by Rudolf Steiner
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
Dornach, March 21, 1924
My dear friends,
During these meetings, we are considering the truths which can be learned from the Guardian of the Threshold. And the Guardian's continuous admonition is that man be aware that he advances spiritually when he becomes conscious of his true relation to the world.
To become conscious of his true relation to the world, he first gets to know the world by observing the kingdoms of nature which are external to his own being - the animal kingdom, the vegetable kingdom and the mineral kingdom. These relations offer him the opportunity to admire them and to use them to carry out his own will impulses, etc. Man considers them to be his external world, and with normal consciousness he is hardly aware of how he has evolved out of this world, how a deep relationship to that world exists within him.
However, one cannot feel this relationship by merely letting one's gaze wander over this exterior world. One must advance to a self-knowledge of belonging to this world. And when one wishes to gain this self-knowledge, my dear friends, then one may not simply continue to see things as first glances provide; rather must one return to what is revealed between them.
Since the modern phase of human evolution began, we seldom see what is revealed between the things. We see the three kingdoms of nature in the outside world. But as you know, my dear friends, behind the kingdoms of nature we have what is called the world of the elements.
We can say: our feet stand on the ground of the solid earth.
[written on the blackboard]
And what the solid earth consists of is also present in the animals, plants and minerals and also in our physical human bodies. And when we lift our gaze from the ground beneath our feet to what is to a certain extent at our own height, what is present is not only air, for the air is always penetrated by the watery element. Although it is true that man's life on earth has developed in such a way that he only senses this watery element in fine solution in the air which surrounds him, and in order to use it in his own organism it must be condensed, it is nevertheless true that he also lives in this watery element.
[over “earth” is written]
And man also lives in the air element through which he breathes.
[over “Water” is written]
At the moment when we observe these elements we cannot speak of them as we speak of the other beings of the nature-kingdoms, which we see before us in sharply defined contours. But in the solid as such, in the earthly, we can only say that we live in it. We are too closely related to the earthly to specifically differentiate it. We do not specifically differentiate what is a part of ourselves. We do differentiate a table or a chair which exist outside of ourselves. We do not consider what is inside us as having clear boundaries. We do not see our lungs or heart within us as having clear boundaries. Only when they are made into objects, in anatomy, do we see them so. But just as we are related to our own bodies, we are also, to a larger extent, related to the elements. We live in earth, we live in water, we live in air, we live in warmth. They belong to us. They are too close to us to be understood as very sharply contoured in the world.
Let us now lay out this elemental world before us, a world which is around us and at the same time within us, so that we must consider it as the content of the world and of ourselves. So we have what we designate as Earth, what we designate as Water, what we designate as Air and what we designate as Warmth.
[over “Air” is written:]
When we go further up out of the thicker substances into the etheric from warmth, which is already etheric, we come to the light.
[over “Warmth” is written:]
and up to what we have always described with a dry, abstract expression: chemical ether and its effects. Because the ordering, the formation of the world is effected by it, we shall call that great chemicality of the cosmos “cosmic-formation”.
[over “Light” is written]
And then we will call what is highest in the etheric: Life-Ether, Cosmic Life.
[over “cosmic formation” is written]
Well, my dear friends, you have already seen from the previous lesson that the human being, according to the manner in which he lives on the earth, is not equally related to all of these elements in the same measure. In fact, the human being only lives in a completely intimate relationship with the element of warmth. [A red cross is drawn on the blackboard next to the word “Warmth”.] For spiritual progress, it is necessary to be fully conscious of such things.
Just think how much you directly feel warmth and cold to be part of you. The difference between warm and cold affects you strongly. Even air circulation affects you less. Whether the air is good or bad you notice indirectly according to its effect on your organism. The effect of light is the same. Nevertheless, man is very closely related to air and light. [Yellow crosses are drawn next to the words “air” and “light”.] He is extraordinarily close to them.
