The Technique of Karma @ Rudolf Steiner Archives

Music of Spheres painting ~ artist Helga Helleborus @ DeviantArt


The greatest virtuoso can do nothing unless he has an instrument



Theosophy of the Rosicrucian
The Technique of Karma


People are apt to say of a gifted man that he must be the offspring of a gifted family, that he must have inherited his talents from his forefathers. When we observe the physical processes from the occult standpoint we know that it is not like this. We can, however, in a certain sense speak of processes of physical heredity, and we will take an example.

Within a period of 250 years, twenty-nine musicians were born in the Bach family, among them the great Bach. A good musician needs not only the inner musical faculty but also a well-formed physical ear, a special form of ear. Laymen cannot perceive the differences here; it is necessary to look very deeply, with occult powers. Although the differences are very slight, a particular inner form of the organ of hearing is necessary if a man is to become a musician, and these forms are transmitted by heredity they resemble those which have been present in the father, grandfather and so on.

Suppose that on the astral plane there is an individual who acquired great musical faculties hundreds or thousands of years ago; he is ready for reincarnation and is seeking a physical body. If he cannot find a physical body possessing suitable ears, he cannot be a musician. He must look around for a family which will provide the musical ear; without it his musical talents could not manifest, for the greatest virtuoso can do nothing unless he has an instrument.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 99 – Theosophy of the Rosicrucian: VII: The Technique of Karma – Munich, 31st May, 1907

Translated by M. Cotterell & D.S. Osmond


Gratitude to all artists. Any queries or information, please contact me, Shekinah

The Sun and the Heart ~ Rudolf Steiner

photo heart

unknown source


The Sun and the Heart

Sun, thou bearer of rays,
Thy light’s power over matter
Magics life out of the earth’s
Limitless rich depths.

Heart, thou bearer of soul,
Thy light’s power over spirit
Magics life out of the human being’s
Limitless deep inwardness.

If I gaze upon the Sun
Her light speaks to me in radiance
Of the Spirit, filled with grace,
Wielding through the beings of worlds.

If I feel within my heart
The Spirit speaks its own true word
About the human being, loved by him
Through all time and eternity.

Looking upwards, I can see
In the Sun’s bright disc
The mighty heart of worlds.

Looking inwards, I can feel
In the heart’s warm beat
The human Sun ensouled.


Knowledge of the Higher Worlds II The Stages of Initiation ~ Rudolf Steiner Archives

initiation unfoldment initiation ancient egypt 6

ART : Iona Miller


Knowledge of the Higher Worlds


The Stages of Initiation

The information given in the following chapters constitutes steps in an esoteric training, the name and character of which will be understood by all who apply this information in the right way. It refers to the three stages through which the training of the spiritual life leads to a certain degree of initiation. But only so much will here be explained as can be publicly imparted. These are merely indications extracted from a still deeper and more intimate doctrine. In esoteric training itself a quite definite course of instruction is followed. Certain exercises enable the soul to attain to a conscious intercourse with the spiritual world. These exercises bear about the same relation to what will be imparted in the following pages, as the instruction given in a higher strictly disciplined school bears to the incidental training. But impatient dabbling, devoid of earnest perseverance, can lead to nothing at all. The study of Spiritual Science can only be successful if the student retain what has already been indicated in the preceding chapter, and on the basis of this proceed further.

The three stages which the above-mentioned tradition specifies, are as follows: (1) preparation; (2) enlightenment; (3) initiation. It is not altogether necessary that the first of these three stages should be completed before the second can be begun, nor that the second, in turn, be completed before the third be started. In certain respects it is possible to partake of enlightenment, and even of initiation, and in other respects still be in the preparatory stage. Yet it will be necessary to spend a certain time in the stage of preparation before any enlightenment can begin; and, at least in some respects, enlightenment must be completed before it is even possible to enter upon the stage of initiation. But in describing them it is necessary, for the sake of clarity, that the three stages be made to follow in order.


Preparation consists in a strict and definite cultivation of the life of thought and feeling, through which the psycho-spiritual body becomes equipped with higher senses and organs of activity in the same way that natural forces have fitted the physical body with organs built out of indeterminate living matter.

To begin with, the attention of the soul is directed to certain events in the world that surrounds us. Such events are, on the one hand, life that is budding, growing, and flourishing, and on the other hand, all phenomena connected with fading, decaying, and withering. The student can observe these events simultaneously, wherever he turns his eyes and on every occasion they naturally evoke in him feelings and thoughts; but in ordinary circumstances he does not devote himself sufficiently to them. He hurries on too quickly from impression to impression. It is necessary, therefore, that he should fix his attention intently and consciously upon these phenomena. Wherever he observes a definite kind of blooming and flourishing, he must banish everything else from his soul, and entirely surrender himself, for a short time, to this one impression. He will soon convince himself that a feeling which heretofore in a similar case, would merely have flitted through his soul, now swells out and assumes a powerful and energetic form. He must now allow this feeling to reverberate quietly within himself while keeping inwardly quite still. He must cut himself off from the outer world, and simply and solely follow what his soul tells him of this blossoming and flourishing.

Yet it must not be thought that much progress can be made if the senses are blunted to the world. First look at the things as keenly and as intently as you possibly can; then only let the feeling which expands to life, and the thought which arises in the soul, take possession of you. The point is that the attention should be directed with perfect inner balance upon both phenomena. If the necessary tranquility be attained and you surrender yourself to the feeling which expands to life in the soul, then, in due time, the following experience will ensue. Thoughts and feelings of a new kind and unknown before will be noticed uprising in the soul. Indeed, the more often the attention be fixed alternately upon something growing, blossoming and flourishing, and upon something else that is fading and decaying, the more vivid will these feelings become. And just as the eyes and ears of the physical body are built by natural forces out of living matter, so will the organs of clairvoyance build themselves out of the feelings and thoughts thus evoked. A quite definite form of feeling is connected with growth and expansion, and another equally definite with all that is fading and decaying. But this is only the case if the effort be made to cultivate these feelings in the way indicated. It is possible to describe approximately what these feelings are like. A full conception of them is within the reach of all who undergo these inner experiences.

If the attention be frequently fixed on the phenomena of growing, blooming and flourishing, a feeling remotely allied to the sensation of a sunrise will ensue, while the phenomena of fading and decaying will produce an experience comparable, in the same way, to the slow rising of the moon on the horizon. Both these feelings are forces which, when duly cultivated and developed to ever increasing intensity, lead to the most significant spiritual results. A new world is opened to the student if he systematically and deliberately surrenders himself to such feelings. The soul-world, the so-called astral plane, begins to dawn upon him. Growth and decay are no longer facts which make indefinite impressions on him as of old, but rather they form themselves into spiritual lines and figures of which he had previously suspected nothing. And these lines and figures have, for the different phenomena, different forms. A blooming flower, an animal in the process of growth, a tree that is decaying, evoke in his soul different lines. The soul world (astral plane) broadens out slowly before him. These lines and figures are in no sense arbitrary. Two students who have reached the corresponding stage of development will always see the same lines and figures under the same conditions. Just as a round table will be seen as round by two normal persons, and not as round by one and square by the other, so too, at the sight of a flower, the same spiritual figure is presented to the soul. And just as the forms of animals and plants are described in ordinary natural history, so too, the spiritual scientist describes or draws the spiritual forms of the process of growth and decay, according to species and kind.

If the student has progressed so far that he can perceive the spiritual forms of those phenomena which are physically visible to his external sight, he is then not far from the stage where he will behold things which have no physical existence, and which therefore remain entirely hidden (occult) from those who have not received suitable instruction and training.

It should be emphasized that the student must never lose himself in speculations on the meaning of one thing or another. Such intellectualizing will only draw him away from the right road. He should look out on the world with keen, healthy senses and quickened power of observation, and then give himself up to the feeling that arises within him. He should not try to make out, through intellectual speculation, the meaning of things, but rather allow the things to disclose themselves. It should be remarked that artistic feeling, when coupled with a quiet introspective nature, forms the best preliminary condition for the development of spiritual faculties. This feeling pierces through the superficial aspect of things, and in so doing touches their secrets.

A further point of importance is what spiritual science calls orientation in the higher worlds. This is attained when the student is permeated, through and through, with the conscious realization that feelings and thoughts are just as much veritable realities as are tables and chairs in the world of the physical senses. In the soul and thought world, feelings and thoughts react upon each other just as do physical objects in the physical world. As long as the student is not vividly permeated with this consciousness, he will not believe that a wrong thought in his mind may have as devastating an effect upon other thoughts that spread life in the thought world as the effect wrought by a bullet fired at random upon the physical objects it hits. He will perhaps never allow himself to perform a physically visible action which he considers to be wrong, though he will not shrink from harboring wrong thoughts and feelings, for these appear harmless to the rest of the world. There can be no progress, however, on the path to higher knowledge unless we guard our thoughts and feelings in just the same way we guard out steps in the physical world. If we see a wall before us, we do not attempt to dash right through it, but turn aside. In other words, we guide ourselves by the laws of the physical world. There are such laws, too, for the soul and thought world, only they cannot impose themselves on us from without. They must flow out of the life of the soul itself. This can be attained if we forbid ourselves to harbor wrong thoughts and feelings. All arbitrary flitting to and fro in thought, all accidental ebbing and flowing of emotion must be forbidden in the same way. In so doing we do not become deficient in feeling. On the contrary, if we regulate our inner life in this way, we shall soon find ourselves becoming rich in feelings and creative with genuine imagination. In the place of petty emotionalism and capricious flights of thought, there appear significant emotions and thoughts that are fruitful. Feelings and thoughts of this kind lead the student to orientation in the spiritual world. He gains a right position in relation to the things of the spiritual world; a distinct and definite result comes into effect in his favor. Just as he, as a physical man, finds his way among physical things, so, too, his path now leads him between growth and decay, which he has already come to know in the way described above. On the one hand, he follows all processes of growing and flourishing and, on the other, of withering and decaying in a way that is necessary for his own and the world’s advancement.

The student has also to bestow a further care on the world of sound. He must discriminate between sounds that are produced by the so-called inert (lifeless) bodies, for instance, a bell, or a musical instrument, or a falling mass, and those which proceed from a living creature (an animal or a human being.) When a bell is struck, we hear the sound and connect a pleasant feeling with it; but when we hear the cry of an animal, we can, besides our own feeling, detect through it the manifestation of an inward experience of the animal, whether of pleasure or pain. It is with the latter kind of sound that the student sets to work. He must concentrate his whole attention on the fact that the sound tells him of something that lies outside his own soul. He must immerse himself in this foreign thing. He must closely unite his own feeling with the pleasure or pain of which the sound tells him. He must get beyond the point of caring whether, for him, the sound is pleasant or unpleasant, agreeable or disagreeable, and his soul must be filled with whatever is occurring in the being from which the sound proceeds. Through such exercises, if systematically and deliberately performed, the student will develop within himself the faculty of intermingling, as it were, with the being from which the sound proceeds. A person sensitive to music will find it easier than one who is unmusical to cultivate his inner life in this way; but no one should suppose that a mere sense for music can take the place of this inner activity. The student must learn to feel in this way in the face of the whole of nature. This implants a new faculty in his world of thought and feeling. Through her resounding tones, the whole of nature begins to whisper her secrets to the student. What was hitherto merely incomprehensible noise to his soul becomes by this means a coherent language of nature. And whereas hitherto he only heard sound from the so-called inanimate objects, he now is aware of a new language of the soul. Should he advance further in this inner culture, he will soon learn that he can hear what hitherto he did not even surmise. He begins to hear with the soul.

