By Douglas Gabriel
“The soul on its path to the “mothers” passes the preceding lives through which it has gone during its descent from its former existence in perfection, to its present life in imperfection.” Rudolf Steiner, Riddles of Philosophy
Many anthroposophists heartily embrace Rudolf Steiner’s injunctions to seek the being of anthroposophy in their personal spiritual development, but are quite confused who this being is or where they can find her. One of the best places to find a description of the Being Anthroposophia is in the book, The Riddles of Philosophy, Steiner’s sweeping philosophic picture of the development of human thinking. Anthroposophia is not called out by that name in the book, but Steiner makes it clear that the development of human thinking is also the development of the Being Anthroposophia. As Steiner describes the historical thought processes of philosophers, he points out that a being develops alongside of philosophy in stages of about six or seven hundred years. Four stages of this evolution of thought are described in detail, outlining the nature of the growing Being Anthroposophia.
We are not focused on the Being Anthroposophia in this article because we have previously discussed her at length in the trilogy of books, The Gospel of Sophia. Accepting the reality of a being who “passes through you” every time you advance in thinking is somewhat understandable as a personal experience. Steiner calls Anthroposophia the “mid-wife of the soul” who helps lead us to the spirit. In The Gospel of Sophia we call this person in the Divine Feminine Trinity, the Holy Sophia.
Another aspect of the Divine Feminine Trinity is also described in detail by Rudolf Steiner throughout his books and lectures. The Being of Wisdom (Sophia means wisdom), from the ranks of the Kyriotetes, descended along with the Being of Love (Christ), from the ranks of the Elohim, into the human realm. In The Gospel of Sophia, she is named the Daughter of Sophia. Again, Rudolf Steiner’s many descriptions of this being are scattered throughout his works and anthroposophists seem to be able to understand this idea and the fact that the Being of Wisdom has created the wise workings of nature in the outer world and in the human being. Wisdom prevails and the Being of Wisdom (Daughter of Mother Sophia) finds a place in anthroposophical cosmology.
When it comes to understanding the nature of the Mother Sophia, many anthroposophists depart ways with Rudolf Steiner and refuse to consider the fact that Steiner describes three distinct “beings” of wisdom that manifest in his anthroposophical cosmology. The problem for most anthroposophists is that Steiner does not give a name to two of the three beings in the Divine Feminine Trinity. Steiner names Anthroposophia and describes her (without naming her) in The Riddles of Philosophy. He also clearly “names” the three previous incarnations of the Earth – Saturn, Sun, and Moon – as the three Greek gods Zeus, Chronos and Chthon which created “fire, air and water” just as Saturn created warmth, Sun created air, and the Moon incarnation of the Earth created water. Zeus rules the “ether,” Chronos rules “space,” and Chthon rules “matter.” These three “mothers” created all that is in the outer world. They did not create the earthly substance of the Earth incarnation which gives the human being a firm world to “come up against” to discover their true nature.
The human being finds himself as the “world serpent” interwoven with the creation of the Mothers (perfect) from the past (Saturn, Sun, Moon) wrestling with the present (imperfect) and trying to get back to the Mother’s (perfect) home through the process. Steiner tells us in The Riddles of Philosophy (all quotes in this article are from this source) that the thinking human being finds himself identified with Ophioneus the giant who wrestles with the cosmic serpent.
“The soul also feels that it cannot know anything of its own origin at first, because it sees itself in the midst of a world in which the “Mothers” work in conjunction with Ophioneus. It feels itself in a world in which the perfect and the imperfect are joined together. Ophioneus is twisted into the soul’s own being.”
This “soul’s own being” is the human ego that must balance the past, present and the future in all considerations by wrestling with the imperfect and carrying it back to its origins in the perfect – the Mothers. This wrestling is a description of the development of thinking that exists in both realms of the perfect and imperfect. Thinking is both the lawfulness of the outer world of nature and the lawfulness found in the human soul and spirit. Thinking is the bridge between the “Mothers” of the past (Saturn, Sun, Moon) and the human being’s astral body, etheric body, and physical body which were donated by the Mothers during ancient Saturn, Sun, and Moon. The ego of the human being was donated by Christ in the Earth incarnation and is represented by the giant Ophioneus wrestling with the serpent. Often, the serpent represents wisdom and self-awareness much like the Tree of Knowledge was the home of the serpent of knowledge of good and evil.
The Mothers are also portrayed in the Greek goddesses Erebus, Nyx, and Hemera. All Greek gods derive from primal Greek goddesses and thus it was understood that the “Mothers” were divine beings who could “give birth” and create fire, air, and water. Do not be swayed to imagine that a Greek god was strictly “male.” Many Greek divinities were both male and female, like Hemera and Eros.
