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Rudolf Steiner (1915)

Clairvoyance generally refers to the ability of non-sensory perception in the broadest sense. People who possess this ability are called clairvoyants - or seers for short. Clairvoyance in the sense meant by Rudolf Steiner is directed towards the perception of the higher supersensible worlds. Modern clairvoyance is based on the trained ability of imagination, which, unlike the old dream-like clairvoyance, is a fully conscious, purely soul-spiritual perception. This includes in particular reading the Akasha Chronicle, the spiritual world memory, in which, however, one does not directly see the outer sensual events, but the spiritual archetypes from which they have emerged.

Imagination differs from vision, in which imaginatively perceived spiritual phenomena in the astral world are unconsciously transferred to the sensual daytime consciousness and directly sensualised. The heightened sensory-free imaginative consciousness, which is brighter than normal everyday consciousness, also excludes any confusion with mere phantasy, arbitrary imaginings or even hallucinations. The clairvoyant ability is all the more highly and purely developed, the higher realms of the world can thereby be perceived in a purely supersensory way. Imagination also differs from extrasensory perception, as it is also studied in parapsychology. This can refer, as was the case with Swedenborg, for example, to simultaneous but distant events, but also to past or future physical events, in which latter case one speaks of precognition.

The evolution of human consciousness

A deeper understanding of the phenomenon of clairvoyance, which today seems disreputable to many people with some justification, can only be gained by considering that human consciousness was not always as we know it today. Just as the human body only developed into its present form in the course of millions of years of evolution, human consciousness has also changed decisively in the course of human development. While palaeontology tries to reconstruct the development of the modern human body from more or less sparse fossil finds, we are in a better position with regard to consciousness because older forms of consciousness are still accessible to our direct experience to a certain extent, even if only in a considerably modified form. In addition to modern waking consciousness, which is divided by the modern subject-object split into object consciousness and I-consciousness, we also know dream consciousness and dreamless sleep consciousness. The latter, however, is so dull that we only experience it indirectly through the absence of any conscious experience. Here we have the apparent paradox of an "unconscious consciousness" or a subconscious. That this nevertheless has a significant influence on our lives is taught to us not least by depth psychology. An even more difficult form of consciousness to access is the trance consciousness, as it can occasionally appear in medially inclined persons. The ancient clairvoyance that mankind has long had at its disposal is rooted in these old forms of consciousness. What they have in common is that they lack clear I-consciousness.

Man has little influence on the future development of his body. The situation today is quite different with regard to consciousness. The human being can, if he wants to, actively develop it out of his full I-consciousness through appropriate spiritual training. This is the basis for the ability of imagination already mentioned above, which makes possible a prudent new clairvoyance connected with the clear insight of the full I-consciousness.

„It has often been pointed out, and will be further explained, that the development of human consciousness took place in such a way that dreamlike, clairvoyant states - the word should not be misused here, as is the case in many fields today - were the states of consciousness of the actual normal human being in ancient times, so that man did not see the world in terms of concepts and ideas, in strictly circumscribed sensual perceptions, as he sees it today. The best way to get an idea of how man in primitive times absorbed the world around him into his consciousness is to think of the last remnants of the old primal consciousness: the dream consciousness. Everyone is familiar with the dream images that surge up and down, which today are for the most part meaningless to the human consciousness, and which are often only reminiscences of the outer world, although higher types of consciousness can also be involved, but which today's man finds difficult to interpret. Dream consciousness - we can say - proceeds pictorially, in rapidly changing images, but at the same time symbolically. Who would not have experienced how the impression, the whole event of a fire reveals itself symbolically in a dream? Direct your gaze for once to this different kind of consciousness, to this different kind of horizon of consciousness, as it is present in the dream; as it is there, it is only the last remnant of an ancient human consciousness. But this ancient consciousness was such that man indeed lived in a kind of images. These images did not refer to the indeterminate or to nothing, but to a real external world. In the states of consciousness of ancient humanity there were intermediate states between waking and sleeping, and in these intermediate states man lived in relation to the spiritual world. This spiritual world entered his consciousness. Today the gate of the spiritual world is closed to the normal human consciousness. In ancient times it was not so. Man had the intermediate states between waking and sleeping; then he saw in pictures which, though similar to dream pictures, clearly represented spiritual being and spiritual weaving, as it is behind the physical-sensual world. So that man in ancient times really did have - though in Zarathustra's time already rather indistinctly and vaguely - but nevertheless a direct observation and experience of the spiritual world and could say: Just as I see the outer physical world and the sensuous life, so I know that there are experiences and observations of another state of consciousness, that another world, a spiritual one, underlies the sensuous.

The meaning of the development of mankind consists in the fact that from epoch to epoch man's ability to see into the spiritual world became smaller and smaller, because the abilities develop in such a way that one always has to be bought at the expense of the other. Our present-day exact thinking, our imagination, our logic, everything that we call the most important driving wheels of our culture, did not exist at that time. Man had to buy it in that epoch, which is already ours, at the cost of the old clairvoyant state of consciousness. That is what man has to develop today. And in the future evolution of mankind, the old clairvoyant state will be added to the purely physical consciousness with intellectuality and logic. A descent and an ascent must therefore be distinguished in relation to human consciousness. There is a profound meaning in the development when we say that man first lived with his whole soul-life still in a spiritual world, then descended into the physical world and had to give up the old clairvoyant consciousness for this purpose, so that he could acquire intellectuality, logic, in accordance with the physical world - educated by the purely physical world - in order then in the future to ascend again into the spiritual world.“ (Lit.:GA 60, p. 255ff)

Epistemological basis

Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling, Painting by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1835
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
Idealising oil painting by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1828
Rudolf Steiner, Primordial plant, Aquarell 1924
Wolfgang Pauli 1945

For Steiner, the starting point of modern self-aware clairvoyance is the observation of thinking, i.e. the intellectual view of one's own thinking activity, through which the I becomes aware of itself, independent of its physical organisation, as a purely spiritual being. Steiner thus ties in directly with the philosophy of German idealism, namely Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling. On 13 January 1881, at 12 midnight, he wrote to his childhood friend Josef Köck in this regard:

„It was the night of 10 to 11 January, during which I did not sleep for a moment. I had been occupied with individual philosophical problems until half past one in the morning, and then I finally threw myself onto my bed; last year, my endeavour was to investigate whether it was true what Schelling said: "We all have a secret, wonderful ability to withdraw from the change of time into our innermost self, stripped of everything that came from outside, and there, under the form of immutability, to look at the eternal in us. I believed and still believe that I have discovered this innermost faculty quite clearly in myself - I had suspected it long ago -; the whole idealistic philosophy now stands before me in an essentially modified form; what is a sleepless night against such a discovery!“ (Lit.:GA 38, p. 13)

Another important foundation of a different kind for Steiner was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Anschauende Urteilskraft" (visual power of judgement), which was directed towards the sensual-supersensory perception of nature and which had led him to the experience of the primordial plant. It is the ideal archetype, the conceptual and at the same time vivid archetype from which all plant species can be imagined to have emerged through modification.