To this, one thing more must be added before the highest point in this region can be attained. Of very great importance for the development of the student is the way in which he listens to others when they speak. He must accustom himself to do this in such a way that, while listening, his inner self is absolutely silent. If someone expresses an opinion and another listens, assent or dissent will, generally speaking, stir in the inner self of the listener. Many people in such cases feel themselves impelled to an expression of their assent, or more especially, of their dissent. In the student, all such assent or dissent must be silenced. It is not imperative that he should suddenly alter his way of living by trying to attain at all times to this complete inner silence. He will have to begin by doing so in special cases, deliberately selected by himself. Then quite slowly and by degrees, this new way of listening will creep into his habits, as of itself. In spiritual research this is systematically practiced. The student feels it his duty to listen, by way of practice, at certain times to the most contradictory views and, at the same time, bring entirely to silence all assent, and more especially, all adverse criticism. The point is that in so doing, not only all purely intellectual judgment be silenced, but also all feelings of displeasure, denial, or even assent. The student must at all times be particularly watchful lest such feelings, even when not on the surface, should still lurk in the innermost recess of the soul. He must listen, for example, to the statements of people who are, in some respects, far beneath him, and yet while doing so suppress every feeling of greater knowledge or superiority. It is useful for everyone to listen in this way to children, for even the wisest can learn incalculably much from children. The student can thus train himself to listen to the words of others quite selflessly, completely shutting down his own person and his opinions and way of feeling. When he practices listening without criticism, even when a completely contradictory opinion is advanced, when the most hopeless mistake is committed before him, he then learns, little by little, to blend himself with the being of another and become identified with it. Then he hears through the words into the soul of the other. Through continued exercise of this kind, sound becomes the right medium for the perception of soul and spirit. Of course it implies the very strictest self-discipline, but the latter leads to a high goal. When these exercises are practiced in connection with the other already given, dealing with the sounds of nature, the soul develops a new sense of hearing. She is now able to perceive manifestations from the spiritual world which do not find their expression in sounds perceptible to the physical ear. The perception of the “inner word” awakens. Gradually truths reveal themselves to the student from the spiritual world. He hears speech uttered to him in a spiritual way. Only to those who, by selfless listening, train themselves to be really receptive from within, in stillness, unmoved by personal opinion or feeling only to such can the higher beings speak of whom spiritual science tells. As long as one hurls any personal opinion or feeling against the speaker to whom one must listen, the beings of the spiritual world remain silent.

All higher truths are attained through such inwardly instilled speech, and what we hear from the lips of a true spiritual teacher has been experienced by him in this manner. But this does not mean that it is unimportant for us to acquaint ourselves with the writings of spiritual science before we can ourselves hear such inwardly instilled speech. On the contrary, the reading of such writings and the listening to the teachings of spiritual science are themselves means of attaining personal knowledge. Every sentence of spiritual science we hear is of a nature to direct the mind to the point which must be reached before the soul can experience real progress. To the practice of all that has here been indicated must be added the ardent study of what the spiritual researchers impart to the world. In all esoteric training such study belongs to the preparatory period, and all other methods will prove ineffective if due receptivity for the teachings of the spiritual researcher is lacking. For since these instructions are culled from the living inner word, from the living inwardly instilled speech, they are themselves gifted with spiritual life. They are not mere words; they are living powers. And while you follow the words of one who knows, while you read a book that springs from real inner experience, powers are at work in your soul which make you clairvoyant, just as natural forces have created out of living matter your eyes and your ears.


Enlightenment proceeds from very simple processes. Here, too, it is a matter of developing certain feelings and thoughts which slumber in every human being and must be awakened. It is only when these simple processes are carried out with unfailing patience, continuously and conscientiously, that they can lead to the perception of the inner light-forms. The first step is taken by observing different natural objects in a particular way; for instance, a transparent and beautifully formed stone (a crystal), a plant, and an animal. The student should endeavor, at first, to direct his whole attention to a comparison of the stone with the animal in the following manner. The thoughts here mentioned should pass through his soul accompanied by vivid feelings, and no other thought, no other feeling, must mingle with them and disturb what should be an intensely attentive observation. The student says to himself: “The stone has a form; the animal also has a form. The stone remains motionless in its place. The animal changes its place. It is instinct (desire) which causes the animal to change its place. Instincts, too, are served by the form of the animal. Its organs and limbs are fashioned in accordance with these instincts. The form of the stone is not fashioned in accordance with desires, but in accordance with desireless force.” (The fact here mentioned, in its bearing on the contemplation of crystals, is in many ways distorted by those who have only heard of it in an outward, exoteric manner, and in this way such practices as crystal-gazing have their origin Such manipulations are based on a misunderstanding. They have been described in many books, but they never form the subject of genuine esoteric teaching.)

By sinking deeply into such thoughts, and while doing so, observing the stone and the animal with rapt attention, there arise in the soul two quite separate kinds of feelings. From the stone there flows into the soul the one kind of feeling, and from the animal the other kind. The attempt will probably not succeed at first, but little by little, with genuine and patient practice, these feelings ensue. Only, this exercise must be practiced over and over again. At first the feelings are only present as long as the observation lasts. Later on they continue, and then they grow to something which remains living in the soul. The student has then but to reflect, and both feelings will always arise, even without the contemplation of an external object. Out of these feelings and the thoughts that are bound up with them, the organs of clairvoyance are formed. If the plant should then be included in this observation, it will be noticed that the feeling flowing from it lies between the feelings derived from the stone and the animal, in both quality and degree. The organs thus formed are spiritual eyes. The students gradually learns, by their means, to see something like soul and spirit colors. The spiritual world with its lines and figures remains dark as long as he has only attained what has been described as preparation; through enlightenment this world becomes light. Here it must also be noted that the words “dark” and “light,” as well as the other expressions used, only approximately describe what is meant. This cannot be otherwise if ordinary language is used, for this language was created to suit physical conditions. Spiritual science describes that which, for clairvoyant organs, flows from the stone, as blue, or blue-red; and that which is felt as coming from the animal as red or red-yellow. In reality, colors of a spiritual kind are seen. The color proceeding the plant is green which little by little turns into a light ethereal pink. The plant is actually that product of nature which in higher worlds resembles, in certain respects, its constitution in the physical world. The same does not apply to the stone and the animal. It must now be clearly understood that the above-mentioned colors only represent the principal shades in the stone, plant and animal kingdom. In reality, all possible intermediate shades are present. Every stone, every plant, every animal has its own particular shade of color. In addition to these there are also the beings of the higher worlds who never incarnate physically, but who have their colors, often wonderful, often horrible. Indeed, the wealth of color in these higher worlds is immeasurably greater than in the physical world.

Once the faculty of seeing with spiritual eyes has been acquired, one then encounters sooner or later the beings here mentioned, some of them higher, some lower than man himself–beings that never enter physical reality.

If this point has been reached, the way to a great deal lies open. But it is inadvisable to proceed further without paying careful heed to what is said or otherwise imparted by the spiritual researcher. And for that, too, which has been described, attention paid to such experienced guidance is the very best thing. Moreover, if a man has the strength and the endurance to travel so far that he fulfills the elementary conditions of enlightenment, he will assuredly seek and find the right guidance.

But in any circumstances, one precaution is necessary, failing which it were better to leave untrodden all steps on the path to higher knowledge. It is necessary that the student should lose none of his qualities as a good and noble man, or his receptivity for all physical reality. Indeed, throughout his training he must continually increase his moral strength, his inner purity, and his power of observation. To give an example: during the elementary exercises on enlightenment, the student must take care always to enlarge his sympathy for the animal and the human worlds, and his sense for the beauty of nature. Failing this care, such exercises would continually blunt that feeling and that sense; the heart would become hardened, and the senses blunted, and that could only lead to perilous results.

How enlightenment proceeds if the student rises, in the sense of the foregoing exercises, from the stone, the plant, and the animal, up to man, and how, after enlightenment, under all circumstances the union of the soul with the spiritual world is effected, leading to initiation–with these things the following chapters will deal, in as far as they can and may do so.

In our time the path to spiritual science is sought by many. It is sought in many ways, and many dangerous and even despicable practices are attempted. It is for this reason that they who claim to know something of the truth in these matters place before others the possibility of learning something of esoteric training. Only so much is here imparted as accords with this possibility. It is necessary that something of the truth should become known, in order to prevent error causing great harm. No harm can come to anyone following the way here described, so long as he does not force matters. Only, one thing should be noted: no student should spend more time and strength upon these exercises than he can spare with due regard to his station in life and to his duties; nor should he change anything, for the time being, in the external conditions of his life through taking this path. Without patience no genuine results can be attained. After doing an exercise for a few minutes, the student must be able to stop and continue quietly his daily work, and no thought of these exercises should mingle with the day’s work. NO one is of use as an esoteric student or will ever attain results of real value who has not learned to wait in the highest and best sense of the word.

The Control of Thoughts and Feelings

When the student seeks the path leading to higher knowledge in the way described in the preceding chapter, he should not omit to fortify himself; throughout his work, with one ever present thought. He must never cease repeating to himself that he may have made quite considerable progress after a certain interval of time, though it may not be apparent to him in the way he perhaps expected; otherwise he can easily lose heart and abandon all attempts after a short time. The powers and faculties to be developed are of a most subtle kind, and differ entirely in their nature from the conceptions previously formed by the student. He had been accustomed to occupy himself exclusively with the physical world; the world of spirit and soul had been concealed from his vision and concepts. It is therefore not surprising if he does not immediately notice the powers of soul and spirit now developing in him. In this respect there is a possibility of discouragement for those setting out on the path to higher knowledge, if they ignore the experience gathered by responsible investigators. The teacher is aware of the progress made by his pupil long before the latter is conscious of it He knows how the delicate spiritual eyes begin to form themselves long before the pupil is aware of this, and a great part of what he has to say is couched in such terms as to prevent the pupil from losing patience and perseverance before he can himself gain knowledge of his own progress. The teacher, as we know, can confer upon the pupil no powers which are not already latent within him, and his sole function is to assist in the awakening of slumbering faculties. But what he imparts out of his own experience is a pillar of strength for the one wishing to penetrate through darkness to light. Many abandon the path to higher knowledge soon after having set foot upon it, because their progress is not immediately apparent to them. And even when the first experiences begin to dawn upon the pupil, he is apt to regard them as illusions, because he had formed quite different conceptions of what he was going to experience. He loses courage, either because he regards these first experiences as being of no value, or because they appear to him to be so insignificant that he cannot believe they will lead him to any appreciable results within a measurable time. Courage and self-confidence are two beacons which must never be extinguished on the path to higher knowledge. No one will ever travel far who cannot bring himself to repeat, over and over again, an exercise which has failed, apparently, for a countless number of times.

Long before any distinct perception of progress, there rises in the student, from the hidden depths of the soul, a feeling that he is on the right path. This feeling should be cherished and fostered, for it can develop into a trustworthy guide. Above all, it is imperative to extirpate the idea that any fantastic, mysterious practices are required for the attainment of higher knowledge. It must be clearly realized that a start has to be made with the thoughts and feelings with which we continually live, and that these feelings and thoughts must merely be given a new direction. Everyone must say to himself: “In my own world of thought and feeling the deepest mysteries lie hidden, only hitherto I have been unable to perceive them.” In the end it all resolves itself into the fact that man ordinarily carries body, soul and spirit about with him, and yet is conscious in a true sense only of his body, and not of his soul and spirit. The student becomes conscious of soul and spirit, just as the ordinary person is conscious of his body. Hence it is highly important to give the proper direction to thoughts and feelings, for then only can the perception be developed of all that is invisible in ordinary life. One of the ways by which this development may be carried out will now be indicated. Again, like almost everything else so far explained, it is quite a simple matter. Yet its results are of the greatest consequence, if the necessary devotion and sympathy be applied.

Let the student place before himself the small seed of a plant, and while contemplating this insignificant object, form with intensity the right kind of thoughts, and through these thoughts develop certain feelings. In the first place let him clearly grasp what he really sees with his eyes. Let him describe to himself the shape, color and all other qualities of the seed. Then let his mind dwell upon the following train of thought: “Out of the seed, if planted in the soil, a plant of complex structure will grow.” Let him build up this plant in his imagination, and reflect as follows: “What I am now picturing to myself in my imagination will later on be enticed from the seed by the forces of earth and light. If I had before me an artificial object which imitated the seed to such a deceptive degree that my eyes could not distinguish it from a real seed, no forces of earth or light could avail to produce from it a plant.” If the student thoroughly grasps this thought so that it becomes an inward experience, he will also be able to form the following thought and couple it with the right feeling: “All that will ultimately grow out of the seed is now secretly enfolded within it as the force of the whole plant. In the artificial imitation of the seed there is no such force present. And yet both appear alike to my eyes. The real seed, therefore, contains something invisible which is not present in the imitation.” It is on this invisible something that thought and feeling are to be concentrated. (Anyone objecting that a microscopical examination would reveal the difference between the real seed and the imitation would only show that he had failed to grasp the point. The intention is not to investigate the physical nature of the object, but to use it for the development of psycho-spiritual forces.)