Zeus Space Saturn
Chronos Space Sun
Chthon Matter Moon
Rudolf Steiner goes to great lengths in The Riddles of Philosophy to give numerous names to the Mothers so that there would be no mistaking the fact that they are “feminine” in nature. Here are some of the names he uses to describes this Primal Mother.
- Three Mothers of the world’s origin
- The Mothers
- Primeval Mothers
- Original causes
- Spirit, soul and matter
- Fire, air, water
- Good Mothers of all origin
- Primordial Mothers
- Perfect good, beneficial world processes, destructive or imperfect world processes
Steiner clearly saw two Sophia’s – Anthroposophia and the Being of Wisdom (Kyriotetes). Once we add the picture of the Primal Mother, it is quite obvious that Steiner taught that Sophia is three distinct beings joined in a trinity of beings. We call them – the Mother, the Daughter, and the Holy Sophia. The descriptions below are a compilation of the ideas found in The Riddles of Philosophy that clearly describe both the evolving Being of Anthroposophia (Holy Sophia) and the detailed description of the Primal Mother.
Together, we have the first thealogical (sophiological) and philosophical definitions of a Divine Feminine Trinity that is directly linked to the Divine Male Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Father God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit).
The evolving human thinking that Steiner calls Anthroposophia, as described in The Riddles of Philosophy, places the Greek thinker in the temple of the Primal Mother, or the Temple of Wisdom (Sophia). This Temple of Wisdom was created by the donations of the hierarchy in the three prior stages of the Earth – Saturn, Sun and Moon. The Temple of Wisdom (Sophia) is where the Greek thinker began the awakening of the forces of the human ego – the human thinker – as it wrestled to understand the outer world, which was for the most part, a complete mystery. The wisdom of the world was taught to the thinker by completely immersing the thinker in the Mothers. All that arose from the gifts of the divine in the past were seen as the wisdom of the Mothers. The thinkers needed to find themselves separate from that world of the Mothers if they were to become independent thinkers. Thus, the Giant Ophioneus (ego) had to wrestle self-knowledge from the Mothers in the world of wisdom around them.
In mythology Ophioneus wrestled with the serpent, but today the thinking human being (ego) wrestles with the outside world and attempts to tame its forces for the Good. Ophioneus represents the modern philosopher trying to tame the forces of the serpent (dragon) found in the astral body of desires. If those forces are tamed, the philosopher can become like Asclepius, the great healer who tamed the serpent Ophiuchus and was raised into the starry heavens as a constellation. The Greeks looked to the starry heavens as a Temple of Wisdom that taught them the virtues of the archetypes found in the stories of the characters who had been raised up into that divine realm. Asclepius wrestled with the serpent and was bitten by it, but finally he learned to hear the language the serpent spoke, thus making him “filled with the wisdom of the gods.” The human ego can also wrestle with the astral body of desires and learn to tame its wild fury into calm wisdom and thereby be raised into the heavens as a new archetype.
The taming of the astral body of desires is accomplished by understanding and refining the astral body so that it can become a new sense organ that can perceive supersensible realities. These new organs not only perceive the moral world order but also allow the philosopher to “look” into the world of the gods – the divine realms. Sometimes this is called “seeing the astral light.” and other times it is called the moral capacity of Imagination. Imagination is a new way of seeing with new sense organs that must be developed through higher thinking, love, and moral action. Asclepius brought the healing arts to Greece through the practice of interpreting dreams that would arise while a person “slept” in the healing temple. The archetypes would speak to the person and the priests would translate the dreams. This was a passive form of “seeing” into the spiritual world where thinking was unawakened and sleepy.
In today’s world, we must consciously develop the higher capacities of thought that Steiner describes as the fourth stage of the evolution of Anthroposophia (Holy Sophia) in The Riddles of Philosophy. Steiner calls this consciousness “thinking about thinking” as a new stage of philosophical development that helps build the strength to wrestle with the serpent of wisdom. Observing the process of thinking itself leads the philosopher to the personal ego that is “coming towards” individual from the outer world. The world (Primal Mother) brings the revelation of the true nature of the human ego, but it is the wrestling with wisdom (serpent) that brings the possibility that one can “write your destiny in the stars” as the Greek gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines did.
