Sexuality and Modern Clairvoyance:
Freudian Psychoanalysis and
Swedenborg as a Seer
September 14, 1915
YESTERDAY I inserted
a talk on psychoanalysis into this lecture series, since that subject
is of concern to all of us at the moment because of the case at hand.
You will have noticed that I first characterized the psychoanalytic
view as distinguishing between consciousness and the unconscious in
our inner life. I then went on to describe, if only briefly, how the
psychoanalytic point of view as a whole is swimming in sexuality, and
you could see that with this second aspect, an extremely unfortunate
(you might even say “terrible”) element has entered our
culture. This points to something characteristic of current intellectual
trends in general.
There can be no doubt that
in distinguishing an unconscious that exists alongside the conscious
mind, psychoanalysis has made a legitimate contribution to our culture.
We can look at it like this: These people are on the right track in
thinking that the human soul goes beyond what our ordinary consciousness
encompasses. However, these same people have also taken their materialism
to extremes. It has done more than engulf their thinking, which is what
happened in the case of what is now erroneously known as monism. The
materialism of the psychoanalysts, however, also pulls the lower human
drives into their theory and incorporates them into it. As a result,
sexual drives, the most subjective element possible, become the motivating
impulse in scientific activity.
We must look particularly
closely at such modern cultural phenomena, because they show us that
something independent of human individuals is compelling even the crassest
materialists among us to recognize a higher spiritual element than the
one we are immediately aware of. After all, the followers of Freud are
deeply rooted in materialism, in their intellect as well as their instincts;
yet the objective world compels even them to investigate something beyond
the scope of ordinary consciousness. That is the objective side of the
On the other hand, the subjective
aspect is that these people are so tangled up in materialism that their
lowest and most subjective drives are immediately drawn into the business
of formulating their outlook on life. That is part and parcel of materialism
just as much as the left hand belongs to the right hand or the left
eye to the right eye. And tumbling right down into the very lowest human
drives is the inevitable consequence of getting stuck in materialism
if people really let themselves go.
However, my friends, we
can really understand this way of looking at the world only if we can
get to the bottom of many a riddle of the world order. The dangerous
thing about philosophies like psychoanalysis is that people are on the
right track, but drag their impure instincts into what is true. It is
much less harmful when impure instincts are incorporated into something
completely erroneous than it is when they are incorporated into a partial
truth. And the truth in the psychoanalytic view lies in its recognition
of the fact that so much of what is at work in human life is unconscious,
truly unconscious. That is where psychoanalysts are on the right track
and have come upon many things that are true and correct.
Let us follow up how psychoanalysts
stumble onto the right track. In the book I told you about yesterday,
the head of the psychoanalytic school of thought attempts to explain
certain customs among primitive people on the basis of certain psychoanalytic
theories. He does so in accordance with connections he assumes to exist
between early childhood and neurotic conditions later in life.
We saw yesterday how the
element of sexuality plays into these theories. In his book
Totem and Taboo,
in the essay
“Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence,”
Freud compares some of the views and ideas of primitive people with
certain infantile characteristics of civilized human beings that manifest
in neuroses, in certain types of nervous or psychological disorders.
[ Note 1 ]
From what we discussed yesterday,
you will recall that psychoanalysts explain many things as the result
of impulses that affect people in the early years of their life and
then retreat to islands in these people's psyche where they work on
in the unconscious. This means that infantile psychological activity
is still going on in civilized adults. According to this view, neurotics,
or at least a certain type of neurotics, are walking around at age forty
with psyches in which earliest childhood experiences, infantile experiences,
are still especially influential.
Freud then compares certain
primitive beliefs with the experience of neurosis. For example, he says:
A Maori chief would not blow on a fire with his mouth;
for his sacred breath would communicate its sanctity to the fire,
which would pass it on to the pot on the fire, which would pass it
on to the meat in the pot, which would pass it on to the man who ate
the meat, which was in the pot, which stood on the fire, which was
breathed on by the chief; so that the eater, infected by the chief's
breath conveyed through these intermediaries, would surely die.
