16 April 1924, Berne
Anthroposophical friends in Berne have already heard that the aim of the Christmas Foundation Meeting at the Goetheanum was to bring a new trend into the Anthroposophical Movement. The importance of becoming conscious of this new trend cannot be stressed too often, for the gist of the matter is this: before the Christmas Foundation Meeting — in practice at any rate, even if not invariably — the Anthroposophical Society was regarded as a sort of administrative centre for the content and the impulse of Anthroposophy. This, essentially, has been the position since the Anthroposophical Society made itself independent of the Theosophical Society.
You know that I myself had no place on the Society's Executive, but have so to say held a completely free position within the Society. And in this situation the Society's development has not proceeded as it certainly could have done. The fact is that Members have been too little alive to what might have developed on this basis. What happened was that from about the year 1919 onwards — after the War, during which the problem of leadership of the Society was a very difficult one — all kinds of efforts were made and undertakings set on foot within the Society. These undertakings were the outcome of ambitions among the Membership and proved to be detrimental to the real anthroposophical work — detrimental in the sense that they aroused very strong hostility from the outside world. Naturally, when such undertakings are set on foot in a Society resting upon occult foundations, one must, for esoteric reasons, let them be. For think of it — if from the beginning I had stood in the way of all these undertakings, most of those engaged in them would have been saying to-day that if only this or that had happened it would have led to favourable results. But there is no doubt at all that these things made the position of the Anthroposophical Movement in the world increasingly difficult.
I do not want to go into details but to take a more positive line: let me say only that the time had come to counteract by something positive the negative trend that had gradually appeared in the Society. Before the Christmas Foundation Meeting I often found it necessary to emphasise that a real foundation like the Anthroposophical Movement — which is in truth a spiritual stream guided and led from the super-sensible worlds by spiritual Powers and spiritual Forces which are reflected here in the physical worlds — should not be identified with the Anthroposophical Society, which is simply an administrative body for the cultivation — as far as it is capable of this — of the anthroposophical impulse.
But since the Christmas Foundation Meeting at the Goetheanum this has completely changed. And it was only because of this change that there was reason and purpose in my taking over the Presidency myself, in cooperation with an Executive which as a unified organism can work with great intensity for the Anthroposophical Movement. This means that the Anthroposophical Movement and the Anthroposophical Society are now one. Therefore what was not the position before the Christmas Foundation Meeting has changed fundamentally since that Meeting. Henceforward the Anthroposophical Society is to be identical with the Anthroposophical Movement as presented in the world. But it has thus become essential that the esoteric impulse flowing through the Anthroposophical Movement shall also find expression in the whole constitution of the Anthroposophical Society. Therefore since this Christmas Foundation Meeting in Dornach it must be recognised, unconditionally, that the establishment of the Dornach Executive is itself an esoteric matter, that a stream of true esotericism must flow through the Society, and that the institution of the Executive is to be regarded as an esoteric deed. This was the premise on which the Executive was formed.
Further, it must always be remembered that from now onwards the Anthroposophical Society will no longer exist merely as a body for the administration of Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy itself must be practised in everything that happens in the Anthroposophical Society. What is done must itself be anthroposophical. That, apparently, is what it is so difficult to realise. Nevertheless friends must gradually get it into their consciousness that this fundamental change has taken place.
As a first step, in the News Sheet appended to the Goetheanum Weekly, an effort has been made to introduce into the Society something that can provide unified substance for the membership, can further a unified flow of spiritual reality through the Movement. A unified trend of thought is made possible, particularly through the weekly ‘Leading Thoughts’ which should be a kind of basic seed for work in the Groups. It is really remarkable that so much misunderstanding still exists as to what the Anthroposophical Movement really is.
