The Foundations of Esotericism
Berlin, 26th September 1905
In all esoteric teaching it is important to learn how we should look at the things around us. Naturally everyone experiences something or other when looking at a flower or anything else in the environment. It is however necessary to gain a higher standpoint, to penetrate more deeply, to connect specific observations with every object. This is the basis, for instance, of the profound medical insight of Paracelsus. He sensed, felt and perceived the force inherent in a particular plant and the relationship of this force to some corresponding function in man. For example he perceived which organ of the human body was affected by Digitalis purpurea (foxglove).
To make this manner of observation clear we will take a particular example. All religions have symbols. We hear much about these today, but such explanations are usually external and arbitrary. Profound religious symbols are however drawn out of the very nature of the things themselves. Let us consider for instance the symbol of the serpent, which was imparted to Moses in the Egyptian Mystery Schools. We will consider what inspired him, what gave him Intuition.
A fundamental difference exists between all those animal creatures having a vertebral column and those, such as beetles, molluscs, worms and so on which have none. The entire animal kingdom falls into the main sections of the vertebrate and the invertebrate animals. In the case of the invertebrates one can put the question: Where are their nerves situated? For the principal nerve-cord passes through the spinal column. The invertebrates however do also have a nervous system, as is the case with human beings and vertebrate animals. With the latter it is distributed outside along the spine until it spreads into the cavity of the body. This is called the sympathetic nervous system together with the solar plexus. It is the same system which the invertebrate animals also possess: only for the vertebrates and man, it has less significance. With the invertebrates this system is much more closely connected with the rest of the world than the nervous system in man's head and spine. The activity of this latter can be obliterated in a condition of trance; then the sympathetic nervous system comes into action. This occurs for instance in the case of somnambulists. The consciousness of the sleepwalker is spread out over the whole life of the environment and goes over into the other beings surrounding us. The somnambulist experiences external things within him. Now the Life-ether is the element which everywhere streams around us. The solar plexus is its mediator. If we were only able to perceive with the solar plexus we should live in intimate communion with the whole world. This is so with the invertebrate animals. For instance, such a creature feels a flower as being within itself. In the earth system the invertebrate animal is somewhat similar to the eye and ear in man. It is part of the organism. There is actually a common spiritual organism which perceives, sees, hears and so on through the invertebrate animals. The Earth-Spirit is such a common spiritual organism. Everything which we have around us is a body for this common spirit. Just as our soul creates eyes and ears in order to perceive the world, so does this common Earth-Soul create the invertebrate animals as eyes and ears in order to see and hear the world.
In the evolution of the Earth there came a time when a process of separation set in. A part separated itself off, as though in a tube. Only when this point of time was reached did it become in any way possible for beings to develop which could become separate entities. The others are members of the one Earth-Soul. Now for the first time a special grade of separation began. For the first time the possibility arose that one day something would be able to say ‘I’ to itself. This fact — that there are two epochs on the Earth, firstly, the epoch in which there were no animals having a nervous system enclosed within a bony tube; secondly, the epoch in which such animals came into being — this fact is distinctly expressed in all religions. The snake is the first to enclose within a tube the selfless undifferentiated gaze of the Earth Spirit, thus forming the basis of ego hood. This fact was impressed on their pupils by the esoteric teachers in such a way that they were able to say to themselves: ‘Look at the snake and you will see the sign of your ego’. This had to be accompanied by the vivid experience that the independent ego and the snake belong together. Thus an awareness of the significance of the things around us was developed, so that the pupils endowed each being in the realm of Nature with the appropriate feeling-content. Moses also was forearmed by such an experience when he went out from the Egyptian Mystery Schools, and so he lifted up the snake as a symbol. In those schools one did not learn in such an abstract way as one does nowadays; one learned to comprehend the world out of one's own inner perception.
We have a description of the human being based on the external investigation of the different parts of his organism, but we can also find man described in old mystical and occult works. These descriptions, however, have arisen in quite another way than by anatomical examination. They are indeed of far greater exactitude and much more correct than what is described today by the anatomist, for he only describes the corpse. The old descriptions were gained in such a way that the pupils, through meditation, through inner illumination, became visible to themselves. By means of the so-called Kundalini Fire 1 See glossary of theosophical terms. man is able to observe himself from within outwards. There are different stages of this observation. The exact, correct observation appears at first in symbols. If man concentrates for instance on his spinal cord, it is a fact that he always sees a snake. He may perhaps also dream of a snake, because this is the creature which was placed out in the world when the spinal cord was formed, and has remained at this stage. The snake is the spinal column outwardly projected into the world. This pictorial way of seeing things is astral vision (Imagination). But it is only through mental vision (Inspiration) that the full significance is revealed.
