On the Relationship with the Dead
This single lecture was published in the Goetheanum News, Vol. 45, 1977, no. 5/6 (May/June).
23 April 1913, Essen
Many souls are sleeping their lives away without a glance toward the spiritual world, without any connection, through prayer or otherwise, with the spiritual world. Think of a sleeping city where the souls have all gone out of their bodies. Whatever these souls took in of a spiritual nature during the day now lives on in them. If they took in nothing, nothing can live on in them during the time between falling asleep and waking up. But if something spiritual is experienced while awake, or if something is raised to the spiritual through prayer or meditation, then this will be for the dead, when it has been carried over into sleep, just what the cornfields are for living persons. If nothing thrives in the cornfields, people starve. What people take with them into sleep is like seeds for the fields where the dead sojourn. What we bring with us in the way of spiritual thoughts, of devotion to the world of soul and spirit, is what the dead live on, nourish themselves with, consume. And as famine ensues here on earth if the fruits do not thrive, so a sort of famine ensues when souls live materialistically and carry nothing with them into sleep. This is the connection between life in the spiritual world and life on earth.
Now someone might say: Maybe there will be a great number of deaths over there. That cannot happen. The dead souls can experience hunger and the pangs of hunger, but the dead cannot die. This brings us to an important question.
You see, death is something known only in the physical world. It is present only in the physical world, and not at all in the supersensible world.
Let me point out something to you. If you go through all the sciences here, you will find that they have worked out all sorts of laws. But science has one ideal, an ideal that one would have to say was fantastic, even if it could be attained; and that is to know life directly. Chemical and physical laws can be investigated any time, but to investigate life is an ideal. Life can never be understood by means of physical laws, because it flows into the physical world from the higher worlds.
Thus, life is something that is not known here, while death is something that is not known in the higher worlds. It is senseless to think that death could occur in the higher world. Pain and suffering have a meaning in the supersensible world, but not death. The beings of the higher hierarchies know nothing about dying.
The angels veil their faces before the mystery of man's creation, they know nothing of it ... They can learn about it only through what they are told by beings who enter the physical plane; they cannot know it directly. This is true of all the beings of the higher hierarchies. Only one of them learned to know death, the Christ. This is the profound significance of the Mystery of Golgotha, that a being became acquainted with death through terrible suffering.
If one thinks this over, meditates on it, one may come to understand the Mystery of Golgotha and to see Christ as the only being that learned to know death.
So, what happens to the souls who are starving over there for the reasons we have described? They feel their connection with the earth fading away. They are living in a world where they must say to themselves: The earth is being withdrawn from us, it no longer enters into our existence. And for the disembodied persons this means great pain, terrible suffering. It means that these souls begin to long for death. But since there is no death there, their hunger causes endless pain as they long for death.
Thus, we see how spiritual science works as seed for the dead, filling them with the proper nourishment. Only if we know things like this can we form a right opinion of spiritual science and see that it is not a theory but an elixir of life, and that it bridges the gulf between the living and the dead. We must see that: through it our souls can build a living bridge to the dead. And because this is so, we must shape the anthroposophical work in the branches in such a way that we learn what a living person can do for one who has died before him. The simplest thing he can do for him is to read to him, read ideas, concepts, notions that are related to the supersensible world. Spiritual science is a language that can be understood by the dead as well as the living. And it can be of service not only to those who occupied themselves with anthroposophy while they were alive, but also to those who would have nothing to do with it. Those who were already anthroposophists here will feel it as an especially good deed if we read to them.
It is often objected that the dead, being already in the supersensible world, must know all about it and thus have no need of what we read to them on the subject.
My dear friends, the earth is not only a vale of tears, it is something that has a real efficacy. The dead can look at the supersensible world, but they cannot form ideas and concepts from merely looking. After all, there are animals on earth. They can look at things, but they cannot form concepts as men do. If the earth had never come to be, the human soul would live in higher worlds but it would never attain concepts about the higher worlds. Men have to go through life on earth if they are to form concepts and ideas. So, a soul that goes through death without an inkling of the spiritual world will live there without experiencing any of the concepts and ideas that we are able to study here through spiritual science. It would have to return to earth to do this.
