Life Between Death and Rebirth
14. Further Facts About Life Between Death and Rebirth
5 April 1913, Breslau
In coming together in our group meetings we can speak more precisely about things than is possible in public lectures and written works. Today I would like to present supplementary considerations to add to what is to be found in the books and cycles of lectures.
You can imagine, my dear friends, that life between death and a new birth is as rich and varied as life here between birth and death, and that whenever one describes what happens after death one can obviously only deal with certain aspects. Today I will not touch so much on what is already known, but draw attention to what can shed further light upon it.
If one is able to look into the spiritual worlds where man dwells between death and a new birth, then particularly in our time the necessity of what is intended with our spiritual scientific work is confirmed, that is, the need to give something to the hearts and souls of men by way of spiritual science.
Let us take our starting point from a particular instance. A man died. He loved his wife deeply and was much attached to his family. Spiritual observation showed that he suffered deeply from the fact that when he looked down on the earth he was unable to find the souls of his wife and children. Now in the manner of which the seer can enter into communication with a person after death, the man informed the seer that with his thoughts and with all his feelings he was able to relive the time when he was united with his beloved on the earth. But he added, “When I lived on earth my wife was like sunshine to me. Now I must forego this. I am able to direct my thoughts back to what I have experienced but I cannot find my wife.”
Why is this? For this is not the case with all who pass through the gate of death. If we were to go back several thousand of years, we would find that the souls of men were able to look down from the spiritual world and participate in the affairs of those who remained behind on the earth. Why was this the case for all souls in ancient times before the Mystery of Golgotha? In ancient times, as you know, men so lived on the earth that they still possessed an original clairvoyance. They not only saw the sense world by means of the eyes. They also gazed into the spiritual origins, into the archetypal beings behind the sense world. The capacity to live with the spiritual world during physical existence brought with it the ability of the soul to perceive what it had left behind on the earth after death. Today souls no longer have the faculty of living directly with the spiritual world because the evolution of humanity has consisted in man's descent into physical existence out of the spiritual world. This has resulted in the faculty of judgment and so forth, but it has robbed man of the faculty to live with the spiritual world.
During a period immediately following the Mystery of Golgotha when souls were deeply moved by the Christ impulse, at last a part of mankind was able to regain this faculty to some extent. Now, however, we again live in an age when souls who go through the gate of death and have not concerned themselves with the realities of the spirit lose the connection. Mankind needs a spiritual revelation and we can have a justified conviction that it should permeate human souls. Today the old religious confession does not suffice. Souls who seek to gaze down spiritually from the other world to ours need what they can receive by means of a spiritual scientific understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha. It is therefore our endeavor that spirit light may develop in their souls.
The man of whom we have spoken had not concerned himself in any way with thoughts or feelings about the spiritual world. He went through the gate of death but no thoughts of the spiritual world had occupied his mind. He therefore was able to say, “I know by means of my memory that my wife is down there. I know she is there, but I cannot see her, cannot find her.”
Under what conditions would he have been able to find her? At the present time only such souls can be perceived in whom spiritual faculties dwell. Such souls can be seen from the other world, souls in whom thoughts live with understanding for the spirit. As the dead one gazes down, a person who has remained behind on the earth only becomes visible for him when spiritual thoughts live within the soul of that person. The dead person sees these thoughts. Otherwise the person remains invisible and the dead one suffers from the anguish of knowing that the person is there but he is unable to find him. As soon as one succeeds in conveying to such a soul thoughts concerning the spiritual world, however, the soul of the one who remains behind on earth begins to light up, to exist for the dead.
Do not object by saying that it is an injustice that people who have no spiritual thoughts here on earth, and perhaps it is not even their fault, should remain invisible to the dead. If the world were arranged otherwise, man would never seek to strive for perfection. Man has to learn by what he foregoes. Such a soul, as a result of the pain and loneliness it suffers during life between death and rebirth, is given the impulse to receive spiritual thoughts. From this aspect we see that spiritual science is like a language by means of which the living and the dead may understand one another, and can be present for and perceptible to each other.
