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Spiritual Soul Instructions and Observation of the World

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Course IV - Lecture III

The History of Spiritism

GA 52

May 30th, 1904

Today it is my task to speak about a topic that has millions of enthusiastic followers in the world, on one side, that has found the most violent adversaries, on the other side, not only adversaries who combat this field of the so-called spiritism the sharpest, but also those who ridicule it who lump together it with the darkest superstition or what they call dark superstition; adversaries who want to ignore it only with empty words of joke and scorn.

It may be not easy to speak just in our present about such a topic where as a rule with the “pros and cons” the most violent passions are aroused straight away. I would like to ask those listeners among you who may be enthusiastic followers of spiritism not to roundly condemn me immediately, if to you any of my explanations seems to correspond not completely to your views, because we representatives of theosophy, nevertheless, are combined with the spiritists in one matter in any case: we have the intention to investigate the higher spiritual worlds, those worlds which are beyond the everyday sense-perception. We are in agreement on that. However, on the other side, I would like to ask the scientists also to realise that that movement in whose name I myself speak has not chosen the slogan only like a signboard, as a phrase, but in the most serious sense of the word: no human opinion is higher than truth. — I would also like to ask the scientist to keep in mind that he may take into consideration that the views of science were subjected to change in the course of times, and that is why the scientific views of today cannot be regarded as being fixed.

Let me now outline the development of the spiritistic movement without taking sides, because no human opinion is higher than truth.

I would like to emphasise above all that the founders of the theosophical movement, Mrs. Helena Petrowna Blavatsky, and the great organiser, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, went out from the spiritistic movement. They were experts of the spiritistic movement and turned to the theosophical movement only, after they had vigorously searched for truth before within the spiritistic movement, but had not found it.

Theosophy does not want to combat spiritism, but to search for truth where it is to be found.

I would like to emphasise something else that will surprise some of you, however, that will not at all surprise others who are in the know. Allow me to express it: you can never hear the last word about spiritism and similar matters from people like me who are forced to speak about that. You know that there is in any science a rule which is simply justified by the scientific methods, and the rule is that one shows the results of science before a bigger audience in popular way. If one wants to do more intimate acquaintance with these results, if one wants to get to know the more intimate truth, then a longer way is necessary: a way using the different methods in any detail. As a rule the researchers are not able to report in popular talks what takes place inside of the laboratories, of the observatories. That applies to the physical science. On the other side, in the great spiritual movements of the world somebody who is reasonable and allowed to express the words with regard to the spiritual views has to withhold the last word because the last words are still of quite different kind. They are of such a kind that they can hardly be discussed publicly. That is why you can never hear the very last word of this matter from an occultist — unless you are able and want to go his ways most intimately. But to those who are in the know of the matter something becomes clear from the way how a matter is said, what is said not only between the lines, but perhaps also between the words.

After this introduction I would like to move on the topic which certainly has a tremendous cultural-historical significance even for somebody who wants to make it ridiculous. I would like to speak about the matter in a sense which really throws light from this point of view: what does spiritism search for today? Does it search for something new, or is it something ancient that it searches? Are the ways on which it looks absolutely novel, or has humankind gone on them since centuries or even since millennia? — If anybody puts these questions to himself, he reaches his goal concerning the history of spiritism the fastest. What the spiritists search for is at first the knowledge of those worlds which are beyond our sensory world, and secondly the significance of these worlds for the goal, for the determination of our human race.

If we ask ourselves: were these problems not the tasks of humankind, since it strives on our earth and wants anything? — Then we must say to ourselves: yes. And because they are certainly the highest tasks, it would already appear as something absurd from the beginning if in the world history something absolutely new had appeared with regard to these questions. It seems if we look around in the old and new spiritistic movements, as if we deal with something absolutely new. The strongest adversaries refer to the fact that it has brought something absolutely new into the world, and other adversaries say that the human beings had never needed to combat this movement like nowadays. There a change must have happened in humankind with regard to the way to look at the case. This is illuminated to us like lightning if we get clear in our mind that humankind has behaved in three different ways to the questions which we call spiritistic today.

There we have one way which we can find in the whole antiquity, a way which changes only in the Christian times. Then we have the second way to position ourselves to these questions, the whole Middle Ages through, till the 17th century. Only in the 17th century spiritism basically starts taking on a certain form that one can rightly call spiritism today.