Thus, a soul can be helpful on earth by reading to the dead, because it can be understood by the dead. And even if the dead persons took in nothing of spiritual science while on earth, we need not assume that they will reject it after death. On the contrary, many who raged against anthroposophy and wanted to know nothing of it are now yearning to hear about it. Not only the things around us are entangled in Maya. There can be a Maya that overcomes a person who rages against spiritual science. What happens in the depths of the soul is often very different from what is on the surface. A person may work up a rage in his daily consciousness, yet have a great longing in him. It is quite hopeless to try to bring such a person to anthroposophy, but in his soul, he may be a better anthroposophist than others. After he dies, however, the Maya is lifted. Then we see what was in the depths of the soul. Here the soul raged, but now the longing comes to the fore. It may be that our reading is in vain, but this we must risk ...
We come into closer connection with the dead if we devote ourselves to anthroposophy in the right way. We must fill ourselves with understanding for the necessity that spiritual science should make an impression at the present time.
The more we work with spiritual science, the more we notice that the dead also work back upon the living. For example, in educating children who have lost their fathers at a very early age, we must take this into account. Often one can feel the father sending an influence from the spiritual world. I once had to tutor children whose father had died early. I tried to train them in my own way, but it would not work, simply would not work. But when it occurred to me to allow for the influence of the father from the spiritual world, then it went very well ...
If you work out something about incarnations in a clever theoretical way, it will usually be wrong. It must seem strange that Raphael was the same person as a thorny character like John the Baptist.
How could it happen that this thorny man, who had to pave the way for the Mystery of Golgotha in such a violent way, reappeared as the gentle, pliable, charming Raphael? But look at this. Raphael's father, Giovanni Santi, died when Raphael was eleven. He was a painter. He was not a great painter so far as external achievements go, but he had great ideas in his head, although he could not put them on camas because he had no technical skill. He was also a poet. There was a great deal of fantasy in him, but the physical capacities simply were not there. He went early through the portal of death, and then his forces worked into his son. In Raphael's hands and imagination worked all that his father could send into the physical world. One can say that the old Giovanni Santi was a painter without hands in the supersensible world, for in a wonderful karmic relationship he supplied, in combination with the Christ-filled individuality of the Baptist, what came to expression in Raphael. The supersensible world had to work with the physical world to achieve this result. It shows how the so-called dead are able to influence those who have been left behind ...
Life on earth has another important mission. When we have gone through the portal of death, if we are not to be lonely, if we are to know something of other souls, we must meet these other souls. We could be together with them there, yet know nothing about them. We must make some connection with the souls here in order to be acquainted with them over there. In the spiritual world souls can walk through each other and know nothing about each other. It is important for those over there that they be read to by persons whom they have known here. The connections we make here are also connections over there. We found societies and build up friendships on a spiritual basis in order to establish connections that will endure beyond death. Not as a mere whim, but as a need that extends beyond death, we are trying to bring our spiritual life into a sort of societal form. Thus we see that, by building up connections with other souls here on earth, we make sure that we will not be hermits in the world between death and a new birth, that we will have a sociable life there as well as here. We will have understanding for the other souls after death only if we try to see into them now.
Therefore, in order not to be shut off from more remote souls, we interest ourselves in their life. For instance, we study religions because we cannot know much about other souls if we are not familiar with their beliefs. We build a close tie with the souls that are near to us. But we can also have some connection with the people whose religious beliefs we study. We must learn to understand seers and to perceive that they cannot do otherwise than bring to other men what they themselves see, in order that what is needed may come to pass in the world and the mission of the earth may be fulfilled.
It must be conceded that over there only those souls who have taken in something spiritual here can have a full consciousness of their influence on the physical world. And since we should learn more and more about these matters, I will mention a fact that is important even if it is not easy to understand. Let us take a soul that never bothered about the supersensible world while it was here. This soul can work on the physical world with its intentions. But although this soul can see the souls that have remained behind — at least, if they know something about the spirit — it is not aware that its intentions are working on the physical world. This knowledge is lacking. There is after all a certain difference between living in immediate communion with your fellow men and being hindered from having such communion so that your intentions reach them only invisibly. You would see everything as in a mirror. The dead person who entered the spiritual world without spiritual knowledge sends down his intentions, but he is not conscious of doing so. This is far less satisfying for him than if he knew: Now you have this intention and you are sending it down.