For the Greek thinker, there was wisdom written into the starry constellations that tell us about our Primal Mother. All around us the Mother speaks through the wisdom of nature. When we can hear the language of the serpent (wisdom), just like Eve in the Garden of Eden, we can then discern good from evil and have ego awareness to act with morality and love. The true philosopher (philo=lover, sophia=wisdom) loves the Primal Mother (Mother Sophia) and works together with the Being Anthroposophia (Holy Sophia) to bring down the wisdom of the Being of the Kyriotetes (Daughter of Sophia) in all that he thinks, feels, and wills.
When thinking (Mother), feeling (Daughter), and willing (Holy Sophia) come together in unity, the philosopher reaches the objective stage to begin a true “schooling” in how to write his or her own moral destiny into the stars. The Temple of Wisdom of the Primal Mother then becomes the Invisible College for the budding disciple of the Being Anthroposophia (Holy Sophia).
The Invisible College has been called many names: Shamballa, the etheric realm, Tushita Heaven, the realm of spiritual economy, the Akashic realm, the White Island, and many, many others. It is the place that initiates go each night to work on building the edifice of the future Jupiter incarnation of the Earth. Each moral thought, feeling, or action brings another “perfect stone” to the building of this new Invisible College. The Temple of Wisdom was built for humanity by the Mothers, but now it is the time for humanity to build an Invisible College where every striving philosopher can add to wisdom, beauty, and goodness. Initiates can even visit this Invisible College in the daytime through meditation, prayer, and other methods that take the initiate across the threshold between the physical and spiritual worlds.
The Temple of Wisdom is readily found in the astral body which shines with light like twinkling stars. Once the fiery stars are tamed and the insight received from the Primal Mother and the Being of Anthroposophia, the aspirant can then attempt to bring the wisdom that descended with the Being of Wisdom (Daughter) back to its rightful home in the starry heavens. The “Knowledge of Good and Evil” becomes the content of the lessons of the Invisible College which are taught to the aspirant by the hierarchical beings of the cosmos. The Daughter (Wisdom) is returned to her Mother through the help of the Being of Anthroposophia (Holy Sophia) who is the mid-wife of the human soul. The Being of Anthroposophia (Holy Sophia) evolves alongside of each aspirant, thrilled with each new step in learning gained through study in the Invisible College. This learning is imprinted into the etheric body of the human being which receive the teachings of the Invisible College like a hungry soul receiving spiritual nourishment.
The Invisible College holds the wisdom that is imprinted into the etheric body of the individual, and it contains the moral efforts of the past, the present, and the future. The astral body connects to space, whereas the etheric body connects to time and is not bound by past, present, or future. The etheric body is a perfect image of cosmic forces that seem to be eternal. The truth of wisdom, the processes of the cosmos, and the moral edifices of the future are already imprinted into the living etheric body. The teachings of the Invisible College are the new teachings that will lead us into the future as the thinking philosopher learns to enkindle the light of Imagination with true, moral pictures that are archetypes worthy to take their place in the starry halls of the Invisible College – the very environment of the future Jupiter stage of evolution. The Invisible College can be seen with supersensible organs as the manifestation of the etheric body of the entire cosmos.
The final stage of philosophical development involves transformation of the human physical body, just as taming the astral body of desires and understanding the etheric body of time were the first two stages. This can only be accomplished when the complete plan of creation of the Being of Wisdom (Daughter of Sophia) is unfolded. This process of ascension already begins with the philosopher thinking about thinking and developing Imagination that acknowledges the gifts of the Mothers (Mother Sophia). Once the higher feelings have been refined into Inspirations that are enkindled by the Being of Wisdom (Daughter of Sophia), the Being of Anthroposophia (Holy Sophia) is there to guide our way into the Invisible College where the School of the Archangel Michael resides in the etheric realm. Ultimately, knowing all three Sophia’s (Mother, Daughter, Holy Sophia) brings us into divine resonance with Christ/Sophia, or what Steiner called “the Sophia of Christ.”
The Invisible College constitutes the three future stages of human spiritual evolution – Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan which are nurtured by the Being of Anthroposophia (Holy Sophia), the Being of Wisdom (Daughter of Sophia), and the Primal Mother (Mother Sophia).
The Primal Mother (Mother Sophia) is hidden from the thinking individual at this time in evolution and her true nature is obscured from materialistic thinkers. It takes a path of self-development that leads to a comprehensive world-view (cosmology) to integrate the wisdom of the Mothers with modern scientific thinking. Once the Primal Mother has finally been recognized and the Being of Wisdom is found throughout all nature, then the Being of Anthroposophia can lead us from the Temple of Wisdom to the new temple called the Invisible College, the future home of the spirit of humanity.