But man is relatively distant from the watery elements - among the denser ones - even though he is related to them. Nevertheless, the watery element is very closely connected to human life. [A blue cross is drawn next to the word “water”.] Imagine, my dear friends, a very vivid nightmare and consider how your perspiration, that is, the secretion of the watery element, is affected by it. Notice how the watery element plays a significant role in sleep. The human being lives in the watery element. The liquid elements dissolved in his environment are of great importance for him, but none more directly than warmth. Whether it is warm or cold, man feels it as being part of himself. When it is warm, he is warm; when it is cold, he is cold. When we walk into fog, for example, the fog's moisture has an important but an indirect influence on us, something which normal consciousness isn't very aware of.
I'll put it this way: We walk into fog - and our own watery element merges in a certain sense with the outer world's watery element. And with this easy transition from our own watery element to the outer world's watery element we feel our connection to the whole cosmos - contrary to the transition from our watery element to dry outer air. Dry air lets us feel more human. Watery air lets us feel our dependence on the cosmos. But nowadays we have no training in such things. In a lecture cycle in The Hague, which has been printed, I went into detail concerning man's dependence on the elements. The elements exist, and it pertains to esoteric life to be aware of this dependence in practice.
Man's relation to the earthly elements lies even deeper in the subconscious. [A blue cross is drawn next to the word “Earth”.]
What does man know about his relation to the earthly element? He knows that salt is salty, that sugar is sweet. They belong to the earthly element. But about the processes of metamorphosis that salt and sugar undergo in his organism, how he acts together with the cosmos in dissolving the sugar or the salt within his organism, how certain cosmic forces work into the organism when the sugar's sweetness courses through his body, or the saltiness of salt courses through his body, he is mostly unaware, save for the slight reflex of the saltiness or the sweetness on his taste-buds. These are profoundly meaningful processes. The universe has opened its doors, so to speak, to certain forces when the human being dissolves sugar on his tongue and transfers it to his organism.
It is also the case that whereas these denser elements have an indirect influence on the human being, the etheric finer elements, Cosmic Formation and Cosmic Life also have an indirect influence on the human being, a hidden influence. [Blue crosses are drawn next to “Cosmic Formation” and “Cosmic Life”.]
The most evident influence on man comes from the middle element, Warmth. The influence of Light and Air are also strong - evident also to ordinary consciousness. But the influence of Water and Earth on one hand, and on the other hand of Cosmic Life and Cosmic Chemical Formation lie in the unconscious. Therefore, man should be aware during his earthly life that he lives closely with these middle elements [Air, Warmth, Light], whereas his consciousness has been withdrawn from his relation to Water and Earth and to Cosmic Formation and Cosmic Life.
In the days when the old instinctive consciousness prevailed, there was also a nuance of clairvoyance, and when the students in the Mysteries reached a certain stage in their development they were cautioned: Trust the Fire, trust the Air, also trust the Light; but beware of the underworld - Water, Earth; beware of the overworld - Cosmic Formation and Cosmic Life. For due to the fact that they lie so deeply in the unconscious, Lucifer's temptations appear in Cosmic Life and Cosmic Formation, and Ahriman's temptations appear in Earth and Water.
In the Mysteries, esoteric instruction always indicated that man should find the right relation to these elements, feel his relationship with the elements in the correct way. When one advances to Imaginative life, he feels exactly this relationship to the elements. With normal consciousness: We look around, recognize the animals, plants and minerals as existing outside of us. When, however, we recognize the elements in their relationship with us, then we may not look around at the world, but we must feel, experience what is in us and the world at the same time.
Then, when we have advanced to Imaginative life, we are able to feel our relationship with the world.
If we develop this feeling in the right way, we will make a profound admission. This admission to ourselves is progressive, true self-knowledge. We realize that one is only human when he is released from the world to which he is inwardly connected, from the earthly world where he stands alone, as it were, where the plants, animals and minerals exist outside of us, are foreign to us. But if, through Imaginative knowledge, one becomes aware of his relationship with the earth, then he will no longer feel himself in his humanity, he will feel himself in his animality; he feels the inner relationship of man to the extended animal domain.