Let the student fully realize that this invisible something will transmute itself later on into a visible plant, which he will have before him in its shape and color. Let him ponder on the thought: “The invisible will become visible. If I could not think, then that which will only become visible later on could not already make its presence felt to me.” Particular stress must be laid on the following point: what the student thinks he must also feel with intensity. In inner tranquility, the thought mentioned above must become a conscious inner experience, to the exclusion of all other thoughts and disturbances. And sufficient time must be taken to allow the thought and the feeling which is coupled with it to bore themselves into the soul, as it were. If this be accomplished in the right way, then after a time — possibly not until after numerous attempts — an inner force will make itself felt. This force will create new powers of perception. The grain of seed will appear as if enveloped in a small luminous cloud. In a sensible-supersensible way, it will be felt as a kind of flame. The center of this flame evokes the same feeling that one has when under the impression of the color lilac, and the edges as when under the impression of a bluish tone. What was formerly invisible now becomes visible, for it is created by the power of the thoughts and feelings we have stirred to life within ourselves. The plant itself will not become visible until later, so that the physically invisible now reveals itself in a spiritually visible way.

It is not surprising that all this appears to many as illusion. “What is the use of such visions,” they ask, “and such hallucinations?” And many will thus fall away and abandon the path. But this is precisely the important point: not to confuse spiritual reality with imagination at this difficult stage of human evolution, and further-more, to have the courage to press onward and not become timorous and faint-hearted. On the other hand, however, the necessity must be emphasized of maintaining unimpaired and of perpetually cultivating that healthy sound sense which distinguishes truth from illusion. Fully conscious self-control must never be lost during all these exercises, and they must be accompanied by the same sane, sound thinking which is applied to the details of every-day life. To lapse into reveries would be fatal. The intellectual clarity, not to say the sobriety of thought, must never for a moment be dulled. The greatest mistake would be made if the student’s mental balance were disturbed through such exercises, if he were hampered in judging the matters of his daily life as sanely and as soundly as before. He should examine himself again and again to find out if he has remained unaltered in relation to the circumstances among which he lives, or whether he may perhaps have become unbalanced. Above all, strict care must be taken not to drift at random into vague reveries, or to experiment with all kinds of exercises. The trains of thought here indicated have been tested and practiced in esoteric training since the earliest times, and only such are given in these pages. Anyone attempting to use others devised by himself, or of which he may have heard or read at one place or another, will inevitably go astray and find himself on the path of boundless chimera.

As a further exercise to succeed the one just described, the following may be taken: Let the student place before him a plant which has attained the stage of full development. Now let him fill his mind with the thought that the time will come when this plant will wither and die. “Nothing will be left of what I now see before me. But this plant will have developed seeds which, in their turn, will develop to new plants. I again become aware that in what I see, something lies hidden which I cannot see. I fill my mind entirely with the thought: this plant with its form and colors, will in time be no more. But the reflection that it produces seeds teaches me that it will not disappear into nothing. I cannot at present see with my eyes that which guards it from disappearance, any more than I previously could discern the plant in the grain of seed. Thus there is something in the plant which my eyes cannot see. If I let this thought live within me, and if the corresponding feeling be coupled with it, then, in due time, there will again develop in my soul a force which will ripen into a new perception.” Out of the plant there again grows a kind of spiritual flame-form, which is, of course, correspondingly larger than the one previously described. The flame can be felt as being greenish-blue in the center, and yellowish-red at the outer edge.

It must be explicitly emphasized that the colors here described are not seen as the physical eyes see colors, but that through spiritual perception the same feeling is experienced as in the case of a physical color-impression. To apprehend blue spiritually means to have a sensation similar to the one experienced when the physical eye rests on the color blue. This fact must be noted by all who intend to rise to spiritual perception. Otherwise they will expect a mere repetition of the physical in the spiritual. This could only lead to the bitterest deception.

Anyone having reached this point of spiritual vision is the richer by a great deal, for he can perceive things not only in their present state of being but also in their process of growth and decay. He begins to see in all things the spirit, of which physical eyes can know nothing. And therewith he has taken the first step toward the gradual solution, through personal vision, of the secret of birth and death. For the outer senses a being comes into existence through birth, and passes away through death. This, however, is only because these senses cannot perceive the concealed spirit of the being. For the spirit, birth and death are merely a transformation, just as the unfolding of the flower from the bud is a transformation enacted before our physical eyes. But if we desire to learn this through personal vision we must first awaken the requisite spiritual sense in the way here indicated.

In order to meet another objection, which may be raised by certain people who have some psychic experience, let it at once be admitted that there are shorter and simpler ways, and that there are persons who have acquired knowledge of the phenomena of birth and death through personal vision, without first going through all that has here been described. There are, in fact, people with considerable psychic gifts who need but a slight impulse in order to find themselves already developed. But they are the exceptions, and the methods described above are safer and apply equally to all. It is possible to acquire some knowledge of chemistry in an exceptional way, but if you wish to become a chemist you must follow the recognized and reliable course.

An error fraught with serious consequences would ensue if it were assumed that the desired result could be reached more easily if the grain of seed or the plant mentioned above were merely imagined, were merely pictured in the imagination. This might lead to results, but not so surely as the method here. The vision thus attained would, in most cases, be a mere fragment of the imagination, the transformation of which into genuine spiritual vision would still remain to be accomplished. It is not intended arbitrarily to create visions, but to allow reality to create them within oneself. The truth must well up from the depths of our own soul; it must not be conjured forth by our ordinary ego, but by the beings themselves whose spiritual truth we are to contemplate.

Once the student has found the beginnings of spiritual vision by means of such exercises, he may proceed to the contemplation of man himself. Simple phenomena of human life must first be chosen. But before making any attempt in this direction it is imperative for the student to strive for the absolute purity of his moral character. He must banish all through of ever using knowledge gained in this way for his own personal benefit. He must be convinced that he would never, under any circumstances, avail himself in an evil sense of any power he may gain over his fellow-creatures. For this reason, all who seek to discover through personal vision the secrets in human nature must follow the golden rule of true spiritual science. This golden rule is as follows: For every one step that you take in the pursuit of higher knowledge, take three steps in the perfection of your own character. If this rule is observed, such exercise as the following may be attempted:

Recall to mind some person whom you may have observed when he was filled with desire for some object. Direct your attention to this desire. It is best to recall to memory that moment when the desire was at its height, and it was still uncertain whether the object of the desire would be attained. And now fill your mind with this recollection, and reflect on what you can thus observe. Maintain the utmost inner tranquility. Make the greatest possible effort to be blind and deaf to everything that may be going on around you, and take special heed that through the conception thus evoked a feeling should awaken in your soul. Allow this feeling to rise in your soul like a cloud on the cloudless horizon. As a rule, of course, your reflection will be interrupted, because the person whom it concerns was not observed in this particular state of soul for a sufficient length of time. The attempt will most likely fail hundreds and hundreds of times. It is just a question of not losing patience. After many attempts you will succeed in experiencing a feeling In your soul corresponding to the state of soul of the person observed, and you will begin to notice that through this feeling a power grows in your soul that leads to spiritual insight into the state of soul of the other. A picture experienced as luminous appears in your field of vision. This spiritually luminous picture is the so-called astral embodiment of the desire observed in that soul. Again the impression of this picture may be described as flame-like, yellowish-red in the center, and reddish-blue or lilac at the edges. Much depends on treating such spiritual experiences with great delicacy. The best thing is not to speak to anyone about them except to your teacher, if you have one. Attempted descriptions of such experiences in inappropriate words usually only lead to gross self-deception. Ordinary terms are employed which are not intended for such things, and are therefore too gross and clumsy. The consequence is that in the attempt to clothe the experience in words we are misled into blending the actual experience with all kinds of fantastic delusions. Here again is another important rule for the student: know how to observe silence concerning your spiritual experiences. Yes, observe silence even toward yourself. Do not attempt to clothe in words what you contemplate in the spirit, or to pore over it with clumsy intellect. Lend yourself freely and without reservation to these spiritual impressions, and do not disturb them by reflecting and pondering over them too much. For you must remember that your reasoning faculties are, to begin with, by no means equal to your new experience. You have acquired these reasoning faculties in a life hitherto confined to the physical world of the senses; the faculties you are now acquiring transcend this world. Do not try, therefore, to apply to the new and higher perceptions the standard of the old. Only he who has gained some certainty and steadiness in the observation of inner experiences can speak about them, and thereby stimulate his fellow-men.

The exercise just described may be supplemented by the following: Direct your attention in the same way upon a person to whom the fulfillment of some wish, the gratification of some desire, has been granted. If the same rules and precautions be adopted as in the previous instance, spiritual insight will once more be attained. A spiritual insight will once more be attained. A spiritual flame-form will be distinguished, creating an impression of yellow in the center and green at the edges.

By such observation of his fellow-creatures, the student may easily lapse into a moral fault. He may become cold-hearted. Every conceivable effort must be made to prevent this. Such observation should only be practiced by one who has already risen to the level on which complete certainty is found that thoughts are real things. He will then no longer allow himself to think of his fellow-men in a way that is incompatible with the highest reverence for human dignity and human liberty. The thought that a human being could be merely an object of observation must never for a moment be entertained. Self-education must see to it that this insight into human nature should go hand in hand with an unlimited respect for the personal privilege of each individual, and with the recognition of the sacred and inviolable nature of that which dwells in each human being. A feeling of reverential awe must fill us, even in our recollections.

For the present, only these two examples can be given to show how enlightened insight into human nature may be achieved; they will at least serve to point out the way to be taken. By gaining the inner tranquility and repose indispensable for such observation, the student will have undergone a great inner transformation. He will then soon reach the point where this enrichment of his inner self will lend confidence and composure to his outward demeanor. And this transformation of his outward demeanor will again react favorably on his soul. Thus he will be able to help himself further along the road. He will find ways and means of penetrating more and more into the secrets of human nature which are hidden from our external senses, and he will then also become ripe for a deeper insight into the mysterious connections between human nature and all else that exists in the universe. By following this path the student approaches closer and closer to the moment when he can effectively take the first steps of initiation. But before these can be taken, one thing more is necessary, though at first its need will be least of all apparent; later on, however, the student will be convinced of it.

The would-be initiate must bring with him a certain measure of courage and fearlessness. He must positively go out of his way to find opportunities for developing these virtues. His training should provide for their systematic cultivation. In this respect, life itself is a good school — possibly the best school. The student must learn to look danger calmly in the face and try to overcome difficulties unswervingly. For instance, when in the presence of some peril, he must swiftly come to the conviction that fear is of no possible use; I must not feel afraid; I must only think of what is to be done. And he must improve to the extent of feeling, upon occasions which formerly inspired him with fear, that to be frightened, to be disheartened, are things that are out of the question as far as his own inmost self is concerned. By self-discipline in this direction, quite definite qualities are develop which are necessary for initiation into the higher mysteries. Just as man requires nervous force in his physical being in order to use his physical sense, so also he requires in his soul nature the force which is only developed in the courageous and the fearless. For in penetrating to the higher mysteries he will see things which are concealed from ordinary humanity by the illusion of the senses. If the physical senses do not allow us to perceive the higher truth, they are for this very reason our benefactors. Things are thereby hidden from us which, if realized without due preparation, would throw us into unutterable consternation, and the sight of which would be unendurable. The student must be fit to endure this sight. He loses certain supports in the outer world which he owes to the very illusion surrounding him. It is truly and literally as if the attention of someone were called to a danger which had threatened him for a long time, but of which he knew nothing. Hitherto he felt no fear, but now that he knows, he is overcome by fear, though the danger has not been rendered greater by his knowing it.

The forces at work in the world are both destructive and constructive; the destiny of manifested beings is birth and death. The seer is to behold the working of these forces and the march of destiny. The veil enshrouding the spiritual eyes in ordinary life is to be removed. But man is interwoven with these forces and with this destiny. His own nature harbors destructive and constructive forces. His own soul reveals itself to the seer as undisguised as the other objects. He must not lose strength in the face of this self-knowledge; but strength will fail him unless he brings a surplus on which to draw. For this purpose he must learn to maintain inner calm and steadiness in the face of difficult circumstances; he must cultivate a strong trust in the beneficent powers of existence. He must be prepared to find that many motives which had actuated him hitherto will do so no longer. He will have to recognize that previously he thought and acted in a certain way only because he was still in the throes of ignorance. Reasons that influenced him formerly will now disappear. He often acted out of vanity; he will now see how utterly futile all vanity is for the seer. He often acted out of greed; he will now become aware how destructive all greed is. He will have to develop quite new motives for his thoughts and actions, and it is just for this purpose that courage and fearlessness are required.