The questions that the spiritist wants to answer today were the object of the so-called mysteries the whole antiquity through. I try only to characterise with few lines what one has to understand by mysteries. It was not the custom in antiquity to announce wisdom publicly. One had another view of wisdom and truth. One believed the whole antiquity through that it is necessary to train super-sensible organs to the knowledge of the super-sensible truth at first. One realised the fact that in every human being spiritual forces slumber which are not developed with the average human being, that spiritual forces slumber in the human nature which one can wake and develop by means of long exercises, through steps of development, which the disciples of the mysteries describe as very difficult. If the neophyte had developed such forces in him and had become a researcher of truth, one was of the opinion that he is to the average human being in such a way as a sighted is to a blind-born. This was also the goal within the holy mysteries. One aimed to achieve something similar in the spiritual field as today the doctor aims to achieve with the blind-born if he operates him that he becomes sighted. One was clear about the fact that — like with a blind-born who is operated the colours of the light and the forms of the things appear — a new world appears to somebody whose internal senses are woken, a world which the everyday reason cannot perceive. Thus the follower of the mysteries tried to develop a human being of lower level to one of higher level, to an initiate. Only the initiate should be able to recognise something of the super-sensible truth by immediate beholding, by spiritual intuition. The big mass of human beings could get the truth by means of pictures. The myths of antiquity, the legends about gods and world origin, which simply appear today — indeed, in certain sense rightly — as childish views of humankind, they are nothing but disguises of the super-sensible truth. The initiate informed people in pictures of that which he could behold within the temple mysteries. The whole Eastern mythology, the Greek and Roman mythologies, the Germanic mythology and the mythologies of the savage peoples are nothing but metaphorical, symbolic representations of the super-sensible truth. Of course, only somebody can completely understand this who occupies himself not in such a way as anthropology and ethnology do it but also with their spirit. He sees that a myth like the Hercules legend shows a deep inner truth; he sees that the conquest of the Golden Fleece by Jason shows a deep and true knowledge.

Then another way came with our calendar. I can indicate only roughly what I have to say. A certain basis of higher, spiritual truth was determined and made the object of the confessions, in particular of the Christian. And now this basis of spiritual truth was removed from any human research, from the immediate human striving. Those who studied the history of the Council of Nicaea know what I mean, and also those who understand the words of St. Augustine who says there: I would not believe in the truth of the divine revelation unless the authority of the church forces me. — Faith that determines a certain basis of the truth replaces the old mystery truth which retains it in pictures. Then follows the epoch when the big mass is no longer informed about the truth of the super-sensible world in pictures, but simply by authority. This is the second way how the big mass and those who had to lead them behaved to the highest truth. The mysteries provided it to the big mass on account of experience; it was provided by faith and fixed by authority in the Middle Ages.

But beside those who had the task to retain the big mass by faith and authority were also those in the 12th and 13th centuries — they existed at all times, but they did not appear publicly — who wanted to develop by immediate own beholding to the highest truth. These searched for it on the same ways on which it had been searched for within the mysteries. That is why we find in mediaeval times beside those who are only priests, also the mystics, theosophists and occultists, those who talk in an almost incomprehensible language hard to be understood by modern materialists and rationalists. We find people who had reached the secrets on the ways which avoid the senses. In an even more incomprehensible language those people spoke who had the guidance of the spirit as mystery priests. So we hear from one that he had the ability to send his thoughts miles away; another boasted that he could transform the whole sea into gold if it was permitted. Another says that he could construct a vehicle with which he would be able to move through the air.

There were times when people did not know how to do with such sayings, because they had no notion of how they were to be understood. Moreover, prejudices flourished against such a kind of investigation since the oldest times. That becomes clear to us at once where these prejudices came from. When in the first centuries of our calendar the Christian culture spread over the countries of the Mediterranean Sea, it appeared that the cult actions and the ceremonies of Christianity and also most of Christian dogmas agreed with ancient pagan traditions, and were not so different — even if in a watered way — from that which had took place in the old pagan Mithras temples. There said those who had the task to defend the reputation of the church: bad spirits gave the pagans these views; they aped within the pagan world what God revealed to the Christian church. — However, it is an odd imitation which leads the way of the original! The whole Christianity was aped in the pagan mysteries — if we apply the word of the accusers, what the church has later found! It is comprehensible that every other way than that of the authoritative Christian faith, as Augustine characterised it, was wrong and in the course of time it was regarded as such which was not given by good powers; since the church had to provide the good powers.

Thus these traditions continued through the whole Middle Ages. Those who wanted to come on their own ways, independently to the highest super-sensible truth were regarded as magicians, as allies of the bad or of the bad spirits. The mark stone is the Faust legend. Faust is the representative of those who want to get by own knowledge to the secrets. Hence, the bad powers must have captivated him. One should only do research in the writings handed down from earlier times, only the trust in authority should lead to the super-sensible powers. In spite of that, initiated minds realised — even if they were defamed as magicians and were prosecuted — that the time must come again when one has to progress to truth on own, human ways.

Thus we see occult brotherhoods originating in Europe from the middle of the Middle Ages on which led their members on the same ways as the old mysteries had done this to the development of higher intuitive forces. So that within such occult brotherhoods the way to the highest truth was taken like in the mysteries — I mention only that of the Rosicrucians, the deepest and most significant one, founded by Christian Rosenkreutz. This way can be investigated strictly historically till the 18th century. I cannot explain in detail how this happened; I can only give one example, the great representative of the occult science of the 16th and 17th centuries, Robert Fludd. He shows for those who have insight into these fields in all his writings that he knows the ways how to get to truth that he knows how to develop such forces that are of quite different kind than the forces in us which see any body of light before themselves. He shows that there are mysterious ways to get to the highest truth. He also speaks of the Rosicrucian Society in such a way that the relationship is clear to any initiate.

