradict the old.

One quality of soul life, 3.Calmness in joy and sorrow, is one that is hard for many. I knew a woman whose husband had died and everywhere she walked in her house there was something that reminded her of him and she would be deeply sad and distraught. This went on for years after he died. Early one morning she called me on the Crisis Line about her son. She said she was afraid he was going to turn out like her husband and asked if I could help her. I asked her about her husband and she began sobbing. I attempted to get her to think of some time when she and her husband were having a good time together and she sobbed even harder. I had been studying about the processes of association and dissociation and how they operate in the human being. In an associated memory of a good time, you are inside of your skin in the memory and thus will have all the good feelings you had back then. In a dissociated memory, you will see yourself as a separate person and will feel neither the good nor bad feelings you experienced back then, but you may have strong feelings about the image in the present. What she was doing was apparently seeing herself having a good time with her husband in a dissociated memory and feeling bad because that was not happening in the moment. I decided to create an experience for her in which she would start off in her usual dissociated mode and move into a novel, for her, associated mode.

I asked her if she'd been to a park and seen a roller coaster. She had. "Will you imagine yourself sitting on a park bench and looking at the roller coaster climbing to the top of the first large hump?" She did. "As you look closer, can you see your husband sitting alone in the front row?" She could — she was in her favorite mode, dissociated. "Now the roller coaster is nearing the top and you suddenly feel your husband's arm over your shoulder and you realize that you're in the roller coaster next to him. He holds you tightly as the coaster begins to speed downhill. You feel the air rushing past your face, you hear the screams of folks behind you, and your body shakes with the rumbling of the car." I described the coaster ride to the end of the line. She was no longer sobbing, but was feeling good, having had, for the first time in her life an associated memory of a good time with her husband. I had her look around the room she was in and find something that reminded her of him, and told her, "All those things in your house that remind you of him can now become a source of good feelings as you remember the good times you had with him just as you did on the roller coaster."

Steiner recommends that for one to attain tranquility in soul life that one should observe one’s own affairs as though one were observing someone else. He is specifically describing the process of dissociation.

[page 291] — Whoever ... attempts to regulate his soul-life will also attain the possibility of self-observation through which he observes his own affairs with the same tranquility as if they were those of others. The ability to behold one's own experiences, one's own joys and sorrows as though they were the joys and sorrows of others is a good preparation for spiritual training. One gradually attains the necessary degree of this quality, if, after one has finished one's daily tasks, one permits the panorama of one's daily experiences to pass before the eyes of the spirit. One must see oneself in a picture within one's experiences; that is, one must observe oneself in one's daily life as though from outside.

The concept of sense-free thought or pure thought is extremely important to understanding the spiritual world. It informed Steiner's landmark book, "The Philosophy of Freedom" and he devoted much of the book to discussing a process of thought independent of the sensory world or its data. On page 100 of that book he wrote, "The highest level of individual life is conceptual thinking without reference to any definite perceptual content." If this were so important a concept, one might wonder why it has escaped the academic community, up until now. Steiner explains why it has been neglected — since Bacon's time in the fifteenth century, science has focused only on perceptual content from the sensory world. It was the idea which brought on the scientific revolution. It was necessary for our learning about the physical world in which we live, but having done so, it is now necessary for us to learn in as much detail, using the techniques of science developed since Bacon's time, about the spiritual world. We are taught grammar in grade school — it is necessary for us to understand our language — but a time comes when we must forget about grammar in order to express what fills our minds and thoughts clearly and precisely. Grammar is not a swamp to become mired down in, but rather a launching pad from which we may rise into flights of expression of the human spirit. It is time for humankind to graduate from the sense-grammar of grade school into the high school of sense-free thinking.

[page 294] The soul is usually not conscious of this connection because it is accustomed to developing the thought faculty only by employing it in the sense world. It therefore regards communications from the supersensible world as something incomprehensible.

In this next passage Steiner gives an example of both types of thinking for us. My words in brackets in the second examples highlight the parallelism of the two types of thinking.

[page 295] The observer of the sense world says to himself, "Outside in space there is a rose; it is not strange to me, for it makes itself known to me through its color and fragrance."

