H.P. Blavatsky’s “Secret Doctrine” and Rudolf Steiner’s “Occult Science”
by Valentin Tomberg
Two comprehensive works which deal with the whole occult world conception have appeared in modern times within occidental culture: the Secret Doctrine by H.P. Blavatsky and An Outline of Occult Science by Dr. Rudolf Steiner. These are the only two works containing communications of a cosmological nature which are of value for their true revelations. These two works—in the midst of a large number of writings with symbolic content containing half-obscure half-truths (either theoretical cabbalistic expositions or mystic-lyrical effusions) —contain more or less complete pictures of a world conception entirely unknown to the public. The truth of the matter, one would have to admit, is that not one of the well-known theosophical or cabbalistic writings can be compared in objective value with them; for not one of the works of occult literature offer the reader so much as they do.
If fundamental significance has to be conceded to these two writings, the question then arises: How do the two relate to each other? Is there a difference—or even contradiction—between them in principle; or can Occult Science be regarded merely as a supplement to or completion of the earlier Secret Doctrine?
Let us consider first the Secret Doctrine. This is a two volume work (the third volume appeared after the author’s death) which describes the coming into existence of the world and mankind, and discusses the prevailing philosophical, religious, and scientific theories on the subject. It contains a wealth of insights into the secrets of creation and the primal history of mankind. And although these insights are described in an erratic and chaotic style, still their content has value. The coming into being of the cosmos is pictured there as a breathing process of the primal Being. Inbreathing and outbreathing of Beings—these are the two fundamental tendencies present in all cosmic events. In the outbreathing arises matter; in the inbreathing the spirit reveals itself.
Accordingly, there also exists a twofold cosmic “ideology”: that of the Creators who affirm cosmic evolution, and that of the beings who reject the material creation. The battle of these “ideologies” takes place as much on earth, as in heaven. In heaven it is the battle between the affirming and denying gods; on earth, the battle between souls following “the path of the Moon”, (Chandravansha) and souls following “the path of the Sun” (Suryavansha). The Moon is the cosmic “headquarters” of the materializing world stream; the Sun that of the spiritualizing stream. Now, it became necessary for these two streams to unite at a particular point of cosmic evolution. This event, its causes and effects, form a profound mystery. And the whole work of H.P. Blavatsky is orientated toward this mystery. Everything which is communicated in detail in the Secret Doctrine has, in the last analysis, the purpose of shedding light on the Mystery of the Fall into Sin. The Secret Doctrine, in spite of having an unclear style and erratic train of thought, is a strongly centered work. It is oriented toward one point: the event of human incarnation and division of the sexes, which took place in the middle of the Lemurian period. Through this event, the opposition of Sun and Moon was incorporated into mankind. On the one hand, therewith arose man’s intellectuality, the Sun nature in him; on the other hand, man thereby became subject to the curse of sex, the Moon nature in him. Recognition of this fact leads to the practical conclusion: the purpose of human existence is to achieve victory of the Sun over the Moon nature. The physical procreation of man must cease. Mankind must return again to a spiritualized state, such as was his condition before the Fall—preserving, however, the intellect which was achieved through the Fall.
Thus the attitude of soul which follows from the world picture presented in the Secret Doctrine is single poled. A man recognizes a duality in the cosmos and in himself, and places himself decisively on one side of the recognized polarity. The whole inner attitude of the author herself is also of this nature. For her, not only is sex something which has to be fought by the spirit, but also the West is the lower pole of human culture which has to be fought by the East. For when there are only two tendencies—upward to the spirit and downward to matter—then the West is where the darkening stream prevails, and the East where the light filled stream predominates. And the significance of cultural evolution is that Western darkness is to be overcome by the Eastern light—preserving in the process, however, the Western intellectuality.
From this one-sidedness there follows a quite definite moral attitude. Because the Secret Doctrine discerns only the opposition between above and below, the concepts of good (what is worthy of pursuit) and evil (what is to be fought against) become synonymous with the concepts of spiritual striving and earthly striving respectively. That which frees man from earth is to be striven after, that which binds him to earth is to be combated. But the moral questions: Can there be an element of evil in spiritual striving, or can there be some good in earthly striving? is an attitude foreign to the Secret Doctrine. And so it is, indeed, understandable that the Secret Doctrine regards Lucifer as a leader of mankind and Jehovah, the Moon God, as the dark power of the drive to procreate. The Secret Doctrine sees only the antithesis of Lucifer and Ahriman.