Spiritual science has yet another mission in connection with bridging the abyss between the living and the dead. When human souls go through the gate of death they enter a realm where the connection with life on earth is maintained by the recollection of what has happened there. I am not repeating what can be found in my written works. What I am now saying is intended as a supplement. For a long period after death man re-experiences what has happened on earth and has to rid himself of the longing for his physical body. During this time he learns to live as a soul-spirit being. Let us vividly imagine how this appears to super-sensible perception. To begin with, the soul has a connection with itself. One sees one's own inner life that has run its course in thoughts, in mental representations, etc. One recalls the relationships one has had with his fellow men.
If one seeks to look down upon it, the earth offers a special aspect. One has the urge to look down. The urge to remember the earth accompanies one throughout the whole of life between death and a new birth. As long as man is called to journey from life to life the consciousness remains that he is destined for the earth, that he must return again and again to the earth if he would develop himself rightly. We can see this with the dead because if he were to lose completely the thoughts that link him to the earth, he would also lose the thought of his own ego. Then he would no longer be aware that he is, and this would result in the most dreadful feeling of anguish. Man must not lose his connection with the earth. The earth must not escape his mental representation, so to speak. In general, too, the earth cannot completely disappear from him. It is only in our period of the materialistic deluge, during which the spiritual revelation has to come so that the link between the living and the dead may be maintained, that souls having no connection with people who have spiritual thoughts and feelings on earth find it difficult to look back.
It is important for the dead that those with whom they were connected on earth carry every evening thoughts of the spiritual world with them into sleep. The more thoughts about the spiritual world we carry with us into sleep, the greater the service we perform for those we have known on earth who have died before us. It is difficult to speak of these connections because our words are taken from the physical plane. In the spiritual world that we bring with us as spiritual thoughts in sleep is the substance by means of which, in a certain sense, the dead can live. One who died and has no one on earth who carries spiritual thoughts with him in sleep is famished and may be compared to one banished to a barren island on earth. The dead person who cannot find a soul in whom spiritual feelings dwell experiences himself as if in a desert void of everything that is needed to sustain life. In view of this, one cannot stress too much the earnestness with which thoughts of spiritual science should be taken in a period like our own, when world-conceptions that are alien to the spirit gain the upper hand more and more.
It was different in past times when an evening prayer was said before going to sleep and its after-effects accompanied one. Today it is more likely than not that a person falls asleep after a meal or some other form of enjoyment without a thought devoted to the super-sensible. In this way we rob the dead of their spiritual nourishment. Such insight should lead to the practice, proven to be effective by many of our friends, that I would like to term, the reading to the dead. To read to the dead is of untold significance.
Let us assume that two people lived side by side here on earth. The one finds his way to spiritual science out of a deep, heartfelt impulse, the other is increasingly repelled by it. In such a case little is achieved in attempting to bring the person to a spiritual concept of the world during life. In fact, one's endeavors in this direction may indeed cause the other to hate it all the more. Now when such a person dies we have the possibility of helping him all the more.
What lives in our soul is exceedingly complex and the area bounded by our consciousness is only a small part of the total content of our soul life. Man does not know much of what lives in his soul and often something is present that he takes for the opposite of what is actually there. Thus it can happen that a person comes to hate spiritual science. He becomes aware of this with his consciousness. In the depths of his soul, however, this can reveal itself as an all the more profound longing for spiritual science. When we have gone through the gate of death we experience the depths of our soul existence that come to the surface. When we meet the dead we have known on earth, they often show themselves to be different from what they were on earth. A person who has hated spiritual science with his normal consciousness but longed for it in the depths of his soul without being aware of it will often display this longing powerfully after death. We can help him by taking a book with a spiritual — scientific content, forming a vivid inner picture of the one who has died, and reading to him as we would to a living person, not with a loud voice, but softly. The dead can understand this. Naturally, those who have made a contact with spiritual science during their lifetime understand it all the more readily. We should not fail to read to the dead or converse with them in thought. I would like to draw attention to a practical matter, namely, that for a number of years after death, for a period of some three to five years, a person can understand the language he has spoken on earth. This gradually wanes, but he preserves an understanding of spiritual thoughts. Then we can also read to the dead in a language that he did not understand on earth but that we have ourselves mastered. In this way we can perform the greatest service to the dead.