[page 295] [The observer of the sense-free thinking world says to himself,] "Something real proclaims its presence in me that binds thought to thought, fashioning a thought organism."

If I call your attention to an everyday object such as a bicycle, you can have sensory experience of the object either through your eyes or your memories of the object. If I call your attention to an Angel, however, you must draw up the image out of yourself as there is no sensory object upon which you or any other persons can rest your own images. All painters of Angels share with us personal images revealed to them during their painting process.

Here is Margarita Voloschin in "Reminiscences of Rudolf Steiner" describing her chagrin at the thought of having to paint an angel and archangel and what she learned during the process.

[page 145] "How can I paint an angel or an archangel, when I have never seen one?" I thought. "I don't know how they look." I wanted to have a clear vision before me, which I could then paint. It was a transfer of naturalism into another realm. I wished to confront the spiritual world with the same passive attitude which a naturalistic painter maintains towards nature. I was not conscious that the hierarchical beings, who are active within and around us, are able to reveal themselves just through the intuitive activity of painting.

So, sense-free thinking is only available to someone who surrenders to it, as Margarita learned to surrender to the Angels around her in order to paint them.

[page 296] The thoughts are, indeed, already present when one surrenders to them; but one cannot think them if one does not, in every case, re-create them anew within the soul. What is important is the fact that the spiritual researcher calls up thoughts in his listeners and readers that they must first draw forth out of themselves, while the one who describes sense reality points to something that may be observed by listeners and readers in the sense world.

What Steiner is pointing us to is the higher organs of perception within the human astral body which are developed during meditation using sense-free thinking. Like our eyes were developed by the light falling on the primitive nodes in our forehead which existed before the light began to fall on them. If back then we had hid ourselves in dark caves where no light penetrated, our eyes would never have formed. If today we hide ourselves in the spiritually dark caves of sensory-based thinking our spiritual organs of sight will likewise never develop.

When those spirituals organs do develop, we call the event "illumination" to distinguish from the usual process of sensory-based sight. To achieve this illumination we must exercise all the five qualities of soul life that Steiner lays out, and the fifth one is especially important, "impartiality in our attitude toward life".This impartiality means we must lay aside all of our expectations for what illumination will be like when it appears, or else our very expectations, which are necessarily tainted by our sense experiences will act as a poison which will keep out the spiritual world. Those expectations poison the astral body and keep away the higher beings which would else be working on it. Impatience with achieving illumination is one of the prominent astral poisons humans are prone to. Success will undoubtedly come as a "thief in the night" when one least expects it, and will not come bidden at some expected time. A farmer who was impatient with his seedlings took to going out each night and tugging on each of the seedlings to encourage them to grow quicker. All of his seedlings died as a result of his impatient acts.

[page 300] These exercises are, in truth, as it were, an end in themselves. These exercises are, in truth, work performed on the soul-spirit nature, that is to say, on the student's own astral body, and although he "sees nothing," he may "feel" that he is working on his soul-spirit nature. If, however, one forms a definite opinion right at the beginning of what one actually expects to "see," one will not have this feeling. Then one will consider as nothing what in truth is of immeasurable significance. But one should be subtly observant of everything one experiences during the exercises and that is so fundamentally different from all experiences in the sense world. One will then certainly notice that one's astral body, upon which one is working, is not a neutral substance, but that in it there lives a totally different world of which one knows nothing in one's life of the senses. Higher beings are working upon the astral body, just as the outer physical-sensory world works upon the physical body, and one encounters this higher life in one's own astral body if one does not close oneself to it.

This passage should make it clear that one cannot accept the judgments about the reality of spiritual beings from someone who has systematically closed themselves off from that reality by their sensory-based mode of thinking and expectations. In other words, those people who expect something, miss the all-important nothing. They instead consider what arises as nothing. To paraphrase the idiom, if you expect opportunity to knock, you'll miss the opportunity which simply shows up at your door and waits for you to welcome it in.

