Occult Science - An Outline
Chapter III: Sleep And Death
The essence of man's waking consciousness cannot be penetrated without observing the condition he lives through in sleep; so too, is the riddle of life insoluble without the study of death. People who have no feeling for the importance of supersensible knowledge will find grounds for skepticism in the very fact that it dwells so much on the facts of sleep and death. We can appreciate the motives of this kind of skepticism. For it is not unreasonable to insist that man is here to lead an active life, and that the more he is devoted to this life, the more efficient and creative he will be; to delve into such things as sleep and death can only spring from a tendency to idle dreaming and lead to nothing more than empty figments of the mind.
People may easily regard the refusal to indulge in such “empty figments” as a sign of mental health, and see in the pursuit of these “idle dreamings” something morbid, natural enough to those deficient in vitality and vigor, without ability to do creative work. We should do wrong merely to brush aside this opinion. There is in it a modicum of truth; it is a quarter-truth, and only needs to be complemented by the remaining three quarters. By arguing against it we only kindle the mistrust of those who see the one quarter well enough but are unaware of the other three.
A study of what lies hidden behind sleep and death is only morbid if it produces weakness and aversion from the realities of life. This may be granted without reservation. Admittedly moreover, much that has claimed the title of “Occult Science” in the past or is pursued today under this name, bears an unhealthy stamp, inimical to life. But the true science of the supersensible does not give rise to anything unhealthy of this kind.
The fact is rather this: As a man cannot always be awake, so for the full reality of life he cannot do without what the supersensible provides. Life goes on in sleep; the faculties with which we work and achieve results in waking consciousness derive strength and renewal from what sleep imparts. So too it is with what man is able to observe within the manifest world. The real world is wider than the field of this type of observation. Therefore the knowledge man can gain within the visible domain needs to be fertilized and complemented by all that he can come to know of the invisible. A man who did not ever and again derive from sleep the renewal of his exhausted powers would destroy his life; likewise, a way of thinking which is not made fruitful by the knowledge of hidden worlds must ultimately lead to emptiness and desolation.
So too with “death.” All living things are subject to death, to the end that new life may arise. It is the knowledge of the supersensible which throws clear light on Goethe's well-known saying, “Nature herself invented death, to have abundant life.” As without death there could be no life in the ordinary meaning of the term, so without insight into the supersensible there can be no true knowledge even of the visible world. Our knowledge of the visible must penetrate again and again to the invisible, that it may live and grow. Thus it becomes apparent that the science of the manifest world is awakened to essential life by the science of the supersensible. In its true form, the latter never has a weakening effect. Time and again it brings refreshment and healing into the outer existence which when abandoned to its own resources becomes weak and ill.
When a man falls asleep the connection between the members of his being undergoes a change. What we see lying there on the bed includes the physical and the etheric body of the sleeper, but not the astral body nor the I or Ego. Inasmuch as the etheric body remains connected with the physical, the vital functions continue during sleep; left to itself alone, the physical body would of necessity disintegrate. It is the thoughts, the mental images, it is pain and pleasure, joy and grief, the power of giving conscious direction to the will, and all other things of this kind, which are blotted out in sleep. Now of all this the astral body is the bearer.
For an unbiased mind there can of course be no question of supposing that the astral body with its pains and pleasures, with its whole world of ideation and volition, is annihilated during sleep. It is still there, only in a different state. If the human I and astral body are not merely to contain pain and pleasure and all the other things above named, but to have conscious perception of them, the astral body must be united with the physical and etheric bodies, as indeed it is in waking life. In sleep it is not so; it has then withdrawn from the physical and the etheric bodies, as indeed it is in waking life. In sleep it is not so; it has then withdrawn from the physical and the etheric and entered into quite another mode of existence than pertains to it when united with them.
It is the task of supersensible science to investigate this other mode of existence. In sleep the astral body vanishes from external observation; supersensible perception must now trace it through the stages of its life, till on awakening it once more takes possession of the physical and the etheric body.
As with all other knowledge of the world's hidden realities, supersensible observation is necessary for the discovery of the spiritual facts concerning sleep; properly states, however, what has thus been discovered is intelligible to unbiased thinking. For the realities of hidden worlds are manifest in their effects. If we perceive how the processes of the sense-world are made intelligible by the information derived from supersensible perceptions, such confirmation by the facts of life is the kind of proof we may expect. Anyone not wishing to apply the methods — later to be described — for the attainment of supersensible perception, can have the following experience. To begin with, he may simply take the statements of supersensible science and apply them to what is manifest within the compass of his experience. He will discover that life becomes clear and intelligible to him in the process. Indeed the more exact and searching his study of the ordinary life he knows, the more will he be held to this conviction.
Although the astral body during sleep experiences no ideas or thoughts in consciousness, though it is unaware of pain or pleasure or the like, yet it does not remain inactive. On the contrary, it is precisely during sleep that a most vital activity devolves upon it — an activity into which it has to enter again and again in rhythmical succession, when for a time it has been working in unison with the physical and the etheric body. A pendulum, returning to the middle after swinging left, will swing to the right through the very momentum it has gathered on the left. So it s with the astral body and the I or Ego which it bears within it. Having been active in the physical and etheric body for a time, for a succeeding period of time — precisely as an outcome of this activity — they need to live and move and have their being in a body-free condition, in an environment of pure soul and spirit.
As man is constituted in ordinary life, unconsciousness ensues during this body-free condition of the astral body and Ego. Unconsciousness is in effect the antithesis of the state of consciousness evolved in waking life by union with the physical and the etheric bodies, just as the swing of a pendulum to the right is the antithesis of the swing to the left. The need to enter into this unconscious state is felt by the human soul and spirit as tiredness, fatigue. Fatigue itself is the expression of the fact that during sleep the astral body and Ego are making themselves ready for the next waking state, when they will once again be undoing and reversing in the physical and etheric body what has arisen in the latter — through a purely organic and unconscious formative activity — while free from the soul-and-spirit. This unconscious formative activity, and what takes place in man during his conscious life and by virtue of it, are contrasting states which have to alternate in rhythmical succession. 1Supplementary Notes section.
The form and shape, proper to the physical body of man, can only be maintained by means of a human etheric body, which in its turn must be endowed with the appropriate forces by the astral body. The ether-body is the form-giving agent or architect of the physical. But it can only form the physical body aright if it receives from the astral body the necessary guidance and stimulation. In the astral body are the “pattern-forms” or archetypes according to which the etheric body gives the physical its appointed shape.
Now in the waking life the astral body is not imbued with these archetypal patterns for the physical body, or only to a limited extent. For while awake the soul puts its own pictures, its own images, in their place. Turning his senses to the surrounding world, in the very act of perception man forms pictures, mental images of his surroundings. These images are, to begin with, “disturbers of the peace” for those pattern-forms which stimulate the etheric body in its work of building and maintaining the physical. Only if a man were able by his own inner activity to supply his astral body with such pictures as could give to the etheric body the right kind of stimulus, only then would there be no such disturbance. Yet the fact is that this very disturbance plays an essential part in human life, and as an outcome, while a man is awake the archetypal pictures for his etheric body cannot work with their full power. The astral body fulfills its waking function within the physical body; in sleep it works upon the latter from without.
Just as the physical body — in the supply of nourishment for example — has need of the outer world to which it is akin, a similar thing is also true of the astral body. Imagine a human physical body taken right away from its appropriate surroundings; it would inevitably perish. The physical body's existence is impossible without the entire physical environment. The whole Earth must be as it is, if human physical bodies are to be present on it. In truth, this human body is but a portion of the Earth-planet, and in a wider sense of the whole physical Universe. In this respect it is as the finger is to the human body as a whole. Separate the finger from the hand — it cannot remain a finger; it will shrink and wither. Such too would be the fate of the human body if severed from the body of which it is a member — from the life-conditions with which the Earth provides it. Raise it a sufficient number of miles above the Earth and it will perish, as the finger does when cut off from the hand. As to his physical body, man may be less aware of this fact than with regard to the finger in relation to this body as a whole. But this is merely because the finger cannot walk about the body as man does about the Earth; hence the dependence is more obvious in the one case than in the other.
Even as the physical body is embedded in the physical world to which it belongs, so too the astral body belongs to a world of its own, from which however it is torn away by man's waking life. This may be illustrated by a comparison. Imagine a vessel full of water. Within the mass of water a single drop has no separate existence. But take a little sponge and draw a drop away, thus severing it from the total mass. Something of this kind happens to the human astral body on awakening. During sleep it is in a world of its own kind, a world to which it properly belongs. On awakening, the physical and the etheric body draw it in and fill themselves with it. These two bodies contain the organs whereby the astral body perceives the external world, to attain which perception it has to be detached from its own world. Yet from the latter alone can it derive the archetypal patterns which it needs for the etheric body.
