Rudolf Steiner observed that mystery cults throughout history required their postulants to undergo an initiation that lasted three days. During this time the would-be initiate died to his former ego-centered existence. He (it was usually a man in those times) was given something to eat or drink that made him lose consciousness. Then his body was placed in a tomb. In the Mithraic mysteries the postulant was placed in a trench cut in stone. He awoke on the third day at dawn, as the sun’s first light shone upon him. But while in the tomb or the trench the postulant left his body and (according to Steiner) confronted Lucifer and Ahriman, two opposite kinds of evil. This was his journey into hell.

When I was a child I learned the Apostle’s Creed, which stated that Christ “was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose from the dead.” According to Steiner Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection was an exoteric or public enactment of a drama that hitherto had been esoteric or secret.

The initiate’s descent into hell was a necessary prelude to his “resurrection” into a new life centered upon the spirit. His confrontation with the forces of evil was of the greatest importance in this process of transformation. I remember the time when I woke up to the reality of evil while reading “The Lord of the Rings” by Tolkien. I was not the same person afterwards.

Anyone who thinks that he or she will never have the opportunity to undergo the kind of dramatic initiation that I have described should think again. According to the ancient prophet Zarathustra everyone who dies and is not ready for heaven will go to hell for three days. I must emphasize this point: even the most evil, the most vile of human beings will suffer in hell for only three days. Zarathustra’s teaching was given to the public but it is actually an echo of the esoteric process of initiation, which, as we have seen, lasts for three days.

A particular person may or may not suffer during this time---it is important to emphasize that the three days are not intended to be a punishment for sin. The god of Zarathustra, Ahura Mazda, is not an angry god---as his name, the “Wise Lord”, indicates. He does not want anyone to suffer anymore than a good psychologist wants a difficult patient to suffer. It is his desire, however, that all should be transformed; he knows that for some people a certain amount of suffering will be a regrettable but necessary part of the process.

At the present time we disobey spiritual laws or have various kinds of addictions without knowing the spiritual background to our actions. Steiner emphasized the importance of knowledge to those who studied with him. The right kind of knowledge was not to be obtained through book study, but through a direct experience of the spiritual worlds.

I would like to describe my own confrontation with Ahriman. Because I have shamanistic abilities it was not necessary for me to become unconscious and leave my physical body. But I was taking care of my mother after she had a stroke and I was seriously sleep deprived. This forced me to “dream” while still awake. I laid down on the floor and imagined that I was floating in space between the moon and the earth. I knew that Ahriman would try to approach the earth and I wanted to prevent him from doing so. When he came I felt that a flood of something like vomit was being poured all over my body. It was nauseating but I quietly endured it for about an hour. I could feel Ahriman’s hatred for me. Suddenly he left and returned to outer space. This occurred in the spring of 2016; I do not know what effect, if any, this event had upon the life of the world.

After the time of Zarathustra there were writers in the Zoroastrian religion who described hell in detail and made it seem eternal, much as Christian and Muslim authors did. But even then it was taught that at the time of the final renovation of the world the souls of the wicked would be forced to undergo an “Ordeal of Molten Metal” for three days before entering heaven. In the end there would not be any demons, hell, or punishment.

Below: Souls of people who have recently died crossing the chinvat bridge to the world of the dead.

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