When these organs of spiritual sight open up, they appear to someone with spiritual sight as moving swirling circular patterns which historically have been likened to lotus blossoms. These lotus blossoms seem to be aligned with various organs of the body and each blossom has the appearance of having a different number of petals. At no point should one imagine the lotus blossom or chakra structure to be a real structure in the sensory world — instead one should hold the lotus blossom to be a metaphor, a known thing in the sensory world which helps to convey to us an impression of an unknown thing in the supersensible world. The listing of the chakras or lotus blossom structures are given in many places, but Steiner gives us a brief tutorial of some of them.

[page 302] The psycho-spiritual organs, the lotus flowers, are fashioned so as to appear to supersensible consciousness, in the student undergoing training, as though located in the neighborhood of certain organs of the physical body. From among these soul organs the following will be mentioned here. First, the one that is felt between the eyebrows — the two-petaled lotus flower; the one in the neighborhood of the larynx — the sixteen-petaled lotus flower; a third in the heart region — the twelve-petaled lotus flower; a fourth in the region of the solar plexus. Other similar organs appear in the neighborhood of other parts of the physical body. . . . One becomes conscious of the lotus flower through the astral body. The moment one has developed one or another of these organs, one is aware of its existence. One feels that one can employ it and through its use really enter into a higher world.

The philosopher William James was giving a speech when he scoffed at the idea that the Earth was sitting on the back of an elephant. After his talk, a sweet old lady came up to him and said, "Surely, Professor James, you were joking when you said that the Earth was not supported by the back of an elephant!" "Well, my dear lady, if that were true, what would the elephant be standing on?" "On the back of a turtle, of course," came her curt reply. "And what then might the turtle be standing on?" "Oh, Professor James, you know it's turtle all the way down!" This story came to mind when I read this next passage about what happens in the world of Imagination, the first world one sees into with supersensible sight. One observes a continual transformation of one thing into another, or to paraphrase the lady, "It's transformation all the way down!" We see one thing born and then it dies and another thing is born. It's as if we were children and an adult were running a test on us by moving our favorite red ball behind a box and we believed the ball had disappeared. Very young children stop looking for an object when it disappears from sight. They consider it gone not merely moved from their line of sight. We act that way towards birth and death essentially if all we have are our physical organs of sight, our eyes. A loved one is visible to us one day, and not the next.

[page 303] Certain phenomena in the physical world appear quite different in the imaginative world. In the former can be observed a continual growth and decay of things, an alternation of birth and death. In the imaginative world a continual transformation of one thing into another takes the place of these phenomena. One sees, for example, the decay of a plant in the physical world. In the imaginative world, in proportion to the withering of the plant the growth of another formation makes its appearance that is not perceptible physically and into which the decaying plant is gradually transformed. When the plant has disappeared, this formation stands completely developed in its place. Birth and death are ideas that lose their significance in the imaginative world. In their place appears the concept of transformation of one thing into another.

The imaginative world or the world of Imagination permits us to view the spiritual world as a child of two might look in his father's books, but there is another world, the world of Inspiration, which allows us to actually read the words contained in the books.

[page 306] Therefore observation is the world of inspiration may only be compared with reading; and the beings in the world of inspiration act upon the observer like the letters of an alphabet, which he must learn to know and the interrelationships of which must unfold themselves to him like a supersensible script. Spiritual science, therefore, may call cognition through inspiration — speaking figuratively — the reading of secret or occult script.

[page 307] Without cognition through inspiration the imaginative world would remain like writing at which we stare but which we cannot read.

When one learns to read in this fashion, one begins, for the first time, to see that a plant before fructification is like the entire Earth was during the Old Sun stage of its evolution and after fructification like the Earth during the Old Moon stage. The astral glow that forms around the plant prior during the process of fructification is the direct result of a gift of astrality bestowed upon the entire Earth when it was still bond up with the Moon during the Old Moon stage. In other words, learning to read in this fashion allows us to see in the microcosm of the plant the macrocosm of the evolution of the cosmos itself in which minerals, plants, animals, humans, the Earth, and all higher beings exist at this moment. It is what Steiner hints at in this next passage which can be inscrutable because of its use of present tense to refer to previously read chapters of this book:

[page 306] How we may read by means of this occult script, and how we may communicate what is read, will now be made clear by means of the preceding chapters of this book itself.