It is pre-eminently a question of cultivating this courage and this fearlessness in the inmost depths of thought-life. The student must learn never to despair over failure. He must be equal to the thought: I shall forget that I have failed in this matter, and I shall try once more as though this had not happened. Thus he will struggle through to the firm conviction that the fountain-head of strength from which he may draw is inexhaustible. He struggles ever onward to the spirit which will uplift him and support him, however weak and impotent his earthly self may have proved. He must be capable of pressing on to the future undismayed by any experiences of the past. If the student has acquired these faculties up to a certain point, he is then ripe to hear the real names of things, which are the key to higher knowledge. For initiation consists in this very act of learning to call the things of the world by those names which they bear in the spirit of their divine authors. In these, their names, lies the mystery of things. It is for this reason that the initiates speak a different language from the uninitiated, for the former know the names by which the beings themselves are called into existence.

In as far as initiation itself can be discussed, this will be done in the following chapter.


Initiation is the highest stage in an esoteric training concerning which it is possible to give some indications in a book intended for the genuine public. Whatever lives beyond forms a subject difficult to understand, yet the way to it can be found by all who have passed through preparation, enlightenment, and initiation as far as the lesser mysteries.

The knowledge and proficiency conferred by initiation cannot be obtained in any other manner, except in some far distant future, after many incarnations, by quite different means and in quite a different form. The initiate of today undergoes experiences which would otherwise come to him much later, under quite different circumstances.

The secrets of existence are only accessible to an extent corresponding to man’s own degree of maturity. For this reason alone the path to the higher stages of knowledge and power is beset with obstacles. A firearm should not be used until sufficient experience has been gained to avoid disaster, caused by its use. A person initiated today without further ado would lack the experience which he will gain during his future incarnations before he can attain to higher knowledge in the normal course of his development. At the portal of initiation, therefore, this experience must be supplied in some other way. Thus the first instructions given to the candidate for initiation serve as a substitute for these future experiences. These are the so-called trials, which he has to undergo, and which constitute a normal course of inner development resulting from due application to such exercises as are described in the preceding chapters.

These trials are often discussed in books, but it is only natural that such discussions should as a rule give quite false impressions of their nature; for without passing through preparation and enlightenment no one can know anything of these tests and appropriately describe them.

The would-be initiate must come into contact with certain things and facts belonging to the higher worlds, but he can only see and hear them if his feeling is ripe for the perception of the spiritual forms, colors and tones described in the chapters on Preparation and Enlightenment.

The first trial consists in obtaining a truer vision than the average man has of the corporeal attributes of lifeless things, and later of plants, animals and human beings. This does not mean what at present is called scientific knowledge, for it is a question not of science but of vision. As a rule, the would-be initiate proceeds to learn how the objects of nature and the beings gifted with life manifest themselves to the spiritual ear and the spiritual eye. In a certain way these things then lie stripped — naked — before the beholder. The qualities which can then be seen and heard are hidden from the physical eyes and ears. For physical perception they are concealed as if by a veil, and the falling away of this veil for the would-be initiate consists in a process designated as the process of Purification by Fire. The first trial is therefore known as the Fire-Trial.

For many people, ordinary life is itself a more or less unconscious process of initiation through the Fire-Trial. Such people have passed through a wealth of experience, so that their self-confidence, courage and fortitude have been greatly strengthened in a normal manner while learning to bear sorrow, disappointment and failure in their undertakings with greatness of soul, and especially with equanimity and unbroken strength. Thus they are often initiates without knowing it, and it then needs but little to unseal their spiritual hearing and sight so that they become clairvoyant. For it must be noted that a genuine fire-trial is not intended to satisfy the curiosity of the candidate. It is true that he learns many uncommon things of which others can have no inkling, but this acquisition of knowledge is not the end, but the means to the end; the end consists in the attainment, thanks to this knowledge of the higher worlds, of greater and truer self-confidence, a higher degree of courage, and a magnanimity and perseverance such as cannot, as a rule, be acquired in the lower world.

The candidate may always turn back after the fire-trial. He will then resume his life, strengthened in body and soul, and wait for a future incarnation to continue his initiation. In his present incarnation he will prove himself a more useful member of society and of humanity than he was before. In whatever position he may find himself, his firmness, prudence, resoluteness, and his beneficent influence over his fellows will have greatly increased.

But if, after completing the fire-trial, he should wish to continue the path, a certain writing-system generally adopted in esoteric training must now be revealed to him. The actual teachings manifest themselves in this writing, because the hidden (occult) qualities of things cannot be directly expressed in the words of ordinary writing. The pupils of the initiates translate the teachings into ordinary language as best they can. The occult script reveals itself to the soul when the latter has attained spiritual perception, for it is traced in the spiritual world and remains there for all time. It cannot be learned as an artificial writing is learned and read. The candidate grows into clairvoyant knowledge in an appropriate way, and during this growth a new strength is developed in his soul, as a new faculty, through which he feels himself impelled to decipher the occurrences and the beings of the spiritual world like the characters of a writing. This strength, with the experience it brings of the corresponding trial, might possibly awaken in the soul as though of its own accord, as the soul continually develops, but it will be found safer to follow the instructions of those who are spiritually experienced, and who have some proficiency in deciphering the occult script.

The signs of the occult script are not arbitrarily invented; they correspond to the forces actively engaged in the world. They teach us the language of things. It becomes immediately apparent to the candidate that the signs he is now learning correspond to the forms, colors, and tones which he learned to perceive during his preparation and enlightenment. He realizes that all he learned previously was only like learning to spell, and that he is only now beginning to read in the higher worlds. All the isolated figures, tones, and colors reveal themselves to him now in one great connected whole. Now for the first time he attains complete certainty in observing the higher worlds. Hitherto he could never know positively whether the things he saw were rightly seen. A regular understanding, too, is now at last possible between the candidate and the initiate in the spheres of higher knowledge. For whatever form the intercourse between an initiate and another person may take in ordinary life, the higher knowledge in its immediate form can only be imparted by the initiate in the above-mentioned sign-language.

Thanks to this language the student also learns certain rules of conduct and certain duties of which he formerly knew nothing. Having learned these he is able to perform actions endowed with a significance and a meaning such as the actions of one not initiated can never possess. He acts out of the higher worlds. Instructions concerning such action can only be read and understood in the writing in question.

Yet it must be emphasized that there are people unconsciously gifted with the ability and faculty of performing such actions, though they have never undergone an esoteric training. Such helpers of the world and of humanity pass through life bestowing blessings and performing good deeds. For reasons here not to be discussed, gifts have been bestowed on them which appear supernatural. What distinguishes them from the candidate for initiation is only that the latter acts consciously and with full insight into the entire situation. He acquires by training the gifts bestowed on others by higher powers for the good of humanity. We can sincerely revere these favored of God; but we should not for this reason regard the work of esoteric training as superfluous.

Once the student has learned the sign-language there awaits him yet another trial, to prove whether he can move with freedom and assurance in the higher worlds. In ordinary life he is impelled to action by exterior motives. He works at one occupation or another because one duty or another is imposed on him by outward circumstances. It need hardly be mentioned that the student must in no way neglect any of his duties in ordinary life because he is living and working in higher worlds. There is no duty in a higher world that can force a person to neglect any single one of his duties in the ordinary world. The father will remain just as good a father to his family, the mother just as good a mother, and neither the official nor the soldier, nor anyone else will be diverted from his work by becoming an esoteric student. On the contrary, all the qualities which make a human being capable and efficient are enhanced in the student to a degree incomprehensible to the uninitiated. If, in the eyes of the uninitiated, this does not always appear to be the case, it is simply because he often lacks the ability to judge the initiate correctly. The deeds of the latter are not always intelligible to the former. But this only happens in special cases.

At this stage of initiation there are duties to be performed for which no outward stimulus is given. The candidate will not be moved to action by external pressure, but only through adherence to the rules of conduct revealed to him in the occult script. He must now show in this second trial that, led by such rules, he can act with the same firmness and precision with which, for instance, an official performs the duties that belong to him. For this purpose, and in the course of his further training, he will find himself faced by a certain definite task. He must perform some action in consequence of observations made on the basis of what he has learned during preparation and enlightenment. The nature of this action can be understood by means of the occult script with which he is now familiar. If he recognizes his duty and acts rightly, his trial has been successful. The success can be recognized in the alteration produced by his action in the figures, colors, and tones apprehended by his spiritual eyes and ears. Exact indications are given, as the training progresses, showing how these figures appear and are experienced after the action has been performed, and the candidate must know how to produce this change. This trial is known as the Water-Trial, because in his activity in these higher worlds the candidate is deprived of the support derived from outward circumstances, as a swimmer is without support when swimming in water that is beyond his depth. This activity must be repeated until the candidate attains absolute poise and assurance.

The importance of this trial lies again in the acquisition of a quality. Through his experiences in the higher worlds, the candidate develops this quality in a short time to such a high degree that he would otherwise have to go through many incarnations, in the ordinary course of his development, before he could acquire it to the same extent. It all centers around the fact that he must be guided only by the results of his higher perception and reading of the occult script, in order to produce the changes in question in these higher regions of existence. Should he, in the course of his activity, introduce any of his own opinions and desires, or should he diverge for one moment from the laws which he has recognized to be right, in order to follow his own willful inclination, then the result produced would differ entirely from what was intended. He would lose sight of the goal to which his action tended, and confusion would result. Hence ample opportunity is given him in the course of this trial to develop self-control. This is the object in view. Here again, this trial can be more easily passed by those whose life, before initiation, has led them to acquire self-control. Anyone having acquired the faculty of following high principles and ideals, while putting into the background all personal predilection; anyone capable of always performing his duty, even though inclinations and sympathies would like to seduce him from this duty — such a person is unconsciously an initiate in the midst of ordinary life. He will need but little to succeed in this particular trial. Indeed, a certain measure of initiation thus unconsciously acquired in life will, as a rule, be indispensable for success in this second trial. For even as it is difficult for those who have not learned to spell correctly in their childhood to make good this deficiency when fully grown up, so too it is difficult to develop the necessary degree of self-control at the moment of looking into the higher worlds, if this ability has not been acquired to a certain degree in ordinary life. The objects of the physical world do not alter, whatever the nature of our wishes, desires, and inclinations. In the higher worlds, however, our wishes, desires, and inclinations are causes that produce effects. If we wish to produce a particular effect in these worlds, we must strictly follow the right rules and subdue every arbitrary impulse.

One human quality is of very special importance at this stage of initiation, namely, an unquestionably sound judgment. Attention should be paid to the training of this faculty during all the previous stages; for it now remains to be proved whether the candidate is shaping in a way that shows him to be fit for the truth path of knowledge. Further progress is now only possible if he is able to distinguish illusion, superstition, and everything fantastic, from true reality. This is, at first, more difficult to accomplish in the higher stages of existence than in the lower. Every prejudice, every cherished opinion with regard to the things in question, must vanish; truth alone must guide. There must be perfect readiness to abandon at once any idea, opinion, or inclination when logical thought demands it. Certainty in higher worlds is only likely to be attained when personal opinion is never considered.

People whose mode of thought tends to fancifulness and superstition can never make progress on the path to higher knowledge. It is indeed a precious treasure that the student is to acquire. All doubt regarding the higher worlds is removed from him. With all their laws they reveal themselves to his gaze. But he cannot acquire this treasure so long as he is the prey of fancies and illusions. It would indeed be fatal if his imagination and his prejudices ran away with his intellect. Dreamers and fantastical people are as unfit for the path to higher knowledge as superstitious people. This cannot be over-emphasized. For the most dangerous enemies on the way to knowledge of the higher worlds lurk in such fantastical reveries and superstitions. Yet no one need to believe that the student loses all sense of poetry in life, all power of enthusiasm because the words: You must be rid of all prejudice, are written over the portal leading to the second trial of initiation, and because over the portal at the entrance to the first trial he read: Without normal common sense all thine efforts are in vain.