I would like to present three questions only to you to show you how these questions were discussed in veiled form at that time. He says of them that everybody who has arrived at the lowest level must be able to answer them with understanding. These questions and also their answers may appear quite futile to the rationalists and materialists. The first question which anybody must answer who wants to rise in worthy way to higher spiritual spheres is: where do you live? — The answer is: I live in the temple of wisdom, on the mountain of reason. — Understanding this sentence really, experiencing it internally means already to have opened certain inner senses.

The second sentence was: where truth comes from to you? — The answer is: it comes to me from the creative , and now there comes a word which cannot be translated at all into German: from the highest ..., mighty all-embracing spirit who has spoken through Solomon and wants to inform me about alchemy, magic and the kabala ... — This was the second question.

The third question is: what do you want to build? — The answer is: I want to build a temple like the tabernacle, like Solomon's temple, like the body of Christ and ... like something else that one does not pronounce.

You see — I cannot go into these questions further — that one veiled the super-sensible truth in a mysterious darkness for all non-initiates in such brotherhoods, and that the non-initiate should make himself worthy at first and had to get to a moral and intellectual summit. Somebody who had not stood the trials who did not have the force in himself to find the experiences inside was not judged as worthy, was not admitted to the initiation. One considered it as dangerous to know this truth. One knew that knowledge is connected with a tremendous power, with a power as the average human being does not suspect at all. Only somebody is able to possess this truth and power without any danger for humankind who has got to that moral and intellectual height. Otherwise one said: without having reached this height he behaves with this truth and power like a child that is sent with matches into a powder magazine.

Now one was of the opinion in these times that only somebody who is in the possession of the highest super-sensible truth can explain the phenomena as they are told everywhere and since millennia in a popular way — phenomena which the modern spiritism shows again. The matters were nothing new but something ancient that spiritism recognises today. In ancient times one spoke about the fact that the human being can have such an effect on the human beings as it is not the case, otherwise: certain human beings cause that knocking sounds are to be heard in their surroundings that objects move, contrary to the laws of gravitation, with or without touch that objects fly through the air without applying any physical force et cetera. Since the oldest times one knew that there are human beings who can be transported into certain states, today we call these states trance states, in which they speak about things about which they can never speak in the waking consciousness that they also tell about other worlds not belonging to our sense-perceptible world. One knew that there are human beings who communicate by signs about that which they see in such super-sensible worlds. One also knew that there are human beings who are able to see events which are far away from them and also to report about that; human beings who could foresee and forecast future events with the help of their prophetic gift. All that — we do not verify it today — is an ancient tradition. Those who believe to be able to accept it as truth consider it as something natural. Such not physical, not sense-perceptible phenomena were regarded as true through the whole Middle Ages. Indeed, they were considered by the church of the Middle Ages in such a way, as if they were caused by means of bad skills, but this should not touch us. In any case, the way to the super-sensible world was not searched for on the way of these phenomena in the time of the 17th and 18th centuries. Nobody claimed till those times that a dancing table, an anyhow appearing ghost which is seen with eyes or in any way in trance could reveal anything of a super-sensible world. Even if anybody told that he saw a blaze in Hanover from here, one believed it; but nobody saw anything in it that could seriously give information about the super-sensible world. Reasonable people considered it as a matter of course that one could not look for the super-sensible world that way. Those who wanted to get to super-sensible perception searched for it by developing inner forces in the occult brotherhoods.

Then another time came in the development of the West, in which one started looking for truth scientifically. There came the Copernican world view and the researches of physiology; technology, the discoveries of the blood circulation, of the ovum et cetera. One attained insights into nature with the senses. Somebody who does not approach the Middle Ages with prejudices but wants to get to know the world view of the Middle Ages in its true form, convinces himself soon that this medieval thinking did not imagine heaven and hell as localities in space, but that they were something spiritual to it. In mediaeval times no reasonable human being thought to advocate that world view which one attributes to the medieval scholars today. Copernicanism is nothing new in this sense. It is new in another sense; in the sense that since the 16th century sense-perception became decisive for truth; what one can see what one can perceive with the senses. The world view of the Middle Ages was not wrong as one often shows it today, but it was only a view which was not got with bodily eyes. The bodily sensualisation was a symbol of something spiritual. Also Dante did not imagine his hell and his heaven in the earthly sense; they were to be understood spiritually.