In other words, only by having read how all of the macrocosm evolved can one now begin to understand how to read the occult script which is written into such mundane events as the blooming and fructification of a plant. It has an Old Sun nature before its fruit forms and an Old Moon nature afterwards. And this can be read in every blossoming and fruiting plant. And, most importantly, for you and me, it can be read in every human being.

[page 309] — This study gives us the key to the comprehension of human life. Therefore, in the sense of spiritual science, observation of Saturn, Sun, and Moon is at the same time observation of man.

The third and final level of spiritual knowledge to be developed is that of Intuition.

[page 309, 310] Through inspiration one acquires the knowledge of the relationships between the beings of the higher world. It is possible through a higher stage of cognition to understand the inner nature of these begins themselves. This stage of cognition may be designated intuitive cognition. . . . To have knowledge of a spiritual being through intuition means to have become completely one with it, to have become united with its inner nature.

The process of Imagination or imaginative cognition can us take into the states directly after death and Inspiration can take us through the purification process in our further progess during our time between death and a new birth, but only Intuition can take us further so that we may follow the innermost spirit of a human being from lifetime to lifetime.

[page 311] Whoever wished to fathom the nature of man by means of imagination and inspiration alone, would miss the innermost processes of his being that take place from incarnation to incarnation. Only intuitive cognition, therefore, makes possible an adequate research into repeated earth lives and into karma.

The biblical injunction, "Judge not lest you be judged." leaves out exactly why one should not wish to be judged in the first place. What is the process involved in judging that would make one wish not to be judged. On pages 315, 316 Steiner lays out the argument which I can summarize this way:

Judge me not, lest you lose all chance of understanding me and, through understanding me, coming to understand yourself.

Note that this does not preclude disapproval — it requires an equanimity and equilibrium of soul powers, a quality of reverence and devotion. It is a quality that must be developed in one’s childhood — a quality that parents who are buddies with their small children lose an excellent chance to instil in them merely by their presence.

[page 316, 317] The person who in childhood or youth has been able to look up with self-surrendering admiration to personalities as though to high ideals, possesses something at the foundation of his soul in which supersensible cognition thrives especially well. . . . Only where such reverence is present can the view into the higher world open up. The person who is unable to revere will in no way advance very far in his knowledge.

What about the person who allows himself to be misled by those he reveres so much he is blind to their faults? Steiner says such a person "sins against the law of equanimity and equilibrium." He must continue to work until he becomes more mature and begins to have faith in himself. (Page 317)

[page317] If he achieves correct feelings in this direction he may say to himself, "In me there lie hidden forces and I can draw them forth from my inner being. Therefore when I see something that I must revere because it stands above me, I need not only revere it, but I may hope to develop myself to such a degree that I become similar to what I revere."

If we pay attention to the deeds we perform and those we leave unperformed, we may often discover that what we did not do would have had some evil result if we had done it. We will learn to keep ourselves open to healthy premonitions and will learn not to accept without question our present capabilities of judgment. We will learn to keep ourselves open to healthy premonitions, and will learn not to accept without question our present capabilities of judgment. (Pages 318, 319)

[page 319] Students of the spirit will always foster this attitude of soul. Through this they are led to work on themselves, to make themselves more and more mature, and to renounce the desire to force answers to certain questions. They will wait until such answers come to them.

In my youth I grew up in an area where we caught and ate lots of different shellfish, crabs, crawfish, and shrimp especially. It always fascinated me to see how some large crabs would be full of meat in their shells and equally large crabs would be almost empty of meat. I discovered that the ones empty of meat were those who had just moved out of their old cramped shell into a large and more spacious shell, as we might move into a large home and take some time to fill up the empty rooms. The crab must back out of its hard shell, unable to simply split it the way a snake sheds its old skin. Once out of the old shell, the crab is very soft and can be cooked and eaten in one piece, shell and all. My Cajun ancestors learned how to catch and cook these soft-shell crabs by placing tree branches into water to provide shelter for the vulnerable crabs and were thus able to harvest them for food.

