by Rudolf Steiner
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
Dornach, February 15, 1924
My dear friends,
With this lesson, I would like to restore to the Free School for Spiritual Science as an esoteric institution the task which it has been in danger of being deprived of during the past years. In this introductory lecture, I will not go further into explaining that situation, but I wanted to stress the importance of this moment by indicating the seriousness with which our movement — which is daily being endangered and undermined — must be imbued, especially in this School. This is no unnecessary observation, for such seriousness has not been apparent everywhere.
A kind of preparatory introduction will be given today, my dear friends. And I would like to emphasize that in this School spiritual life is to be revealed in its true meaning, so that you will be able to consider this School as an institution which can provide for the revealed spiritual needs of our times. This spiritual life can be deepened in all its aspects. But a center must exist from out of which this deepening derives, and the Center can be seen by those who wish to be members of the School to be the Goetheanum in Dornach.
Therefore, I wish to begin the School today, with those members for whom it has so far been possible to issue the membership card, to begin in a way that will make you conscious of the fact that every word spoken within this School is based on the full responsibility towards the spirit revealed to our times — that same spirit which has been revealed to humanity throughout the centuries and millennia, but revealed in each epoch in a special way. And this spirit will only give to humanity what it is able to receive.
We must be clear from the very beginning that it is not animosity towards what the sense-world has accomplished for humanity when in a School for Spiritual Science we attend to the revelations of the spirit. We must also clearly recognize that the sense-world has provided necessary, practical revelations to humanity and this fact should not cause us to undervalue those contributions in any way.
But it is nevertheless important that the spiritual revelations are received with all earnestness. For this — I must say it at the outset — much prejudice and obstinacy, which is deeply ingrained in the School's members, will have to go. It will be necessary to investigate how one finds the path to his own obstinacy, which hinders understanding what the School should be. For many still don't think correctly about the School. This must be gradually corrected. For it is only possible for those to be in the School who take it in all earnestness.
The matter itself demands this. And on the other hand, we must follow a difficult path in face of the opposition and undermining forces which are increasing day by day. The members of the School are by no means sufficiently attentive to this. All this, my dear friends, must be kept in mind.
The first and foremost thing to be observed in this School must of course be what it is possible for the spirit to give us. It will however be demanded of the members of the School that they accompany us on the difficult path strewn with obstacles and attempts at undermining it.
I have gone into these things in our weekly periodical, What is Happening in the Anthroposophical Society, and have also explicitly differentiated there between the General Anthroposophical Society and this School. And it is necessary that this difference be felt in all its explicitness by the members of the School, so that eventually only those persons are members who really want to be representatives of anthroposophy in all aspects of life. I say this now in order to emphasize the seriousness of the matter.
First of all, I would like to present to your hearts and to your souls what should stand over our School as a kind of engraving. That we really identify with what emerges from the life of the spirit onto our soul's ear and our soul's understanding. We shall begin with the words:
I will repeat it:
These words tell us that the world is beautiful and glorious and sublime and the endless glow of revelation in all that lives in leaf and blossom flows to our eyes with color on color from the visible universe; it is meant to remind us how the divine is manifested in what is lifeless in earthly matter, in the thousands upon thousands of crystalline and non-crystalline forms at our feet, in the water and air, in clouds and stars; it makes clearer to us that the animal life that frolics in the world and delights in its own existence and the warmth of its existence — that all that is divine-spiritual revelation. And it reminds us that we owe our own bodies to all those shapes, to all that is greening and growing, color on color. And it should also make us conscious of that fact that although all that is beautiful and glorious and grand and divine to the senses, it is futile to ask it what we ourselves are as human beings.
Nature, although it glows to us as grand and powerful in tone and strength and warmth, can never give us information about ourselves, although it does give us a huge amount of information about many divine aspects of the world. So we must evermore repeat to ourselves: what we feel as our innermost self is not woven from what we perceive as the beauty and grandeur and greatness and power of nature. And the question arises: Why does the reality of being all around us, of which we are also a part, remain dim and silent?
And what we might feel to be a kind of privation, we must experience as a blessing, so that we can say in all seriousness and sternness: We must first make ourselves truly human, warm in soul and strong of spirit, so that we, as spirit in humanity, may find the spirit in the world.
For this it is necessary that we prepare ourselves, without levity, to come to the frontier of the sense-world, where the spirit's revelation can rise in us. We must say to ourselves: If we arrive at this frontier unprepared and the full light of the spirit comes upon us at once, then, because we have not yet developed the strength of spirit and the warmth of soul necessary for receiving the spirit, it would shatter us and cast us back to our nothingness.
Therefore, at the frontier between the sense-world and the spirit-world stands that messenger of the gods, that messenger of the spirit, about whom we will hear more and more during the next lessons, whom we will want to know always better and better. That messenger of the spirit stands there and warningly speaks, telling us how we should be and what we must set aside so that we may approach the revelations of the spiritual world in the right way.
