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The Errors of Spiritual Investigation

Schmidt Number: S-2655

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The Errors of Spiritual Investigation

Rudolf Steiner Archive Document

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The following lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner at Munich on the 27th of November, 1912. It is a previously unpublished, typewritten transcription of a lecture that is from an unknown Bn/GA.

A Lecture given by
Rudolf Steiner
Munich, November 27, 1912
Unknown Bn/GA

The following lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner at Munich on the 27th of November, 1912. It is a previously unpublished, typewritten transcription of a lecture that is from an unknown Bn/GA.

This lecture was translated from shorthand reports, unrevised by the lecturer, by an unknown translator. It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

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The Errors of Spiritual Investigation

Lecture #2655

Munich. November 27, 1912

It is certainly necessary in every sphere of thought and life to learn to know, in addition to the characteristics of truth, also those of the sources of error; for, without doubt, through a knowledge of error, it is possible for us to guard ourselves from the hindrances which meet the seeker for truth in these sources. In contrast to other spheres of scientific investigation, it is especially in the sphere of spiritual investigation that error lurks in every nook and corner, where it is not even easy to recognise. It often appears in the cloak of truth, in a form difficult to discern, not only to be overcome in the soul of the spiritual investigator, but also in immediate life. In many cases, the spiritual investigator can only push forward to truth, when he really succeeds in meeting error as an enemy. The day before yesterday, it was shown how the man who attempts to travel the paths of spiritual investigation must transform his soul into an instrument, in order to mediate between human knowledge, and the super-sensible worlds. External science employs external instruments, the spiritual investigator, however, employs as means of investigation, what he can develop out of the cognitive forces slumbering in the human soul, in order to penetrate therewith into the super-sensible worlds. In this way the soul first comes to Imaginative cognition, and here already an error lurks, as soon as the soul, feeling herself capable of letting Imaginations arise out of her depths, believes she may grasp this world of Images objectively — as if they were existing outside of herself. Self education must proceed to overcome this error with strong, inner power of WILL and regard these Imaginations merely as mirror-images, shadow-pictures of ones own soul forces, which the soul produces solely out of herself, when she works on herself in the way indicated. The spiritual investigator concerned must exclude this error, and lead back this imaginative world arising, into his own soul again, in order thereby, later on, to find objective super-sensible Beings, standing before him.

The ‘mediumistic’ nature of man at once presents itself as the counterpart of Imaginative cognition. Once attention is drawn to its many questionable elements, and one must not conclude, because they are not mentioned, that they are not considered in spiritual science. Whereas in Imaginative cognition, consciousness is strengthened and forces are drawn out of the soul, if one pursues another path, it is necessary to damp down ordinary consciousness, so that the usual life of thought and feeling ceases. A condition void of ordinary consciousness appears then in the human being known as a ‘medium’. Thereby the forces which are usually contained in the consciousness of man are inserted into the universal existence of the cosmos and the latter works directly into the former, thus being in a position to reveal himself, i.e. spiritual beings can now work objectively-spiritually, into the physical world. Let us first enter into the sources of error in such a mediumistic being. Those who occupy themselves with gaining knowledge from out of those worlds which work down into such persons whose consciousness has been extinguished, as a rule, are averse to such mediumistic personalities taking into their consciousness any ideas or concepts from spiritual science.

