on 23 December 1998
In "How to Know Higher Worlds", Steiner undertakes the task of introducing the reader to the requirements of thought-life needed to percieve the higher processes of life and the cosmos. He provides a path of systematic development, for the faculties latent in each person, by which the development of a specific spiritual sensory organ may be cultivated. Once this is achieved, one is able to distinguish and move about with certainty in the subtle inner world of the human psyche, which is then shown to be interconnected to a vast realm of archetypal and spiritual forces which act upon the development of the cosmos. This book distinguishes itself as one of the definitive references on inner self-transformation, providing a path to a true self-knowledge, and expansion of one's empathetic relationship to the world.
on 5 July 2011
"How to know higher worlds" is one of Rudolf Steiner's most well known works, alongside "An Outline of Occult Science". Steiner was the founder of Anthroposophy, regarded by most outsiders as a religious movement loosely based on Theosophy. Steiner himself saw Anthroposophy as a kind of "spiritual science". He believed that anyone who takes the time and makes the effort can develop the same clairvoyant powers he claimed to have himself, and in this manner confirm his findings. In this sense, then, Anthroposophy is "scientific".
In this book, Steiner outlines part of his method to develop the clairvoyant abilities needed to "see" into the spirit-world. Personally, I don't think he is detailed enough, indicating that real practice requires a teacher giving oral instructions. In contrast to modern how-to guides, that often promise quick results and even "ascension", Steiner's book emphasizes that seekers must be patient, disciplined and well-grounded in normal life. They must also be moral, committed to the higher cause of humanity and diligently study Steiner's own writings. In a sense, patience is the most important virtue, since it may take years to reach a point when initiation into the spiritual mysteries occurs. Through meditation and other practices, the seeker will develop his "lotus-flowers" or chakras, and be able to observe auras, etheric bodies and even thoughts. He will eventually encounter and learn a kind of occult alphabet, with the aid of which the spirit-world communicates esoteric truths. Hieroglyphs? One technique described by the author is the famous "seed meditation", mocked by C.S. Lewis during his "Great War" with Owen Barfield.
Steiner emphasizes that the relationship between seeker and teacher is voluntary, that teachers shouldn't exploit their students, and that real spiritual masters might look seemingly insignificant to the world at large. These tenets seem to have been adhered to. While Anthroposophy is exclusively based on Steiner's "research" in the spirit-worlds and hence very dogmatic, few people have seriously accused it of being a dangerous, manipulative cult. While Steiner himself was hardly invisible, one of his own masters seems to have been a "nobody", Felix Kogutzki. To the outside world, he was just a herb gatherer, but to Steiner, he was Christian Rosenkreutz and even introduced Steiner to Master Jesus! (This is not discussed in this particular book, though.)
According to Steiner, there are many trials and dangers on the spiritual path, making courage another important virtue to cultivate for true seekers. While some of the dangers seem to come from actual demons, the worst perils are really connected to the seeker himself. The seeker might be shocked to learn the true nature of the universe, or be repelled by the negative sides of his true self, clearly visible for the first time. One of the "demons" encountered by the initiate on his path, the Guardian on the Threshold, is really a creation of his own, a kind of golem built up by the initiate's own karma. Those who face the Guardian squarely, will be blessed by him - to those in denial, he is a curse. David Spangler's almost proverbial Luciferic initiation seems to resemble Steiner's ideas on this point. There are also obvious parallels with Jung's shadow.
Steiner further says that thinking, feeling and willing are separated at a certain point of spiritual development, making it possible for the initiate to re-combine them on a higher level. However, many seekers go astray at this point, for instance by being overtaken by willing, becoming aggressive and vengeful in the process. Thus, this literal "split of the personality" can be perilous for the unprepared. Another interesting aspect of the initiation process has to do with race and ethnicity. Steiner believed that the destiny of each race and Volk were guided by specific angels or spirit-beings. However, the seeker who wants initiation must free himself from their influence, become a free individual and face the Guardians alone. This might come as a surprise to those who accuse Steiner of "essentialist" racism or nationalism!
The last stage of initiation described in this book is the meeting with the Great Guardian of the Threshold, apparently a kind of bodhisattva. He gives the initiate a choice between returning to Earth and serve humanity, or continue alone for the sake of his own, exclusive salvation. The right thing to do (of course) is to return at this point, since such people will eventually be elevated by the process of cosmic evolution. Those who follow the "black path" might reach their goal (presumably in some hedonistic sub-division of the astral world), but they will inevitably be left behind (and perish?) when the stream of evolution catches up with them...
Thus, somewhat surprisingly, "How to know higher worlds" ends with a call to the initiate to return to the material plane and serve his fellow men, not simply by spreading the spiritual message, but by "earthly" means. The bodhisattva ideal of Anthroposophy is obviously somewhat different from the classical version. Steiner himself tried to live up to this message of service to humanity by developing Waldorf education, bio-dynamic farming, the threefold commonwealth and Anthroposophical medicine.
There, "How to know higher worlds" pretty much ends. There is a sequel, called "The Stages of Higher Knowledge", which I haven't read (yet). Steiner projected yet another sequel, but it was never published.
While I found the book interesting, I admit that I'm sceptical to Rudolf Steiner's "spiritual science" overall. Steiner "saw" all kinds of *very* strange things with his clairvoyant chakras, while missing some very obvious things - such as the dangers of asbestos, used in building the Goetheanum! Had Steiner warned the world about this deadly substance decades in advance on authority of the spirits, I might have been more intrigued than I am by the countless other claims made by the seer of Dornach...
That being said, I don't doubt that the techniques in "How to see higher worlds" actually works. I take it Steiner is describing his own spiritual awakening, or that of some of his students. How far it might take you and me, would we ever try it out, is perhaps another question... ;-)