As food and other necessities are received by the physical body from its environment, so do the pictures of the astral body's environment come to it during sleep. The fact is that the astral body is then living, outside the physical and the etheric, in the great Universe — the selfsame Universe out of which the entire man is born. For in that Universe is the source of the creative patterns,--the archetypal pictures to which man owes his form. In his true being he belongs to the great Universe and is in harmony with it. In waking life he detaches himself from the all-embracing harmony, in order to have outer perceptions. In sleep his astral body returns into the harmony of the Universe, whence on awakening he brings sufficient force into his bodies to enable him for a time once more to forgo the sojourn there.
The astral body thus returns to its pristine home during sleep, and on awakening brings with it into life newly strengthened forces. All this finds expression in the refreshment which a healthy sleep affords. As the further exposition of Occult Science will reveal, the home of the astral body is of far wider compass than the more obvious physical environment to which the physical body belongs. While as a physical being man is a member of the Earth, his astral body belongs to worlds wherein other heavenly bodies are contained besides our planet Earth. The astral body therefore, during sleep, enters a Universe to which other worlds than the Earth belong. But this can only be made fully clear in the further course of our explanations.
Though it should really be superfluous, prevalent habits of materialistic thought render it not unnecessary to set aside a possible misunderstanding in this connection. People adhering to these ways of thought will be inclined to say: “Surely the scientific procedure is to investigate the physical conditions of such a thing as sleep. Though scientists may not yet be agreed as to its precise causation, this much at any rate is certain: physical processes of one kind or another can be assumed to underlie the phenomenon of sleep.” If only it were realized that supersensible science is not at all against such a contention! All that is said from this quarter is readily accepted, just as it will be admitted that for a house to come into physical existence one brick must be laid on the other, and that when the house is finished its form and its stability are explainable by purely mechanical laws. Yet for the house to come into being the thought of the architect was also necessary. This thought will not be discovered by mere investigation of the mechanical and physical laws. Behind the physical laws in terms of which the structure of the house can be explained, there are the thoughts of the creator. So too, behind what physical science and physiology are perfectly right in bringing forward, there are the hidden realities of which the science of the supersensible is telling.
Admittedly, the same comparison is frequently adduced to justify belief in a spiritual background of the world, and one may find it trite. But in these matters the point is not whether a line of thought is familiar, but whether we have given it due weight. We may well be prevented from appreciating the true weight of an idea because ideas derived from a contrary way of thinking have too much influence upon our judgment.
A midway condition between waking and sleeping is dreaming. Reflecting on our dream-experiences, we are confronted by a world of pictures, iridescent and in manifold confusion, though not without some hint of underlying method. Pictures arise and fade away again, often bewildering in their sequence. Man in his dream-life is released from the laws which bind his waking consciousness to the perceptions of the senses and the logical rules of judgment. Yet in the world of dreams we seem to divine mysterious laws of its own, fascinating and alluring. This is the deeper reason why we are prone to compare with dreaming the play of fancy and creative imagination which our aesthetic and artistic sense delights in.
We need only call to mind a few characteristic dreams to find all this confirmed. A man will dream, for example, that he is chasing away a dog which has been rushing at him. He awakens and finds himself in the unconscious act of pushing away a portion of the bed-clothes which had been weighing on an unaccustomed part of his body and had become oppressive. In such an instance, what does the dream make of the real, sense-perceptible event? To begin with, the life of sleep leaves entirely in the unconscious what the senses would have perceived in waking life. But it holds fast to one essential — the fact that we are wanting to ward something off — and around this it weaves an imaginary sequence of events. In substance these imaginary pictures are like echoes from the waking life of the day-time, echoes selected at random. The dreamer will generally feel that with the same external cause his dream might just as well have conjured up quite other pictures. Only in one way or another they would relate, in this instance, to the sensation of having to ward something off. The dream, therefore, creates symbolic pictures; it is in fact a symbolist. Inner bodily conditions too can be translated into dream-symbols of this kind. A man will dream that a fire is crackling beside him; he sees the very flames. On awakening, he finds that he put on too many bed-clothes and has grown too hot. The feeling of excessive heat comes out symbolically in the picture of the fire.
Experiences of the most dramatic kind can be enacted in a dream. For instance, a man dreams that he is standing near the edge of a cliff and sees a child running towards it. The dream lets him undergo all the tortures of the thought, “What if the child should fail to notice and fall over!” Presently he sees the child fall and hears the dull thud of the body down below. He wakes up and finds that a familiar object, hanging on the wall of the room, has worked loose and made a dull sounds as it fell. A simple enough event — the dream-life turns it into a sequence of dramatic pictures, full of suspense and excitement.
For the present we need not stop to ponder, how and why — in the last example — the instantaneous thud of the falling object gets extended into a whole series of events, seeming to occupy a considerable time. The point is that the dream translates what waking sense-perception would have shown, into scenes and pictures.
We see from this that when the senses create from their activity, immediately a creative faculty begins to stir in man. It is the same creative faculty which is at work in fully dreamless sleep, there giving rise to the state of soul we were describing as the antithesis of the waking state. For dreamless sleep, the astral body has to be withdrawn both from the etheric body and from the physical. In dreaming, while separated from the physical body — no longer joined to the physical sense-organs — it still remains connected to some extent with the etheric. The very fact that what is going on in the astral body is perceived in pictures, is due to its connection with the etheric body. The moment this connection too is severed, the pictures fade into complete unconsciousness; dreamless sleep ensues.
The arbitrary, often nonsensical character of dream-pictures is due to the fact that the astral body, disconnected as it is from the sense-organs of the physical, cannot relate its pictures to the proper objects and events of the external world. This becomes very evident when we contemplate the kind of dream in which the I, the Ego, is in a sense divided. For instance, one dreams of oneself as a pupil who cannot answer a question the schoolmaster is putting; yet in the very next moment the master himself gives the required answer. Unable to make use of the organs of perception of his physical body, the dreamer cannot relate the two events to himself as to one and the same person. Even to recognize himself as a continuous and coherent I, man therefore needs to be equipped with outer organs of perception. Only if he had attained the faculty to be aware of his own I without the help of such organs of perception, only then would the continuity and oneness of the I still be perceptible to him even outside the physical body. For supersensible consciousness, faculties of this kind must indeed be acquired. The way to do so will be dealt with in a later chapter.
Not only sleep; death too is due to a change in the mutual connection between the members of man's being. And here once more, what is apparent to supersensible perception can also be seen in its effects within the manifest world. Here once again, unbiased thinking will find the statements of supersensible science confirmed by the facts of external life, though in this instance the impress of the invisible in the visible domain is less in evidence, and it is therefore not so easy to realize the weight and bearing of those realities of outer life which answer to the statements of supersensible science. Here even more than for other things already dealt with in this volume, if the mind is not open to discern the way in which the sense-perceptible domain relates to the supersensible and indicates the latter's presence, it is only too easy to pronounce the findings of Occult Science mere figments of imagination.
When a man falls asleep, whereas his astral body is released from its connection with the etheric and physical bodies, the latter still remain united. Not so in death. Left to its own unaided forces, the physical body will now inevitably disintegrate. For the etheric body, on the other hand, death brings about a condition in which it never was throughout the whole time between birth and death, save in exceptional circumstances to be mentioned later. For the etheric is now united with its astral body, and the physical body is no longer with them. The fact is that the etheric and astral bodies do not separate immediately after death. They hold together for a time, by virtue of a force which obviously must be there, for otherwise the etheric body could never have freed itself form the physical, to which it is tenaciously attached, as is shown by the fact that in sleep the astral body fails to part them. At death, the force that holds the etheric and astral bodies together becomes at least effective, detaching the etheric from the physical. To begin with therefore, the etheric body after death is united with the astral body. Supersensible observation shows that this their union varies from one individual to another. All we need say at the moment is that it lasts for a short time — for a few days — after which the astral body frees itself from the etheric body also, and goes on its way without it. While the connection of the two persists, man is in a condition consciously to perceive the experiences of his astral body. So long as the physical body was there, the separation of the astral body from the physical in sleep involved the immediate commencement of its work upon the physical body from without, for the renewal of the outworn organs. With the severance of the physical body at death, this work is at an end. But the spiritual forces which were expended on it during sleep are still there and can now serve a different end, namely to make perceptible the processes within the astral body as such.
