by Rudolf Steiner
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
Dornach, March 14, 1924
My dear friends,
We have seen the changes which take place in a person who encounters the Guardian of the Threshold. And whether he or she is able to approach and come to an understanding of the spiritual world in any form, depends upon understanding the essence of this Guardian. In particular, we have seen how what constitutes man's inner self - thinking, feeling, willing - undergoes a substantial transformation in the Guardian of the Threshold's domain. Especially in the last lesson here, it became clear to us how in a certain respect thinking, feeling and willing go different ways upon entering the spiritual world, how they enter into different relationships than those which usually prevail for earthly consciousness.
We have seen how through his will man is greatly influenced by earthly conditions. At the moment when the person approaches the spiritual world, in a certain sense thinking, feeling and willing become separated. The will, now living much more independently than previously in the soul, shows itself to be much more related to the forces which attract man to the earth. Feeling shows itself to be related to the forces which hold man in the periphery of the earth through which the light penetrates when it shines upon the earth in the morning, and which disappears from sight on the opposite side in the evening. Thinking, however, is the force which relates upwards to the heavenly. So that in the moment that man stands before the Guardian of the Threshold, this Guardian draws his attention to how he belongs to the whole world: through his will the earth, through his feeling the periphery, through his thinking the higher powers.
But that, my dear friends, is exactly what must be made clear - that upon entering the spiritual world a growing together with the universe occurs. For normal consciousness we stand here in the world while outside of us are the forces which are active in the plant, mineral, animal kingdoms, to which we have access through our senses, but which at first indicate no relationship to human beings. So here we stand, apart, looking inwards at our thinking, feeling and willing, aware that our thinking, feeling and willing are somewhat separated, apart from external nature. And we feel a deep chasm between our human nature and the expansive nature around us.
But this chasm must be bridged. For this chasm, only the exterior aspects of which are perceived by normal consciousness, is the threshold itself. And our being able to perceive the threshold depends on our ceasing to simply accept this unconsciousness, when we look within ourselves, concerning an external nature which we perceive as being foreign to humanity. For this chasm needs to be understood as being not only extremely important for human life, but also for the entire universe.
Well, you see, at the moment when one enters the esoteric, a bridge over this must be built. We must, in a sense, merge with nature. We must stop saying to ourselves: Out there is nature, which has nothing to do with morality. We don't ask the minerals about morality, although it is of prime interest to us, nor do we ask the plants, or the animals - and in this materialistic age we have even ceased asking humans, because only human physicality is taken into consideration.
And also when looking into the inner human we see what for normal consciousness is passive thinking, with which we can indeed visualize the world pictorially, but which is nevertheless powerless. Our thoughts are at first things we own which allow us to recognize the objects in the world. As thoughts they have no power. Our feeling is our inner life. To a certain extent we are separated through it from the world. Our will does communicate external objects to us, but in so doing the external objects take on something foreign to their nature.
Something truly great happens to a person when he becomes aware of the abyss which exists between himself and nature: something great. Something which has been expressed since ancient times with these words, words which must be understood anew in every age: Nature must appear as divine, and the human must be a magical being. What does it mean, that nature must be able to appear as divine?
Nature must be able to appear as divine. The way it appears to the senses, and how reason understands it, it is certainly not divine. One would like to say: divinity is hidden within nature. It only appears to lack divinity. At most in dreams do we see a relationship between nature and the inner life of man. We can become aware of how an irregularity in our breathing process in one direction or the other can cause happy dreams or fearful and anxiety-filled ones. We can be aware of how the purely natural overheating of a room can give a kind of moral content to certain dreams. Dreams pull nature into the psyche.
However, we also know that in dreams our consciousness is submerged, and dreams are not what can directly describe the spiritual to us. Rather than the sleeping consciousness, we must see how the awakened consciousness presents nature.
Now in nature, my dear friends, we have a relationship of the human physical body with what is solid, with what is characteristic of the earthly element. We have a relationship of the human etheric body with what is characteristic of water. However, this relationship of the human physical body with the earthly, and the relationship of the human etheric body with the liquid element lie deep beneath what people experience.
