Every person who crosses over from the physical world into the spiritual world must meet the Guardian of the Threshold between these worlds.
People usually faint and become unconscious upon crossing this portal upon sleep, death, or during deep meditation and transcendence of the physical world. This “guardian” or “dweller” is depicted in many forms, depending on the religious traditions or beliefs of the aspirant. Catholics depict this moment as a meeting with Saint Peter at the pearly Gates of Heaven where Peter questions the individual about his/her good and bad deeds. Peter is the preliminary “judge” of the deceased Catholic’s transgressions and wrongdoings – his sins. Jesus Christ is the ultimate judge, once the individual is allowed through the Gates of Heaven. Unfortunately, if Peter finds his sins to be to grave, he is cast down into Limbo or Hell as the reward for bad deeds where he will await the day of judgment. These colorful and simple ideas actually describe the true spiritual reality quite well.
The Greeks believed that the deceased soul must go to the underworld and cross the river Styx, but only after encountering Cerberus, the terrifying three-headed dog that guards the way to Charon and his boat that can cross the river Styx safely. A coin from the mouth of the dead is the fee Charon exacts to cross this threshold between the living and dead.
Many Greek heroes and heroines traveled to the underworld before they died to accomplish some great deed and return to the world of the living without surrendering their spirit to Hades. These “crossing of the threshold” were seen as the proof that a great person could defy death and steal a bit of the wisdom of Persephone and Hades from the world where humans go to become “shades.” It was a sign of great prowess and wisdom of Hermes, Orpheus, Psyche, Hercules, Aeneas and the many others who traversed the path to the afterlife and returned alive.
The path of the hero is the same for everyone who wishes to be initiated into the full secrets and mysteries of the threshold between the physical and spiritual worlds. The aspirant seeking this wisdom and mystery knowledge before the moment of death must follow a path of preparation, renunciation, purification, devotion, and dedication to reach the Guardian of the Threshold without first being pushed back by the self-knowledge gained on the path to the spiritual world. The aspirant will simply faint or become unconscious when facing the Guardian of the Threshold due to the horror and terror that arise as the “sinner” is shown his shortcomings, thoughtlessness, and the lack of compassion he gave others in the physical world.
Self-knowledge is terrifying because of the lack of awareness and consciousness that mindless humans demonstrate in their thinking, feeling, and willing. These shortcomings accumulate as karma in the three aspects of the human soul – thinking, feeling, and willing.
Each selfish thought, unkind emotion, and action that lacks true love becomes ugly spectral forms that loom before the aspirant upon approaching the threshold between worlds. Three phantom specters grow larger each time the aspirant does not follow the injunctions of love. Any non-loving actions add to the personal sins the Guardian, in its threefold nature, is keeping track of as karma. Distorted, selfish thoughts add to the horribly grotesque nature of the evil-thoughts recorded by the Guardian. Our cruel and uncompassionate feelings create a monster that is composed of each evil emotion we ever secretly or overtly felt towards others or our own self.
The mean and mindless deeds we have done manifest before our soul as collective karma that first must be resolved and paid back before we can look at the three fearful parts of the Guardian. These parts of the Guardian are the karmic ballast, the spiritual gravity, that holds us back from ascending into the spiritual world through the threshold door. Upon seeing the truth of our own self-knowledge, we all fall back in horror and disgust at our lack of consciousness and extreme selfishness. This self-knowledge will rip the soul asunder if a strong, selfless consciousness does not sit on the throne of love in the individual’s heart.
Every single thought, feeling, or deed is written into the “book of life”, called the Akashic Records by many spiritual scientists. Just like Santa Claus keeps his book of good and bad deeds throughout the year, so, too, the Guardian remembers everything.
Anubis, the Egyptian god, weighed the soul against a feather after death to see if the dead should advance into the spiritual world or not. For many Christians, Jesus Christ is now the Lord of Karma who judges the soul after death and determines whether they go to Heaven, Limbo, or Hell. Essentially, every authentic tradition has a description of meeting the Guardian of the Threshold between the physical and spiritual worlds. Each description looks different on the surface but they all have the same underlying elements – karma must be paid before anyone can go into the spiritual world.
An aspirant seeking initiation into the mystery wisdom of the ancients attempts to cross the Threshold consciously through transcendent meditation, spiritual practices, and initiation. Initiation is not for the weak-hearted, scared, or lazy person. The preparations for initiation can be extremely demanding and complicated, and in the end, the aspirant may faint at the Threshold and not be able to resolve the sins the Guardian displays before the quaking consciousness of the aspirant. Many try and fail. Sometimes, the aspirant may “lose their mind” in the process of attempting to cross the Threshold before they are ready. And, even if the aspirant makes it across the Threshold it doesn’t mean they have the moral strength to remember what they experienced in the spiritual world while they were there. Only the selfless desire to gain wisdom for the sake of all other being’s welfare will keep the aspirant conscious in the spiritual world and help the aspirant remember the communion he had with the beings in that world.
A true visit to the spirit world will usually fire the will of the aspirant to return with inspiration that can be turned into moral deeds of love, out of complete freedom. The aspirant will feel as though all of the good thinking, feeling, and willing she has done is offered as food to the spiritual beings (spiritual hierarchy) during a communion set at a table of wise teachers.
Upon receiving the offering of the aspirant, the wise spirit beings then offer spiritual food and drink to the aspirant to nourish her higher self. This communion is replicated in the Holy Eucharist of Catholics and the Holy Communion of Christians every Sunday. We feed the gods and the gods feed us. But first, we must be prepared to be called to the wedding feast of the spiritual hierarchy by cleansing our souls of the ugly karma that the Guardian’s three parts have shown us.
It is foolish to fight the Guardian of the Threshold because eventually, every soul will resolve their unconscious actions, feelings, and thoughts before they can consciously enter the spiritual world either by meditation, sleep, or death. Karma will be redeemed and paid in full before the aspirant becomes an initiate. Initiation is a way to consciously pay back karma before death. Most ritual initiations involve a mock death and resurrection back to life. In other words, a deep meditation that resembles the steps the soul and spirit take after death. Through initiation, the aspirant replicates the hero’s descent into the terrifying underworld and the attempt to return to the land of the living without having eaten or drunk anything from the land of the shades. Often, like the Sumerian goddess Inanna’s descent into the underworld, we must discard anything from the physical world that holds us back: our crown, our scepter, our sword, our cloak, our shoes, our jewelry, and all of the other baggage we brought from the land of the living.
We must go naked and completely transparent before the Guardian and beg his help to lighten the physical load before crossing into the spirit world that is the antithesis of material illusion – Maya. This can be done in steps each night before we go to sleep by reviewing your daily thoughts, feelings, and deeds in a backward panorama. The key is to relive the day from the perspective of selflessness, from what effect your actions had upon the people you encountered. Once we see the effects we had on others, we begin to sense the karma (good and bad) that arises from each thought, feeling, or deed. This is a simple way to prepare to meet the Guardian with a little less fear of the evil our unconscious deeds have created. Once we review the day, we then can plan to rectify any lack of compassion we dealt out during the day, and thus lighten the load we bring before the Guardian.
One might assume that these somewhat scary and painful realities of the Threshold might depict the Guardian as our personal enemy and a being who is negative. Actually, it is the exact opposite. The Guardian was created because humans work simultaneously with the spiritual hierarchy in our thinking, feeling, and willing, making elemental beings (in the three Elemental Kingdoms) to weave together a memory body that aggregates all of our earthly deeds. These sense perceptible realities build up our karmic body with dense, gross material substance that is not allowed to pass the Threshold and enter the spiritual world. Only spiritual substance is allowed into the spirit world and we gain that spiritual soul substance through our higher thinking (imagination), higher feeling (inspiration), and higher deeds (intuition).
Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition are spiritual substances loaned to humans in the physical world to help them ascend back to the place humans were created – the spiritual world.
A true initiate knows that the Guardian of the Threshold is, in fact, a part of his own nature. We create the Guardian and the Guardian who help us see, resolve, and discard the lower elements of our being. The Guardian should become our friend and guide and his horrifying visage should become a familiar aid in self-knowledge that transforms and beautifies as our spiritual soul gleans the eternal seeds of this world and brings them as offerings to the spiritual world. But first, we must pay the piper, give Charon his coin, tame the three-headed dog Cerberus and understand that the food of this world and the nectar and ambrosia of the spiritual world are completely different. Once we can gather the eternal seeds of the virtues of love, compassion, generosity, selflessness, truth, beauty, and goodness from the physical world, we will have the proper offerings that will gain access to the spiritual world beyond the Guardian.
In the Catholic Church they have a sacrament of Confession which is much like a gentle meeting of the Guardian. A Catholic examines his conscience and finds any sins he needs to “get off this chest”; he confess those transgressions to the priest in the confessional booth. The priest then gives penance — actions that need to take place before the sin is truly released from the heart of the sinner. Often this involves saying prayers, making amends, or any other penance the priest finds fitting to help resolve the misdeed. This is a great thing to do regularly throughout life, whether you go to a priest or not.
Objective confession of your shortcomings and bad deeds, with a contrite heart, takes the stress and burden from the person confessing. Especially if you try to see the effect of your deeds upon others. You must learn to experience yourself from the perspective of the other. This is an enlightening exercise that should be done every night before you go to sleep. It is similar to the person who kneels beside her bed every night and prays before going to sleep. Eventually, after doing this type of soul searching every night for years, you learn to do it throughout the day. The gift of understanding the karmic consequences of your thoughts, feelings, and deeds can then blossom in the soul and the usual selfishness refines into selflessness and the results of your actions can be understood in the moment.
Jesus of Nazareth told us that, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The weight of materialism drowns the soul in physical considerations and blinds the spirits. The pseudo-thinking of brain-bound materialists are shadow thoughts not worthy to be offered to the spirit. Material considerations of self-aggrandizement often lead to the path of perdition and the seven deadly sins. After that, the materialist sees no God in the universe, no life after death, no life before birth, and a torturous physical world that is cold, heartless, and meaningless. And indeed, this type of materialism causes the person to faint when he comes anywhere near the Guardian.
Often these materialists have no dreams and thus no “food of the gods” to revive their spirit through sleep. They fear death and worship only idols. After death, they will not ascend (expand) into the harmonious spheres surrounding the Earth and make their eternal offerings to the spiritual hierarchies. They will simply get what their materialistic shadow-thoughts have convinced them they will get – nothingness. If you can’t feed the gods, they cannot feed you in return. Thus, materialist are in a living hell, self-created and self-perpetuated. When they die, and must meet the Guardian and the Lord of Karma, they might believe they have “gone to hell.”
There is no time to waste in cleaning out the garbage stored in your own Guardian, in all three parts. Deep meditation that creates transcendence beyond the Threshold should be attempted daily, on a regular basis. Before sleep and upon awakening is the best time for meditation, contemplation, prayer, and communion. Even using the time just before confronting the Guardian, when imaginative mental pictures flow freely, helps purify the body of desires we carry as earthly gravity that clips the wings of spirit.
Meditation and death are two ways to meet the Guardian, but there are other occasions also. Often, a drowning person will see his “life flash before them” in great detail – the entire life in amazing images that seemed to have been lost to the conscious mind. This happens because the etheric body (life body) is filled with memories that rise up when the etheric body separates from the physical body through an accident, shock, or even consciously through spiritual initiation. The etheric body does the same thing when we die; it plays the record of everything we have ever done in a backwards order from the present to the past. This also happens in a small way each night as the day’s memories replay themselves from the present backwards. This is what is called in science, the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) segment of sleep that happens every night physiologically. We have no choice in the matter of replaying our day, or our life, once we approach the Guardian; it is simply the way the etheric body processes memories.
Initiation entails loosening the etheric body from the physical so that thoughts can rise into the realm of active, living Imagination, the realm of the angels. In the past, this was done with metallic potions, shocking initiations of ritual death, long years of training, renunciation, or initiation in the Mystery Schools that were found ubiquitously in every culture. The main question these initiations answered was: What happens after death? This question is answered in a small way each night when we sleep, or every time we can consciously cross the Threshold (once we are purified of earthly baggage) in deep, transcendent meditation, prayer, or union with the divine. But the methodologies of the past do not work well in the present.
We must, in our time, initiate ourselves and not expect a Mystery Initiation Center (School) to take us through the training and ordeals because they are no longer valid in our time. We must seek direct spiritual experience through the many helpers who wish to commune with us from across the Threshold. Once the aspirant has found a “language of spirit” to communicate with the hierarchy of spiritual beings found in Spirit-land, a continuous stream of spiritual nutrition feeds the aspirant until she becomes an initiate – initiated by spiritual beings who offer to midwife the soul into the spirit self (higher self).
The point of initiation is to “die to self” through many ritual deaths of the selfishness that leads to wrongdoing, evil, and death of the soul and spirit. Attachment to the physical world, self-pleasure, and lower desires add to the load of karma that must be paid. Diminishing the load of materialistic shadow-thoughts, selfish emotional desire, and wrongful deeds that enslave the human will-power causes the Guardian to grow smaller and smaller and thus creates a smoother bridge over the Threshold. Consciously working on freeing the soul from earthly karmic gravity is the path to initiation. It does not require a priest, guru, or wise-one to lead you on this path. The Guardian and his instructions are as close as your heart. You don’t have to go to a church, temple, or holy place physically. You are the holy temple, the inner sanctum, the Threshold to the Spiritual World. You can become the master of your own karma and right the wrongs you do everyday by reflecting on your thinking, feeling, and willing and tuning them to the divine, to the eternal virtues found in love through truth, beauty, and goodness.
This article provides an opportunity to refine the reader’s “language of the spirit” as it applies to initiation and the Meeting of the Guardian, so crucial in spiritual advancement. Of course, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, that brilliant clairvoyant seer, has given us the clearest expressions concerning the nature of the Guardian. This is because he experienced both the Lesser and Greater Guardians of the Threshold directly through his clairvoyance. Others, like H. P. Blavatsky, Alice A. Baily, Franz Hartman M. D., and Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton speak of the Guardian out of their philosophy, which was not aided by clairvoyance. Thus, the misspoken confusion about the Guardian taught by these teachers cannot be compared to what Steiner shared out of his clairvoyant perception of the Guardian. That notwithstanding, these authors offer different views (“languages of the spirit”) that can help the aspirant form an understanding of what they must, by necessity, encounter on the path to the spiritual world. Even the limited view of theosophical speculation can lead to the Threshold – even though it may not lead across.
Every person who speaks “out of the Spirit-land” will describe the Guardian and place that being in a cosmology of hierarchical, divine spiritual beings. Ultimately, the Guardian “is the path” and the Guardian is then found to be our personal creation that must be worked with before we can meet our own Guardian Angel. The Guardian of the Threshold can become the mid-wife to our spirit birth into the angelic world. Then we find that this fearful, terrifying Guardian can lead us to our beautiful, Guardian Angel — once we are pure enough to behold the spirit world.
