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Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age

Preface to the First Edition, 1901

Preface to the First Edition, 1901

What I discuss in this work previously formed the content of lectures which I gave in the course of the past winter at the theosophical library in Berlin. I had been invited by Count and Countess Brockdorff to talk on mysticism before an audience to whom the things dealt with in this connection are a vital question of great importance. — Ten years ago I would not yet have dared to comply with such a wish. This must not be taken to mean that the world of ideas to which I give expression today was not alive in me at that time. This world of ideas is already wholly contained in my Philosophie der Freiheit, Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, (Berlin, 1894). But in order so to express this world of ideas as I do today, and thus to make it the basis of a discussion as is done in this work, something is needed in addition to an unshakeable conviction of its conceptual truth. This requires an intimate familiarity with this world of ideas, such as can only be attained in the course of many years of one's life. Only now, after I have acquired this familiarity, do I dare to speak in the way which one will discover in this work.

He who does not encounter my world of ideas with an open mind will discover contradiction upon contradiction in it. Only recently have I dedicated a book on the philosophies of the nineteenth century (Berlin, 1900) to the great scientist Ernst Haeckel, a book which I terminated with a justification of his ideas. In the following expositions I speak with assenting devotion about the mystics from Meister Eckhart to Angelus Silesius. Of other “contradictions” which someone or other might enumerate, I shall not speak at all. — I am not surprised if I am condemned by one side as a “mystic,” by the other as a “materialist.” — If I find that the Jesuit priest Müller has solved a difficult chemical problem, and if I therefore agree with him without reservations in this matter, one can hardly condemn me as an adherent of Jesuitism without being considered a fool by the judicious.

One who like myself goes his own way is bound to be exposed to many misunderstandings. But fundamentally he can bear this easily. Such misunderstandings are generally self-evident for him when he considers the mental make-up of his critics. It is not without humorous feelings that I look back upon many a “critical” judgment I have received in the course of my career as a writer. At the beginning everything went well. I wrote about Goethe and in connection with him. What I said sounded to many as though they could fit it into their preconceived notions. This was done by saying, “A work such as Rudolf Steiner's introductions to the scientific writings of Goethe can be described honestly as the best that has been written on this question.” When later I published an independent work I had already become much more stupid. For now a benevolent critic gave the following advice: “Before he continues to reform and brings his Philosophy of Spiritual Activity into the world, one must urgently advise him first to penetrate to an understanding of those two philosophers (Hume and Kant).” The critic unfortunately knows only what he can manage to read in Kant and Hume; thus he really only advises me to see nothing in these thinkers beyond what he sees. When I shall have achieved this he will be satisfied with me. — When my Philosophie der Freiheit appeared I was in need of being judged like the most ignorant beginner. This judgment I received from a gentleman whom hardly anything forces to write books except the fact that there are innumerable volumes by others, which he has not understood. He informs me with much thoughtfulness that I would have noticed my mistakes if I “had pursued deeper psychological, logical, and epistemological studies;” and he immediately enumerates for me all the books which I should read in order to become as clever as he: “Mill, Sigwart, Wundt, Riehl, Paulsen, B. Erdmann.” — Especially diverting for me was the advice of a man who is so impressed by the way he “understands” Kant that he cannot even imagine someone's having read Kant and nevertheless having an opinion different from his. He therefore indicates to me the chapters in question in Kant's writings from which I might acquire an under standing of Kant as profound as his own.

I have here adduced a few typical judgments concerning my world of ideas. Although they are insignificant in themselves they appear to me to be well suited to indicate symptomatically certain facts which today constitute serious obstacles in the path of one who writes on questions of higher cognition. I must go my way, no matter whether one gives me the good advice to read Kant, or whether another accuses me of heresy because I agree with Haeckel. And so I have written about mysticism without caring what the judgments of a credulous materialist may be. I would only like, so that no printer's ink is quite needlessly wasted, to inform those who may now perhaps advise me to read Haeckel's Welträtsel, The Riddle of the Universe, that in the last months I have given about thirty lectures on this book.

I hope to have shown in my work that one can be a faithful follower of the scientific philosophy and still seek out the paths to the soul into which mysticism, properly understood, leads. I go even further and affirm: Only one who understands the spirit in the sense of true mysticism can attain a full understanding of facts in the realm of nature. One must only beware of confusing true mysticism with the “mysticism” of muddled heads. How mysticism can err I have shown in my Philosophie der Freiheit.

Berlin, September, 1901

Rudolf Steiner

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