Life Between Death and Rebirth
10. Anthroposophy as the Quickener of Feeling and of Life
16 February 1913, Tübingen
If we pause in our anthroposophical considerations and raise the question of what attracts us to such a spiritual movement as our own, then naturally we can provide an answer from a variety of aspects. One of the most important aspects that engages our feelings most deeply, though not the only one, is the consideration of the life of the human soul between death and a new birth. In fact, the happenings that occur during the long period between death and rebirth are truly not less significant than the events between birth and death. We can consider now only a few of the most important events that we experience. But one may add that in such considerations one has the profound conviction that humanity is approaching a period when it must know and experience something of super-sensible worlds.
Let us broach the matter concretely. When the seer who is able to perceive life between death and rebirth meets the following event, this in itself is sufficient for him to feel it a duty to work towards a cognition of the spiritual world. A person has died. The seer seeks to find him some time after he has passed through the gate of death. In the manner that one can communicate with the dead one may gather the following from him. I am quoting an actual instance, “I have left my wife behind on the earth; I know that she is still there.” Obviously this is not conveyed by means of earthly words. “When I was living with her in the physical world she was always like sunshine to me as I came home from work. I experienced her words like a blessing and I could not have conceived of life without the light-filled presence of my beloved companions. Then I went through the gate of death and left her behind, and now I long to go back. I feel the lack of all I had. Longingly in my soul I seek a path to my life-long companion but I cannot find her. I cannot penetrate into her presence. It is as if she were not there. When from time to time I feel as if she were there, as if I were with her, then she appears unable to speak. It can be compared to two people, one of whom would like the other to say a few words, but the other is dumb and unable to say anything. And so the soul who was a blessing to me during the long span of physical existence has become dumb.”
Now if one investigates the basis of such facts one finds the following answer. In this case there is simply no common language between the one who has died and the one who remains on earth. There is nothing that could permeate the soul with that substance by means of which it would remain perceptible. Because there is no common language, these two souls feel severed from one another. This was not always so.
If we go back in the evolution of mankind, we find that souls possessed a spiritual inheritance that enabled them to remain perceptible, irrespective of whether they were both on the physical plane or one in the physical and the other in the spiritual world. That spiritual inheritance is exhausted today. It is no longer present, and the painful cases just described occurs where the soul of a loved one cannot be found after death because in the soul of the one who has remained on earth there is nothing that can render it perceptible to the one who has died. What can in fact be seen by the dead is spiritual knowledge, feeling and experience. That is the connection of souls here on earth with the spiritual world. If a soul who has been left behind on earth occupies himself with knowledge of the spiritual worlds, allows such thoughts to cross his mind, then these thoughts can be perceived by the one who has died. The religious feelings of the past are no longer sufficient to give the soul what it needs in order to be perceived by the dead.
If he pursues the matter further, the seer discovers that even when these souls have gone through the gate of death, they have but a dim perception of one another. They will only be able to achieve a mutual understanding under considerable difficulty, or not at all, because a common language is lacking.
The seer realizes what anthroposophy is in a deeper sense. It is the language that will be spoken by the living and the dead, by those who live in the physical world and those who dwell between death and rebirth.
Souls who remain behind and have acquired thoughts about the super-sensible worlds can be seen by the dead. If they have radiated love before death, they can also do so after death. This carries the conviction that anthroposophy is a language that renders it possible for those in super-sensible realms to perceive the events of the physical world.
The prospect that stands before humanity is that souls will become even more lonely, will be unable to find a bridge to one another, unless a link is forged from soul to soul by means of spiritual concepts. That is the reality of anthroposophy, for it is not a theory.
Theoretical knowledge is of the least importance. What we take into ourselves is a genuine soul elixir, a real substance. This substance enables the soul who has gone through the gate of death to perceive the soul who has remained behind. In fact, the seer who has gained insight into such a situation, where the one who has died cannot find those he has left behind because that family has not connected itself with spiritual science, knows that he can follow no other course than to speak to his fellow men about spiritual wisdom. He sees the sorrow with which the soul is burdened by such a lack of communication. He knows that the time has come when spiritual wisdom must take hold of human hearts.
Those whose mission to speak about the super-sensible stems from the knowledge of the spiritual worlds, experience it as an urgent necessity that they cannot counter in any way. It would be the greatest sin if they did so. They feel it a necessity to proclaim revelations about the super-sensible worlds.