A short while ago I received a letter from a fairly recent Member of the Anthroposophical Society. This letter expatiated on the alleged incorporation of the Christian Community into the Anthroposophical Society. (The matter is of no importance here in Switzerland, but I mention it as an example.) At a certain point I had made it quite clear from the Goetheanum in Dornach how the relationship between this Christian Community and the Anthroposophical Society is to be thought of. I emphasised that I cannot in any way be regarded as the Founder of the Christian Community on the basis of the Anthroposophical Society, but that the Christian Community formed itself, through me, by the side of the Anthroposophical Society. At the time I used the expression “through me as a private individual.” The letter referred to seizes hold of this expression, “private individual,” after saying that a renewal of religion cannot come about through a human being but only from the higher spheres, for a renewal of religion can be achieved only by divine-spiritual Powers. That is quite right, but something has been overlooked ... and it is essential for this ‘something’ to be fully grasped in the Anthroposophical Society. What must be grasped is that the Anthroposophical Movement as such — in which moreover there also lies the source for a renewal of religion — certainly does not owe its origin to a human impulse alone but has been sent into the world under the influence of divine-spiritual Powers and by their impulse. Only when Anthroposophy itself is seen to be a spiritual reality which flows as an esoteric impulse through civilisation will it be possible to have the right point of view when some other body comes into being with its source in Anthroposophy ... and an objection like that contained in the letter cannot arise. The consciousness must be there that henceforward the Anthroposophical Society will be led from the Goetheanum on an esoteric basis.
Connected with this is the fact that a completely new trend will pervade the Anthroposophical Movement as it must now be conceived. Therefore you too, my dear friends, will notice how differently it has been possible to speak since that time. In the future it will amount to this: in all measures taken by the Anthroposophical Movement, which is now identical with the Anthroposophical Society, the responsibility is to the spiritual Powers themselves. But this must be correctly understood. It must be realised that the title “General Anthroposophical Society” may not be used in connection with any event or fixture organised without understanding having first been reached with the Dornach Executive; that anything inaugurated by Dornach may not be made further use of without corresponding agreement with the Executive. I am obliged to speak of this because it is constantly happening that lectures, for instance, are given under the alleged auspices of the General Anthroposophical Society without any application for permission having been made to Dornach. Matters which have an esoteric foundation, formulae and the like, are sometimes adopted without obtaining the agreement of the Dornach Executive ... and this is absolutely essential, for we have to do with realities, not with administrative measures or formalities. So for all these and similar matters, agreement must be sought from or a request made to the Dornach Executive. If agreement is not forthcoming, the arrangements in question will not be regarded as issuing from the Anthroposophical Movement. This would have in some way to be made plain.
Everything that savours of bureaucracy, all administrative formalities must in the future be eliminated from the Anthroposophical Society. Relationship within the Anthroposophical Society is a purely human relationship; everything is based upon the human reality. Perhaps I may mention here too that this is already indicated by the fact that every one of the 12,000 Membership Cards now being issued are personally signed by me. I was advised to have a rubber stamp made for the signature, but I shall not do so. It is only a minor point but there is, after all, a difference when I have let my eyes rest on the name of a Member; thereby the personal relationship — abstract though it be — has been made. Even if it is an external detail it should nevertheless be an indication that in future we shall endeavour to make relationships personal and human. Thus, for example, when it was recently asked in Prague whether the Bohemian Landesgesellschaft can become a member of the Anthroposophical Society, the decision had to be that this is not possible; individual human beings alone can become members of the Anthroposophical Society; they can then join together to form Groups. But they become Members as individuals and have the Membership Card as such. Legal entities — in other words, non-human entities — will have no such Card. Similarly the Statutes are not official regulations but a simple statement of what the esoteric Executive in Dornach wishes, out of its own initiative, to do for the Anthroposophical Movement. In future, all these things must be taken with the utmost seriousness. Only so will it be possible to bring into being in the Anthroposophical Society the attitude which, if it were absent, would make it impossible for me to take over the Presidency of the Society.
Through the Christmas Foundation, a new character and impulse is to enter into all our work. In the future, whatever is said will have a spiritual source — so that many things that have happened recently, can happen no longer. A great deal of the hostility, for instance, has arisen as a result of provocative actions in the Society. Naturally, all kinds of questionable elements play a part, but in the future we can no longer adopt towards the hostility the attitude we have adopted in the past. For the Lecture-Courses are available for everyone and can be obtained from the Anthroposophisch-Philosophischer Verlag. We shall not let them be advertised in the Book Trade; their release is not to be taken to mean that they will be handed over to the Book Trade, but they will be accessible to everyone. This fact in itself refutes the statement that the Anthroposophical Society is a secret society with secret literature. In the future, however, a very great deal will flow through the Anthroposophical Movement in respect of which no kind of relation with a hostile outside world will be possible. Much of what will be introduced into the teachings of the Anthroposophical Society in the future will be of such a nature that it will inevitably evoke hostility in the outside world; but we shall not worry about it because it is a matter of course.