When we meet the Guardian at first, thinking, feeling, and willing separate and are torn asunder. Aspirants feel as if their own identity (ego) will be ripped apart permanently if they cannot find a way to hold the three parts of their soul together to cross the Threshold. Generally in life, people do not even know they have three soul parts that often go in different directions. One may have a good thought, but feelings might go in another direction and ultimately the person does something (willing) different than what they thought or felt. Confusion, stress, illness, and disinterest in the spirit are often times the result of this soul condition.
This condition is, in fact, an outcome of our time. Humanity as a whole has been drawn across the Threshold because the wisdom of the spirit has been shared with humanity as the divine flowed across the Threshold from the spiritual world in ever new revelations to those who were awake to the spirit. We now have access to parts of the spirit world that were sealed from humanity’s view, and humanity has desecrated that spiritual wisdom and chosen, in most cases, materialism and anti-spiritual paths.
This dilemma of our times demonstrates the need for the Archangel Michael to join our efforts in taming the Dragon (Guardian) of our lower desires. This is the war in heaven that has now come to the earth.
The battle for the soul and spirit of humanity rages while materialists have no idea that the future is being fought in the thinking, feeling, and willing of each individual. Each soul is now challenged to find their spirit and develop new supersensible organs of perception that enable the initiate to merge the three divergent soul elements into one cohesive whole directed by a spiritual higher self. This underscores the necessity of the individual to start their own self-initiation process immediately so that they will not be overwhelmed by the same process humanity is going through on a global scale.
Every day, humanity is seeing new aberrations of thinking, feeling, and willing that have never even been imagined before. The assault of the Dragon of materialism seems to be winning the war in heaven that has fallen to the earth. The most grotesque displays of anti-human behavior seem to pull humanity back into the realm of the animals instead of into the realm of the angels. It is world karma that we must now face the unconscious evil that humanity has created.
This is the “global Guardian” who holds the karmic indebtedness of all the wars, hatred, and cruelty that humans have done to other humans and the world. Only through the Lord of Karma can the evil of the global Guardian be dealt with, but the individual initiate can mitigate their personal karma and then work on the karma of their nation and global humanity.
One of the most common references to the Guardian of the Threshold names the being the “Dweller of the Threshold.” The Dweller of the Threshold was the literary invention of the English mystic and novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton found in his novel Zanoni (1842). After the founding of the Theosophical Society in 1875, the term was widely used in theosophical circles as many teachers attempted to describe the nature of this being. According to Theosophy, the Guardian of the Threshold is a spectral figure that is the keeper of the karmic debit and credit ledger of the individual. The Guardian is a menacing figure that is described by many esoteric teachers as manifesting itself as soon as the student of the spirit ascends upon the path into the higher worlds of spirit.
Rudolf Steiner speaks about this being called the “Guardian of the Threshold” in An Outline of Occult Science, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, The Secrets of the Threshold, The Mystery Dramas, and The First Class of Spiritual Science, among other writings. According to Steiner’s teachings, this image will present itself as soon as the student of the spirit seeks the higher worlds. At a certain stage of evolution the soul forces of thinking, feeling, and willing dissociate themselves and bring to the student a new inner way of perceiving that will lead to the encounter of the Guardian of the Threshold, who is also called the Doppelgänger or Double.
The Guardian of the Threshold stands before the supersensible world in order to deny entrance to those who are not truly ready to enter. The Guardian of the Threshold may also be encountered in deep meditation and when we pass through physical death. Rudolf Steiner identified both the Lesser and Greater Guardians and taught that Jesus Christ is now the Greater Guardian of the Threshold or the new Lord of Karma. Steiner tells us that the student meets the Lesser Guardian when the threads connecting willing, feeling, and thinking within the finer astral (desire) and etheric (life) bodies begin to loosen and go in different directions at the Threshold to the spiritual world. The Greater Guardian is encountered when this sundering of the connections extends to the physical parts of the body at death.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, in her Collected Writings vol. XII, tells us that:
“The Dweller (on the Threshold), is a term invented by Bulwer Lytton in Zanoni; but in Occultism the word “Dweller” is an occult term used by students for long ages past and refers to certain maleficent astral Doubles of defunct persons. The Dweller is also the shell of the previous incarnation of a materialistic person discarded by the Higher Ego, which is attracted to it in its new incarnation. In rarer cases, however, something far more dreadful may happen. When the lower Manas is doomed to exhaust itself by starvation; when there is no longer hope that even a remnant of a lower-light will, owing to favorable conditions – say, even a short period of spiritual aspiration and repentance – attract back to itself its Parent Ego, then Karma leads the Higher Ego back to new incarnations. In this case, the Kama-Manasic spook may become that which we call in Occultism the “Dweller on the Threshold.” This “Dweller” is not like that which is described so graphically in Zanoni, but an actual fact in nature and not a fiction in romance, however beautiful the latter may be. Bulwer must have got the idea from some Eastern Initiate. Our “Dweller,” led by affinity and attraction, forces itself into the astral current, and through the Auric Envelope of the new tabernacle inhabited by the Parent Ego, and declares war to the lower-light which has replaced it. This, of course, can only happen in the case of the moral weakness of the personality so obsessed. No one strong in his virtue, and righteous in his walk of life, can risk or dread any such thing; but only those depraved in heart.”
Blavatsky’s Eastern Theosophical terms puts most people off, but what she has indicated in the selection above shows that she herself did not directly experience the Dweller (Guardian) and can only speak philosophically about this being that is so personal and close to the aspirant. Blavatsky also points out that Bulwer-Lytton was simply writing about something someone had told him. Sir Bulwer-Lytton wrote many novels, some of which have spiritual themes that reflect the occultism of his day. He does not appear to have been a full initiate, even though he was “initiated” in numerous secret societies. His view of the “Dweller” is distorted and meant to scare more than instruct. But, this modern reference to the Dweller launched many theosophical teachers to write about the nature of this being.
Below is a selection of Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni to give a flavor of what a novelist imagined the Dweller of the Threshold to look like. It is incorrect, as Blavatsky points out, and is the imagination of a ‘novelist writing fiction.’ The fear and terror of the Dweller is well communicated by Bulwer-Lytton, but the nature of the beast alludes the author.
From: Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Zanoni A Rosicrucian Tale, Book IV & V
“At last Mejnour professed himself satisfied with the progress made by his pupil. ‘The hour now arrives,’ he said, ‘when thou mayest pass the great but airy barrier – when thou mayest gradually confront the terrible Dweller on the Threshold. Continue thy labors – continue to suppress thine impatience for results until thou canst fathom the causes. I leave thee for one month; if at the end of that period, when I return, the tasks set thee are completed, and thy mind prepared by contemplation and austere thought for the ordeal, I promise thee the ordeal shall commence.’
He could penetrate no further into the instructions; the cipher again changed. He now looked steadily and earnestly round the chamber. The moonlight came quietly through the lattice as his hand opened it, and seemed, as it rested on the floor and filled the walls, like the presence of some ghostly and mournful Power. He ranged the mystic lamps (nine in number), round the center of the room, and lighted them one by one. A flame of silvery and azure tints sprung up from each, and lighted the apartment with a calm and yet most dazzling splendor; but presently this light grew more soft and dim, as a thin gray cloud, like a mist, gradually spread over the room; and an icy thrill shot through the heart of the Englishman, and quickly gathered over him like the coldness of death. Instinctively aware of his danger, he tottered, though with difficulty, for his limbs seemed rigid and stone-like, to the shelf that contained the crystal vials; hastily he inhaled the spirit and laved his temples with the sparkling liquid. The same sensation of vigor, and youth, and joy, and airy lightness, that he had felt in the morning, instantaneously replaced the deadly numbness that just before had invaded the citadel of life. He stood with his arms folded on his bosom, erect and dauntless, to watch what should ensue.
The vapor had now assumed almost the thickness and seeming consistency of a snow-cloud; the lamps piercing it like stars. And now he distinctly saw shapes, somewhat resembling in outline those of the human form, gliding slowly and with regular evolutions through the cloud. They appeared bloodless; their bodies were transparent and contracted or expanded, like the folds of a serpent. As they moved in majestic order, he heard a low sound – the ghost as it were of voice – which each caught and echoed from the other; a low sound, but musical, which seemed the chant of some unspeakable tranquil joy. None of these apparitions heeded him. His intense longing to accost them, to be of them, to make one of this movement of aerial happiness – for such it seemed to him – made him stretch forth his arms and seek to cry aloud, but only an inarticulate whisper passed his lips; and the movement and the music went on the same if the mortal were not there.
Slowly they glided round and aloft, till, in the same majestic order, one after one, they floated through the casement and were lost in the moonlight; then, as his eyes followed them, the casement became darkened with some object undistinguishable at the first gaze, but which sufficed mysteriously to change into ineffable horror the delight he had before experienced. By degrees, this object shaped itself to his sight. It was as that of a human head, covered with a dark veil, through which glared with livid and demoniac fire, eyes that froze the marrow of his bones. Nothing else of the face was distinguishable – nothing but those intolerable eyes; but his terror, that even at the first seemed beyond nature to endure, was increased a thousand-fold, when, after a pause, the Phantom glided slowly into the chamber.
The cloud retreated from it as it advanced; the bright lamps grew wane and flickered restlessly at the breath of its presence. Its form was veiled as the face, but the outline was that of a female; yet it moved not as move even the ghosts that simulate the living. It seemed rather to crawl as some vast misshapen reptile; and pausing, at length it cowered beside the table which held the mystic volume, and again fixed its eyes through the filmy veil on the rash invoker. All fancies, the most grotesque, of Monk or Painter in the early North, would have failed to give to the visage of imp or fiend that aspect of deadly malignity which spoke to the shuddering nature in those eyes alone.
All else so dark – shrouded – veiled and larva-like. But that burning glare so intense, so livid, yet so living, had in it something that was almost human, in its passion of hate and mockery – something that served to show that the shadowy Horror was not all a spirit, but partook of matter enough, a least to make it more deadly and fearful an enemy to material forms. As, clinging with the grasp of agony to the wall – his hair erect – his eyeballs starting, he still gazed back upon that appalling gaze – the Image spoke to him – his soul rather than his ear comprehended the words it said.
‘Thou hast entered the immeasurable region. I am the Dweller of the Threshold. What wouldst thou with me? Silent? Does thou fear me? Am I not thy beloved? Is it not for me that thou has rendered up the delights of thy race? Wouldst thou be wise? Mine is the wisdom of the countless ages. Kiss me, my mortal lover.’
And the Horror crawled near and nearer to him; it crept to his side, its breath breathed upon his cheek! With a sharp cry he fell to the earth insensible, and knew no more till, far in the noon of the next day, he opened his eyes and found himself in his bed – the glorious sun streaming through his lattice.”
Blavatsky’s doctor, Franz Hartman M.D., also gave his opinion of the Dweller in his article: The Dweller of the Threshold (The Theosophist, Vol. XI 1889):
“The Dweller of the Threshold guards the door to the temple of truth and must be conquered before we can enter. This Dweller of the Threshold meets us in many shapes. It is the Cerberus guarding the entrance to Hades; the Dragon which St. Michael (spiritual will-power) is going to kill; the Snake which tempted Eve, and whose head will be crushed by the heel of the woman; the Hobgoblin watching the place where the treasure is buried, etc.
To practice Alchemy and to exercise spiritual power, one must be spiritually developed. The first step to this development is the conquering of the Dweller of the Threshold, and the key to the position is the displacement of the love of self by the love of eternal Good, which finds its expression in the universal brotherhood of humanity.
The Dweller of the Threshold, the Dragon of mediaeval symbolism, is nothing else but our own lower semi-animal, animal or perhaps brutish self, that combination of material and semi-material principles which form the lower ego, which the great majority of men blindly and lovingly hug and caress, because they love themselves. Man does not see its true qualities as long as he clings to it, else he would perhaps be disgusted with it; but when he attempts to penetrate within the portals of the paradise of the soul; when his self-consciousness begins to become centered in his higher self, then the Dweller of the Threshold becomes objective to him, and he may be terrified at its (his own) ugliness and deformity.
Let us examine the attributes of that semi-animal self: First of all we see that it is the residence of animal instincts and passions, which represent themselves to the interior eye in semi-animal and animal forms; for external forms on the astral plane are the external expressions of internal principles; a psychic activity will produce a corresponding form. In it reside the animal sensations and the calculating intellect with all its cunning, sophistry and craftiness, personal will and the love of illusions.
He cannot conquer the Dweller of the Threshold, nor does he wish to do so, because he is himself that Dweller, and is in love with himself. He does not want to enter the temple and does not perhaps even know that the temple exists.”
Obviously, Franz Hartman had a personal soul experience of the Dweller of the Threshold that he describes so simply and beautifully. Not one confusing Theosophical term was used, just a characterization of what the aspirant might meet on the spiritual path from one who has been there. Hartman also knew Rudolf Steiner and was a sensible, practical esoterisist who did not dabble in splitting philosophical hairs. Between the diverse opinions of Blavatsky and Hartman you have a world of other Theosophists who gave their opinion on the nature of the Guardian/Dweller.
One of the most divergent and interesting Theosophical views of the Dweller was presented by Alice A. Bailey in her book, Glamour: A World Problem. Most of the spiritual works of Bailey were given through her master Djwal Khul and present a new interpretation of Blavatsky’s Theosophy. Bailey has a profound understanding of the Dweller that does not coincide with Rudolf Steiner’s indications, even though Bailey’s view is colorful and filled with imaginative additions. Some of these additions are not reliable due to the fact that Bailey “received” them from a supposed “master” instead of experiencing the Dweller through her own direct experience. Baily confuses the Dweller and the Angel of the Presence with the dual temptation of Ahriman and Lucifer that arise in the etheric and astral bodies of the aspirant upon contacting the Guardian of the Threshold.
Lucifer appears in the astral body as a fallen angel and Ahriman appears in the etheric body as a fallen archangel. The Dweller is a combination of both of these and the “Dragon” himself who is the combined effects of the fallen nature in the physical, etheric, and astral bodies. The Archangel Michael keeps the Dragon at bay and eventually tames him, just as the Holy Spirit redeems Lucifer and the Father God redeems Ahriman. A third set of beings, the Asuras, the evil agents of the Sun-beast Sorat (Sorath) attempt to steal the ego (I Am) of the individual. The Sun Being Christ redeems Sorat and the Asuras. Thus, the triple nature of the Guardian appears as three fallen beings, Lucifer-Ahriman-Asuras in the realms of thinking (astral), feeling (etheric), and willing (physical).
This elucidation of Rudolf Steiner makes clear the confusion Bailey had concerning the Dweller and the Angel of the Presence. Bailey obviously was channeling someone who was not experienced with the Guardian of the Threshold (Dweller) in our modern times. Bailey does however give imaginative pictures of what is called the double or doppelganger, which are other names and descriptions for the Guardian. It is instructive to study the differences between Bailey and Steiner. Steiner’s works will be presented in the next section after Bailey’s imaginative and romantic ideas about the Dweller.