If the candidate is in this way sufficiently advanced, a third trial awaits him. He finds here no definite goal to be reached. All is left in his own hands. He finds himself in a situation where nothing impels him to act. He must find his way all alone and out of himself. Things or people to stimulate him to action are non-existent. Nothing and nobody can give him the strength he needs but he himself alone. Failure to find this inner strength will leave him standing where he was. Few of those, however, who have successfully passed the previous trials will fail to find the necessary strength at this point. Either they will have turned back already or they succeed at this point also. All that the candidate requires is the ability to come quickly to terms with himself, for he must here find his higher self in the truest sense of the word. He must rapidly decide in all things to listen to the inspiration of the spirit. There is no time for doubt or hesitation. Every moment of hesitation would prove that he was still unfit. Whatever prevents him from listening to the voice of the spirit must be courageously overcome. It is a question of showing presence of mind in this situation, and the training at this stage is concerned with the perfect development of this quality. All the accustomed inducements to act or even to think now cease. In order not to remain inactive he must not lose himself, for only within himself can he find the one central point of vantage where he can gain a firm hold. No one on reading this, without further acquaintance with these matters, should feel an antipathy for this principle of being thrown back on oneself, for success in this trial brings with it a moment of supreme happiness.

At this stage, no less than at the others, ordinary life is itself an esoteric training for many. For anyone having reached the point of being able, when suddenly confronted with some task or problem in life, to come to a swift decision without hesitation or delay, for him life itself has been a training in this sense. Such situations are here meant in which success is instantly lost if action is not rapid. A person who is quick to act when a misfortune is imminent, whereas a few moments of hesitation would have seen the misfortune an accomplished fact, and who has turned this ability into a permanent personal quality, has unconsciously acquired the degree of maturity necessary for the third trial. For at this stage everything centers round the development of absolute presence of mind. This trial is known as the Air-Trial, because while undergoing it the candidate can support himself neither upon the firm basis of external incentive nor upon the figures, tones, and colors which he has learned at the stages of preparation and enlightenment, but exclusively upon himself.

Upon successfully passing this trial the student is permitted to enter the temple of higher wisdom. All that is here said on this subject can only be the slenderest allusion. The task now to be performed is often expressed in the statement that the student must take an oath never to betray anything he has learned. These expressions, however, “oath” and “betray”, are inappropriate and actually misleading. There is no question of an oath in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather of an experience that comes at this stage of development. The candidate learns how to apply the higher knowledge, how to place it at the service of humanity. He then begins really and truly to understand the world. It is not so much a question of withholding the higher truths, but far more of serving them in the right way and with the necessary tact. The silence he is to keep refers to something quite different. He acquires this fine quality with regard to things he had previously spoken, and especially with regard to the manner in which they were spoken. He would be a poor initiate who did not place all the higher knowledge he had acquired at the service of humanity, as well and as far as this is possible. The only obstacle to giving information in these matters is the lack of understanding on the part of the recipients. It is true, of course, that the higher knowledge does not lend itself to promiscuous talk; but no one having reached the stage of development described above is actually forbidden to say anything. No other person, no being exacts an oath from him with this intent. Everything is left to his own responsibility, and he learns in every situation to discover within himself what he has to do, and an oath means nothing more than that he has been found qualified to be entrusted with such a responsibility.

If the candidate is found fit for the foregoing experiences, he is then given what is called symbolically the draught of forgetfulness. This means that he is initiated into the secret knowledge that enables him to act without being continually disturbed by the lower memory. This is necessary for the initiate, for he must have full faith in the immediate present. He must be able to destroy the veil of memory which envelops man every moment of his life. If we judge something that happens to us today according to the experience of yesterday, we are exposed to a multitude of errors. Of course this does not mean that experience gained in life should be renounced. It should always be kept in mind as clearly as possible. But the initiate must have the ability to judge every new experience wholly according to what is inherent in it, and let it react upon him, unobscurred by the past. We must be prepared at every moment that every object and every being can bring to us some new revelation. If we judge the new by the standard of the old we are liable to error. The memory of past experiences will be of greatest use for the very reason that it enables us to perceive the new. Had we not gone through a definite experience we should perhaps be blind to the qualities of the object or being that comes before us. Thus experience should serve the purpose of perceiving the new and not of judging it by the standard of the old. In this respect the initiate acquires certain definite qualities, and thereby many things are revealed to him which remain concealed from the uninitiated.

The second draught presented to the initiate is the draught of remembrance. Through its agency he acquires the faculty of retaining the knowledge of the higher truths ever present in his soul. Ordinary memory would be unequal to this task. We must unite ourselves and become as one with the higher truths. We must not only know them, but be able, quite as a matter of course, to manifest and administer them in living actions, even as we ordinarily eat and drink. They must become our practice, our habit, our inclination. There must be no need to keep thinking about them in the ordinary sense; they must come to living expression through man himself; they must flow through him as the functions of life through his organism. Thus doth man ever raise himself, in a spiritual sense, to that same stature to which nature raised him in a physical sense.

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The Story of My Life Chapter VI ~ Rudolf Steiner @ Rudolf Steiner Archives

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The Story of My Life

Chapter VI


IN the field of pedagogy Fate gave me an unusual task. I was employed as tutor in a family where there were four boys. To three I had to give only the preparatory instruction for the Volkschule(1) and then assistance in the work of the Mittelschule. The fourth, who was almost ten years old, was at first entrusted to me for all his education. He was the child of sorrow to his parents, especially to his mother. When I went to live in the home, he had scarcely learned the most rudimentary elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic. He was considered so subnormal in his physical and mental development that the family had doubts as to his capacity for being educated. His thinking was slow and dull. Even the slightest mental exertion caused a headache, lowering of vital functions, pallor, and alarming mental symptoms. After I had come to know the child, I formed the opinion that the sort of education required by such a bodily and mental organism must be one that would awaken the sleeping faculties, and I proposed to the parents that they should leave the child’s training to me. The mother had enough confidence to accept this proposal, and I was thus able to set myself this unusual educational task.

I had to find access to a soul which was, as it were, in a sleeping state, and which must gradually be enabled to gain the mastery over the bodily manifestations. In a certain sense one had first to draw the soul within the body. I was thoroughly convinced that the boy really had great mental capacities, though they were then buried. This made my task a profoundly satisfying one. I was soon able to bring the child into a loving dependence upon me. This condition caused the mere intercourse between us to awaken his sleeping faculties of soul. For his instruction I had to feel my way to special methods. Every fifteen minutes beyond a certain time allotted to instruction caused injury to his health. To many subjects of instruction the boy had great difficulty in relating himself.

This educational task became to me the source from which I myself learned very much. Through the method of instruction which I had to apply there was laid open to my view the association between the spiritual-mental and the bodily in man. Then I went through my real course of study in physiology and psychology. I became aware that teaching and instructing must become an art having its foundation in a genuine understanding of man. I had to follow out with great care an economic principle. I frequently had to spend two hours in preparing for half an hour of instruction in order to get the material for instruction in such a form that in the least time, and with the least strain upon the mental and physical powers of the child, I might reach his highest capacity for achievement. The order of the subjects of instruction had to be carefully considered; the division of the entire day into periods had to be properly determined. I had the satisfaction of seeing the child in the course of two years accomplish the work of the Volkschule, and successfully pass the examination for entrance to the Gymnasium (2). Moreover, his physical condition had materially improved. The hydrocephalic condition was markedly diminishing. I was able to advise the parents to send the child to a public school. It seemed to me necessary that he should find his vital development in company with other children. I continued to be a tutor for several years in the family, and gave special attention to this boy, who was always guided to make his way through the school in such a way that his home activities should be carried through in the spirit in which they were begun. I then had the inducement, in the way I have already mentioned, to increase my knowledge of Latin and Greek, for I was responsible for the tutoring of this boy and another in this family for the Gymnasium lessons.

I must needs feel grateful to Fate for having brought me into such a life relationship. For through this means I developed in vital fashion a knowledge of the being of man which I do not believe could have been developed by me so vitally in any other way. Moreover, I was taken into the family in an extraordinarily affectionate way; we came to live a beautiful life in common. The father of these boys was a sales-agent for Indian and American cotton. I was thus able to get a glimpse of the working of business, and of much that is connected with this. Moreover, through this I learned a great deal. I had an inside view of the conduct of a branch of an unusually interesting import business, and could observe the intercourse between business friends and the interlinking of many commercial and industrial activities.

My young charge was successfully guided through the Gymnasium; I continued with him even to the Unter-Prima(3). By that time he had made such progress that he no longer needed me. After completing the Gymnasium he entered the school of medicine, became a physician, and in this capacity he was later a victim of the World War. The mother, who had become a true friend of mine because of what I had done for her boy, and who clung to this child of sorrow with the most devoted love, soon followed him in death. The father had already gone from this world.

A good portion of my youthful life was bound up with the task which had grown so close to me. For a number of years I went during the summer with the family of the children whom I had to tutor to the Attersee in the Salzkammergut, and there became familiar with the noble Alpine nature of Upper Austria. I was gradually able to eliminate the private lessons I had continued to give to others even after beginning this tutoring, and thus I had time left for prosecuting my own studies.

In the life I led before coming into this family I had little opportunity for sharing in the play of children. In this way it came about that my “play-time” came after my twentieth year. I had then to learn also how to play, for I had to direct the play, and this I did with great enjoyment. To be sure, I think I have not played any less in my life than other men. Only in my case what is usually done in this direction before the tenth year I repeated from the twenty-third to the twenty-eighth year.

It was during this period that I was occupied with the philosophy of Eduard von Hartmann. As I studied his theory of knowledge, continual opposition was aroused within me. The opinion that the genuinely real lies as the unconscious beyond conscious experience, and that the latter is nothing more than an unreal pictorial reflection from the real – this was to me utterly repugnant. In opposition to this I postulated that the conscious experience can, through the strengthening of mental life, dip down within the real. I was clear in my own mind that the divine-spiritual reveals itself in man if man makes this revelation possible through his own inner life.

The pessimism of Eduard von Hartmann appeared to me as an utterly false questioning of human life. I had to conceive man as striving toward the goal of drawing up from within himself that with which life fills him for his satisfaction. I said to myself: “If through the ordering of the world a ‘best life’ were simply imparted to man, how could he bring this inner spring to a flowing stream?” The external world order has come to a stage in evolution in which it has ignored the good and the bad in things and in facts. Then first the human being awakes to self-consciousness and guides the evolution farther, but in such way that this evolution takes its direction toward freedom, not from things and facts, but only from the fountain head of man’s being. The mere introduction of the question of pessimism or optimism seemed to me to be running counter to the free being of man. I frequently said to myself: “How could man be the free creator of his highest happiness if a measure of happiness were imparted to him through the ordering of the external world?”

On the other hand, Hartmann’s work Phänomenologie des Sittlichen Bewusstsein(4) attracted me. There, I found, the moral evolution of man was traced according to the clue of what is empirically observable. It does not become – as in the case of Hartmann’s theory of knowledge – speculative thought linked to unknown being which lies beyond consciousness; but rather it is that which can be experienced as morality, and grasped in its manifestations. And it was clear to me that no philosophical speculation must think beyond the phenomena if it desires to reach the genuinely real. The phenomena of the world reveal of themselves this genuinely real as soon as the conscious soul prepares itself to receive the revelation. Whoever takes into consciousness only what is perceptible to the senses may seek for real being in a beyond-consciousness; whoever grasps the spiritual in his perception speaks of this as being on this side, not of a beyond in the sense characteristic of a theory of cognition. Hartmann’s consideration of the moral world seemed to me congenial because in this his beyond standpoint withdraws wholly into the background, and he confines himself to that which can be observed. Through a deeper penetration into phenomena, even to the point where these disclose their spiritual being – it was in this way that I desired to know that knowledge of real being is brought to pass, not through inferential reasoning as to what is “behind” phenomena.

Since I was always striving to sense a human capacity on its positive side, Eduard von Hartmann’s philosophy became useful to me, in spite of the fact that its fundamental tendency and its conception of life were repugnant; for it cast a penetrating light upon many phenomena. And even in those writings of the “philosopher of the unconscious” from which in principle I dissented I yet found much that was immensely stimulating. So it was also with the popular writings of Eduard von Hartmann, which dealt with cultural historical, pedagogical, and political problems. I found in this pessimist “sound” conceptions of life such as I could not discover in many optimists. It was just in connection with him that I experienced that which I needed,-to be able to understand even though I had to oppose.