[ Note 2 ]
My patient's husband purchased a household article
of some kind and brought it home with him. She insisted that it should
be removed or it would make the room she lived in “impossible”.
[ Note 3 ]
That is what the patient
tells the psychoanalyst. A spiritual scientist using healthy understanding
to contemplate a patient like this would have to consider the problem
from many different angles. Psychoanalysts, too, might or might not
be able to follow the clues in a case like this. And a false mystic
might come up with all kinds of profound ideas about magical influences
at work on this person or proceeding from this very refined personality
who has reached such an advanced stage of evolution that she cannot
tolerate having certain objects in the same room with her!
The psychoanalyst says of
She had heard that the article had been bought in
a shop situated in, let us say, “Smith” Street.
He finds out that she has
heard that the item in question was bought in a store on Smith Street
— increasing mystification! He continues:
“Smith,” however, was the married name
of a woman friend of hers who lived in a distant town and whom she
had known in her youth under her maiden name. This friend of hers
was at the moment “impossible” or taboo.
Consequently the article that had been purchased
here in Vienna was as taboo as the friend herself with whom she must
not come into contact.
As the psychoanalyst in
question has found out, the patient had had a friend with whom she had
once gotten into trouble. The friend's name was Smith. This fact survives
on an island in her psyche. Nothing of it is present in her ordinary
waking consciousness, but although she is unaware of the connection,
it remains in her unconscious. Only the name provides the connecting
link inasmuch as the friend whom she hated in her youth—a hatred
the patient was not conscious of — is called Smith and the article
in question was bought on Smith Street. The similarity of the names
provides the connection; that is how the subconscious works up into
the realm of consciousness.
People with a strong mystical
bent make much of names that sound alike. They make such associations
very readily and are led to all kinds of mystical conclusions without
ever becoming fully aware of the connection. For example, it could happen
that a person who once played the role of Persephone might come to believe
that she was an actual reincarnation of Persephone because she thinks
she once heard someone she didn't know call out the name Persephone
as she went past. It could well be, however, that she simply overheard
someone saying he saw a woman telephoning, and that she understood “Persephone”
from that sequence of sounds. The person in question misheard “Persephone”
when what was actually said was “telephoning,” and that
is enough for her to go on spinning her mystical threads. This is all
strictly hypothetical, of course, but it does correspond to how such
things can actually happen.
I could give you many other
examples from the essays of Dr. Freud and his followers that would show
you that the philosophy of psychoanalysis is in fact seeking the relationship
between the conscious and the unconscious. However, as I described yesterday,
as a result of certain tendencies of our times, all it finds down there
in the unconscious is sexuality. This is an extremely important point,
and we must take a very close look at it.
The day before yesterday,
I told you about Swedenborg and his clairvoyance, for in his own way,
Swedenborg was an extremely distinguished and advanced clairvoyant.
I explained that he was characteristically unable to cross the threshold
into a different state of consciousness, to say “I am being observed”
instead of “I am observing.” Swedenborg always wanted to
observe everything himself. He observed his Imaginations. He himself
was not being observed from the sphere of the Angeloi, but was observing
that sphere with the same kind of consciousness he used on the physical
plane. Let's take a good look at this once more so as to be clear about
the right way to ascend from the physical plane to a higher plane of
existence. We must be very clear that on the physical plane, we perceive
various objects which are mirrored by means of our physical body and
thus become our concepts. That's how we arrive at the important insight
that we are looking at objects, and this is the basis of our consciousness.
As soon as we ascend to
a higher state of consciousness, however, all this changes fundamentally.
There we are received with our I by beings of a higher order, and then
we become aware of being perceived, of being looked at by them.