Selections from Alice A. Baily, Glamour: A World Problem
“The Dweller on the Threshold is usually regarded as presenting the final test of man’s courage, and as being in the nature of a gigantic thoughtform or factor which has to be dissipated, prior to taking initiation. Just what this thoughtform is, few people know, but their definition includes the idea of a huge elemental form which bars the way to the sacred portal, or the idea of a fabricated form, constructed sometimes by the disciple’s Master to test his sincerity. Some regard it as the sum total of a man’s faults, his evil nature, which hinders his being recognized as fit to tread the Path of Holiness. None of these definitions, however, give a true idea of the reality.
The Dweller on the Threshold is illusion-glamour-maya, as realized by the physical brain and recognized as that which must be overcome. It is the bewildering thoughtform with which the disciple is confronted when he seeks to pierce through the accumulated glamour of the ages and find his true home in the place of light.
The Dweller on the Threshold, always present, swings however into activity only on the Path of Discipleship, when the aspirant becomes occultly aware of himself, of the conditions induced within him as a result of his interior illusion, his astral glamour and the maya surrounding his entire life. Being now an integrated personality, these three conditions are seen as a whole, and to this whole the term the “Dweller on the Threshold” is applied. It is in reality a vitalized thoughtform – embodying mental force, astral force, and vital energy.
The Dweller on the Threshold does not emerge out of the fog of illusion and of glamour until the disciple is nearing the Gates of Life. Only when he can catch dim glimpses of the Portal of Initiation and an occasional flash of light from the Angel of the Presence Who stands waiting beside that door, can he come to grips with the principle of duality, which is embodied for him in the Dweller and the Angel. The day will come when you will stand in full awareness between these symbols of the pairs of opposites, with the Angel on the right and the Dweller on the left. May strength then be given to you to drive straight forward between these two opponents, who have for long ages waged warfare in the field of your life, and so may you enter into that Presence where the two are seen as one, and naught is known but life and deity.
The Dweller is oft regarded as a disaster, as a horror to be avoided, and as a final and culminating evil. I would remind you nevertheless that the Dweller is the “one who stands before the Gate of God,” who dwells in the shadow of the portal of initiation, and who faces the Angel of the Presence open-eyed. The Dweller can be defined as the sum total of the forces of the lower nature as expressed in the personality, prior to illumination, to inspiration and to initiation. The personality, at this stage, is exceedingly potent, and the Dweller embodies all the psychic and mental forces which down the ages have been unfolded in a man and nurtured with care; it can be looked upon as the potency of the threefold material form, prior to its consecration and dedication to the life of the soul and to the service of the Hierarchy, of God and humanity.
The Dweller on the Threshold is all that a man is, apart from the higher spiritual self; it is the third aspect of divinity as expressed in the human mechanism, and this third aspect must eventually be subordinated to the second aspect, the soul.
The two great contrasting Forces, the ANGEL and the DWELLER, are brought together – face to face – and the final conflict takes place. Again you will note that it is a meeting and a battle between another and higher pair of opposites. Such are the forces of maya which actuate, motivate and energize the life of the ordinary man. Under their influence he is helpless for they inspire all his thinking, all his aspiration and his desire, and all his activity on the physical plane.
Only when man is an integrated personality does the problem of the Dweller truly arise, and only when the mind is alert and the intelligence organized is it possible for man to sense – intelligently and not just mystically – the Angel and so intuit the PRESENCE. Only then does the entire question of hindrances which the Dweller embodies, and the limitations which it provides to spiritual contact and realization assume potent proportions. Only then can they be usefully considered and steps taken to induce right action.
Your problem is essentially that of learning to handle the Dweller on the Threshold and of ascertaining the procedures and the processes whereby the momentous activity of fusion can take place. Through the medium of this fusion the Dweller disappears and is no more seen, though still he functions on the outer plane, the agent of the Angel; the light absorbs the Dweller, and into obscuration – radiant yet magnetic – this ancient form of life dissolves though keeping still its form; it rests and works but is not now itself.
The Dweller on the Threshold is essentially the personality; it is an integrated unity composed of physical forces, vital energy, astral forces and mental energies, constituting the sum total of the lower nature.
The Dweller takes form when a re-orientation of man’s life has taken place consciously and under soul impression; the whole personality is then theoretically directed towards liberation into service. The problem is to make the theory and the aspiration facts in experience.
For a great length of time the forces of the personality do not constitute a Dweller. The man is not on the threshold of divinity; he is not consciously aware of the Angel. His forces are inchoate; he works unconsciously in his environment, the victim of circumstance and of his own nature apparently and under the lure and the urge of desire for physical plane activity and existence. When, however, the life of the man is ruled from the mental plane, plus desire or ambition, and he is controlled at least to some large extent by mental influence, then the Dweller begins to take shape as a unified force.
The stages wherein the Dweller on the Threshold is recognized, subjected to a discriminating discipline and finally controlled and mastered, are mainly three:
- The stage wherein the personality dominates and rules the life and ambitions and the goals of man’s life-endeavor. The Dweller then controls.
- The stage of a growing cleavage in the consciousness of the disciple. The Dweller or the personality is then urged in two directions: one, towards the pursuit of personal ambitions and desires in the three worlds; the other, in which the effort is made by the Dweller to take a stand upon the threshold of divinity and before the Portal of Initiation.
- The stage wherein the Dweller consciously seeks the cooperation of the soul and, though still in itself essentially constituting a barrier to spiritual progress, is more and more influenced by the soul than by its lower nature.
When the final stage is reached the disciple strives with more or less success to steady the Dweller (by learning to “hold the mind steady in the light” and thus controlling the lower nature). In this way, the constant fluid changefulness of the Dweller is gradually overcome; its orientation towards reality and away from the Great Illusion is made effective, and the Angel and the Dweller are slowly brought into a close rapport.
In the earlier stages of effort and of attempted control, the Dweller is positive and the Soul is negative in their effects in the three worlds of human endeavor. Then there is a period of oscillation, leading to a life of equilibrium wherein neither aspect appears to dominate; after that the balance changes and the personality steadily becomes negative and the soul or psyche becomes dominant and positive.
Advanced humanity stands, as the Dweller, on the very threshold of divinity. The Angel stands expectant – absorbed in the PRESENCE yet ready to absorb the Dweller. Humanity has advanced in consciousness to the very boundaries of the world of spiritual values and the kingdom of Light and of God. The Angel has “come to Earth” in expectation of recognition.
Humanity today is the Dweller whilst the Hierarchy of Souls is the Angel and behind stands the PRESENCE of Divinity Itself, intuited by the Hierarchy and dimly sensed by humanity but providing in this manner that threefold synthesis which is divine manifestation in form.
The Dweller upon the Threshold is the fully developed personality – the sum total of all the past and the composite presentation upon the physical plane of all unresolved problems, all undeclared desires, all latent characteristics and qualities, all phases of thought and of self-will, all lower potencies and ancient habits of any of the three bodies both bad and good. These, in their totality, are brought to the surface of consciousness, there to be dealt with in such a way that their control is broken. The disciple is then free to take the final initiations. This process is not consummated in one particular facing of the two antagonistic forces.
For many lives, the disciple has been dwelling upon the threshold. He himself is the Dweller. Behind the slowly opening door he senses life, energy, spiritual embodiment, and the fact of the Angel. Between him and that door is a burning-ground; this he faces, and this he knows he has to cross if he seeks to pass through the door. The question for him to answer is whether his will to achieve is strong enough for him to submit his personal lower self to the fires of the final purification. The personal self is now very highly developed; it is a useful instrument which the soul can use; it is a highly trained agent for service; it is essentially a piece of adequate and useful equipment. It has, however, its points of weakness which are liable at any time to present points of crisis; it has likewise its points of strength which can be transmuted with relative ease into points of tension; on the whole, it is a dependable instrument and one which can render good service.
Only by crossing the burning ground three successive times are all impediments to the free use of the will destroyed. The relation between the Angel and the Dweller must be released, by means of the will, to full expression.
It is at a “midway point” that the great submission of the lower to the higher takes place. It does not happen when the disciple hovers uncertainly upon the periphery of the burning-ground or when he stands before the door with the burning ground experience behind him. The essential point of crisis, producing the needed point of tension, is the result of the “invocative decision” of the personality which, in time, produces an “evocative response” from the Angel. The two factors involved move together and towards each other. In the center of the burning ground they meet, and then the lesser light of the personality is absorbed into the greater light of the Angel or soul. The Angel, therefore, “occultly obliterates” the Dweller who becomes lost to sight in the radiant aura of the Angel. The personality remains; it still exists but it is seen no more as of old. The light of the Angel envelops it; the burning ground has done its work and the personality is now nothing more or less than the purified shell or form through which the light, the radiance, the quality and the characteristics of the Angel can shine. It is a fusion of lights, with the stronger and the more powerful obliterating the lesser.
How has this been brought about? I refer not here to the preparation of the Dweller on the Threshold for this great event or to the aeon of disciplining, of preparation, of experiment and of experience from life to life which has made this consummating event possible and successful. The two aspects in man can only meet in full power and with intention and finality when illusion can no longer control the mind, when glamour has lost all power to veil and when the forces of Maya can no longer hinder. Discrimination, dispassion and indifference have produced the dispelling through focused light, the dissipating potency of distributed light and the directing power of light energy.
The issues are now entirely clear. It is a question of timing and of decision. I would remind you that in all these processes, it is the disciple who, in full consciousness, acts. He initiates all the processes himself. It is not the Angel or the Dweller but the spiritual man himself who has to employ the will and take definite forward moving action. Once the disciple has taken the necessary steps and moved irrevocably forward, the response of the Angel is sure, automatic and all-enveloping. Complete obliteration of the personal self in three successive stages is the immediate and normal result.”
Selections from Alice A. Bailey, The Rays and the Initiations
“From ancient recesses of the memory, from a deeply rooted past, and from the racial and the individual subconscious there emerges from individual past lives and experience, that which is the sum total of all instinctual tendencies, of all inherited glamours, and of all phases of wrong mental attitudes; to these, we give the name of the Dweller on the Threshold. This Dweller is the sum total of all the personality characteristics which have remained unconquered and unsubtle, and which must be finally overcome before initiation can be taken. Each life sees some progress made; some personality defects straightened out, and some real advance effected. But the unconquered residue, and the ancient liabilities are numerous, and excessively potent, and there eventuates a life wherein the highly developed and powerful personality becomes, in itself, the Dweller on the Threshold.
[At this point you are probably humming Van Morrison’s Dweller on the Threshold, so we put it just below so you don’t have to leave this page]
Then the Angel of the Presence and the Dweller stand face to face, and something must then be done. Eventually, the light of the personal self fades out and wanes in the blaze of glory which emanates from the Angel. Then the greater glory obliterates the lesser. This is, however, only possible when the personality eagerly enters into this relation with the Angel, recognizes itself as the Dweller, and – as a disciple – begins the battle between the pairs of opposites. These tests and trials are ever self-initiated; the disciple puts himself into the positive or conditioning environment wherein the trials and the discipline are unavoidable and inevitable. When the mind has reached a relatively high stage of development, the memory aspect is evoked in a new and conscious manner, and then every latent predisposition, every racial and national instinct, every unconquered situation, and every controlling fault, rises to the surface of consciousness, and then – the fight is on.
Triumph over the Dweller leads to initiation, or an entry into a greater measure of life. This is referred to as ‘lifting the first veil.’
One of the best known influences of Bailey’s view of the Dweller on the Threshold, basically a summation of Bailey book, Glamour, A World Problem, is Van Morrison’s song, Dweller on the Threshold. Morrison does a wonderful artistic job of giving a visual, emotional, and accurate view of approaching and meeting the Dweller. He doesn’t describe what is beyond the Threshold, but neither did Bailey. I offer it here as an artist imagination of the Dweller and suggest that if you like Van Morrison’s music, you might listen to this song and see if the images match your experience of the Dweller.
Dweller on the Threshold
by Van Morrison
I’m a dweller on the threshold
And I’m waiting at the door
And I’m standing in the darkness
I don’t want to wait no more
I have seen without perceiving
I have been another man
Let me pierce the realm of glamor
So I know just what I am
Feel the angel of the present
In the mighty crystal fire
Lift me up consume my darkness
Let me travel even higher
I’m a dweller on the threshold
As I cross the burning ground
Let me go down to the water
Watch the great illusion drown
I’m gonna turn and face the music
The music of the spheres…
I have seen without perceiving
I have been another man
Let me pierce the realm of glamor
So I know just what I am
Feel the angel of the present
In the mighty crystal fire
Lift me up consume my darkness
Let me travel even higher
I’m a dweller on the threshold
As I cross the burning ground
Let me go down to the water
Watch the great illusion drown
I’m a dweller on the threshold
And I’m waiting at the door
And I’m standing in the darkness
I don’t want to wait no more
Rudolf Steiner’s Indications on the Guardian of the Threshold
We often save the best for last, and in this instance, Rudolf Steiner’s teachings on the Guardian of the Threshold are the best and go far beyond ancient philosophical and spiritual descriptions and give details that help the aspirant understand the nature and being of the Guardian in modern times. We have arranged the selections of Rudolf Steiner below in an order that should take someone unfamiliar with this topic through a step-by-step presentation of a comprehensive picture of one of the most important elements in spiritual development.
All paths of initiation must go through the Guardian of the Threshold. Every human being must pass through the Guardian at death and each night upon falling asleep.
This Guardian is much bigger than a story in a novel or the philosophical work of Blavatsky, Bailey, or ancient spiritual texts because it must be retold in a modern “language of the spirit” that updates the descriptions to include all that has been added to the collective (global) Guardian of the Threshold for all of humanity. Only Rudolf Steiner has given a complete cosmological understanding of the entire nature of the Guardian in the past, present, and the future. Those seeking self-initiation through a new form of mystery wisdom can find it by studying and applying the knowledge Steiner gave in his Anthroposophy. Through working with these spiritual insights, the aspirant will find a solid path that goes directly to the summit.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, The Threshold of the Spiritual World, VIII: Concerning the Guardian of the Threshold and some Peculiarities of Clairvoyant Consciousness
As with other experiences of supersensible worlds, it is the strengthened and reinforced faculties of the soul which make visible the Guardian of the Threshold. For, setting aside the fact that the meeting with the guardian becomes raised into knowledge by clairvoyant spiritual sight, that meeting is not an event which happens only to the man who has become clairvoyant. Exactly the same fact as is represented by this meeting happens to every human being every time he falls asleep, and we are confronting ourselves – which is the same thing as standing before the Guardian of the Threshold – for so long as our sleep lasts. During sleep the soul rises to its supersensible nature. But its inner forces are not then strong enough to bring about consciousness of itself.
The meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold is important. If the soul has been strengthened just in the direction of self-knowledge, this very meeting may merely be like the first gentle flitting-by of a spiritual vision; but it will not be so easily consigned to oblivion as other supersensible impressions, because people are more interested in their own being than in other things.
There is, however, no need at all that the meeting with the Guardian should be one of the first clairvoyant experiences. The soul may be strengthened in various directions, and the first of such directions may bring other beings or events within its spiritual horizon before the meeting with the Guardian takes place. Yet this meeting is sure to occur comparatively soon after entering the supersensible world.
Selection from Rudolf Steiner, Brunetto Latini, Dornach, January 30th, 1915, GA 161
Fundamentally speaking, everyone who sets his foot on the path of spiritual science is waiting for the portal of the spiritual world to be opened to him sooner or later, as indeed it will be. It may be – indeed it often is so – that the entry to the spiritual world takes place by degrees. Then we grow slowly into the spiritual world. Nevertheless, very, very frequently it happens that the world is opened to us as by a kind of shock which breaks in upon our life – by a sudden and unexpected event.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Errors in Spiritual Investigation: Meeting the Guardian of the Threshold,
Berlin, March 6, 1913, GA 62
Everything that the human being experiences on entering the spiritual world is designated ordinarily as the experience with the Guardian of the Threshold. At a certain stage of spiritual development, man learns to know his inner being as it can love itself with the force of an event of nature, as it can be frightened and horrified on entering the spiritual world. This experience of our own self, of the intensified self of that inner being that otherwise never would come before our soul, is the soul-shaking event called the Meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold. Only by having this meeting will one acquire the faculty to differentiate truth from error in the spiritual world.
Why this experience is called the Meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold is easily comprehensible. It is clear that the spiritual world that man enters is always around us and that man is unaware of it in ordinary life only because he does not have the appropriate organs to perceive it. The spiritual world surrounds us always and is always behind that which the senses perceive. Before man can enter this world, however, he must strengthen his ego, his I. With the strengthening of the ego, however, the aforementioned qualities also appear. He therefore must learn above all else to know himself, so that when he is able to confront a spiritual outer world in the same way as he confronts an objective being he can distinguish himself from what is truth. If he does not learn to delimit himself in this way, he will always confuse that which is only within him, that which is only his subjective experience, with the spiritual world picture; he can never arrive at a real grasp of spiritual reality.
To what extent fear plays a certain role on entering the spiritual world can be observed particularly in the people who deny the existence of such a world. We must now emphasize that the soul life of the human being is, as it were, twofold. In the soul not only does there exist what man ordinarily knows, but in the depths of the soul life things are happening that cast their shadows – or their lights – into ordinary consciousness. Ordinary consciousness, however, does not reach down to this level. We can find in the hidden depths of soul hatred and love, joy and fear and excitement, without our carrying these effects into conscious soul life.
It is therefore entirely correct to say that a phenomenon of hatred directed from one person to another, taking place within consciousness, actually can be rooted, in the depths of soul, in love. There can be a sympathy, a deep sympathy, of one person for another in the depths of the soul, but since this person at the same time has reasons – reasons about which he perhaps knows nothing – he is confused about this love, about the sympathy, deceiving himself with hatred and antipathy. This is something that holds sway in the depths of the soul, so that these depths look quite different from what we call our everyday consciousness.
There can be conditions of fear, of anxiety, in the depths of the soul of which one has no conscious idea. Man can have that fear in the depths of his soul, that anxiety in face of the spiritual world – because he must cross the abyss that has been described before entering – and yet be aware of nothing consciously. Actually, all human beings who have not yet entered the spiritual world, but who have acquired an understanding of entering, have to a degree this fear, this terror in face of the spiritual world. Whatever one may think concerning this fear and anxiety that are within the depths of the soul, they are there, though they appear stronger with one person, weaker with another. Because the soul might be injured, man is protected by the wisdom-filled nature of his being from being able to look further into the spiritual world, from being able to have the experience of meeting the Guardian of the Threshold until he is ready for it. Before that he is protected.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, The Evolution of Consciousness, Lecture VI, The Ruling of Spirit in Nature
People of an older chapter in history, who even in the dreamy symbolism of sleep were conscious of the Guardian of the Threshold, took to heart his warning not to carry with them what belongs to the physical world of the senses when they enter the spiritual world.
I have already pointed out in various ways how necessary it is that we should be able to cross this Threshold, and we have still to speak about it in greater detail. But you will have gathered already from my lectures that in older periods of human evolution this crossing of the Threshold was a rather different matter from what it is at the present day. In those ancient times people were able to cross in another way because even by day their consciousness was dreamlike, but for that very reason more alive to the super-sensible. Thus, in the way I have pictured, they passed the Guardian of the Threshold half-consciously, dreamily, both on going to sleep and on waking.
Here we can see a transition from men of an older type, with little freedom, to those who were becoming increasingly free. This former determinism was bound up with the fact that on going to sleep, and on awaking, men had some perception of the Guardian of the Threshold, who stood there giving warning. Now, in place of this unfree situation, we have the incapacity of present-day consciousness to see into the spiritual world, which signifies an increasing freedom: herein lies a principle of human progress.
We must therefore be quite clear that modern man lacks something: when he has some experience in the spiritual world during sleep and is returning to the physical world, he no longer hears the warning of the Guardian of the Threshold: “All that you have experienced in the spiritual world you should note well and carry back to the physical world.” If he does carry it back, he will know what is contained in the vision. But if the vision appears to him only in the physical world, without his realizing that he has brought it back from the spiritual world, so that he fails to understand what it really is, then he is without guidance, and at the mercy of illusion where his visionary experience is concerned.
Thus, whereas a vision comes about when experience during sleep is carried down into waking life and the threshold is crossed unconsciously, premonition comes about when we are in a light sleep without realizing it and, thinking we are awake, carry over the Threshold, again ignoring the Guardian, our daytime experience. This, however, lies so deep down in the subconscious that it is not noticed.
You will now see how, because these legacies from the evolutionary past can still be experienced, visions arise on one side of the Threshold, premonitions on the other. But a man may also halt at the Threshold and still not notice the Guardian. There may then be moments when inwardly, in his soul, he is as if he were enchanted. But the word “enchanted” does not quite meet the case, for he is not enchanted in the sense we generally associate with the term – it is rather that his attitude of soul undergoes a change. When he comes to the Threshold in such a way that he still perceives what is in the physical world while already perceiving what is in the super-sensible, he experiences something which is widespread in certain regions of the Earth – second sight, a half-conscious experience at the Threshold. Hence to sum up these legacies from the past, these phenomena in a man’s life when his consciousness is dimmed, we have those appearing on this side of the Threshold as visions; those appearing beyond the Threshold as premonitions; those actually at the Threshold as second sight.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Foundations of Esotericism, Lecture II, Berlin, 27th September 1905
Meditation therefore should not be undertaken without continual self-knowledge, self-observation. By this means, at the right moment man will behold the Guardian of the Threshold: – the karma which he has still to pay back. When one reaches this stage under normal conditions it merely signifies the recognition of his still existing karma.
Many people who now yield themselves up completely to materialistic life will in their next incarnation have an abnormal form of the Guardian of the Threshold at their side. If now the influence of spirituality were not to be very strongly exercised, a kind of epidemic seeing of the Guardian of the Threshold would arise as the result of the materialistic civilization. Of this the neurotic tendency of our century is the precursor. It is a kind of losing oneself in the periphery. All the neurotics of today will be harassed by the Guardian of the Threshold in their next incarnation. They will be pursued by the difficulties of a too early incarnation, a sort of cosmic premature birth.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Initiation, Eternity and the Passing Moment, Lecture IV, Munich, August 28, 1912
Of all that can be mentioned as belonging to man’s sensory existence, he can carry over nothing at all into the spiritual world; everything must be left behind at the boundary where stands the Guardian of the Threshold. What one talks about in sensory life, all that we know, is laid aside and left with the Guardian of the Threshold at the boundary, just as if it were the soul’s clothing that was cast off before the crossing into the spiritual world.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Initiation, Eternity and the Passing Moment, Lecture III, Munich, August 27, 1912
Here we stand at the boundary between the life of the senses and spiritual life, confronted not by a system of concepts but by a reality that only works super-sensibly, and as concretely and livingly as a human being. This is the Guardian of the Threshold. He is there as a concrete and real being. When we learn to know him, we know he belongs to those beings who, to a certain extent, have taken part in life since primeval times on earth, but who have not gone through what one experiences as a being of soul.
When we reach the Guardian of the Threshold, we must really lay aside all that we know of ourselves, but we must still retain something to carry on with us. That is the chief thing. This knowledge that we have to leave everything behind at the threshold is an inner experience in itself to which one must have attained, and the preparation for this stage of clairvoyance must consist in schooling ourselves to bear what would otherwise be full of terror and fear. With proper schooling we need not speak of danger because such a schooling does away with danger. Powers of endurance must be attained through due preparation; they are the fundamental force necessary for all further experience. In ordinary life man is not capable of enduring all that he must endure when standing before the Guardian of the Threshold.
The Guardian of the Threshold is there for a strange purpose. If it is not to be misunderstood, it has to be judged from the standpoint of the super-sensible world. In man, the activities of the super-sensible world are always at work, though he knows nothing of this. Whenever we think and feel and will, it always necessitates a certain activity of the, astral body and connection with the astral world. But man knows nothing of this; if he knew what his bodies really were, he would not be able to bear it and would be stunned by it. So that when man meets this being without sufficient preparation, everything must be veiled from him, including the being. The being must draw a veil over the super-sensible world. He must do this for the protection of man who, while within the world of the senses, could not endure the sight. In this we really see a concept that, in the world of the senses, can only be judged morally, as the most direct ordering of nature. The protection of man from sight of the super-sensible world is the function of the Guardian of the Threshold. He must hold man back until he has completed the necessary preparation.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, A Road to Self-Knowledge, Fourth Meditation: In which the Attempt is made to form a Conception of the Guardian of the Threshold
What the soul thus feels of necessity to be right in ordinary life, it must no longer feel when it enters supersensible surroundings. It has there to cross a Threshold, where it must leave behind not only this or that precious possession, but that very being which it has hitherto believed itself to be. The soul must be able to say to itself: “That which until now has seemed to me to be my surest truth, I must now, on the other side of the Threshold of the Supersensible World, be able to consider as my deepest error.”
Before such a demand the soul may well recoil. The feeling may be so strong that the necessary steps would seem a surrender of its own being, and an acknowledgment of its own nothingness, so that it admits more or less completely on the Threshold its own powerlessness to fulfil the demands put before it. It may also happen that there is not only this instinctive halt before the threshold. The pupil may consciously proceed to the threshold and then turn back, because he fears that which lies before him. He will then not easily be able to blot out from the ordinary life of his soul the effect of thus approaching it. The effect will be that weakness will spread over the whole of his soul’s life.
What ought to take place is this, that the pupil on entering the supersensible world should make himself able to renounce that which in ordinary life he considers as the deepest truth and to adapt himself to a different way of feeling and judging things. But at the same time he must keep in mind that when he again confronts the physical world, he must make use of the ways of feeling, and judging that are suitable for this physical world. He must not only learn to live in two different worlds, but also to live in each in quite a different way, and he must not allow his sound judgment, which he needs for ordinary life in the world of reason and of the senses, to be encroached upon by the fact that he is obliged to make use of another kind of discernment while in another world.
To take up such a position is difficult for human nature, and the capacity for doing so is only acquired through continued energetic and patient strengthening of our soul-life. Anyone who goes through the experiences of the Threshold realizes that it is a boon to the ordinary life of the soul not to be led so far. The feelings that awaken are such that one cannot but think that this boon proceeds from some powerful entity, who protects man from the danger of undergoing the dread of self-annihilation at the Threshold. Behind the outer world of ordinary life there is another. Before the Threshold of this world a stern guardian is standing, who prevents man from knowing what the laws of the supersensible world are. For all doubts and all uncertainty concerning that world are, after all, easier to bear than the sight of that which one must leave behind when we want to cross the Threshold.
The pupil remains protected against the experience described, as long as he does not step forward to the very Threshold. The fact that he receives descriptions of such experiences from those who have trodden or crossed this Threshold does not change the fact of his being protected. On the contrary, such communications may be of good service to him when he approaches the Threshold. In this case as in many others, a thing is done better if one has an idea of it beforehand. But as regards the self-knowledge which must be gained by a traveler in the supersensible world nothing is changed by such preliminary knowledge. It is therefore not in harmony with the facts, when many clairvoyants, or those acquainted with the nature of clairvoyance, assert that these things should not be mentioned at all to people who are not on the point of resolving to enter into the supersensible world. We are now living in a time when people must become more and more acquainted with the nature of the supersensible world, if the life of their soul is to become equal to the demands of ordinary life upon it. The spread of supersensible knowledge, including the knowledge of the Guardian of the Threshold, is one of the tasks of the moment and of the immediate future.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Threshold In Nature and In Man (The Human Soul and the World of Nature), Basle, February 1, 1921
In olden times, these two aims – knowledge of Nature and knowledge of self – were associated in the mind of man with quite strange, not to say terrifying, conceptions. It was indeed not thought possible for man to continue in his ordinary way of life if he wanted to set out on the path to knowledge; for on that path he would inevitably find himself in the presence of deep uncertainties before he could come to any satisfying conviction. They beheld a kind of abyss between what man is and can experience in ordinary life, and what he becomes and is confronted with when he penetrates into the depths of world-existence, or into the knowledge of his own being. They described how man feels the ground sink away from under his feet, so that only if he be strong enough not to succumb to giddiness of soul can he go forward at all into the field of ultimate knowledge. To tread this path of knowledge unprepared would involve man in a harder test than he is able to meet. Serious and conscientious preparation was necessary before he dare bridge the abyss.
In ordinary life man is unaware of the abyss; he simply does not see it. And that, they said, is for him a blessing. Man is enveloped in a kind of blindness that protects him from being overcome by giddiness and falling headlong into the abyss. They spoke too of how man had to cross a “Threshold” in order to come into the fields of higher knowledge, and of how he must have become able to face without fear the revelations that await him at the Threshold. Again, in ordinary life man is protected from crossing the Threshold. Call it personification or what you will, in those ancient schools of wisdom they were relating real experiences when they spoke of man being protected by the “Guardian of the Threshold,” and of undergoing beyond it a time of darkness and uncertainty before ultimately attaining to a vision of reality, a “standing within” spirit-filled reality.
What the wisdom-pupil knew, for example, concerning the sun and its relation to the earth was considered a knowledge that lay “beyond the Threshold”; man must needs first cross the Threshold before he can come into those fields where the soul discovers this new relationship to the universe. The very same knowledge that our whole education renders familiar and natural to us today, was for them on the other side of a Threshold that must not be crossed without due preparation.
