Initiation exercises

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This provides explanatory background - through Rudolf Steiner lecture excerpts - as a commentary on what takes place in main initiation exercises that one finds back in all or most contemporary spiritual paths and schools of initiation, a.o. in Franz Bardon's Initiation into Hermetics but also in Steiner's own Knowledge of the Higher World (KHW).


1905-05-05-GA266 (SWCC)

we make an impression on the physical body through every ideation and feeling .. whether we perceive it or not. .. things are different in a meditation .. meditations stimulate the etheric body and not the physical body; the etheric brain oscillates while the physical body is quiet. Thereby the etheric body can imprint its meditative experiences on the astral body and thus develop the organs it needs in it. And this has a salutary effect on the physical body.

1907-06-06-GA266/1 on initiation exercises in general

The exercises have an effect not only on the astral and etheric bodies but also on the pineal gland. And when the effects are very penetrating, they go from the pineal gland out to the lymph vessels and from there into the blood.

1908-01-07-GA266/1 (SWCC) - see also Kundalini

When a person meditates, this awakens forces in and develops the hypophysis (pituitary gland), it begins to to shine brighter and brighter, sends forth rays, and gradually with its rays it encompasses the pineal gland lying in front of it, and stimulates it. This process organizes the organic formation of the astral body, from the chaos of feelings and sensations, into spirit-self or manas. When the pituitary gland causes golden threads to flow around the pineal gland, then the time has come when [the transformation of the astral body into spirit-self, into manas], has progressed far enough ... for the etheric body to be transformed into buddhi

Conscious breathing

This exercise is part of IIH Step 1.


In the breathing process, the I flows into the astral body, but then it goes directly into the lungs along with the air. Thus something from the super-sensible man also underlies the breathing process, but not in the same way as occurs in the nerve-sense process, where the I takes hold of the physical organization directly. In the breathing process, the I permeates itself with the astral forces, taking hold of oxygen and only then, no longer as pure I organization but as I-astral organization, does it take hold of the organism with the help of the breathing process.

1917-12-11-GA179 gives an introduction to the etheric breath and breathing

With what can we perceive this? Man already possesses the instrument needed for such a perception, but on a stage of evolution that still renders a real perception impossible. What we would thus perceive cannot reach the eye, nor the ear — cannot enter any sense organ.

Instead — please grasp this well — it is breathed in, it is sucked in with the breath. The etheric foundation of our lung (the physical lung is out of the question, for, such as it is, the lung is not a real perceptive organ) that which lies etherically at the foundation of our lung, is really an organ of perception, but between birth and death the human being cannot use it as an organ of perception for what he breathes in. The air we breathe, every breath of air and the way in which it enters the whole rhythm of our life, really contains our deeper reality between birth and death. …

Let us imagine the physical organization of the head and the physical organization of the lung; from the universe come cosmic impulses that express themselves rhythmically in the movements of the lungs. Through our lungs we are related with the entire universe, and the entire universe works at our etheric body. When we pass through the portal of death, we lay aside the etheric body. We enter that which is active in our lung-system, and this is connected with the entire universe. This accounts for the surprising consonance to be found in the rhythm of human life and the rhythm of breathing.

1953-10-18-KK015 (Karl König)

In the sphere of our senses, we actually inhale warmth, and in this inhaled warmth, light sound and life are contained. The exhaled warmth does not go to the outer world, it flows into our body. In our chest system, we inhale air and exhale warmth containing light sound life. These two streams meet and settle in what science calls the lymphs. This cosmic stream carries light, sound and life as it descends, and in descending it leaves the light behind in our head where it becomes our inner light. The sound is left behind to change into the inner activity of our rhythmic system. The life goes right down into physical substance, and this is what really fills and nourishes us. This life ether takes hold of carbon, the sound unites with oxygen and nitrogen, and light works together with suplhur and phoshorus.

