Life Between Death and Rebirth
15. Intercourse With the Dead
27 April 1913, Düsseldorf
The connection between life and death is mostly misunderstood. In theosophical writings one often finds the remark that man's soul and spirit-being could completely disappear. It is stated, for example, that through a certain amount of evil with which the soul burdens itself the human soul could disappear in the course of evolution. It is further emphasized that black magicians who have wrought much evil will encounter this fate.
Those who have already shared in our aims for a longer period will know that I have always opposed such statements. Above all, we must hold fast to the fact that what we term death on the physical plane has no meaning in the super-sensible world. This is even the case for the region of the super-sensible that immediately borders upon our world. I will deal with this matter from a certain aspect.
The science that deals with the physical world has arrived at a number of laws and connections within the physical realm. These laws when applied to the outer phenomena of nature can only tell us something about the structure of external sense perceptible reality. A flower, for example, investigated by means of natural science, will tell us certain facts about the physical and chemical laws operating within the plant, but life itself always eludes such scientific observation. It is, of course, true that in recent times a few specially imaginative scientists have constructed a body of hypotheses to explain how plant life arises from mere dead substances. Such attempts are rapidly recognized as erroneous because in science it remains merely an ideal to grasp the reality of life. Ever more knowledge is accumulated about chemical laws and so forth, but nothing about life itself. The investigation of life is for the natural scientific method a mere ideal because it is something that streams out of the super-sensible realm into the physical world and within this world its laws cannot be fathomed.
Now, similarly, what is true for life in the physical world obtains for death in the super-sensible world, except that there it is a question of the will. In the super-sensible world an act of will, a will impulse, can never lead to what we know on earth as death. At most, a longing for death may arise in the super-sensible world but never death itself. Death does not exist in the realms beyond the physical. This fact is particularly moving for the human soul when it realizes that all the beings of the hierarchies can never know death. It can only be experienced on earth.
Just as the biblical saying is justified that tells that the angels conceal their countenances from beholding the mysteries of physical birth, so it is also correct to say that they hide their faces from beholding the mysteries of death. That being whom we know as the One Who has given the mightiest impulse to earth evolution, the Christ Being, is the only being in divine realms Who learned to know death. All other divine-spiritual beings do not know death. They only know it as a transformation from one form into another.
The Christ had to descend to the earth in order to experience death. Christ is the only being among all the super-sensible beings above man who has become acquainted with death through his own experiences. As I indicated, if one views the problem relating to the death experience in connection with the Christ, it is found to be deeply stirring.
Now it is literally true that man, when he has crossed the portal of death, lives in that super-sensible world in which there is no death. He can enter these realms but he cannot annihilate himself because he is received into worlds where there can be no destruction.
There is something of a similar nature to death in the super-sensible world, yet it is quite different from death as we know it. One would have to call it in human language, loneliness. Death can never mean the annihilation of something that takes place in the super-sensible worlds, but loneliness does arise. Loneliness in the super-sensible world is comparable to death here. It is not destruction but it is far more intense than loneliness as we know it on earth. It takes the form of looking back upon one's own being. One only knows what this fully means when it happens, that is, to know nothing except to know about oneself.
Let us take as an example a person who developed on earth what one may call little sympathy for his fellow men, a person who has lived essentially for himself. Such a being encounters difficulties after death, especially in getting to know other human souls. Such a person can live together with others in the super-sensible world without being in the least aware of their existence. He is filled only with his own soul content. He is aware only of what lives within himself.
It may happen that a person who has avoided any form of human love on earth because of an exaggerated sense of egoism is only able to live in the memory of his last earthly existence when he has gone through the gate of death. He is unable to gain any new experiences because he neither knows nor can enter into contact with any being. He is completely dependent on himself because as human beings on earth we do indeed prepare a particular world for ourselves after death.
