If higher members of man are observed by means of supersensible perception, this perception is never completely similar to perception with the outer senses. If the human being touches an object and has a perception of heat, he must distinguish between what comes from the object, what streams out of it, as it were, and what he himself experiences in his soul. The inner soul experience of the sensation of heat is something quite different from the heat streaming from the object. Let us now imagine this soul experience alone, without the outer object. Let us imagine the experience of a sensation of heat in the soul without an outer physical cause. If such an experience were simply present without a cause, it would be imaginary. The student of the spiritual experiences such inner perceptions without physical cause, and above all, without their being caused by his own body. These perceptions appear at a certain stage of development, however, in such a way that he is able to know (as has been shown, through the experience itself) that the inner perception is not imaginary, but that it is caused by a being of the world of soul and spirit in a supersensory outer world just as the usual sensation of heat, for example, is caused by an outer physical-sensory object. This is also the case when one speaks of a color perception. There a distinction must be made between the color of the outer object and the inner sensation of color in the soul. Let us visualize the inner sensation of the soul when it perceives a red object of the outer physical-sensory world. Let us imagine that we retain a vivid memory of the impression, but we turn the eye away from the object. Let us now visualize as an inner experience what we then retain as memory picture of the color. We shall then distinguish between the inner experience of the color, and the outer color. These inner experiences are certainly different in content from the outer sense-impressions. They bear much more the character of what is felt as pain and joy than the normal outer sensation. Now think that such an inner experience arises in the soul without an outer physical-sensory object or the memory of such an object as the cause. A person able to have supersensible perceptions may have such an experience. He is also able to know, in the case in question, that it is not imaginary, but the expression of a being of the world of soul and spirit. If this being now calls forth an impression similar to the one made by a red object of the physical-sensory world, it may then be designated red. In the case of a physical-sensory object, the outer impression will always be there first; then comes the inner color experience. In the case of true supersensible perception by the human being of our time, the process must be reversed: first the inner experience, shadowlike, like a mere color memory, and then a picture that becomes ever more vivid. The less attention one pays to the fact that the process must occur in this manner, the less one will be able to distinguish between real spiritual perception and imaginary deception, hallucination, and so forth. Whether the vividness of the picture, in the case of such a perception of the world of soul and spirit, remains entirely shadowlike, like a dim visualization, or whether it produces an intensive effect, like an outer object, will depend entirely upon the development of the student of the spiritual. — It is possible to describe the general impression that the clairvoyant has of the human ether body thus: If the person who has supersensible perception has developed such a power of will that, in spite of the presence of a physical man before him, he is capable of diverting his attention from what the physical eye beholds, then he is able by means of supersensible consciousness to look into the space occupied by the physical human being. Of course, a strong increase of will is necessary in order not only to turn the attention away from something one thinks but from something that stands before one, so that the physical impression becomes entirely extinguished. But this increase of will is possible, and it appears as a result of the exercises for the attainment of supersensible cognition. The one who is thus able to cognize may then have, in the first instance, a general impression of the ether body. In his soul the same inner sensation emerges that he has by looking at the color of the peach blossom; this then increases in intensity and enables him to say that the ether body has the color of the peach blossom. Then he perceives also the individual organs and currents of the ether body. We may, however, describe the ether body further by indicating the experiences of the soul that correspond to the sensations of heat, to the impressions of tone, and so forth. For it is not merely a phenomenon of color. In the same sense the astral body and the other members of man's being may be described. Whoever considers this will understand how descriptions are to be taken that are made in the sense of spiritual science. (See Chapter II in this book.)
As long as we observe only the physical world, the earth as a dwelling place of man appears like a separate cosmic body. If, however, supersensible cognition rises to different worlds, this separation ceases. It was, therefore, possible to say that imagination perceives, together with the earth, the Moon condition developed right into the present. Not only does the supersensible realm of the earth belong to the world we enter in this way, but embedded in it are still other cosmic bodies, physically separated from the earth. The knower of supersensible worlds does then not merely observe the supersensible nature of the earth, but, at the outset, also the supersensible nature of other cosmic bodies. (That it is primarily a question of observing the supersensible nature of other cosmic bodies should be considered by those who are impelled to ask the question: Why do the clairvoyants not tell us about the conditions on Mars? Such a questioner has the physical-sensory conditions in mind.) In the presentation of this book it was, therefore, possible also to speak of certain relationships of the earth evolution with the simultaneously occurring Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars evolutions, and so forth. — When the human astral body yields to sleep, it does not then belong to the earth conditions only, but to worlds in which still other cosmic realms, stellar worlds, astral worlds, partake. Indeed, these worlds are also active in the astral body of man during the waking state. Therefore, the name “astral body” seems to be justified.
