The Social World is the Modern Mystery Centre 

Harrie Salman

Since the end of the 19th century the spiritual world is increasingly revealing itself in everyday life. Simultaneously, our inner constitution is changing. Social life now often confronts us with situations that previously took place on carefully protected inner paths leading to an initiation. This opens completely new possibilities of working together with spiritual beings, as I described in my book The Social World as Mystery Center – The Social Vision of Anthroposophy, published in 2020 in an updated and expanded edition.[1]

After the First World War, Rudolf Steiner often spoke about the unconscious crossing of the threshold to the spiritual world by humanity, as for example on April 11, 1919.[2] This is part of the epoch of the self-conscious soul that began at the end of the Middle Ages. This crossing is taking place since the archangel Michael purified the sphere surrounding the earth of the so-called “spirits of darkness” (1841-1879). These are fallen angels who hinder us on our path to our higher being. By throwing them to earth and into human souls he cleared the connection between the sensible and supersensible worlds.

Additionally, according to Steiner, since 1899 our constitution began to change, which he connected with the end of a 5000-year period of spiritual darkness, known in Indian tradition as the Kali Yuga (the Age of Darkness). Our life body, or etheric body, is gradually being freed from the physical body so that we can develop new abilities to perceive the spiritual world. For this reason, the threshold to the spiritual world is becoming transparent. More and more children are born with clairvoyant perception, and many people develop such faculties in a natural way in the course of their life.

Crossing the threshold has significant consequences that were not so perceptible at the beginning of the 20th century. The three naturally connected soul forces of thinking, feeling and willing began to separate. It can be confusing to experience the falling apart of our soul forces, because contradictory thoughts, feelings and impulses can arise. Modern humanity must gain control of these forces again and consciously create harmony.

Many people experience how unknown forces press into consciousness. Suddenly someone sees a being not perceived by others; sometimes it happens to children and they can experience it as a nature spirit, an angel-like being or a being with evil traits. Someone enters into an inexplicable, violent state or becomes panicky; others perceive aspects of themselves that they do not like to acknowledge. And again, others perceive demonic forces and can be possessed in such a way that we can read it in their faces.

These are unconscious soul forces, or forces from the outside world that did not reach into consciousness previously and now reach us from beyond the threshold of the spiritual world. People react differently with fears, nervousness, depression, and flight into drugs, blind aggression or undefined feelings of discomfort or restlessness. Sometimes neurosis, psychosis or other states in need of treatment arise. By consciously ordering and strengthening their life of soul with the forces of their higher Self, many can help themselves. Already on May 30, 1907, Steiner spoke of grave nervous illnesses and epidemics of insanity afflicting whole nations as karmic consequence of materialism.[3] Only spiritual impulses can consciously lead us over the threshold and provide a healing effect, such as on epidemics of nationalism and religious fundamentalism.

The Revelation of Good and Evil

The doors to the worlds of light and darkness were opened in the 20th century. Dark forces are taking hold of people, as we can observe in the violent wars and the acts of terrorism of the 20th century. Modern culture in particular pays much attention to dark forces from the underworld of our subconscious. They enter our soul through the media, and masses of people who are half-asleep are manipulated. Modern art and music, for example, can give a revealing picture of the forces of the collective underworld, the collective subconscious of humanity. In modern politics, the lie reigns openly, so that this is now visible to everyone.

The good forces reveal themselves as well. In contrast to the dark forces, that are not easily chased away when they enter an individual or a group, the good ones respect our freedom. If we do not make them conscious, they go away unnoticed. From 1910 on, Steiner spoke of Christ's Second Coming. He told how the Christ would appear in the sphere of earth's life forces (the etheric sphere), to be experienced from around 1933 only by a few in the beginning, but leading to more and more people meeting Him in the etheric in the next 2500 years.

On October 1, 1911, Steiner described how this might take place.[4] He says that Christ will come to help, comfort and advise people who are at their wit's end, and those who are in deep sympathy with the suffering of others. He also comes to people who search for answers to problems in deep union with others. We can suddenly experience His presence, or even see someone speaking and then just as suddenly disappear. Recognition of the moment is important.