And when he feels himself as one with the water element on earth he becomes aware enough to say: In reality you are related to the vegetable kingdom. There is something in you that is as sleepy and as dreamy as the plants.
And if one becomes aware of his relationship with the air, he feels the mineral element within him. He feels something filling him through the whole skin.
As soon as we enter the elemental world with Imagination, we feel related to the animals, plants, stones. And we feel differently toward the kingdoms of nature when we feel that we belong to them as well. We feel the inner relationship to these kingdoms in the following way.
We look out at the animal kingdom. We observe the indolent animals which slowly take one step after the other. We observe the rapid ones, and the flying birds. We observe the inherent movement in the animals which fill the world with movement from out of their own being. And then we say to ourselves: All that which comes from the innermost being of the animals is revealed to be the same as our own will. And we feel the relationship of our own will with the animal world.
But there is something else. One feels fear of one's self. This is what is considered positive - that whoever enters into esoteric life feels this fear of himself. Not so that he gets stuck in it, but so that he may transform it into a higher psychic force.
It is like this: when we become aware that our human form exists because we stand alone and the kingdoms of nature are beyond us, where we can look at them, then we feel that the earth, in its true elemental nature, does not make us human, it makes us animal. We are animals. As far as the earth is concerned, we are animals. And because the earth-element is always present, the danger exists that we sink into animal nature. And when we don't merely understand this theoretically, as is mostly the case nowadays, but also feel it, we become fearful that at any moment we may fall into animality. But it is just this fear which encourages us to always wish to raise ourselves over this animality, to step out of the elemental life into the life which surrounds us with an external, perhaps strange world, but which also introduces us to true humanity. To feelingly recognize our relation to the world is what leads us to true esoteric knowledge.
And when we feel our relationship with the world's water, with the water elements, then we realize: as far as water is concerned, we should not be human, but vegetables. And our feelings, which have a dream-like nature, as I have often explained, our feelings have a continuous tendency to be vegetable-like. Just try to think seriously about your innermost feelings and you will feel the vegetative nature of the life of feeling. And then you will have the feeling that you are not only in danger of descending to animality, but also of living on with a lamed consciousness, like a vegetable - sleeping, dreaming. But this feeling of lameness, which lies deep in the [sub]conscious, must be transformed into the feeling of awakening to humanity. Fear of animality must be transformed into the courage to raise yourself to humanity. The feeling of vegetable lameness must be transformed into an awakening call to inner strength, to develop into a fully awake person in the world.
And when we become aware of how we live in the air-element, then we can see how in reality all thinking - this is unknown to people - is nothing other than a refined breathing. Thinking is refined breathing. The thoughts in which we live are absolutely a refined breathing process. On one side, the breathing-in stream, holding the breath, and breathing out act, in a more coarse way, into our blood circulation; on the other side, but more refined, into the vibration of the brain organs. And the breath circulating there is known as thinking in the physical world; sublimated breathing is thinking.
The individual who has advanced to Imagination no longer believes in this abstract thinking existing as a kind of tenuous substance in the brain. He feels the inhalation, the expanding of the breath in the brain; he feels how the breath spreads out. When the breath expands in this way, then ceases, the closed concepts arise, closed ideas. If it encloses something else, in waves, the ideas of self-movement arise. It is merely a refined breathing process which weaves and waves within us which we designate as thinking.
When one feels: I inhale, I draw the breath up to the brain, I let it strike my ear, and one feels: what I hear as tone, as sound, as clang, lives in me as thought. I let the breath strike my eye: it lives in me as what I see as color. It is the inner language of breathing which acts as representations in thinking. When breathing, completely refined, strikes the sense organs it creates my mental pictures [representations]. But when one becomes aware of this, becoming a thinker and a breather, so to speak, then one feels that this refined-to-thinking breathing process is like an organized mineral, like an organized stone, which fills him.
