In the present stage of its evolution the human consciousness unfolds three forms, the waking, the dreaming, and the dreamless sleeping consciousness.
The waking consciousness experiences the outer world through the senses, forms ideas about it, and out of those ideas can create such as portray a purely spiritual world. The dreaming consciousness develops pictures in which the outer world is transformed, as, for instance, when the sun shining on the bed is experienced in dream as a conflagration in all its details. Or a man's own inner world may appear before him in symbolic pictures, as, for instance, the throbbing heart in the picture of an over-heated oven. Memories also re-appear transformed in the dream consciousness. What these memory pictures contain is not borrowed from the world of the senses, but from the spiritual world. However, it is not possible through the memory pictures to penetrate with understanding into the spiritual world, because they are just too dim to rise into the waking consciousness, and because what little may be perceived cannot be really understood.
But it is possible in the moment of waking to grasp so much of the dream world as to become aware that it is the imperfect copy of a spiritual experience which has happened in sleep, but which for the most part evades the waking consciousness. In order to comprehend this, it is only necessary to shape the moment of waking in such a way that the outer world is not conjured all at once before the soul, but that the soul, without as yet regarding the outer world, feels itself surrendered to what has been experienced within.
In the dreamless sleep consciousness the soul passes through experiences which mean nothing more for the memory than an indifferent period of time between falling asleep and waking.
These experiences may be spoken of as non-existent, until the way into them has been opened up through spiritual scientific investigation. But if this takes place, if the Imaginative and Inspired consciousness described in anthroposophical literature be developed, then out of the darkness of sleep the pictures and inspirations belonging to the experience of previous lives on Earth make their appearance. It then becomes possible to survey also the content of the dream consciousness. This cannot be grasped by the waking consciousness; it has to do with the world in which man dwells as a disembodied soul between two earthly lives.
If one learns to know what is hidden behind the dream- and sleep-consciousness in the present age, then the way is clear to the understanding of the forms of human consciousness in past ages. One cannot, however, arrive at this by means of outer investigation; for evidence received from the outer world shows only the after-effects of the experiences of human consciousness in prehistoric times. Anthroposophical literature gives information as to how, by means of spiritual investigation, one may attain to the vision of such experiences.
It is found by means of spiritual research that in ancient Egyptian times man possessed a dream-consciousness which was much more like the waking consciousness than it is at the present day. The memory of the dream experiences passed into the waking consciousness, and the latter provided not only the sense impressions that can be grasped in clearly outlined thoughts, but in addition to these the Spiritual that is at work in the world of the senses. Man's consciousness thereby lived instinctively in the world he had left when he incarnated on the Earth the world he will re-enter when he passes through the gate of death.
Inscribed monuments and other records preserved from ancient times give to those who penetrate them with an impartial mind, clear evidence of a consciousness of this kind, belonging to an age of which no outer relics exist.
In ancient Egyptian times the sleep-consciousness contained dreams of the spiritual world, just as the sleep consciousness of the present day contains dreams originating from the physical world. But among other peoples we find in addition another kind of consciousness. The experiences undergone during sleep passed over into the waking consciousness in such a way that there was an instinctive vision of repeated earthly lives. The traditions regarding the knowledge of repeated earthly lives possessed by ancient humanity originate from these forms of consciousness.
In the developed Imaginative consciousness we find again the dream-consciousness which in ancient times was dim and instinctive, only in the Imaginative consciousness it is fully conscious, like our waking life. And through the Inspired knowledge we become aware of the pre-historic instinctive insight which still saw something of the repeated earthly lives.
Modern writers of works on the history of humanity make no note of this transformation in the forms of human consciousness. They would like to believe that on the whole the present forms of consciousness have existed as long as humanity has been on the Earth. And what, in spite of this, does point to other forms of consciousness, viz., the myths and fairy-tales, they would prefer to look upon as the result of the poetic fantasy of primitive man.
88. In the waking day-consciousness man experiences himself, during the present cosmic age, standing in the midst of the physical world. This experience conceals from him the presence, within his being, of the effects of a life between death and birth.
89. In dream-consciousness man experiences, in a chaotic way, his own being unharmoniously united with the spiritual being of the world. The waking consciousness cannot seize the real content of the dream-consciousness. To the Imaginative and Inspired Consciousness it is revealed how the Spirit-world through which man lives between death and birth is helping to build up his inner being.
90. In dreamless sleep-consciousness man experiences, all unconsciously, his own being permeated with the results of past earthly lives. The Inspired and Intuitive Consciousness penetrates to a clear vision of these results, and sees the working of former earthly lives in the destined course the Karma of the present.
91. The Will enters the ordinary consciousness, in the present cosmic age, only through Thought. Now in this consciousness we always have to take our start from something sense-perceptible. Thus, even of our own Will, we apprehend only what passes from it into the world of sense-perceptions. In the ordinary consciousness it is only by observation of himself in thought that man is aware of his Will-impulses, just as it is only by observation that he is aware of the outer world.
92. The Karma that works in the Will is a property belonging to it from former lives on Earth. This constituent of the Will cannot therefore be apprehended with the ideas of our ordinary sense-existence, which are directed only to the present earthly life.
93. Because they are unable to take hold of Karma, these ideas refer what is unintelligible to them in man's impulses of Will to the mystic darkness of the bodily constitution, whereas in reality it is the working of past earthly lives.
94. With the ordinary life in ideas transmitted through the senses, man is in the physical world. For this world to enter his consciousness, Karma must be silent in his thinking life. In his life of ideation, man as it were forgets his Karma.
95. In the manifestations of the Will, Karma works itself out. But its working remains in the unconscious. By lifting to conscious Imagination what works unconsciously in the Will, Karma is apprehended. Man feels his destiny within him.
96. When Inspiration and Intuition enter the Imagination, then, beside the impulses of the present, the outcome of former earthly lives becomes perceptible in the working of the Will. The past life is revealed, working itself out in the present.
97. For a cruder description it is permissible to say: Thinking, Feeling and Willing live in the soul of man. For greater refinement we must add: Thinking always contains a substratum of Feeling and Willing; Feeling a substratum of Thinking and Willing; Willing a substratum of Thinking and Feeling. In the life of thought, however, Thinking predominates; in the life of feeling, Feeling predominates; and in the life of will, Willing predominates over the other contents of the soul.
98. The Feeling and Willing of the life of Thought contain the karmic outcome of past lives on Earth. The Thinking and Willing of the life of Feeling karmically determine the man's character. The Thinking and Feeling of the life of Will tear the present earthly life away from Karmic connections.
99. In the Feeling and Willing of Thinking man lives out his Karma of the past; in the Thinking and Feeling of Willing he prepares his Karma of the future.
100. The thoughts of man have their true seat in the etheric body. There, however, they are forces of real life and being. They imprint themselves upon the physical body, and as such imprinted thoughts they have the shadowy character in which the everyday consciousness knows them.
101. The Feeling that lives in the Thoughts comes from the astral body, and the Willing from the Ego. In sleep the human etheric body is certainly irradiated with the world of his Thoughts, but man himself does not partake in it. For he has withdrawn, with the astral body the Feeling of the Thoughts, and with the Ego their Willing, out of the etheric and the physical.
102. The moment the astral body and Ego loose their connection during sleep with the Thoughts of the etheric body, they enter into connection with Karma with the beholding of the events through repeated lives on Earth. To the everyday consciousness this vision is denied, but a supersensible consciousness can enter into it.