This accounts for the emphasis on the training of the will; for a strong and vigorous will strengthens also the consciousness of self. The preparation of the pupil in the Wisdom School was therefore directed primarily to the will, in order that he might grow strong enough to endure, beyond the Threshold, that picture of the world for which a highly-developed consciousness of self is required.
We see, then, what it was men feared in olden times for the pupil who was to be guided into the inner being of the things of the world, into the inner being of Nature. They were afraid lest he be hurt in his soul, through falling into a condition of uncertainty and darkness, a condition comparable, in the realm of soul, with physical faintness. This danger they hoped to avoid by a thoroughgoing discipline of the will. In ordinary life, they said, man must remain on this side of the realm where the dangerous knowledge is to be found; a Guardian holds him back from the region for which he is unfit, thus protecting him from being overcome by faintness of soul. And their description of the experiences the pupil had to undergo if he wanted to cross the Threshold and pass the Guardian correspond exactly to inner experiences of the soul.
It was told how, when the pupil draws near the Threshold, he immediately has a feeling of uncertainty. If he has been sufficiently prepared, he is able to stand upright in the realm which would otherwise make him giddy; he passes the Guardian of the Threshold and, by virtue of the powers of his soul, enters into the spiritual world – which the Guardian would otherwise not allow him even to behold. But he must be able also to stay in the spiritual world with full consciousness. For the tremendous experiences that await him there call for strength and not for weakness, and if he were to let go, these experiences would have a shattering effect on his whole organization; he would suffer grievous harm.
And now the strange thing is that in the course of evolution a knowledge that could be attained by pupils of the ancient Wisdom Schools only after most careful preparation has become the common property of all mankind. We stand today in our ordinary knowledge beyond what the men of old felt to be a Threshold. The purpose they had in view in the ancient Wisdom Schools was that the pupil, when he looked into his own inner being, should feel himself united there with the inner being of Nature. And believing that if he did so unprepared, he would sink into a kind of spiritual faintness, they would not allow him to attempt this exploration until he had received the right discipline and training. And yet in our age everyone penetrates into this region utterly unprepared!
As a matter of fact, man is experiencing today precisely what the ancients took such care to avoid. He acquires his knowledge of Nature; and he acquires also a strong consciousness of self that enables him to stand upright amid all the knowledge that is current today in astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. He imbibes this knowledge and can remain steadfast without losing his balance. Nevertheless there is a quality in his life of soul that the men of old would deeply deplore. Because in the course of evolution we have acquired thought and the feeling of freedom and a stronger self-consciousness, therefore we do not lose ourselves when we study the results of natural science; but we do lose something, and the loss is only too manifest today in the soul-life of mankind everywhere.
In this matter we labor under great illusion; we dream, and we cling to our dreams, and will not let them go. I have often spoken of how natural science brings conscientious students to a recognition of the boundaries of knowledge, boundaries man cannot pass without taking his power of cognition into forbidden – nay, into impossible – regions.
We are accustomed to think of the course of our life as divided between waking and sleeping. These two conditions must, we know, alternate for us if we are to remain healthy in mind and body. How is it with us from the time of awakening to the time of falling asleep? The experiences of the soul are permeated with thoughts; the thoughts receive a certain coloring from the life of feeling; and there is also the life of will, which wells up from dim depths of our being under the guidance of the thoughts, and accomplishes deeds. In the other condition, that of sleep, we lie still; our thoughts sink into darkness; our feelings vanish and our will is inactive. The ordinary normal life of man shows these two alternating conditions. The picture is, however, incomplete; and we shall not arrive at any satisfactory idea of the nature of man if we are content to see the course of his life in this simple manner.
We take it for granted that between waking up and falling asleep we are awake. But the fact is, we are not awake in our whole being. This is overlooked, and consequently we have no true psychology; we come to no right understanding of the soul. If, ridding ourselves of all prejudice, we try to observe inwardly what we experience when we feel, we discover that our feeling life is by no means so illumined with the light of consciousness as is the life of thought and ideation. It is dim, by comparison. For a sense of self, for an experience of self, the life of feeling is undoubtedly every bit as real as – even perhaps in some ways more real than – the life of thought: but clarity, light-filled clarity, is enjoyed by thought alone. There is always something undefined about the life of feeling. Indeed, if we examine the matter carefully, comparing different conditions of soul one with another, we are led finally to the conclusion that the life which pulsates in feeling may be compared with dream life. Study the dream life of man; consider how it surges up from unknown depths of his being; how it manifests in pictures, but in pictures that are vague and indeterminate, so that one does not see all at once exactly how they are connected with external reality. Has not the life of feeling the same quality and character?
Feelings are, of course, something altogether different from dream pictures, but when we compare the degree of consciousness in both, we find it to be very much the same. The life of feeling is a kind of waking dream; the pictures that appear in the dream are here pressed down into the whole organic life. The experience is different in each case, and yet the experience is present in the soul in the same manner in both. So that in reality we are awake only in the life of ideation; in the feeling life we dream even while we are awake.
With the life of the will it is again different. We do not as a rule give much thought to the matter, but is it not so that the impulse of will arises within us without our having any clear consciousness of its origin? We have a thought; and out of the thought springs an impulse of will. Then again we see ourselves acting; and then again we have a thought about the action. But we cannot follow with consciousness what comes between. How a thought becomes an impulse for the will and shoots into my muscle-power; how the nerve registers the movement of the muscles; how, in other words, that which has been sent down into the depths of my being as thought, comes to be carried out in action, afterwards to emerge again when I perceive myself performing the action – all this lives in me in no other way than do the experiences of sleep.
In deep sleep we have in a sense lost our own being; we pass through the experiences of sleep without being aware of them; and it is the same with what comes about through the activity of the will-impulse in man. We dream in our life of feeling, and we are asleep in our willing; dreaming and sleeping are thus perpetually present in waking life. And in these unknown depths of being where the will has its origin, arises also that which we eventually gather up – focus, as it were – in consciousness of self. Man comes to a recognition of his full humanity only when he knows himself as a being that thinks and feels and wills.
Ordinary life, therefore, embraces unconscious conditions. And it is just through the life of ideation becoming separated from the rest of the soul life and lifted up into consciousness, that a way is made for the development of the experience of freedom. Here, in a sense, we divide ourselves up. We are awake in a part of ourselves, in the life of ideation, whilst in relation to another part of us we are as unconscious as we are in relation to the inner being of Nature.
As man learns in this way to know himself, not merely as natural man, but as spirit, he finds that he is also now within the inner being of Nature; in the spirit of his own nature he recognizes the spirit of the Nature that is all around him. And at this point a fact of deep significance is revealed – namely, that with our modern knowledge of Nature we are already standing on the other side of the Threshold, in the old sense of the word. The men of olden times believed they would lose their self-consciousness if they entered this region unprepared. We do not lose our self-consciousness, but we do lose the world.
We must develop our thinking; it must grow into Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. And this will bring us once again to a Threshold, a new Threshold into the spiritual world. We must not remain in the world that offers itself for sense-perception and leaves the inner being of Nature beyond the boundaries of knowledge. We must cross another Threshold, the Threshold that lies before our own inner being.
At this Threshold we shall no longer let our imagination run away with us and conjure up all manner of atoms and molecules to account for the impressions of color and sound and heat; for when we come consciously to recognize, and be within, our own spirit, then we shall find we are also within the spirit of Nature. We shall learn to know Nature herself as spirit. In the region where today we talk of an atomistic world, in the very region where today we are losing the world, we shall find the spirit. And then we shall have the right fundamental feeling towards the inner being of Nature and, also, the being of the human soul.
It is, as you see, a different attitude we have to attain from that of olden times. We must be conscious that we are living in conditions the men of old wanted to avoid. This does not mean, however, that we are in danger of losing ourselves; our world of thought has been too strongly developed for that. And if we develop the world of thought still further, then we shall also not lose what we are in danger of losing. The men of olden times were threatened with the loss of self, with a kind of faintness of the soul. We are faced with the danger of losing the world for our ego-consciousness; of being so surrounded and overborne by purely mathematical pictures of the world, purely atomistic conceptions, that we lose all sense of the “whole” world in its infinite variety and richness. In order that we may find the world again – in order, that is, that we may find the spirit in the world – we must cross what constitutes for modern man the Threshold.
We may even put it this way: if the men of olden times feared the Guardian of the Threshold and needed to be fully prepared before they might pass him, we in our day must desire earnestly to pass the Guardian. We must long to carry knowledge of the spirit into those regions where hitherto we have relied only on external sense-perception in combination with the results of intellectual reasoning and experiment. Knowledge of the spirit must be taken into the laboratory, into the observatory and into the clinic. Wherever research is carried on, knowledge of the spirit must have place.
Otherwise, since all the results that are arrived at in such institutions come from beyond the Threshold, man is thereby cut off from the world in a manner that is dangerous for him. He feels himself in the presence of an inner being of Nature which he can never approach on an external path, which he can approach only by becoming awake in his soul and pressing forward to the immortal part of his own being. As soon, however, as he does this, he is at that moment also within the spirit of Nature. He has stepped across the Threshold that lies in his own being and finds himself in the presence of the spiritual in Nature.
When we sever ourselves from Nature, and all we can do is to talk about her. But the man who penetrates to his own inner “kernel,” and experiences himself in the very center of his soul – he discovers that he is at the same time in the very innermost of Nature; he is experiencing her inner being.
One who carries deeply enough in his heart the development of spiritual science will find himself continually face to face with this question of the connection between the being of man and the inner being of Nature. The specialized sciences cannot help us here; they only spread darkness over the world. The darkness is to be feared, even as the men of olden times feared the region beyond the Threshold. But it is possible for man to kindle a light that shall light up the darkness; and this light is the light that shines in the soul of man when he attains to spiritual knowledge.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, Section X, The Guardian of the Threshold
The important experiences marking the student’s ascent into the higher worlds include his meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold. There are two Guardians: a lesser and a greater. The student meets the lesser Guardian when the threads connecting willing, feeling, and thinking within the finer astral and etheric bodies begin to loosen. The greater Guardian is encountered when this sundering of the connections extends to the physical parts of the body, that is, at first to the brain. The lesser Guardian is a sovereign being. He does not come into existence, as far as the student is concerned, until the latter has reached the requisite stage of development.
Upon crossing the threshold, the student learns that his thinking, feeling, and willing have become released within him from their inherent connection. Then, a truly terrible spectral being confronts him, and he will need all the presence of mind and faith in the security of his path which he has had ample opportunity to acquire in the course of his previous training.
The Guardian proclaims his signification somewhat in the following words:
“Hitherto, powers invisible to yourself watched over you. They saw to it that in the course of your lives each of your good deeds brought its reward, and each of your evil deeds was attended by its evil results. Thanks to their influence, your character formed itself out of your life-experiences and thoughts. They were the instruments of your destiny. They ordained that measure of joy and pain allotted to you in your incarnations, according to your conduct in lives gone by. They ruled over you as the all-embracing law of karma. These powers will now partly release you from their constraining influence; and henceforth your must accomplish for yourself a part of the work which hitherto they performed for you. Destiny struck you many a hard blow in the past. You knew not why. Each blow was the consequence of a harmful deed in a bygone life. You found joy and gladness, and you took them as they came. They, too, were the fruits of former deeds. Your character shows many a beautiful side, and many an ugly flaw. You have yourself to thank for both, for they are the result of your previous experiences and thoughts. These were till now unknown to you; their effects alone were made manifest. The karmic powers, however, beheld all your deeds in former lives, and all your most secret thoughts and feelings, and determined accordingly your present self and mode of life.
But now all the good and evil sides of your bygone lives shall be revealed to you. Hitherto they were interwoven with your own being; they were in you and you could not see them, even as you cannot behold your own brain with physical eyes. But now they become released from you; they detach themselves from your personality. They assume an independent form which you cannot see even as you behold the stones and plants of the outer world. And . . . I am that very being who shaped my body out of your good and evil achievements. My spectral form is woven out of your own life’s record. Till now you have borne me invisibly within yourself, and it was well that this was so; for the wisdom of your destiny, though concealed from you, could thus work within you, so that the hideous stains on my form should be blotted out. Now that I have come forth from within you, that concealed wisdom, too, has departed from you. It will pay no further heed to you; it will leave the work in your hands alone. I must become a perfect and glorious being or fall a prey to corruption; and should this occur, I would drag you also down with me into a dark and corrupt world. If you would avoid this, then your own wisdom must become great enough to undertake the task of that other, concealed wisdom, which has departed from you. As a form visible to yourself I will never for an instant leave your side, once you have crossed my Threshold. And in the future, whenever you act or think wrongly you will straightway perceive your guilt as a hideous, demoniacal distortion of my form. Only when you have made good all your bygone wrongs and have so purified yourself that all further evil is, for you, a thing impossible, only then will my being have become transformed into radiant beauty. Then, too, shall I again become united with you for the welfare of your future activity.
Yet my Threshold is fashioned out of all the timidity that remains in you, out of all the dread of the strength needed to take full responsibility for all your thoughts and actions. As long as there remains in you a trace of fear of becoming yourself the guide of your own destiny, just so long will this Threshold lack what still remains to be built into it. And as long as a single stone is found missing, just so long must you remain standing as though transfixed; or else stumble. Seek not, then, to cross this Threshold until you feel yourself entirely free from fear and ready for the highest responsibility. Hitherto I only emerged from your personality when death recalled you from an earthly life; but even then my form was veiled from thee. Only the powers of destiny who watched over you beheld me and could thus, in the intervals between death and a new birth, build in you, in accordance with my appearance, that power and capacity thanks to which you could labor in a new earth life at the beautifying of my form, for your welfare and progress. It was I, too, whose imperfection ever and again constrained the powers of destiny to lead thee back to a new incarnation upon earth. I was present at the hour of your death, and it was on my account that the Lords of Karma ordained your reincarnation. And it is only by thus unconsciously transforming me to complete perfection in ever recurring earthly lives that you could have escaped the powers of death and passed over into immortality united with me.
Visible do I thus stand before you today, just as I have ever stood invisible beside you in the hour of death. When you shalt have crossed my Threshold, you will enter those realms to which you have hitherto only had access after physical death. You now enter them with full knowledge, and henceforth as you wander outwardly visible upon the earth you will at the same time wander in the kingdom of death, that is, in the kingdom of life eternal. I am indeed the Angel of Death; but I am at the same time the bearer of a higher life without end. Through me you will die with your body still living, to be reborn into an imperishable existence.
Into this kingdom you are now entering; you will meet beings that are supersensible, and happiness will be your lot. But I myself must provide your first acquaintance with that world, and I am your own creation. Formerly I drew my life from you; but now you have awakened me to a separate existence so that I stand before you as the visible gauge of your future deeds – perhaps, too, as your constant reproach. You have formed me, but by so doing you have undertaken, as your duty, to transform me.”