In the exposition of this book we have spoken of the time during which, after the death of the human being, the astral body still remains united with the ether body. During this time a gradually fading memory of the whole life just passed is present. (See Chapter III.) The length of this period varies with different human beings. It depends upon the degree of power with which the astral body of the individual human being holds fast to the ether body, upon the degree of force the former exercises upon the latter. Supersensible cognition may have an impression of this power when it observes a human being who, because of his state of body and soul, ought to be asleep, but who remains awake by means of inner strength. It now becomes evident that different people are able to remain awake for greatly varying lengths of time without being overpowered by sleep. For the most extreme length of time that a human being is able to remain awake does the memory of the life just passed through continue after death, that is to say, does the connection of the astral with the ether body last.
When the ether body is released from man after death, a portion of it still remains for the rest of man's future evolution. This may be described as an extract or an essence of this body. This extract contains the fruits of the past life, and it is the bearer of everything that, during man's spiritual development between death and a new birth, unfolds as a germinal beginning of the subsequent life. (Compare Chapter 3.)
The length of time between death and a new birth is determined by the fact that, as a rule, the ego returns to the physical-sensory world only after the latter has been changed sufficiently to make it possible for the ego to experience something new. While the ego remains in the spiritual realms, the earthly dwelling place undergoes a change. This change is connected in a certain respect with the great changes in the cosmos, with the changed position of earth and sun, and so forth. These are changes, however, in which certain repetitions take place in connection with new conditions. They express themselves outwardly, for instance, through the fact that the point of the celestial sphere at which the sun rises in the beginning of spring makes a complete circle in the course of 26,000 years. This vernal equinox thus resolves, in the course of that period, from one celestial region to another. In the course of one twelfth of this period, in about 2,100 years, the conditions on the earth have altered so much that the human soul can experience something new after a preceding incarnation. Since the experiences of a human being are different according to his incarnation as a woman or as a man, there occur as a rule two incarnations within the characterized period of 2,100 years, one as a man and one as a woman. These things, however, depend also upon the nature of the forces man takes with him from earth existence through the door of death. It should, therefore, be understood that all indications given here are valid in the essentials; in individual cases, however, they show themselves varied in the most manifold way. How long the human being remains in the spiritual world between death and a new birth depends in one way only upon the described conditions in the cosmos. In another regard this depends on the states of development through which man passes during that time. These states lead the ego, after a certain lapse of time, to a spiritual condition that finds no further satisfaction in its inner spiritual experiences, and which develops the longing toward the change of consciousness that finds satisfaction in the reflection through physical experience. Through the co-operation of this inner thirst for incarnation and the possibility offered by the cosmos of finding the corresponding bodily organism the entrance of the human being into earth-life occurs. Since there must be a twofold cooperation, incarnation occurs, in one instance, — although the “thirst for incarnation” has not yet attained its full intensity — because an approximately fitting embodiment can be realized; it occurs, in another instance, — although the thirst for incarnation has overstepped its normal intensity — because at the corresponding time there was no possibility yet of embodiment. The general mood of life in which a human being finds himself because of the constitution of his bodily nature is connected with these conditions.