What is closer to man is his breathing process, which is dependent upon the air. So it is from the breathing process upwards where the region begins where man can feel himself- when he is approaching the spiritual - related to nature.
The breathing process contains the air element, in which we exist.
Above the element of air we have the quality of warmth.
And above the element of warmth we have the essence of light: warmth-ether, light-ether.
When we go even higher we come to a region - which we will speak about later - which does not lie so close to humans.
That man lives and moves in the element of air is obvious from a completely exterior point of view. One needs only to look at dreams to see how dependent they are on irregularities, abnormalities in the breathing process. When the breathing process takes place while awake, we don't notice it, because in general we pay little attention to normal life processes.
That the element of warmth is extremely essential to man is obvious to even superficial observation. If we dab our skin with an object that is colder than our body, a cold knitting needle for example, we feel the cold places that have been touched as separate even though they are very close to each other. We are very sensitive to the cold. If we touch our skin with an object that is warmer than our body, we don't feel the difference so clearly. We can hold two cold knitting needles very close to each other and feel the coldness of both. If we hold two warmed needles, the close contacts flow together at one point, and we must hold them quite far apart in order to sense them as separate. In fact we are far more sensitive to cold than to warmth. Why? We endure warmth much better then cold because we are creatures of warmth, because warmth is our own nature and we live and act in it. Cold is foreign to us and we are very sensitive to it.
It is more difficult for normal consciousness to understand light. Today we want to approach these things esoterically. So it may be sufficient that I have indicated what air and warmth means to normal consciousness. But with this consciousness man feels air as something external, natural. He also feels warmth as something that touches him from without, and he also feels that light comes to him from outside himself.
In the moment when a person takes the leap in his life which brings him near to the Guardian of the Threshold, he becomes aware of how intimately he is related to what otherwise seems alien to him.
I have often pointed out how in every moment of our lives, also for normal consciousness, we can become aware of our relationship to the universe through our relation to the air. The air is outside, the same air which is inside me a moment later, then it is again outside, the same air which was within me. But we are not aware of the fact that, in the sense that we are beings of air, that what we hold within us we let out again, then take what was external into us again, so that we become one with the whole life and being of the element of air in which we exist as earthly beings. Whereas we always carry our muscles and bones within us, so we are only conscious of their origination and passing away during the embryonic and dying stages.
At the moment we enter the spiritual region this is no longer the case. We then feel how with every exhalation we fly out on the wings of the exhaled air into the expanse of being into which the exhaled air disperses. And how by inhaling we take into us the spiritual beings who live in the circulating air. The spiritual world flows into us when inhaling; our own being flows out into the environment upon exhaling.
This is not only so in respect to the air, but to an even greater degree in respect to warmth. As we are one with the air environment which encircles the earth, so are we also one with the warmth which encircles and penetrates the earth. [Two white circles are drawn: air, then a red one: warmth.]
When we approach the spiritual world we truly experience the spirit entering us when inhaling, our own being streaming out into the expanse of space when exhaling, that is, we experience a spiritual interweaving of inhaling and exhaling. And we feel more intensively how with the increase of warmth - in that we are ourselves within the element of warmth - we become more human, and with the lessening of warmth we become less human. Thus warmth ceases to be a merely natural element, for we feel and recognize the spiritual nature of warmth - and we feel it to be closely related to our being human. We feel that the increase of warmth means that the spirits which are active in the element of warmth say: We give you your humanity through the element of warmth; we take it away through the element of cold.
So we come to the light, in which we live and act. But we don't notice it because with normal consciousness we have no idea of the fact that the inner movements of light are contained in our own thinking, that every thought is captured light - both for the physically sighted and for the physically unsighted. Light is objective. Not only the physically sighted receive it, the physically unsighted also receive it ... when they think. Because the thoughts which we hold within us, which we capture, is light present within us.