A Condensed Version of The Riddles of Philosophy (GA 18)
The following is taken directly from the text of The Riddles of Philosophy and was woven together to highlight the descriptions of the Being of Anthroposophia. The sweeping images of the evolution of thinking are profound and quite unique in its philosophical approach to thinking. Rudolf Steiner’s incredible insight into the mind of the ancients is unparalleled and the development of thinking over the entire course of history is made understandable through his wisdom.
Familiarity with Steiner’s anthroposophical cosmology is necessary to fully comprehend the ramifications of the evolution of philosophy through the Being Anthroposophia. Though not named in the book, the Being Anthroposophia is the mirror image of the collective development of human thinking throughout history and on into the future. These passages are a rare description of Anthroposophia and once the reader truly beholds her visage, the philosophical romance with wisdom will deepen and reward the soul for its efforts.
Four distinctly discernible epochs in the evolution of the philosophical struggle of mankind presented themselves to his (the philosopher) view. He had to recognize the difference of these epochs as distinct as the difference of the species of a realm of nature. This observation led him to acknowledge in the realm of the history of man’s philosophical development the existence of objective spiritual impulses following a definite law of evolution of their own, independent of the individual men in whom they are observed. The achievements of these men as philosophers thus appear as the manifestation of these impulses that direct the courses of events under the surface of external history.
It can be shown that in the evolutionary course of the philosophical struggle of mankind, periods are distinguishable, each of which lasts between seven and eight centuries. In each of these epochs there is a distinctly different impulse at work, as if it were under the surface of external history, sending its rays into the human personalities and thus causing the evolution of man’s mode of philosophizing while taking its own definite course of development.
The first epoch of the development of philosophical views begins in Greek antiquity. It can be distinctly traced back as far as Pherekydes of Syros and Thales of Miletos and it comes to a close in the age of beginning Christianity. The spiritual aspiration of mankind in this age shows an essentially different character from that of earlier times. It is the age of awakening thought life. Prior to this age, the human soul lived in imaginative (symbolic) thought pictures that expressed its relation to the world and existence.
What may at first glance seem to resemble the element of thought in Oriental or Egyptian world contemplations proves, on closer inspection, to be not real thought but parabolic, symbolic conception. It is in Greece that the aspiration is born to gain knowledge of the world and its laws by means of an element that can be acknowledged as thought also in the present age. As long as the human soul conceives world phenomena through pictures, it feels itself intimately bound up with them. The soul feels itself in this phase to be a member of the world organism; it does not think of itself as an independent entity separated from this organism. As the pure pictureless thought awakens in the human soul, the soul begins to feel its separation from the world. Thought becomes the soul’s educator for independence.
A new period begins with the dawn of the Christian era. The human soul can now no longer experience thought as a perception from the outer world. It now feels thought as the product of its own (inner) being. An impulse much more powerful than the stream of thought life now radiates into the soul from the deeper currents of the spiritual creative process. It is only now that self-consciousness awakes in mankind in a form adequate to the true nature of this self-consciousness. What men had experienced in this respect before that time had only been harbingers and anticipatory phenomena of what one should in its deepest meaning call inwardly experienced self-consciousness.
It is to be hoped that a future history of spiritual evolution will call this time the “Age of Awakening Self-Consciousness.” Only now does man become in the true sense of the word aware of the whole scope of his soul life as “Ego.” The full weight of this fact is more instinctively felt than distinctly known by the philosophical spirits of that time. All philosophical aspirations of that epoch retain this general character up to the time of Scotus Erigena. The philosophers of this period are completely submerged in religious conceptions with their philosophical thinking. Through this type of thought formation, the human soul, finding itself in an awakened self-consciousness entirely left to its own resources, strives to gain the consciousness of its submergence in the life of the world organism. Thought becomes a mere means to express the conviction regarding the relation of man’s soul to the world that one has gained from religious sources. Steeped in this view, nourished by religious conceptions, thought life grows like the seed of a plant in the soul of the earth, until it breaks forth into the light.
Then, from greater depths of spiritual life an element breaks forth into mankind that is fundamentally different from thought life — an element that filled the soul with a new inner experience, with an awareness of being a world in itself, resting on its inner point of gravitation. Thus, self-consciousness is at first experienced, but it is not as yet conceived in the form of thought. The life of thought continues to be developed, concealed and sheltered in the warmth of religious consciousness. In this way pass the first seven or eight hundred years after the foundation of Christianity.