You know that oxygen is transformed into carbon dioxide in man. This reception of carbon dioxide in the finer branches of breathing in the human head is tantamount to the capture of the carbon dioxide. It is a mineralization process. And the more we are able to internalize this capture of carbon dioxide by oxygen, the more we are conscious of the mineralization process. We take the carbon into ourselves. And carbon is the Philosopher's Stone; thus, within man carbon is the Philosopher's Stone.
Read how the old instinctive clairvoyants described the Philosopher's Stone. You will find them saying: The Philosopher's Stone can be found everywhere, only people don't recognize it. It can be produced everywhere. It can found at its own place - in the earth. They describe in detail how carbon is produced, by burning wood. The Philosopher's Stone can be produced anywhere, it is carbon. It is in the coal mines ... [gaps here in the shorthand, possibly the result of rapid speaking ...] a mineralization process. One feels mineralized within ... by the combustion process [?] ... just as we feel ourselves to be plant-like by the watery processes and identify with the animals by living on earth. [This passage is unclear.]
This is the exhortation the Guardian gives to man: He must be aware of his relationship to the kingdoms of nature. Therefore, we have these exhortations in the form of spoken meditations. And if man lets them work with deep feeling on his sensibility he will be aware of his relationship with the earth-element, which is related to his will; with the water-element which is related to his feeling; with the air-element which, in the way I have described it, is related to his thinking.
[Written on the blackboard:]
This is an unconscious process. Every time we will something, we climb down into the earth-element. But normal consciousness knows nothing of this. At the moment when the downward climb becomes conscious, man transforms himself from a human to an animal nature, he seems like some kind of animal - at least in the etheric form which he then observes. I don't mean that he will exactly become an elephant or a bull, but something like that for the element of will, yes, he gives the impression of being bull-like, elephant-like, eagle-like, and so on.
[Written on the blackboard:]
But such exhortations by the Guardian of the Threshold, my dear friends, are not to be taken as concepts or theories. They are meant to be experienced by the whole human being. If we look at where the will is heading, we become aware of our animality and we fear our own self which, however, must be transformed into psychic courage. Then one advances further. Then one can enter the spiritual world.
[The writing continues:]
Here we have the first descent, climbing downward to the kingdom where the Ahrimanic forces work so strongly. Our correct comportment is indicated by the exhortation just given by the Guardian of the Threshold:
As a rule, what helps us most toward spiritual advancement is the overcoming of something that drags us down. When we overcome something which drags us down, like this fear of our own animality, and transform it by our own inner act into psychic courage, then it becomes an impulse toward a higher humanity. It's something we need to advance spiritually.
We learn about the next descent, into the water-element, through the words of the following exhortation by the Guardian of the Threshold:
The transformation to the opposite of this sleep-filled dreaminess, if we really descend consciously, becomes a wakening in ourselves.
[The second verse is written:]
And when the human being feels his relationship with the air-element, then even with normal consciousness he feels the relationship more strongly. He descends less deeply into the subconscious. Nevertheless, a trace of Ahrimanic temptation remains in this descent. When we live in our remembrances, in our memories, we are mostly in an inner breathing activity. If we refine normal breathing to thinking of what is in our environment, then very little danger is present. If memories arise, however, with breathing coming from within, danger is still present, although it is the easiest to observe. And it is in this descent from thinking to perception where we mostly are concerned with our memory's mental pictures. It is about this that the Guardian of the Threshold admonishes:
[Written on the blackboard:]
We can do this, my dear friends, using the same inner force we use when combining one thought with another in the performance of normal activities. We are used to moving a chair from one place to another, when we make the effort. But we are not used to moving a thought from one place to another. We prefer to think according to the guidebook as events present themselves. We would like the book to show us the sequence of thoughts; that the newspaper indicate the sequence of thoughts to us, and we are satisfied when they do. It is as if we expected that everything we do through the exertion of our will be set in motion by an objective power from without: as if your arm is to be raised so you can grasp a chair - as if a spirit stood there and placed your legs one after the other so you can walk. As far as thinking is concerned, it is as though we expected our legs to be moved for us so we can walk.
