‘Out of the silence something begins to speak to us. Previously we could hear speech only with our ears, but now words resound in our souls. An inner speech, an inner word, is disclosed to us. The first time we experience this we feel supremely blessed. Our outer world is suffused with an inner light. A second life begins for us. A divine, bliss-bestowing world streams through us.’
The Rudolf Steiner Archive
Anthroposophical Society in America — Rudolf Steiner
How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation (1904)
Rudolf Steiner.
In Summary

Your spiritual senses are as real as the sight with which you see these written words. Nurture and cultivate these higher senses, and you will witness otherworldly colours, meaning, souls, spectres and secrets.


Esotericism has had many modern advocates, though few, if any, as terrifyingly articulate, well-read, prolific, and influential as Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. His collected works include over 300 volumes, and he founded both Anthroposophy and the Waldorf education system while simultaneously impacting fields as diverse as medicine, agriculture, biology and architecture. Even Theosophy, a movement he never officially joined, and later dramatically split away from, nonetheless remains highly influenced by him to this day. Steiner also claimed to be prophetically clairvoyant – perhaps best exemplified in his powerful and public denunciation of Hitler long before the rest of the world recognised the extent of his agenda or his evil.

Heavily influenced by famed poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Steiner sought to create a spiritual science that described the non-material world in precise, objective terms. This is what initially brought him to the attention of the Theosophical movement, in which he quickly became a powerful figure before splitting off to help found the more philosophically Western Anthroposophical Society in 1912. It was during his Theosophical foray, however, that he published How to Know Higher Worlds in 1904, laying out his essential vision for how we may become initiated into the knowledge of these designated realms.


Just as our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch reveal the natural world to us, our spiritual senses likewise can reveal non-physical, higher worlds. And as these five senses form the foundation for natural science, so too can our higher senses help us construct a spiritual science. Just as natural scientists are rigorously educated to restructure their current world views in order to perceive otherwise unknown scientific laws, the spiritual scientist must undertake necessary preparations to be able to observe what the rest of us remain blind to. To nurture their spiritual sense organs involves cultivating genuine humility, sustaining a sense of holy curiosity, maintaining a rich and peaceful inner life, daily meditative practice, and exhibiting a willingness to listen and withhold judgement. Moreover, once on this path, we near completion of what Steiner defines as the first stage of spiritual development: Preparation. At this point the second stage of Illumination can spring as we begin to meditate with increasing intensity upon the world using these our newfound spiritual sense organs. For example, we might focus at length on an object, such as a candle or a chair, until we see past its matter and atoms to perceive its deeper spiritual forms and colours. But this ‘higher’ sense of sight is analogous only to our earthly eyesight; to attempt to convey this to someone who has not experienced it for themselves would be like trying to describe colour to a blind man.

These stages often (though not always) flow sequentially, leading to the third stage of Initiation. Here we encounter trials, mysteries, secret scripts and lucid dreams, increasing in certainty and clarity as our prejudices are burnt away by swelling glimpses of and union with the higher world. Dozens of dimensions now replace the original three. We see everywhere brighter colours, higher forms, souls, etheric bodies, spirit entities and guardians of the threshold (who are the manifestations of our spiritual successes and failures, and who prevent us from moving on to the higher levels until we have returned, like Bodhisattvas, to bring others along with us). We now see worlds within and beyond our own – for example, we see that the spiritual atmosphere of a hospital is different from a dance hall and that a loving action is accompanied by different astral phenomena than a hateful one.


How to Know Higher Worlds suggests a way forward for those who struggle with the proverbial science versus religion debate. While Steiner has received his fair share of accusations of pseudoscience (like anyone who dares to speak about esoteric subjects), his overall philosophical and literary sophistication give him an unusual air of respectability in academic circles that many find refreshing and helpful.

Steiner’s work is also surprisingly accessible to newcomers in terms of both readability and practice. Indeed, he believes anyone can undertake spiritual science, not just the educated or elite. As Steiner writes, ‘Esoteric or inner knowledge is no different from other kinds of human knowledge and ability. It is a mystery for the average person only to the extent that writing is a mystery for those who have not yet learned to write.’

Further Reading By This Author

Steiner was a prodigious author, and it would be futile to attempt to quickly summarise his many works. However, The Philosophy of Freedom, Theosophy, The Way of Initiation, and An Outline of Occult Science remain popular favorites for those looking for that crucial next step in their Steiner initiation.

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