One broke with this point of view. The real psychologist of the human development finds out this. The sensuous was raised, and now sensuality conquered the world gradually. However, the human being got used to it without noticing it. Only the searching psychologist rushing behind the development is able to make a picture of it. The human being gets used to such changes. With his feeling, with his senses he looks at everything, and accepts the sensuous only as true. Without knowing it, people considered as a principle of the human nature to accept only what they can see in any way of what they can convince themselves by sensory inspection. People did not think much of such circles that spoke of an initiation and led to super-sensible truth on occult ways; everything had to be sensually shown.

What about the super-sensible view of the world? How could one find the super-sensible in the world in which one wanted to seek for truth only in the sensory effects? There were rare, so-called abnormal phenomena which were not explicable by means of natural forces known till then; phenomena that the physicist, the naturalist could not explain, and which one simply denied because one wanted to accept the sensually explicable only. There were these phenomena which were handed down through millennia to which the human being sought refuge now: now one went to them. Simultaneously with the urge to keep only to the sense-perceptible appearance the urge for the super-sensible resorted to such phenomena. One wanted to know what scientific criticism could not explain; one wanted to know how it is. When one started searching for evidences of another world in these matters, the birth of modern spiritism took place. We can give the hour of birth and the place where it happened. It was in 1716; there a book was published by a member of the Royal Society, a description of the western islands of Scotland. Everything was collected in it that was to be found out about the “second sight.” This is that which one cannot perceive with the usual eyes, but what one could find out only by super-sensible research. Here you have the precursor of everything that was later done by the so-called scientific side to the investigation of the spiritistic phenomena.

Now we also stand already at the gate of the whole spiritistic movement of the newer time. That person from whom the whole spiritistic movement started is one of the strangest of the world: Swedenborg. He influenced the whole 18th century. Even Kant argued with him. A person who could bring to life the modern spiritistic movement had to be disposed like Swedenborg. He was born in 1688 and died in 1772. In the first half of his life he was a naturalist who stood at the head of the natural sciences of his time. He encompassed them. Nobody has a right to attack Swedenborg as an illiterate man. We know that he was not only a perfect expert of his time, but he also anticipated a lot of scientific truths that one discovered on the universities only later. So he stood in the first half of his life not only completely on the scientific point of view which wanted to investigate everything by the appearance to the senses and by mathematical calculations, but he also was far ahead of his time in this regard. Then he completely turned to that which one calls visionariness. What Swedenborg experienced — you may call him a seer or visionary — was a particular class of phenomena. Somebody who is only somewhat initiated in these fields knows that Swedenborg could only experience this class of phenomena.

I only give a few examples. Swedenborg saw a conflagration in Stockholm from a place which was removed sixty miles from Stockholm. He informed the guests, with who he was in a soirée, about this event, and after some time one heard that the fire had happened in such a way as Swedenborg had told it. Another example: a high-ranking person asked for a secret which a brother had not completely told before his death because he died before. The person turned to Swedenborg with the strange demand whether he could not discover him and ask what he wanted to say. Swedenborg ridded himself of the order in such a way that the person in question could have no doubt that Swedenborg had penetrated into this secret.

Still the third example to show how Swedenborg moved within the super-sensible world. A scholar and friend visited Swedenborg. The servant said to him: you have to wait for some time, please. The scholar sat down and heard a discussion in the next room. However, he heard always only Swedenborg speaking; he did not hear answering. The case became even more noticeable to him when he heard the discussion taking place in wonderful classical Latin, and particularly when he heard him intimately talking about states of the emperor Augustus. Then Swedenborg went to the door, bowed before somebody and spoke with him but the friend could not see the visitor at all. Then Swedenborg came back and said to the friend: excuse that I let you wait. I had lofty visit — Virgil visited me.

People may think about such matters as they want. However, one thing is certain: Swedenborg believed in them, regarded them as reality. I said: only a person like Swedenborg could get to such a kind of research. Just the fact that he was expert naturalist of his time led him to this view of the super-sensible nature. He was a man who got used to accepting nothing but the sensuous, the sense-perceptible in the time of the dawning natural sciences. Everybody knows it who knows him; the reasons become clear in the talk which I hold next time here about the topic “Hypnotism and Somnambulism” — and that is why he also depended on it as such a man who sees the spiritual in the world. As well as he insisted to recognise only as right what he could calculate and perceive with senses, the super-sensible was brought by him into the shape which it had to have for him; the super-sensible world was pulled down to a deeper sphere under the influence of the ways of thinking of natural sciences. Because it approaches us in such way like the views of the sensory world, I cited the reasons. We hear next time how such a thing comes about. However, the preconditions are given by the own spiritual development of the human beings who got used to the sense-perceptible.

I do not want to speak now about the significance and core of truth of Swedenborg’s visions, but about the fact that somebody sees — as soon as he enters this field which forms the basis of Swedenborg's views — his dispositions in this area, what he has developed in himself. A proof of it may be a simple example.