Breathing exercises before MoG


[from the synopsis:]

Originally not the brain but the rhythm of the breath was to have been the foundation for cognition. A wonderful harmony exists between the rhythm of the human breath and rhythms in the cosmos. Before the Mystery of Golgotha man had imaginative clairvoyance because the Angeloi were active in his intellect. Man's senses were then exposed to luciferic influences. After death the Angeloi were active in the memories of his earthly perceptions.

[from the lecture]

There were people of deeply religious natures in the Orient who strove, before the Mystery of Golgotha, to bring consciousness into their breathing. To imitate this procedure today is harmful. The aim of the breathing exercises, described in Oriental writings, was to irradiate the process of breathing with consciousness. But in regard to certain higher knowledge man's earthly consciousness is doomed to be powerless. These ancient practices are being imitated today because it is not realized that through Lucifer man has been deprived of the possibility to irradiate his breathing with knowledge.

Conscious eating

This exercise is part of IIH Step 1.

Conscious eating is described as a reverse ritual by which Man has a communion with the spiritual world and an act of trans-substantiation.

See also: Transmutation and through the The heart's two blood circuits and ganganda greida (on Parsifal).


Today, when a man eats — that is, unites external nourishment with his organism — he thinks: There inside is the organism, which cooks the stuff and takes from it what it needs, and lets the rest pass away unused, and so it goes on. On the other hand, I look out into the world through my senses. I take up the perceptible and transform it by my understanding; I take it into my soul, as I take nourishment into my body, What is out there, what eyes see and ears hear, I then carry within me as a mental picture; what is out there as wheat, fish, meat or whatever, I carry inside me, after having digested it.

Yes, but this leaves out the fact that the substances used in nourishment have their inner aspect. The experience of food through our external senses is not related to our deeper being. With what your tongue tastes and your stomach digests, in the way that can be confirmed by ordinary scientific research, you can maintain your daily metabolism; but you cannot take care of the other metabolism, which leads for example to the change of teeth about the age of seven.

The essential thing in this other metabolism lies in the deeper forces at work in it, which are not observed today by any chemical study.

What we take as food has a deep spiritual aspect, and this is very active in man, but only while he sleeps.

In your foods live the spirits of the highest hierarchies, the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. Hence in your food you have something cosmically formative, and therein lie the forces which provide imperceptibly for the change of teeth, for adolescence, and for the later transformations of the human being.

Only the daily metabolism is brought about by the things known to external science. The metabolism which goes through life as a whole is cared for by the highest Hierarchies.

And behind the sense-perceptible world are the beings of the third hierarchy (H3): Angels, Archangels, and Archai. Hence we can say:

  • sense-perception, third hierarchy H3
  • foodstuffs, first hierarchy H1
  • and in between is the second hierarchy H2, which lives in the breathing, in all the rhythmic activities of the human organism.

[editor note - Bardon uses conscious breathing (H2), conscious eating (H1), and senses (H3)]

The Bible describes this quite truly. The spirits called the Elohim, together with Jahve, are led into men through the breath. The ancient wisdom was quite correctly aware of these things, in an atavistic way. Thus you are led through a real study of man into a true cosmology.

Spiritual Science re-inaugurates this way of looking at things. It looks for man again in the external world, and brings the entire universe into man. This can be done only if one knows that man is really a trinity, a threefold being. Today both revelation and experience are suppressed; man does not do them justice. He does not do justice to his sense-perceptions, or to the foods he eats, for he regards them merely as material objects. But that is an Ahrimanic distortion, which ignores the deeper life that underlies all created things, of which foodstuffs are an example.

Spiritual Science does not lead to a contempt for matter, but to a spiritualisation of it. If anyone were to look at food with contempt, he would have to learn that Spiritual Science says, in a way that would seem grotesque to him: the highest hierarchies (H1), Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, they are alive in nutriments.

1922-12-03-GA219 also talks about conscious eating & drinking

To begin with we will confine ourselves to the fact that man is related to the outer world during the waking state through his senses and through his metabolism. We will consider this at first in connection only with things that are common knowledge.