This path of knowledge leads man to the recognition of the connection between microcosm and macrocosm, so that he is able to divide himself up within the kingdoms of Nature, so that he is able to say to which part of the world each single one of his organs belongs. The old Germanic myth distributes the giant Imir in this way. The dome of the heavens is made from his skull; the mountains from his bones and so on. 2 In the old Nordic germanic myth dealing with the beginning of the world the different parts of the world were created out of the body of the primaeval giant: from the flesh the earth, from the blood the water, from the bones the rocks, from the hair the forests, from the skull the sky, from the brain the clouds. That is the mythological presentation of this inner vision. Each part of the world reveals to the esotericist its connection with something in himself. The inner relationship then becomes apparent. All religions point to this kind of intensive development. The Gospels also indicate it. The esotericist says to himself: Everything in the surrounding world — stones, plants and animals are signposts along the path of my own evolution. Without these kingdoms I could not exist. This consciousness fills us not only with the feeling that we have risen above these kingdoms, but also with the knowledge that our existence depends upon them.
There are seven grades of human consciousness: trance consciousness, deep sleep, dream consciousness, waking consciousness, psychic, super-psychic and spiritual consciousness. Actually these are in all twelve stages of consciousness; 3 See: Cosmic Memory, chapter on Saturn, also lecture 27.1.1908, The Influence of Spiritual Beings upon Man. Lec. 2. the five others are creative stages. They are those of the Creators, of the creative Gods. These twelve stages are related to the twelve signs of the zodiac. The human being must pass through the experiences of these twelve stages. He ascended through the trance, deep sleep and dream consciousness up to the present clear day consciousness. In the succeeding stages of planetary evolution he will reach still higher stages. All those which he has already passed through he will also retain within him. The physical body has the dull trance consciousness as this was gained by man on Old Saturn. The human etheric body has the consciousness of dreamless sleep, as this developed on Old Sun. The astral body dreams in the same way as one dreams during sleep. Dream consciousness derives from the Old Moon period. On our present Earth, man achieves waking consciousness. The ego has clear day-consciousness.
Higher development consists in this, that one casts out what is in one's own being in the same way as man has cast out the snake, thereby retaining the snake on a higher level in his spinal cord. With still further development human beings will not only cast out stones, plants and animals into the world, but also stages of consciousness. In a stock of bees, for example, there are three kinds of beings which have a soul in common. 4 See: Nine Lectures on Bees. Seemingly quite separated beings carry out a common work. In the future this will also be the case with man; he will separate off his organs. He will have to control consciously from outside all the single molecules of his brain. Then he will have become a higher being. This will also be so with his stages of consciousness. One can imagine a lofty being who has put forth from himself all twelve stages of consciousness. He himself is then present as the thirteenth and will say: I could not be what I am, if I had not separated off from myself these twelve stages of consciousness. The twelve apostles represent the stages of consciousness through which the Christ passed. This can be recognised in the thirteenth chapter of St. John in the description of the Washing of the Feet, 5 See: The Gospel of John in Relation to the other Three Gospels, Lecture 14. The Gospel of St. John. Notes on 3 lectures, Lecture 2. also: Festivals of the Seasons, second lecture on Easter which indicates that Christ is indebted to the apostles for his attainment of the higher stages of consciousness: ‘Verily, Verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord’. The more highly developed being has left the others behind on the way and has himself now become their servant. Not many people understand the meaning of these words; nevertheless, when they hear this narrative, through feeling they are prepared for understanding. In the first centuries after Christ, for example, through these narratives, our feeling life has been prepared. Otherwise, our causal body would not have been sufficiently prepared to receive the truth. It is through pictorial forms that the soul is prepared. This is why in earlier times the great initiates, with their outlook into the far future, taught people by means of stories. Even today such teachers have a concept of what will be brought about in the future by the teachings of Theosophy. Now man has in himself both good and evil. In the future this will become externally apparent as a kingdom of good and a kingdom of evil 6 See: The Apocalypse, lecture 12. And how at some future time those who are good will have to deal with those who are evil — this is what is being implanted in the soul today through the concepts of Theosophy. At first people were given pictures, now they receive concepts and, in the future, they will have to act in accordance with these in their practical life.