With the close of this third period, the character of philosophical endeavor changes. The self-consciousness of the soul has been strengthened through century-long work performed in the examination of the reality of thought life. One has learned to feel the life of thought as something that is deeply related to the soul’s own nature and to experience in this union an inner security of existence. As a mark of this stage of development, there shines like a brilliant star in the firmament of the spirit, the words, “I think, therefore I am,” which were spoken by Descartes (1596 – 1650). One feels the soul flowing in thought life, and in the awareness of this stream one believes one experiences the true nature of the soul itself. The representative of that time feels himself so secure within this existence recognized in thought life that he arrives at the conviction that true knowledge could only be a knowledge that is experienced in the same way as the soul experiences thought life resting on its own foundation.
With conceptions of a world picture arising from such a question the fourth epoch in the evolution of the philosophical world view begins. Our present age is approximately in the middle of this epoch. This book is to show how far philosophical knowledge has advanced in the conception of a world picture in which the self-conscious soul can find such a secure place, so that it can understand its own meaning and significance within the existing world. When, in the first epoch of philosophical search, philosophy derived its powers from the awakening thought life, the human soul was spurred by the hope of gaining a knowledge of a world to which it belongs with its true nature, which is not limited to the life manifested through the body of the senses.
In the fourth epoch, the emerging natural sciences add a view of nature to the philosophical world picture that gradually senses its own independent ground. As this nature-picture develops, it retains nothing of a world in which the self-conscious ego must recognize itself. In the first epoch, the human soul begins to detach itself from the experienced external world and to develop a knowledge concerned with the inner life of the soul. This independent soul life finds its power in the awakening thought element. In the fourth period a picture of nature emerges that has detached itself in turn from the inner soul life. The tendency arises to think of nature in such a way that nothing can be mixed into its conception that has been derived from the soul and not exclusively from nature itself. Thus, the soul is, in this period, expelled from nature, and with its inner experiences confined to its subjective world. The soul is not about to be forced to admit that everything it can gain as knowledge by itself can have a significance only for itself. It cannot find anything to point to a world in which this soul could have its roots with its true being. For in the picture of nature it cannot find any trace of itself.
The evolution of thought life has proceeded through four epochs. In the first, thought is experienced as a perception coming from without. In this phase the human soul finds its self-dependence through the thought process. In the second period, thought had exhausted its power in this direction. The soul now becomes stronger in the experience of its own entity. Thought itself now lives more in the background and blends into self-knowledge. It can no longer be considered as if it were an external perception. The soul becomes used to experiencing it as its own product. It must arrive at the question of what this product of inner soul activity must do with an external world. The third period passes in the light of this question. The philosophers develop a cognitive life that tests thought itself with regard to its inner power. The philosophical strength of the period manifests itself as a life in the element of thought as such, as a power to work through thought in its own essence.
During this epoch, the philosophical life increases in its ability to master the element of thought. At the beginning of the fourth period the cognitive self-consciousness, based on its thought possession, proceeds to form a philosophical world picture. This picture is now challenged by a picture of nature that refuses to accept any element of this self-consciousness. The self-conscious soul, confronted with this nature picture, feels as its fundamental question, “How do I gain a world picture in which both the inner world with its true essence and the external nature are securely rooted at the same time?” The impulse caused by this question dominates the philosophical evolution from the beginning of the fourth period; the philosophers themselves may be more or less aware of that fact. This is also the most important impulse of the philosophical life of the present age.
In the view of the Greek Pherekydes the world is constituted through the cooperation of three principles. Chthon is something that later in the age of thought-ruled world conception becomes “matter,” the stuff “things are made of”; Zeus has become “ether” or “space,” Chronos changes into “time.” Through the combination of their action the material world of sense perception — fire, air, water and earth — come into being on the one hand, and on the other, a certain number of invisible supersensible spirit beings who animate the four material worlds. Zeus, Chronos and Chthon could be referred to as “spirit, soul and matter,” but their significance is only approximated by these terms. It is only through the fusion of these three original beings that the more material realms of the world of fire, air, water and earth, and the more soul-like and spirit-like (supersensible) beings come into existence. Using expressions of later world conceptions, one can call Zeus, space-ether; Chronos, time-creator; Chthon, matter-producer — the three “mothers of the world’s origin.” We can still catch a glimpse of them in Goethe’s Faust, in the scene of the second part where Faust sets out on his journey to the “mothers.”
As these three primordial entities appear in Pherekydes, they remind us of conceptions of predecessors of this personality, the so-called Orphics. They represent a mode of conception that still lives completely in the old form of picture consciousness. In them we also find three original beings: Zeus, Chronos and Chaos. Compared to these “primeval mothers,” those of Pherekydes are somewhat less picture-like. This is so because Pherekydes attempts to seize, through the exertion of thought, what his Orphic predecessors still held completely as image-experience. For this reason we can say that he appears as a personality in whom the “birth of thought life” takes place.