„The archetypal plant becomes the most wonderful creature in the world, which nature itself should envy me for. With this model and the key to it, one can then invent plants into infinity which must be consistent, that is, which, even if they do not exist, could nevertheless exist and are not picturesque or poetic shadows and appearances, but have an inner truth and necessity. The same law will apply to all other living things.“ (Lit.: Goethe's Works WA, p. 203 and 204)

Goethe starts with sensual perception and ends with intellectual perception, which reveals itself with, from and through sensual perception. He devoted his full attention to the immediate sensory impressions; his thinking never strayed far from immediate perception, just as his perceiving was never thoughtless. He writes about this in his essay «Bedeutende Förderung durch ein einziges geistreiches Wort» (Considerable advancement through a single witty word):

„Dr. Heinroth in his Anthropology ... speaks favourably of my nature and activity, indeed he describes my way of proceeding as a peculiar one: namely, that my faculty of thought is objectively active, by which he means that my thinking is not separate from the objects, that the elements of the objects, the views, enter into it and are penetrated by it in the most intimate way, that my viewing is itself a thinking, my thinking a viewing, which method the aforementioned friend does not wish to deny his applause.“ (Lit.: Goethes Werke, p. 77)

Goethe knew only one source of knowledge, the world of experience, in which the objective world of ideas is included. The primal plant is not accessible to discursive, logically deductive thinking, but only to direct, intuitive intellectual contemplation. Immanuel Kant had denied humans such a faculty. Goethe vigorously contradicted this:

„When I tried, if not to penetrate Kant's teaching, to make the best possible use of it, I sometimes thought that the delicious man was proceeding in a mischievously ironic manner, in that he seemed at times to be endeavouring to restrict the faculty of knowledge in the narrowest possible way, and at other times to be pointing with a sideways glance beyond the limits that he himself had drawn. He might have noticed, of course, how presumptuously and foolishly man proceeds when, comfortably equipped with little experience, he immediately and rashly denies and tries to establish something, a whim that runs through his brain, to cancel out the objects. That is why our master restricts his thinker to a reflective discursive power of judgement, forbids him a determining one altogether. Then, however, after he has sufficiently cornered us, even brought us to despair, he decides on the most liberal expressions and leaves it up to us to decide what use we want to make of the freedom that he to some extent allows. In this sense the following passage was most significant to me:

«We can think of an understanding which, because it is not discursive like ours, but intuitive, goes from the synthetic general, the conception of a whole as such, to the particular, that is, from the whole to the parts: Here it is not at all necessary to prove that such an intellectus archetypus is possible, but only that we are led to that idea of an intellectus archetypus in the opposition of our discursive understanding (intellectus ectypus), which is in need of images, and the contingency of such a constitution, that this also contains no contradiction.»

It is true that the author here seems to point to a divine intellect, but if in the moral, through faith in God, virtue and immortality, we are to raise ourselves into an upper region and approach the first being: so it might well be the same case in the intellectual that, by beholding an ever-creating nature, we made ourselves worthy of spiritual participation in its productions. After all, if I had first unconsciously and out of an inner urge restlessly pushed towards that archetypal, typical thing, if I had even succeeded in building up a representation in keeping with nature, then nothing could now prevent me from courageously passing through the adventure of reason, as the old man from Königsberg himself calls it.“ (Lit.: Goethes Werke, p. 91)

The Austrian physicist and Nobel Prize winner Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) described this archetypal thinking very aptly in a letter of 7 January 1948 to the physicist Markus Fierz:

„My starting point is which is the bridge between sense perceptions and concepts. Admittedly, logic cannot give or construct such a bridge. If one analyses the preconscious stage of concepts, one always finds ideas that consist of "symbolic" images with generally strong emotional content. The preliminary stage of thinking is a painting seeing of these inner images, the origin of which cannot be attributed solely and not primarily to the sense perceptions (of the individual concerned), but which are produced by an "instinct of imagining" and reproduced independently, i.e. collectively, in different individuals.... The former archaic-magical point of view is only a little below the surface; a slight abaissement du niveau mental is enough to make it come completely "up". But the archaic attitude is also the necessary condition and source of the scientific attitude. To a complete cognition belongs also that of the images from which the rational concepts have grown.

Now comes a view where I am perhaps more of a Platonist than the psychologists of the Jungian direction. Now what is the answer to the question of the bridge between sense perceptions and concepts, which is now reduced to the question of the bridge between external perceptions and those inner pictorial conceptions? It seems to me - whichever way one turns it, whether one speaks of the "participation of things in ideas" or of "things real in themselves" - a cosmic order of nature must be postulated here, withdrawn from our arbitrariness, to which both the external material objects and the inner images are subject. (Which of the two is historically the earlier is likely to prove an idle joking question - something like "Which was earlier: the chicken or the egg?") The ordering and regulating must be placed beyond the distinction of physical and psychic - just as Plato's "ideas" have something of "concepts" and also something of "natural forces" (they produce effects of their own accord). I am very much in favour of calling this "ordering and regulating" "archetypes"; but it would then be inadmissible to define these as psychic contents. Rather, the inner images mentioned ("dominants of the collective unconscious" according to Jung) are the psychic manifestation of the archetypes, which, however, would also have to produce, generate, condition everything natural in the behaviour of the body world. The natural laws of the physical world would then be the physical manifestation of the archetypes.