From what has just been said you can gather the immense seriousness connected with the proclamation of spiritual revelation. There is, however, yet another aspect to the understanding between the living and the dead. In this connection we have not progressed very far as yet but it will come about. In order to grasp how the living will gradually develop an understanding for the dead, let us consider the following.
Man knows little about the physical world. How does he gain knowledge of this world? He makes use of his senses, brings his imagination to bear, has certain sensations conveyed to him by the external world. But that is only the minutest portion of the content of the world. There is something quite other contained in it.
I would like you to realize that there is something of far greater importance than sense reality. I do not mean the super-sensible world, but something other than that.
Imagine for a moment that you are in the habit of leaving home every morning at eight in order to go to work. One day you suddenly notice you are leaving three minutes later. You go through a particular place where there is kind of overhand, the roof of which is supported by pillars. When you arrive there three minutes later than usual you realize that if you have arrived on time, you would have been crushed by the falling roof. Imagine this quite vividly! It does happen that a person misses a train that is later involved in an accident. Had he caught the train he would have been killed. When such things do not occur we pay no attention to them. If you become dramatically aware of such an occurrence, it makes a certain impression on you. Similar things, which fail to strike you in the course of the day, can happen from morning till night. They cannot be surveyed. Such occurrences may appear as “clever conjecture,” and yet they belong to the most important aspects of life.
To take another example, you gain a particular feeling when you consider that a man in Berlin had already got his ticked for the Titanic. He meets a friend who urges him not to sail on the Titanic. The friend succeeds in persuading him not to sail on this ship. The Titanic sinks, and he escapes from death. This makes a lasting impression on the person concerned!
That is a special case, and yet such things are happening all the time without being noticed. When one does become aware of them they make an impression on the heart and mind.
Let us consider this matter from another aspect. How many impressions of heart and mind escape us because we have been protected unawares from danger! If we were aware of the many things from which we are constantly preserved, we would go about the world in a totally different frame of mind. Furthermore, the seer discovers the following possibility. Let us assume that things actually happened in the way described. You arrived three minutes later than usual at that spot. This is the most opportune moment for a person who has died to make himself perceptible to your soul. You may have the feeling, “Where does that come from that arises in my soul?” It need not occur only in such a special case as quoted. It may take manifold forms. A beginning will be made when people become attentive not only to the world of outer reality but also to the sphere of probabilities. The considerable number of herring in the ocean is a reality. They become possible only because a vast quantity of eggs was released. In this way an infinite number of possibilities forms the basis of life.
This makes a profound impression on the seer also when he reaches the boundary of two worlds. He feels, “How infinitely rich in possibilities is the spiritual world. Only a minute part of it becomes a reality in our sense world!” This is accompanied by the feeling, “An enormous amount lies hidden in the very ground of being.” This feeling grows as one occupies oneself with anthroposophy. One develops the feeling that at every point where something happens externally a hidden something lies behind it. Each flower, each breath of air, each stone and crystal hides an endless number of possibilities. Ultimately this feeling will bring about a growing sense of devotion towards what is hidden. As this feeling develops, one will quite naturally become aware that at such moments they can communicate with one who for earthly life is dead. In the future it will occur quite normally that a person will feel that the dead has spoken to his soul. Gradually he will realize from whom the communication comes, that is, who has spoken into him. It is only because people are so little aware of the endless, fathomless realm of possibilities that they cannot hear what the dead would speak to the hearts of the living.
This twofold consideration will indicate the radical change that will be brought about for the whole of humanity by the spreading of anthroposophy. On the one hand, the thoughts of anthroposophists will become perceptible for the dead. On the other, the dead will be able to speak to the hearts of those who have developed a spiritual sensitivity. A bridge will be built between this world and the world beyond. In fact, life between death and rebirth will also be different. This will not be mere theory, but reality. An understanding will be achieved between the so-called living and the dead, who are in fact far more alive. Souls on earth will also feel what is fruitful for the dead. One cannot really make life fruitful for them unless one feels what an immense service one bestows on the dead by reading to them.
Let us consider an extreme case. One will no doubt have come across it in relation to other people. One lives with a sister, parent, a husband or a wife. The more the one feels the urge to connect himself closely to anthroposophy, the more the other develops a strong animosity towards it. How often can one experience this! It may take this form in consciousness, but it need not be so in the soul itself. There something different may take place.