When the wave of spiritism spread in the second half of the 19th century, one also made experiments in Bavaria. It became apparent there that with the experiments at which also scholars were present and took place at different places quite different spiritual manifestations happened. In such an event one asked whether the human soul is received via heredity from the parents, so that also the soul is hereditary, or whether it is made new with every human being. In this spiritistic séance it was answered: the souls are made new. Almost at the same time the same question was put in another séance. The answer was: the soul is not created, but is passed on from the parents to the children. — One thought that at one séance followers of the so-called creation theory were, and at the other séance some scholars were present who were followers of the other theory. In the sense of the thoughts which lived in them the answers were given. Whichever facts may be there, whichever reasons of these facts may be there, it became clear that the human being receives as a manifestation what corresponds to his view. It is irrelevant whether it faces him only as an intellectual manifestation or as a vision; what the human being sees is founded in his own dispositions.

This search for sensuous-extrasensory proofs became just a child of the natural sciences of the materialistic time. The principle was actually drawn up that one had to seek for the extrasensory world as one had to seek for the sensuous one. Just as somebody convinces himself in the laboratory of the reality of forces of magnetism or light, one wanted to convince oneself of the super-sensible world by the appearance to the senses. People had forgotten how to behold the spiritual in purely spiritual way. They had forgotten how to develop the belief in super-sensible forces and how to learn to recognise what is neither sensuous nor analogous to the sensuous, but what can be seized only by spiritual intuition. They had got to be used to get everything on the sensory way, and that is why they also wanted to get these matters on the sensory way. Research moved on this way. Thus we see Swedenborg’s direction going on. What appears offers nothing new to us; spiritism offers nothing new! We take an overview of this later and understand it then also better.

All the phenomena which spiritism knows were explained that way. There we see the South German Oetinger who elaborated the theory that there is a super-sensible substance which can be seen as a physical phenomenon. Only, he says, the super-sensible matter does not have the raw qualities of the physical matter, not the impenetrable resistance and the row mixture. Here we have the substance from which the materialisations are taken.

Another researcher of this field is Johann Heinrich Jung called Stilling who published a detailed report on spirits and apparitions of spirits and described all these matters. He tried there to understand everything in such a way that he did justice to these phenomena as a religious Christian. Because he had tendencies to be a religious Christian, the whole world seemed to him to manifest nothing but the truth of the Christian teaching. Because at the same time natural sciences made claims, we see a mixture of the purely Christian standpoint with the standpoint of natural sciences in his representation. Esotericism explains the phenomena by the intrusion of a spiritual world into our world.

You see all these phenomena registered in the works of those who wrote about spiritism, demonology, magic et cetera in which you can also find something that goes beyond spiritism, like with Ennemoser, for instance. We see even carefully registered how a person can enable himself to perceive the thoughts of others who are in distant rooms. You find such instructions with Ennemoser, also with others. Already in the 19th century you find with a certain Meyer who wrote a book about the Hades from spiritistic standpoint as a manifestation of spiritistic manipulations and stood up for the so-called reincarnation theory. You find a theory there to which theosophy has led us again, and which shows us that the old fairy tales are expressions of the higher truth prepared for the people. Meyer got this view on account of sensuous demonstrations.

We find all the spiritistic phenomena with Justinus Kerner. They are significant because of the moral weight of the author. There we find, for example, that near the seeress of Prevorst things — spoons et cetera — are repelled by her; it is also told that this seeress communicated with beings of other worlds. Justinus Kerner registered all the communications which he got from her. She informed him that she saw beings of other worlds which went through her, indeed, but which she could perceive and that she could even behold such beings which came in along with other people. Some people may say about these matters: Kerner fantasised and was fooled a lot by his seeress. However, I would like to say one thing: you know David Friedrich Strauss who was friendly with Justinus Kerner. He knew how it stood with the seeress of Prevorst. You also know that that which he performed goes in a direction which runs against the spiritistic current. He says that the facts of which the seeress of Prevorst reports are true as facts — about that cannot be discussed with those who know something about it, he considered the matters as being beyond any doubt.

Even if a bigger number of human beings existed who were still interested somewhat in such things, the interest decreased, nevertheless, more and more. This could be led back to the influence of science. It refused to look at such phenomena as true manifestations in the time of the forties when the law of energy conservation was discovered forming the basis of our physics when the cell theory was drawn up when Darwinism prepared. What came up in this time could not be favourable to the pneumatologists. Hence, they were strictly rejected. That is why one forgot everything that these had to say.

Then an event took place which meant a victory for spiritism. The event did not happen in Europe, but in the country where materialism celebrated the biggest triumphs in that time where one had made oneself used to consider only as true what hands can seize. This happened in America, in the country where the materialistic way of thinking intimated by me had strongly developed. It went out from the phenomena which belong in the broadest sense to those which one has to call abnormal but sensual. The well-known knocking sounds, the phenomena of moving tables and the knocking through them, the audibility of certain voices which sounded through the air accompanied by intelligent manifestations for which no sensuous reason existed — they pointed to the super-sensible so clearly in America, in the country where one attaches much value to the outer appearance. Like by storm the view gained recognition that there is a super-sensible world that beings which do not belong to our world manifest themselves in our sensory world. Like a storm this went through the world.