We can say then, that when we approach the Guardian of the Threshold he admonishes us in the following way:
When you think, O man, your being is not in you, it is in the light. When you feel, your being is not in you, it is in the warmth. When you will, your being is not in you, it is in the air. Keep not within yourself, O man. Think not that your thinking is in your head. Think that your willing is none other than the moving, living, active air element working within.
One must be very conscious of the fact that in the Guardian of the Threshold's presence one is divided into the universal elements, that one can no longer simply hold one's self together in the usual chaotic, dim way of normal consciousness. And that is the grand experience that initiate knowledge gives to the human being, that he ceases to seriously think that he is enclosed within his skin - something which is no more than a mere indication that he exists. For spiritual consciousness what is concentrated within the skin is an illusion; for man is as great as the universe. His thoughts are as wide as the light, his feelings are as wide as the warmth, his will is as wide as the air.
If a being of sufficiently developed consciousness were to descend to the earth from another planet, he would speak to people in quite a different way than how people of the earth address each other. He would say: The light which envelops the earth is differentiated [The cloak of light is drawn around the air and warmth circles: yellow.] Many individually differentiated beings are in the light. One must imagine that in this earth-light, in the light that surrounds the earth, that weaves and waves around it, in this space many beings are present, as many as there are human beings on the earth. They all accommodate themselves within the earth's world of light. And for this visitor from space all human thoughts are in this cloak of light. And all feelings are in the cloak of warmth, and all willing is in the atmosphere, in the cloak of air.
Then this being would say: I have qualitatively differentiated out a being. It is indicated by body a; another, also within the cloak, is designated as b, and so on [within the yellow, two spots, a and b, are drawn]. The real human beings are all together in the light, warmth and air surrounding the earth.
For the person who really stands before the Guardian of the Threshold this is not speculation, but experience. And this is what constitutes spiritual progress, that man integrates with the surrounding world. It is of little use to speak of these things theoretically. It is not particularly profound mystically to say that you are one with the world by merely thinking that you are, if you do not begin to experience the fact that when you are thinking you are living in the entire earth's light, are becoming one with the earth's light, and how by doing so, by becoming one with the light of the earth, you go out of yourself - go out, so to speak, through all the pores of your skin into a divine-spiritual being - you become one with the essence of the earth itself and with the other elements of the earth's being. This is something which must be understood in all seriousness by anyone who strives toward relationship with the spiritual world.
You see, light must, in a sense, have a moral effect. And we must be aware of how we are related to the light and how the light is related to us in the esoteric experience of the world. But then, at the moment when one steps over the threshold, it becomes clear that the light is real and must wage a hard battle with the forces of darkness. Light and darkness become real. And then something occurs to the person which makes him say to himself: If in my thinking I merge completely with the light, I will lose myself in the light. For in the moment when I merge with the light in my thinking, light-beings grasp hold of me and say: You, human, we will not let you out of the light again, we will hold you back in the light. This expresses the light-beings' will. They want to draw man to them through his thinking, make him one with the light, rend him from all the earthly forces and integrate him into the light. The light-beings who are around us are those who at every moment of existence wish to rend human beings from the earth and integrate them with the sunlight which flows over the earth. They live in the periphery of the earth and say: You, human being, should not remain with your soul in your body; with the sun's first light of dawn you yourself should shine down on the earth, you should set with the sun's afterglow, and encircle the earth as light!
These light-beings will be found enticing us ever and again. At the moment of crossing the threshold one becomes aware of these light-beings who want to pull human beings away from the earth and try to convince him that it is not worthy of him to stay chained to the earth by its gravity. They wish to absorb him in the sun's radiance.
Yes, for ordinary consciousness the sun is shining above and we humans stand below and let the sun shine on us; for the more developed consciousness the sun in heaven is the great tempter who wants to unite us with its light and pull us away from the earth - who whispers in our ear: O man, you don't need to stay on the earth, you can exist in the rays of the sun, then you can illuminate the earth and bring it happiness, so you no longer have to be illuminated and made happy on the earth from without.