Let us then start from the fact that during his waking state man takes foodstuffs into himself from the outside world, inner activity being promoted by the process of diges­tion. But it must not be forgotten that while, in the waking state, after the food has been taken, inner physical and etheric activity proceeds under the influence of the intaken foodstuffs, this physical and etheric organism of man is per­meated by his I-organization and astral body.

It is also the case that during the waking state, man's I and astral 'being' take command of what goes on in the physical and etheric bodies in connection with the process of nourishment.

But what thus takes place under the influ­ence of the I and astral being does not continue during sleep. During sleep the physical and etheric bodies of man are worked upon by forces that issue, not from the Earth but from the cosmic environment of the Earth—from the world of the Stars.

It might be said—and not in a figurative sense for it has real meaning—that

  • day man eats the substances of the Earth and
  • by night takes into himself what the stars and their activities give him.

In a certain sense, therefore, man is bound up with the Earth while he is awake and removed from the Earth while he is asleep; heavenly processes take their course in his physical and etheric bodies during sleep.

Materialistic [or mineral] science thinks that when a man is asleep, the substances he has consumed simply activate their own forces in him, whereas in reality, whatever substances a man takes into himself are worked upon during his sleep by the cosmic forces in the environment of the Earth. Suppose, for instance, we consume white of egg—albumen. This albumen is only fettered to the Earth through the fact that during the waking state we are permeated by our soul and spirit—our astral body and I. During sleep this albumen is worked upon by the whole planetary system from Moon to Saturn, and by the world of the fixed stars. And a chemist who wished to study the inner processes taking place in man during sleep would have not only to be versed in earthly chemistry but also in a spiritual chemistry, for the processes then are different from those that take their course during waking life.

The I and astral being of man are, as you know, sep­arated from the physical and etheric bodies during sleep and are not directly related with the world of the stars ; but they are directly related with the Beings of whom the Sun, Moon and Stars are the physical mirror-images—namely, with the beings of the hierarchies.

Man asleep is a duality; his I and astral body - I could equally well say, his spirit and soul - become subject to the spiritual Beings of the higher kingdoms of the Universe. His bodies, the physical and etheric bodies, are subject to the physical reflections, the cosmic-physical mirror-images of these higher Beings.

Aware of himself as an earthly being, man has become more and more a materialistic philistine under the influence of intellectualism. Almost as aptly as the modern age is called the epoch of intellectual and scientific progress, it could be called the epoch of materialistic philistinism. For man is not conscious that he is dependent on anything else than sense-impressions coming from the Earth, the rhythmic processes set going in him by earthly processes, the meta­bolic processes also occasioned in him by earthly conditions. Hence he does not know his real place in the Universe. The factors in operation here are of tremendous complexity. As soon as the veil that is spread before man in order that he may see only the sense-world and not the spiritual world behind it, is drawn aside, life becomes extraordinarily com­plex.

1922-12-31-GA219 takes the above as part of a series of lectures in GA219 and frames into the context of a reverse ritual. longer extract, link on that page.

For it is a fact that when we take something that serves us as food and look upon its form, then we find in it a copy of the constellations of the fixed stars. We take it into ourselves. With the substance of the Earth that is contained in Earth-activity, we take into us the being of the stars, the being of the heavens. But we must be conscious that we as human beings, by a deliberate, loving act of human will, transform that which has become matter, back again into spirit. In this manner we perform a real act of trans-substantiation. We become aware of our own part in the world and so the spiritual thought-life is quickened within us.

In Earth-activity draws near to me,

Given to me in substance-imaged form,

The Heavenly Being of the Stars.

In Willing I see them transformed with Love!