Your proposal to regard physics and psychology as complementary approaches (or directions of investigation), as well as the peculiar psychology of alchemy (which is very revealing as an archaic stage before science proper) and many other things, fit this view. Every law of nature should then have a counterpart within and vice versa, even if today this cannot always be seen immediately.“ (Lit.: Meyenn, p. 496)

It is precisely this "bridge between sense perceptions and concepts" that Pauli speaks of that Steiner built in his fundamental philosophical works. The prerequisite for this is pure thinking that is no longer bound to the body.

„By thus experiencing thinking emancipated from its corporeal, one feels oneself as if one's own thinking were snatched away from one, as if it expanded and spread out in space and time. Thinking, of which we otherwise say that it runs within us, identifies itself with the surrounding spiritual world, flows into it and attains an independence in relation to ourselves which we can compare with the approximate independence which in the physical body, for example, the eye has, which sits in its cavity as a kind of independent organ. Thus the now independent thinking is indeed connected with the elevated self, but so independently that it acts like the spiritual organ of perception for the thinking and feeling of the other spiritual entities, just as the eye acts for the perception of sensuous colour and sensuous light. One gradually comes to see that thinking, which is otherwise resolved in intelligence, becomes independent of our own being like a spiritual organ of perception.

I can say what I have just described in other words. That which one really experiences subjectively, that which encloses the intelligence, the outer thinking, are shadowy entities, precisely thought entities, mere thoughts which depict outer entities. As thinking becomes clairvoyant, separates itself from the brain and nervous system, it begins to develop inner activity, its own life, and flows out into the rest of the spiritual world as its own experience. We stretch out into the spiritual world the feeling horns of thinking - I must express it somewhat roughly - of thinking that has become clairvoyant, and in immersion they perceive the feeling will, the willing feeling of the other beings who are around us in the spiritual field.“ (Lit.:GA 154, p. 119)

„From what I have said it is evident that the independent thinking becomes, as it were, the spiritual eye for the perception of the spiritual outer world. However, before clairvoyant research, which uses this spiritual eye for what is clairvoyant thinking, it becomes apparent that this spiritual eye is an active one, that the spiritual antennae reach out everywhere, while the physical eye is a passive one, which passively lets the impressions come to it. If, therefore, the spiritual researcher has received the revelations of the spiritual world into his thoughts, then they live within them. And if he then tries to communicate to his fellow-men that which he has endeavoured to bring into his living thoughts, it is possible for his fellow-men to understand him, to comprehend him, if only they do not allow these ways of understanding him to be obstructed by materialistic prejudices.“ (Lit.:GA 154, p. 121)

Thinking and imagination

Clairvoyance is based on the ability to imagine, the "painting of inner pictures", through which reality reveals itself in archetypal images. Seeing is only one particularly prominent aspect of clairvoyance; clairvoyance can also clothe itself in other astral sensory qualities, so that one can also speak of clairaudience, clairsentience, etc., and especially even of clairvoyance of taste. Clairvoyance is to be sharply distinguished from hallucination, in which a sensual perception is aroused or feigned without a corresponding external stimulus being present. Visions that arise from residual remnants of ancient clairvoyance are also clearly different from contemporary forms of spiritual perception. Similar to dream images, the experience here is still very strongly bound to the body. In modern clairvoyance, this attachment to the body has largely been overcome. It can therefore freely direct itself towards the spiritual outside world.

„The justified reservations which the ordinary consciousness must at first raise against spiritual research are, apart from many other things, the following. One can look at the results of this research (as they exist in the present literature) and say: Yes, what you describe as the content of supersensible knowledge proves on closer inspection to be nothing but combinations of the ordinary ideas that have come from the sense world. - And so it is indeed. (Even in the representations of the higher worlds which I myself have had the privilege of giving in my "Theosophy" and in my "Occult Science", one finds, as it seems, nothing but combinations of ideas taken from the sense world. Thus when the development of the earth is represented by combinations of heat, light and so on entities). - Against this, however, the following must be said. If the spiritual researcher wishes to express his experiences, he is compelled to represent what he has experienced in a supersensible sphere by means of the sensuous imagination. His experience is then not to be understood as if it were equal to his means of expression, but in such a way that he only makes use of these means of expression as of the words of a language necessary to him. One must seek the content of his experience not in the means of expression, that is, in the sensuous ideas, but in the way he uses these means of expression. The difference between his representation and the fantastic combination of sensuous ideas lies, in fact, only in the fact that the fantastic combination springs from subjective arbitrariness, whereas the representation of the spiritual researcher is based on the settling into the supersensible lawfulness acquired through practice. Here, however, is also to be sought the reason why the representations of the spiritual researcher can be so easily misunderstood. It is really less important what he says than how he speaks. In the 'how' lies the reflection of his supersensible experiences.“ (Lit.:GA 35, p. 127ff)

For modern fully conscious clairvoyance it must be strictly observed that what is imaginatively "seen" is absolutely invisible, what is "heard" completely inaudible, since it is precisely not a sensual, but a purely supersensible perception actively and consciously produced by one's own spiritual activity, but completely determined by itself in terms of content. However, since in the earthly embodied human being the bodily activity and especially the sensory sphere still resonates quietly even today, it is nevertheless quite natural and appropriate to describe the imaginative experience in sensual terms:

„One will now find that those people who can make supersensible observations describe what they see in such a way that they make use of expressions borrowed from sensual perceptions. Thus the elementary body of a being of the sensuous world, or a purely elementary being, can be described in such a way that it is said to reveal itself as a self-contained, variously coloured body of light. It flashes in colours, glows or shines and lets us notice that this appearance of colour or light is its expression of life. What the observer is actually talking about is quite invisible, and he is conscious of the fact that the image of light or colour has nothing more to do with what he perceives than, say, the writing in which a fact is communicated has to do with that fact itself. Nevertheless, one has not merely expressed a supersensible in an arbitrary way through sensory perceptions; but during the observation one has really had the experience which is similar to a sense impression. This comes from the fact that in supersensible experience the liberation from the sensuous body is not complete. The latter still lives with the elementary body and brings the supersensible experience into a sensuous form. The description thus given of an elementary being is then actually such that it appears like a visionary or fantastic compilation of sensory impressions. If the description is given in this way, it is nevertheless the true reproduction of what has been experienced. For one has seen what one describes. The mistake that can be made does not lie in the fact that one describes the picture as such. It is only a mistake if one takes the picture for reality and not what the picture points to as the reality corresponding to it.