The rise of National Socialism in 1933 darkened the etheric sphere of Christ, but in spite of that many people all over the world experienced help, comfort and healing through Him in existential situations of their lives. Our changed constitution enables us to develop new clairvoyant abilities with which we can form an organ to perceive Him and His activity in the etheric sphere. It is Christ Himself, Steiner remarked, who changes our constitution and makes us clairvoyant so that we can perceive Him. Doing exercises and strengthening conscience can be of help as well. The near-death experiences represent another aspect of the Second Coming. The experience of Christ in the cycle of the year also develops our powers of perception. Then we connect with the processes of nature in the seasons and experience the celebrations of the year much more consciously.

While the spiritual world gradually opens, the social world becomes the stage of new spiritual experiences. Previously, these took place on a path of initiation, and it is only now that they take place in full life. In everyday life we can meet the experiences described by Rudolf Steiner in How to Know Higher Worlds. People can experience a splitting of their personality when thinking, feeling and willing separate. These experiences become more and more real in modern life. It is important that we experience them consciously and learn from them. First and foremost, we must learn to develop our strength of soul with the help of others. It is very important that we make clear judgments and understand what takes place. Then we begin to understand everyday life as a mystery drama where people pass through spiritual development together.

Mysteries in the past and the present

In an interview in 1984 with the German weekly Der Spiegel, the German artist Joseph Beuys stated: “The mysteries take place at the railway station, not in the Goetheanum.” What are mysteries? We can describe them as forms of communication with spiritual beings, which used to be possible in all cultures and changed over time as a result of changes in human consciousness. In certain cultures, consciousness expanding means, like ayahuasca, are still used to experience such beings.

Previous to the Kali Yuga era, the mystery temples were centres of culture, where people walked an inner path leading to an initiation (the opening of the organs of spiritual perception). Religion, art and science formed a whole and were cultivated by priests who, due to their initiation, could communicate with the world of divine beings. Examples of such mystery centres were the temple complexes of Heliopolis and Karnak in Egypt, Eleusis and Samothrace in Greece, Ephesus in Asia Minor and the Externsteine in Germany.

Around 5000 years ago, at the beginning of the Kali Yuga era the connections with the spiritual world were gradually lost, until they had vanished almost everywhere in the centuries before Christ's birth. In Europe we find the last mystery schools in Ireland. Celtic missionaries brought these Hybernian Mysteries to mainland Europe, where they connected with the Grail Mysteries and functioned until the 9th century. In the age of the archangel Michael, which according to Rudolf Steiner began in 1879, we can unite religion, art, and science again in a new spiritual culture. In this age, which will last around 350 years, we can once more find entrance to the spiritual world, but now on the basis of a new self-conscious relationship with the world of spirit. This can take place in the new mysteries that Rudolf Steiner opened for humanity.

These mysteries became possible after the unconscious crossing of the threshold of the spiritual world. When we learn to make this crossing consciously we can discover whole new areas of experience in inner and social life. The already mentioned 'spirits of darkness' have become active in the human soul and in society. The new sciences of mass psychology and marketing are among their fields of activity. They show how people can be manipulated and made receptive to the inspirations from these dark spirits. These inspirations come from the mystery school of Ahriman, the leader of the dark spirits that oppose Christ. In the mysteries of Christ we can achieve greater self-knowledge by consciously crossing the threshold of the spiritual world, individually or with each other in encounters and conscious forms of cooperation. By deepening this cooperation socially and spiritually, mystery places can arise where we can be inspired by spiritual beings that want to support our development. New insights arise where people can connect their partial insights in inspired conversations. Out of this a new spiritual culture can arise.

New mysteries

Whereas each went an individual path in the old mysteries, in which the initiations took place in an unconscious condition, modern initiations require our awakened I-consciousness. In our time an initiation can lead to a cooperation with spiritual beings. This has been prepared for in ancient Israel, in the tradition of the Holy Grail, by the Cathars, the Knights Templar and the Brotherhood of the Rosicrucians in the late Middle Ages. The new mysteries are not focused on the transmission of wisdom from the spiritual world, as in the past, but on the use of the will, on the power of initiative of individuals who connect with each other to realise common goals.