And when we think of that which we take into ourselves to permeate the fluid part of our organism, the circulation of the blood and juices, then that, in so far as it originates on Earth, is a copy not of the heavens or of the stars but of the deeds of the stars, that is to say, the movements of the planets. And I can become conscious how I spiritualize that, if I stand rightly in the world; and I can speak the following formula:


The concentration exercise is so key there are many books only on this exercise, five examples are:

  • Mounu Sadhu: 'Concentration - a guide to mental mastery' (1959)
  • Swami Sivananda Saraswati:
    • 'Concentration – the master key to success'
    • 'Concentration and meditation' (1945, 14th edition 2009)
  • Ernest Wood: 'Concentration: an approach to meditation' (1949)
  • Christmas Humphreys: 'Concentration and Meditation: A Manual of Mind Development' (1968)

whereby the Sivananda and Mouno Sadhu books have become classics. But see also:

  • Franz Bardon IIH: steps 2 and 3
  • Rudolf Steiner explains, as part of the Rosecrucian path, the training of imagination by contemplation of symbols

Here follows an example of a relevant explanation.

1911-03-21-GA128 explains how this exercise is about separating blood-nerve interaction (SWCC). See also longer extract and Schema FMC00.159 on Blood and nerves.

Let us suppose for a moment that we artificially interrupt the connection between the nerve and the circulation of the blood, that we artificially put a man in such a condition that the activity of the nerve should be severed from the circulation of the blood, so that they could no longer act upon each other. We can indicate this by a diagram in which the two parts are shown more widely separated, so that a reciprocal action between the nerves and the blood can no longer take place. In this case the condition may be such that no impression can be made upon the nerve. Something of this sort can be brought about if, for example, the nerve is cut. If it should come to pass by some means that no impression is made upon the nerve, then it is also not strange if the man himself is unable to experience anything especial through this nerve. But let us suppose that in spite of the interrupting of the connection between the nerve and the blood a certain impression is made upon the nerve. This can be brought to pass through an external experiment by stimulating the nerve by means of an electric current. Such external influence on the nerve does not concern us here. But there is still another way of affecting the nerve under conditions in which it cannot act upon the course of the blood normally connected with it.

It is possible to bring about such a condition of the human organism; and this is done in a particular way, by means of certain concepts, emotions and feelings which the human being has experienced and made a part of himself, and which, if this inner experiment is to be truly successful, ought, properly speaking, to be really lofty, moral or intellectual concepts.

When a man practises a rigorous inner concentration of the soul on such imaginative concepts, forming these into symbols let us say, it then happens, if he does this in a state of waking consciousness, that he takes complete control of the nerve and, as a result of this inner concentration, draws it back to a certain extent from the course of the blood.

For when man simply gives himself up to normal, external impressions, the natural connection between the nerve and the circulation is present; but if, in strict concentration upon his I, he holds fast to what he obtains in a normal way, apart from all external impressions and apart from what the outside world brings about in the I, he then has something in his soul which can have originated only in the consciousness and is the content of consciousness, and which makes a special demand upon the nerve and separates its activity then and there from its connection with the activity of the blood. The consequence of this is that, by means of such inner concentration, which actually breaks the connection between the nerve and the blood, that is, when it is so strong that the nerve is in a certain sense freed from its connection with the blood-system, the nerve is at the same time freed from that for which the blood is the external instrument, namely, from the ordinary experiences of the I.

This finds its complete experimental support through the inner experiences of spiritual training designed to lead upward into the higher worlds, that as a result of such concentration the entire nerve-system is removed from the blood-system and from its ordinary tasks in connection with the I.

As the consequence, whereas the nerve-system had previously written its action upon the tablet of the blood, it now permits what it contains within itself as working power to return into itself, and does not permit it to reach the blood. It is therefore possible purely through processes of inner concentration, to separate the blood-system from the nerve-system, and thereby to cause that which, pictorially expressed, would otherwise have flowed into the I, to course back again into the nerve-system.

The peculiar thing is that once the human being actually brings this about through such inward exertion of the soul, he has then an entirely different sort of inner experience. He stands before a completely changed horizon of consciousness which may be described somewhat as follows:

When the nerve and the blood have an appropriate connection with each other, as is the case in normal life, man brings into relation with the I the impressions which come from within his inner being and those which come from the outer world. The I then conserves those forces which reach out along the entire horizon of consciousness, and everything is related to the I.