(this mineralizing process)
Whoever does not know “Imagination” does not realize how hard ordinary thinking is. Ordinary thinking is stone hard. One really feels thinking with angles and edges when one finally gains admittance to the spiritual world. Such thinking actually hurts when it appears in its particular abstract forms. Whoever knows spiritual life is able to feel empathy for what is thought as a result of human feelings and impulses. He can feel it himself when fits of hate and anger are expressed in thoughts; but he feels inwardly wounded as if by sharp angles and edges when the abstract thoughts of contemporary civilization enter his being. He will not be aware of the suffering which is caused by today's thinking if he does not know this sentence: “Your own soul will threaten you as coldly hardened stone.” But when one consciously descends to the kingdom of memories, the kingdom of airy breezes, where breath is grasped by thinking, then what I described happens. But this inner death of thinking, this death by freezing, must inspire us to the contrary - to create spiritual vitality in thought from inner strength.
Those are the three exhortations concerning the nether world, the world of the lower elements, which the Guardian of the Threshold directs to those who come to the threshold by showing them how man must be aware of his kinship with the three kingdoms of nature if he wishes to be knowledgeable. How he must be aware of his animality and the animals in his environment by virtue of his kinship with the earth-element. How he must be aware of his own plant nature and therewith the plant life of his environment by virtue of his kinship with the water-element. How he must be aware of his own mineral kingdom, his own mineral nature, his own stone nature, by virtue of his kinship with the air-element, and therewith the nature of the mineral kingdom of his environment.
Fear, lameness and death must develop as negative characteristics, but must metamorphose into the positive characteristics of courage, wakefulness and vitalizing fire.
That is also what the Guardian of the Threshold calls out to the person striding by: first the inner feeling of fear of falling into animality; then the inner feeling of helplessness in plant-like lameness; then the desire to oppose the coldness of stone by engendering vitalizing fire in the soul.
Thus, the Guardian of the Threshold's threefold exhortation is:
Here [in the lower part of the above list marked with blue crosses] we enter Ahriman's kingdom and are warned by the Guardian of the Threshold as to how we can save ourselves from Ahriman's temptations; and here [the upper part of the list] where we are in earthly life and wish to enter in the esoteric, in Light, World Formation and World Life. We absorb the light. Normally we do not know that the light unites with breathing when it penetrates the eye - warmth is between them - the breathing of air combines with the light [middle part of the list]: the representation [mental picture] of the perception arises. We live in light in that we form thoughts, just as toward the lower kingdoms we live in the air, in breathing. We hold thoughts back from the light. We don't realize that thoughts can only live in us if they are illumined by the light, if breathing is illumined by the light.
For those who have advanced to Imagination, thinking is a hushed breath illumined by ingested light, made vibrant by it.
Here are the gentle waves of breath. [Waving lines are drawn on the blackboard.] They are illumined by light. [Yellow marks.] For in spiritual science everything which works through the senses is designated as light. Not only what works through the eyes, also what works through sound, is light, also what is sensed as touch, is light. All perception through the senses is light. But when we become aware that thinking, this having thoughts, is refined breathing waving, weaving upon the light - it is as when one sees the surface of the sea upon whose waves the sun's light shines. Also, as though one were inside and could feel the surging of the waves and the light shining on them. It is all perception when one experiences it from within.
Now Lucifer's temptation appears, for this is all wonderfully beautiful, something which causes enormous delight and complacency. A terrible wantonness overcomes man. He becomes easy prey for Lucifer's temptations and enticements to pull him away from the earth into the beauty of the cosmos, where Lucifer reigns. He wants to tear man away from the earth-element and raise him up to the kingdom of angels so that after each sleep he no longer wants to return down to the physical body. Here is where the Luciferic temptation appears, whereas in the realm of the denser elements the Ahrimanic temptation appears.
What is important here is that we heed the Guardian of the Threshold's warning and not enter this realm without having determined not to forget the earth's needs. Then the bond with the earth, upon which we have still to stride, will remain unbroken. Therefore, the Guardian of the Threshold says:
[The first part of the mantra is written:]
Thus, man is totally related to the shining light through Imagination, and his thoughts are no longer abstractions, but as light playing upon the waves of breath.