This is expressed not so much in the more thought-like conception of the Orphic ideas of Pherekydes, as in a certain dominating mood of his soul, which we later find again in several of his philosophizing successors in Greece. For Pherekydes feels that he is forced to see the origin of things in the “good” (Arizon). He could not combine this concept with the “world of mythological deities” of ancient times. The beings of this world had soul qualities that were not in agreement with this concept. Into his three “original causes” Pherekydes could only think the concept of the “good,” the perfect. Pherekydes meant to find his three “Primordial Mothers,” the “good Mothers of all origin.”
The “good Mothers of all origin” are, then, in the pernicious events also. When man experiences this feeling, a powerful world riddle emerges before his soul. To find the solution, Pherekydes turns toward his Ophioneus. As Pherekydes leans on the old picture conception, Ophioneus appears to him as a kind of “world serpent.” It is in reality a spirit being, which, like all other beings of the world, belongs to the children of Chronos, Zeus and Chthon, but that has later so changed that its effects are directed against those of the “good mother of origin.” Thus, the world is divided into three parts. The first part consists of the “Mothers,” which are presented as good, as perfect; the second part contains the beneficial world events; the third part, the destructive or the only imperfect world processes that, as Ophioneus, are intertwined in the beneficial effects.
Whoever sees the world only as it presents itself to image perception does not, at first, distinguish in his thought between the events of the “good mothers” and those of Ophioneus. At the borderline of a thought-formed world conception, the necessity of this distinction is felt, for only at this stage of progress does the soul feel itself to be a separate, independent entity. It feels the necessity to ask what its origin is. It must find its origin in the depths of the world where Chronos, Zeus and Chthon had not as yet found their antagonists. But the soul also feels that it cannot know anything of its own origin at first, because it sees itself in the midst of a world in which the “Mothers” work in conjunction with Ophioneus. It feels itself in a world in which the perfect and the imperfect are joined together. Ophioneus is twisted into the soul’s own being.
The spiritual brotherhood, which was founded by Pythagoras of Samos between the years 549 and 500 B.C. in Kroton in Magna Graecia, grew out of such a mood. Pythagoras intended to lead his followers back to the experience of the “Primordial Mothers” in which the origin of their souls was to be seen. It can be said in this respect that he and his disciples meant to serve “other gods” than those of the people. With this fact something was given that must appear as a break between spirits like Pythagoras and the people, who were satisfied with their gods. Pythagoras considered these gods as belonging to the realm of the imperfect.
The soul on its path to the “mothers” passes the preceding lives through which it has gone during its descent from its former existence in perfection, to its present life in imperfection. If one considers everything that is pertinent in this problem, the inference is inescapable that the view of repeated earth lives is to be attributed to Pythagoras in this sense as his inner perception, not as something that was arrived at through a process of conceptual conclusion.
Let us think of Pythagoras as standing before the beginning of intellectual world conception. He saw how thought took its origin in the soul that had, starting from the “mothers,” descended through its successive lives to its state of imperfection; because he felt this he could not mean to ascend to the origins through mere thought. He had to seek the highest knowledge in a sphere in which thought was not yet at home. There he found a life of the soul that was beyond thought life. As the soul experiences proportional numbers in the sound of music, so Pythagoras developed a soul life in which he knew himself as living in a connection with the world that can be intellectually expressed in terms of numbers. But for what is thus experienced, these numbers have no other significance than the physicist’s proportional tone numbers have for the experience of music.
For Pythagoras the mythical gods must be replaced by thought. At the same time, he develops an appropriate deepening of the soul life; the soul, which through thought has separated itself from the world, finds itself at one with the world again. It experiences itself as not separated from the world. This does not take place in a region in which the world-participating experience turns into a mythical picture, but in a region in which the soul reverberates with the invisible, sensually imperceptible cosmic harmonies. It brings into awareness, not its own thought intentions, but what cosmic powers exert as their will, thus allowing it to become conception in the soul of man.
From Pherekydes (or Thales) to the Sophists, one can observe how emaciated thought in Greece, which had already been born before these men, gradually finds its place in the stream of philosophical development. The effect thought has when it is placed in the service of world conception becomes apparent in them. The birth of thought, however, is to be observed in the entire Greek life. One could show much the same kind of development in the fields of art, poetry, public life, the various crafts and trades, and one would see everywhere how human activity changes under the influence of the form of human organization that introduces thought into the world conception. It is not correct to say that philosophy “discovers” thought. It comes into existence through the fact that the newly born thought life is used for the construction of a world picture that formerly had been formed out of experiences of a different kind.