The unconscious works in the astral body. It may be that the more a person slanders and rages against spiritual science, the more deeply in his unconscious he harbors an urge, a longing, to hear about spiritual science.
When we go through the gate of death we encounter truth. There nothing can be concealed. Here on earth one can lie and pretend but after death things take on their true coloring. Things reveal themselves as they really are.
However much one has stupefied oneself and slandered spiritual science during one's lifetime, after death an urge towards it is noticeable. One suffers because this urge cannot be satisfied. But now the living can imagine himself in the presence of the dead, and he can think spiritual thoughts and the dead will understand. Even if the one who died was not an anthroposophist, the dead will nevertheless be able to perceive the living one who occupies himself with spiritual thoughts.
There is a certain inclination on the part of the dead towards the language he used to speak during his lifetime, because during the early phases after death he is still connected with his particular language. It is therefore advisable to clothe one's thoughts in language the dead used to speak. But after five, six, eight years, and on occasion earlier, we find that the language of the spirit is such that the external language presents no obstacle whatever. The one who died can also understand spiritual thoughts in a language that he did not know during his lifetime.
At any rate, the outcome of reading to the dead, even if they were not anthroposophists, has proved itself to be particularly beautiful. It has shown itself to be a special service and one of the greatest deeds of love that can be performed.
In order to reach our aims it is not only a question of spreading anthroposophy externally — this must be done and it is important — but anthroposophy must also be cultivated more quietly within the recesses of the soul. Spiritual positions of responsibility may be created by means of which much can be achieved for the development of the soul after death. Some find it almost impossible to do so.
The seer also sees souls between death and rebirth who are compelled to carry out tasks that they themselves do not understand. For example, the seer may discover souls in that realm who are the servants of the powers of death and disease for a period of time. This does not refer to the regular occurrence of death but to events relating to people being taken away in the flower of youth. Illnesses are of a physical nature. They are caused, however, by powers that play in from super-sensible realms. Epidemic illnesses can be traced back to the deeds of super-sensible beings and certain spirits have the task of bringing about untimely death. We cannot discuss now how this can be substantiated as part of a wise guidance, but it is important to note that certain souls are yoked to such beings. Although the seer must have accustomed himself to a certain equanimity, such situations are painful and shattering to behold. Such souls are compelled to serve and bring death and disease to mankind.
If the seer looks back into the lives of such souls before death, he discovers why they are condemned to serve as servants to the spirits of death and disease. The cause lies in a lack of conscience in such souls during their earthly life. In accordance with the extent of their lack of conscience they condemn themselves to become servants of those evil beings. As truly as cause and effect obtain in the case of impinging billiard balls, so, too, must people who have no conscience become servants of these evil beings. That is indeed shattering!
The seer beholds yet another fact. Souls who are under the yoke of ahrimanic beings have to prepare the spiritual origin of all that occurs on earth as obstacles, as impediments to our deeds. Ahriman also has this task. All obstacles that arise here on earth are directed from the spiritual world. They are servants of Ahriman. Why have such souls condemned themselves to such service? Because during their lives on earth they indulged in love of ease and comfort. If you but consider how widespread love of ease has become, you will find that Ahriman has a considerable number of recruits. Love of ease is uppermost in life today. Modern economists do not only reckon with egoism and competition, but also with the comfort of the human being. Love of ease and comfort are important factors.
Now there is a difference in whether one has such experiences and is able to understand why one has them or whether one experiences them quite unconsciously without realizing why one has to serve such spirits. If one knows why one is yoked to the spirits that bring epidemics about, one also realizes the virtues that have to be developed in the next life in order to work towards a cosmic compensation. If one remains ignorant of the reason, one does in fact create the same karma, but the compensation can only occur in a second incarnation. Actual progress is thereby postponed.
It is important, therefore, that man should learn about such things on earth. One will experience them after death but one learns to orient oneself down here. Here we have yet another fact that makes it essential to bring about a new sense or orientation by spreading spiritual truths. The old means of orientation are no longer available.
We can ask, “Why are we anthroposophists?” We can give an answer out of the spiritual facts themselves that speaks directly to our feelings rather than to our intellect. So anthroposophy becomes increasingly a universal language. It becomes a language that will render it possible to tear down the partition that stands between the different worlds in which we live, one time in a physical body, another without a physical body. Thus the wall between the physical and the spiritual world will crumble when spiritual science really takes hold of the souls of men. We should feel this. It can give us the right inner enthusiasm for spiritual science.
