Becoming contemporary: can we transform evil? This was the question taken up by Christine Gruwez*, who had been invited to speak in Montreal by Arie van Ameringen and Renée Cossette. It opened the door to an exploration of the notion of Manicheism and its relevance for our modern world. Some 70 individuals came to hear her speak at the École Rudolf Steiner de Montréal on the evening of Friday, May 17. The dialogue thus set in motion was taken up in various forms during the Anthroposophical Society in Canada’s AGM weekend. Christine Gruwez spoke to us on how becoming a true contemporary means learning to navigate between the forces of good and evil in our daily lives. The teachings of Mani (216 – 276) can shed light how dealing with light and darkness can be of great help in this respect.
How did you become interested in Manicheism?
My interest in the subject developed out of my study of ancient Iranian languages at the Catholic University of Louvain, in Belgium during the 1970’s. I was strangely moved by the Manichean texts written in middle Persian, without knowing why they touched me. And when I read Bernard Livegoed’s book How to Save the Soul (1993), which re-established a link with the Manichean impulse, I felt the same emotion rising up within me. Two friends, John van Schaik and Roland van Vliet, agreed to join me in an in-depth study of Manicheism.
Starting in 1995, we organised lectures and working groups in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. In 2006, we set off on a long voyage along the Silk Road to visit various Manichean sites, among which were Penjikent and Samarkand. After its inception in 3rdcentury Persia, history recounts how Manicheism became widespread during a thousand-year period. It became the state religion of the Uighurs.
Do you speak Farsi?
Yes, I do. It is a very clear, transparent language which uses the Arabic alphabet. But one needs to add four letters, since in Arabic, which is a Semitic language, the consonants are of primary importance, whereas in modern Persian, it is the vowels that are important. Since 2002, I have made frequent trips to Iran, the latest being in 2018.
Why did Rudolf Steiner refer so rarely to Mani, whereas he spoke at length about Ahriman, Lucifer and Christ?
On two occasions, he expressed his regret at not being able to go into greater detail on the subject of Mani, but he did not explain why! In the only lecture he gave on Manicheism (November 11, 1904), he spoke of “the intention of Manicheism” for the future.
What is Mani’s task?
To guide those who have undertaken the task of transforming evil. Mani guides his own stream in human evolution and will remain with mankind until the end of time. According to Rudolf Steiner, Mani is preparing mankind for the time when human beings of the 6thepoch will be guided from out of their own being, by the light of their own souls, to be able to overcome rigid external forms and transform them into spirit.
Steiner spoke of Mani as being an “emissary”, a lofty ambassador for Christ. This was indeed the spiritual title inscribed in Aramaic on a seal Mani carried with him. This seal is now kept in the archives of the Paris National Library. I had the privilege of viewing it (it is not on display) and I was even given permission to hold it.
What does the Manichean story of the Creation recount?
That the kingdoms (spiritual conditions) of light and darkness coexist, are co-eternal and consubstantial, and that they both have the power to create. Their substances are of equal strength, but their natures are opposites.
From within the kingdom of light, a being separates itself off from its surroundings, for this being wishes to contemplate its own light; this results in an interruption in the steady flow of the light. That is the origin of darkness. Indeed, the first beings to experience a spiritual awakening are the beings of darkness, through the contrast with the light. They wish to attack the kingdom of light, which is still in a state of slumber, in order to make it their own. Faced with the urgency of this situation, the beings of light awaken. They say to themselves: we are light, but if we retaliate, we shall no longer be light; by fighting back, we would become darkness.
So instead of punishing the darkness, the kingdom of light sends a being of light who has freely chosen to give itself up to the darkness. This being is torn to pieces, for each entity wants a spark of light for its own self. The beings of darkness absorb this spark, thus awakening to the light – and the light begins to work on them from the inside. And with this, a third principle appears, a state of comingling from which the Creation is born.
And what can we learn from this story?
That light overcomes darkness not through punishment, but with gentleness, leniency, and caring (feelings which are all conveyed by the German word Milde),thus not by resisting evil, but by uniting with it. Evil cannot free itself by its own devices – we ourselves must act to free evil, but we must do this in complete freedom.
At the present time, the general lack of understanding for the life of the spirit hinders Mani’s influence. According to Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, one of the first anthroposophists, Rudolf Steiner said that for Mani to be able to incarnate, two conditions would have to be met: there would have to be a Waldorf school in which he could receive a suitable education; and there would also need to be at least the beginnings of a threefold social order.