And when we have grasped, my dear friends, that the beauty, the greatness and the sublimity of nature is, at first, spiritual darkness for human knowledge, from which the light must be born which tells us what we are and were and will be; then we must know that the first thing to come from the darkness that must be grasped is that Spirit-Messenger who sends us the appropriate warning. Therefore, let this Spirit-Messenger's words resound in our souls, and let the Spirit-Messenger's description shine out before our soul's eye.
It must be clear to us that we must take seriously all that comes as warning from the Spirit-Messenger before daring to fathom what is found not on this side of the yawning abyss, that is, in the area of the senses, but on the other side spreading out as spirituality. This is veiled at first in darkness for human understanding, and can only be revealed by the countenance of the Spirit-Messenger, who appears at first to be similar to the human being, but transformed into one of gigantic stature. Then, although he is so similar to man, his form is shadowy, as though he were a mere parable of man. He warns that without the appropriate seriousness, no one should seek what lies beyond the yawning abyss. The earnest messenger entreats us to be earnest as well.
And then, when we hear that voice and have grasped it with due seriousness, we should be aware of how at first softly, most softly, and in abstractions, it wishes to give us indications and orientation from the spiritual world about the abyss which yawns before us and from which the Messenger holds us back less we take a careless step. The voice resounds:
I will say it again:
These words can make it clear to us how the secrets of existence must be fathomed from all that acts and works in the depths of space and which from the depths of space manifest how real knowledge must be fathomed from what is revealed in the march of time as creative action, and how all that is revealed of the world in the human heart must be revealed by the soul's honest seeking. For all this can only constitute a basis for what one needs for fathoming one's self, in which the world has planted the sum of its secrets. Thus, they can be discovered through human self-knowledge. Everything man needs in sickness and in health on his journey between birth and death, and what he will also have to use on that other existential journey between death and a new birth.
But all those who consider themselves members of this School should clearly realize that everything that is not acquired in this way is not real knowledge, but only pseudo-knowledge, that what usually passes for science, what man learns before he has acquired an awareness of the Guardian of the Threshold's warnings regarding spiritual knowledge, is all pseudo-knowledge. It doesn't have to stay pseudo-knowledge though. We do not scorn this pseudo-knowledge. But we must realize that it will only emerge from the stage of pseudo-knowledge once it has been transformed by all man can know about that purification and metamorphosis of his being, which he achieves when he understands what the Spirit-Messenger warns at the yawning abyss of knowledge — what the shining spirit warningly calls out from the darkness on behalf of the best spiritual inhabitants of the spiritual world.
Whoever does not acquire the awareness that between the sojourn in the fields of sense — which we must live during our earthly existence between birth and death — and the spiritual fields, a yawning abyss exists, cannot achieve true knowledge. For only by means of this awareness can true knowledge be acquired. He doesn't have to become clairvoyant, although knowledge from the spiritual world comes by true clairvoyance. But he must acquire an awareness of what exists as a warning at the yawning abyss of the secrets of space, the secrets of time, the secrets of the human heart itself. For whether we go out into space, the abyss is there; or if we wander in the turning points of time, the abyss is there; if we enter into the heart itself, the abyss is there.
And these three abysses, they are not three abysses, they are only one abyss. For if we wander out into space so far that we come to where the expanses of space merge, we find the spirit; if we wander in the turning points of time to where they originate at the beginning of their cycles, if we wander into the depths of the human heart, so deep that we can only fathom ourselves: these three ways lead to only one goal, to one last stop, not to three different stops. They all lead to the same divine-spirituality that bubbles from the spring that fructifies and feeds all being, but also teaches man to recognize the ground of existence in knowledge.
In such earnest awareness, we shall stand in thought where the earnest Spirit-Messenger speaks and listen to what he relates about the obstacles relative to our times, which we must sweep away in order to come to true spiritual knowledge.
Obstacles to spiritual knowledge, my dear friends, have existed in all times. In all times the people have had to overcome this and that, put aside this and that according to the warnings of the earnest Guardian of the Threshold to the spiritual world. But there are obstacles peculiar to each age. What proceeds from human civilization is to a large extent not helpful, but rather hindrance for access to the spiritual world. And man must find the particular obstacles that emerge from each earthly civilization, and are implanted in his nature by that very civilization, and which he must put aside before he can cross the yawning abyss.
Therefore, let us now hear the earnest watchful Messenger of the gods speak about this:
I will read it again:
The Guardian speaks:
These, my dear friends, are the three greatest enemies of knowledge for contemporary humanity. The human being of today is afraid of the spirit's creativity. Fear sits deep in his soul. And he would like to conjure it away. So he dresses his fear in all kinds of pseudo-logical arguments by which he tries to refute spiritual revelations.
You will hear, my dear friends, from this or that side arguments against spiritual knowledge. It is sometimes dressed in clever, sometimes in sly, sometimes in foolish logical rules. Never, however, are the logical rules the reason why spiritual knowledge is refuted. Rather is it the spirit of fear that lives and works deep into humanity's inner life which, when it rises to the head, translates into logical reasons. It is fear!