A person who has never perceived colours - a person born blind - will not, if he acquires the corresponding ability, describe elementary beings in such a way that he says they flash as colour phenomena. He will make use of those ideas of sensation for expression which are accustomed to him. For people who can see sensually, however, a description is quite suitable which uses the expression, for instance, that a coloured figure is flashing. In this way they can form the sensation of what the observer of the elementary world has seen. And this does not only apply to communications which a clairvoyant - let it be so called a man who can observe through his elementary body - makes to a non-clairvoyant, but also to the communication of clairvoyants among themselves. In the world of the senses man lives in his sensuous body, and this clothes his super-sensible observations in sensuous forms; therefore, within the human life on earth, the expression of super-sensible observations through the sensuous images they produce is, after all, at first a useful way of communication.

What matters is that he who receives such a communication has an experience in his soul which stands in the right relation to the fact in question. The sensuous images are only communicated so that something may be experienced through them. As they present themselves, they cannot occur in the world of the senses. That is their peculiarity. And that is why they also evoke experiences that do not relate to anything sensuous.“ (Lit.:GA 16, p. 32ff)

„In my "Theosophy" you will find that the spiritual is seen in the form of a kind of aura. It is described in colours. Coarse-minded people who do not go into the matter further, but write books themselves, believe that the seer describes the aura, describes it by having the opinion that there is really such a mist in front of him. What the seer has before him is a spiritual experience. When he says that the aura is blue, he is saying that he has a spiritual experience which is as if he were seeing blue. He describes in general everything that he experiences in the spiritual world and which is analogous to what can be experienced in the sensuous world in terms of colours.“ (Lit.:GA 271, p. 185)

The first perceptions one makes in the supersensible soul world consist of richly differentiated sympathies and antipathies connected with the beings one sees here.

„On entering the supersensible world, one of the first perceptual impressions is that one sees oneself connected in sympathies and antipathies with the beings of this world through one's self-consciousness which has been lifted up into this world. (Cf. p. 54 ff. of this writing.) One already notices from the experiences thus made that one must also leave the sensuous world with reference to one's imagination if one really wants to enter the supersensuous. One can certainly describe what one sees in the supersensible through ideas taken from the sensuous world. One can, for example, speak of a being revealing itself as through an appearance of colour. But whoever receives such descriptions of the supersensible should never disregard the fact that the true spiritual researcher, in describing such a colour, means that he is experiencing something which he experiences in his soul in the same way as the perception of the colour in question through the sensual consciousness. Whoever wants to express with his description that he has something in front of his consciousness that is the same as the sensual colour, is not a spiritual researcher, but a visionary or a hallucinator. But with the experiences of sympathy and antipathy one really has the first supersensible perceptual impressions of the supersensible world before one. - There are people who are disappointed precisely because the spiritual researcher has to tell them that when he expresses himself through ideas taken from sensual experience, he only means illustrations of what he has seen. For such people do not actually strive to know a supersensible world distinct from the sensuous one, but they want to recognise a kind of double of the sensuous as a supersensible world. This supersensible world is supposed to be finer, more "ethereal" than the sensuous world, but it is not supposed to demand that it should be grasped by other ideas than the sensuous world. But he who really wants to approach the spiritual world must also make himself comfortable in acquiring new conceptions. He who only wants to imagine a diluted, vapour-like image of the sensuous world cannot grasp the supersensuous one.“ (Lit.:GA 17, p. 97f)

Clairvoyance alone is not enough to interpret what is perceived extrasensory in the right sense. It very often happens that clairvoyant people interpret the results of their visions in an erroneous way. The true meaning of spiritual perceptions is only revealed to the initiate - regardless of whether they are directly their own perceptions or those that have been passed on by clairvoyant people. In the ancient Mysteries there was indeed a strict separation between initiates and clairvoyants, who were thus completely dependent on each other. Today, this separation can hardly be maintained.

„He who, without being clairvoyant himself, sees everything that secret science has to say, is an initiate. But he who can enter into these worlds, which we call the invisible ones, is a clairvoyant. In ancient times, which are not so long behind us, there was a strict separation between clairvoyants and initiates in the secret schools. One could ascend to the knowledge of the higher worlds as an initiate without being a clairvoyant, if one only used the mind in the right way. On the other hand, one could be a clairvoyant without being initiated to a particularly high degree. It will become clear to you how this is meant. Think of two people, a very learned gentleman who knows all sorts of things that physics and physiology have to say about light and the phenomena of light, but is so short-sighted that he can hardly see ten centimetres away: he does not see much, but he is initiated into the laws of the working of light. Thus one may be initiated into the super-sensible world and see badly in it. Another can see excellently in the outer sensuous world, but know next to nothing of what the learned Lord knows. Thus there can also be clairvoyants before whose spiritual eyes the spiritual worlds lie open. They can see into the spiritual world, but have no science, no knowledge of it. For a long time, therefore, a distinction was made between the clairvoyant and the initiate. In order to embrace the fullness of life, one often needed not one but many people. Some were not made clairvoyant in order to progress. Others were made spiritual eyes and ears. That which existed in secret science came about through communication and exchange of ideas between secret scientists and clairvoyants.

In our time, this strict separation between clairvoyants and initiates cannot be carried out at all. Today it is necessary that everyone who has attained a certain degree of initiation should at least also be given the possibility of attaining a certain degree of clairvoyance. The reason for this is that in our time it is not possible to establish complete trust between people. Today everyone wants to know and see for himself. That deep, devoted faith which formerly prevailed from man to man made it possible that there was a special kind of clairvoyant from whom one heard what they perceived in the higher worlds. Others then systematically arranged what they had perceived. Today a kind of harmony has been created in the development of the abilities of the initiate and the clairvoyant. Therefore a third, the adeptship, can today recede very much.“ (Lit.:GA 56, p. 26f)

In order to consciously develop clairvoyant abilities, the astral body must first be cleansed through catharsis of all desires and lust and suffering, which, like a dark cloud, obscure or distort the view of spiritual reality. Low clairvoyance can very easily lead to the perception of one's own untransformed desires, which are mistaken for an external soul or spiritual reality.