It is particularly in such realms that one realized the full significance of spiritual science because it bridges the gulf between the living and the dead. We can imagine that if we succeed in spreading spiritual science on earth in ever wider circles, more and more souls will become conscious of a communion with the dead.
Thus for a period after death man is still directly connected with the earth. Then he has to grow into and become a citizen of the spiritual world. This requires preparation. He first must possess a sensitivity and understanding for the spiritual world. Spiritual investigation observes a considerable difference after death between souls who have cultivated moral feelings and inclinations on earth and those who have failed to do so. A person who has not developed moral feelings on earth becomes a hermit after death. He will be unable to find his way both to other human beings and to the higher hierarchies. Consciousness is not extinguished then, and what awaits man is a sense of utter loneliness. From a certain period called the Mercury period onward man gains the possibility of living together with other beings by virtue of his moral life. We may say therefore that the way a person lives on earth determines his existence in the Mercury sphere, determines whether he experiences a dreadful hermit-like existence or establishes contact with other human souls or the beings of the higher hierarchies.
This is followed by another period during which man must be differently prepared if he does not again condemn himself to loneliness. Loneliness comes to pass if he has not developed any religious feelings here on earth. This period is called the Venus period. There a person who has failed to develop religious feelings experiences himself as blind and dead in relation to everything that surrounds him.
In a subsequent period, so as not to remain insensitive toward the beings of the higher world, a preparation in the complete appreciation of all religions is necessary. That is the Sun period. We prepare for it here on earth by an understanding for all that is human, and for the different religious denominations. In former times in the Sun period it sufficed for one man to belong to the Brahma religion, for another to that of Lao-Tse, and so forth. Today, however, because times have changed men stand opposite one another through their religious creeds and therefore the Sun period cannot be rightly experienced. For this a spiritual sensitivity is needed.
In the Sun period, which man has to traverse between death and a new birth, it is as if one entered into a world where one found a particular place empty or filled, depending on one's preparation. We do not find the place empty if we understand the Mystery of Golgotha. The Christ impulse affords the possibility of understanding every human experience. Christianity is a general religion, valid for all people. Christianity is not limited to a particular folk, race or nationality, as is the case with Hinduism and other national religions. Had the people of middle Europe preserved their old folk religion, we would still today find a Wotan cult, a Thor cult, and so on. But the European people have accepted the Christian creed. One is not a Christian in the true sense because one adheres to one or the other Christian dogma, however, but because one knows that Christ died for the whole of humanity. Only gradually will people learn to live truly as Christians.
In our time most Europeans in India pay mere lip service to their own belief. The attitude that one should develop is that wherever we meet a human being in the face of the earth the Christ impulse can be found. The Hindu will not believe that his god dwells in every man. The Christian knows that Christ lives in every human being. Spiritual science will reveal that the true core of all religions is contained in a rightly understood Christianity, and that every religion, inasmuch as it becomes conscious of its essential kernel, leads to the Mystery of Golgotha.
In considering other initiates or religious founders it is evident that they seek to reveal certain things out of the higher worlds because they have gone through a process of initiation. We do not understand the Christ correctly if we do not clearly see that the Christ has not gone through one or the other form of initiation on earth. He was initiated by virtue of the fact that He was there and united everything within Himself.
When the seer looks at the life of the Buddha and then follows it through in the spiritual world, he realizes more clearly the true nature of the Buddha. This is not so with the life of Christ. The Christ life is such that one must first establish a connection with it on earth in order to understand it in the spiritual world. If one does not gain such a connection and one is nevertheless initiated, one can behold many things, but one cannot see the Christ if one has not first gained a connection from Him on earth.
That is why so few people understand the Mystery of Golgotha. The Christ is a Being who is of equal importance for the most primitive human being and for the highest initiate. The most primitive soul can find a relationship to Christ, and the initiate must also find it. One learns to know many things when one enters into the spiritual world. There is only one thing that does not exist there, one thing that cannot be learned there and that is death. Death exists only in the physical world. In the spiritual world there is transformation but not death. Therefore, all the spiritual beings who never descend to the earth and only dwell in spiritual realms do not go through death.