But it is not sufficient to say: I am not afraid. Everyone can of course say that. We must first comprehend the nature and the seat of this fear. We must tell ourselves that we were born and educated according to the present time, in which the Ahrimanic side has installed spirits of fear, and that we are tainted by these spirits. And conjuring them away doesn't mean that they really go. We must find the ways and the means — and this School will provide guidance — to bravery and knowledge against those spirits of fear which reside as monsters in our will. For it is not what often leads people to knowledge nowadays — or what they say does — that can provide true knowledge, but rather only courage, the inner courage of soul which provides the strength and the capacity to follow the path that leads to true, real, light-filled spiritual knowledge.
And the second beast, which creeps into the human soul from the spirit of the times to become an enemy of knowledge, this beast lurks everywhere we go — in most of the literary works of the day, in most of the art galleries, in most sculpture and art in general and music. It wreaks its havoc in the schools and in society. In order to avoid having to confess its fear of the spirit, it resorts to mocking spiritual knowledge.
This mockery is not always openly expressed, because people are not conscious of what is within them. But I would say that only a thin wall, the thickness of a spiderweb, separates what is in people's consciousness and what is in their hearts wanting to mock true spiritual knowledge. And when the mockery is open, it is only when the more or less conscious impertinence of modern man is able to suppress the fear. But basically, everyone today is vaccinated against the spirit's revelations. And the mockery is manifested in the most unusual ways.
The third beast is lazy thinking, the kind of thinking that would make the whole world a movie, because then no one is required to think — everything is reeled out and all one has to do is follow what is reeled out. Even science would like to follow the world's phenomena with passive thinking. Man is too lazy and comfortable to activate his thinking. Humanity's thinking nowadays can be compared to someone who wants to pick something up from the floor and stands there with his hands in his pockets and thinks he can pick the thing up that way. But he cannot. And existence cannot be comprehended by thinking with its hands in its pockets. We must move our arms and hands if we want to grasp something from the floor. We must activate our thinking if we want to grasp the spirit.
The Guardian of the Threshold characterizes the first beast, which lurks as fear in your will, as a beast with a crooked back and a bony face and scrawny body. This beast, with its dull blue skin, is verily what rises from the abyss and stands alongside the Guardian of the Threshold for today's humanity. And the Guardian of the Threshold makes it quite clear to the humanity of today that this beast is actually in you! It rises from out of the yawning abyss which lies in front of the knowledge fields, and reflects what lurks in your will as an enemy of knowledge.
And the second beast, which is connected to the desire to mock the spiritual world, is characterized by the Guardian of the Threshold in a similar way. It emerges alongside the other monster, but its whole attitude is one of weakness and sleepiness. With this sleepy posture and gray-greenish body, it bares its teeth in a warped face. And this baring of teeth is meant to indicate laughter, but lies, because to mock is to lie. So it grins at us as the reflection of the beast that lives in our own feeling and, as the enemy of knowledge, hinders our search for knowledge.
And the Guardian of the Threshold characterizes the third beast, which will not approach the world in spirit, as emerging from the abyss with cloven muzzle, dull glassy eyes, slouching posture and dirty-red form. Such is the doubt which speaks through the cloven muzzle and doubt in the power of spirit-light which expresses itself in the dirty-red form. This is the third of the knowledge enemies that lurks in us. They make us earthbound.
If we approach spirit-knowledge accompanied by them, ignoring the Guardian of the Threshold's warning, we encounter the yawning abyss. One cannot pass over it earthbound, nor with fear nor mockery, nor with doubt. One can pass over it by grasping in thought the spirituality of being, by experiencing in feeling the soul of being, by strengthening the activity of being in the will. Then the spirit, the soul and the activity of being give us wings of release from the weight of earth. Then we can cross over the abyss.
The steps of prejudice are threefold and will cast us into the abyss if we fail to acquire courage, fire and creative knowledge. If, however, we do acquire creative knowledge in thinking and we want to activate thinking, if we do not wish to approach the spirit in dreamy lassitude, but receive the spirit with inner heartfelt fire, and when we have the courage to really grasp the spirit as spirit, not merely letting it approach us as a materialistic picture, then will the wings grow which will carry us over the abyss, where every human heart that is honest with itself today desires to go.
That is what I wish to bring before your souls, my dear friends, by means of this first introductory lesson, with which this School for Spiritual Science begins.
In closing, let us review once more the beginning, middle and end of the experiences with the Guardian of the Threshold.
The Guardian speaks:
The Guardian continues:
As to what we will experience when we have passed the Guardian of the Threshold, what is necessary in feeling, willing, thinking to experience in order to pass by the Guardian's light, and enter into the darkness from out of which that light shines in which we recognize the light of our own humanity, and thus arrive at “O man, know thyself!” — which calls out, which manifests from the spirit that enlightens the darkness. About all that, my dear friends, next Friday during the next lesson of the First Class.
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