From a point of view which would restrict scientific observation to the outer aspects of life, it will be said: “These are so many assertions, evident no doubt to those endowed with supersensible perception; men who are not thus endowed have no way of assessing the truth.” Yet this is not so. Even in this domain, remote though it may seem from ordinary sight and thought, what the science of the supersensible observes can be taken hold of, once discovered, by the normal faculties of thought and judgment. One need only ponder with due judgment the manifest and given relationships of human life. The thinking, feeling and willing of man are related to one another, and to his experiences in and with the outer world, in ways that are unintelligible unless the manifest activities and relationships are understood as the expression of an unmanifest. To thoughtful contemplation, what is here manifest remains opaque and untransparent till we are able to interpret the way the way it takes its course within the physical life of man, as an outcome of non-physical realities disclosed by supersensible cognition. Unillumined by the science of the supersensible, it is as though we were in a dark room without a light. Just as we cannot see the physical objects around us until we have a light, so too we cannot explain what goes on in and through the soul-life of man till we have knowledge of the supersensible.
While man is joined to his physical body, the outer world enters his consciousness in images. After the physical body has been laid aside, he becomes aware of the experiences the astral body undergoes when unconnected with the outer world by physical sense-organs. To begin with, the astral body has no essentially new experiences. Its still remaining connection with the etheric body stands in the way of any new experience. But it possesses in an enhanced degree the memory of the past earth-life, which memory the etheric body — being still united with it — makes to appear in a vivid, all-embracing tableau.
Such is the first experience of the human being after death. He sees his past life from birth till death in a vast series of pictures, simultaneously spread out before him. During this earthly life, memory is only present while — in the waking state — man is united with his physical body. Moreover, it is only present to the limited extent the physical body permits. Yet to the soul herself nothing is lost; everything that has ever made an impression on the soul during this life is preserved. If the physical body were but a perfect instrument for the purpose, it would be possible for us at every moment to conjure up before the soul the whole of our past earthly life. At death all hindrance is removed, and while man still retains the ether-body he has a relatively perfect memory. This vanishes, however, in proportion as the ether-body loses the form it had while it indwelt the physical — a form which bears a fundamental likeness to the latter. This also is the reason why the astral body after a time separates from the etheric. For the astral body can only remain united with the etheric while the latter retains the imprint, the form that corresponds to the physical body.
During the life between birth and death a severance of the etheric body from the physical only takes place in exceptional cases and then only for a short duration. When, for example, a man subjects an arm or leg to an unusual pressure, a portion of the etheric body may become separated from the physical. We say then that the limb has “gone to sleep.” The peculiar sensation it gives is in fact due to the severance of the etheric body. (Here too, of course, materialistic thinking can deny the invisible within the visible, maintaining that the effect is merely due to the physical or physiological disturbances induced by the excessive pressure.) In such a case supersensible perception actually sees the corresponding part of the etheric body moving out and away from the physical. Now when a man undergoes an altogether unaccustomed shock or something of that nature, a like severance of the etheric may ensue for a brief space of time over a large proportion of the body. This happens if he is brought very near to death, as on the point of drowning, or when in imminent danger of a fall in mountaineering.
What is related by individuals who have had such experiences comes very near the truth. Supersensible observation confirms it. They tell how at such a moment the whole of their past life appeared before them in a vast tableau of memory. Among the many examples that might be cited, we select one, the author of which — by the whole tenor of his thought — would have rejected as empty fancies what is here said about these matters. Incidentally, when one is taking the first steps in supersensible observation it is always useful to familiarize oneself with the findings of those who think the science of the supersensible fantastic. They are less easily attributed to favorable bias. (Let occult scientists learn as much as they can from those who deem their efforts futile. If the latter do not respond in kind we need not feel discouraged. Supersensible observation does not of course depend on these evidences for the verification of its results, and in adducing them the intention is not to prove, only to illustrate.)
The eminent anthropologist and criminologist Moritz Benedict, a scientist distinguished too in other branches of research, tells in his reminiscences of an experience of his own. Once he was very nearly drowned while bathing. He saw the whole of his past life in memory before him as though in a single picture.
It is no contradiction if others have described quite differently the pictures they experienced on such occasions, to the extent sometimes that there seemed little connection with the events of their past lives. For the pictures that arise during this altogether unaccustomed state of severance from the physical body are often not so easy to elucidate in their relation to the human being's life. None the less, if thoroughly gone into, some such relation will always be discerned. Nor is it valid to object that someone on the point of drowning did not have the experience at all. For the experience is only possible when the etheric body, while severed from the physical, remains united with the astral. It will not occur if the shock brings about a detachment of the etheric from the astral body too, since there will then be complete unconsciousness, just as there is in dreamless sleep.
Once more, then: gathered together in a great memory-tableau, the past life of man comes before him during the time immediately following his death. Thereafter, the astral body — severed now from the etheric — goes on its further way alone and by itself. It is not difficult to see that in this astral body there will no remain whatever it has made its own by dint of its own activity while living in the physical. The Ego has to some extent elaborated Spirit-Self, Life-Spirit and Spirit-Man. These, in so far as they are evolved, owe their existence to the Ego to the I — not to the organs of the bodies. Now by its very essence the I is the being which needs no outer organs for its perception. No more does it need outer organs to retain what it has once united with itself.
It may perhaps be objected: why, then, in sleep is there no perception of the evolved Spirit-Self, Life-Spirit and Spirit-Man? There is none because from birth until death the Ego is chained to the physical body. In sleep, it is true, it is with the astral body outside the physical. Yet even then it remains in close connection with the latter, for to the physical body the activity of the astral body, closely associated with the Ego, is directed. Bound as it is to the physical throughout earthly life, the Ego is dependent for its perceptions on the outer world of the senses; it cannot yet receive the manifestations of the spiritual in its original and proper form. Such manifestations can only come to the human Ego when released by death from its connection with the physical and etheric bodies. In life, the physical world holds the soul's activities chained to itself; another world can light up for the soul the moment it has been drawn forth, out of the physical body.
Yet there are reasons why even at this juncture man's connection with the external, sense-perceptible world does not altogether cease. Cravings, in effect, persist, maintaining the connection. These are the cravings man engenders for himself through the very fact that he is Ego-conscious — endowed with an Ego, the fourth member of his being. The cravings and desires which spring from the nature of the three lower bodies can only take effect in the outer world; when these bodies are laid aside, these cravings cease. Due as it is to the external body, hunger is naturally silenced when this body is no longer joined to the Ego. When death has taken place, the Ego, if it had now no other cravings than derive from its own spiritual nature, could draw full satisfaction from the spiritual world into which it is then transplanted. But life has given it other cravings besides these. Life has kindled in it a longing for enjoyments which, while only satisfiable by means of physical organs, are not in essence attributable to these organs. Not only the three bodies crave for satisfaction through the physical world; the Ego too finds enjoyments in this world — enjoyments such that in the spiritual world there are no objects to satisfy the longing for them.
Two kinds of wishes are proper to the Ego during earthly life. First are the wishes which, originating as they do in the three bodies, have to be satisfied in and through the bodies; these wishes naturally cease when the bodies disintegrate. Secondly there are the wishes which originate in the spiritual nature of the Ego. So long as the Ego is living in the bodies, these wishes too will find their satisfaction by means of bodily organs. For the unmanifest, the spirit, is at work here too — manifested through the organs of the body. In and with all that they perceive, the outer senses are at the same time receiving a spiritual portion. This spiritual portion is present also after death, though in a different form. Therefore the spiritual that the Ego craves for in the world of the senses is still available to it when these senses are no longer there.
If then a third kind of wish were not added to these two, death would merely signify the passing on from cravings satisfiable by means of bodily senses, to such as find fulfillment in the direct revelations of the spiritual world. But there are wishes of a third kind — wishes which the Ego engenders for itself while living in the sense-world inasmuch as it takes pleasure in this world even where the latter is not making manifest the spirit.
The lowest kinds of enjoyment can be true manifestations of the spirit. The satisfaction food affords to a hungry creature — this too is a manifestation of the spirit. For by the creature's nourishment something is accomplished, without which — in one essential direction — the spiritual itself could not evolve. But the I of man is able to go beyond this due enjoyment. The I can long for the tasty dish, quite apart form the function nourishment fulfils and in the fulfilling of it serves the spirit. The same applies to many other things belonging to the “sensual” world — that is to say, the world of the senses. Desires are thus engendered which would never have occurred in the sense-perceptible world of Nature, had not the I of man entered this world. Nor is it from the spiritual being of the I as such that these desires spring. The natural enjoyments of the senses are needed by the Ego — even as a spiritual being — while living in the body. In and through sense-perceptible Nature the spiritual manifests itself; it is none other than the spirit which the Ego is enjoying when given up to sensual manifestations through which the spirit-light is shining. In the enjoyment of this light it will continue, even when the nature of the outer sense is no longer the medium through which the spiritual light is radiating.