But when, through inner concentration, he separates his nerve-system, lifts it through inner soul-forces out of his blood-system, he does not then live in his ordinary I. He cannot then say “I” with respect to that which he calls his “Self,” in the same sense in which he had previously said “I” in his ordinary normal consciousness. It then seems to the man as if he had quite consciously lifted a portion of his real being out of himself, as if something which he does not ordinarily see, which is super-sensible and works in upon his nerves, does not now impress itself upon his blood-tablet or make any impression upon his ordinary ego. He feels himself lifted away from the entire blood-system, raised up, as it were, out of his organism; and he meets something different as a substitute for what he has experienced in the blood-system. Whereas the nerve-activity was previously imaged in the blood-system, it is now reflected back into itself. He is now living in something different; he feels himself in another I, another Self, which before this could at best be merely divined. He feels a super-sensible world uplifted within him.


People will more and more feel the need really to concentrate their thoughts, to focus their whole soul activity on sharply defined thoughts which they place in front of their consciousness. Whilst they would otherwise let their senses roam from one thing or fact to another, they will more and more often direct their thought life to certain things of their own choosing; even if only for a short time, they will concentrate on a definite thought, so as to focus their soul activity on this thought. They will then discover something that a lot of you know very well. Everyone makes a certain discovery in the course of concentrating.

If we place a thought in the centre of our consciousness and focus all our soul activity on it, we shall notice the thought growing stronger and stronger. Certainly it does.

But then there comes a point where it does not get stronger any more but gets weaker and fades away. This is an experience lots of you will have had. The thought has to fade away, it has, as it were, to die away inside. For the kind of thoughts we have to begin with and the way we think, are through the instrument of the physical body, and we concentrate the kind of thinking we do by means of the instrument of the physical body until the moment the thought dies, then we slip out of the physical body.

We would go into the unconscious altogether if, parallel with this concentration exercise, we did not attempt to do something else to maintain our consciousness when we have slipped out of our physical body. What we have to do to maintain our consciousness when we are outside, is what we call leading a calm and composed life and accepting the things of the world calmly. We can do even more than accept things calmly. We can take seriously a theory we know so well, namely the concept of karma. What do I mean?

and continues to make the link with karma (see full lecture for context)

It is more difficult to form a union with your destiny in this way than to resist it, but what we lose when our thought passes away can only be regained by drawing into ourselves, like this, what is outside us. We cannot stay in what is within our skin if the thought fades when we concentrate on it, but it will carry us out of ourselves if we have taken hold of our destiny, our karma, in the true sense. We thus awaken ourselves again. The thought dies, but we carry forth the identification we have grasped between our I and our destiny, and it carries us about the world.

This composure with respect to our destiny, this sincere acceptance of destiny, is what gives us existence when we are outside our body. Obviously this does not need to alter our life on the physical plane. We cannot always do that. But the attitude we have to acquire in a corner of our soul must be there, for the moments when we really want to be able to live consciously outside our body.

Two maxims can be our guiding principles and can mean a very great deal to us. The first of these to impress upon our minds is:

Strive for the dying away of the thought in the universe.

For the thought becomes a living force outside, only when it dies away in the universe. Yet we cannot unite ourselves with this living force unless we work at the content of the second maxim:

Strive for the resurrection of destiny in the ‘I’.

If you achieve this, you unite what has been reborn in the thought with the resurrected I outside you.

Transformation of soul mirrors

Transformation of soul mirrors maps to Step 2 in IIH.

See also: Man's transformation and spiritualization: by practicing initiation exercices through conscious choice and free will, using the consciousness soul, Man causes a purifying transformation by which the astral, etheric and physical bodies are transformed into the spirit self, life spirit, and spirit man higher principles.


Let us now consider the principle which in Christian esoterics was called 'the Father'. We know that not only the astral body, but also the ether body and the physical body are transformed through the I. They are transformed unconsciously by people, but consciously so by an esotericist or occultist or someone undergoing esoteric training.