It was thus that I sat till late many a night – when I could leave my boys to themselves, and after I had admired the starry heavens from the balcony of the house – in studying the Phenomenology of Moral Consciousness and the Religiöses Bewusstsein der Menscheit in der Stufenfolge seiner Entwickelung(5), and while I was reading these writings I attained to an ever increasing assurance concerning my own standpoint in regard to the theory of knowledge.

Upon the suggestion of Schröer, Joseph Kürschner invited me in 1884 to edit Goethe’s scientific writings with an introduction and accompanying interpretive notes as a part of the edition of Deutsche National-Literatur planned by him. Schröer, who had taken responsibility for Goethe’s dramas within the great collective work, was to preface the first volume assigned to me with an introductory foreword. In this he analysed the manner in which Goethe as poet and as thinker was related to the contemporary spiritual life. In the philosophy introduced by the age of natural science which followed after Goethe, he saw a falling away from the spiritual height upon which Goethe had been standing. The task which had been assigned to me in the editing of Goethe’s scientific writings was characterized in a general way in this preface.

For me the task included an exposition in which natural science should be on one side and Goethe’s whole philosophy on the other. Now that I had to come before the public with such an exposition, it was necessary for me to bring to a certain issue all that I had thus far won for myself in the way of a world-conception.

Until that time I had occupied myself as a writer with nothing more than brief articles for the press. It was not easy for me to write down what was a vital inner experience in such manner that I could consider my work worthy of publication. I always had the feeling that what had been elaborated within appeared in a very paltry form when I had to present it in a finished shape. So all literary endeavours became to me the source of continual inner unhappiness.

The form of thought by which natural science has been dominated since the beginning of its great influence upon the civilization of the nineteenth century seemed to me ill-adapted to reach an understanding of that which Goethe strove to attain for natural science, and actually did in large measure attain.

I beheld in Goethe a personality who, by reason of the unusual spiritual relationship in which he had placed man with reference to nature, was also in a position to place the knowledge of nature in the right form in the totality of human achievement. The form of thought of the period in which I had grown up appeared to me fit only for shaping ideas regarding lifeless nature. I considered it powerless to enter with capacity for knowledge into the realm of living nature. I said to myself: “In order to attain to ideas which can mediate a knowledge of the organic, it is necessary that one should first endue with life the concepts adapted for an understanding of inorganic nature.” For these seemed to me dead, and therefore fit only for grasping that which is dead.

How the ideas became endued with life in Goethe’s spirit, how they became ideal forms, this is what I sought to set forth in order to clarify Goethe’s conception of nature.

What Goethe thought and elaborated in detail regarding this or that field of the knowledge of nature appeared to me of less importance than the central discovery which I was forced to attribute to him. This I saw in the fact that he had discovered how one must think in regard to the organic in order to come at it understandingly.

I found that mechanics completely satisfy the need for knowledge in that they generate conceptions in a rational manner in the human mind which then prove to be real when applied in the sense-perception of that which is lifeless. Goethe was to me the founder of a law of organics, which in like manner applies to that which has life. When I looked back to Galileo in the history of modern spiritual life, I was forced to remark how he, by the shaping of ideas from the inorganic, had given to the new natural science its present form. What he had introduced for the inorganic Goethe had striven to attain for the organic. Goethe became for me the Galileo of the organic.

For the first volume of Goethe’s natural-scientific writings I had first to elaborate his ideas on metamorphosis. It was difficult for me to express the relation between the living ideal forms through which the organic can be understood and the formless ideas suited to enable one to grasp the inorganic. But it seemed to me that my whole task depended upon making this point in true fashion intelligible. In understanding the inorganic, concept is added in series to concept, in order to survey the correlation of forces which bring about an effect in nature. In reference to the organic it is necessary so to allow one concept to grow out of another that in the progressive living metamorphosis of concepts there come to light images of that which appears in nature as a being possessing form. This Goethe strove to do in that he sought to hold fast in his mind an ideal image of a leaf which was not a fixed lifeless concept but such a one as might present itself in the most varied forms. If one permits these forms in the mind to proceed one out of another, one thus constructs the whole plant. One re-creates in the mind in ideal fashion the process whereby nature in actual fashion shapes the plant.

If one seeks in this way to conceive the plant world, one thus stands much nearer in spirit to the world of nature than in conceiving the inorganic by means of formless concepts. For the inorganic one conceives only a spiritual fantasm of that which is present in nature in a manner void of spirit. But in the coming into existence of a plant there lives some thing which has a remote resemblance to that which arises in the human mind as an image of the plant. One becomes aware of how nature, while bringing forth the organic, is really bringing into action something spiritually similar within her own being.

I desired to show, in the introduction to Goethe’s botanical writings, how in his theory of metamorphosis he took the direction of thinking about the workings of organic nature in the manner in which one thinks of spirit. Still more spiritual in form appeared to me Goethe’s way of thinking in the realm of the animal and in the lower natural stages of the human being.

In relation to the animal-human, Goethe began by seeing through an error which he noticed among his contemporaries. These sought to ascribe a special position in nature to the organic bases of the human being by finding individual distinctions between man and the animal. They found such a distinction in the intermaxillary bones which the animals possess, in which their upper incisor teeth are bedded. In man, they said, such a special intermediary bone in the upper jaw is lacking; his upper jaw consists of a single piece.

This seemed to Goethe an error. For him the human form was a metamorphosis of the animal to a higher stage. Everything which appears in the forming of the animal must be present also in the human, only in a higher form so that the human organism might become the bearer of the self-conscious spirit.

In the elevation of the whole united form of man Goethe saw the distinction from the animal, not in details.

Step by step does one perceive the organic creative forces become more like spirit as one rises from consideration of the plant-beings to the varied forms of the animals. In the organic form of man creative forces are active which bring to pass the highest metamorphosis of the animal shape. These forces are present in the process of becoming of the human organism; and they finally live there as the human spirit after they have formed in the natural basic parts a vessel which can receive them in their form of existence free from nature.

In this conception of the human organism it seemed to me that Goethe had anticipated everything true which was later affirmed, on the ground of Darwinism, concerning the kinship of the human with the animal. But it also seemed to me that all which was untrue was omitted. The materialistic understanding of that which Darwin discovered leads to the adoption of conceptions based upon the kinship between man and the animals which deny the spirit where it appears in its highest form in an earthly existence – in man. Goethe’s conception leads to the perception of a spiritual creation in the animal form which has simply not yet arrived at the stage at which the spirit as such can live. That which lives in man as spirit creates in the animal form at a preliminary stage; and it metamorphoses this form in the case of man in such a way that it can then appear, not only as creative, but also in its own living presence.

Viewed in this way, Goethe’s consideration of nature becomes one which, while tracing the natural process of becoming from the inorganic to the organic, also leads natural science over into spiritual science. To bring out this fact was to me of more importance than anything else in working up the first volume of Goethe’s natural-scientific writings. For this reason I allowed my introduction to narrow down to an explanation of the way in which Darwinism establishes a one-sided view, coloured by materialism, which must be restored to wholeness by Goethe’s way of thinking.

How one must think in order to penetrate into the phenomena of life – this is what I wished to show in discussing Goethe’s view of the organic. I soon came to feel that this discussion required a basis upon which to rest. The nature of cognition was then conceived by my contemporaries in a way which could never arrive at Goethe’s view. The theorists of cognition had in mind natural science as it then existed. What they said in regard to the nature of cognition held good only for a conception of inorganic nature. There could be no agreement between what I must say in regard to Goethe’s kind of cognition and the theories of cognition ordinarily held at that time.

Therefore, whatever I had established upon the basis of Goethe’s theory of the organic sent me afresh to the theory of cognition. I had before my mind theories such as that of Otto Liebmann, which expressed in the most varied forms the dogma that human consciousness can never get outside itself; that it must therefore be content to live in that which reality sends into the human soul, and which presents itself within in spiritual form. If one views the thing in this way, one cannot say that one perceives a spiritual relationship in organic nature after the manner of Goethe. One must seek for the spirit within the human soul, and consider a spiritual contemplation of nature inadmissible.

I discovered that there was no theory of cognition fitting Goethe’s kind of cognition. This induced me to undertake to sketch such a theory. I wrote my Erkenntnistheorie der Goethe’schen Weltanschauung(6) out of an inner need before I proceeded to prepare the other volumes of Goethe’s natural scientific writings. This little book was finished in 1886.


  1. The Volkschule course usually extends from the sixth to the tenth year; the Mittelschule covers the three following years, though the term is not always so definite.
  2. That is, the boy completed in two years what children usually do in the years from the sixth to the tenth year of age.
  3. The next to the last year in the Gymnasium
  4. Phenomenology of Moral Consciousness.
  5. Religious Consciousness in Man in the Stages of its Evolution.
  6. Theory of Cognition in Goethe’s World Conception

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Rudolf Steiner – The Story of My Life Chapter I @ Rudolf Steiner Archives

030 Nicholas Roerich Book of Life 1938

ART : Nicholas Roerich – Book of Life 1938


The Story of My Life

Chapter I


IN public discussions of the anthroposophy for which I stand there have been mingled for some time past statements and judgments about the course which my life has taken. From what has been said in this connection conclusions have been drawn with regard to the origin of the variations so called which some persons believe they have discovered in the course of my spiritual evolution. In view of these facts, friends have felt that it would be well if I myself should write something about my own life.

This does not accord, I must confess, with my own inclinations. For it has always been my endeavour so to order what I might have to say and what I might think well to do according as the thing itself might require, and not from personal considerations. To be sure, it has always been my conviction that in many provinces of life the personal element gives to human action a colouring of the utmost value; only it seems to me that this personal element should reveal itself through the manner in which one speaks and acts, and not through conscious attention to one’s own personality. Whatever may come about as a result of such attention is something a man has to settle with himself.

And so it has been possible for me to resolve upon the following narration only because it is necessary to set in a true light by means of an objective written statement many a false judgment in reference to the consistency between my life and the thing that I have fostered, and because those who through friendly interest have urged this upon me seem to me justified in view of such false judgments.

The home of my parents was in Lower Austria. My father was born at Geras, a very small place in the Lower Austrian forest region; my mother at Horn, a city of the same district.

My father passed his childhood and youth in the most intimate association with the seminary of the Premonstratensian Order at Geras. He always looked back with the greatest affection upon this time in his life. He liked to tell how he served in the college, and how the monks instructed him. Later on, he was a huntsman in the service of Count Hoyos. This family had a place at Horn. It was there that my father became acquainted with my mother. Then he gave up the work of huntsman and became a telegraphist on the Southern Austrian Railway. He was sent at first to a little station in southern Styria. Then he was transferred to Kraljevec on the border between Hungary and Croatia. It was during this period that he married my mother. Her maiden name was Blie. She was descended from an old family of Horn. I was born at Kraljevec on February 27, 1861. It thus happened that the place of my birth was far removed from that part of the world from which my family came.

My father, and my mother as well, were true children of the South Austrian forest country, north of the Danube. It is a region into which the railway was late in coming. Even to this day it has left Geras untouched. My parents loved the life they had lived in their native region. When they spoke of this, one realized instinctively how in their souls they had never parted from that birthplace in spite of the fate that forced them to pass the greater part of their lives far away from it. And so, when my father retired, after a life filled with work, they returned at once there-to Horn.

My father was a man of the utmost good will, but of a temper – especially while he was still young – which could be passionately aroused. The work of a railway employee was to him a matter of duty; he had no love for it. While I was still a boy, he would sometimes have to remain on duty for three days and three nights continuously. Then he would be relieved for twenty-four hours. Under such conditions life for him wore no bright colours; all was dull grey. Some pleasure he found in keeping up with political developments. In these he took the liveliest interest. My mother, since our worldly goods were none too plentiful, was forced to devote herself to household duties. Her days were filled with loving care of her children and of the little home.

When I was a year and a half old; my father was transferred to Mödling, near Vienna. There my parents remained a half-year. Then my father was put in charge of the little station on the Southern Railway at Pottschach in Lower Austria, near the Styrian border. There I lived from my second to my eighth year. A wonderful landscape formed the environment of my childhood. The view stretched as far as the mountains that separate Lower Austria from Styria: “Snow Mountain,” Wechsel, the Rax Alps, the Semmering. Snow Mountain caught the sun’s earliest rays on its bare summit, and the kindling reflection of these from the mountain down to the little village was the first greeting of dawn in the beautiful summer days. The grey back of the Wechsel put one by contrast in a sober mood. It was as if the mountains rose up out of the all-surrounding green of the friendly landscape. On the distant boundaries of the circle one had the majesty of the peaks, and close around the tenderness of nature.