The life of the human being as it expresses itself in the succession of conditions between birth and death can only be grasped completely by taking into account not only the sensory-physical body, but also those changes that occur in the supersensory principles of human nature. — We may regard these changes in the following manner. Physical birth represents the breaking loose of the human being from the physical maternal sheath. Forces, which the embryonic human being had in common with the maternal body before birth, are present in him after birth only as independent forces. Later in life, however, supersensible events occur for supersensible perception, resembling the sensory events occurring at physical birth. Up to the time of his change of teeth (at the sixth or seventh year), the human being, in regard to his ether body, is surrounded by an etheric sheath. This falls away at this period of life. A “birth” of the ether body takes place. The human being, however, still continues to be enclosed by an astral sheath; this falls away between the twelfth and sixteenth years, (at the time of puberty). The “birth” of the astral body then takes place. And still later the actual ego is born. (The fruitful points of view for education, which result from these supersensible facts, are to be found in my brochure, The Education of the Child from the Standpoint of Spiritual Science. In this booklet also may be found a further exposition of what here can only be indicated.) Man, after the birth of the ego, lives so as to fit himself into the conditions of the world and life and is active within them according to the principles working through the ego: sentient soul, intellectual soul, and consciousness soul. Then a time arrives when the ether body retraces the processes of his development from the seventh year onward. Whereas the astral body has previously developed in such a way that it has first unfolded in itself what was already present in him as a possibility at birth, and then, after the birth of the ego, has enriched itself through the experiences of the outer world, it begins from a certain point of time to nourish itself spiritually by its own ether body. It feeds on the ether body. In the further course of life the ether body also begins to feed on the physical body. With this is connected the decline of the physical body in old age. — As a result the course of human life falls into three periods: one in which the physical and ether bodies unfold; another in which the astral body and the ego are developed; finally the third period in which the ether and physical bodies reverse their development. The astral body, however, participates in all processes between birth and death. Through the fact of its being actually born spiritually only between the twelfth and sixteenth years and of its being compelled, during the last period of life, to feed on the forces of the ether and physical bodies, what it is able to do through its own forces develops more slowly than it would were it not in a physical and ether body. After death, when the physical and ether bodies have fallen away, the development during the period of purification (compare Chapter 3), therefore, takes place in such a way that it lasts about one third of the duration of life between birth and death.
By means of imagination, inspiration, and intuition supersensible cognition gradually reaches the regions of the spiritual world in which there are accessible to it the beings that participate in the evolution of the cosmos and man. Through this fact it is also possible for this cognition to follow up human evolution between death and a new birth so that this becomes comprehensible. There are, however, still higher regions of existence that can only be briefly alluded to here. If supersensible cognition has raised itself up to the stage of intuition, it then lives in a world of spiritual beings. These beings also undergo development. The concerns of modern mankind extend, so to speak, into the world of intuition. To be sure, the human being also receives influences from still higher worlds in the course of his development between death and a new birth, but he does not experience these influences directly; the beings of the spiritual world convey them to him, and if these are taken into consideration, we then have everything that happens to man. The affairs of these beings, however, what they need for themselves in order to lead human development, can be observed only through cognition that reaches beyond intuition. In this we have a hint concerning higher spiritual worlds that are to be thought of as being of such a character that spiritual matters, which on earth are the most exalted, belong there to those on a lower level. For example, within the earth region, reasoned conclusions are among the highest achievements, while the effects of the mineral kingdom are among the lowest. In those higher regions, reasoned conclusions approximate what are on earth mineral effects. Beyond the region of intuition lies the realm in which, out of spiritual causes, the cosmic plan is spun.
When it has been said (compare beginning of Chapter IV) that the ego works on the members of man's being — on the physical, ether, and astral bodies — and fashions these, in reverse order, into spirit self, life spirit, and spirit man, this refers to the work of the ego on the being of man by means of the highest faculties, which began their development only in the course of the earth periods. This transformation, however, is preceded by another on a lower stage, and through this the sentient soul, intellectual soul, and consciousness soul are developed. For, while during the course of human evolution the sentient soul is formed, transformations in the astral body take place; the formation of the intellectual soul expresses itself in transformations in the ether body, the formation of the consciousness soul in transformations in the physical body. In the course of the description of the Earth evolution given in this book, the details of these processes were indicated. We may thus say, in a certain sense, that the sentient soul is already based upon a transformed astral body, the intellectual soul upon a transformed ether body, and the consciousness soul upon a transformed physical body. We may, however, also say that these three soul principles are parts of the astral body, for the consciousness soul, for example, is only possible through its being an astral entity in a physical body adapted to it. It lives an astral life in a physical body that has been fashioned into its dwelling place.