This is what we encounter when we meet the Guardian of the Threshold: nature, which was previously quietly outside us and made no claim on our normal consciousness, now has the force to speak to us morally. Nature appears in the sun as a tempter. What before was quietly shining sunlight now speaks enticingly, temptingly. And we first realize that there is something spiritual living and moving in this sunlight when the enticing, the tempting beings appear in the light of the sun who want to pull us away from the earth. For these beings are in continuous battle with what constitutes the interior of the earth - darkness.
And if we fall into extremes - which is quite possible because the experiences in meeting the Guardian of the Threshold are most earnest and profound and gripping for the human soul - when we realize how enticing the sunlight is, caused by the light-beings, that is when we want to escape from them, if we remember that we are supposed to be human beings. We may not forget this. If we do, although we continue to live physically on the earth, we are to a certain extent psychically crippled. But when we become aware of how enticing the sunlight is, we turn to the opposite side and seek relief in darkness, against which the light is continually fighting. And by swinging from light to darkness we fall into the opposite extreme. So this self, which wanted to surge out into the bright shining sunlight, is now threatened in darkness by loneliness, by being separated from all other beings. But we human beings can only live in the area of equilibrium between light and darkness.
Such is the great experience before the Guardian of the Threshold: that we face the enticement of light and the dehumanizing force of darkness. Light and darkness become moral forces which have moral power over us. And we humans must realize that it is dangerous to look at the pure light and the pure darkness. And we are reassured when, there at the threshold, we see how the middle gods, the good gods of normal progress dim the light to a luminous yellow, to a luminous red, and when we know that we can no longer be lost to the earth, when we are aware not of the light which enticingly dazzles us, but of the color in spirit, which is subdued light.
And it is equally dangerous to yield to pure darkness. And we will be inwardly liberated if we do not stand before the pure darkness in spirit-land, but when we stand before the illuminated darkness as violet and blue. Yellow and red say to us in spirit-land: Light's enticements will not be able to wrest you away from the earth. Violet and blue say to us: The darkness will not be able to bury you, as soul, in the earth; you will be able to hold yourself above the effects of the earth's gravity.
Those are the experiences where the natural and the moral grow together in one, where light and darkness become realities. And without light and darkness becoming realities, we will not be aware of the true nature of thinking. Therefore we should listen to the words the Guardian of the Threshold speaks when we meet him with our thinking, which has become independent and separated in our soul:
This means becoming aware of the duality in which one is placed and between which one must find equilibrium, harmony, in thinking.
[The lines are written on the blackboard:]
The impulses which can derive from such words must be forcefully received by thinking and one must learn to feel when dealing even with normal exterior light, and exterior darkness, how this light can only be tolerated when it is dimmed to color. Then we must do our best to understand, with spiritual visioning, how thinking is placed in the middle of this battle between light and darkness: How, when it comes into contact with light, it is absorbed in a certain sense, interwoven with the light; and when it comes into contact with darkness it is extinguished. If we want to enter into matter, into dark matter, our thinking is extinguished. By understanding this, one gradually enters the spiritual realm.
And, my dear friends, in order to experience this, one must have courage, inner courage. To deny that one needs courage is to be ignorant of the true situation. We may think that courage is needed to let a finger be cut off, but none is needed to allow the severed thinking to stream into the vortex in which it will be seized when it finds itself in the middle of the battle between light and darkness. And it is always there. Knowledge means that we are aware of this.
In every waking moment, with his thinking, man is in danger because there are certain spiritual beings on neighboring heavenly bodies who know that in every century, in every age, it is possible, as far as humanity is concerned, for light to win over darkness or darkness to win over light.
Yes, my dear friends, for people with normal consciousness life seems as little dangerous as it does for a sleepwalker who has not yet been woken up: he doesn't fall down. For someone who observes life, however, a battle ensues, and he cannot say with certainty whether in a hundred years light or darkness will have won, and whether the human race will even have an existence worthy of humanity. And he will know why such a catastrophe has not happened to human evolution until now.