Is Manicheism destined to take the place of Judeo-Christian spirituality?
No, Rudolf Steiner does not consider it to be a religion. The task of the Manicheans of the future is to prepare a form into which Christian life can flow. This of course will only come about in the 6thepoch, but the preparations for this must begin now. The result will not be a new religion as such, but rather what Rudolf Steiner points to when he speaks of a true Christianity, a condition existing beyond religion, uniting all confessions in a transformed state. It is the reign of the Holy Spirit.
According to Rudolf Steiner, historical Manicheanism is the precursor of a new way of connecting to the principles of good and evil, and we must take up the evolutionary impulse it carries in order to build the future. We often see evil as existing outside of us. But coming to the realisation that we harbour evil within us is an important first step. The good within me can then meet the evil that exists both within me and without, in an attitude of gentleness and caring. Good that can forgive evil becomes a greater good; light that pierces through darkness is transformed.
What actually is Evil?
It is a process originating from the activity of spiritual beings (Lucifer, Ahriman, the Asuras), and not from fallen beings. Rudolf Steiner presents this in a new, radical way:
- Evil was created as an integral element of evolution, it did not occur accidentally;
- The spiritual beings through which evil takes its place in evolution do not lose their spiritual nature. Evil is created by high ranking beings whose activity makes it possible for human beings to experience freedom and choice. The forces of Evil are interested in us, because we can cultivate freedom, an experience that the Angels do not enjoy. A free human deed performed by a human being is of the greatest interest to the spiritual world.
What are the intentions of the Adversary Forces?
-Lucifer would lead us to believe that we are more advanced than others. He makes us believe that we are greater than we are, and that we have reached the goal;
-Ahriman strives to convince us that we are but beings of matter. By cutting us off from spiritual forces, he diminishes the human being. His weapon of predilection is fear, which blocks access to our essential being.
-The Asuras, spiritual beings who prepared their activity during the Old Saturn evolution, act in the realm of virtual reality. It is impossible to picture them, since they have no countenance, only a mask, and, behind the mask, nothingness. Their aim is to make the existence of the individual impossible and thus to render beings interchangeable. They attack the “I”.
Rudolf Steiner showed how Lucifer and Ahriman work together through the interaction of the principles of life and of form. Life brings with it all the potentialities that a human being possesses at birth. Form creates boundaries and offers resistance, thus allowing potentialities to develop. When the principle of Form becomes too constrictive, it can suffocate us; when the Life principle expands uncontrollably, it is incapable of forming anything.
Why do we speak of Evil so much these days?
Each great cultural epoch carries within it an initiation principle from which its unique creative potential can spring. The question of Death was the principle which concerned the fourth cultural epoch; the question of Evil is the one that concerns our own era (Rudolf Steiner, October 26, 1918). Confronting the mystery of Evil constitutes a path of modern initiation, in this time of the consciousness soul. Good and Evil now work hand in hand (Rudolf Steiner, November 11, 1904).
Formerly, the forces of evil exerted their influence from without. But a new situation has arisen; the forces of evil now work from within each one of us. We now have the possibility (Neigung, in German, inclination), of committing acts of evil and acts of good. Whenever we perform good deeds, we could also perform evil deeds. Therein lies the seed for the future, since our emerging freedom stems from the possibility of choice. In his cycle on the Apocalypse of St. John (June 25, 1908), Rudolf Steiner characterises the “I’s” ability to say yes or no as a double-edged sword, saying yes when it could have said no, and vice-versa.
Where can we find the source of the increased presence of Evil in the world?
Very clearly, within the human “I” itself. Driven by egoism and personal interest, my “I” can refuse to give space to the other’s “I”, prioritising my own satisfaction at the expense of the other “I’s” life circumstances. What needs to be done is integrate rather than exclude, to transcend dualism (one or the other) in order to build a consciousness based on a principle of inclusion (one and the other).
It was Ita Wegman who used the expression “enter into the skin of the dragon” to illustrate this new concept of merging with evil without performing evil deeds. In the consciousness soul, I carry within me every possible tendency towards good and evil. Why do I also carry within myself the possibility of doing evil? This question replaces, for our present time, the ancient question posed by Job: Why have I been chosen to endure such suffering?