And so I want to speak to you to-day in this spirit, to speak particularly of how different a light is shed upon the historical evolution of mankind when the study of karmic relationships in world-existence is pursued in real earnest.
At the very first gathering held in Berlin for the purpose of founding the German Section of the Theosophical Society, I chose for a lecture I proposed to give, the title: Practical Questions of Karma. I wanted to introduce then what I intend to achieve now, namely, the serious and earnest study of Karma.
In the German Section of the Theosophical Society at the time there were several old Members of the Society. They literally quaked at my intention to begin in such an esoteric way. And in actual fact the attitude and mood for it were not there. It was quite obvious how little the people were prepared in their souls for such things. It was impossible at that time to proceed with the theme ‘Practical Questions of Karma’ in the form that had been intended. Conditions made it necessary to speak in a much more exoteric way. But now, with more than two decades of preparatory work behind us, a beginning must be made with real esotericism. The Christmas Foundation Meeting, when the esoteric impulse came into the Society, has actually taken place, and so now a link can be made with that time when the intention was to introduce this esoteric trend into the Society.
What is the historical evolution of humanity, when we consider what is revealed by the fact of repeated earthly lives? When some personality appears as a leading figure in the evolution of humanity, we must say: This personality is the bearer of an Individuality of soul-and-spirit who was already present many times in earthly existence and who carries over into this earthly life the impulses from earlier incarnations. Only in the light of his earlier earthly lives can we really understand such a personality. From this we see at once how what was working in earlier epochs of world-history is carried over from those earlier epochs by human beings themselves. The civilisation of to-day has developed out of the human beings who belong to the present in the wider sense. But they, after all, are the same souls who were there in earlier epochs and assimilated what those earlier civilisations brought into being; they themselves have carried it over into the present. The same applies to epochs other than the present. Only when we can discover what has been carried over by human souls from one epoch into the other can we understand this onflowing stream of the impulses working in civilisation. But then we have history in the concrete, not in the abstract. People usually speak only about ideas working in world-history, about moral will or moral impulses in general which carry over the fruits of civilisation from one epoch into the others. But the bearers of these fruits of earlier civilisations are the human souls themselves, for they incarnate again and again. Moreover it is only in this way that an individual realises what he has himself become, how he has carried over that which forms the basis of his bodily destiny, his destiny in good and evil alike. When, as a first step, we ponder how history has been carried from one epoch into another by the human beings themselves in their repeated earthly lives, then, and only then are the secrets, the great enigmas of historical evolution, unveiled.
To-day I want to show by three examples how karma works through actual personalities. One of these examples leads us into the wide arena of history; the other two deal more with the reincarnations of particular individuals.
Our modern civilisation contains a great many elements that are really not altogether in keeping with Christianity, with true Christian evolution. Natural science is brought even into the elementary schools, with the result that it has an effect upon the thinking even of people who have no scientific knowledge. These impulses are really not Christian. Whence do they originate?
You all know that about six hundred years after the founding of Christianity, Arabism, inspired by Mohammed, began to spread abroad. In Arabism, Mohammed founded a body of doctrine which in a certain sense was at variance with Christianity. To what extent at variance? The concept of the three forms of the Godhead — Father, Son, Spirit — is of the very essence of Christianity. The origin of this lies away back in the ancient Mysteries in which a man was led through four preparatory stages and then through three higher stages. When he had reached the fifth stage, he came forth as a representative of the Christ; at the seventh and highest stage as a representative of the Father. I want only to make brief mention of this.