„Clairvoyance means nothing else than having reached a stage of development of the human being, through which the human being is able to perceive the world around him free from pleasure and suffering.“ (Lit.:GA 52, p. 202f)

Clairvoyance can only awaken when the experiences of the astral body are reflected in the etheric body. Just as sensual perception requires the physical senses as a mirroring apparatus, so in clairvoyance the supersensible experiences must be reflected through the etheric body into consciousness. In both cases, the sensory qualities weaving in the astral world are the raw material of the soul from which the perceived images are painted. Through the outer sense perception, however, the sense qualities only appear in a strongly dampened form. Only to the clairvoyant consciousness do they appear in their full unclouded reality, depending on the clairvoyant's degree of spiritual development.

„To be clairvoyant means to be able to use the organs of one's etheric body. If one can only make use of the organs of one's astral body, one can indeed inwardly feel and sense, inwardly experience the deepest secrets; but one cannot see them. Only when that which is experienced in the astral body procures its imprint, so to speak, in the etheric body, can clairvoyance occur.“ (Lit.:GA 114, p. 67)

Thinking and non-thinking visionary clairvoyants

„What gives revelations, real facts about the spiritual world, can enter the human soul in the most manifold ways. Certainly it is possible, and in numerous cases it is really so to-day, that people come to visionary seeing without being keen thinkers - many more people come to clairvoyance who are not keen thinkers than are keen thinkers - but there is a great difference between the experiences in the spiritual world of those who are keen thinkers and those who are not. It is a difference that I can express in this way: What reveals itself from the higher worlds imprints itself best of all on those forms of imagination which we bring as thoughts to these higher worlds; that is the best vessel.

If we are not thinkers, then the revelations must seek other forms, for example, the form of the image, the form of the symbol. That is the most common way in which he who is a non-thinker receives the revelations. And you can then hear from those who are visionary clairvoyants, without being thinkers at the same time, how revelations are told by them in allegories. These are quite beautiful, but we must at the same time be aware that the subjective experience is different whether you have revelations as a thinker or as a non-thinker. If you have revelations as a non-thinker, the symbol is there; there is this or that figure. That reveals itself from the spiritual world. Let us say you see an angelic figure, this or that symbol that expresses this or that, for my sake a cross, a monstrance, a chalice - that is there in the supersensible field, you see it as a finished picture. You are clear: this is not reality, but it is an image.

For the subjective consciousness, the experiences from the spiritual world are experienced in a somewhat different way for the thinker, not quite in the same way as for the non-thinker. There they are not, as it were, given all at once, as if shot out of a pistol; there you have them before you in a different way. Take, I will say, a non-thinking visionary clairvoyant and a thinking one. The non-thinking visionary clairvoyant and the thinking visionary clairvoyant would both receive the same experiences. Let us put a particular case: The non-thinking visionary clairvoyant sees this or that phenomenon of the spiritual world, the thinking visionary clairvoyant does not see it yet, but somewhat later, and at the moment when he sees it, it has already been grasped by his thinking. He can already distinguish it, he can already know whether it is truth or falsehood. He sees it a little later. But when he sees it a little later, the appearance from the spiritual world confronts him in such a way that he has penetrated it mentally and can distinguish whether it is deception or reality, so that he has something earlier, so to speak, before he sees it. Of course, he has it at the same moment as the non-thinking visionary clairvoyant, but he sees it a little later. But then, when he sees it, the appearance is already interspersed with the judgement, with the thought, and he can know exactly whether it is an illusion, whether his own wishes are objectified there, or whether it is objective reality. That is the difference in subjective experience. The non-thinking visionary clairvoyant sees the apparition immediately, the thinking one somewhat later. But for the former it will remain as he sees it, he can describe it in this way. The thinker, however, will be able to place it entirely in the context of what is then in the ordinary physical world. He will be able to relate them to this world. The physical world, like that appearance, is also a revelation from the spiritual world.“ (Lit.:GA 117, p. 81f)

What man has thoughtlessly experienced through visions in earthly life is of little use to him in life after death. Then only what he could grasp on earth in clear thoughts from the spiritual has value - indifferently whether he has seen it himself or not:

„What is actually of use - if we want to apply this trivial word to clarify the matter for us - what is of more use to man after death: if he sees something visionarily without thoughts, or if he receives purely spiritual communications without seeing visionarily?

One could very easily believe that visionary seeing is a better preparation for death than merely hearing the facts from the spiritual world. And yet! After death it is of little use to a man what he has only seen visionarily. If, on the other hand, a fact is there, he immediately begins to be aware of what he has received in the way of communications, if he has reasonably comprehended them. Just this has the value after death: what one has understood, no matter whether it is seen or not. And take the deepest initiate: through his clairvoyance he can see the whole spiritual world, but this does not increase his importance after death, if he is not able to express in human terms these facts. After death only those things help him which he has here as concepts. These are the seeds for the life after death. Of course, who is visionary clairvoyant and thinker, he can make it useful what he sees visionary. But two non-thinking people, one of whom is clairvoyant and the other only hears what the latter sees, are in exactly the same situation after death; for that which we bring with us into the life after death is that which we acquire here with the help of sharp thinking. This is what we get as a seed, not what we take out of the worlds where we go in. We get what we receive from the higher worlds not as a free gift, so that we then have it more comfortable when we leave the physical plan, but so that we convert it here into the coin of this earth. As much as we have transposed into the coin of this earth, so much helps us after death. That is the essential thing.“ (Lit.:GA 117, p. 83f)

Head, chest and abdominal clairvoyance

Rudolf Steiner basically distinguished between three types of clairvoyance, namely head, chest and abdominal clairvoyance, which are connected with the threefold structure of the human organism, whereby the chest or heart clairvoyance is usually activated at the same time as the head clairvoyance. The upper lotuses down to the heart chakra are activated. The head clairvoyance has a more mental-imaginative, but also emotional character, while the chest clairvoyance leads more to the development of the will. Moreover, head clairvoyance mainly provides results that are independent of the individual person and in this sense "objective", whereas gut clairvoyance is mainly connected with what is going on in the individual person himself and is very easily penetrated by subjective personal egoism. The so-called "intuitive" gut feeling is namely related to the visceroception belonging to the sense of life and thus clearly differs from what Rudolf Steiner calls fully conscious intuition.