Here on earth man does not truly know himself. Science teaches us only what we are when we are no longer because it only knows the corpse. The brain thinks but it cannot think itself. We see a portion of ourselves, a larger portion when we look in the mirror, but that is only the outer aspect. On earth man does not live in himself. He lives together with the surrounding world that impinges upon his senses. Through ourselves, through all that we experience here, we prepare to expand into the macrocosmos, to become a macrocosmos, to become all we see around us on earth.
Here we see the moon. After death we expand in such a way that we become the moon, just as on earth we are our brain. We expand into Saturn so that we become Saturn, just as we are now our spleen. Man becomes a macrocosmic being. When the soul has departed from the body it expands into the entirety of the planetary system so that all souls simultaneously dwell within the same spatial area. They interpenetrate one another but without being aware of it. Spiritual connections only determine whether we know about one another or not. A preparation is made during our life on earth to expand into the whole of the universe that we behold here in its physical reflection. But what in fact is our world?
Just as now we are surrounded by mountains, rivers, trees, animals and minerals, so then we live in the universe. The universe becomes our organism. These are our organs and that world is we, ourselves. We behold ourselves from the surroundings. This process begins in the ether body immediately after death. We then behold the tableau of our life.
If it were not for the fact that a man makes connections with other human beings and, as will happen more and more frequently through spiritual science, with beings of the higher hierarchies, he would have no occupation after death apart from continuously beholding himself. This is not meant trivially because it is truly a shattering fact that to behold only oneself through a number of centuries is not a particularly enviable prospect. We have then become a world for ourselves, but it is the connections that we have made on earth that open wider vistas for the self after death. Earthly life is there so that we develop connections and relationships that can be continued after death. Everything that makes us into sociable beings after death must be prepared on earth. Fear of loneliness is the torment that man experiences in the spiritual world. This fear befalls us again and again because we traverse a number of stages between death and rebirth. Even if we experience a measure of sociability at one stage, we may fall into loneliness during the next.
The first period after death is such that we can only establish a good connection with souls who have remained on the earth or with those who have died about the same time as ourselves. Here the closest connections continue to be effective beyond death. Much can be done by the so-called living who have remained on the earth. Because one has a connection with the departed soul he can inform him of his own knowledge of the spiritual world acquired on the earth. This is possible above all by reading to the dead.
We can perform the greatest service to a dead person by forming a picture of him in our soul and softly reading a work of spiritual science to him, instructing him as it were. We can also convey to the departed thoughts we have made our own, always vividly picturing the one who has passed on as we do so. We should not be miserly in this respect. This enables us to bridge the abyss that separates us from the dead. It is not only in extreme cases that we can help the dead in this way. No, it is true in every case. It provides a comforting feeling that can alleviate the sorrow that is experienced when a person whom one has loved passes on.
The deeper we enter into the super-sensible world, the less do particular relationships obtain. We still find individual relationships in the astral world but the higher we ascend, the more we find that what weaves between separate beings no longer continues. Now there are beings everywhere. The relationships among them are of a soul nature. We need these also in order not to be lonely. It is, however, the mission of the earth that we make contacts from man to man because otherwise we remain solitary in the spiritual world.
For the first phases after death our world consists of the relationships; the friendships that we formed with fellow human beings on earth and that now continue. For instance, if the matter is investigated with super-sensible perception, one finds the departed souls in the vicinity of a person whom it can follow on earth. Many people in our time live with those who have died recently or at some earlier period. One also sees how many come together with a number of their ancestors to whom they were related by blood. The seer often comes upon the fact that the departed soul links itself to ancestors that have died centuries ago but this only lasts for a certain period of time. The person would again feel exceedingly lonely if other connections did not exist which, though far off, yet prepare the person to be sociable in the spiritual world. Within our movement we have found a fundamental principle that stems from a cosmic task that has been entrusted to us. It is to form relationships among human beings in the most varied ways. Anthroposophy is therefore not only cultivated by giving lectures. Within the Anthroposophical Society we seek to bring people together so that personal relationships may also form themselves. These connections have their validity also for the super-sensible world inasmuch as a person who belongs to a particular stream in the Society creates connections for the realm beyond the physical.
