If one has been inwardly active at the stage of preparation and purification for a sufficient length of time, sooner or later there approaches the trial of encountering the “Guardian of the Threshold”, which is also called the trial by fire. Consisting of shame, this fire is an inward expression of the awakened conscience. A person on the path must go through this fire.
It is a matter of recognising one’s own lower nature standing before oneself in undisguised form. This is the “double” that one has generated and expelled. To look in this way upon one’s own human double, undisguised, is a trial of courage. To pass through it one must find the strength not to despair over oneself. One must find the courage not to despair over one’s karma.
Such strength does not arise from the view of what has stood there, confronting oneself. This strength can only be drawn from the power of the humnan I itself. No inspiration can be of help, nor can one derive help from thoughts and memories. One must find one’s own power of courage….this courage is the power that gives rise to imagination. It is needed in order to “paint in spiritual space”. That is the reason one must develop courage for imaginative consciousness. The content of the trial – facing one’s own inner nature – makes it possible to distinguish imagination from illusion. One is then aware of the sources of illusions, and can exclude them.
Having passed the test of courage, the soul then enters into a stage of no longer having firm ground upon which to stand. The situation is such that the human soul is surrounded by endless possibilities of movement – in all directions, simultaneously. Immersed in the realms of myriad influences and evocations directed towards it, the soul can surrender itself, engage itself with a thousand things.
A power must therefore be created that keeps the soul steadfast and gives it a sense of direction. The soul must develop out of itself the ability to renounce the abundance of spiritual influences. It must become able to restrict itself to one option among this abundance of possibilities. This is at once the trial of self control and the experience of it. And self-control is necessary for inspirational knowledge.
If one goes through this trial by water – if one develops self-control – then one’s soul enters into a region of destiny where one not only has no ground beneath one’s feet and must find one’s own direciton by a kind of “swimming”; the soul also enters a place devoid of air. One enters into an utter loneliness and wilderness of soul life.
The impulses of thinking, feeling and willing cease. One’s soul is like a sailing ship standing with sagging sails in windless weather. It enters into a condition in which all experiences cease. There is no basis upon which to sense, to feel, or to will. The soul is in complete loneliness. Now the soul must find the presence of the spirit out of its own power.
Without surrendering to passivity, it must find the strength for an impulse-to-action within itself. The soul’s awakening at the moment of falling asleep – awakening itself through the strength of its own inner being, through the power of the I itself, without any motive for staying awake – is presence of spirit (presence of mind). The soul is spiritually present when it is silent.
These first three trials – these first three experiences – represent the human ascent into the spiritual world.
Valentin Tomberg, Inner Development, The Occult Trials