„Now it is a question of the one who is engaged in spiritual science really understanding exactly the value of the spiritual-scientific occupation as such and the relationship of this spiritual-scientific occupation to the personal striving which, through meditation and concentration of thoughts, sensations and impulses of will or in some other way, brings the human being into the spiritual world. For we must be clear above all, and this is a profound and significant truth, that the unity which surrounds us in the ordinary world is not present in the same way in the spiritual world. I have already pointed out that this unity is founded in the whole structure of the spiritual-emotional human being. How most people strive to ask again and again: What is the unity of the world? - How satisfied they find themselves only when they can trace everything back to one principle!

Indeed, the outer physical world appears to us in the eminent sense as a whole, as a uniformly formed thing, and those people who are, so to speak, completely dominated by the devil of unity, come to all kinds of abstractions of thought by seeking the uniform principle of the world....

Above all, we must take in the deepest sense what is expressed in "How to attain knowledge of the higher worlds", that as soon as we cross the threshold of the spiritual world, we are really led into a threefold experience. I have particularly emphasised in this book that the soul is divided into three parts; and as soon as the soul crosses the threshold of the spiritual world, there is nothing left that makes it possible to believe in the unity devil, in this comfortable unity devil.

Yes, we ourselves feel that as soon as we cross the threshold of the spiritual world, we actually enter with our whole being into three worlds, really enter into three worlds. And we must not lose sight of the fact that after crossing the threshold of the spiritual world we clearly have the experience of the three worlds. Already with the whole formation of our physical body we actually belong to three worlds. I would like to say: For this wonderful structure "human being" which confronts us in the physical world, the co-operation of three worlds, which have a relatively strong independence from each other, is really necessary. And when we consider the formation of our head, the formation of all that belongs to the head, then, even if we speak only of the physical head, we must be clear about the fact that the formative force of our head and also the entities which are active and creative in these formative forces belong to a quite different world than, for example, the formative force of our breast, the formative force of all that belongs to our heart, including the arms and hands. In a way, it is as if the formative force to these material parts of the human being belonged to a completely different world than the formative forces of our head. And again, the abdominal organs and the legs belong to a quite different world from the other two members that have been mentioned.

Now you may ask: What is the significance of all this? It has great significance because the present cycle of humanity is such that pure, genuine, really true results of spiritual science can only be obtained by lifting our spiritual-soul out of the head. So that, to a certain extent, this is the clairvoyant aspect of a human being who has to produce spiritual-scientific observations which can serve humanity in the right sense today (see drawing).

Etherhead; drawing from GA 161, p. 156
Etherhead; drawing from GA 161, p. 156

This clairvoyant aspect is to be regarded in such a way that the spiritual-soul is here preferably brought out, and that this spiritual-soul is, as it were, connected, as through a spiritual-electrical connection, to the forces of the cosmos. So everything, the I and the astral body up to the etheric body, must be drawn out. This drawing out is then naturally connected with the development of the so-called lotuses. But the forces which set the lotuses in motion lie in this part of the spiritual-soul of man which has been lifted out or is to be lifted out.

That which is thus attained, that clairvoyance is, so to speak, a clairvoyance of the head, can be a spiritual-scientific result in our time; for this serves humanity, this result of clairvoyance of the head. The clairvoyant result is of quite a different kind, and is brought about by bringing out more of the spiritual-soul aspects of the organs of the heart, the arms and the hands. This lifting out is also inwardly very different from that which comes about through what I would like to call head clairvoyance. The lifting out of the material organ of the heart is brought about more through meditation, which relates to the life of the will; it is brought about through humble devotion to the process of the world. Whereas the clairvoyance of the head is effected more by thoughts, imaginatively, but also by sentient conceptions.

With regard to these two kinds of clairvoyance, it is generally the case that heart clairvoyance or breast clairvoyance, to the extent that it is to develop, already develops with head clairvoyance. Chest clairvoyance leads more to the development of the will, to the connection with the actions of the spiritual beings of lower hierarchies, such as those embodied in the various kingdoms of the earth, while head clairvoyance leads more to looking at, recognising, perceiving in the higher worlds which are really more important to man at first; more important, higher worlds in the sense that the knowledge of these higher powers is necessary for the satisfaction of certain needs of knowledge which must arise more and more in present humanity. The more we approach the future of our evolution on earth, the less will men be able to live without their soul life becoming parched, if they cannot absorb into their cognition the results of this clairvoyance.

This clairvoyant aspect is to be regarded in such a way that the spiritual-soul is here preferably brought out, and that this spiritual-soul is, as it were, connected, as through a spiritual-electrical connection, to the forces of the cosmos. So everything, the I and the astral body up to the etheric body, must be drawn out. This drawing out is then naturally connected with the development of the so-called lotuses. But the forces which set the lotuses in motion lie in this part of the spiritual-soul of man which has been lifted out or is to be lifted out.

That which is thus attained, that clairvoyance is, so to speak, a clairvoyance of the head, can be a spiritual-scientific result in our time; for this serves humanity, this result of clairvoyance of the head. The clairvoyant result is of quite a different kind, and is brought about by bringing out more of the spiritual-soul aspects of the organs of the heart, the arms and the hands. This lifting out is also inwardly very different from that which comes about through what I would like to call head clairvoyance. The lifting out of the material organ of the heart is brought about more through meditation, which relates to the life of the will; it is brought about through humble devotion to the process of the world. Whereas the clairvoyance of the head is effected more by thoughts, imaginatively, but also by sentient conceptions.

With regard to these two kinds of clairvoyance, it is generally the case that heart clairvoyance or breast clairvoyance, to the extent that it is to develop, already develops with head clairvoyance. Chest clairvoyance leads more to the development of the will, to the connection with the actions of the spiritual beings of lower hierarchies, such as those embodied in the various kingdoms of the earth, while head clairvoyance leads more to looking at, recognising, perceiving in the higher worlds which are really more important to man at first; more important, higher worlds in the sense that the knowledge of these higher powers is necessary for the satisfaction of certain needs of knowledge which must arise more and more in present humanity. The more we approach the future of our evolution on earth, the less will men be able to live without their soul life becoming parched, if they cannot absorb into their cognition the results of this clairvoyance.

And again a third kind of clairvoyance is that which arises from the fact that from the rest of the human being is loosened, that is, that which can be called the spiritual-soul is lifted out. I would have to indicate (on the drawing) down there, towards the end, the moving out.

Loosening of the etheric body in the abdominal region; drawing from GA 161, p. 158
Loosening of the etheric body in the abdominal region; drawing from GA 161, p. 158

Even if the expression is not particularly aesthetic, I may nevertheless perhaps call this kind of clairvoyance abdominal clairvoyance. So that one can really distinguish between head clairvoyance, chest clairvoyance and abdominal clairvoyance.