Swedenborg presents a third
state of consciousness in which a whole world of objects not present
on the physical plane is perceived by him exactly as he perceived objects
on the physical plane, although in a more refined state. Thus Swedenborg
perceives spiritual objects presented to him in the form of Imaginations
just as if the spiritual world were nothing more than a finer version
of the physical world. He looks at the spiritual world in the same way
we look at the physical world in everyday life. What is the cause of
We have already traced the
process Swedenborg went through. He discovered certain spiritual beings
who made it clear to him that they came from Mars. These beings were
incomprehensible to him because they repressed all expressions of emotion
and expressed themselves only in thought-gestures. As I told you on
Sunday, he realized that he could not understand these beings because
they had acquired the ability to conceal their soul life. If Swedenborg
had been able to see with the kind of consciousness available to the
Angeloi (which is what would have happened if he had really ascended
to the spiritual world — that is, if he had also carried his consciousness
up into the spiritual world), he would have been able to understand
the nature of these Mars beings even though they concealed all their
emotions. As it was, however, the content of the Mars beings' soul appeared
to Swedenborg as a cold world of thoughts. This is all very strange.
Just think how terribly
afraid most people here on the physical plane are of the cold and abstract
world of reason. You hear all kinds of derogatory comments about this
cold and abstract world of thoughts, and people do everything possible
to try to avoid it, to avoid thinking in pure thoughts. Someone who
expects people to ascend to pure thought is held to be out of touch
with and hostile to real life. That's how people on the physical plane
feel about the abstract world of thoughts.
This point of view is very
widespread. I will give you an example; present company is always excepted,
of course, so I am sure there will be no hurt feelings. For a number
years now, a great many people have been reading my
The Philosophy of Freedom,
which is a work of pure thought.
[ Note 4 ]
It first appeared in the 1890s. It would be interesting to find
out how many of the people in our movement who are now reading
The Philosophy of Freedom
would have read it on its own merits, without
knowing anything about me and our movement, if it had fallen into their
hands back in the early 1890s. How many people would have read it back
then and how many would have said, “I can't get through this tangled
web of thoughts; it just doesn't make any sense!”? You can just
imagine, then, how many people are reading this work of pure thought
for strictly personal reasons. (Present company excepted, of course.)
The only ones who are reading it for other than personal reasons are
the ones who would have read it even if they had never met me in person.
We have to admit to this quite soberly; it shows how horrified we on
the physical plane are of so-called abstraction.
In spite of being such a
great scholar, when Swedenborg encountered the beings I described, this
particular class of Mars beings, on the astral plane, he was incapable
of understanding the pure thoughts, free of any emotion, that were active
in their souls. Transferred to the physical plane, this is the same
as if someone would say about
The Philosophy of Freedom,
“It's all Greek to me; no sensible person can read that kind of
language,” meaning that it seems totally incomprehensible. In the
same way, Swedenborg found these Mars beings incomprehensible on the
It is important, however,
that we at least have the good will and make the effort to advance to
the kind of thinking that is free of emotion — to begin with,
free of the emotions we know so well in ordinary life. If the content of
The Philosophy of Freedom
appeals to people because their
feelings incline them to a more spiritual way of looking at things,
they have not yet achieved pure thinking. Only those people who take
it in because of the thoughts' logical sequence and the way they support
each other are relating to the book in the right way.
Swedenborg, on the other
hand, in spite of being such a great scholar, could not conceive of
being drawn to a world of pure thoughts free of emotional motives. We
must try to understand, my friends — and the means of doing so
are available in our anthroposophical literature — to what extent
in everyday life our choice of truths is dictated by emotional impulses,
by impulses provided for us on the physical plane through our karma
or upbringing. We are only free of subjectivity when we have really
moved on to a realm of thinking in which thoughts sustain each other
and no longer have any subjective content.
After that, however, there
is still one more thing we must accomplish. When we have really reached
the stage of thinking in pure thoughts, when a sequence of pure thoughts
is present in our soul, then our personal mind or subjective I is no
longer involved. This accounts for the severity we experience when we
reach this stage of pure thinking. It is no longer possible to bend
things to fit into the mold of how we subjectively would like to have
them. Take a train of thought like that of
The Philosophy of Freedom.