The Guardian of the Threshold is an (astral) figure, revealing itself to the student’s awakened higher sight; and it is to this supersensible encounter that spiritual science conducts him. It is a lower magical process to make the Guardian of the Threshold physically visible also. That was attained by producing a cloud of fine substance, a kind of frankincense resulting from a particular mixture of a number of substances. The developed power of the magician is then able to mold the frankincense into shape, animating it with the still unredeemed karma of the individual.
Such physical phenomena are no longer necessary for those sufficiently prepared for the higher sight; and besides this, anyone who sees, without adequate preparation, his unredeemed karma appear before his eyes as a living creature would run the risk of straying into evil byways. Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni contains in novel form a description of the Guardian of the Threshold. What is here indicated in narrative form must not be understood in the sense of an allegory, but as an experience of the highest possible reality befalling the esoteric student.
The Guardian must warn him not to go a step further unless he feels in himself the strength to fulfill the demands made in the above speech. However horrible the form assumed by the Guardian, it is only the effect of the student’s own past life, his own character risen out of him into independent existence. This awakening is brought about by the separation of will, thought, and feeling. To feel for the first time that one has oneself called a spiritual being into existence is in itself an experience of deepest significance. The student’s preparation must aim at enabling him to endure the terrible sight without a trace of timidity and, at the moment of the meeting, to feel his strength so increased that he can undertake fully conscious the responsibility for transforming and beautifying the Guardian.
If successful, this meeting with the Guardian results in the student’s next physical death being an entirely different event from the death as he knew it formerly. He experiences death consciously by laying aside the physical body as one discards a garment that is worn out or perhaps rendered useless through a sudden rent.
From the moment the student meets the Guardian, he must not only know his own tasks, but must knowingly collaborate in those of his folk, his race. Every extension of his horizon necessarily enlarges the scope of his duties. What actually happens is that the student adds a new body to his finer soul-body. He puts on a second garment. Hitherto he found his way through the world with the coverings enveloping his personality; and what he had to accomplish for his community, his nation, his race, was directed by higher spirits who made use of his personality.
And now, a further revelation made to him by the Guardian of the Threshold is that henceforth these spirits will withdraw their guiding hand from him. He must step out of the circle of his community. Yet, as an isolated personality he would become hardened in himself and decline into ruin, did he not, himself, acquire those powers which are vested in the national and racial spirits. Only the esoteric student learns what it means to be entirely cut off from his family, national, or racial spirit. He alone realizes, through personal experience, the insignificance of all such education in respect of the life now confronting him. For everything inculcated by education completely melts away when the threads binding will, thought, and feeling are severed. He looks back on the result of all his previous education as he might on a house crumbling away brick by brick, which he must now rebuild in a new form.
It is more than a mere symbolical expression to say that when the Guardian has enunciated his first statement, there arises from the spot where he stands a whirlwind which extinguishes all those spiritual lights that have hitherto illumined the pathway of his life. Utter darkness, relieved only by the rays issuing from the Guardian himself, unfolds before the student. And out of this darkness resounds the Guardian’s further admonition:
“Step not across my Threshold until you have clearly realized that you will yourself illumine the darkness ahead of yourself; take not a single step forward until you are positive that you have sufficient oil in your own lamp. The lamps of the guides whom you have hitherto followed will now no longer be available to you.”
At these words, the student must turn and glance backward. The Guardian of the Threshold now draws aside a veil which till now had concealed deep life-mysteries. The family, national, and racial spirits are revealed to the student in their full activity, so that he perceives clearly on the one hand, how he has hitherto been led, and no less clearly on the other hand, that he will henceforward no longer enjoy this guidance. That is the second warning received at the Threshold from its Guardian.
Without preparation, no one could endure the sight of what has here been indicated. But the higher training which makes it possible at all for the student to advance up to the Threshold simultaneously puts him in a position to find the necessary strength at the right moment. Indeed, the training can be so harmonious in its nature that the entry into the higher life is relieved of everything of an agitating or tumultuous character. His experience at the Threshold will then be attended by a premonition of that felicity which is to provide the keynote of his newly awakened life. The feeling of a new freedom will outweigh all other feelings; and attended by this feeling, his new duties and responsibilities will appear as something which man, at a particular stage of life, must needs take upon himself.
Selections from Section XI, Life and Death: The Greater Guardian of the Threshold
It has been described how significant for the human being is his meeting with the so-called lesser Guardian of the Threshold by virtue of the fact that he becomes aware of confronting a supersensible being whom he has himself brought into existence, and whose body consists of the hitherto invisible results of the student’s own actions, feelings, and thoughts. These unseen forces have become the cause of his destiny and his character, and he realizes how he himself founded the present in the past. He can understand why his inner self, now standing to a certain extent revealed before him, includes particular inclinations and habits, and he can also recognize the origin of certain blows of fate that have befallen him. He perceives why he loves one thing and hates another; why one thing makes him happy and another unhappy. Visible life is explained by the invisible causes. The essential facts of life, too – health and illness, birth and death – unveil themselves before his gaze. He observes how before his birth he wove the causes which necessarily led to his return into life. Henceforth he knows that being within himself which is fashioned with all its imperfections in the visible world, and which can only be brought to its final perfection in this same visible world. For in no other world is an opportunity given to build up and complete this being. Moreover, he recognizes that death cannot sever him forever from this world.
No one can be born in the spiritual world with spiritual eyes without having first developed them in the physical world, any more than a child could be born with physical eyes, had they not already been formed within the mother’s womb. From this standpoint it will also be readily understood why the Threshold to the supersensible world is watched over by a Guardian. In no case may real insight into those regions be permitted to anyone lacking the requisite faculties; therefore, when at the hour of death anyone enters the other world while still incompetent to work in it, the higher experiences are shrouded from him until he is fit to behold them.
Thus the first Guardian confronts man as the counterpart of his two-fold nature in which perishable and imperishable are blended; and it stands clearly proved how far removed he still is from attaining that sublime luminous figure which may again dwell in the pure, spiritual world. The extent to which he is entangled in the physical sense-world is exposed to the student’s view. The presence of instincts, impulses, desires, egotistical wishes and all forms of selfishness, and so forth, expresses itself in this entanglement, as it does further in his membership in a race, a nation, and so forth; for peoples and races are but steps leading to pure humanity.
When the student has recognized all the elements from which he must liberate himself, his way is barred by a sublime luminous being whose beauty is difficult to describe in the words of human language. This encounter takes place when the sundering of the organs of thinking, feeling, and willing extends to the physical body, so that their reciprocal connection is no longer regulated by themselves but by the higher consciousness, which has now entirely liberated itself from physical conditions. The organs of thinking, feeling and willing will then be controlled from supersensible regions as instruments in the power of the human soul. The latter, thus liberated from all physical bonds, is now confronted by the second Guardian of the Threshold who speaks as follows:
“You have released yourself from the world of the senses. You have won the right to become a citizen of the supersensible world, whence your activity can now be directed. For your own sake, you no longer require your physical body in its present form. If your intention were merely to acquire the faculties necessary for life in the supersensible world, you need no longer return to the sense-world. But now behold me. See how sublimely I tower above all that you have made of yourself thus far. You have attained your present degree of perfection thanks to the faculties you were able to develop in the sense-world as long as you were still confined to it. But now a new era is to begin, in which thy liberated powers must be applied to further work in the world of the senses. Hitherto you have sought only your own release, but now, having yourself become free, you can go forth as a liberator of your fellows. Until today you have striven as an individual, but now seek to coordinate yourself with the whole, so that you may bring into the supersensible world not yourself alone, but all things else existing in the world of the senses.
You will someday be able to unite with me, but I cannot be blessed so long as others remain unredeemed. As a separate freed being, you would fain enter at once the kingdom of the supersensible; yet you would be forced to look down on the still unredeemed beings in the physical world, having sundered your destiny from theirs, although you and they are inseparably united. You all did perforce before your descent into the sense-world to gather powers needed for a higher world. To separate yourself from your fellows would mean to abuse those very powers which you could not have developed save in their company. You could not have descended had they not done so; and without them the powers needed for supersensible existence would fail you. You must now share with your fellows the powers which, together with them, you did acquire. I shall therefore bar your entry into the higher regions of the supersensible world so long as you have not applied all the powers you have acquired to the liberation of your companions. With the powers already at your disposal you may sojourn in the lower regions of the supersensible world; but I stand before the portal of the higher regions as the Cherub with the fiery sword before Paradise, and I bar your entrance as long as powers unused in the sense-world still remain in you. And if you refuse to apply your powers in this world, others will come who will not refuse; and a higher supersensible world will receive all the fruits of the sense-world, while you will lose from under your feet the very ground in which you were rooted. The purified world will develop above and beyond you, and you shall be excluded from it. Thus you would tread the black path, while the others from whom you did sever thyself tread the white path.”
With these words the greater Guardian makes his presence known soon after the meeting with the first Guardian has taken place. The initiate knows full well what is in store for him if he yields to the temptation of a premature abode in the supersensible world. An indescribable splendor shines forth from the second Guardian of the Threshold; union with him looms as a far distant ideal before the soul’s vision. Yet there is also the certitude that this union will not be possible until all the powers afforded by this world are applied to the task of its liberation and redemption. By fulfilling the demands of the higher light-being, the initiate will contribute to the liberation of the human race. He lays his gifts on the sacrificial altar of humanity. Should he prefer his own premature elevation into the supersensible world, the stream of human evolution will flow over and past him. After his liberation he can gain no new powers from the world of the senses; and if he places his work at the world’s disposal it will entail his renouncement of any further benefit for himself.
It does not follow that, when called upon to decide, anyone will naturally follow the white path. That depends entirely upon whether he is so far purified at the time of his decision that no trace of self-seeking makes this prospect of felicity appear desirable. For the allurements here are the strongest possible; whereas on the other side no special allurements are evident. Here nothing appeals to his egotism. The gift he receives in the higher regions of the supersensible world is nothing that comes to him, but only something that flows from him, that is, love for the world and for his fellows. Nothing that egotism desires is denied upon the black path, for the latter provides, on the contrary, for the complete gratification of egotism, and will not fail to attract those desiring merely their own felicity, for it is indeed the appropriate path for them.
No one therefore should expect the occultists of the white path to give him instruction for the development of his own egotistical self. They do not take the slightest interest in the felicity of the individual man. Each can attain that for himself, and it is not the task of the white occultists to shorten the way; for they are only concerned with the development and liberation of all human beings and all creatures. Their instructions therefore deal only with the development of powers for collaboration in this work. Thus they place selfless devotion and self-sacrifice before all other qualities. They never actually refuse anyone, for even the greatest egotist can purify himself; but no one merely seeking an advantage for himself will ever obtain assistance from the white occultists. Even when they do not refuse their help, he, the seeker, deprives himself of the advantage resulting from their assistance.
Anyone, therefore, really following the instructions of the good occultists will, upon crossing the Threshold, understand the demands of the greater Guardian; anyone, however, not following their instructions can never hope to reach the Threshold. Their instructions, if followed, produce good results or no results; for it is no part of their task to lead to egotistical felicity and a mere existence in the supersensible worlds. In fact, it becomes their duty to keep the student away from the supersensible world until he can enter it with the will for selfless collaboration.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Esoteric Lessons for the First Class, The First Goetheanum, Lesson Fourteen, Dornach, May 31, 1924
It also becomes clear that in normal life we are protected from entering unprepared into the world which is the world of his real being. And the Guardian of the Threshold is the one who protects us from consciously perceiving his environment when we are sleeping at night, for what we would then perceive, unprepared, would be such a terrible shock that we would not be able to lead a normal human waking life.
The Guardian of the Threshold also makes it clear to us that he is the true, the real gateway to the spiritual world.
Thus, the person realizes that before he enters the kingdom of knowledge he comes to an abyss, which at first seems bottomless. The support of the physical world ends here. He cannot cross it. One can only cross this abyss by freeing oneself from the physical, when one – symbolically speaking – “grows wings”, in order to cross the abyss as a psychic-spiritual being.
But the Guardian of the Threshold calls forth to him to beware of the abyss, especially to be aware of the beasts which rise up as spiritual figures from this abyss, that one should realize that these beasts are the outer reflections of impure willing, feeling and thinking – that they first must be overcome. And in a graphic image one sees how his willing, feeling and thinking appear in three animals ghastly and horrid to look at.
Then, the Guardian of the Threshold shows us how thinking, feeling and willing can strengthen themselves after having consciously determined to overcome the beasts. To enter the spiritual world, to visualize the spiritual world, we need to develop situation-meditations in order to feel how the cosmos speaks to us, how the hierarchies speak to us, how at first everything foretells what awaits us there in the spiritual world.
The human being must become different when he crosses the abyss, when he wishes to live into what is beyond the abyss. We will realize ever more: Here on earth we associate with the beings of the three nature kingdoms and with men; beyond we associate with disembodied souls and with the spirits of the higher hierarchies. It is a different kind of relating, which requires a different state of mind.
It is again the task of the Guardian of the Threshold to strongly indicate how the human being must comport himself when faced with the fact that when he crosses the abyss and experiences something of the reality of the spiritual world, he must do so with a completely different state of mind.
The person will realize that two states of mind can be a reality within him: the one on this side of the abyss with normal consciousness; and the one beyond the abyss, outside the physical and etheric bodies – the state of mind in the purely spiritual world.
When the difference between these states of mind appears, great dangers await him, dangers which appear at first to be slight deviations from the normal state of mind which are always present within the psyche, but which are pathological deformities when carried to an extreme.
The moment we leave the physical we enlarge ourselves, we expand, and at the same time we are in earth, water, fire, air. We can no longer distinguish them from each other and the individual attributes of these four elements have ceased to exist.
Imagine that we have already flown over the abyss. We have arrived on the other side, and the Guardian of the Threshold calls out to us to turn around again and face him.
Imagine it vividly: The person has arrived on the other side, where the truths and knowledge of the spirit will be revealed to him. He stands on the other side. The Guardian of the Threshold invokes him to turn around in order to receive the advice he needs now that he has been touched by the state of mind which is on the other side of the threshold, where one lives within the four elements: in earth, water, air, fire.
He encounters there – pardon the trivial expression, my dear sisters and brothers – the illusion of being in love with the release from the solid earth, from the formative water force, from the creative force of air, from the selfhood awakening force of warmth; he feels delight in spiritual beatitude, dedicated to it and wishes to remain in this state of spiritual beatitude. It overcomes him because the Luciferic temptation is approaching him. Depending on his karma, he can be more or less susceptible to this temptation. If he is so susceptible that he is utterly in love with the experience of dissolving into earth, water, air and fire, the luciferic forces will apprehend him and he will no longer leave this state of mind. He succumbs to the danger of continuing in this state of mind when he returns to everyday life. The Guardian of the Threshold must call out to him: You may not do that. You may not succumb to Lucifer.