While head clairvoyance for our human cycle leads in the most eminent sense to obtaining results independent of the human being, abdominal clairvoyance leads to obtaining preferably results which are connected with what is going on in the human being himself. That which takes place in the human being himself must of course also be the subject of research, for in the field of physical research there are also anatomy and physiology which have to deal with all this. The opinion must not arise that this abdominal clairvoyance could not have a certain value, in the highest sense of the word. Of course it has its value. But we must be clear about the fact that this clairvoyance can only give man a little information about what happens impersonally in the cosmic processes, that it essentially informs man about what goes on in man, I would like to say, within the skin of man. I will speak about other contrasts between head clairvoyance and abdominal clairvoyance later, but with regard to the moral-ethical, these two types can basically be distinguished quite well internally. Chest clairvoyance is in between, between head clairvoyance and abdominal clairvoyance. With regard to ethics, head clairvoyance is relatively the most important. People who strive in an impersonal way, in the sense indicated in "How to attain knowledge of the higher worlds?" People who do not let themselves be put off by this uncomfortable but safe path will also develop something impersonal in their clairvoyance, above all a greater interest in objective knowledge of the world, in what is going on in the cosmic world and in the world of historical development.

This head clairvoyance will speak of the human being himself preferably in the sense that it draws attention to the way in which the human being places himself in the cosmic, in the historical development of life, draws attention to what the human being is in the whole of the world process, and what comes out of this head clairvoyance will always have an impersonal, I would like to say, a general scientific character; it will contain messages which are important - I would ask you to pay attention to the word - for all human beings, not only for one or the other.

That which is abdominal clairvoyance will preferably be permeated by all kinds of human egoism, and will in general very easily lead the clairvoyant in question to concern himself much with himself, with the occult records of his own destiny, with the occult records of his personal worth and character. This arises as a natural inclination from what is called ventral clairvoyance.

Now, with regard to the vivid nature, a strong difference occurs between the two kinds of clairvoyance. He who strives, first of all, in the sense given in "How does one attain knowledge of the higher worlds?", to become free with his soul-spirit from the perceptive apparatus of the head, who thus, so to speak, loosens the spirit-soul part of the head out of the physical tools and with this spirit-soul part of the head is able to put himself into the spiritual world, will find it exceedingly difficult to get out of merely shadowy clairvoyant experiences. This coming out of the head is at first connected with experiences which really do not even have the colour, the saturation of vivid memories, which therefore appear, so to speak, inwardly very colourless, and only when one penetrates further and further in the efforts which lie on this path, does it turn out that the shadowy character of these experiences is lost, and that, so to speak, the colourless and shadowy experiences are tinged with colour and sound.

Ethersphere; drawing from GA 161, p. 160
Ethersphere; drawing from GA 161, p. 160

For the process which takes place is that we move out of our head at first and are really in a world which we have great difficulty in noticing. Then, as we gradually acquire the possibility of living outside our head, these inner life forces strengthen, and the consequence is that the inflowing forces are drawn together from the whole circle of the world. So think of it, the forces must be drawn together from the whole periphery of the world, and if we draw together the whole forces from the periphery of the world, then we get the tincturing with the coloured and the tonal. Just imagine that you have here - a - a surface that is very strongly coloured, a spherical surface. And now imagine this spherical surface extended over a large surface - b, c -. There the colour becomes much paler, and if we extend it still further, the colour becomes paler and paler; if we were to bring it in, if this is a pale yellow, here we would get a very strengthened, saturated yellow, because the same quantity of the colour points is then again more concentrated together.

Now head clairvoyance faces the whole cosmos, and extended over the whole cosmos is that which man must first concentrate together with his vital forces into that which he himself is clairvoyant in his being; so that he really only gradually tinges the shadowy nature of the experiences in the laborious course of inner development. And then, when one has long, long made an effort to have the general experience which only gives one the feeling of being outside one's body, and when one has had this general experience for a long time and has more and more got a feeling of having a more intensive, but not yet coloured and sounding, inner experience, then gradually the regions from the cosmos approach the head clairvoyance.

This is a matter of slow, unselfish development. In particular, it must be said that the study of spiritual science is indispensable for this development. It must be emphasised again and again that spiritual science, when it is given, can be really understood. It cannot be emphasised often enough that one does not need to be a clairvoyant in order to understand spiritual science. Of course, one must be clairvoyant to arrive at the results; but once they are there, one need not be clairvoyant.

This understanding of spiritual science must precede the actual seeing. Here, too, one can say that the opposite path is the right one from that which is the right one in the physical-sensuous world. In the physical-sensuous world we first have the right perceptions, then we pass on to mental observation; we form our scientific judgements afterwards. When we ascend to the spiritual world, it is the other way round. There we must first develop the concepts and ideas, must make an effort to settle objectively into spiritual science; otherwise we can never be sure that any observation in the spiritual world will be interpreted by us in the right sense. Science must precede observation. And this is what is so infinitely inconvenient to many: that they should study spiritual science. Many accept this as an incomprehensible imposition. For they strive to have views of the spiritual world. Certainly, it is relatively easy to have them; but to interpret them correctly, it is necessary to enter into spiritual science objectively, selflessly, to penetrate it.

Now the reverse is the case with what may be called abdominal clairvoyance. There we start from that spiritual-soul which first worked on our physical-physical. For all that exists in the world is based on the spiritual. If, let us say, you have eaten a piece of kohlrabi - we are mostly vegetarians - and it is then processed in our organism, you are not merely dealing with the physical-chemical process which the stomach carries out with its forces and juices, but behind all this the etheric body, the astral body and the I are active. All these processes have spiritual processes behind them. It would be quite wrong to believe that there are material processes which do not have a spiritual process behind them.