This direct knowledge of the connection with the living is available only to those who had some kind of spiritual life here or to those who are instructed by the reading of spiritual ideas after death. The reading can replace the knowledge. And it will more and more be the case that men here on earth will achieve consciousness of the influences of the dead, so that there will not be a one-way influence by persons here working on the spiritual world, but persons here, as they learn more about the supersensible world, will be aware of what is coming from over yonder.
We are only at the beginning of anthroposophical development. Therefore, what is being said now will be little heeded. But it will be heeded more in the future. One will have moments when one sees quite clearly how the dead are working. Not every moment of our lives is favorable, but people who fill themselves with spiritual science will base such moments. We really experience very little of what is going on around us. We experience only what happens near us from hour to hour. But that is the least of what is really there, or could be there. Take the following example. Someone goes to work at eight o'clock every morning. His way leads through an old garage. One day he is delayed in starting, and when he comes to the garage he sees that it has collapsed. This happened just at the moment when he would normally be passing through.
Such a case shows how much does not happen that really could happen in our lives. How do you know what would have happened to you if you had crossed the street three minutes earlier than you did? Admittedly there are karmic necessities here, but there are also thousands of possibilities that do not become facts. What actually occurs is one of innumerable possibilities. Just these moments when something could have happened but did not do so because we, so to speak, missed the opportunity. Just these are the right moments for glimpsing the spiritual world. Take another example: You miss a train through being delayed. You should accept this calmly because there may be karma behind it. You should cultivate calmness, and if you do, you will notice a shadowy thought arising in such moments when some accident could have occurred but did not. This thought will be something that a dead person is saying to you, something that may be an important communication from over yonder.
In order to receive a direct communication from the spiritual world, we need a certain soul-training. Spiritual science can furnish such a training. This can go so far that through someone who has died before us we experience, for example, that he is continually concerned about us. If he died very young, he has conserved certain forces that he had in his life. These forces are still available to him and, if the conditions are favorable, he can project them into earth-life. Perhaps the dead person loved us and wants to send us his forces. And we use these forces, although we are not conscious of this. Then it happens that we avoid an accident, by missing a train or something of the sort. Then we see, like a living dream-picture, the imagination of the person who loved us and is sending us his forces. We have an inkling of him, and he shows us that he is concerned about us. We will know how to understand this.
Think how the love that souls have for one another can be increased if one knows that one is not torn away from those whom one leaves here, but can still work for them. And this working will gradually reach the point where a bridge can be built to the souls. If one thinks in this way of the souls that feel themselves close to the dead and strengthen their love through the possibility of further active loving, then the love between soul and soul will be kindled through what spiritual science can give, and this can really be something very substantial when compared with what usually exists as love today. Souls will be brought together in the right way for the first time when people realize that the dead and the living belong to one world.
To bring people to understand that life here and life yonder are only changes of form, this is part of the mission of anthroposophy in our time. And we understand this mission only if we see that through spiritual science we tear away the wall that now seems so threatening because materialistic attitudes are spreading so widely over the earth ...
In the life between death and a new birth the soul is no less occupied than here. The circumstances over yonder are not the same as here, but they are prepared here in earth-life ... Continually flowing into the physical causes are forces that come from the powers of the higher worlds. If one has had no conscience here, he will have to go through something terrible. He will become the slave, the servant, of the beings who have to bring illness and early death into the world.
There are persons who generate enthusiasm and love, zeal for their work; who do gladly what they must do in accordance with their capacities and their karma. There are also many vocations in which people really cannot work with any enthusiasm, and this will be the case more and more. Therefore, it is necessary that souls who, in spite of it all, punctually discharge their duties, should have something else to which they can turn with enthusiasm. Through spiritual science one can have something that he can do with love and enthusiasm, and through which forces will develop in one's soul. Thus, we can become the servants over yonder of those beings of the higher hierarchies who pour freshness, growth, and health into earth-life.
All these connections enable us to look beyond death and know that we belong to the macrocosm, that we are not living for physical existence alone while on earth but are developing important forces that will come into their own between death and a new birth. We become able to live in such a way that we do not hinder the fruitful development of mankind, but rather generate forces that can further it. We can regard this as the mission of anthroposophy.
Answers to Questions
It should be a selfless service that one does with the reading. The dead understand our speech for 4 or 5 years after dying. Our thoughts for a longer time.
Photographs are of no use in finding the dead. Handwriting is better. You will not succeed in finding them with photographs. The connection is achieved much better by quietly concentrating on their handwriting.