It is the Trinity that makes it possible for the impulse of freedom to have its place in the evolution of Christianity. We look upwards to the Father God, seeing in the Father God the spirituality implicit in all those forces of the Universe which go out from the Moon to Earth existence. All those forces which in Earth existence have to do with the impulses of physical germination — in man, therefore, with propagation — proceed from the Moon. It must, of course, always be remembered that the human process of reproduction has its spiritual side. From the pre-earthly existence of spirit-and-soul we come down to earthly existence, uniting with a physical body. But everything that is responsible for placing the human being, from birth onwards, into earthly life, is a creative act of the Father God, a creative act for the Earth through the Moon forces. Therefore inasmuch as throughout an earthly life man is subject to the working of the Moon forces, he is already predestined when he enters earthly existence to be exposed to impulses of a very definite kind. Hence, too, it is the essential characteristic of a Moon religion, a religion like that of the ancient Hebrews, in which the Father Principle is predominant, always to attach value in the human being only to what has been bestowed upon him through the forces of the Father God, through the Moon forces. When Christianity was founded, ancient Mystery-truths were still current in Christ's environment — truths deriving, for example, from specific phenomena of life in the earliest period of post-Atlantean evolution. Grotesque as they seem to-day, these phenomena were grounded in the very nature of man.
During the first epoch of post-Atlantean civilisation, the ancient Indian epoch, when a man had reached the age of thirty a radical change, a complete metamorphosis, took place in his earthly life. So radical was the change that, expressed in modern words, it would have been perfectly possible for a man who had passed his thirtieth year to meet a younger man whom he had known quite well, perhaps as a friend, but when this younger man greeted him the other would simply not understand what he was trying to do. ... When the older man had passed the age of thirty he had forgotten everything he had hitherto experienced on the Earth! And whatever impulse worked in him in the later years of his life was imparted to him by the Mysteries. This is how things were in the earliest period after the Atlantean catastrophe. If he wanted to know what his life had been before his thirtieth year, a man was obliged to enquire about it from the little community around him. At the age of thirty the soul was so completely transformed that the man was veritably a new being; he began a new existence, just as he had done at birth. In those days it was known that until the thirtieth year of life the forces of youth were at work: thereafter, it was the task of the Mysteries, with the very real impulses they contained, to see to it that a genuinely human existence should continue in the man's soul. And this the Mysteries were able to do because they were in possession of the secret of the Son.
Christ lived in an age when the secrets of the Son — I can do no more than touch upon them here — had been lost, were known only to small circles of men. But because of the experience undergone in His thirtieth year, Christ was able to reveal that He, as the last to do so, had received the Son-impulse directly from the Cosmos — in the way it must be received if after his thirtieth year a man is to be dependent upon the Sun forces just as hitherto he was dependent upon the Moon forces. Christ has enabled men to understand that the Son-principle within him is the Sun Being once awaited in the Mysteries but then as a Being not yet on the Earth. And so, just as in the ancient Mysteries men had gazed into the secrets of the Sun, it was made clear to them that their gaze must now turn to the Christ, realising that now the Sun Mystery had entered into man. In the first centuries of Christianity this wisdom was completely exterminated. Star-wisdom, cosmic wisdom, was exterminated and a materialistic conception of the Mystery of Golgotha gradually took shape; Christ was thought of as nothing more than a being who had dwelt in Jesus but men were unwilling to realise what had actually come to pass.
Those who were true knowers in the first Christian centuries were able to say: As well as the Father God there is God the Son, the Christ God. The Father God rules over whatever is predetermined in man because it is born with him and works in him as the forces of Nature. It is upon this principle that the Hebrew religion is based. But by the side of it, Christianity places the power of the Son which during the course of man's life draws into his soul as a creative force, making him free and enabling him to be reborn, realising that in his earthly life he can become something that was not predetermined by the Moon forces at birth. — Such was the essential impulse of Christianity in the first centuries of its existence.
Mohammedanism set its face against this impulse in its far-reaching decree: There is no God save the God proclaimed by Mohammed. It is a retrogression to the pre-Christian principle, but clothed in a new form — as was inevitable six hundred years after the founding of Christianity. The God of Nature, the Father God — not a God of freedom by whom men are led on to freedom — was proclaimed as the one and only God. Within Arabism, where Mohammedanism was making headway, this was favourable for a revival and renewal of the fruits of ancient cultures, and such a revival, with the exclusion of Christianity, did indeed take place in the Orient, on a magnificent scale. Together with the warlike campaigns of Arabism there spread from East towards the West — in Africa as it were enveloping Christianity — an impulse to revive ancient culture.
