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Module 2-3: Trials and Thresholds

Module 2-3: Trials and Thresholds

Awakening to initiation through life

Reflecting on peak, abyss and transition experiences

Mozart’s opera ‚The Magic Flute‘ depicts trials as incidents within a formal initiation process. Modern life and consciousness has stepped beyond formal settings, but trial-like incidents appear as part of daily life. In difficult life circumstances we may feel as if we are losing the ground from under our feet, being swept away by a wave, or feeling consumed by a fiery experience.

In this Module, we aim to distinguish the distinctive nature of contemporary ‚trials‘ that confront you as an individual, especially within social life, and to compare these with the old picture of ‚fire, water and air trials.‘ We also explore what the expression ‚humanity is crossing the threshold‘ means in this context. Phenomenology related to the elements fire, water and air give points of reference to explore this theme on both a lofty spiritual level and with the unvarnished realities of daily life.

To enrich the above, it is helpful to further explore some terms.

Trial or Initiation Processes

Trial is a term used for tests on a path to acquire ‚Occult‘, ‚Esoteric‘, ‚Spiritual‘ or ‚Higher Knowledge‘; ultimately the path is about striving towards Initiation (Enlightenment). To demonstrate their readiness and to progress to the next level of their training, candidates would face a test or trial. In some Occult trainings, these trials were very rigorous, and candidates were punished, harmed by the test or died. These trainings or Initiation Processes happened apart from the everyday world in a remote area or behind high walls. Often these trainings were part of Mystery Schools or Mystery Centres, which ended in Europe under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. The Christian replacements for Mystery schools were Monasteries, Monastic orders and Orders of Knights (warriors who gave an oath to serve the higher good of the Church or church leaders).

In more mundane social life, rites of passage are similar to trials.

Initiation through Life

In his book Knowledge of Higher Worlds Rudolf Steiner repeatedly uses phrases like initiation through life, pointing to the fact that in our time daily (social) life offers challenges, which are equivalent to trials. Exploring life incidents with ‚trial‘ or ‚test‘ qualities is part of our workshop on ‚Trials and Thresholds‘.


A threshold is the boundary between two spaces. By crossing the threshold, we step from one space into another, for example, out of the house into the garden. In ordinary physical consciousness, there is no problem. If we stay oriented, we know that we have stepped from one space into another and that we will find our way back.

Spiritual Science uses the term Crossing the Threshold to describe a change of consciousness. That is, for crossing from everyday consciousness into a transpersonal, transcendental or spiritual consciousness, with possible ’spiritual experiences‘ along the way.

Compared to consciously crossing a threshold in the physical world, crossing a threshold in the spiritual world can happen unconsciously. Without noticing it, we leave one ‚room‘ or space behind and are unaware that we have just stepped into a ’new one‘, not knowing where we have arrived and not knowing the way back.

In his movie and psychotic experiences, the Swiss director Edgar Hagen raises a question: I am asking myself about the origin of this fear … the fear to suddenly lose the threads between my fingers, to descend into chaos and finally to completely lose my mind. Is it possible that this fear only arises, because we don’t know the way back?