It is impossible to construct it in any other way. It cannot be arbitrarily
tampered with; you have to let it grow inside you like a living organism.
Then your I is really uninvolved; it is thinking itself that is doing
However, your thinking only
becomes mature if what it has been emptied of — your own I—
is replaced with something else. In place of the contents of your personal
mind, the mind-content of spirits belonging to higher hierarchies must
fill this emotion-free thinking. When you have come so far as to be
able to gradually rid your emotion-filled thinking of its subjective
content so that it contains only pure concepts, then divine content,
the content that comes from above, can flow in.
Swedenborg never reached
this stage. In spite of being a great scholar, he could not extricate
what he was thinking from his personal emotions. When he ascended to
the astral plane, beings such as the Mars dwellers who could think in
pure thought were completely alien to his thinking, confined as it still
was to his own personality, and they were therefore incomprehensible
to him. As far as he was concerned, their gestures could not be understood
at all. But why was Swedenborg barred from entering the world of higher
consciousness? Why did he carry a mode of perception appropriate to
the physical plane up into the spiritual world, to which he really did
gain access? We need not investigate why certain spirits were able to
keep their thoughts free of subjective emotional content, but why was
Swedenborg unable to understand their words and gestures?
The answers to all these
questions will become apparent if we first ask what was actually going
on in Swedenborg's case and what he took with him onto the astral plane.
It seems he was not completely able to extricate his spiritual nature
from his physical person, for if he had been able to do so, he would
have seen his I as an object in the realm of higher consciousness. His
I would have become like a remembered object, something like the broken
pots in a comparison I used some time ago. He was unable to wrest himself
sufficiently free of himself. However, as you know from what I have
already said about him, it was characteristic of Swedenborg's clairvoyance
that he did not just see illusions. He did not just see maya —
he could actually recognize objective facts; for instance, he knew he
was dealing with beings from Mars and could see what they were like. That
was all correct, but he was seeing the spiritual world in its maya aspect,
through a veil of illusion, so to speak. He was in fact looking at real
beings from Mars, but could not understand that they were actual
Now, my friends, let me
ask you to be really, really clever for a moment, and clever in a way
that people who want to develop their clairvoyance usually are not.
Obviously, Swedenborg did not perceive these beings from Mars with his
ordinary senses, with his ordinary sense of sight. After all, he was
seeing them in the spiritual world. In other words, he could not see
them with his sense of sight or hear them with his sense of hearing
or even understand them with his ordinary capacity for thought. As I
have explained to you, this capacity for thought was actually a gift
of the ancient Moon stage, that is, something that developed before
the Mars forces came into play…
[ Note 5 ]
[gap in the stenographic record].
Among all the powers of cognition
known to human beings, there was nothing that could have enabled him
to understand these beings.
Thus we are confronted with
the strange fact that Swedenborg undoubtedly recognized the beings he
saw, but did not recognize them by means of any higher forces. He recognized
them by means of some ability he should not have had because he was
lacking the necessary consciousness — ordinary powers of consciousness
on the physical plane are inadequate to explain what he was seeing.
But in that case, how was he actually seeing? Now, Swedenborg had spent
his life not only as a great scholar but also as a very pure person,
and so a certain energy was transformed within him. All people on the
physical plane have this energy, which is somewhat similar to clairvoyant
ability. On the physical plane, however, it is used for a different
purpose. What was this energy that enabled Swedenborg to see as he did?
Swedenborg was seeing by
means of a force that perceives outer appearances without touching them
in any way and without making use of the eyes. What kind of a force
is that? On earth, on the physical plane, it is the force that comes
to expression in sexual activity, the mysterious force that pulls people
together in earthly love, a force different from all other powers of
perception. Swedenborg had stored up this force, and when he reached
a certain age it was transformed in him, although it remained sexual
energy in some respects. He used this sexual energy to see spiritual
worlds. That is, transformed sexual energy is actually the basis of
You can conclude from all
this that human beings during their evolution on earth are provided
with a force that expresses itself as sexuality during earthly life,
but that will be transformed once it is no longer bound to the physical
body. On the other hand, you can also come to the conclusion that the
forces leading to clairvoyant vision are very intimately related to
forces involved in what are now the lowest drives in human nature, and
that one of these realms can be attracted by the other, so to speak.