A similar process occurs when we wish to move from Imagination to Inspiration to Intuition, we must back out of sensory perceptions to grow into Imagination. We must back out of the imaginative perceptions to grow in Inspiration, and back out of all inner and outer experiences to grow in Intuition.

[page 320, 321] Through intuition man's impressions are stripped of the last trace of the sensory-physical; the spiritual world now begins to open itself to cognition in a form that no longer has anything in common with the qualities of the physical world of the senses.

In the physical-sensory world, the ego coordinates the three soul-forces of thinking, feeling, and willing, but during supersensible perception, these three soul-forces "become three independent entities, three personalities, as it were; one must now make one's ego all the stronger, for it is not merely a matter of its bringing three forces into order, but of leading and directing three entities."

[page 326] The entire cosmos then appears as a thought-structure confronting man as does the plant or animal world in the realm of the physical senses. Likewise, feeling and willing that have become independent stimulate two forces in the soul that act in it like independent beings. Still another seventh power and being appears that is similar to one's own ego itself.

In the physical world, we talk metaphorically about our projections. Someone does something we don't like and we discover the reason we don't like it is because it is something we have been doing, out of our awareness, to others. That's an example of a projection of our own processes on another person and how we react to them. But the change in the world due to our projection is only at the level of meaning, the person otherwise looks exactly the same to us. But in the supersensible world, our own projections become a veil which we spread over supersensible beings and this veil changes dramatically the way they appear to us: our projections become reality to us. Steiner says for a man entering the supersensible world, "It is necessary that he learn to eliminate all the effects of himself upon his soul-spirit environment. This cannot be done otherwise than by acquiring a knowledge of what he carries into the new world." Thus, we come to understand better the reason for one of the caveats placed over the Temple of Apollo, "Know Thyself". If there are things that we have turned away from knowing about ourselves, we will eventually confront those things outside of us in a being called the Doppelgänger.

The appearance of this being who acts as the lesser Guardian of the Threshold can be quite devastating to a man unless he has prepared himself by a study of karma, of luciferic beings and spiritual science in general.

[page 331] If he has first comprehended the law of karma properly in the physical world through his intellect, he will not be especially shaken when he now sees the beginnings of his destiny engraved in the image of his Doppelgänger. If man has made himself acquainted through his power of judgment with the evolution of the cosmos and mankind and knows how, at a certain point of time of this evolution, the forces of Lucifer have penetrated into the human soul, he will bear it without difficulty when he becomes aware that the Luciferic beings with all their effects are contained within the image of his own nature. — We see from this how necessary it is that man does not demand entry into the spiritual world before he has understood, through his ordinary power of judgment developed in the physical-sensory world, certain truths about the spiritual world. The knowledge given in this prior to the discussion about "Cognition of the Higher Worlds" should have been acquired by the student of spiritual science by means of his ordinary power of thought in the regular course of development, before he has the desire himself to enter into supersensible worlds.

Through this training we learn to recognize ourselves in the image of our own Doppelgänger and can thus exclude its contribution to what we would else perceive as facts. Anyone unsure about how to go about removing sources of delusion or auto-suggestion admits thereby a lack of spiritual training. “How does one become sure?” you might ask.

[page 336] In the first place, in preparing himself the true spiritual science student will acquire sufficient knowledge about what may cause delusion and autosuggestion, and thus be in a position to protect himself from them. He has, in this regard, more opportunity than any other human being to make himself prudent and capable in judgment on the path of life. Everything that he experiences causes him to disregard indefinite premonitions and suggestions. This training makes him as careful as possible. Besides this, all correct training leads first to concepts about great cosmic events, and thus to things that make necessary the exertion of sound judgment, which becomes, at the same time, more refined and acute. Only someone who might refuse to go into such distant realms and preferred to abide with "revelations" of a world near at hand might lose the strengthening of that sound judgment that gives him certainty in distinguishing between delusion and reality.

The most important part of the training is the progression through the shells of Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition in an orderly fashion, removing oneself entirely from the previous shell before moving into the next shell. At the final stage, "the student of spiritual science now removes even his own soul activity from his consciousness."