The time comes, however, when more general connections are necessary. A phase approaches when souls who have gone through the gate of death without any moral soul disposition, without moral concepts, that is, souls who have rejected a moral disposition of soul during their earthly life, feel lonely. People who are endowed with a moral soul disposition are simply of greater value here on earth than people lacking in morality. A moral human being is of greater worth for the whole of humanity in the same way that a sound healthy stomach is more valuable to the whole man than a sick one.
It is not easy to put one's finger on where the value of the moral human being lies for the whole of humanity, and on the harm created by an immoral person, but you will understand what I mean when I put it as follows. A person devoid of a moral soul disposition is a sick member of humanity. This means that through this immoral soul disposition he alienates himself increasingly from other people. To be moral also means to acknowledge that one has a relationship to all men. That is why love of all humanity is self-evident to all men. That is why love of all humanity is self-evident to all moral people. Immoral people feel lonely at a certain phase after death owing to their lack of morality. The torments of loneliness at this stage can only be dispelled by the moral disposition of our soul.
So if we investigate the lives of human beings spread out in the macrocosmos after death, we see that the immoral individuals are in fact lonely while the moral individuals find a rapport with other of like moral ideas. Here on earth men are grouped in accordance with nationality or in some other way. Between death and rebirth people also group themselves, but according to the moral concepts and soul dispositions they have in common.
This is followed by a phase of development such that even those who are endowed with a moral disposition of soul feel lonely if they lack religious concepts. A religious turn of mind is the preparation for sociability at a particular stage of life between death and rebirth. Here we also discover that those people who are unable to enter into religious feelings and connections are condemned to loneliness. We find people of like religious confessions grouped together.
This is followed by a period when it is no longer sufficient to have lived within a religious community. A phase draws near when one can again feel loneliness. This period is a particularly important one between death and rebirth. Either we feel alone even though we experienced togetherness with those of like religious confession, or we are able to bring understanding to every human soul in its essential character. For this communion we can only prepare by gaining an understanding of all religious confessions.
Prior to the Mystery of Golgotha this was not necessary because the experiences in the spiritual world were different then. Now it has become essential, and the correct understanding of Christianity is a preparatory step toward it. We cannot encounter what constitutes the essential being of Christianity in other religious creeds. It is not correct to place Christianity next to other religious creeds. Indeed, perhaps certain Christian confessions are narrow-minded. Nevertheless, Christianity rightly understood bears within it the impulse to grasp all religious creeds and tendencies.
How has the Westerner grasped Christianity? Consider Hinduism. Only those belonging to the Hindu race can be adherents of it. If a racial religion were prevalent in Europe, for instance, we would still have a Wotan cult today that would be the equivalent of an occidental racial religion. But the West has accepted a confession that did not arise out of its own folk-substance. It came from the East. Something was accepted that could only work through its spiritual content. The Christ impulse cannot be sucked up into a racial or folk religion. Actually, the folk among whom the Christ appeared did not acknowledge Him. That is the remarkable fact about Christianity. It contains the seed enabling it to become the universal religion.
One need not take an intolerant attitude toward other religions. The mission of Christianity does not consist in bringing dogma to people. Naturally the Buddhist smiles at a confession that does not even contain the idea of reincarnation. Such a confession must appear to him as erroneous. Christianity rightly understood, however, presupposes that every man is a Christian in his inner being. If you go to a Hindu and say to him, “You are a Hindu and I am a Christian,” it will be seen that you have not understood Christianity. Christianity has been truly understood only if you say of the Hindu, “Inwardly this Hindu is as good a Christian as I am. He has as yet only had the opportunity to become acquainted with a preparatory confession. I must endeavor to show him where his religion and mine correspond.” The best thing would be for Christians to teach Hinduism to the Hindus and then attempt to take Hinduism a stage further so that the Hindu could gain a point of contact with the general stream of evolution. We understand Christianity only if we look upon each individual as a Christian in the depth of his heart. Only then is Christianity the religion that transcends race, color and social position. That is Christianity.