And the Guardian of the Threshold urgently admonishes us that we must resolve to live in the world, be it the earthly, be it the spiritual, in the way which corresponds to each.
But the Guardian of the Threshold adds a second admonishment: that when we cross over with separated thinking, feeling and willing, we must pay attention to what extent earthly inclinations are still present in this thinking, feeling and willing.
The person may be inclined to fixate on his experiences on this side of the threshold because of having the earth’s support and cross the threshold in a materialistic state of mind, cross with the congealed formative forces of water. If so, he can be plagued by earthly arrogance and say to himself: In life on earth I breathed, inhaled that breath from which the Father-God once created the human soul, human life. I can also do that if only I am freed from earthly limitations.
But if the person wants to bring over into the spiritual world what he has of creative divine force through his breath, he will succumb to the Ahrimanic temptation. Then, he will not be able to return because before he does so he will become faint. He will be more or less unconscious. His consciousness will be paralyzed. Because his consciousness has been paralyzed, he more or less becomes an instrument of the Ahrimanic powers in the spiritual world.
Although today humanity is crudely hardened by materialism, since the beginning of the Michael age, it is almost being dragged over into the spiritual world by spiritual life itself. And what it means when the ahrimanic powers seize humanity when its consciousness is paralyzed, though otherwise in a fully waking state, has been amply demonstrated, my dear friends, by the outbreak of the great [first] World War.
It must be perfectly clear that the human being may not carry over to this side the state of mind applicable to beyond the threshold, and that he may not carry over to the other side the state of mind applicable to this side. Rather must he develop a strong inner human consciousness for each domain – for this side and for beyond the threshold.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Esoteric Lessons for the First Class of the, School for Spiritual Science at the Goetheanum, The First Goetheanum, Lesson Five, Dornach, March 14, 1924
At the moment when the person approaches the spiritual world, in a certain sense thinking, feeling and willing become separated. The will, now living much more independently than previously in the soul, shows itself to be much more related to the forces which attract man to the earth. Feeling shows itself to be related to the forces which hold man in the periphery of the earth through which the light penetrates when it shines upon the earth in the morning, and which disappears from sight on the opposite side in the evening. Thinking, however, is the force which relates upwards to the heavenly. So that in the moment that man stands before the Guardian of the Threshold, this Guardian draws his attention to how he belongs to the whole world: through his will the earth, through his feeling the periphery, through his thinking the higher powers.
We feel a deep chasm between our human nature and the expansive nature around us. But this chasm must be bridged. For this chasm, only the exterior aspects of which are perceived by normal consciousness, is the Threshold itself. And our being able to perceive the Threshold depends on our ceasing to simply accept this unconsciousness, when we look within ourselves, concerning an external nature which we perceive as being foreign to humanity. For this chasm needs to be understood as being not only extremely important for human life, but also for the entire universe. We must, in a sense, merge with nature. Nature must be able to appear as divine.
This is what we encounter when we meet the Guardian of the Threshold: nature, which was previously quietly outside us and made no claim on our normal consciousness, now has the force to speak to us morally. Nature appears in the sun as a tempter. What before was quietly shining sunlight now speaks enticingly, temptingly. And we first realize that there is something spiritual living and moving in this sunlight when the enticing, the tempting beings appear in the light of the sun who want to pull us away from the earth. For these beings are in continuous battle with what constitutes the interior of the earth – darkness.
And if we fall into extremes – which is quite possible because the experiences in meeting the Guardian of the Threshold are most earnest and profound and gripping for the human soul – when we realize how enticing the sunlight is, caused by the light-beings, that is when we want to escape from them, if we remember that we are supposed to be human beings. We may not forget this. If we do, although we continue to live physically on the earth, we are to a certain extent psychically crippled. But when we become aware of how enticing the sunlight is, we turn to the opposite side and seek relief in darkness, against which the light is continually fighting. And by swinging from light to darkness we fall into the opposite extreme. So this self, which wanted to surge out into the bright shining sunlight, is now threatened in darkness by loneliness, by being separated from all other beings. But we human beings can only live in the area of equilibrium between light and darkness.
Such is the great experience before the Guardian of the Threshold: that we face the enticement of light and the dehumanizing force of darkness. Light and darkness become moral forces which have moral power over us. And we humans must realize that it is dangerous to look at the pure light and the pure darkness. And we are reassured when, there at the Threshold, we see how the middle gods, the good gods of normal progress dim the light to a luminous yellow, to a luminous red, and when we know that we can no longer be lost to the earth, when we are aware not of the light which enticingly dazzles us, but of the color in spirit, which is subdued light.
And it is equally dangerous to yield to pure darkness. And we will be inwardly liberated if we do not stand before the pure darkness in spirit-land, but when we stand before the illuminated darkness as violet and blue. Yellow and red say to us in spirit-land: Light’s enticements will not be able to wrest you away from the earth. Violet and blue say to us: The darkness will not be able to bury you, as soul, in the earth; you will be able to hold yourself above the effects of the earth’s gravity.
Those are the experiences where the natural and the moral grow together in one, where light and darkness become realities. And without light and darkness becoming realities, we will not be aware of the true nature of thinking.
That is the benefit the Guardian of the Threshold bestows on man – that he does not let the abyss be seen until his own warnings alert him to it. That has been the secret of the Mysteries of all times, that the abyss is shown to the adept and he therewith is able to acquire the strength necessary for knowledge of the real world.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, The Evolution of Consciousness, Lecture V, The Relation of Man to the Three Worlds
We have to remember the warning never to carry over the logic of the sense-world into the logic of the spiritual world. This is the important warning given by that power we may call the Guardian of the Threshold to those who wish to pierce behind the veil.
But when we wish to return to the physical world, we receive from the Guardian another warning, clear and forcible. So long as we are men of Earth we return, or we should never get away from happenings in the spiritual world, and our deserted physical body would die. We must always return. Pay heed to the second warning given by the Guardian who stands where the veil of chaos separates the physical sense-world from the spiritual world. This, then, is the warning:
“During your life on Earth, never for a moment forget that you have been in the spiritual world; then and only then, during the times you have to spend in the physical world, will you be able to guide your steps with certainty.”
Thus at the threshold of this threefold spiritual world he is warned to lay aside all naturalistic logic, to leave behind this cloak of the senses and to go forward prepared to adapt himself to a spiritual logic, spiritual thinking and the spiritual association of ideas. On his return he is given a second warning, just as stern, even sterner than the first: never for a moment to forget his experience in the spiritual world – in other words, not to confine himself in ordinary consciousness merely to the impulses of the sense-world, and so on, but always to be conscious that to his physical world he has to be a bearer of the spiritual.
You will see that the two warnings differ considerably from one another. At the entrance to the spiritual world the Guardian of the Threshold says: Forget the physical world of the senses while here you are acquiring knowledge of the spiritual. But on your return to the physical world the Guardian’s warning is: Never forget, even in the physical world on Earth, your experiences in the heavenly world of the spirit; keep your memory of them alive.
In the case of those I pictured coming to the Mystery centers as inspired pupils, or just as ordinary folk, the transition from sleeping to waking and from waking to sleeping was not made without their being instinctively aware of the Guardian of the Threshold. Three or four thousand years ago, as men were entering sleep, there arose in their souls a dream, a picture of the Guardian. They passed him by. And as they were returning from sleep to ordinary life, once again this picture appeared. The warnings they received on entering and leaving the spiritual world were not so clear as the warnings which I have said are given to those entering the spiritual world through Inspiration and Imagination. But as they fell asleep, and again as they awoke, they had a dreamlike experience of passing the Guardian of the Threshold, not unlike their other instinctive perceptions of the spiritual world. Further progress in the evolution of humanity required that man should gain his freedom by losing his spiritual vision, and he had to forfeit that half-sleeping, half-waking state during which he was able to behold, at least in a kind of dream, the majestic figure of the Guardian of the Threshold.
Nowadays, between going to sleep and waking, a man passes the Guardian but does not know it. He is blind and deaf to the Guardian, and that is why he finds himself in a dream-world which is so completely disorganized.
Now consider quite impartially the different way in which the people of older epochs knew how to speak of their dreams. Because of ignoring the Guardian every morning, every evening, and twice every time he takes an afternoon nap, a man to-day experiences this utter disorder and chaos in his dream-world. This can be seen in the form taken by any dream.
Only think: when we cross the Threshold – and we do so each time we go to sleep – there stands the majestic Guardian. He cannot be ignored without everything we meet in the spiritual world becoming disordered. How this happens is best seen in the metamorphosis undergone by the orderly thinking proper to the physical, naturalistic world when this passes into the imagery of dreams. Individual dreams can show this very clearly.
When, ignoring the Guardian, we cross the Threshold, we confront three worlds, and we can make nothing of them because we partly carry over into the world of spirit the outlook we are familiar with in the waking world. The spiritual world, however, asserts its own order to a certain extent.
Because of ignoring the Guardian of the Threshold, you carry over into the spiritual world a custom suited to the physical world. You connect the three worlds chaotically, according to the laws of the physical world, and you feel yourself to be in this situation.
In countless dreams the essential thing is that when we pass the Threshold without heeding the Guardian’s warning, what we perceive here in the physical, naturalistic world as a harmonious unity falls apart, and we are confronted by three different worlds. By faithfully observing the warning given by the Guardian of the Threshold, we must find the way to unite these three worlds. Today, a man in his dreams finds himself faced by these three worlds and he then tries to connect the three worlds in accordance with laws valid in physical life. That is the reason for the chaotic connections in the three worlds, as they are experienced by a man of to-day.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, The Effect of Occult Development Upon the Self and the Sheaths of Man, Lecture VIII, GA 145
If the student draws closer to the Paradise-Imagination; that is to say, if it becomes more and more vivid, and he meets the Guardian of the Threshold, he then feels the full force of magnetic forces, and as he confronts the Guardian of the Threshold he feels – and this is a dreadful sensation – he feels as though chained or rooted to the spot. For all the magnetic forces which draw him down to what is personal now exercise their strongest influence; and only if he progressed to the point at which the frosty solitude has become so instructive that he is really able to make the world’s interests his own, does he pass the Guardian of the Threshold; and then only does he feel himself united with the Paradise-Imagination, and become one with it.
He then feels himself within it. But if he does not pass, if he has not yet acquired sufficient universal interests, his personal interests then draw him back and there comes about what in Occultism is described as: not passing the Guardian of the Threshold. These personal interests obscure the Paradise-Imagination; he may obtain separate parts of it, as it were, indistinct impressions, but not perfect ones, and one is dragged back, as it were, into the personal life. It may then happen that he has thereby received the power to have a certain degree of clairvoyant experience; but these are then really maya-experiences; they may be quite misleading, for they are entirely permeated and clouded by personal interests.
I will suppose that the student has passed the Guardian of the Threshold and the union with the Paradise-Imagination is accomplished; that he feels within it, as if this Paradise-Imagination had now become his own greater astral sheath. He still distinctly feels his own astral body about him, and knows that it is connected with his Self, but at the same time he knows that this astral body extends its interests to all that concerns the objects and beings of the Paradise-Imagination. He will then create for himself, as it were, the organ by which he may behold other beings. His occult vision will first fall on another being, a being who will make a special impression upon him, because it will appear just like himself. He himself feels that he is in his Self and astral body; the other being also at first appears to him with a Self and an astral body. The forces of his astral body will be seen endeavoring to flow outwards. If I were to represent this in diagram, I should have to draw the Self something like the nucleus of a comet, and the astral body like the comet’s tail spreading out above.
If a student is really capable of understanding what this being sends in as his inspiring voice, he might translate what it says in somewhat the following words: ‘Because thou hast found the way to the other and hast united thyself with his beneficial rain of sacrifice, thou may’st return to the earth with him, within him, and I will make thee his guardian on the earth.’ And the student has the feeling that something of infinite importance has been taken into his soul through being able to hear these words of inspiration.
In the Spiritual there is a being that is more precious than oneself, and that is allowed to pour its astral being downwards in blessing. Through the impression of being able to unite with this being, and being its guardian when he descends, the student first learns to understand how, as physical human beings who tread the earth, we are really related through our physical and etheric coverings to that which is impregnated as higher powers in the Self and the astral body. In our physical and etheric coverings we are guardians of that which is to develop further and further to higher spheres. Only in this inner experience, when he feels his external being as the guardian of the inner being, does a man really have a true understanding of the relation of the external being to the inner being of man.
Now, when the student has passed the Guardian of the Threshold, the experience which I have just described does not stand alone but is followed by another. When he has passed the Guardian of the Threshold a second impression is added to the first one; the vision opens past the Guardian of the Threshold down into the physical world. He now sees down into the physical world, as it were, and there appears another picture, a picture of himself standing below as man.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science, Section V, Cognition of the Higher Worlds – Initiation
After the student of the spiritual has encountered the “guardian of the threshold,” further experiences await him as he ascends into supersensible worlds. First he will notice that an inner relationship exists between this “guardian of the threshold” and the soul-power that, in the above description, has resulted as the seventh, and has shaped itself into an independent principle. Indeed, this seventh principle is in a certain regard nothing else but the Doppelganger, the “guardian of the threshold” himself, and this principle sets the student of the spiritual a special task. He has to direct and lead with his newborn self what he is in his ordinary self and which appears to him in an image. A sort of battle against the Doppelganger will result. The latter will constantly strive for supremacy. To establish the right relationship to this Doppelganger and not permit him to do anything that is not under the influence of the newborn ego strengthens and fortifies man’s powers.
We must observe what appears in the Doppelganger, the “guardian of the threshold,” and place it before the “higher self” in order to note the contrast between what we are and what we are to become. Through this observation the “guardian of the threshold” begins to take on quite a different form. He presents himself as an image of all the hindrances that the development of the higher self must encounter. The student will perceive what a load he must drag in the form of his ordinary self, and if he is not strong enough through his preparations to say, “I will not remain stationary here, but unceasingly strive to reach my higher self,” he will slacken his efforts and shrink back before what is in store for him. He has plunged into the world of soul and spirit, but now gives up his efforts. He becomes a prisoner of the form that, through the “guardian of the threshold,” now stands before the soul.
What is important here is the fact that in this experience he does not have the feeling of being a prisoner. On the contrary, he believes he experiences something quite different. The form that the “guardian of the threshold” calls forth can be of such a nature that it causes the impression in the soul of the observer of having before him, in the pictures that appear at this evolutionary stage, the entire compass of all imaginable worlds, of having attained the pinnacle of knowledge, with no need of striving further. Instead of feeling to be a prisoner he may feel himself as the immeasurably rich possessor of all the world mysteries. The fact that one can have such an experience that depicts the very opposite of the actual facts will, however, not astonish a person who keeps in mind the fact that, when he experiences this, he stands already in the world of soul and spirit and that it is a peculiarity of this world that events may present themselves in reverse order. This fact was pointed out earlier in this book when life after death was discussed.