For sensual desires on the other hand, from which the living spirit is absent, there can be no fulfillment in the spiritual world. Therefore when death ensues the possibility of their assuagement is utterly cut off. The enjoyment of tasty food can only be brought about by means of the bodily organs — tongue, palate and the like — used in taking of food. These organs man no longer has when the physical body haw been laid aside. And if the Ego still feels need of such enjoyment, the need must remain satisfied. In so far as the enjoyment is in harmony with the spirit, it will be present only as long as the physical organs are there. But in so far as the human I has fostered it without thereby serving the spirit, the wish for the enjoyment will persist after death, vainly thirsting for satisfaction.
What now goes on in man can only be imagined if we think of one who has to suffer burning thirst in a desert country where no water is to be found. Such is the lot of the human I after death in so far as it harbors unextinguished cravings for the enjoyments of the outer world and has no organs for their satisfaction. Only, if thirst is here to serve as a comparison for the Ego's plight after death, we must imagine it boundlessly enhanced and extended to all the manifold cravings which may still persist, for the assuagement of which there is no possibility whatever.
The next stage through which the Ego passes is that it gradually frees itself from all these bonds of attachment to the outer world. In this respect it has to bring about within itself a purging and a liberation. All the desires the Ego has engendered while living in the body and that have not their rightful home within the spiritual world, must now be extirpated. As a combustible material is seized and burned by fire, so is the world of cravings dissolved and annihilated after death.
Herewith we peer into a world which supersensible wisdom has very properly described as “the consuming fire of the spirit.” This “fire” seizes hold of every craving which is not only sensual — related, that is, to the sense-perceptible world — but is so in such a way that in its essential nature it does not express the spirit. Pictures like these, in terms of which supersensible insight cannot but describe what actually happens after death, may appear terrible and cheerless. Well may it seem appalling that a hope, for the satisfaction of which sensory organs are that a hope, for the satisfaction of which sensory organs are required, must after death give way to utter hopelessness, or that a wish which the physical world alone is able to fulfill, must change into the burning want of fulfillment. Yet one can only think in this way while failing to perceive that all the wishes and cravings, seized upon after death by the “consuming fire,” represent forces which are not wholesome but in a higher sense destructive, inimical to life. These forces cause the Ego to form closer bonds of attachment to the sense-world than are needed in order to receive from this world that which will serve the Ego's progress. Nature — the “world of the senses” — is a manifestation of the hidden spiritual. There is a form in which the spiritual can only become manifest by means of bodily senses, and in this form the Ego would never be able to receive it, were it not to use the senses for the enjoyment of what is spiritual in the garb of Nature. But the Ego becomes estranged from the world's real and true and spiritual content when cravings for sensual enjoyments through which the spirit is no longer speaking. While sensual enjoyment as an expression of the spirit helps to uplift and evolve the Ego, that which does not express the spirit spells its impoverishment and desolation. And though a craving of this latter kind may lead to satisfaction and enjoyment within the sense-world, its emptying and devastating effect upon the I of man is still there. Only that this effect does not become perceptible to the I until after death. While life goes on, the enjoyment consequent on such a craving can beget new wishes of its kind, and man does not become aware that by his own doing he is enveloping him in a consuming fire. The fire that enveloped him already during life is made perceptible to him after death, and in so doing becomes transmuted into its wholesome and beneficial consequences.
When one human being loves another, he is not only attracted by those of the other's features which are directly sensible by physical organs of perception. And yet of these alone can it be said that death will render him unable any longer to perceive them. On the other hand, after death there becomes visible in the beloved the very reality of being for the perception of which the physical organs were but the means. Moreover then the one thing that will mar this perfect visibility will be the persistence of cravings which can only be satisfied by means of physical organs. Nay, if these cravings were not purged, conscious perception of the beloved would not be possible at all after death. Looked at in this light, the terrible and hopeless picture which the after-death events described by supersensible science might at first sight be seeming to convey, gives place to one that is deeply comforting and satisfying.
In yet another respect our experiences after death are different from those we have in life. During the time of purification, man — in a sense — lives backwards. He goes again through all that he experienced in life, ever since his birth. Starting from the events immediately preceding death, he re-experiences it all in reverse order, back into childhood. And as he does so, there become visible to him all those things in his life which did not truly spring from the spiritual nature of the Ego. These too he now experiences in an inverted way. Say for example that a man dies in his sixtieth year, and that at the age of forty, in an outburst of anger, he caused another person pain in body or in soul. He will experience the event in consciousness again after death, when in his backward journeying through life he arrives at his fortieth year — the moment when it happened. But he will no experience, not the satisfaction he felt in giving vent to his anger, but instead the suffering the other person underwent through his unkindness. The example shows that what is painful in the after-death experience of an event of this kind is due to a craving to which the Ego gave way — a craving which had its origin in the outer material world and in this alone. In truth, by giving vent to such a craving the ego was doing harm not only to the other human being but to itself; only the harm done to itself remained invisible during life. After death the whole world of harmful cravings becomes perceptible to the Ego. The man now feels drawn to every being and to every object by contact with which a craving of this kind was ever kindled in him, so that the craving may be destroyed even as it originated — destroyed in the consuming fire.
When in his backward journeying man has attained the moment of his birth, all such cravings having now undergone the cleansing fire, there is no longer anything to hinder his unimpaired devotion to the spiritual world. He enters on a new stage of existence. Just as in death the physical body, and soon after it the etheric body was laid aside, so now there falls away and disintegrates the part of the astral body which is unable to live save in the consciousness of the external, physical world. Therefore for supersensible science there are no less than three corpses — physical, etheric and astral. The point of time at which the astral corpse is shed is given by the fact that the period of purification lasts about a third as long as the past life between birth and death. Why this is so will only be clear at a later stage, when the whole course of human life has been more thoroughly gone into in the light of Occult Science. For supersensible perception there are ever present in man's environment the astral corpses cast aside by those who are passing form the stage of purification on to higher levels of existence. It is analogous to what is obviously true for physical perception: physical corpses come into being where human communities are living.
After the time of purification an entirely new state of consciousness begins for the I of man. Before death, perceptions came to him from without, for the light of his consciousness to fall upon them. Now, as it were, a world of coming to him — into his consciousness — from within. It is a spiritual world, in which the I is also living between birth and death. Here however, it is veiled in the manifestations of the senses; and only when — turning aside from all outward perceptions — the I becomes aware of itself in the inmost “holy of holies” of its being, what otherwise is shrouded in the veils of sense-perceptible Nature, makes itself known directly and in its pristine form. Like to this inner perception of the I before death, “form within outward” is the manifestation of the spiritual world in its fullness, after death and when the time of purification has been absolved.
This kind of manifestation is indeed already there as soon as the etheric body has been laid aside, but like a darkening cloud the world of cravings obscures it, clinging still to the external world. It is as though a blissful world of purely spiritual consciousness were to be interspersed with black demonic shadows, due to the cravings that are being purged in the consuming fire. Indeed these cravings are now revealed to be no mere shadows but very real beings; this becomes evident to man's Ego as soon as the physical organs are taken from him and he is thereby enabled to perceive what is spiritual. The beings look like distortions and caricatures of what was known to him hitherto by sense-perception. For of this realm of the purging fire, supersensible observation must relate that it is inhabited by beings whose appearance of the spiritual eye can only kindle pain and ghastly horror. Their very joy seems to consist in destruction; their passion is directed to an evil compared to which the evils known to us in the outer world seem insignificant. Whatever man takes with him thither by way of cravings of the kind above defined, appears as nourishment to these beings — nourishment by means of which they constantly renew and reinforce their powers.
The picture we have thus been painting of a world imperceptible to the outer senses may seem less incredible if one will look with open mind at well-known aspects of the animal creation. What, to the eye of the spirit, is a ruthlessly prowling wolf? What is revealing itself in the figure of the wolf as the outer senses see it? Surely it is none other than a soul that lives in cravings and acts out of its cravings. The very form of the wolf may be described as an embodiment of its cravings. Even if man had no organs to perceive this outer form, he would still have to recognize the wolf's existence if the cravings, though invisible, made themselves felt in their effect — if there were on the prowl a power invisible to human eye, yet by whose agency all that the visible wolf is doing were being done.