And, from their standpoint they are fully justified, because the knowledge of spiritual science, with its concepts and ideas cutting deeply into the soul, makes strong demands on the consciousness, and thereby renders it difficult to silence or extinguish it. Therefore the experience can easily be made that some individuality or another could reveal itself with far greater facility to a medium than after spirit-science has worked into him. Accordingly, one will strive to hold the medium free from all influences of spiritual investigation, as otherwise, these will make themselves felt, instead of objective spiritual forces which can appear through their manifestations in the medium. Also it is not good for the utterances of the medium, if he has a strong phantasy, for this works strongly on the individuality and forces itself into the diminished consciousness. Everything pertaining to an active, strongly-conscious, creative content of consciousness works disturbingly on the revelations of the medium, and so personalities strongly endowed with phantasy and reflexion are mostly bad mediums. If thus, a medium has learnt to know from spiritual science the evolution of the planetary system, then such knowledge mingles with the mediumistic revelations; but if no such knowledge won in this way is present, then, surprising, indeed grotesque pronouncements are obtained concerning world-formations; and if one can get beyond their unusual impression, one will discover, in all these declarations, truths of the cosmos and world-evolution. In all these investigations, knowledge must be obtained as to how subjective pronouncements, as such, can be cognised and excluded from those which the medium himself does not know, although they reveal themselves through him. Thus mediums are chosen for investigations who have nothing concerning the content of these investigations in their day consciousness. If one gets from a medium, therefore, some pronouncement in a speech unknown to the medium, it is to be supposed that something speaks through the medium, unconnected with his own individuality, something arising from an objective world-content. Thus one must seek to regard everywhere the sources of error when one has to do with the consideration of somnambulistic-mediumistic beings, as soon as they are led to pronouncements out of the spiritual world, into which influences peculiar to themselves can mingle. This can easily appear e.g. in a catholic or a protestant. The former feels spiritual beings as he is accustomed to imagine e.g. the angel, which is not the case, as a rule, with a protestant. Thus it is extremely necessary to be absolutely clear about the individualities of persons applied to mediumship. Then we come to many a sphere where sources of error are to be indicated. The sceptic thinks that only those things appear in the medium which he has already taken up into his consciousness. If however one surveys the entirety of mediumistic revelations, then one will also transcend the errors from this source. For the objective observer, in all such revelations, it is less a question of the exact, description of the CONTENTS — but far more — the fact of the experience. And when one can look away from all the content, and heed only the processes in human nature, in their relationship to spiritual world forces, then it is comprehensible that on one occasion the pronouncements are tinged with catholicism, and on another occasion with protestantism. The vesture is accidental: the Truth stands behind it, the same in both, but having passed through another individuality. The existence of spiritual beings is thereby shown as it presses into the personality of the medium, coming to a special form in each. In all these processes it is difficult to say where error ceases and truth begins. Therefore a way must be sought along which one can attain an approach to the truth, and exclude the sources of error. Experiences in this sphere are not always unassailable, and in a declaration of the various accompanying conditions, one can find sources of error. But for the existence of the spiritual world it suffices to show the path along which one can remove error ever more to one side. Thus it does not hold to answer the question ... What is truth, what is error, but to find the path beyond error into the sphere of truth, which one seeks to approach as a far off goal. One will then come more and more to such — let us say in the usual, if not adequate mode of speech — experiments, in which the individual consciousness is purely excluded, and in revelations of world processes in which the mediumistic person employed cannot work disturbingly, he becomes all the more a capable instrument.

I should like to draw attention to one thing, well known to those who occupy themselves with these things with earnest intent. If the medium is placed in this damped down condition, then in the first place one gets in his revelations super-sensible cosmic laws. If now, beings of the super-sensible world are to manifest, then they must take possession of the somnambulistic-mediumistic person, and one must as it were look through him into the spiritual being, in order to recognise the latter. Imaginative cognition is the complete opposite of what has been described. The comparison has been attempted in this outline to-day in order to point to what spiritual science has to say on the somnambulistic-mediumistic nature. It is not its task to cultivate this side of investigation, but the pronouncements of spiritual science should proceed from what the soul as an instrument can cognize in the surrounding spiritual world in clear distinction to visions, hallucinations, and illusory ideas, of all kinds. Let us now ask: — Do not errors lurk for the spiritual investigator? Even before entry into the spiritual world one can have an idea as to how errors can arise. We find in life monism, materialism, positivism, idealism, spiritism, etc, and whoever is not a fanatic in one such philosophical standpoint, can heed each advocate of such streams of thought, whether materialism or spiritualism, objectively, with its logically produced foundations. One may be convinced to a certain degree by what is brought forward in reasonable fashion without making himself a partisan of the philosophy in question. Thus one can produce much that is reasonable and convincing for all standpoints and one will agree with what is thus brought forward really positively. Generally however one meets an extravagance to the point of insufferance, when, by the one-sided emphasis of one standpoint, the others are rejected without anything further. Yet, with adequate experience in this sphere, it is possible to esteem the materialistic as well as the spiritualistic standpoint. I have presented this method of perception here in two lectures already, which I held on the theme: — How does one refute theosophy? and how does one defend theosophy? In both of which I emphasised this positive attitude. If this is possible of two opposite standpoints, this indicates to any man of insight that no single standpoint, held fanatically, contains the Truth. One might conceive then that the truth lies between two opposite opinions, yet this is like sitting between two chairs, instead of on one! Goethe says: “Truth does not lie between two opposite opinions, but this problem — the task which can lead to her.” This is often the case even in the physical-sensible world, and this fact can work shatteringly on entry to the super-sensible world on one who is able to take such knowledge earnestly.