The new mysteries have an individual and a social aspect. People who have developed a higher consciousness, such as Rudolf Steiner, among others, can communicate in a conscious way (each on their own level) with spiritual beings. They can give us imaginations (images), inspirations and insights (intuitions). In addition, it is possible to work together in a group in such a way that the consciousness increases and the members of the group can receive imaginations, inspirations and insight from these beings. This is a way for the future, which is being developed in research groups. In small groups people have already gained experience with this.

Steiner wanted to create a modern mystery school in the School of Spiritual Science in Dornach. He inaugurated new mysteries in which the principle of initiation should once more become an effective force in all areas of human life. The path to initiation which he described in his book How to Know Higher Worlds retains its basic significance as an individual path. Many people have developed clairvoyant faculties in a natural way or by doing exercises, but it is only after an initiation that one can do spiritual research and cooperate with spiritual beings in a personal way, as Steiner did. We can then, as individuals, in full consciousness pass the threshold of the spiritual world.

In all our social groups we usually unconsciously create an etheric field and an astral field in which so-called “doubles” are active. These are beings that we ourselves have formed in our physical, etheric and astral bodies in previous lives or have attracted in this life. They feed on the negative substance of actions, habits, emotions, feelings and thoughts that we do not control with our consciousness. In order to constantly receive new nourishment, they can influence our behaviour from our subconscious, as can be observed in an alcoholic or in someone who gets angry all the time because of trivial things. It is only by consciously controlling our behaviour that these doubles lose their grip on us. C.G. Jung described them psychologically as “shadows.” In groups, individual doubles can connect with each other to become group doubles.

By dealing with each other in a conscious manner and working together in a positive way a group creates an energetic field, an etheric form in which spiritual beings and the deceased ones can descend, and if the group is open to this, can be inspiring. Groups that have existed for some time attract group angels and other inspirational beings. In fact, groups and organizations always attract beings. There is often little awareness of this. The etheric form that people build up in their groups can become a temple or a place for demons. It depends on the intentions of the people what kind of beings manifest in it.

Experiences of groups

Steiner pointed out that since the beginning of the 20th century people have an elementary need to awaken on the spirit and soul [Erwachen am Geistig-Seelischen] of others. He meant by this that we can awaken in the experience of the soul and the spirit of others. It is an increasing need to awaken on the deepest inner being of another to higher consciousness, a heightened waking consciousness, he said. People must draw nearer to each other. They must become able to awaken the higher being in the other, for example by asking essential questions. Steiner said that this is essential. If people cannot awaken to higher consciousness on another, they cannot yet truly understand the new spiritual consciousness, nor will they be able to understand each other.

When we gather in the attitude of spiritual idealism to talk about spiritual ideas and to experience them, when we suffuse these ideas with our feeling, with enthusiasm and impulses of will, “then can we awaken on each other", Rudolf Steiner said. A person may say something about a theme that occupies us as well. We hear something new. Another sheds light on the subject in an entirely new way. We discover what has long been slumbering in us but could not yet be expressed until another starts to speak about it, or because of their speaking, we are inspired to deeds in which we can create new karma with others.

The social world has become the modern mystery centre. We are always surrounded by spiritual beings, and we can perceive that. Their quality is determined by us. People and groups with negative thoughts, feelings and actions attract negative spiritual beings and nourish them with their negativity. In contrast to them, individuals with a positive radiance and groups cooperating in a positive spirit are surrounded by friendly spiritual beings, who can be invited to support and inspire them.

For this reason it is so important for all spiritual groups to cultivate a conscious social life. Otherwise they will fall victim to their group doubles. In the present conditions of our consciousness this is rather normal, but we have to know how to purify and heal the etheric and astral space that has been polluted by group doubles, and to resolve the conflicts that arise between people.

Rudolf Steiner left it to the groups of cooperating people to further elucidate the paths of research and cognition that are opened in the new mysteries. This is difficult without the direct help of an initiate, as many conflicts have revealed our inability. Nevertheless, groups that manage to cooperate break through traditional opinions to develop new insights through creative processes. For example a group of teachers who try to understand the symptoms of the times and change the curriculum so that the teaching is geared more towards the development of the children. Or when a group of physicians and therapists, trying to understand an aspect of a disease, develops a new medicine or therapy; when farmers solve problems in agriculture, or psychologists and curative pedagogues discuss how they can help a child with special psychic problems; and when members of a research institute do research together. They all may experience the help of spiritual beings.