A man, Andrew Jackson Davis, who concerned himself with these phenomena, was called upon for explaining these matters. He was, in similar way as Swedenborg, a seer; he only did not have the deepness of Swedenborg. He was an unlearned American grown up as a farmer boy and Swedenborg was a learnt Swede. He wrote a book in 1848 (?): The Philosophy of Spiritual Intercourse. This work arose from the most modern needs which had originated within the modern battle in which one wanted to accept the sensuous only in which everybody wanted to put his personal egoism forward, in which everybody wanted to grab so much to himself, wanted to become as happy as he only was able to. In this world one was no longer able to have sense for a faith which leads beyond the sensuous world, according to the ways of thinking which were tied to the material only. One wanted to see and one wanted to have such a faith which satisfies the needs and desires of modern humankind. Above all Davis says plainly that modern people cannot believe that a quantity of human beings is blessed, another quantity condemned. It was this what the modern could not stand; there an idea of development had to intervene. Davis was informed of a truth which shows an exact image of the sensuous world. It may be characterised by an example. When his first wife had died, he had the idea to marry a second wife. However, he had doubt, but a super-sensible manifestation caused that he gave himself the permission. In this manifestation his first wife said to him that she had married in the sun-land again; that is why he felt to have the right also to marry a second time. In the beginning of the first part of his book he informs us that he was educated as a farmer boy like a Christian, but he realised soon that the Christian faith can deliver no conviction, because the modern human being must understand the what, the why and the where to of the way.

I was sent out — he tells — to the field by my parents. There came a snake. I attacked it with the hayfork. But the tooth broke off. I took the tooth and prayed. I was convinced that the prayer must help. But ... [gap in the transcript]. How can I believe in a God who allows that I experience such a thing? He said to himself. He became an unbeliever. By the spiritistic séances in which he took part he got the ability of trance and became one of the most fertile spiritistic writers. He emphasises that the appearance of that world is approximately the same as that of the sensory world. It would be an unbelief that a good father does not care for his children, because the father makes long journeys for this purpose et cetera.

You see that the earthly world is transferred to the other world. Therefore, this way of thinking spread like a wildfire all over the world. In short time one could count millions of followers of spiritism. Already in 1850 one could find thousands of media in Boston, and one could also pay 400,000 $ in short time to construct a spiritistic temple. You will not deny that that has a great cultural-historical significance. However, with regard to the modern way of thinking this movement had only prospects of success if science took hold of it, that means if science believed in it.

If I held a lecture about theosophy, I could speak in detail of the fact that still quite different powers stand behind the staging of the spiritistic phenomena. Behind the scenery deep occult powers are at work. But this cannot be my task today. I tell another time who is, actually, the true director of these phenomena. But this is certain: if this occult director wanted to presuppose that these phenomena convinced the materialistically minded humankind of the existence of a super-sensible world thoroughly if it should believe in it in the long run, the scientific circles had to be conquered. These scientific circles were not so hard to conquer. Just among the most reasonable, among those who could think thoroughly and logically were many who turned to the spiritistic movement. These were in America Lincoln, Edison, in England Gladstone, the naturalist Wallace, the mathematician Morgan. Also in Germany was a big number of excellent scholars, they were experts in their fields, and were convinced of the spiritistic phenomena by media, like Weber and Gustav Theodor Fechner, the founder of psychophysics. Friedrich Zöllner also belongs to them about whom only those who understand nothing of the matter can say that he became mad when he did the famous experiments with Slade. Then, however, also a personality who is yet underestimated: this is the Baron Hellenbach, deceased in 1887. He presented his experiences in spiritistic fields in his numerous books in such a brilliant way. For example, in his book about biological magnetism and in the book about the magic of figures, so that these books are true treasure troves to study which way this movement has taken — in particular in more inspired heads — in the second half of the 19th century.