One describes something, e.g. from one standpoint, but this could occur just as well from another standpoint. This can lead to a kind of uncertainty regarding truth, but also to an investigation as to the origin of this difference in human standpoints. If one e.g. has not utterly fallen to materialism, but has preserved for himself the freedom of looking away from his own standpoint, and asking: — how has my soul then, formed itself in life? and no more regards the material than the spiritual side — then in this attitude, one recognises something dependent on the individuality, and comes to see how the whole course of life has led one to judge in the accepted way. Thereby one is just towards another standpoint, recognises its worth, and attempts to see how another soul has come to regard things from another side. Thereby diverse standpoints balance themselves in the world. Different people with just as different standpoints oppose each other generally, becoming ever more fanatical; if however, instead of this the attempt is made to be silent, and then to see how each has come to his standpoint, then less strife would arise; the investigation of the path to ones own opinion would be a self-knowledge; it would furnish opportunity to approach the truth, which would then take position as fact in the middle — between the various starting points. This must occur in greater measure in one who seeks the sources of error in super-sensible spheres. Therefore the spiritual investigator must begin to increase enormously self-knowledge on entering the spiritual world, and not be persuaded by what first appears in his soul. He must say: — What you see in wonderful images, that you are yourself. You have projected them yourself into space. Thus even the first show not merely the possibility but also the necessity of self-knowledge through which man learns to exclude himself from that which holds objectively. There exists no other way of excluding untruth than that of complete self knowledge. One can then exclude it from what is beheld, and what is left is objective. If one will not accomplish this, it is better for him not to approach the super-sensible. Nothing is so difficult as self-knowledge. All possible interests place themselves as hindrances in the way, seeking to deceive us, by presenting themselves in lying form before us, whereas they are only mirror-image of our own self, our own being. That stage by which the spiritual investigator can experience whether he possesses sufficient self-knowledge is designated as the meeting with the Dweller on the Threshold. One can only gradually form for oneself an idea of this. Assuming it is possible at a definite age in life to look back on everything that man has developed as predilections, the way in which one has felt and maintained something sensible and super-sensible, it is important to put such questions by the side of others. The exercises of meditation and concentration themselves, as such, if pursued, develop slumbering forces in the soul through which man is put in the position of facing himself. That shows itself in definite symptoms. One feels changes in the soul, has the uncomfortable feeling of weariness and disgust with himself. But without this, one cannot become a real spiritual investigator. Finally one can regard everything formerly seen as a worthy characteristic, as something changed, external, incidental. One appears empty to oneself, as nothing, compared to what one no longer really is — or at least, to what one no longer so utterly is as formerly. These feelings are so gradually intensified, and experienced in such subtle degrees, that there exists no danger for the person in question. If one will attain a high grade of spiritual investigation, such feelings must appear very strong, making it possible to experience with strong content of feeling THAT outside of one, which formerly was inside one — as if one had stripped off everything, no longer making use of it — as if one stood at an abyss, forsaken by all the ordinary means of help. One will then feel very soon experiences appear in imaginative cognition, in which one learns to know himself anew with all his unsympathetic appearances, with images of other beings alongside, who now perceive and feel all that man is, who lie in wait for him. One then feels his own being as divided up among other beings, as in the image of Dionysus, whose being also was divided.