[page 337] If now anything remains in his consciousness, nothing is attached to it that cannot be surveyed. Nothing can intermingle with it that is not to be judged in regard to its whole content. In intuition, the student of spiritual science has thus a criterion enabling him to recognize how a clear reality of the world of soul and spirit is constituted. If he now applies the signs of soul and spirit-reality thus recognized to everything that comes under his observation, he is able to distinguish between illusion and reality. He may be certain that by employing this law he will remain protected from illusion in the supersensible world just as it cannot happen to him in the physical-sensory world to mistake an imaginary piece of hot iron for one that really burns.

At some point the student of spiritual science will meet with and do battle with the Doppelgänger, the "guardian of the threshold," which will "constantly strive for supremacy." It occurs to me that this fight for supremacy among equals is one that one would do best to practice with one's spouse in preparation for the later meeting of one's Doppelgänger. This requires that one select a spouse who is an equal partner and with whom one can fight out ideas as equals.

[page 338, 339] To establish the right relationship to this Doppelgänger and not permit him to do anything that is not under the influence of the new-born ego strengthens and fortifies man's powers. . . . He presents himself as an image of all the hindrances that the development of the higher self must encounter.

Why is it so important that we be prepared for meeting the guardian of the threshold? The answer to this question can help to explain the origin of horror movies. Their popularity can be credited to the large number of people extant in the world today who will be encountering their own Doppelgänger without adequate protection.

[page 341] — If, because of incorrect spiritual training, a person were to enter upon this experience unprepared, then, in the encounter with the “greater guardian of the threshold,” something would pour into his soul that only can be compared to the “feeling of immeasurable horror,” of “boundless fear.”

"Man is fashioned from the entire surrounding world, and every part of him corresponds to a process or being of the outer world," Steiner tells us on page 343 after having written the entire first part of this book to describe how that is so. Now we reach the end of this chapter on "Cognition of the Higher Worlds" and he outlines the stage of higher knowledge in the order of the process of initiation he gave us:

       I. Study of spiritual science, in which one employs one's power of judgment gained in the physical-sensory world.
       II. Acquiring imaginative knowledge.
       III. Reading the occult script — corresponding to inspiration.
       IV. Living into the spiritual environment — corresponding to intuition.
       V. Knowledge of the relationships between the microcosm and the macrocosm.
       VI. Union with the macrocosm.
       VII. Total experience of all previous experiences as a fundamental mood of the soul.

One further caveat, the path one travels to the spiritual world changes as the human being changes and evolves over time. Steiner's spiritual science gives one steps that are appropriate to human beings during this time and it would be harmful for one to use initiation processes from earlier times of human history, whether it be ancient India, China, Persia or Egypt.

[page 346] If the human being wishes to tread the path to the spiritual world he cannot at present begin at the same starting point as, for example, the would-be initiate of ancient Egypt. Therefore, the exercises that were imposed upon the student of the spiritual of ancient Egypt cannot be carried out by the modern man without modification. Since that time, human souls have passed through various incarnations, and this advance from incarnation to incarnation is not without meaning and significance. The faculties and qualities of souls alter from incarnation to incarnation.

One of the faculties of souls that has altered in our present time is that human beings are now capable of achieving initiation or illumination without the need for an external agent or hierophant. The secrets of initiation held sacred and hidden from the public for ages through which it would have been dangerous to make them publicly known may now be revealed to all who are interested. Those secrets were known by various names, occult secrets, esoteric secrets, mystery school secrets, and have been transformed by Rudolf Steiner through this one masterful book into a science, and thus the name, "An Outline of Occult Science", now also published under the sanitized title, "An Outline of Esoteric Science."

Remaining Chapters to Follow Soon

Chapter VI: The Present and Future of Cosmic and Human Evolution

Chapter VII: Details from the Realm of Spiritual Science

Chapter VIII: Special Comments

---------------------------- Footnotes -----------------------------------------

Footnote 1.

I have read somewhere that Frank Baum while writing the story for his first book about Dorothy’s adventures in a strange land needed a name for that land. He looked over to his filing cabinet and noticed a tag on a drawer marked O-Z and chose OZ as the name. Thus the book came to be called, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Return to text directly before Footnote 1.


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