Let me bring another matter to your attention. For the seer there is during the lives of souls between death and rebirth a moment that reveals itself of special importance. It is also of importance for others after death. For some this point lies earlier, for others, later. If one beholds the life of sleep with super-sensible cognition, one sees the human being with his astral body and ego outside the physical body. Looking back, one gains the impression that the physical body is slowly dying.
It is only from the first years of infancy until the child develops an understanding, until the moment that memory begins, that the body during sleep has a blooming, flourishing appearance. A slow withering process in the physical body sets in shortly after life begins. Death is but the final occurrence in this dying process. Sleep is there in order to compensate for the forces that have been exhausted but the compensation is incomplete. Each time there remains a small residue of death forces. When so much residue has been accumulated that the upbuilding forces are unequal to the task, physical death ensues. Therefore, as one considers the human physical body one sees how death gradually fulfills itself. In reality we slowly die from birth onwards. This makes a solemn impression as one becomes aware of the facts.
Between death and rebirth the moment occurs when forces begin to develop in the soul that lead to a next incarnation. Let me attempt to explain what I mean by way of an example. There are a number of books that deal with Goethe's predisposition. One examines Goethe's ancestors in order to ascertain the hereditary origin of this or that quality. The sources are sought within the physical hereditary line of descent. I have no quarrel with the fact that they can be found there, but he who can trace the life of soul between death and rebirth discovers the following.
Let us take the soul of Goethe. For a long time before birth the soul worked on its ancestors out of the super-sensible worlds, and because of its own forces, developed a relationship with its forefathers. The soul even worked to the extent of bringing together those men and women who could provide over a long period of time the appropriate predispositions needed by that individuality. This is not an easy task because many souls are involved in this process. Picture to yourselves that from souls of the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries human beings descend. All these souls must already have collaborated, and you will gather from this that such a working together is a matter of great importance. Souls born in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries must already have reached a reciprocal understanding in the sixteenth century in order that the complete network of relationships may come about.
There is much to do between death and rebirth. Not only the objective tasks have to be performed such as the temporary service that has to be given to the spirits of opposition, but we must labor at the forces that in fact enable us to reincarnate. That means that we have to shape the general form archetypally. This makes the opposite impression from what the seer beholds when he observes the sleeping physical and etheric bodies. The physical and etheric bodies in sleep have a withering appearance, but the upbuilding of the archetype and its descent into the physical realm makes a blossoming, flourishing impression.
The important moment between death and rebirth lies at the point between the recollection of the earlier existence and the transition period where man begins to prepare so that his physical organism may come into being. If you now picture to yourselves physical death and compare it with this moment, then you have the opposite pole of physical death. Physical death marks a transition from being into non-being. The moment described above is the transition from non-being into a state of becoming. This moment is experienced quite differently if one understands it than if one does not.
The concept of the polar opposite of death, the moment that arises between death and a new birth, should become feeling within the soul of an anthroposophist. It should not merely be understood intellectually, but should become inner experience. Then we shall be able to sense how much our life is enriched when such thoughts are received by the soul.
There is yet another aspect, namely, that gradually the soul develops a feeling for all that is in the world. If, after having meditated upon the concepts I have just mentioned, one goes for a walk through a forest in the spring, one will find that one is not far removed, providing one is attentive, from experiencing the spiritual beings that weave among the physical phenomena. To experience the spiritual world in reality would not be at all difficult if human beings were not to create their own obstacles. One should attempt to translate what has been received in the form of concepts into a feeling experience, to awaken it vividly within oneself. Such a striving can lead to a beholding of the spirit. The questions I have broached today are intended as a contribution to enliven the impulse toward spiritual science. Whenever one speaks about matters such as these, one feels that it is a mere stammering because our language belongs to the physical world. One has to make a considerable effort, by way of special descriptive means, to evoke at least a limited concept of these matters. But to speak precisely about these matters in this way can release from our hearts what may be termed anthroposophically as potency of feeling.
Spiritual science should become for us that which quickens feeling and life. The acquisition of spiritual concepts should not become a matter of lesser concern. We should gladly pursue it. Yet we should also refrain from considering the concepts as of chief importance, but rather what anthroposophy can make of us as human beings.