Everything that influences only the astral body is mere preparation for the actual esoteric or occult training.

Occult training begins when we leam to work into the ether or life body, when the human being is enabled, through the instruction given by the occult teacher, to transform temperaments, inclinations and habits, thus becoming a different person. This alone will give insight into the true higher world—that the person changes.

You can study the theory of physics and this will only affect your astral body. You can learn all kinds of things, and they will only affect the astral body.

It is only when teachings have such power that they are able to transform the human being that organs develop from inside that allow us to look into the higher world. Then the ether body is transformed and also the physical body.

And because the transformation of the physical body comes from the breathing process, bringing rhythm into breathing, a physical body illumined by conscious awareness is called atman. The Christian esoteric term is `the Father'.

1908-11-08-GA266/1 and 1908-11-11-GA266/1 and 1908-12-06-GA266/1

  • effects of ambition, vanity, envy, anger on the astral body; understanding for others, strictness for oneself
  • permeation with wisdom as protection against ambition and vanity, with beauty against envy, great words against anger
  • ambition and vanity ruin the life of thought, envy the life of feeling, anger the will life

hindrances in the esoteric life and their overcoming: selfishness (astral body), inclinations, habits (etheric life), worries (physical body)

1912-08-28-GA138 (c)

One must practice self-observation and try to bring home to oneself, without either mercy or consideration, the really grievous faults one knows oneself to possess, so that there comes before the soul a feeling, into which one must live deeply, of how little one corresponds to the great ideal of humanity.

In 1922-11-17-GA218 Steiner covers what he calls exact clairvoyance and ideal magic, and at a certain point comes to describe:

When we survey our life with our ordinary consciousness, we perceive that in a certain sense we underwent a change with the years and decades that passed by. Though slowly, our habits gradually changed. We acquired certain capacities and certain others disappeared. One who observes himself honestly in regard to certain capacities pertaining to his earthly life can say that whenever he acquired a new capacity he became a different person. This is how life transforms us. We completely surrender to life and life educates and trains us and develops the configuration of our soul.

But those who wish to enter the supersensible world with full knowledge — in other words, those who wish to acquire ideal magic must not only intensify thought, as described, so that it enables them to recognise a second form of their existence. But they must also emancipate their will from the physical body on which it depends in ordinary life. We can only activate our will through the fact that we use our physical body, our legs, our arms, our instruments of speech. The physical body is the foundation of our volitional life.

The following can be done, and this has to be done quite systematically by those spiritual investigators who wish to attain to ideal magic in addition to exact clairvoyance. Such strong will-power should be unfolded, that at a certain moment of life they can say to themselves: I must lose a certain habit and my soul must assume a new habit.

When we apply our will-power strongly in order to change certain forms of experience completely, a few years may sometimes be needed for this — but it can be done. We can be educated as it were not only by life itself, through the means of the physical body, but we ourselves can take in hand this education, this self-training.

Such strong exercises of the will, which are also described in the above-mentioned books, lead those who wish to be initiates in the modern meaning to new experiences besides those that imply the retrospection of our daytime experiences during sleep.

In this lecture he also covers out of body experiences during sleep, etc

1923-04-06-GA224 - Forming of Destiny in Sleeping and Waking

1922-12-22-GA219 - sensory perception / breathing / astral body / waking&sleeping

Senses = astral body in contact with air breathing rhythm

Sphere of senses – angels

Sphere of breathing – archangels

Sleeping/awaking – astral body in/out -> memory effect

When breathing becomes conscious, you enter spiritual world

process of sense-perceptions as a way how the astral body is in contact with the air breathing rhythm; difference between how:

  • When awake, the astral body in the physical body connects to the outside world
  • When asleep, the astral body if out
  • When waking .. memory effect arises


Related pages

References and further reading

For more literature on meditation and initation exercises, see the reference section on Rudolf Steiner and initiation