From the beginning of the Christian Era to Scotus Erigena, the experience of thought continues to be effective in such a way that its form is determined by the presupposition of a spiritual world, namely, the world of religious revelation. From the eighth to the sixteenth century, thought experience wrests itself free from the inner self-consciousness but allows, besides its own germinating power, the other power of consciousness, revelation, to continue in its existence. From the sixteenth century on, it is the picture of nature that eliminates the experience of thought itself; henceforth, the self-consciousness attempts to produce, out of its own energies, the resources through which it is possible to form a world conception with the help of thought. It is with this task that Descartes finds himself confronted. It is the task of the thinkers of the new period of world conception.
There lives in this world conception a subtle feeling for the development of thought life since its first philosophical flowering within Greek intellectual life. It was the thought experience that gave to the self-conscious ego the power to be vigorously conscious of its own self-dependent entity. In the present age, this power of thought can be experienced in the soul as the impulse that, seized within the self-conscious ego, endows this ego with the awareness that it is not a mere external observer of things but that it lives essentially in an intimate connection with their reality. It is in thought itself that the soul can feel it contains a true and self-dependent reality. As the soul thus feels itself interwoven with thought as a content of life that breathes reality, it can again experience the supporting power of the thought element as this was experienced in Greek philosophy. It can be experienced again as strongly as it was felt in the philosophy that took thought as a perception.
The world forces belonging to this part of reality withdraw into obscurity in order to allow the self-conscious ego to shine forth in full power. The ego must realize that it owes its self-knowledge to a fact that spreads a veil over the knowledge of the world. It follows that everything that stimulates the soul to a vigorous, energetic experience of the ego, conceals at the same time the deeper foundations in which this ego has its roots. All knowledge acquired by the ordinary consciousness tends to strengthen the self-conscious ego.
Man feels himself as a self-conscious ego through the fact that he perceives an external world with his senses, that he experiences himself as being outside this external world and that, at a certain stage of scientific investigation, he feels himself in relation to this external world in such a way that it appears to him as “illusion.” Were it not so, the self-conscious ego would not emerge. If, therefore, in the act of knowledge one attempts merely to copy what is observed before knowledge begins, one does not arrive at a true experience of full reality, but only at an image of a “half reality.”
Once this is admitted to be the situation, one can no longer look for the answer of the riddles of philosophy within the experiences of the soul that appear on the level of ordinary consciousness. It is the function of this consciousness to strengthen the self-conscious ego. To achieve this, it must cast a veil over the connection of the ego with the objective world, and it therefore cannot show how the soul is connected with the true world.
While man thinks, his consciousness is focused on his thoughts. He wants to conceive something by means of these thoughts; he wants to think correctly in the ordinary sense. He can, however, also direct his attention to something else. He can concentrate his attention on the activity of thinking as such. He can, for instance, place into the center of his consciousness a thought that refers to nothing external, a thought that is conceived like a symbol that has no connection to something external. It is now possible to hold onto such a thought for a certain length of time. One can be entirely absorbed by the concentration on this thought. The important thing with this exercise is not that one lives in thoughts but that one experiences the activity of thinking. In this way, the soul breaks away from an activity in which it is engaged in ordinary thinking.
If such an inner exercise is continued long enough, it will become gradually apparent to the soul that it has now become involved in experiences that will separate it from all those processes of thinking and ideation that are bound to the physical organs. A similar result can be obtained from the activities of feeling and willing and even for sensation, the perception of external things. One can only be successful with this approach if one is not afraid to admit to oneself that self-knowledge cannot be gained by mere introspection, but by concentrating on the inner life that can be revealed only through these exercises.
Through continued practice of the soul, that is, by holding the attention on the inner activity of thinking, feeling and willing, it is possible for these “experiences” to become “condensed.” In this state of “condensation” they reveal their inner nature, which cannot be perceived in the ordinary consciousness. It is through such exercises that one discovers how our soul forces must be so “attenuated” or weakened in producing our ordinary form of consciousness, that they become imperceptible in this state of “attenuation.” The soul exercises referred to consist in the unlimited increase of faculties that are also known to the ordinary consciousness but never reach such a state of concentration. The faculties are those of attention and of loving surrender to the content of the soul’s experience. To attain the indicated aim, these abilities must be increased to such a degree that they function as entirely new soul forces. If one proceeds in this manner, one arrives at a real inner experience that by its very nature is independent of bodily conditions. This is a life of the spirit.