The figure that one perceives at this stage of development shows the student of the spiritual something in addition to what appeared to him in the first instance as the “guardian of the threshold.” In this Doppelganger all the peculiarities were perceived that the ordinary self of man has in consequence of the influence of the forces of Lucifer. Now, however, in the course of human evolution another power has entered the human soul through the influence of Lucifer. This is the power that was designated in an earlier section of this book as the power of Ahriman. It is the power that prevents the human being during physical sense-existence from perceiving the soul-spirit beings of the outer world lying behind the veil of the sensory. The form the human soul has assumed under the influence of this power is shown in a picture by the shape that emerges in the experience described.
The person who is adequately prepared for this experience will be able to interpret it correctly; very soon thereafter another form will appear that we may call the “greater guardian of the threshold” in contrast to the already described “lesser guardian.” This greater guardian tells the student of the spiritual that he must not remain stationary at this stage but must energetically work on. He calls forth in the observer the consciousness that the world that is conquered becomes truth, and is not transformed into illusion, only if the work is continued in an adequate manner. If, because of incorrect spiritual training, a person were to enter upon this experience unprepared, then, in the encounter with the “greater guardian of the threshold,” something would pour into his soul that only can be compared to the “feeling of immeasurable horror,” of “boundless fear.”
Just as the student of the spiritual in his encounter with the “lesser guardian of the threshold” is afforded the possibility of testing whether or not he is protected against delusions arising from the intermingling of his own being with the supersensible world, so can he also test himself by the experiences that finally lead to the “greater guardian of the threshold” whether he is capable of mastering the delusions described above as coming from the second source. If he is able to withstand the gigantic illusion that has been conjured up before him – that the picture world he has gained is a rich possession, while in reality he is only a prisoner – if he is able to resist this delusion, he is then, during the progressing course of his development, guarded from mistaking illusion for reality.
The “guardian of the threshold” will assume, to a certain degree, an individual shape for each human being. The encounter with him corresponds indeed to the experience by which the personal character of the supersensible observations is overcome and through which the possibility is given of entering a region of experience that is free from personal coloring and applies to every human being.
The ego must appear as the first image before the human soul when the latter ascends into the world of soul and spirit. This Doppelgänger (double or twin likeness) of man must, according to a law of the spiritual world, emerge prior to everything else as his first impression of that world.
If, however, through correct training man strives to acquire these organs of perception, what he himself is appears to him as first impression. He perceives his Doppelgänger, his double. This self-perception is not at all to be separated from the perception of the rest of the world of soul and spirit.
Through this regular training man learns to know so much of spiritual science as though without intention and, moreover, so many means for the attainment of self-knowledge and self-observation become clear to him as are necessary in order to encounter his Doppelgänger bravely. The student then only sees in another form, as a picture of the imaginative world, what he has already learned in the physical world. If he has first comprehended the law of karma properly in the physical world through his intellect, he will not be especially shaken when he now sees the beginnings of his destiny engraved in the image of his Doppelgänger.
In a training in which no attention is paid to the certainty and firmness of the power of judgement, of the life of feeling and character, it may happen that the student encounters the higher world before he possesses the necessary inner faculties. In that case the encounter with his Doppelgänger would depress him and lead to error. If, however, the encounter were entirely avoided something that might indeed be possible – and man nevertheless were led into the supersensible world, he would then be just as little in the position to recognize that world in its true shape. For it would be quite impossible for him to distinguish between what he carries over as projections of himself into things and what they are in reality. This distinction is only possible if one perceives one’s own being as an image in itself, and if, as a result of this distinction, everything that flows from one’s inner nature becomes detached from the environment. For man’s life in the physical-sensory world, the Doppelgänger’s effect is such that he becomes immediately invisible through the feeling of shame characterized when man approaches the world of soul and spirit. As a result of this, he conceals the entire latter world also. Like a “guardian” he stands there before that world, in order to deny entrance to those who are not truly capable of entering. He may therefore be called the “guardian of the threshold that lies before the world of soul and spirit.”
Besides the described encounter with the guardian at the entrance into the supersensible world, man also encounters him when passing through physical death, and in the course of life between death and a new birth the guardian discloses himself by degrees in the evolution of soul and spirit. There, however, the encounter cannot depress the human being, because he then has knowledge of worlds quite different from those he knows in the life between birth and death. If, without encountering the “guardian of the threshold,” man were to enter the world of soul and spirit, he might fall prey to deception after deception. For he would never be able to distinguish between what he himself has carried over into that world and what in reality belongs to it. A proper training must lead the student of spiritual science into the realm of truth only, not into the realm of illusion.
This training will of itself be of such a nature that the encounter must of necessity take place sometime. For it is one of the precautionary measures, indispensable for the observation of supersensible worlds, against the possibility of falling prey to deception and the fantastic. It belongs to the most indispensable measures that every student of spiritual science must take, to work carefully on himself in order not to become a fantast, a human being who might succumb to possible deception and self-delusion. Where the advice for spiritual training is correctly followed, the sources that may bring deception are at the same time destroyed.
Naturally, we cannot speak at length here of all the numerous details that have to be considered in regard to such precautionary measures. The important points can only be indicated. Deceptions that have to be considered here are derived from two sources. They originate in part from the coloring of reality through one’s own soul nature. In ordinary life of the physical-sensory world there is comparatively little danger from this source of deception; for here the outer world continually impresses its own form sharply upon our observation, no matter how the observer wants to color it according to his own wishes and interests. As soon, however, as man enters the imaginative world, its pictures are transformed through such wishes and interests, and he has before him, like a reality, what he himself has formed, or at least has helped in forming. This source of deception is removed by the student’s having learned to recognize, through his encounter with the “guardian of the threshold,” his own inner nature, which he might thus carry into the world of soul and spirit.
The preparation that the student of spiritual science undergoes before his entrance into the world of soul and spirit acts in such a way that he becomes accustomed to disregarding himself even when observing the physical-sensory world and to permitting the objects and processes to speak to him purely out of their own nature. If the student has thus prepared himself sufficiently, he can calmly await the encounter with the “guardian of the threshold.” This encounter will be the final test to determine whether he feels himself really in a position to disregard his own nature also when he confronts the world of soul and spirit.
The student of the spiritual, besides acquiring the ability to exclude the delusions that arise through the coloring of supersensible world-phenomena with his own nature, must also acquire the ability to make the second indicated source of delusion ineffective. He can exclude what comes from himself if he has first recognized the image of his own Doppelgänger. He will be able to exclude the second source of delusion if he acquires the ability to recognize, from the inner quality of a supersensible fact, whether it is a reality or delusion.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Secrets of the Threshold, Lecture VIII, August 31, 1913, GA 147
It is evident that as soon as a person approaches the higher worlds, he has to step across a threshold. As an earth-being who has made his soul clairvoyant, he must go back and forth across that threshold and know how to conduct himself rightly in the spiritual world on the far side, as well as on this side in the physical world. Both in lectures and now repeatedly in our Mystery Dramas, this important threshold experience has been referred to as the meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold.
A person can actually ascend into the spiritual worlds – this has often been said – and have quite a few experiences there without having a meeting with the Guardian, something that is partly terrifying but on the other hand highly significant, indeed of infinite importance for the sake of a clear, objective perception of those worlds.
Our true ego is actually our constant companion within us, but when we meet it on the threshold of the spiritual world, it is there in a remarkable way, in fact one can say, decked out quite peculiarly. There on the threshold our true ego is able to clothe itself in all our weaknesses, all our failings, everything that induces us to cling with our whole being either to the physical sense world or at least to the elemental world. Thus we confront our own true ego on the threshold.
Abstract Theosophy can simply say: that is oneself, the other self, the true ego. But in the face of the actual reality, we won’t find much meaning in the phrase: it is oneself. Of course, we all move about in the spiritual world in the form of our other self, but there we are entirely another. When we dwell consciously in the physical world, our other self is actually very much another, a stranger to us, a being that is much more foreign to us than any other person on earth. And this other self, this true ego, decks itself out in our weaknesses, in everything we should really forsake but don’t wish to forsake, habits of the physical sense existence that we still hang on to when we wish to cross the threshold. And there on the threshold we actually meet a spirit being different from all other spiritual beings we could meet in the super-sensible worlds. The other beings appear to us in coverings more appropriate to their nature than those of the Guardian of the Threshold. He arrays himself in everything that arouses in us not only anxiety and distress but also disgust and loathing. He clothes himself in our weaknesses, in things that bring us to admit: Our fear of separating from him makes us shudder, or it makes us blush, overcome with shame, to have to look at what we are, at what the Guardian has wrapped himself in. While indeed this is a meeting with oneself, it is more truly the meeting with another entity.
To get past the Guardian of the Threshold is not at all easy. Actually it is much easier to behold the spiritual world than it is to behold it rightly and truthfully. To catch a few impressions of the spiritual world, especially in our modern time, is not all that difficult. To enter that world, however, in such a way that we behold it in its full reality, we must be well prepared for the meeting with the Guardian, however long it delays in coming to us; then we will experience the spiritual world correctly. Most people, or at least very many of them, get as far as the Guardian. The important point is that we should come consciously to him. Every night we stand unconsciously before the Guardian. Certainly he is a great benefactor of mankind in not allowing himself to be seen, for very few human beings could endure it. To bring into consciousness what we experience every night unconsciously is to meet the Guardian of the Threshold. People usually get just to the edge of the boundary where, one can say, the Guardian stands. But at that moment, something very peculiar happens to the soul: it perceives this moment in a twilight state between consciousness and unconsciousness and will not allow it to come to full consciousness. On that borderline the soul has the impulse to see itself as it really is, clinging to the physical world with all its weaknesses and faults, but this is unbearable. Before the event can become fully conscious, the soul – through its utter loathing – deadens, as it were, its awareness.
We come indeed to the Guardian of the Threshold by developing a sense of self that is especially strong and forceful. We have to strengthen our sense of self, if we wish to rise into the spiritual world. But in the process of strengthening our sense of self, we also strengthen all the tendencies, habits, weaknesses and prejudices that are held back and limited in the external world through our education, through custom and through the outward culture. On the threshold, the luciferic impulses assert themselves strongly from within, and when the human soul tends to deaden its awareness, Lucifer immediately unites with Ahriman, with the result that the entrance to the spiritual world is barred.
If a person with a healthy inner life searches out the insights of spiritual science without dwelling in a state of morbid craving for spiritual experiences, nothing particularly harmful will happen at the boundary line. If he attends to everything that should be attended to in the form of rightful, genuine spiritual science, nothing more will happen than that Lucifer and Ahriman balance each other for the striving soul at the threshold and the soul simply does not enter the spiritual world. But when the person has a special craving to get in, a so-called “nibbling at the spiritual world” can take place. Ahriman then, condensing what the soul has “nibbled,” pushes into the soul’s consciousness what otherwise couldn’t enter it. With this, the person experiences in condensed form what he has taken from the spiritual world, so that it looks exactly like the reproduction of physical impressions. In short, he will be the victim of hallucinations and illusions; he will believe he has approached a spiritual world, because he has come as far as the Guardian of the Threshold. However, he has not passed the Guardian but has been thrown back because of his nibbling at the spiritual world. Everything he took in has condensed to what could contain genuine pictures of that world but does not contain the most important element, the one that will guarantee the soul a clear perception of the truth and the value of what he sees.
In order to pass the Guardian of the Threshold in the right way, it is absolutely necessary to develop self-knowledge: truly genuine, unsparing self-knowledge. It is a neglect of one’s duty to the progress of evolution if one refuses to rise into the spiritual worlds, should karma make it possible in this present incarnation. It would indeed be wrong to say to oneself, “I shall not enter the spiritual worlds for fear of going astray.” We should strive as intensely as we can to enter them. On the other hand, we must clearly understand that we may not shrink from what the human being is most apt and most willing to shrink back from: genuine, truthful self-knowledge. Nothing is actually so difficult in life as plain, honest self-knowledge.
As soon as a person comes into those worlds and finds himself in a region of loathsome things, it would then be best for him to face them boldly, with courage, while admitting to himself, “Yes, I have indeed carried all this egoism up into the higher worlds, it would truly be best for me to face this egoism boldly and honestly.” But the human soul usually tends to shake off these repulsive things before becoming thoroughly conscious of them. We can say that developing truly genuine love and thoughtful, honest compassion are the right preparation for the soul that wants to find its way clairvoyantly into the spiritual worlds. These descriptions, characterizing our crossing the threshold into the spiritual world, will lead to a truly genuine knowledge of the being of man. It is only through such descriptions that we will discover what man really is and discover too our relationship to the way the human being approaches the higher, spiritual worlds.
Selections from Rudolf Steiner, Esoteric Lessons for the First Class of the Free School for Spiritual Science, First Goetheanum, Volume Three, Lesson Three, Dornach, September 11, 1924
Once the Guardian of the Threshold, at the edge of the abyss of being, has shown us how the forces of our inner humanity – willing, feeling, thinking – appear to the eyes of the Beings of the spiritual world; after the Guardian has shown us how in the present time’s consciousness we have not awakened to our full humanity in respect to these forces if they are inwardly observed, but that these forces appear to the divine-spiritual powers as the three beasts, which are shown to us by the Guardian of the Threshold; after the Guardian of the Threshold has placed this shattering view before our souls, he shows us the path forward, which leads to ennoblement in self-knowledge, and which must be followed if the exhortation “O man, know thyself” is to be realized.
After the Guardian of the Threshold has presented this to our soul, he makes us aware of how we should integrate ourselves into the cosmos, into the world with all its forces if we want to advance in spiritual knowledge. For what is within us is at first not distinguishable according to its place, whereas in the cosmos it is ordered. In the cosmos we can indicate the definite place. Within us everything is interwoven. But we do not achieve real knowledge if we do not rise up to the cosmic forces and the cosmic powers – if we remain subjective in ourselves, remaining in our own skin, if we do not go out of ourselves and let our body become the whole world. Then will our soul, our narrow humanity, feel itself to be a member of the cosmos. The spirit will integrate our narrow humanity into the whole cosmos, into the whole world.
We must carry this out, as the Guardian of the Threshold indicates when he shows us how from the depths of the earth, which draws all the beings by gravity, forces arise which also draw us down, which bind our will to the earth if we don’t make ourselves free by inner striving.
And when the Guardian of the Threshold wants to speak to our thinking so that it integrates itself in the cosmos, he doesn’t direct us down to the will, which should rise upward; he doesn’t direct us to feeling in the wide circle in which the sun moves, but he indicates the heights, the heavenly heights where alone the self can live selflessly if it wants to receive the powers of thought in what comes with grace from above, if it wants to follow a higher striving. We stand below, the Word is above. We must be inwardly courageous to hear the Word, for only if we courageously strive for wisdom and knowledge does the cosmic Word resound from above, full of grace, speaking about humanity’s true wisdom.