A European impulse came to the American movement and this went out from a man who stood in the European culture, from a disciple of Pestalozzi, and it originated at a time which is already significant because of its other discoveries. This spirit is Allan Kardec who wrote his Spirits’ Book in 1858, in the same year in which many other works appeared epoch-making for the western education in different fields. We only have to call some of the works to indicate the significance of the mental life in this time. One is Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; the other is a basic work about the psycho-physical field by Fechner. The third one is a work of Bunsen which familiarises us with spectral analysis and which gives the possibility to discover something of the material composition of the stars for the first time. The fourth one was the work of Karl Marx: The Capital. The fifth one was a work of Kardec, a spiritistic work, but of quite different kind as the American works. He represented the idea of reincarnation, the re-embodiment of the human soul. This French spiritism had as numerous supporters as the American one in short time. It spread over France, Spain and especially also over Austria. It was completely in accord with the ancient teachings of wisdom of theosophy. Also spirits like Hellenbach, an Austrian politician, could accept it. He represented the scientific form of spiritism Kardec had founded. Hellenbach played a prominent role in important political matters of Austria in the sixties and seventies of the last century and proved to be a clear and keen thinker at every step. Spiritism got a scientific form in Germany that way. Also such spirits founded the scientific spiritism in Germany who did not want to speak like Hellenbach or Gladstone, Wallace, Crookes who assumed angelic spirits of the old Christendom but who wanted only to speak about the reincarnation of the human being and the intrusion of beings unknown to us whose forms Hellenbach leaves open. But also those who generally do not want to know anything about a yonder world were no longer able to not accept the facts as such. Even people like Eduard von Hartmann who wanted to know nothing about the theories of the spiritists, however, said that the facts could not be denied. They let themselves not be swayed during the period of the exposures. The most famous one was that of the medium Bastian by the Crown Prince Rudolf and the archduke Johann of Austria. The media, which had convinced our scientific circles, were exposed with the medium Bastian. Everybody who simply has some insight in this field knows that Hellenbach is right when he says: nobody will claim that there are no wigs. Should one also believe that there is no real hair because one has discovered wigs? — To somebody who works in occult fields the sentence applies that one can prove to many a bank that it is a corrupt bank; yes, but did not this bank do also honest banking business once? The assessment of the spiritistic truth hides behind such comparisons.

We have seen that the scientific and materialistic ways of thinking since the 18th century — we can call 1716 the natal year of spiritism — have completely adapted themselves to the modern thinking, also to the materialistic views. A new form was sought for to be able to approach the higher, super-sensible truth, and everybody who faced these facts tried to understand them in his way. The Christian faith found a confirmation of its ancient church faith; also some orthodox have accepted it to find favourable proofs of their case. Others also found confirmation from the standpoints of the material thinking which assesses everything only according to the material relations.

Also those who were thorough scientific researchers like Zöllner, Weber, Fechner and also several famous mathematicians like Simony et cetera tried to get closer to the case, while they moved from the three-dimensional on the four-dimensional. The philosophical individualists who could not believe that in the spiritual world also an individualistic development exists like in the physical one were led by means of thorough investigation to understand that the human way, this sensory way to be — to see with bodily eyes to hear with bodily ears — is only one way of many possible ways. The representatives of a super-sensible spiritism like Hellenbach found their ideas confirmed on account of the spiritistic facts. If you imagine a person who knew to deal with the peculiarities of every single medium who knew how to adapt himself to the most difficult circumstances, so that it was a relief to meet him, Hellenbach was such a man. Also those who spoke only about a psychic force of which one does not and needs not think a lot also these followers of a psychic force, like Eduard von Hartmann or also spirits like du Prel of whom I will speak next time, they all explained the facts in their ways. There were many theories, from the popular interpretations for the people who looked after the manifesting spirits, after writing media, after communications by knocking sounds et cetera, from these religious seekers in old way up to the most enlightened spirits: everybody explained these phenomena in his way. This was in the time when this lack of clarity prevailed in every field, in the time when the phenomena could no longer be denied — but the minds of the human beings proved to be absolutely incapable to do justice to the super-sensible world.

In this time the ground was prepared to a renewal of the mystic way, to a renewal of that way which was taken in former times in the occult science and in the mysteries, but in such way that it is accessible to everybody who wants to go it. The Theosophical Society was founded by Mrs. Helena Petrowna Blavatsky to open an understanding of the ways. The theosophical movement revived the investigation of wisdom as it was nurtured in the mysteries and by the Rosicrucians in mediaeval times. It wants to spread what one has searched for in recent time on other ways. It is based on the old movements, however, also on the newest researches.

Somebody who gets a better understanding of the theosophical movement will find that the way of theosophy or spiritual science which leads to the super-sensible truth is on one side really spiritual, on the other side, that it answers the questions: where does the human being come from, where does he go to, what is his vocation?

We know that one had to speak in certain way to the human beings of antiquity, in more different way to those of the Middle Ages, and again in another way to the modern human beings. The facts of theosophy are ancient. But you convince yourselves if you seek on the way of theosophy or spiritual science that it satisfies any demand of modern scientific nature if it is understood in its very own figure. He would be a bad theosophist who wanted to give up any of the scientific truths for theosophy. Knowledge on the bright, clear way of true scientific nature — yes, but no knowledge which limits itself to sensory things which limits itself to that which takes place in the human being between birth and death, but also knowledge of that which is beyond birth and death. Spiritual science cannot do this without having the authorisation of it — just within a materialistic age. It is aware that all the spiritual movements must converge at a great goal at last which the spiritists will find in spiritual science in the end. However, it searches the spiritual on other, more comprehensive ways; it knows that the spiritual is not found in the sensory world and also not by arrangements of sensory nature only, maybe by means of a beholding which is analogous to the sensory looking. It knows that there is a world of which one receives an insight only if one goes through a kind of spiritual operation which is similar to the operation of a blind-born that is made sighted. It knows that it is not right if the modern human being says: show me the super-sensible like something sensory. — It knows that the answer is: human being, rise up to the higher spheres of the spiritual world, while you yourself become more and more spiritual, so that the connection with the spiritual world is in such a way as the connection is with the sensuous world by means of your sensory eyes and ears.