The beings of the purging fire are not present to the outer senses — only to supersensible consciousness. Their effects however are only too evident, in that they tend to destroy the Ego that gives them nourishment. When right enjoyment is carried to intemperance or to excess these effects are made visible enough.
Nature too, as perceived by the outer senses, would entice the Ego, but only in so far as the enjoyment were true to the Ego's own essential being. An animal is urged by instinct to desire that alone of the outer world for which its three bodies crave. Man has higher forms of enjoyment because he has not only the three bodily members but the fourth, the I — the Ego. If then the Ego craves for forms of satisfaction which serve, not the furtherance or maintenance but the destruction of its own being, such desires can neither be the outcome of the three bodies nor of the Ego's proper nature. They can only be the work of beings whose true shape and form remain hidden from the senses, but who gain access precisely to the higher nature of the Ego and entice it into cravings unfounded in the nature of the senses, yet only satisfiable by its means. In effect, there are beings whose food consists of cravings and passions more evil and pernicious than those of any animal, for they live not in the true nature of the senses but seize the spiritual and drag it down on to the sensual level. Their forms and features are to the spiritual eye more hideous and ghastly than those of the most savage animals. The latter, after all, do but incorporate natural passions, natural desires. The destructiveness of these beings boundlessly exceeds the wildest ravings known to us in the animal world as seen by the outer senses. Supersensible knowledge must in this way extend man's outlook to a world of beings who in a sense are on a lower level than any visible animal, even the most noxious and destructive.
When after death man has passed through this world, he finds himself face to face with a world of pure spiritual content — a world, moreover, which begets in him only such longings as will find satisfaction in the purely spiritual. But he still distinguishes what appertains to his own I or Ego from what constitutes his environment, which we might also call the “spiritual outer world” for the Ego. Only, once more, his experiences of this environment come to him in the same way in which the inner perception of his own I came to him while living in the body. While in the life between birth and death the environment of man speaks to him through the organs of his bodies, when he has laid all the bodies aside the language of his new environment of man speaks to him through the organs of his bodies, when he has laid all the bodies aside the language of his new environment speaks directly into the inmost “holy of holies” of the I am. Now therefore the whole environment of man is replete with beings alike in kind to his own I, for in effect, only an I has access to an I. Even as minerals, plants and animals, surrounding him in the world of sense, constitute sense-perceptible Nature, so after death man is surrounded by a world composed of spiritual Beings.
Yet he brings with him thither something more — something which in yonder world is not his environment. In effect, he brings with him what his Ego has experienced while living in the sense-world. The sum-total of these his experiences first appeared to him in an all-embracing memory-tableau immediately after death, while the etheric body was still connected with his Ego. The ether-body was then laid aside, but something of the memory-tableau remained as an enduring possession of the Ego. It is as thought an extract, a quintessence, were distilled of all the experiences that had come to the human being between birth and death. This is the thing that endures. It is the spiritual yield, the fruit of life. The yield, once more, is of a purely spiritual nature. It contains all the spiritual content, manifested during life through the outer senses. Spiritual though it is, without man's sojourn in the sense-world it could never have come into existence. After death, the I of man feels this spiritual fruit, culled in the world of the senses, to be his own — his inner world. With this possession he is entering into the spiritual world — a world composed of beings who manifest themselves as an I alone can manifest itself in its own inmost depths. A seed, which is a kind of extract of the whole plant, can only develop when planted in another world — the earthly soil. What the Ego brings with it from the sense-world is like a seed — a seed received into the spiritual world, under whose influences it will now develop.
The science of the supersensible can at most give pictures in attempting to describe what happens in this “Land of Spirits.” Yet the pictures can be true to the reality. Experiencing the facts invisible to the external eye, supersensible consciousness can feel these pictures of them to be true. The spiritual realities can thus be illustrated by comparisons from sense-perceptible Nature. Purely spiritual though they are, they none the less bear a certain likeness to this world of Nature. As in this world a color will appear when the eye receives an influence from the appropriate object, so too in Spirit-land, under the influence of a spiritual Being, the Ego will experience a kind of color. Only the color-experience will come about in the way in which the Ego's own inner self-perception — and this alone — comes about during the life between birth and death. It is not as though light from outside were impinging on him; rather as though another Being directly influenced the Ego of man, impelling him to represent the influence to himself in a color-picture. Thus do all Beings in the spiritual environment of the Ego find expression in a world radiant with color.
Needless to say, since the manner of their origin is so very different, the color-experiences of the spiritual world differ in character from those we enjoy in the world of Nature. The same applies to other kinds of sense-impression which man receives from this world. It is the sounds of the spiritual world which are most like the corresponding impressions of the sense-world. The more man lives his way into the spiritual world, the more does it become for him an inner life and movement, comparable to the sounds and harmonies of sense-perceptible reality. Only he feels the sound, not as approaching an organ of perception from outside, but as a power flowing outward into the world from his own Ego. He feels it as in the sense-world he would feel his own speech or song; yet in the spiritual world he is aware that the sounds, even while proceeding from himself, are in reality the manifestation of other Beings, pouring themselves into the World through him.
There is a yet higher form of manifestation in the Spirit-land, when spiritual sound is enhanced to become the “spiritual Word.” Not only does the surging life and movement of another spiritual Being then pour through the I of man; the Being himself communicates his inmost being to the I. Without the remnant of separation which in the world of the senses even the most intimate companionship must have, two beings live in one-another when the Ego is thus poured through and through by the spiritual Word. In all reality, such is the Ego's companionship with other spiritual beings after death.
Three distinct regions of Spirit-land — the land of Spirits — are apparent to supersensible consciousness. We may compare them with three domains of sense-perceptible Nature. The first is as it were the “solid land” of the spiritual world; the second the “region of oceans and rivers;” the third the “air” or “atmosphere.
Whatever assumes physical form upon Earth and is thus made perceptible to physical organs, is seen in its spiritual essence in the first region of Spirit-land. For example, one may there perceive the power which builds the form of a crystal. Only what there reveals itself is like the antithesis of what appears to the senses in the outer world. The space which is here filled by the rocky material appears to the spiritual eye as a kind of hollow or vacuum; while all around the hollow space is seen the force building the form of the stone. The characteristic color which the stone has in the sense-world is experienced in the spiritual world as its complementary. Seen therefore from Spirit-land, a red stone is experienced with a greenish and a green stone with a reddish hue. Other properties too appear as their antithesis. Even as stones, rocks and geological formations constitute the solid land — the continental region — of the world of Nature, so do the entities we have been describing constitute the “solid land” of the spiritual world.
All that is life in the sense-world is the oceanic region of the spiritual world. To the eye of sense, life appears in its effects — in plants and animals and human beings. To the eye of the spirit, life is a flowing essence, like seas and rivers pervading the Spirit-land. Better still is the comparison with the circulation of the blood in the human body. For while the seas and rivers in external Nature appear as though distributed irregularly, there is a certain regularity in the distribution of the flowing life above all which is experienced as living spiritual sound.
The third region of Spirit-land is the airy sphere or “atmosphere.” All that is feeling and sensation in the outer world is present in the spirit-realm as an all-pervading element, comparable to the air on Earth. We must imagine an ocean of flowing sensation. Sorrow and pain, joy and delight, are wafted in that region as are wind and tempest in the atmosphere of the outer world. Think of a battle being fought on Earth. Not only are there facing one another the figures of the combatants which the outer eye can see. Feelings are pitted against feelings, passions against passions. Pain fills the battlefield no less than the forms of men. All that is there of passion, pain, victorious exultation, exists not only in its outer sense-perceptible effects; the spiritual sense becomes aware of it as a real event in the airy sphere of Spirit-land. Such an event is in the spiritual like a thunderstorm in the physical world. Moreover the perception of such events may be compared to the hearing of words in the physical world. Hence it is said: Even as the air enwraps and permeates the inhabitants of earth, so does the wind of the Spirit — the “wafting of the spiritual Words” — enwrap and permeate the beings and events of Spirit-land.
Further perceptions are possible in the spiritual world, comparable to the warmth and also to the light of the physical world. Warmth permeates all earthly things and creatures, and it is none other than the world of thoughts which in like manner permeates all things in Spirit-land. Only these thoughts must be conceived as independent living Beings. The thoughts man apprehends within the manifest world are but a shadow of the real thought-being, living in the land of Spirits. One should imagine the thought, such as it is in man, lifted out of him and as an active being endowed with an inner life of its own. Even this is but a feeble illustration of what pervades the fourth region of Spirit-land. Thoughts in the form in which man perceives them in the physical world between birth and death are but a manifestation of the real world of thoughts — the kind of manifestation that is possible by means of bodily organs The thoughts man cultivates — those above all which signify an enrichment of the physical world — originate in this region of Spirit-land. This does not only apply to the ideas of great inventors or men of genius. Fruitful ideas “occur” to every human being — ideas he does not merely borrow from the outer world, but which enable him to work upon this world and change it. While feelings and passions occasioned by the external world belong to the third region of Spirit-land, all that can come to life in the soul of man so that he becomes creative, acting on his environment in such a way as to transform and fertilize it, is manifested in its archetypal being in the fourth region of the spiritual world.