This experience of the new mysteries can happen in short inspired moments that provide answers to practical questions, as is also possible in a child or patient consultation. When teachers or therapists share their perceptions, this can sometimes lead to true insight that they create together. Also two persons who discuss a common problem may experience this, for example a couple discussing the solution of an educational problem. In this way such a group can become a temporary mystery centre in which spiritual beings give their inspirations.

Community building

What we learn to achieve in a small group we can also apply in a community. In the course of his work Rudolf Steiner developed a specific social impulse that has largely been ignored. This impulse leads to a process of community building that we can see as a learning process of seven steps that do not necessarily have a fixed order. We can imagine this process by taking the example of the family. The steps in its development seem easy, but in practice they are difficult. We are allowed to make mistakes, we are not yet perfect. With our good intentions it should be possible to solve conflicts and by doing this purify the social etheric space, and to gradually transform the problematic aspects of our double. The stages of this small learning process may give us inspiration for the creation of larger communities. According to the social impulse Steiner developed these steps are as follows:

  1. Community building starts with creating an image of the new community. In 1891, Rudolf Steiner found this image in the Fairytale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily by Goethe. A snake lives in an underground temple and sacrifices herself to create a bridge between two worlds, and as a result a temple arises out of the earth.
  2. A community can become a community for development. It should serve the development of individuals that constitute the community, as Steiner formulated in 1898 in the Fundamental Sociological Law. In such a community people can support each other in their development.
  3. A community can become a work community, where the well-being of the whole depends on the degree of separation of labor and income, as Steiner stated in 1905 in the Fundamental Social Law. All practical affairs of the community, including questions of money, should be taken into careful consideration.
  4. A community can become a place of meeting where people try to consciously apply the archetypal phenomenon of communication, in the swinging movement of listening and talking. In real communication people can awaken each other and discover the meaning of love for a new social life as Steiner described in 1912.
  5. A community can become a community of rights. It needs the principle of Social Threefolding for a healthy structure, as Steiner presented in his book Towards Social Renewal (1919).[5]
  6. A community can become a karmic community in which people learn to live with each other's imperfections and cooperate fruitfully. Such a community arises when people commit themselves to work together on certain tasks.
  7. A community can become a social etheric temple, a mystery center where communication with the spiritual world is possible. In this community people can create a new culture of love and brotherhood.

People who work together in communities are able to connect with helping spiritual beings, even during short moments. They can be schools, therapeutic centres, scientific institutes, educational centres or communities of people living together. These communities not only include people who are directly involved, but also the larger social world they want to serve, such as clients of therapeutic centres, parents of children, consumers, and other interested persons. This larger community that is open to spiritual impulses does not have to be a purely spiritual community.

Culture islands

A culture island can arise out of these communities when we try to bring something of importance to develop in the world, with the help of the spiritual world. Two people can already form an island of culture and cooperate to solve certain problems by cultivating the connection to the spiritual world. Any group can build a culture island with spiritually-minded people working together. It is decisive that the members of the group are willing to develop together. Increasingly, these culture islands (such as school communities, therapeutic centres, farms, Camphill communities) will be of help to people who seek support in the present chaos and need of soul, who want to find new paths of development. Culture islands are lighthouses for those in search of new spirituality in a declining culture, but also for the spiritual world that seeks communities through which it can act.

Published in Takoja (Finland), 2020/4

[1] Harrie Salman, The Social World as Mystery Center – The Social Vision of Anthroposophy (expanded edition), Threefold Publishing, Mountlake Terrace, WA 98043, USA, 2020.

[2] Rudolf Steiner, Vergangenheits- und Zukunftsimpulse im sozialen Geschehen, Dornach 1980 (CW 190).

[3] Rudolf Steiner: Theosophy of the Rosicrucian (1907), London 1981 (CW 99).

[4] Rudolf Steiner: Esoteric Christianity and the Mission of Christian Rosenkreutz (1911-1912), London 1984 (CW 130).

[5] Rudolf Steiner: Towards Social Renewal (1919), London 1977 (CW 23).


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