One of the first experiences that follows the attainment of this new spiritual life is a true insight into the nature of the ordinary mental life. This is not produced by the body but proceeds outside the body. When I see a color, when I hear a sound, I experience the color and the sound not because of my body, but because I am connected with the color, with the sound, as a self-conscious ego, outside my body. My body has the task to function in a way that can be compared with the action of a mirror. If, in my ordinary consciousness, I only have a mental connection with a color, I cannot perceive it because of the nature of this consciousness, just as I cannot see my own face when I look out into space.
But if I look into a mirror, I perceive this face as part of a body. Unless I stand in front of the mirror, I am the body and experience myself as such. Standing in front of the mirror, I perceive my body as a reflection. It is like this also with our sense perceptions, although we must, of course, be aware of the insufficiency of the analogy. I live with a color outside my body; through the activity of my body, that is, my eye and my nervous system, this color is transformed for me into a conscious perception. The human body is not the producer of perceptions and of mental life in general, but a mirroring device of psychic and spiritual processes that take place outside the body.
Such a view places the theory of knowledge on a promising basis. In a lecture called, The Psychological Foundations and Epistemological Position of Spiritual Science, delivered before the Philosophical Congress in Bologna on April 18, 1911, the author of this book gave the following account of a view that was then forming in his mind.
On the basis of epistemology one can reach a conception of the ego only if one does not think of it as being inside the bodily organization and as receiving impression “from outside.” One should conceive this “ego” as having its being within the general order of the things themselves, and regard the organization of the body merely as a sort of mirror through which the organic processes of the body reflect back to the ego what this ego perceives outside the physical body as it lives and weaves within the true essence of the world.
During sleep, the mirror-like relation between body and soul is interrupted; the “ego” lives only in the sphere of the spirit. For the ordinary consciousness, however, mental life does not exist as long as the body does not reflect the experiences. Sleep, therefore, is an unconscious process. The exercises mentioned above and other similar ones establish a consciousness that differs from the ordinary consciousness. In this way, the faculty is developed not merely to have purely spiritual experiences, but to strengthen these experiences to such a degree that they become spiritually perceptible without the aid of the body, and that they become reflected within themselves.
It is only in an experience of this kind that the soul can obtain true self-knowledge and become consciously aware of its own being. Real experiences that do not belong to the sense world, but to one in which the soul weaves and has its being, now rise in the manner in which memory brings back experiences of the past. It is quite natural that the followers of many modern philosophies will believe that the world that thus rises up belongs in the realms of error, illusion, hallucination, autosuggestion, etc. To this objection one can only answer that a serious spiritual endeavor, working in the indicated way, will discipline the mind to a point where it will clearly differentiate illusion from spiritual reality, just as a healthy mind can distinguish a product of fantasy from a concrete perception. It will be futile to seek theoretical proofs for this spiritual world, but such proofs also do not exist for the reality of the world of perceptions. In both cases, actual experience is the only true judge.
When one becomes acquainted with the fact that the “ego” with its spiritual world lives outside the body and that it, therefore, carries the experiences of the external world to the physical body, one will find one’s way to a truly spiritual understanding of the riddle of human destiny. A man’s inner life is deeply connected with his experiences of destiny.
Philosophy leads by its own paths to the insight that it must pass from a study of the world to an experience of it, because mere reflection cannot bring a satisfactory solution to all the riddles of life.
Real spiritual science can be gained only when the soul finds, in the course of its own disciplined meditative work, the transition from the ordinary consciousness to one with which it awakens in and becomes directly aware of the spiritual world. This inner work consists in a heightening, not a lowering of the ordinary consciousness.
It cannot be denied that, in the course of the history of philosophy, viewpoints have repeatedly been advanced that are similar to those described in this final chapter. But in former ages these tendencies appeared only like byways of the philosophical inquiry. Its first task was to work its way through everything that could be regarded as a continuation of the awakening thought experience of the Greeks. It then could point the way toward supersensible consciousness on the strength of its own initiative and in awareness of what it can and what it cannot attain. In former times this consciousness was accepted, as it were, without philosophical justification. It was not demanded by philosophy itself. But modern philosophy demands it in response to what it has achieved already without the assistance of this consciousness. Without this help it has succeeded in leading the spiritual investigation into directions that will, if rightly developed, lead to the recognition of supersensible consciousness. That is why this final chapter did not start by describing the way in which the soul speaks of the supersensible when it stands within its realm. Quite to the contrary, an attempt was made to outline philosophically the tendencies resulting from the modern world conceptions, and it was shown how a pursuit of these innate tendencies leads the soul to the recognition of its own supersensible nature.