But around the little station all interest was centered on the business of the railway. At that time the trains passed in that region only at long intervals; but, when they came, many of the men of the village who could spare the time were generally gathered at the station, seeking thus to bring some change into their lives, which they found otherwise very monotonous. The schoolmaster, the priest, the book-keeper of the manor, and often the burgomaster as well, would be there.

It seems to me that passing my childhood in such an environment had a certain significance for my life. For I felt a very deep interest in everything about me of a mechanical character; and I know how this interest tended constantly to overshadow in my childish soul the affections which went out to that tender and yet mighty nature into which the railway train, in spite of being in subjection to this mechanism, must always disappear in the far distance.

In the midst of all this there was present the influence of a certain personality of marked originality, the priest of St. Valentin, a place that one could reach on foot from Pottschach in about three-quarters of an hour. This priest liked to come to the home of my parents. Almost every day he took a walk to our home, and he nearly always stayed for a long time. He belonged to the liberal type of Catholic cleric, tolerant and genial; a robust, broad-shouldered man. He was quite witty, too; had many jokes to tell, and was pleased when he drew a laugh from the persons about him. And they would laugh even more loudly over what he had said long after he was gone. He was a man of a practical way of life, and liked to give good practical advice. Such a piece of practical counsel produced its effects in my family for a long time. There was a row of acacia trees (Robinien) on each side of the railway at Pottschach. Once we were walking along the little footpath under these trees, when he remarked: “Ah, what beautiful acacia blossoms these are!” He seized one of the branches at once and broke off a mass of the blossoms. Spreading out his huge red pocket-handkerchief – he was extremely fond of snuff – he carefully wrapped the twigs in this, and put the “Binkerl” under his arm. Then he said: “How lucky you are to have so many acacia blossoms! “My father was astonished, and answered: “Why, what can we do with them?” “Wh-a-a-t?” said the priest. “Don’t you know that you can bake the acacia blossoms just like elder flowers, and that they taste much better then because they have a far more delicate aroma?” From that time on we often had in our family, as opportunity offered from time to time, “baked acacia blossoms.”

In Pottschach a daughter and another son were born to my parents. There was never any further addition to the family.

As a very young child I showed a marked individuality. From the time that I could feed myself, I had to be carefully watched. For I had formed the conviction that a soup-bowl or a coffee cup was meant to be used only once; and so, every time that I was not watched, as soon as I had finished eating something I would throw the bowl or the cup under the table and smash it to pieces. Then, when my mother appeared, I would call out to her : “Mother, I’ve finished!”

This could not have been a mere propensity for destroying things, since I handled my toys with the greatest care, and kept them in good condition for a long time. Among these toys those that had the strongest attraction for me were the kind which even now I consider especially good. These were picture-books with figures that could be made to move by pulling strings attached to them at the bottom. One associated little stories with these figures, to whom one gave a part of their life by pulling the strings. Many a time have I sat by the hour poring over the picture-books with my sister. Besides, I learned from them by myself the first steps in reading.

My father was concerned that I should learn early to read and write. When I reached the required age, I was sent to the village school. The schoolmaster was an old man to whom the work of “teaching school” was a burdensome business. Equally burdensome to me was the business of being taught by him. I had no faith whatever that I could ever learn anything from him. For he often came to our house with his wife and his little son, and this son, according to my notions at that time, was a scamp. So I had this idea firmly fixed in my head: “Whoever has such a scamp for a son, nobody can learn anything from him.” Besides, something else happened, “quite dreadful.” This scamp, who also was in the school, played the prank one day of dipping a chip into all the ink-wells of the school and making circles around them with dabs of ink. His father noticed these. Most of the pupils had already gone. The teacher’s son, two other boys, and I were still there. The schoolmaster was beside himself; he talked in a frightful manner. I felt sure that he would actually roar but for the fact that his voice was always husky. In spite of his rage, he got an inkling from our behaviour as to who the culprit was. But things then took a different turn. The teacher’s home was next-door to the school-room. The “lady head mistress” heard the commotion and came into the school-room with wild eyes, waving her arms in the air. To her it was perfectly clear that her little son could not have done this thing. She put the blame on me. I ran away. My father was furious when I reported this matter at home. Then, the next time the teacher’s family came to our house, he told them with the utmost bluntness that the friendship between us was ended, and added baldly: “My boy shall never set foot in your school again,” Now my father himself took over the task of teaching me; and so I would sit beside him in his little office by the hour, and had to read and write between whiles whenever he was busy with his duties.

Neither with him could I feel any real interest in what had to come to me by way of direct instruction. What interested me was the things that my father himself was writing. I would imitate what he did. In this way I learned a great deal. As to the things I was taught by him, I could see no reason why I should do these just for my own improvement. On the other hand, I became rooted, in a child’s way, in everything that formed a part of the practical work of life. The routine of a railway office, everything connected with it, – this caught my attention. It was, however, more especially the laws of nature that had already taken me as their little errand boy. When I wrote, it was because I had to write, and I wrote as fast as I could so that I should soon have a page filled. For then I could strew the sort of dust my father used over this writing. Then I would be absorbed in watching how quickly the dust dried up the ink, and what sort of mixture they made together. I would try the letters over and over with my fingers to discover which were already dry, which not. My curiosity about this was very great, and it was in this way chiefly that I quickly learned the alphabet. Thus my writing lessons took on a character that did not please my father, but he was good-natured and reproved me only by frequently calling me an incorrigible little “rascal.” This, however, was not the only thing that evolved in me by means of the writing lessons. What interested me more than the shapes of the letters was the body of the writing quill itself. I could take my father’s ruler and force the point of this into the slit in the point of the quill, and in this manner carry on researches in physics, concerning the elasticity of a feather. Afterwards, of course, I bent the feather back into shape; but the beauty of my handwriting distinctly suffered in this process.

This was also the time when, with my inclination toward the understanding of natural phenomena, I occupied a position midway between seeing through a combination of things, on the one hand, and “the limits of understanding” on the other. About three minutes from the home of my parents there was a mill. The owners of the mill were the god-parents of my brother and sister. We were always welcome at this mill. I often disappeared within it. Then I studied with all my heart the work of a miller. I forced a way for myself into the “interior of nature.” Still nearer us, however, there was a yarn factory. The raw material for this came to the railway station; the finished product went away from the station. I participated thus in everything which disappeared within the factory and everything which reappeared. We were strictly forbidden to take one peep at the “inside” of this factory. This we never succeeded in doing. There were the “limits of understanding” And how I wished to step across the boundaries! For almost every day the manager of the factory came to see my father on some matter of business. For me as a boy this manager was a problem, casting a miraculous veil, as it were, over the “inside” of those works. He was spotted here and there with white tufts; his eyes had taken on a certain set look from working at machinery. He spoke hoarsely, as if with a mechanical speech. “What is the connection between this man and everything that is surrounded by those walls?” – this was an insoluble problem facing my mind. But I never questioned anyone regarding the mystery. For it was my childish conviction that it does no good to ask questions about a problem which is concealed from one’s eyes. Thus I lived between the friendly mill and the unfriendly factory.

Once something happened at the station that was very “dreadful.” A freight train rumbled up. My father stood looking at it. One of the rear cars was on fire. The crew had not noticed this at all. All that followed as a result of this made a deep impression on me. Fire had started in a car by reason of some highly inflammable material. For a long time I was absorbed in the question how such a thing could happen. What my surroundings said to me in this case was, as in many other matters, not to my satisfaction. I was filled with questions, and I had to carry these about with me unanswered. It was thus that I reached my eighth year.

During my eighth year the family moved to Neudörfl, a little Hungarian village. This village is just at the border over against Lower Austria. The boundary here was formed by the Laytha River. The station that my father had in charge was at one end of the village. Half an hour’s walk further on was the boundary stream. Still another half-hour brought one to Wiener-Neustadt.

The range of the Alps that I had seen close by at Pottschach was now visible only at a distance. Yet the mountains still stood there in the background to awaken our memories when we looked at lower mountains that could be reached in a short time from our family’s new home. Massive heights covered with beautiful forests bounded the view in one direction; in the other, the eye could range over a level region, decked out in fields and woodland, all the way to Hungary. Of all the mountains, I gave my unbounded love to one that could be climbed in three-quarters of an hour. On its crest there stood a chapel containing a painting of Saint Rosalie. This chapel came to be the objective of a walk which I often took at first with my parents and my sister and brother, and later loved to take alone. Such walks were filled with a special happiness because of the fact that at that time of year we could bring back with us rich gifts of nature. For in these woods there were blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. One could often find an inner satisfaction in an hour and a half of berrying for the purpose of adding a delicious contribution to the family supper, which otherwise consisted merely of a piece of buttered bread or bread and cheese for each of us.

Still another pleasant thing came from rambling about in these forests, which were the common property of all. There the villagers got their supplies of wood. The poor gathered it for themselves; the well-to-do had servants to do this. One could become acquainted with all of these most-friendly persons. They always had time for a chat when Steiner Rudolf met them. “So thou goest again for a bit of a walk, Steiner Rudolf” – thus they would begin, and then they would talk about everything imaginable. The people did not think of the fact that they had a mere child before them. For at the bottom of their souls they also were only children, even when they could number sixty years. And so I really learned from the stories they told me almost everything that happened in the houses of the village.

Half an hour’s walk from Neudörfl is Sauerbrunn, where there is a spring containing iron and carbonic acid. The road to this lies along the railway, and part of the way through beautiful woods. During vacation time I went there every day early in the morning, carrying with me a “Blutzer.” This is a water vessel made of clay. The smallest of these hold three or four litres. One could fill this without charge at the spring. Then at midday the family could enjoy the delicious sparkling water.

Toward Wiener-Neustadt and farther on toward Styria, the mountains fall away to a level country. Through this level country the Laytha River winds its way. On the slope of the mountains there was a cloister of the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer. I often met the monks on my walks. I still remember how glad I should have been if they had spoken to me. They never did. And so I carried away from these meetings an undefined but solemn feeling which remained constantly with me for a long time. It was in my ninth year that the idea became fixed in me that there must be weighty matters in connection with the duties of these monks which I ought to learn to understand. There again I was filled with questions which I had to carry around unanswered. Indeed, these questions about all possible sorts of things made me as a boy very lonely.

On the foothills of the Alps two castles were visible: Pitten and Frohsdorf. In the second there lived at that time Count Chambord, who, at the beginning of the year 1870, claimed the throne of France as Henry V. Very deep were the impressions that I received from that fragment of life bound up with the castle Frohsdorf. The Count with his retinue frequently took the train for a journey from the station at Neudörfl.

Everything drew my attention to these men. Especially deep was the impression made by one man in the Count’s retinue. He had but one ear. The other had been slashed off clean. The hair lying over this he had braided. At the sight of this I perceived for the first time what a duel is. For it was in this manner that the man had lost one ear.

Then, too, a fragment of social life unveiled itself to me in connection with Frohsdorf. The assistant teacher at Neudörfl, whom I was often permitted to see at work in his little chamber, prepared innumerable petitions to Count Chambord for the poor of the village and the country around. In response to every such appeal there always came back a donation of one gulden, and from this the teacher was always allowed to keep six kreuzer for his services. This income he had need of, for the annual salary yielded him by his profession was fifty-eight gulden. In addition, he had his morning coffee and his lunch with the “schoolmaster.” Then, too, he gave special lessons to about ten children, of whom I was one. For such lessons the charge was one gulden a month.

To this assistant teacher I owe a great deal. Not that I was greatly benefited by his lessons at the school. In that respect I had about the same experience as at Pottschach. As soon as we moved to Neudörfl, I was sent to school there This school consisted of one room in which five classes of both boys and girls all had their lessons. While the boy who sat on my bench were at their task of copying out the story of King Arpad, the very little fellows stood at a black board on which i and u had been written with chalk for them. It was simply impossible to do anything save to let the mind fall into a dull reverie while the hands almost mechanically took care of the copying. Almost all the teaching had to be done by the assistant teacher alone. The “schoolmaster” appeared in the school only very rarely. He was also the village notary, and it was said that in this occupation he had so much to take up his time that he could never keep school.