Over in Asia, Arabism was cultivated with great brilliance at the Court of Haroun al Raschid — at the time when Charles the Great was reigning in Europe. But whereas Charles the Great hardly progressed beyond the stage of being able to read and write, of developing the most primitive rudiments of culture, great and illustrious learning flourished at the Court of Haroun al Raschid. It cannot, perhaps, be said that Haroun al Raschid in himself was an entirely good man, but he possessed a comprehensive, penetrating and ingenious mind — a universal mind in the best sense. He gathered at his Court all the sages who were the bearers of whatever knowledge was available at that time: poets, philosophers, doctors, theologians, architects — all these branches of learning flourished at the Court of Haroun al Rashid, brought thither by his genius.
At this Court there lived a most distinguished and significant personality, one who — in an incarnation earlier than the one at the Court of Haroun al Raschid — had been an Initiate in the true sense. You will ask: Does an Initiate, then, not remain an Initiate as he passes through his incarnations? It is possible for a man to have been a deep Initiate in an earlier epoch and then, in a new epoch, he must use the body and receive the education which this later epoch has to offer. In such a case the forces deriving from the earlier incarnation will have to be held in the subconsciousness and whatever is in keeping with the current civilisation will have to be developed. There are men who seem, outwardly, to be products of the particular civilisation in which they are living; but their manner of life enables one to perceive in them the existence of deeper impulses; in earlier times they were Initiates. Nor do they lose the fruits of Initiation; out of their subconsciousness they act in accordance with its principles. But they cannot do otherwise than adapt themselves to the conditions of the existing civilisation.
The personality of whom tradition says that he made magnificent provision for all the sciences at the Court of Haroun al Raschid was only one of the most eminent sages of his time, with a genius for organisation so outstanding that he was virtually the source of much that was achieved at the Court of Haroun al Raschid.
The spread of Arabism continued for many centuries, as we know from the wars waged by Europe in an attempt to keep it within bounds. But that was not the end of it: the souls who were once active in Arabism passed through the gate of death, developed onwards in the spiritual world and remained connected, in a sense, with their work. This was what happened in the case of the Individualities of Haroun al Raschid and of the wise Counsellor who lived at his Court.
To begin with, let us follow Haroun al Raschid. He passes through the gate of death and develops onwards in the spiritual world. In its external form, Arabism is repulsed; Christianity implants itself into Middle and Western Europe in the exoteric form it has gradually acquired. But although it is impossible to continue to be active in the old form of Mohammedanism, of Arabism, in Europe, it is very possible for the souls who once shared in this brilliant culture at the Court of Haroun al Raschid and there received the impulse for further achievements, to work on. And that is what they do.
We find that Haroun al Raschid himself reincarnates in the renowned personality of Francis Bacon, Lord Bacon — the distinguished Englishman whose influence has affected the whole of modern scientific thinking, and therewith much that is to be found in the minds of human beings to-day. Haroun al Raschid could not disseminate from London, from England, a form of culture strictly aligned with Arabism ... this soul was obliged to make use of the form of Arabism that was possible in the West. But the fundamental trend and tendency of what Bacon poured into European thinking is the old Arabism in the new form. And so Arabism lives in the scientific thinking of to-day, because Francis Bacon was the reincarnated Haroun al Raschid.