What are the steps on the path of initiation enabling us to face the forces of Evil?
It is a process consisting of five steps. For example, faced with an event that shocks or offends us:
1-We are mere spectators, powerless, as if paralysed and incapable of reconnecting with our own will;
2-We take it in, silently but actively; we internalize it;
3-We begin to sense that we are involved in the process; we feel we are part of the situation;
4-We become witnesses, and we meet within ourselves the suffering that evil causes us. Evil both suffers and causes suffering, because it cannot free itself by its own devices. This demands that we act to bring about a transformation.
5-We become contemporary human beings by exerting spirit presence, by remaining awake, as if we were watching over a loved one in the last days of his or her life. This is not just an emotional awaking, but a state of consciousness that we maintain through our own effort.
When I reach the ultimate depths of helplessness, I become aware of something carrying me. I am not alone – Christ carries the weight of all mankind for us. Endowed with the possibility – and the freedom – to do evil and to do good, I become a contemporary human being.
How does this play out in our daily lives?
What is important are the small acts we perform discretely in our daily lives and that can go towards redeeming evil. For example, imagine that you are in an airplane, seated comfortably in your seat. You see the other passengers coming down the aisle looking for their seats and you think to yourself: Oh no, not him, not her! This completely natural reaction I have is something I must recognise as representing the possibility of evil within me.
Furthermore, by excluding, we exclude ourselves. Let us ask ourselves when witnessing an improper act that shocks us, if in reality we ourselves could not be capable of committing such an act. This is where forgiveness begins. Sergei O. Prokofieff , in his book The Occult Significance of Forgiveness, demonstrated how forgiveness frees karma from the consequences of the deed performed and also touches the angels who weave the threads of karma. By practicing forgiveness we ourselves take on a part of the work of the angel.
How can one reconcile personal development with a true interest for others?
By starting to have concern for those that lag behind, that bring up the rear, without always looking to those who are ahead of us, out in front. Not only should I serve others out of a feeling of devotion, which of course is necessary, but even go so far as to decide, if necessary, to slow my own personal development in order to allow the other person to advance. This means suspending my own evolution for a time to help the individual who, without my help, cannot go further, somewhat like Parsifal, who refused to be crowned King of the Grail unless his brother could be admitted to the castle. Not I without the other! Personal development, yes, but in the service of others.
We must clearly identify good and evil within ourselves. A true concern for others – an interest that places no conditions or restrictions and has no expectation of being reciprocated – is an expression of good in which I myself have taken part.
Do we not also commit evil without knowing it?
Yes, we do, when our own light casts a shadow on others. When you shine, others will end up in your shadow, and this is especially true in the social sphere. Therefore, it is important to hold our own light in check. And yet, not letting too much shine out from our own being must not keep us from developing. The basic principle of evil is to cause division. It appears each time we divide something that belongs to a greater whole.
The spiritual world finds mankind interesting as long as it continues to evolve; the angel is not free; rather, he observes us. The adversary forces, on the other hand, aim at preventing development. And yet, they also are evolving and they go through four stages: being; revelation of their fundamental intention; manifestation; taking action. And we can learn to identify these four stages in ourselves. The great challenge facing human beings is … to become human! Which is the true meaning of the Mystery of Golgotha – a spiritual being becomes human!
2019 marks the 800thanniversary of the moment when Francis of Assisi, on foot, unarmed and with a companion, met the Sultan at Damietta. What are your thoughts regarding this event?
The Muslims acknowledge St. Francis precisely because of this meeting. For the Western world, Islam exists as a wake-up call, warning us of the pitfalls inherent in the consciousness soul. We therefore have good reason to remember this event in order to keep the space open for becoming.
Given the general situation of our time, Rudolf Steiner (October 26, 1918) indicated that there is no reason to be pessimistic, but that there is every reason to awaken to the situation. In the same way that evil is approaching us, good also is coming our way. The two are intrinsically bound together.
*Christing Gruwez received her education in philosophy and linguistics at the Catholic University of Louvain, in Belgium. She taught at the Free Waldorf University in Anvers. Her fields of research include Christianity, Islam, Manicheanism, and the promotion of dialogue between religions and cultures. Among her published works: Zeitgenosse werden(Becoming Contemporary)and Mani and Rudolf Steiner: Manicheism, Anthroposophy, and their Meeting in the Future, Steiner Books, Great Barrington, MA, 2014.