I could use another comparison. When you watch a tightrope walker on his rope you know that he could fall at any moment to the left or to the right. That you could be on such a tightrope psychically - that anyone can plummet psychically to the right or the left - there is no awareness of that in ordinary life, because one does not see the abyss on the left or right. Nevertheless, it is there.
That is the benefit the Guardian of the Threshold bestows on man - that he does not let the abyss be seen until his own warnings alert him to it. That has been the secret of the Mysteries of all times, that the abyss is shown to the adept and he therewith is able to acquire the strength necessary for knowledge of the real world.
As it is with light in regard to thinking, so it is with warmth in regard to feeling. When approaching to Guardian of the Threshold, one is aware of entering a battle between warm and cold: how warmth is always enticing our feeling, for it wishes to suck it in to itself. Just as the light-beings, the Luciferic light-beings would in a certain sense fly away with us from the earth towards the light, so would the Luciferic warmth-beings suck our feeling into the general universal warmth. All human feeling should be lost to humanity and soaked up into the general universal warmth.
And this is enticing because what the initiate-science adept is aware of when he approaches the threshold with his feeling: the warmth-beings appear, who want to give the human being an over-abundance of his own element, of the element in which he lives: warmth. They want all his feelings to be soaked up by warmth. When the human being is aware of this however: when he approaches the threshold, the warmth-beings are there, he gets warm, warm, warm, he becomes warmth, he flows over into the warmth. It is a feeling of pleasure, and a great enticement. It flows through him continuously. One must know all this. For without knowing that this enticement exists within the desire for warmth, it impossible to obtain an unobstructed vision of spirit-land.
And the enemies of these Luciferic warmth-beings are the Ahrimanic coldness-beings. These beings attract those who are still aware of how dangerous it is to bask in the pleasure of warmth. They would like to dip into the healthy cold. That is the opposite extreme: the cold can harden them there. And then, when the cold affects man in this way, infinite pain ensures, which is also physical pain. The physical and the mental, matter and spirit, become one. The human being experiences the cold capturing his whole being, as though tearing him apart in great pain.
That the human being is continually engaged in this battle between warmth and cold is what one must understand as the Guardian of the Threshold's admonition in respect to feeling.
[The second verse is written on the blackboard.]
With his volition man enters a world which seems quite near to us - which in fact it is. It is the world of air, the world which sustains our breathing. One does not suspect how closely related human will is to the air which we breathe, for our will depends upon our breathing. And in the air, dear friends, life and death exists. It contains the vivifying oxygen; it contains the deadly nitrogen. The chemist says with his terrible, untrue abstraction: Air consists of oxygen and nitrogen. Yes, as long as we remain in normal consciousness one says: oxygen and nitrogen. Once we arrive at the Guardian of the Threshold, however, it becomes clear that oxygen is the external manifestation of many spiritual beings - the ones who give humanity life. Nitrogen is the external manifestation of the spiritual beings who give humanity death - also the death which, in every instant of our waking life in which we think and in which we develop our soul-life, is partially putting us to death, is unmaking us.
In the air there is a battle in which the Luciferic oxygen-spirits do battle with the Ahrimanic nitrogen-spirits. As long as one has not arrived at the Threshold, air consists of the chemists' abstraction: oxygen and nitrogen. When we arrive at the Threshold, it consists of Ahriman and Lucifer, and the oxygen is the outer mask for Lucifer, and nitrogen the outer mask for Ahriman. And a battle rages in the air. This battle is hidden from the every-day, illusory consciousness. But one enters it when the Threshold is reached.
Once again: if one wishes to realize what exists in oxygen-spirits, what exists in the life-element when one wishes to unite his will with spiritual creativity, when one is stimulated to inner courageous activity, the danger exists that one's actions are all absorbed by spiritual acts and one ceases to be even human because what one needs as strength of will is taken over by the Luciferic spiritual world.