Christ has become the companion of man on earth and the event of Golgotha, if one understands it as the unique death of a god, is what prevents us from confronting emptiness in the Sun period. The other initiates are human beings who through a number of incarnations have developed themselves in a special way. Christ had never been on the earth before His advent but dwelt in realms where there is no death. He is the only one among the gods who has learned to know death. Therefore, in order to become acquainted with the Christ one has to understand His death, and because this is essential the Mystery of Golgotha can be understood only on earth where death exists. We do not experience the Christ in higher worlds if we have not gained a relationship to Him on earth. We find His place empty during the Sun period. If, however, we are able to take the Christ impulse with us, then the throne in the Sun is not empty. Then we find the Christ consciously.
During our present phase of human evolution it is important that we should find the Christ in the spiritual world at this stage and recognize Him. Why? In the Sun period we have gradually entered a realm in which we are dependent on spiritual light. Previously, before the Sun period, we still experienced the after-effects of the earth, the after-effects of what we have been personally, including our moral and religious feelings. Now we require more than these. Now we require the faculty to see what is in the spiritual world, but this cannot be prepared for on earth. We have to journey through realms of forces of which we cannot know anything here on earth.
As he enters into life through birth, man has not as yet got a developed brain. He first must form it in accordance with the achievements of previous earth lives. For if one needs a particular faculty it is not sufficient that one has acquired it. One also has to know how the requisite physical organ has to be formed.
There exists an important but dangerous leader. Here on earth he remains unconscious, but from the Sun period onward he is necessary. The leader is Lucifer. We would wander in darkness if Lucifer were not to approach us. However, we can only walk beside him if we are guided by the Christ. Together they lead man after the Sun period in subsequent forms of life, that is, through the Mars, Jupiter and Saturn periods. During the times following the Sun period, man is brought together with forces that he requires for his next incarnation. It is sheer nonsense to believe as materialistic science does that the physical body is inherited. Today science cannot see its error but spiritual truths will be acknowledged in the future and the fallacy, too, will be recognized. For nothing can be inherited apart from the basic structure of the brain and the spinal cord, that is, everything that is contained within and bounded by the hard skull cap and the vertebrae of the spinal column. Everything else is conditioned by forces from the macrocosmos. If man were only given what he inherits he would be a totally inhuman lump, so to speak. The inherited part has to be worked through by what man brings with him out of the spiritual world.
Why do I use the terms Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn for the periods after death? When man has gone through the gate of death he expands more and more. In fact, life after death is such that one knows oneself to be spread out over a vast space. This expansion goes so far that one finally occupies the space bounded by the orbit of the moon. Then one grows out to the orbit of Mercury in the occult sense, then out to the orbits of Venus, Sun and Mars. One grows out into the vast celestial spaces. But the spatial togetherness of the many human souls is not significant. When you permeate the whole of the Venus sphere this is also the case for the others, but it does not mean that because of this you are aware of them. Even if one knows that one is not alone, one can still feel lonely.
Finally one expands into the universe in a sphere circumscribed by the orbit of Saturn and beyond. As one grows in this way one gathers the forces needed to build up the next incarnation. Then one returns. One becomes ever smaller until one unites oneself again with the earth.
Between death and rebirth man expands into the whole cosmos and however strange it may appear, when we return to the earth we bring all the forces of the solar system with us into life and unite them with what is inherited out of the physical substances. By means of the cosmic forces we build up our physical body and our brain. Here between birth and death we dwell within the narrow confines of our physical body. After death we live, expanded, into the entire solar macrocosm.
The one person has a deep moral sense, the other less so. The one who on earth had a deep moral sense goes through the spiritual world in such a way that he can experience everything as a sociable being. The power for this flows from the starry realms. Another who is not thus prepared is unable to make any connections and because he did not bring any spiritualized forces with him, he also is unable to receive any moral predispositions. He will journey alone through the various spheres. Such spiritual knowledge throws significant light on everything that a man is and on his relationship to the world.
Kant uttered the saying, “There are two things that fill my mind with an ever new and increasing sense of wonder and devotion: The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” He thereby expressed something significant. Spiritual science reveals that both are one and the same. What we experience between death and rebirth we bring with us as moral law. We carry the starry heavens through which we journey between death and a new birth into our earthy life where it must become moral law.
Thus spiritual science brings us insight into the magnitude of the human soul and the idea of human responsibility.