The sage who had lived at his Court also passed through the gate of death, but he took a different path. He could not come down into a stream of culture as materialistic as that into which Francis Bacon could enter; he had inevitably to remain within a more spiritual stream. And so it came about that in the epoch when the influence of Francis Bacon was also taking effect, another individuality was working — in this case in Middle Europe — one who in his life of soul encountered what had issued from the soul of the reborn Haroun al Raschid. We see the Bacon stream pouring out from England to Middle Europe, from West to East, bringing Arabism in the form it had acquired in its sweep across Spain and France. It is comprehensible, therefore, that the tenor and content of this soul should differ from the tenor and content of that other soul — who passed through the gate of death, during the period of existence in the spiritual world directed its gaze toward Eastern and Middle Europe, and was reborn in Middle Europe as Amos Comenius. He resuscitated what he had learned from oriental wisdom at the Court of Haroun al Raschid inasmuch as in the seventeenth century he was the one who with much forcefulness promulgated the thought that the evolution of mankind is pervaded by organised spirituality. It is often said, superficially, that Comenius believed in the Kingdom of a Thousand Years. That is a trivial way of putting it. The truth is that Comenius believed in definite epochs in the evolution of humanity; he believed that historical evolution is organised from the spiritual world. His aim was to show that spirituality surges and weaves through the whole of Nature; he wrote a “Pan-Sophia.” There is a deeply spiritual trend in what he achieved. He became an educational reformer. As is known, his aim in education was to achieve concrete perceptibility (Anschaulichkeit) but a thoroughly spiritual perceptibility, not as in materialism. I cannot deal with this in detail but can only indicate how Arabism in its Western form and in its Oriental form issued from what arose in Middle Europe from the meeting of the two spiritual impulses connected with Bacon and Comenius.
Many aspects of the civilisation of Middle Europe can become intelligible to us only when we see how Arabism — in the form in which it could now be re-cast — was actually brought over from Asia by individuals who had once lived at the Court of Haroun al Raschid. This shows us how human Individuality is an active factor in the evolution of history. And then, by studying examples as striking as these, we can learn from them how karma works through the incarnations. As I have said on various occasions, what we learn from this study can be applied to our own incarnation. But to begin with we must have concrete examples.
Let us now take an example in which this country will be particularly interested. Let us take the example of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, the Swiss poet. The very personality of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, apart from his poetry, may well arouse interest. He is certainly a remarkable personality. When he was composing his poems which flow along in wonderful rhythms, one can perceive how at every moment the soul was prone to slip out of the body. In the wonderful forms of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer's poems and of his prose-poems too, there is a quality belonging intrinsically to the soul. Many times in his earthly life he was destined to suffer from a clouding of consciousness when this separation of the soul-and-spirit from the physical body became too pronounced. There was only a loose connection between the soul-and-spirit and the physical body — this is quite apparent when we study the poems or the personality of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer. We say to ourselves at once that this Individuality which in the Conrad Ferdinand Meyer incarnation was only loosely connected with the physical body, must surely have passed through very remarkable experiences in earlier earthly lives.
Now investigation of earlier earthly lives is by no means always easy. Disillusionments and set-backs of every description have to be encountered in the course of such investigation. For this reason, what I say about reincarnations is most emphatically not for the purpose of satisfying cravings for sensation but always in order to shed deeper illumination upon the course of history.
As we follow the life of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, particularly in the light of this loose connection between the soul-and-spirit and the body, we are led back to a very early incarnation in the sixth century A.D. We are led to an Individuality who, to begin with, eludes the spiritual intuition with which these things are investigated. Spiritually we are thrust back from this Individuality who in his life in Italy was finding his way into Christianity in the form in which it was spreading at that time ... we can never get really near him. And then we seem to be thrown back again to the Conrad Ferdinand Meyer-incarnation, so that when in this investigation of an earlier incarnation we really seem to have got hold of the incarnation in the sixth century, we have to come back again to the later Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, without having properly understood the connection between these two incarnations. .. until at last the solution of the riddle dawns. We notice that in the mind of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer there is a thought that puzzles and misleads us — a thought which was also expressed in his story The Saint, dealing with Thomas Becket, the Chancellor-Archbishop of Canterbury in the twelfth century at the Court of Henry (II) of England.