My friends, it follows that
clairvoyance is not something to be toyed with. Of course, what I have
just said does not apply to spiritual science as such, but it does apply
to all kinds of clairvoyance people grab for in passing without working
to acquire it legitimately. We cannot take seriously enough the fact
that clairvoyance is not to be developed by simply applying a transformation
of our usual mode of perception on the physical plane to higher planes
of existence. These higher planes require that we work toward a new
mode of perception applicable to the spiritual world, a mode of perception
that has nothing to do with sexual energy, since that is physical and
exists only for the physical plane. Applying the same mode of perception
to higher worlds as is applied on the physical plane, that is, the assumption
that people can still perceive in the same way as they do on the physical
plane, is what makes people relate clairvoyance and sexual energies.
There are several ways of
avoiding this, and we are now at a crucial point in human evolution
where these things must be understood. What I have just told you is
ancient knowledge, and in olden times people knew how to protect themselves.
They knew that people approaching the spiritual world had to recognize
both their own weakness and the fact that strength of character, inner
discipline, and doing away with any unrestrained emotional impulses
are necessary for ascending into the spiritual worlds in the right way.
Ancient initiates were aware of human weakness and took steps to prevent
any possibility of mixing the two spheres.
How did they do it? Simply
by keeping people away from the opposite sex whenever truly spiritual
matters were being spoken of. That is, the female sex was not allowed
to participate in gatherings in which spiritual scientific matters were
discussed. That is why in the past women were excluded from all spiritual-scientific
gatherings. This measure prevented the men from mixing the two spheres
in any way, because they were bound by strictest oath not to discuss
what went on in the lodge outside the lodge itself. Women, then, could
have no connection to spiritual science other than the white gloves,
which were a significant symbol of this whole state of affairs.
[ Note 6 ]
Now these times are long
gone, and spiritual scientific movements such as ours should attempt
to do away with such constraints. However, the spiritual realm must
still be kept totally free of the other sphere I mentioned; these two
realms are not to be mixed.
What we have seen recently
is a case of the worst possible mingling of spheres, a case in which
sexual drives were at work but were interpreted as something quite different.
They were interpreted as all kinds of mystical things, but in reality
they were sexual drives. It is important to face this fact squarely
and to understand it from the inside, out of the inner nature of the
cosmic order. Only our recognition of the very great dignity and solemnity
of spiritual life can guard us against egotism in spiritual activity.
Once egotistical mysticism enters, nothing can save us from mixing the
two above-mentioned spheres in the worst possible way.
Thus we saw how in Swedenborg's
case, repressed sexuality filled his Imaginations that would otherwise
have remained empty, but only to a certain extent. When he came into
contact with beings who were able to eliminate all emotions from their
gestures, he was no longer able to fill that sphere, which was a strictly
human one and came about because his sexuality extended to include his
Imaginations. Swedenborg, then, is a good example of what to avoid in
approaching the spiritual world in modern times. Aspirations that resemble
Swedenborg's in any way put people striving for clairvoyance in danger
of arousing the sphere of sexuality and having the two spheres mingle.
My friends, we must be able
to speak of these things as a matter of course in spiritual scientific
contexts. It would be very unfortunate if we were unable to mention
them objectively and scientifically, because serious seekers also need
to know the dangers they face in their search. That is also why it is
so easy for an impure fantasy to misinterpret pure spiritual striving.
We stand at an extremely
significant point in our spiritual scientific communications, and what
I wanted to do today was sketch the lines converging in this point.
Because I want to be very thorough in speaking to you about these things,
I will continue to present my reflections on this question tomorrow.
We will meet again at the same time, or at whatever time seems best
— we can decide that before we leave here today.