Now imagine that you lie down after a more or less opulent midday meal and become clairvoyant, but so clairvoyant that the spiritual-soul of the digestive organs rises above all things out of these digestive organs. Then, while your stomach and the other organs digest properly, you live with your spiritual-soul in the spiritual-soul itself. And while otherwise you remain unconscious of the spiritual process which takes place in your etheric body, astral body and I, it comes to your consciousness when you become clairvoyant, and you can then, by experiencing yourself in the spiritual-soul, see all that working and forming and creating of the spiritual-soul on the bodily members during digestion; see it as it projects itself out into the world, and appears to you, reflected pictorially, in the outer ether. Then, because you have not so much to draw colour from the cosmos, but because you have the whole process concentrated in your own skin, you get the most beautiful clairvoyant formations. So that a marvellous thing that takes place around you in the most marvellous, most luminous processes of colour and design need be nothing other than the digestive process going on in the spiritual organs of man or any other process in the body.

This clairvoyance differs from the other quite particularly in that, while the other clairvoyance starts from shadowy formations and only laboriously receives the tinging with colour and tone, this one already starts from the most beautiful and glorious that one can see. One can almost pronounce it as a law: when clairvoyance begins with the most glorious formations, especially with colour formations, then it is a clairvoyance that refers to processes that take place within the personal. But I still emphasise that it can be of great value for the investigation of the spiritual world. Just as the anatomist and the physiologist must investigate the digestive and other processes, so it is of the highest scientific value to investigate in this way the spiritual behind the human processes. But it would be bad if one were to indulge in any deceptions, if one were to indulge in illusions and not interpret things in the right way.

If one were to believe that such clairvoyance, occurring without the appropriate preparation, could give more than what takes place in the human being and projects itself out into the objective world, if one were to believe that one could, as it were, come closer to the governing world powers, the spiritual forces that set the tone, through such clairvoyance, one would be very much mistaken. Just as one cannot solve the riddles of the world by examining the human digestion, so one cannot approach the riddles and mysteries of the world by developing this abdominal clairvoyance.

So you see how much is needed to really orient oneself correctly in the world into which we enter through the freeing of our spiritual and psychic powers. No one should be disgusted by abdominal clairvoyance because of the discussions that have been held about it. But everyone should be clear about the relation of such clairvoyance to that which can really become spiritual clairvoyance, and how one must keep away from all external overestimation that which is obtained by clairvoyant means in such a way that it can only have a personal content. Only then, when one can leave aside the personal aspects of these things, which also have a personal content, and look at them in the same way as the anatomist, the physiologist, looks at what he experiences through dissection or obtains through his examinations, only when one passes over to scientific observation, then do these things have a special value. In any case, no religious feelings can be attached to these things; they can only be attached to the results of clairvoyance. And the more one demands that the results of other clairvoyance be treated only in a scientific and objective sense, like the results of anatomy and physiology, the more one does justice to them.

Not everything that is found by clairvoyance is - I would like to utter this radical phrase - worthy of worship; but everything is worth learning. That is what we must consider. I said that it is particularly important for our cycle to incorporate the results of head clairvoyance into the general spiritual culture of humanity; and this is really important. Today I want to mention one side of the matter in relation to this importance. We are really living in a time in which humanity must prepare itself to gradually get beyond mere philosophical idealism and enter into a real consciousness of the spiritual worlds, of the general spiritual world in which we live within it, as we live within it in the physical world.

Now, let us proceed from an experience of head clairvoyance, which we will easily understand when we have delved a little deeper into the things that were said in the Munich Cycle, which was held last, and which were also elaborated in my book "The Threshold of the Spiritual World". I particularly mentioned there that our thinking undergoes a change at the moment when we free ourselves, especially with regard to our thoughts, from the physical tools of the head. I expressed it grotesquely at that time by saying: When we become free in this way, our thoughts no longer have the character they have in ordinary, everyday life. In ordinary, everyday experience we must have the feeling - if we are not crazy - that we are masters of our world of thoughts, that when we have two thoughts, it is we who connect or separate these thoughts.

When we remember, we are conscious: with our inner life we pass from a present to a past experience. We always have the feeling that it is we who are behind the weaving and waving of our thoughts. This ceases at the moment when we allow the spiritual-soul part of our head to be freed from the physical tool, when we develop a thinking that is free of the body. I once said radically: It is as if we had stuck our head into an anthill in which everything begins to whirl. That's also how thoughts begin to develop a life of their own and get mixed up. And when we have two thoughts in ordinary life and combine them, such as the two thoughts "rose" and "red", we know that we are masters in our world of thoughts, to combine the concepts into: "the rose is red" and into the idea "the red rose". This is not so when we are outside the body. There we get life into the thoughts, the life of the thoughts. Every thought becomes a being. One thought runs towards another, another runs away from another.

So the world of thought takes on a life of its own. Why does it gain a life of its own? Well, what we experience in the ordinary thinking of everyday life are only images, only shadows of thoughts. You can read about this in my book "Theosophy". As soon as we develop thinking free of the body, every thought becomes like a shell, and an elementary being slips into the shell. The thought is no longer under our control: we let it go out into the world like a feeler, and an elementary being slips into it. Our thoughts are thus filled, as it were, with elementary beings, and they whirl and roar, they weave and wave within us. So that we can say: If we put the spiritual part of our head into the spiritual world - we only have it outside because we are not in the physical head - if we put it into the spiritual world in this way, then we no longer experience such thoughts as we experience in the physical world, but we experience the life of beings. We put our head, as I said at the time, into an anthill, as it were. We experience the life of beings.

That's basically how it is up to the beings of the highest hierarchies. And if we want to experience an angel, an archangel, a spirit of personality, it must be in such a way that we stretch out our thoughts in the way I have described. The being must envelop itself in our thoughts. We send out our thoughts and the being slips in and moves within. When we perceive the beings on Venus or Saturn, we let our thoughts slip out and the Venusian and Saturnian beings slip in. We must not be afraid of no longer having earthly-human thoughts, but hierarchical thoughts. We must get used to living with our heads in the higher hierarchies. We must say to ourselves: our thinking stops and our head becomes the scene of the work of the higher Hierarchies.

Now it is the case that in the Fichte-Schelling-Hegel philosophy, thought was brought to its purest clarity of thought at the beginning of the 19th century. What thought can rise to is really contained in this philosophy. The task to which thought can be brought is there solved. The next step, however, is for thought to go out of itself and for one to really enter into the whirling and weaving life of thought. So that we live in the time - one can say that - when humanity is called to perceive the higher hierarchies. We are to be accepted by the world of the higher Hierarchies, and we must cast off the fear of losing our thoughts to the life and weaving in the higher Hierarchies.“ (Lit.:GA 161, p. 153ff)


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