It is not until we follow the connections of the thoughts and feelings working in Conrad Ferdinand Meyer while he was writing this narrative that we gain any real insight into how his mind was working. We are led as it were from a clouding of consciousness into clarity, then again a clouding, and so on. And finally we come to the conclusion that there must be some special significance in the thought that runs through Conrad Ferdinand Meyer's story; it must have deep roots. And then we hit upon the clue: this thought comes from an impulse in an earlier earthly life, the life when the Individuality of the later Conrad Ferdinand Meyer lived at a minor Court in Italy and played an important part in the development of Christianity. In that life he had an unusual experience. Gradually we discover that this Individuality was sent with a Christian Mission from Italy to England and this Mission founded the Archbishopric of Canterbury. The Individuality who later became Conrad Ferdinand Meyer was, on the one side, deeply affected by that form of art which has since died out but was prevalent in Italy in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. and subsequently elaborated in the Italian mosaics. The Individuality of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer lived and worked in this environment and then, filled with the impulse of contemporary Christianity, accompanied the Mission to England. After having participated in the founding of the Archbishopric of Canterbury, this individual was murdered, in strange circumstances, by an Anglo-Saxon chieftain.
This happening lived on as an impulse in the soul. And when this soul was born as Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, the destiny of that earlier time was still alive in the subconscious ... the murder in England ... it has something to do with the Archbishopric of Canterbury! Just as a remembrance is often evoked by the sound of a word, so it was in this case ... “I once had something to do with Canterbury.” And the impulse becomes an urge in Conrad Ferdinand Meyer's soul to describe, not his own destiny, for that remains in the subconscious, but the similar destiny of Thomas Becket, the Chancellor of Henry II of England and at the same time Archbishop of Canterbury.
The strange infirmity of soul suffered by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer also causes experience of his own destiny to slip over into that of the other personality known to him from history.
During the period of the Thirty Years' War, when such chaotic conditions prevailed in Middle Europe, this Individuality had been incarnated as a woman. And all the chaos of those times profoundly affected the Individuality now incarnate in a female body. This woman married a rather uncouth, unpolished personality who fled from the conditions then prevailing in Germany to the region of Graubünden in Switzerland. And there this couple lived ... the woman deeply sensitive to the chaos of the impressions around her, the man more plebeian.
From the far-reaching events of that time the soul had absorbed all that struggles to come forth again in Jürg Jenatsch. The thoughts and emotions rise up again in Conrad Ferdinand Meyer from what he had experienced in those earlier circumstances. The difficulty is that the impressions welled up in Conrad Ferdinand Meyer's soul but that he felt compelled to transform them, because his life in the world was such that impulses were constantly rising up into his soul-and-spirit which then, in the Conrad Ferdinand Meyer-incarnation, were responsible for the very loose connection between his soul-and-spirit and his physical body.
This will indicate to you how impulses from olden times work over in a remarkable way into a man's thinking, feeling, perception and artistic achievements. The truth of such things will quite certainly never be discovered by speculation or intellectual thinking but only in genuine spiritual vision.
Personalities who attract one's attention in some earthly life are especially interesting from the point of view of their reincarnations. There is a personality who is greatly loved and held in high esteem, above all in this country, through whom we can discern how souls pass through their earthly lives. When we have real knowledge of these matters they turn out to be different from what one would naturally assume.
There is a soul ... I was able to find this soul for the first time occupying a kind of priestly office in ancient Mysteries. I say, a kind of priestly office, for although he was not a priest of the highest rank his position in the Mysteries enabled him to do a great deal for the education of souls. In that incarnation he was a noble character, full of goodness of heart which his connection with the Mysteries had developed in him. About a hundred years before the birth of Christ it was the destiny of this personality, in line with the customs of the times, to serve under a cruel slave-owner as the foreman or manager of a host of slaves whose work was hard and heavy and who could only be handled in the way that was the accepted practice in those days. This personality must not be misjudged or misunderstood. The conditions prevailing in ancient civilisations must be seen in a different light from those of to-day; we must understand above all what it meant for this fundamentally noble personality to have been incarnated a hundred years before the founding of Christianity as a kind of foreman-manager of a host of slaves. It was impossible for him always to act in accordance with his own impulses — that was his hard destiny. But at the same time he had established a definite relationship with the souls living in the hard-worked slaves. He obeyed the crueller personality of whom I have spoken (his ‘chief’ we should say to-day) but in such circumstances antipathies and sympathies are formed. ... And when the one who often with a bleeding heart had carried out the orders he received, passed through the gate of death, his soul encountered the souls who had felt, for him too, a certain hatred. This lived itself out in the life between death and rebirth and established connections of soul-and-spirit which then worked as impulses, preparing for the next earthly life.