If we advance further to the etheric element, the Luciferic temptation becomes more intense. There not only our thoughts, which are relatively easy to control, come into consideration, but also the element of feeling. For it is in his feelings that man holds on to the substantial - the Cosmic Formation, which works and weaves in the chemical ether. If he now advances to Imagination, really integrates with this cosmic chemistry, it is quite different from the comfortable, bourgeois earthly chemical laboratory, where the chemist stands at a bench and everything is outside and beyond him. Man must be within matter, be himself within the mixing and the separating. Then he will become a cosmic chemist and be integrated in his chemical processes.
With this integration in Cosmic Formation he feels the Luciferic temptation in the form of helplessness. First man is transported in a certain sense to inner voluptuousness so he can be spirit [an angel]. He is unwilling to return if he does not bear in mind the earth's needs. Now he is made helpless, not strong enough in his humanity to re-enter it. He must beware of this helplessness of soul in that he only enters this [spiritual] world once he has achieved a love for all that is worthy on earth, for the earthly values.
The Guardian of the Threshold speaks:
[The second verse is written:]
(which comes from Lucifer)
Man can only reach his cosmic goal if he becomes an angel at the right time. During the Jupiter evolution today's humanity will rise to angel rank. Lucifer's temptation consists of wanting to raise man to a stunted immature angel too early, during the Earth period. In that way the human soul would be lost and a stunted angel soul would take its place. We should listen to the Guardian of the Threshold's exhortation:
The most intense temptation comes when we ascend to the last element, to general Cosmic Life. What is still present there is will which, however, is present as in sleep, as I have often explained. If it is awakened through Imaginative knowledge, we become aware - unlike in our limited earthly life which is enclosed in our skin - we become aware of sharing in Cosmic Life: and in that instant we are dead. Because to consciously live in Cosmic Life means to experience death as an individual being. Universal life kills us if it holds us. Like the insect that flies into the flame greedy for the fire, for the light. In the instant that it flies into the flame it dies, thus does man as an individual die in General Cosmic Life if he consciously enters it with his spirit.
We shouldn't even dare to think of entering into this element without having first developed a god-given, spirit-given will for the earth, that is, without being fully conscious that on earth we are carrying out the intentions of the spiritual beings. If we completely fill ourselves with inner dedicated glowing love toward this god-given will, then we shall not succumb to the temptation of becoming a degenerate angel instead of remaining a human being. Thus, therefore is the Guardian of the Threshold's exhortation:
[The third verse is written on the blackboard.]
And here we have the Guardian of the Threshold's threefold exhortation referring to the upper, ether region in the above list.
You are being introduced to the practice of knowledge in these lessons, my dear friends. You should not understand the things being given to you in this way as theoretical matters. Rather will you experience the heart of the matter if you understand the fundamental condition: that what you are being told here are the instructions from the Guardian of the Threshold himself, directly arising from what can be learned through contact with the Guardian of the Threshold. For it is not my intention to give theories during these Class Lessons, my dear friends. The intention is to let the spiritual word itself speak. Therefore, in the first lessons I mentioned how the School should be seen as having been founded by the spiritual world itself.
That has been the nature of all Mystery Schools, that in them men spoke as representatives of the spiritual powers of the world. It must also remain the nature of the Mystery Schools. Therefore, I have so strongly insisted on the earnestness required of all members of this class, without which no one can be a real member of this School of spiritual life. That is the earnest exhortation I wish to direct to you once again, my dear friends. Consider this School as being constituted directly through the will of the spiritual world, and which we are trying to correctly interpret according to the conditions of our times in which we have entered after the darkness was over and a light has come again, a light which, however, has only manifested itself on earth poorly because human beings have retained the old darkness. Yet the light is there. And only those who realize that the light is there will understand the nature and intentions of this spiritual school.
|Last Modified: 13-Jun-2019||
The e.Librarian: firstname.lastname@example.org