The dream state has been characterized, in a certain respect, in the earlier chapter, Sleep and Death. It is to be conceived of, on the one hand, as being a remnant of the ancient picture consciousness that man possessed during the Moon evolution and also during a large part of Earth evolution. For evolution advances in such a fashion that the earlier states play over into the later. Thus, a remnant now appears in the human being during the dream state of what was previously a normal state. On the other hand, however, this state is different from ancient picture consciousness, for the ego, since its development, plays also into the processes of the astral body taking place in sleep while man is dreaming. Thus, in dreams we have a picture consciousness transformed through the presence of the ego. Since the ego, however, does not consciously carry on its activity upon the astral body during the state of dreaming, nothing that belongs to the realm of dream life must be considered as belonging to what in truth can lead to a spiritual-scientific knowledge of supersensible worlds. The same is true for what is often designated as vision, premonition, or second-sight (deuteroscopy). These come into existence through the ego's eliminating itself with the result that remnants of ancient states of consciousness arise. These have no direct use in spiritual science. What is observed by them cannot be considered in the true sense a result of the latter.
The path leading to a knowledge of supersensible worlds that has been described more explicitly in this book may also be called the “direct path of knowledge.” Another exists beside it that we may designate as the “path of feeling.” It would, however, be quite incorrect to believe that the first path has nothing to do with the development of feeling. On the contrary, it leads to the greatest possible deepening of the life of feeling. The path of feeling, however, turns directly to feeling only and seeks to ascend from this to knowledge. It is based upon the fact that when the soul surrenders itself completely to a feeling for a certain length of time, this feeling transforms itself into knowledge, into a picture-like perception. If, for example, the soul fills itself completely during weeks, months, or even a longer period, with the feeling of humility, then the content of feeling transforms itself into a perception. One may, by passing step by step through such feelings, also find a path into supersensible regions. This, however, is not easily carried out by modern man under ordinary life-conditions. Seclusion, retirement from present-day life is an almost unavoidable necessity for this path. For the impressions experienced in daily life disturb, especially at the beginning, what the soul reaches through its immersion in certain feelings. In contrast to this, the path of knowledge described in this book can be carried out in every situation of modern life.
The question may be asked whether inner meditation and the other means described of attaining supersensible cognition permit only a general observation of man between death and a new birth or of other spiritual processes, or whether they permit the observation of quite definite processes and beings, for example, of some particular deceased person. The answer to this must be: Whoever acquires by the described means the faculty of observing the spiritual world, may also reach the point of observing detailed occurrences within it. He makes himself capable of coming in contact with human beings dwelling in the world of spirit between death and a new birth. One must, however, pay heed to the fact that this must happen, in the sense of spiritual science, only after one has gone through the regular training in supersensible cognition. Only then is one able, in regard to special events and beings, to distinguish between delusion and reality. Whoever wishes to observe details without the proper training may fall a victim to many deceptions. Even the most elementary achievement, namely, the understanding of the way in which such impressions of special supersensible facts are to be interpreted is not possible without an advanced spiritual training. The training that leads into the higher worlds for the observation of what is described in this book leads also to the ability to follow the life of an individual human being after death. It also leads to the observation and understanding of all special beings of the world of soul and spirit who influence from hidden worlds the outer manifested world. Nevertheless, correct observation of details is only possible upon the basis of cognition of the general, great cosmic and human facts of the spiritual world that concern every human being. Whoever desires the one without desiring the other goes astray. It belongs to the experiences that must be undergone in regard to the observation of the spiritual world that the admission into the realms of supersensible existence for which one longs at the very first is granted only when the student has striven on solemn and difficult paths, leading to problems of general knowledge, for that which gives information about the meaning of life. If he has trodden these paths with a pure and unegotistical urge for knowledge, then only is he mature enough to observe details, the observation of which would have been previously only a satisfying of egotistical longings, even though he had persuaded himself that it was only his love of someone who is dead, for example, that had made him strive for an insight into the spiritual world. The insight into the special is only possible for him who, from sincere interest for general spiritual-scientific knowledge, has gained the possibility of accepting also the special without any egotistical desire like an objective scientific truth.