All training in this direction, as is also presented in my book: How Does one Attain Knowledge of Higher Worlds?, — is directed to perceiving and judging the world thus. For such experiences and for such a survey, one must be correctly schooled in order not to be utterly confounded. This condition which man does not consider in ordinary life, i.e. that he sits, as it were, in a glass house, and the world-powers see through him completely — is a Fact, and knowledge of the spiritual investigator. Ordinary life prevents man perceiving the Dweller of the Threshold beside him, which would otherwise bring him out of the necessary secure grasp of life, c.f. the Mystery Drama. Der Huter der Schwelle. Now man first learns how everywhere not merely errors of knowledge but Real Error appears, and how necessary it is to behold things in their natural way, even if the difficulty of self-knowledge (which veils it) is still so considerable, until, as spiritual investigator, one comes to see oneself completely, to see oneself, beside oneself, without any limitation. One cannot then say: here is truth, there is error — but, the further one is on this path of seeing oneself, and the less that deceptions coming from self flow into the knowledge of higher worlds, all the truer is ones knowledge. Consciousness must be strengthened and sharpened in this way, in order especially to have concentrated before one what must be excluded in an ignoble personality. Then one sharply draws all this together, one can first really know oneself. If one does not progress thus far in the transformation of his soul, then one easily intermingles the sensible with the super-sensible, and is easily confused. Whoever travels this path to the end, however, i.e. till he attains certainty in his powers of perception, will correctly observe and estimate the qualities and prejudices of his feeling. He will not mingle them with objective cognition, nor bring unrelated images together. For he can exclude now his entire personality, and separate his former self from the super-sensible world. If one has not progressed far enough in the stripping off of his own personality, he comes to definitions of the super-sensible world, in which he mingles his own personal views, thus, without knowing it, falsifying what is seen and presented. In spite of all care, it is hardly possible to attain the ideal of a spiritual investigator since something subjective will always have flowed into ones pronouncements. Nevertheless, in all the various utterances of the spiritual investigator, we shall find the same content, if they are sincerely presented, in so far as one looks away from the images and the scaffolding employed for their presentation, although the seer must exercise the utmost consciousness in their selection. Thus you will have seen that one can look, in the way described, into the spiritual world, if, after careful preparation one has developed oneself as a seer; yet, everyone is in a position to understand what is investigated, once it is expressed in the ideas and concepts of the healthy human understanding. It is just as comprehensible and true that one who can think well and logically, can also correctly judge what he has experienced as a spiritual investigator in the spiritual world, Yet a fool might see ever so much — he will describe it all distortedly. In all sincerity, it is a question of moral qualities. The immoral person will get to know in the spiritual world especially, the hindering and disturbing events and beings, only grasping these in distorted form and describe them correspondingly. The moral person however, with selfless mood of soul, will find the paths in the spiritual world, which shows him things in their right mutual ordering and value. One cannot begin to acquire the right measure of perception there, but one must already possess it in intellectual and especially in moral form. If, e.g. one has prejudged a mood regarding some definite religious belief, he thinks something which could be rightly and truly grasped, yet in a coloured or even incorrect form, and therein lie many sources of error in the preparation for spiritual science and its results. Each one however can be a critic of its investigations, if sufficiently prepared, can follow with understanding, and comprehend its results, without applying its methods to himself, the method which led to these results. Also each person can fully understand the pronouncements of the spiritual investigator, and impart them further. The spheres of spiritual science are of such a nature that the seer cannot coldly face materialistic things; in addition, the followers of the investigator always meet him with definite sympathies and antipathies. This comes strongly into consideration, in the handling on of its communications. Souls often yearn for its information, but are as often as lazy in applying expressly a right meaning and understanding to them, thereby meeting the investigator in the necessary critical mood. Then belief appears in place of objective examination, and takes what is said on authority, until finally a kind of deceptive Authority develops. If the spiritual investigator must always be watchful of himself in his activity, then the listeners also should hold themselves awake, constantly exercising a self-examination, lest they receive the assertions of the spiritual investigator with belief, prejudice, and deluded authority. A suspicious source of error arises if the follower does