And if you turn to the opposite side, then the nitrogen forces, the Ahrimanic ones that act as death in the element of air will tempt you. This is not the death which we see in the physical world, but one with which one is not personally related. If you become related to death you begin to consider it as something you wish to unite with, and then are never released from. Whereas in the element of life the spirits want to hold us in order for their deeds to absorb the deeds of men, on the other side - that of the Ahrimanic nitrogen-spirits - we are thrown aside into the nothingness of life. We then want to act in death, act in nothingness. We are cramped instead of being active; the self is cramped.
Man is placed between these two opposing elements of which he must be aware with respect to his will.
[The third verse is written on the blackboard.]
If, dear friends, we say: I would rather do without such knowledge! Why should I do that to myself, approaching the Guardian of the Threshold, if what is otherwise benevolently hidden from humanity is revealed to me? Can it be beneficial for humanity to be aware of such terrible truths? It is obvious that this objection is due to the human desire for comfort, especially when the question: What should I do with such truths? is asked. If I ask that, it is about something I'd rather not know.
But, my dear friends, the task of contemporary times is that man penetrate in reality, that he does not cowardly shrink back from reality, that he penetrates into reality in order to unite with what is directly related to his being. We could of course stick our heads in the sand during this short earth-life and know nothing about these realities; that we can no longer do however, for we are now entering a new age when man can only thrive after death if he becomes aware of what he will experience after death.
And how will it be after death? When a person passes through the gates of death and his consciousness has still not been erased, he looks back and when this looking back has become conscious, spiritual beings whisper into the process causing a soft undertone to be present. One looks back the few days after death during which the etheric body is dissolving in the cosmic ether, one looks back and sees the pictures of the earth-life just experienced - and certain spirits whisper:
Now we know the reality: if we do not find the middle way, but wander off either to the right or the left instead, then one of those things can happen.
And also, when one has gone through the sleeping time after death, which does not last long, he enters in consciousness into a time when he experiences his past earthly life backwards, an experience which lasts a third of that of his past earthly lifetime, as we have described in the general anthroposophical lectures. But the admonishing spirits keep appearing during milestones along this journey. And they say to us:
Bearing this in mind, I have often counseled those who have asked me how they should act in respect to the dead who have been close to them to direct thoughts towards them in the sense, for example: “My love goes out to you, so that it might warm your coldness, lessen your warmth,” for during the whole time of reverse experience of the past life warmth and cold play the role described above. But we are also warned that they play that role continually. These things are realities.
And when we then cross over from the life of reverse experience into the experience of being in the free spirit-land, preparing ourselves for the next earth-life, the spirits warning us at the milestones again appear. They call out to us unceasingly:
- The striving is real; you could go right or to the left -
My dear friends, when man still had an instinctive clairvoyance and passed through the gates of death, it was through this instinctive clairvoyance that he could understand the words spoken to him during the three stations of life after death. But in the age which man had to pass through in order to achieve freedom, it became ever more difficult for him to understand what was being called out to him. And now we live in an age when, if human beings are not made aware of the meaning of these words during their life on earth, they will not understand the words called out to them in spirit-language.
But that is what can happen to man if he confronts a future in which he passes through a world where these words are called out to him and he does not understand them and must therefore live through the torments of not understanding. And what do these torments mean? They mean the ever increasing prevalence of anxiety in the soul of losing the connection with the creative spiritual powers and finally not being able to join those spiritual powers to whom we owe our existence, and instead find ourselves with alien powers where the human origin can be lost.
To enter esoteric life, my dear friends, does not imply a mere learning process, nor a mere theory; rather it means to accept a most serious aspect of life. And whoever immerses in esoteric life does not listen to a mere teaching or a theory, but immerses himself in aspects of real life. The life which our senses are aware of is only the outer manifestation; behind it at all times is the spiritual world. We do not enter it if we close our ears to what lies in these words. If we enter deeply, meditatively into such words, then our thinking, our feeling and our willing will be able to understand and to grasp the spirit in which we must penetrate as human beings.
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