Theosophy or spiritual science has that viewpoint which a believer of the Middle Ages, a deep mystic, Master Eckhart, expressed, while he characterised that the really spiritual cannot be searched for in the same way as the sensuous. In the 13th, 14th centuries, he expressed meaningfully that one cannot receive the spiritual by sensuous performances, by anything that is analogous to the sensuous. Therefore, he says the great truth leading to the super-sensible: people want to look at God with the eyes, as if they looked at a cow and loved it. They want to look at God as if He stood there and here. It is not that way. God and I are one in recognition.

We do not want to behold a higher world by means of events like knocking sounds or other sensuous arrangements. It is called a super-sensible world, indeed, but it is similar to the sensuous world round us. — Eckhart characterises such apparently super-sensible events saying: such people want to behold God as they look at a cow. However, we want to behold the spiritual developing our spiritual eyes like nature developed our bodily eyes to let us see the physical. Nature has dismissed us with outer senses to make the sensuous perceptible to us. The way, however, to develop further in the sensuous to the spiritual to be able to behold the spiritual with spiritual eyes — we ourselves have to go this spiritual way in free development, also in the sense of modern development.


In the title of the talk, the term spiritism is used instead of the more common term spiritualism. Allan Kardec used it for the first time in his book The Spirits’ Book. Since then it is used outside the English speaking world to distinguish spiritism and spiritualism (Spiritualismus). The latter term is applied to the opposite of (philosophical, religious) materialism.

St. Augustine (354–430): Evangelio non crederem, nisi me ecclesia commoveret auctoritas (Contr. Epist. Manich., 5)

Christian Rosenkreutz (1378–1484), cf. CW 130

Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910) The Philosophy of Spiritual Intercourse: Being an Explanation of Modern Mysteries (1853). Davis dictated his first and most significant book in trance in 1845: The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations and a Voice to Mankind.

Robert Fludd (1574–1637), English philosopher and physician, Rosicrucian
Apologia Compendaria, Fraternitatem de Rosea Cruce … (1616)
Microcosmi Historia (1619)
Clavis Philosophiae et Alchymiae Fluddanae (1633)

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) in his Divine Comedy

It was in 1716: M. Martin Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, London 1703
Martin Martin (?–1719), Scottish writer

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), Swedish scientist and philosopher

Stockholm: the place from which Swedenborg saw the conflagration was Goteborg, 400 km away from Stockholm.

Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702 -1782), Swabian theologian and theosopher

Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740–1817), German pietistic-mystic author

Joseph Ennemoser (1787–1854), physician and mesmerist

Johann Friedrich von Meyer (1772–1849), Protestant theologian, politician
Hades, a Contribution to the Theory of Spirits (1810) (link to German page as the article in the English wikipedia is insufficient)

Justinus Kerner (1786–1862), German physician, poet, author
History of Two Somnambulists (1824), The Seeress of Prevorst. Revelations of the Human Inner Life and about the Penetrations of the Spirit World into ours (1828), Leaves from Prevorst (1831–1839), The Somnambulistic Tables (1853)

Seeress of Prevorst: Friederike Hauffe (1801–1829), somnambulist, born in a little village, named Prevorst

David Friedrich Strauss (1808–1874), German theologian and writer of The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (1846)

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), 16th President of the United States

Thomas Edison (1847–1931), American inventor and businessman

William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898), British politician, Prime Minister

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913), British naturalist

Augustus De Morgan (1806–1871), British mathematician and logician

Ernst Heinrich Weber (1795–1878), German physician, founder of experimental psychology

Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801–1887), German philosopher and experimental psychologist, the founder of psychophysics

Johann Karl Friedrich Zöllner (1834–1882),German astrophysicist. He explains that the spiritistic phenomena are caused in a four-dimensional space and appear as shadows in the three-dimensional space: Transcendental Physics (1878)

Henry Slade (1835–1905), fraudulent medium

Baron Lazar von Hellenbach (1827–1887), Austrian politician, philosophical and socio-political writer, famous spiritist. On the Magic of Figures (Vienna, 1882).

Allan Kardec (pen name of Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, 1804–1869), French spiritist, systematiser of spiritism

Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria (1858–1889)

Archduke Johann Nepomuk Salvator of Austria (1852–1890?) Einblicke in den Spiritismus (Insights into Spiritism) (1885)

Oskar Simony (1852–1915), Austrian mathematician and physicist: On Spiritistic Manifestations from the Scientific Standpoint (1884), cf. R. Steiner mentions him in CW 169 Toward Imagination (Anthroposophic Press, 1990), lecture 6

Master Eckhart (~1260–1327), German Dominican monk and mystic, c f. R. Steiner CW 7 Mystics after Modernism

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