The prevailing element of the fifth region may be likened to the light of the physical world. It is none other than Wisdom, manifested in its pristine, archetypal form. Beings belong to that region who pour Wisdom into their environment, even as the Sun sheds light upon physical creatures. Whatsoever the Wisdom shines upon, is revealed in its true significance for the spiritual world, just as a physical creature reveals its color when the light is shining on it. There are yet higher regions of Spirit-land; we shall refer to them again in later chapters.
Such is the world in which the I of man is steeped after death, with the yield he brings with him from his life in the outer world of sense. This yield, this harvest, is still united with the part of the astral body which was not cast off when the time of purification was over. For, as we saw, only part of the astral body then falls away — namely the part which with its wishes and cravings clung to the physical life even after death. The merging of the Ego into the spiritual world with all that it has gained from the sense-world may be likened to the embedding of a seed into the ripening earth. The seed draws to it the substances and forces of the surrounding soil, so that it may unfold into a new plant. In like manner, development and growth are of the essence of the I of man when planted in the spiritual world.
In what an organ perceives also lies hidden the creative force to which the organ is due. It is the eye that perceives the light, and yet without the light there would be no eye. Creatures that live perpetually in the dark fail to develop organs of sight. Thus the whole bodily man is created out of the hidden forces of what the several members of his bodies are able to perceive. The physical body is built by the forces of the physical world, the ether-body of those of the world of life; the astral body has been formed out of the astral world. Transplanted into Spirit-land, the Ego meets with these creative forces, which remain concealed from physical perception. Spiritual beings who, though unseen, surround man all the time, and who have built his physical body, become perceptible to him in the first region of Spirit-land. While in the physical world he can perceive no more than the outer manifestation of the creative and formative spiritual powers to which his own physical body is due, after death he is in their very midst. They now reveal themselves to him in their original and proper form, previously hidden from him. In like manner, throughout the second region he is amid the creative forces of which his ether-body consists, and in the third there flow towards him the powers of which his astral body is formed and organized. The higher regions too of Spirit-land now pour in upon him the creative powers to which he owes the very form and substance of his life between birth and death.
These Beings of the spiritual world henceforth collaborate with the fruit of his former life which man himself has brought with him — the fruit which is now about to become the seed. And by this collaboration man is built up anew — built, to being with, as a spiritual being. In sleep the physical and etheric bodies are still there; the astral body and the Ego although outside, are in communication with them. The influences from the spiritual world received by the astral body and the Ego during sleep can only serve to repair the faculties and forces exhausted in the waking hours. But when the physical and the etheric body, and after purification the parts of the astral body which were still chained to the physical world by desire, have been cast off, what flows to the Ego from the spiritual world becomes not only the repairer; henceforth it is the re-creator. And after a lapse of time (as to the length of which we shall have more to say,) the Ego is again invested with an astral body, able to live in an etheric and physical body such as are proper to the human being between birth and death. He can be born again and re-appear in a new earthly life, in which the fruits of his former life have been incorporated.
Till his investment with a new astral body, man is the conscious witness of his own re-creation. And as the Beings of Spirit-land reveal themselves to him not through external organs but from within, like his own inmost I in the act of self-awareness, he can perceive the revelation so long as his attention does not yet incline towards a world of outer percepts. But from the moment when his astral body has been newly formed, he begins again to turn his attention outward. The astral once again demands an external body — physical and etheric — and in so doing turns away form what is manifested purely from within. Hence there now comes an intermediate condition during which man is plunged into unconsciousness. Consciousness will only be able to re-awaken when in the physical world the necessary organs — organs of physical perception — have been developed. During this intermediate time — the spiritual consciousness illumined by purely inner perception having faded — a new etheric body begins to be formed and organized about the astral body. This being done, man is prepared to re-enter into a physical body. Consciously to partake in the last two events — his re-equipment with an etheric and with a physical body — would only be possible for an Ego which by its own spiritual activity had developed the hidden creative forces of these bodies, in other words, Life-Spirit and Spirit-Man. So long as man has not yet reached this stage, Beings more advanced in evolution than himself have to direct the process. Such Beings guide the astral body towards a father and mother, so as to endow it with the appropriate etheric and physical bodies.
Now before the new etheric body has been formed and incorporated with the astral body, an event of great significance is undergone by the human being about to re-enter physical existence. In his preceding life, as we saw, he engendered hindering and disturbing forces, revealed to him during his backward journeying after death. Let us return to the above example. At age forty in his former life, in a sudden upsurge of anger, a man did harm to another. He was confronted after death by the other's suffering, as a force hindering the development of his own Ego. So too with all such occurrences of the preceding life. Now on re-entry into physical life these hindrances to his development confront the I of man. As after death a kind of memory-tableau of the past, he now experiences a pre-vision of his coming life. He sees it in a kind of tableau once again, showing him all the obstacles he must remove if his development is to go forward. What he thus sees becomes the source of active forces which he must carry with him into the coming life. The picture of the suffering he caused his fellow-man becomes a force impelling his Ego, now about to enter earthly life once more, to make good the hurt which he inflicted. Thus does the former life wield a determining influence upon the new; the deeds of the new life are, in a way, caused by the deeds of the old. In this relationship of law and causation between an earlier and a later life we have to recognize the real Law of Destiny — often denoted by a word taken from Oriental Wisdom, the law of “Karma.”
The building of a new bodily organization is however not the only activity incumbent upon man between death and a new birth. While this is going on he lives outside the physical world. But this world too is going forward in its evolution all the time. In comparatively short periods of time the face of the Earth is changed. What did it look like a few thousand years ago, say in the regions of Middle Europe? When man appears again in a new life, the Earth will as a rule be looking very different from what it did last time. Much will have altered during his absence, and in this changing of the face of the Earth, here once again hidden spiritual forces are at work. These forces issue from the very same spiritual world in which man sojourns after death, and he himself is working in and with them; he too has to cooperate in the necessary transformation of the Earth. So long as he has not yet developed Life-Spirit and Spirit-Man and thus attained clear consciousness of the connection between the spiritual and its physical expression, he can of courser only do this under the guidance of higher Beings. None the less, he participates in the work of transforming the conditions upon Earth, and it is true to say: During the time between death and a new birth human beings are at work transforming the condition of the Earth so that it shall accord with what has been evolving in themselves. Picture a region or locality on Earth such as it was at a given time in the past, and then again — profoundly changed — a long time after; the forces which have wrought the change are in the realm of the dead. Thus are the souls of men still in communication with the Earth even between death and a new birth. Supersensible consciousness sees in all physical existence the outer manifestation of hidden spiritual realities. To physical observation, it is the rays of the Sun, changes of climate and the like which bring about the transformation of the Earth. To supersensible observation, in the light-ray falling from the Sun upon the plants and virtues of the dead are working. We become conscious of how the souls of men are hovering about the plants, changing the earthly soil, and other things of this kind. Man's activity after death is devoted not only to himself — not only to the preparation for his own new earthly life — but he is called to work upon the outer world in a spiritual way, even as in the life between birth and death it is his task to work upon it physically.
Not only does the life of man in Spirit-land influence and modify the prevailing conditions of the physical world, but conversely too, his life and action in physical existence have their effect in the spiritual. To take one example: there is a bond of love between a mother and her child. The love proceeds from a natural attraction, rooted in forces of sense-perceptible Nature. Yet in course of time it is transformed. The natural grows ever more into a spiritual bond, and this is welded not only for the physical world but for the spiritual.
So too it is with many other relationships of life. Threads that are spun in the physical world by spiritual beings persist in the spiritual world. Friends who were closely united in this life belong together in Spirit-land as well; nay, when their bodies have been laid aside, they are in still more intimate communion. For as pure spirits they are there for each other in the way that was described before; it is from within that spiritual beings manifest themselves to one-another. Moreover, bonds that have once been woven between one human being and another will lead them together again in a new life on Earth. Thus in the deepest sense it is true that we find one-another again after death.