In the nature of things, karmic connections are formed between all human beings who have to do with one another. It was also destiny that the Individuality of whom I am speaking, who was a kind of slave-overseer and connected karmically with the chief whose orders he was bound to obey, should have made himself guilty in a certain way — it was really innocence and guilt at the same time — of all the misery caused by the cruelty of his chief. He acquiesced in it, not out of any impulse of his own but impelled by the force majeure of customs and circumstances. Thus a karmic tie was established between the two. In the life between death and rebirth this took shape in such a way that the former slave-overseer was born again in the ninth century A.D. as a woman: she became the wife of the one who had been the cruel chief — and in this relationship lived through much that constituted the karmic adjustment of what I have described as a kind of ‘innocent guilt’ in connection with the cruelties that had been committed. But these experiences deepened the soul: much of what had been present in the ancient, priestly incarnation emerged once again, but overshadowed by great tragedy. Circumstances in the ninth century brought this wedded couple into connection with many human beings in whom there were living the souls, now reincarnated, of those who had been together with them as slaves. As a general rule, human souls are reborn during the same time-period. And again in this case there was a connection in the life on the Earth.
The souls who had once worked under the slave-overseer now lived together in spatial proximity as a fairly extensive community. The official servant of the community — but a servant of fairly high rank — was the individual who had once been the cruel slave-owner. He had dealings with all the inhabitants of the community and experienced from them nothing but trouble; he was not their governor but it was his duty to look after many of their affairs. The wife lived through all this at his side. We find, therefore, that a number of human beings are associated with these two personalities. But the karma that had bound the two together — the erstwhile slave-owner and his overseer — this karmic tie was thereby done with. The ancient priest-individuality was no longer bound to the other; but the tie with the other souls remained, precisely because in the incarnation about 100 B.C. he had been at least the instrument for much that had been their lot. As a woman, this Individuality brought only blessing to the community, for her deeds were performed with the greatest goodness and kindness, despite the infinitely tragic experiences she was obliged to undergo.
All these shared experiences, all that wove the threads of karma — it all went on working, and during the next period of life between death and rebirth (after the ninth century and on into the modern age) impulses took shape once again whereby these human beings were held together. And now, the souls who had once been the slaves and later on came together in a village community — these souls were born again, not in any kind of external community but at least during the same period of time. So that there was again the possibility of relationship with the Individuality — now reborn — who had been the slave-overseer a hundred years before the Christian era, and the woman in the ninth century A.D. For this Individuality was reborn as Pestalozzi. The souls who were also reborn more or less as contemporaries in order that karma might be fulfilled — these souls whose relationship to him was as I have described, became the pupils for whom Pestalozzi now performed deeds of untold blessing!
When one studies life and behind life as it presents itself perceives the working of souls from incarnation to incarnation ... certainly it is disturbing and astounding, for things are always different from what the intellect might conjecture. Yet life's content is immeasurably deepened when it is studied in this kind of context. I think, moreover, that a man himself has really gained something when he has studied such connections. If they are drawn forth — often with very great difficulty — from their spiritual backgrounds, and if one points, as I have only been able to do in sketchy outline to-day, to what is present in visible existence, one perceives how karma works through the course of human life. Verily, life acquires serious backgrounds when we pay attention to studies of this kind; and they can be understood if with unprejudiced minds we observe what then presents itself in the external world.
Anthroposophy does not exist in order to expound theories about repeated earthly lives or to give tabulated details of every kind, but to reveal, in all their concrete reality, the spiritual foundations of life. Men will look into the world with quite different eyes once the veils are lifted from these things. One day, if destiny permits, we shall have to speak of how they can play a part, too, in the actual deeds of men. Such knowledge will certainly show that concrete studies of karma are needed by our civilisation as an impetus and a deepening. I wanted to-day merely to lay before you these actual examples of karma. The personalities in question are well-known figures in history. Study them closely and you will find confirmation of much that I have said.