The author definitely adopts the standpoint of the Luciferic principle, while combating with all her passionate energy the Ahrimanic. Yet the traditional ideas of Jehovah, on the one side, and Christ, on the other, hardly fit into this polarity. Jehovah would have to be viewed as an Ahrimanic being and Christ as Luciferic. But thereby the Mystery of the Blood, the central mystery of the Old Testament, remains uncomprehended. Also the Mystery of Golgotha, the central Mystery of the New Testament, has remained beyond the comprehension of Madame Blavatsky. For the love principle, working out of human sub-consciousness and combating individual egoism through the love for one’s parents, children, and brothers, cannot be explained by the idea of an Ahrimanic Jehovah. Nor can the depths of the Mystery of Golgotha as earthly mystery be fathomed when the Christ Being is envisioned as Luciferic. If one comprehends Christ Jesus merely as a witness and proclaimer of a higher world, one cannot from that standpoint understand the mystery of the bringing down of spiritual life into earth existence. The magic significance—the most vitally important aspect—of the Mystery of Golgotha remains hidden to this manner of comprehension. Madame Blavatsky sees the Christ only as an upward bearer; that he is as well the greatest of downward bearers remains hidden to her. She has no understanding for what is essential in Christianity. She does indeed speak of Christian esotericism, but only about the old esotericism which exists in it. About that in it which is new, which came into the world through Christianity “as mystical fact”, the Secret Doctrine has nothing to relate. And that which is new as a cosmic event stands as the central point in Rudolf Steiner’s Occult Science. For just as the Secret Doctrine is oriented toward one central point, namely, the “Fall into Sin”, so does Occult Science have the Mystery of Golgotha as its central point toward which all is oriented. The Secret Doctrine aims to be an instrument through which people can learn about the event of the separation of the sexes (in the middle of the Lemurian Epoch) and what followed after it, and then draw certain conclusions from that knowledge. Occult Science has the task of being a similar instrument in relation to the Mystery of Golgotha, which took place in the middle of the fifth Epoch.
From this fact follows something quite significant: The effect of Occult Science, first on the thinking and then on the will of the reader (for all thinking becomes sooner or later willing), is very different from the effect of the Secret Doctrine. The latter places the reader before the choice: either spirit or matter. The practical consequences of this choice are contradictory to the disposition of European people, for they do not actually have a tendency toward one-sidedness. Madam Blavatsky knows this. She warns on various occasions against practical occultism. For the European the theory must suffice, because he is little disposed to what she views as true practical occultism, that is, to an occultism consistent with the theory of the Secret Doctrine. Only in Asia would it be possible to put into practice the above-mentioned “either/or” to a satisfactory extent.
For this reason the Secret Doctrine contains no description of a path of initiation intended to be put into practice. And Madame Blavatsky, in other places on this subject, tries to show the European reader how it is actually hopeless for him to take up the path of Eastern occultism. For that, he would, as a first step, have to give up his whole European nature, because it is, as such, a hindrance.
Because the Secret Doctrine contains beside a theoretical Monism, a practical Dualism, it cannot offer a path to Europeans. Occult Science, however, contains not only a theoretical, but also a practical Monism. Therefore its practical consequences can be realized by European people. The book contains a detailed description of the conditions, means, and trials of Initiation. This path can be followed by anyone of good will, for it is suited to the nature of European people.
“Practical Monism”—the practice of the monistic “not only/but also” instead of the dualistic “either/or”—is actually the Christ impulse, the central significance of Occult Science. To bring the cosmic working of the Christ impulse before and after the Mystery of Golgotha to the comprehension of the present time—that is the chief task of this book. In Occult Science the reader is not confronted with a duality, but with a threefoldness. He gradually learns to understand that, apart from the Mystery of Light and the Mystery of Death, there exists a third and greater Mystery—the Mystery of the Life of that Light who passed through Death. And he learns, too, to understand that just as striving for the spirit can be egoistic, so also can a descent into the earthly realm be selfless. He learns to see not only evil below and good above, but also evil above and good below. He learns to distinguish within the light the fullness of the Elohim from the brilliance of Lucifer, in the darkness to distinguish the cold, deadly breath of Ahriman from the silvery glow of Jehovah. And, like a rainbow, the seven-colored, radiant Christ impulse bridges over the abyss between light and darkness.
This “seven-colored rainbow” is the impulse and the possibility for that standpoint which we have designated as “practical Monism”. It joins the two opposites of light and darkness together into a third element. Knowledge and action are joined together by the cosmic love principle—making possible the transformation of knowledge into action. Through this, the publication of the description of the path of Initiation in Occult Science becomes understandable. If in Occult Science the central place had not been conceded to the Christ impulse, then the book could not offer people of modern culture a practicable path. It would have to, like the Secret Doctrine, contain only aspects of a world conception. For it would be senseless to offer the public a path that could only be taken by individuals with particular tendencies: people as one-sidedly gifted for the spiritual life as, say, a wholesale tradesman is gifted for material life. However, the path described in Occult Science can be trodden by anyone; for it appeals to that in a man which strives after the transformation of the ‘lower’, the darkness, into the ‘high’, the light filled. On this path both poles of human nature are taken into account: what is still to be transformed is here just as valuable as what is already transformed.
So we see that this path, the Rosicrucian Path of Transformation, is a direct result of knowledge about the cosmic working of the Christ impulse, whereas the absence of knowledge of the Christ impulse in an occult scream—however holy and ancient—makes it impossible for European people to take a practical path, a path which could lead to real progress.
In occult writings, such as the two which we have here compared, we must ask not only about the truth told therein, but also about the completeness of that truth. For incomplete truths can lead the whole practical striving of a man down a blind alley. Therefore, when considering occult writings we must ask: What follows from this for life? Asking this question, one reaches certain answers with regard to the books just considered: namely, that a European can only to a small degree bring the Secret Doctrine into his life, while through Occult Science, life goals open up for him.