The cycle of human life from birth till death and thence to a new birth repeats itself periodically. Again and again man returns to the Earth when the fruits gained in a preceding physical life has ripened in Spirit-land. But this is not a repetition without beginning or end. Time was when man advanced from other forms of existence to those here described, and in the future he will pass on to different ones again. We shall gain an idea of these transitions in due course, when in the light of supersensible consciousness we shall be describing the evolution of the World in its relation to Man.
For outer observation, what does on between death and a new birth is of course still more hidden than the underlying spiritual reality of manifest existence between birth and death. As to this part of the hidden world, sensory observation will only see the corresponding effects when they enter into physical existence. The question is, therefore, whether on entering this life through birth man brings with him any evidence of the events since a preceding death, described by supersensible science. Finding a snail's shell in which no trace of any animal can be detected, we shall admit that the shell was produced by an animal's activity and vital functions. We cannot imagine this form to have been the product of mere inorganic forces. In like manner, if in our contemplation of man's earthly life we find what cannot possibly have had its origin in this present life, we can admit with reason that is may be the outcome of what the science of the supersensible describes, if in fact, a light of explanation thereby falls on the otherwise inexplicable. Here therefore too, wide-awake observation with the senses and the thinking mind can find the visible effects intelligible in the light of invisible causes. A man who looks at life with fully open mind will come to see increasingly that this is right; it will impress itself on him with every new observation. The question only is to find the appropriate point of view in each instance. Where, for example, are the effects to be seen of what the human being underwent during the time of purification described by supersensible science? How do the effects appear of his experiences after purification in a purely spiritual real — once more, according to the researches of spiritual science?
Riddles enough impress themselves upon our thought whenever we earnestly reflect on human life. We see one man born in misery and need, equipped with scanty talents. By the very circumstances of his birth he seems predestined to a life of hardship and limitation. Another is tended and looked after with every care and solicitude from the first moment of his existence. Brilliant faculties unfold in him; he seems predestined to a fruitful and fully satisfying life. In face of such questions two different ways of thought and feeling can make themselves felt. The one wants strictly to adhere to what is seen by the outer senses and understood by the intellect which takes its data from them. A man of this way of thinking will see no deeper question in the fact that one human being is born to happiness, another to ill fortune. And even if he does not have recourse to the word “chance,” he will not think of looking for a deeper law or causal nexus to which these things might be due. As to the presence or the lack of innate talents, he will insist that these are “inherited” from parents, grandparents and other forebears. He will decline to seek the causes in spiritual experiences the individual himself went through before his birth, whereby he shaped his gifts and talents for himself quite apart from physical heredity.
A man imbued with the other way of thought and feeling will not be satisfied with this. Surely — he will aver — even in the manifest world nothing happens in a given locality and environment without some underlying cause. And though in many instances our science may not yet have found them, we can assume the causes to be there. An alpine flower does not grow in low-lying plains; there is something in its nature belonging to the alpine heights. So too there must be something in a human being, causing him to be born into a given environment. Nor is it adequate to look for causes within the physical world alone. To one who thinks more deeply, undue insistence on these causes is like attempting to explain the fact that one man hit another, not by the feelings of the one who dealt the blow but by the physical mechanism of his hand.
This other way of thinking will feel equally dissatisfied with the attributing of gifts and talents to “heredity” alone. Of course it may be pointed out how talents have been and are sometimes inherited in families. For two and a half centuries musical talents were inherited by members of the Bach family. No less than eight mathematicians of distinction sprang form the Bernoulli family. Though some had very different careers mapped out for them in childhood, again and again the “hereditary” talent drew them into the family profession. It might also be contended that by a detailed study of his ancestry a particular man's talents can be shown to have appeared in one way or another in his forebears, so that he is merely benefiting by the summation of inherited potentialities.
A man whose thinking leans towards the spiritual will certainly not disregard evidences of this kind, and yet for him they cannot be what they are to those who want to base all their explanations on facts accessible to the outer senses. He will point out that inherited potentialities cannot of their own accord add up into a complete and integrated personality, any more than the several metallic parts will of their own accord assemble into the watch. And if objection is made that the conjunction of the parents can surely have brought about the combination, thus as it were taking the watchmaker's place, he will answer: Look but with open vision, how altogether now a thing is the personality of every child we see! This cannot possibly come from the parents, for the simple reason that it is not there in them.
Unclear thinking may give rise to much confusion here. It is silliest of all when those of the former way of thinking represent those of the latter as disregarding and opposing well-established facts. For it need never occur to them to deny the truth or value of the facts alleged. They too can fully see that a mental or spiritual gift or even bent of mind will be “inherited” in a particular family, or that inherited potentialities, added and combined in a descendant, have produced a man or woman of eminence. Readily will they acquiesce when told that the most eminent name is seldom to be found at the head but generally at the latter end of a line of descent. But it should not be taken amiss when they derive from all those things quite other thoughts than do those who will not go beyond super-sensible data. For to the latter the following answer can be made. Certainly a man bears the stamp of his forebears, for the soul-and-spirit, entering physical existence through birth, derives the bodily element from what heredity provides. But this is to say no more than that an entity naturally bears the features of the medium in which it is immersed! It is a quaint and no doubt a trite comparison, yet to an open mind it is surely apposite: A man who has fallen into the water will be wet, but his wetness is no evidence of his inner nature. No more is a human beings' however obvious investment with some of the characteristics of his forebears evidence as to the origin of those which are uniquely his. Moreover this too may be said: If the most eminent name comes at the end of a line of descent, it shows that the bearer of the name required that very line of blood-relationship to form the body needed in this life for his own individual development and expression. It is no proof of the hereditary character of what he — individually — was. Indeed to healthy logic it proves, if anything, the reverse. For if individual gifts were inherited, they surely would appear at the beginning of a line of descent and be handed down from thence to the individual descendants. That they appear at the end, is evidence that they are not hereditary.
Now it cannot be denied that many of those who believe in spiritual causes also tend to make confusion worse confounded. They talk too much in vague and general terms. To maintain that a man is the mere sum-total of his inherited characteristics may indeed by like saying that the metallic parts have assembled of their own accord into the watch. Yet it must also be granted that many would-be arguments on behalf of a spiritual world are as though one were to say: “The metallic parts of a watch cannot of themselves join up so as to drive the hands forward; therefore there must be some spiritual entity driving them forward.” As against such a construction, the man who answers: “What do I care for ‘mystical’ being of this kind? I want to know the mechanical construction by means of which the forward movement is in fact produced,” is building on far better ground. The point is not to be vaguely aware that underlying the mechanical contrivance — the watch, in this instance — there is the spiritual entity, the watchmaker. The thing of practical significance is to get to know the thoughts in the mind of the watchmaker — thoughts which preceded the making of the watch. These thoughts are in the mechanism and can be found there.
Merely to dream and spin fancies about the supersensible can only lead to confusion and is least likely to satisfy opponents. They are quite right in contending that the vague reference to supersensible begins in no way helps one to understand the facts. Many opponents, it is true, will make the same objection to the precise and clear descriptions of spiritual science. But in this case it can be pointed out how the effects of hidden spiritual causes are manifested in external life. It can be said: Assume for once that what is claimed to have been found by spiritual observation is actually true. Assume that after death a man passed through a time of purification, when he experienced in soul how a thing done by him in a preceding life was going to be an evolutionary hindrance. While he had this experience, there grew in him the impulse to make good the consequences of his action. This impulse he brings with him into a new life; the presence of it is a trait in his nature, leading him to the place and situation where the needed opportunity is given. Think of all impulses of this kind, and you have a cause for the particular human environment into which the man was destined to be born.
Or take another assumption. Suppose once more: what spiritual science tells is true. The fruits of a past life on Earth are embodied in the spiritual seed of man. The Spirit-land wherein he sojourns between death and a new earthly life is the realm where these fruits ripen, to re-emerge in the new life transmuted into aptitudes and talents and making him the man his is, so that his present character and being appear as the effect of what was gained in a former life. Take this as a hypothesis and with it candidly look out into life. If it consistent, in the first place, with a healthy recognition of the outer facts — facts accessible to the senses — in their full truth and import. At the same time it makes intelligible ever so many things which, if one had to rely upon the outer facts alone, must remain unintelligible to anyone whose mind and feeling do not incline towards the spiritual world. Above all, it will put an end to that inverted logic, of which a typical instance was the proposition that because the most eminent name occurs at the end of a hereditary tree, therefore the man who bears it must have inherited his gifts. The supersensible facts ascertained by spiritual science makes life intelligible to sound logic and straightforward thinking.