In spite of all this I learned earlier than usual to read well. Because of this fact the assistant teacher was able to take hold of something within me which has influenced the whole course of my life. Soon after my entrance into the Neudörfl school, I found a book on geometry in his room. I was on such good terms with the teacher that I was permitted at once to borrow the book for my own use. I plunged into it with enthusiasm. For weeks at a time my mind it was filled with coincidences, similarities between triangles, squares, polygons; I racked my brains over the question: Where do parallel lines actually meet? The theorem of Pythagoras fascinated me. That one can live within the mind in the shaping of forms perceived only within oneself, entirely without impression upon the external senses – this gave me the deepest satisfaction. I found in this a solace for the unhappiness which my unanswered questions had caused me. To be able to lay hold upon something in the spirit alone brought to me an inner joy. I am sure that I learned first in geometry to experience this joy.

In my relation to geometry I must now perceive the first budding forth of a conception which has since gradually evolved in me. This lived within me more or less unconsciously during my childhood, and about my twentieth year took a definite and fully conscious form.

I said to myself: “The objects and occurrences which the senses perceive are in space. But, just as this space is outside of man, so there exists also within man a sort of soul-space which is the arena of spiritual realities and occurrences.” In my thoughts I could not see anything in the nature of mental images such as man forms within him from actual things, but I saw a spiritual world in this soul-arena. Geometry seemed to me to be a knowledge which man appeared to have produced but which had, nevertheless, a significance quite independent of man. Naturally I did not, as a child, say all this to myself distinctly, but I felt that one must carry the knowledge of the spiritual world within oneself after the fashion of geometry.

For the reality of the spiritual world was to me as certain as that of the physical. I felt the need, however, for a sort of justification for this assumption. I wished to be able to say to myself that the experience of the spiritual world is just as little an illusion as is that of the physical world. With regard to geometry I said to myself: “Here one is permitted to know something which the mind alone, through its own power, experiences.” In this feeling I found the justification for the spiritual world that I experienced, even as, so to speak, for the physical. And in this way I talked about this. I had two conceptions which were naturally undefined, but which played a great role in my mental life even before my eighth year. I distinguished things as those “which are seen” and those “which are not seen.”

I am relating these matters quite frankly, in spite of the fact that those persons who are seeking for evidence to prove that anthroposophy is fantastic will, perhaps, draw the conclusion from this that even as a child I was marked by a gift for the fantastic: no wonder, then, that a fantastic philosophy should also have evolved within me.

But it is just because I know how little I have followed my own inclinations in forming conceptions of a spiritual world – having on the contrary followed only the inner necessity of things – that I myself can look back quite objectively upon the childlike unaided manner in which I confirmed for myself by means of geometry the feeling that I must speak of a world “which is not seen.”

Only I must also say that I loved to live in that world For I should have been forced to feel the physical world as a sort of spiritual darkness around me had it not received light from that side.

The assistant teacher of Neudörfl had provided me, in the geometry text-book, with that which I then needed – justification for the spiritual world.

In other ways also I owe much to him. He brought to me the element of art. He played the piano and the violin and he drew a great deal. These things attracted me powerfully to him. Just as much as I possibly could be, was I with him. Of drawing he was especially fond, and even in my ninth year he interested me in drawing with crayons. I had in this way to copy pictures under his direction. Long did I sit, for instance, copying a portrait of Count Szedgenyi.

Very seldom at Neudörfl, but frequently in the neighbouring town of Sauerbrunn, could I listen to the impressive music of the Hungarian gipsies.

All this played its part in a childhood which was passed in the immediate neighbourhood of the church and the churchyard. The station at Neudörfl was but a few steps from the church, and between these lay the churchyard. If one went along by the churchyard and then a short stretch further, one came into the village itself. This consisted of two rows of houses. One row began with the school and the other with the home of the priest. Between those two rows of houses flowed a little brook, along the banks of which grew stately nut trees. In connection with these nut trees an order of precedence grew up among the children of the school. When the nuts began to get ripe, the boys and girls assailed the trees with stones, and in this way laid in a winter’s supply of nuts. In autumn almost the only thing anyone talked about was the size of his harvest of nuts. Whoever had gathered most of all was the most looked up to, and then step by step was the descent all the way down – to me, the last, who as an “outsider in the village” had no right to share in this order of precedence.

Near the railway station, the row of most important houses, in which the “big farmers” lived, was met at right angles by a row of some twenty houses owned by the “middle class” villagers. Then, beginning from the gardens which belonged to the station, came a group of thatched houses belonging to the “small cottagers.” These constituted the immediate neighbourhood of my family. The roads leading out from the village went past fields and vineyards that were owned by the villagers. Every year I took part with the “small cottagers” in the vintage, and once also in a village wedding.

Next to the assistant teacher, the person whom I loved most among those who had to do with the direction of the school was the priest. He came regularly twice a week to give instruction in religion and often besides for inspection of the school. The image of the man was deeply impressed upon my mind, and he has come back into my memory again and again throughout my life. Among the persons whom I came to know up to my tenth or eleventh year, he was by far the most significant. He was a vigorous Hungarian patriot. He took active part in the process of Magyarizing the Hungarian territory which was then going forward. From this point of view he wrote articles in the Hungarian language, which I thus learned through the fact that the assistant teacher had to make clear copies of these and he always discussed their contents with me in spite of my youthfulness. But the priest was also an energetic worker for the Church. This once impressed itself deeply upon my mind through one of his sermons.

At Neudörfl there was a lodge of Freemasons. To the villagers this was shrouded in mystery, and they wove about it the most amazing legends. The leading role in this lodge belonged to the manager of a match-factory which stood at the end of the village. Next to him in prominence among the persons immediately interested in the matter were the manager of another factory and a clothing merchant. Otherwise the only significance attaching to the lodge arose from the fact that from time to time strangers from “remote parts” were visitors there, and these seemed to the villagers in the highest degree unwelcome. The clothing merchant was a noteworthy person. He always walked with his head bowed over as if in deep thought. People called him “the make-believe,” and his isolation rendered it neither possible nor necessary that anyone should approach him. The building in which the lodge met belonged to his home.

I could establish no sort of relationship to this lodge. For the entire behaviour of the persons about me in regard to this matter was such that here again I had to refrain from asking questions; besides, the utterly absurd way in which the manager of the match-factory talked about the church made a shocking impression on me.

Then one Sunday the priest delivered a sermon in his energetic fashion in which he set forth in due order the true principles of morality for human life and spoke of the enemy of the truth in figures of speech framed to fit the lodge. As a climax, he delivered his advice: “Beloved Christians, beware of him who is an enemy of the truth: for example, a Mason or a Jew.” In the eyes of the people, the factory owner and the clothing merchant were thus authoritatively exposed. The vigour with which this had been uttered made a specially deep impression upon me. I owe to the priest also, because of a certain profound impression made upon me, a very great deal in the later orientation of my spiritual life. One day he came into the school, gathered round him in the teacher’s little room the “riper” children, among whom he included me, unfolded a drawing he had made, and with the help of this explained to us the Copernican system of astronomy. He spoke about this very vividly – the revolution of the earth around the sun, its rotation on its axis, the inclination of the axis in summer and winter, and also the zones of the earth. In all of it I was absorbed; I made drawings of a similar kind for days together, and then received from the priest further special instruction concerning eclipses of the sun and the moon; and thence-forward I directed all my search for knowledge toward this subject. I was then about ten years old, and I could not yet write without mistakes in spelling and grammar.

Of the deepest significance for my life as a boy was the nearness of the church and the churchyard beside it. Everything that happened in the village school was affected in its course by its relationship to these. This was not by reason of certain dominant social and political relationships existing in every community; it was due to the fact that the priest was an impressive personality. The assistant teacher was at the same time organist of the church and custodian of the vestments used at Mass and of the other church furnishings. He performed all the services of an assistant to the priest in his religious ministrations. We schoolboys had to carry out the duties of ministrants and choristers during Mass, rites for the dead, and funerals. The solemnity of the Latin language and of the liturgy was a thing in which my boyish soul found a Vital happiness. Because of the fact that up to my tenth year I took such an earnest part in the services of the church, I was often in the company of the priest whom I so revered. In the home of my parents I received no encouragement in this matter of my relationship to the church. My father took no part in this. He was then a “freethinker.” He never entered the church to which I had become so deeply attached; and yet he also, as a boy and as a young man, had been equally devoted and active. In his case this all changed once more only when he went back, as an old man on a pension, to Horn, his native region. There he became again “a pious man.” But by that time I had long ceased to have any association with my parents’ home.

From the time of my boyhood at Neudörfl, I have always had the strongest impression of the manner in which the contemplation of the church services in close connection with the solemnity of liturgical music causes the riddle of existence to rise in powerful suggestive fashion before the mind. The instruction in the Bible and the catechism imparted by the priest had far less effect upon my mental world than what he accomplished by means of liturgy in mediating between the sensible and the supersensible. From the first this was to me no mere form, but a profound experience. It was all the more so because of the fact that in this I was a stranger in the home of my parents. Even in the atmosphere I had to breathe in my home, my spirit did not lose that vital experience which it had acquired from the liturgy. I passed my life amid this home environment without sharing in it, perceived it; but my real thoughts, feelings, and experience were continually in that other world. I can assert emphatically however, in this connection that I was no dreamer, but quite self-sufficient in all practical affairs.

A complete counterpart to this world of mine was my father’s political affairs. He and another employee took turns on duty. This man lived at another railway station, for which he was partly responsible. He came to Neudörfl only every two or three days. During the free hours of the evening he and my father would talk politics. This would take place at a table which stood near the station under two huge and wonderful lime trees. There our whole family and the other employee would assemble. My mother knitted or crocheted; my brother and sister busied themselves about us; I would often sit at the table and listen to the unheard of political arguments of the two men. My participation, however, never had anything to do with the sense of what they were saying, but only with the form which the conversation took. They were always on opposite sides; if one said “Yes,” the other always contradicted him with “No.” All this, however, was marked, not only by a certain intensity – indeed, violence – but also by the good humour which was a basic element in my father’s nature.

In the little circle often gathered there, to which were frequently added some of the “notabilities” of the village, there appeared at times a doctor from Wiener-Neustadt. He had many patients in this place, where at that time there was no physician. He came from Wiener-Neustadt to Neudörfl on foot, and would come to the station after visiting his patients to wait for the train on which he went back. This man passed with my parents, and with most persons who knew him, as an odd character. He did not like to talk about his profession as a doctor, but all the more gladly did he talk about German literature. It was from him that I first heard of Lessing, Goethe, Schiller. At my home there was never any such conversation. Nothing was known of such things. Nor in the village school was there any mention of such matters. There the emphasis was all on Hungarian history. Priest and assistant teacher had no interest in the masters of German literature. And so it happened that with the Wiener-Neustadt doctor a whole new world came within my range of vision. He took an interest in me; often drew me aside after he had rested for a while under the lime trees, walked up and down with me by the station, and talked – not like a lecturer, but enthusiastically – about German literature. In these talks he set forth all sorts of ideas as to what is beautiful and what is ugly.

This also has remained as a picture with me, giving me many happy hours in memory throughout my life: the tall, slender doctor, with his quick, long stride, always with his umbrella in his right hand held invariably in such a way that it dangled by his side, and I, a boy of ten years, on the other side, quite absorbed in what the man was saying.

Along with all these things I was tremendously concerned with everything pertaining to the railroad. I first learned the principles of electricity in connection with the station telegraph. I learned also as a boy to telegraph.

As to language, I grew up in the dialect of German that is spoken in Eastern Lower Austria. This was really the same as that then used in those parts of Hungary bordering on Lower Austria. My relationship to reading and that to writing were entirely different. In my boyhood I passed rapidly over the words in reading; my mind went immediately to the perceptions, the concepts, the ideas, so that I got no feeling from reading either for spelling or for writing grammatically. On the other hand, in writing I had a tendency to fix the word-forms in my mind by their sounds as I generally heard them spoken in the dialect. For this reason it was only after the most arduous effort that I gained facility in writing the literary language; whereas reading was easy for me from the first.

Under such influences I grew up to the age at which my father had to decide whether to send me to the Gymnasium (1) or to the Realschule (1) at Wiener-Neustadt. From that time on I heard much talk with other persons – in between the political discussions – as to my own future. My father was given this and that advice; I already knew: “He likes to listen to what others say, but he acts according to his own fixed and definite determination.”


  1. The Gymnasium and the Realschule are secondary schools, the curriculum of the former giving more prominence to the classics and that of the later to science and modern languages.

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030 Nicholas Roerich Book of Life 1938