not school his power of judgment, and instead of these troublesome intellectual efforts, comfortably accepts everything on belief in authority. If the investigator communicates important things, he will easily be able to exercise a harmful influence on his followers, unless above all things he attempts to appeal to their insight. Otherwise, their ordinary healthy human understanding is overpowered and ruined. Whereas the insight of the hearers should be strengthened, the investigator is then easily tempted not to awaken this, but merely to evoke belief. The ideal condition on the contrary would be when the followers make it as difficult as possible for the investigator, laying on him the highest demands, when he imprints the knowledge of spiritual science in the concepts and ideas of the healthy human understanding, thereby making it impossible for any charlatans to appear by his side, as a conscientious and sincere spiritual investigator. For this it is necessary that the listeners carefully hold watch over themselves sharpening more and more their insight and their healthy human understanding, so that they can distinguish the real investigator from the charlatan. The soul-mood of credible followers is not favourable in this and there hardly exists any other remedy here than the existence of conscientious investigators who disdain to procure for themselves a facile audience, and merely pursue the investigation of truth. Otherwise, listeners, lazy or lacking in judgment, throw everything together or else, if they cannot enter sufficiently unprejudiced into the knowledge, cannot distinguish between error and conscientiousness. The faithful often hold the purest charlatanerai for pure truth, and the ignorant, spiritual insufficiencies for results of spiritual investigation. Thus it is necessary above all things for the followers to develop critical judgment instead of belief. This last will already fall away partially when the knowledge spreads that a seer who, as a practical spiritual investigator, can look into the spiritual world need not be any special human being for that reason, just as little as a chemist, botanist, or an artisan; for the worth of a man does not depend on the possession of the results of spiritual knowledge or powers of knowledge, but on his healthy human understanding and his moral qualities. The worth of a man can be decided intellectually and morally before he enters spiritual investigation and according to this is his spiritual knowledge. In this sphere, and in the conquest of false authority, each one must attempt the utmost possible. Thus the attempt is made to show the possibility of error in the discovery and spreading of spiritual truths within a general spiritual civilisation, and to evoke a feeling, by which one can recognise the conscientious investigator. Many opponents are right in their objections but the true investigator can himself make these, in order to exclude some error. In all his efforts however he will have abundant confidence in which those things we have discussed to-day will also resound, that it is a question of the mood existing in the soul for the truth of the ideas transmitted, and above all, the trust that these truths, like those also in other spheres, have a strong force, so that the error which might creep in through false authority can be removed through the self correction of the truth. Belief in authority revenges itself, and a faithful believer, who has not thought out the details, sharply, has often reached the position of being forced to believe on coming to far more important points, and is, as it were, ruined, when a few difficulties present themselves. True and sincere spiritual science may be brought together with charlantaneric, and deception, either by mistake or malice, yet, as has been said, there still remains a confidence for the human soul which longs for truth, even if the truth of the spiritual investigation on its appearance is still more exposed to unkind fate than other scientific discoveries in human evolution.

One need merely recall the heliocentric system of Nicholas Copernicus, the laws of Gravity, the world views of Galileo Galilei, or Franceseo Redi (who put forward the basic statement: Life can only develop out of what is living.) I should also like to draw attention to the view of the Academy of Science in Paris who believed they had to reject under all circumstances the fact of the meteor-showers of which they were notified; also to the opposition on introducing postage stamps, as the largest post offices would be unable to receive all the messages. The truth has often been repelled thus, but from the fact nevertheless it establishes itself, hope, confidence, and trust can be kindled to-day. Even in such a strong and sincere searcher for truth as Schopenhauer, we find this assertion about the power inherent in Truth, when he says: — In every century poor TRUTH has had to blush because she was paradoxical yet it is not her fault. She cannot adopt the form of traditional, general error, and cannot but look with a sigh to the protective God of Time, whose wings beat so slowly together with whom however, she beckons the investigator encouragingly. And if many die without real success, yet finally truth will conquer, even if the sources of error raise themselves ever so much against all that is destined, according to his nature, to flow into the spiritual life of humanity.

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