Still, the conscientious seeker after truth, without experience of his own in the supersensible world yet looking for a deeper understanding of the facts, may have another difficulty at this point, the force of which should be admitted. He may contend: Surely we cannot assume that a thing is true merely because it helps explain the otherwise inexplicable. Needless to say, this objection will not trouble those who know the thing in question by their own supersensible experience. Later on in this book a path will be indicated which one may go along, to learn to know by one's own experience not only the other spiritual facts here described but the law of spiritual causation too. But for those who do not want to take this path, the difficulty remains. Moreover even for those who do, what will now be said in answer to it may be of value. Rightly received and understood, it is indeed the very best way of taking the first step.
Certainly we ought not to assume things of the existence of which we have no other knowledge, merely because they give a satisfying explanation of the otherwise inexplicable. But with the spiritual facts here adduced the case is really different. To assume them has not the mere intellectual consequence of making life intelligible theoretically. When we receive them — even as hypotheses — into our thoughts, we experience far more than this, and different in kind. Think of a man to whom a great misfortune happens, from which he suffers deeply. He can meet the occurrence in either of two ways. He can experience the pain of it, give himself up to this emotion and maybe even succumb to his distress. But he can fact it in a different way, saying to himself: “In reality, it was I who in the past life planted in myself the forces which have now confronted me with this occurrence. I have inflicted it upon myself.” He can now kindle in himself all the feelings which this thought may carry in its train. Of course the thought must be entertained with great earnestness and intensity to have an adequate effect upon his life of feeling. But anyone who manages to do this will make a very significant discover — best illustrated by a comparison. Each of two men, let us suppose, is given a stick of sealing-wax. The one indulges in intellectual reflections upon its “inner nature.” His thoughts may be profound, but if this inner nature is in no way revealed he will very soon be told that they are vain speculation. The other rubs the sealing-wax with a silken cloth and demonstrates how it will attract small bodies. There is a vital difference between the thoughts that passed through the first man's head, giving rise to his philosophical reflections, and those of the second man. The former are without factual consequence, whereas the latter have led to a force of Nature — a real and potent fact — being conjured forth from its hidden state.
Such are the thoughts of one who thinks how in a former life he planted in himself the force that led him into a painful misfortune. The mere idea that this was so kindles in him a real power — a power to meet the event quite differently than he could do without it. It dawns upon him how inherently necessary, how essential was the event which he could otherwise only have looked upon as an unfortunate mischance. With direct insight he will realize: “This thought was right, for it has had the power to reveal to me the real state of affairs.” Inner experiments of this kind, actively repeated, become an ever increasing source of inner strength, and by their fruitful outcome prove their truth. The demonstration grows impressive — ever more so. In spirit and in soul, and physically too, the experience is health-giving — in all respects a positive and beneficial influence upon one's life. A man becomes aware that with such thoughts he takes his proper stand amid the ups and downs of life, whereas if he were only thinking of the single life between birth and death he would be giving himself up to illusions. Knowledge of reincarnation fortifies his inner life.
Admittedly, this intimate and searching proof of the spiritual law of causation can only be gained by each man for himself, in his own inner life. And it is really possible for everyone. No-one who has not gained it for himself can judge of its demonstrative power, while those who have can hardly doubt it any more. We need not be surprised that this is so. For where a thing is so bound up with a man's individuality, his inmost being, it is but natural that it can only be adequately proved by his own inner experience.
This does not mean however that because it answers to an inner experience of the soul the question can only be settled by each man for himself and therefore cannot be the subject-matter of a valid spiritual science. True, everyone must have the experience himself, just as everyone has to perceive for himself the proof of a theorem in mathematics. But the pathway by which the experience is reached, no less than the method of proving the mathematical theorem, is universally valid.
Apart of course from actual observation in the supersensible, the proof above described is undeniably the only one which by the potency an fertile outcome of its thoughts stands firm in face of every fair and rational approach. Other considerations may be of great significance, and yet in all of them a sincere opponent may find loopholes. One other thought — evident enough to fair-minded insight — does however deserve mention. The very fact of education — that man is educable — goes a long way to prove that in the human child there is a spiritual being clad in a bodily garment and working his way through into life. Compare man with the animal. The characteristic properties and faculties of the animal are apparent from birth onward — a well-defined totality, of which the plan is manifestly given by heredity and then develops by contact with the outer world. See how the chick begins to fulfill the functions of its life as soon as ever it is hatched. How different with man! While he is being educated things which may well have no connection whatever with his heredity meet him and come into relation with his inner life. He proves able to assimilate and make his own the effects of these external influences. As every educator is aware, powers and faculties from the pupil's own inner life must come to meet these influences; if they do not, schooling and education are useless. An educator of sufficient insight will even mark the clear dividing line between the inherited tendencies and those inner faculties of his pupils which ray right through the latter, originating as they do in former lives.
True, in this field we cannot offer proofs as literally “weighty” as are the scientific proofs for which a balance is used in a physical experiment. But we are dealing here with the more intimate realities of life. To a sensitive thinker the kind of evidence just indicated, intangible though it is, has a validity even more cogent than that of tangible and ponderable data.
Animals too can of course be trained to develop special qualities and aptitudes, as though by education. But if we once discern what is essential, this is no valid objection. Quite apart from the fact that transitions between one thing and another are everywhere to be found, the effects of training do not merge into the animal's individual being as in the case of man. We are even told how the skills and aptitudes domestic animals acquire by their association with man or by deliberate training can be inherited. In other words, the effect is not individual but generic. Darwin describes how dogs will “fetch and carry” without previous training and without ever having seen it done. Who would say the same of human education?
Now there are thinkers who see beyond the mistaken notion that man is outwardly pieced together by mere hereditary forces. They rise to the idea that a spiritual being, an individuality, precedes and helps to form the bodily existence. But many of them are not yet able to realize the fact of repeated lives on Earth, the fruits of earlier lives playing a decisive part during an intermediate spiritual form of existence. We will cite one of these thinkers, Immanuel Hermann Fichte — son of the great philosopher — who in his Anthropolgie (p. 528) sums up his observations as follows:
“The parents are by no means the progenitors in the full sense of the word. What they contribute is the organic material, and not only this; also the intermediate qualities of heart and mind and sensibility, shown in the temperament, in shades of feeling, instinctive tendencies and the like, the common source of all which we found in the imaginative power — Phantasie — using this word in the wider sense already indicated. In all these elements of a man's personality, the mingling and conjunction of the souls of his parents is unmistakable. These we may justly regard as a simple outcome of procreation, the more so since the act of procreation — as we were driven to admit — is an event in the soul-life too. Yet in all this the core and coping-stone of the individuality is not yet contained. For as a deeper penetration shows, even these subtler traits of heart and mind and feeling are but a sheath, an instrument, a vestment to contain the essentially spiritual, ideal potentialities of the man himself. True, they can further — or it may be hinder — these potentialities in their development, but they can never bring them forth out of themselves.”
A little later on (p. 532) Fichte adds:
“As to his archetypal spiritual form each human being pre-exists. Spiritually seen, two human individuals are no more like one another than are two animal species.”
These ideas only go so far as to allow that a spiritual being enters the physical, bodily nature of man to indwell it. But as they ail to attribute the form-giving powers of this being to causes originating in former lives, a fresh spiritual being would have to issue from the Divine Source of all, every time a human personality arose. On this assumption it would not be possible to explain the undoubted relationship between the innate tendencies which work their way outward from a man's inner being, and what comes to meet this inner being from his external, earthly and social environment during the course of his life. The inner being of man, springing for each single one — as it were, new-born — from the Divine Fount, would then confront what is to meet him in the earthly life as a complete stranger. This will only not be the case as indeed we know it is not — if the man's inner being has already been connected with this inner world and is not living in it for the first time. An open-minded teacher and educator can attain this perception: “What I am bringing to my pupil out of the fruits of human life on Earth is to a great extent foreign to his mere hereditary endowment, and yet it somehow touches him as though he had already been a participant — partaking in the work to which the fruits are due.”
Only repeated lives on Earth — taken together with the events in the spiritual realm between, as shown by spiritual science — can give a satisfying explanation of the life of present-day mankind when looked at in an all-round way. We say expressly, “present-day mankind.” Spiritual research reveals that there was a time when the cycle of man's earthly lives first began. Moreover the conditions then obtaining for the entry of his spiritual being into the bodily sheaths differed from those of today. In the next chapters we shall be going back to that primeval state of man, and in so doing it will emerge from the results of spiritual science how he evolved into his present form, in close connection with the evolution of the Earth as such. Then too it will be possible to indicate more fully how the spiritual core of man's being enters from supersensible worlds into the bodily vestments, and how the spiritual law of causation — how human destiny works itself out.