We enter a new age. Christianity can no longer work in the way it did over the last centuries. It is the task of anthroposophy to bring about the new understanding of Christianity that is needed. In this connection the anthroposophical view of the world is an instrument of Christianity. Among the religions of the earth, Christianity has appeared last. New religions cannot be founded anymore. Such foundations belong to the past. They followed one another and brought forth Christianity as the last flower. Today the task is to form and apply the impulse of Christianity. That is why in our spiritual scientific movement we endeavor to consider all the religions of the world more consciously than heretofore, and in loving participation. In this way we also prepare ourselves for the period between death and rebirth when we experience loneliness if we cannot perceive and have no access to other souls within this realm.
If on earth we misunderstood Hinduism, we might only sense the presence of a Hindu in the world beyond but remain unable to gain any contact with him.
You see, this is the phase during life between death and rebirth when we have also expanded our astral body so far as to become Sun inhabitants. We enter into the Sun realm. We do in fact expand into the entire macrocosmos, and reach the Sun Being when we need the capacity for brotherly love. The encounter with the Sun is shown by the following. Firstly, we lost the possibility of having understanding for all human beings unless we have gained a connection to the words, “Wherever two are gathered in My Name, there I am in the midst of them.” Christ did not mean wherever two Hindus or one Hindu and one Christian are gathered together, there He is in the midst of them, but wherever two are gathered who have a genuine understanding for His impulse, there He is in the midst of them.
This Being was within the Sun sphere until a particular period. His throne was also there. Then He united Himself with the earth. Therefore we must experience the Christ impulse here on earth and thus also carry it upwards into the spiritual world. For if we arrive in the Sun sphere without the Christ impulse we are faced with an unintelligible entry in the Akasha Chronicle. Since the Christ has united Himself with the earth, we have to gain an understanding on earth for the Christ. We have to bring a Christ understanding with us because otherwise the Christ cannot be found after death. As we approach the Sun sphere we understand the entry in the Akasha Chronicle if we have gained an understanding for the Christ on earth. For He left this behind in the Sun sphere. That is the important factor — that the understanding of the Christ must be stimulated on the earth. Then it also can be preserved in higher worlds. Things only become clear if they can be viewed in a certain configuration.
Some theosophical circles are unable to realize that the Christ impulse stands as a fulcrum at the center of earth evolution, the point from which the ascending curve begins. To maintain that Christ can appear repeatedly on earth is like saying that the beam of a balance must be supported at two points. But with such scales one cannot weigh. A conviction of this sort is as senseless in relation to the physical world as the statement made by certain occultists that Christ goes through repeated earth lives. One has gained an understanding of the Christ impulse only if one is able to grasp that the Christ is the only god who has gone through death and hence first had to descend to the earth.
For one who has gained an understanding of the Christ down here, the throne in the Sun will not be empty. This also enables him to recognize the nature of a particular encounter that occurs at this stage. The human being meets Lucifer, not as the tempter but as a legitimate power who has to travel by his side if he is to progress in his journey. Qualities of the same nature in the wrong sphere have a destructive effect. The workings of Lucifer in the physical world are evil, but after death, from the Sun sphere onwards, man needs Lucifer as a companion. He must meet Lucifer and Christ. Christ preserves his soul nature with the total assets that his soul has accumulated in previous incarnations. It is the task of the luciferic power to assist man so that he may also learn to apply the forces of the other hierarchical beings in the right manner for his next incarnation.
Irrespective of when the stage that has just been described occurs, man is faced with the necessity of determining what part of the globe and in which country he is to reincarnate. This has to be determined at the mid-point between death and rebirth. In fact, the first thing that must be determined is the location and the country where the soul is to reincarnate.
On earth man prepares for this stage inasmuch as he acquires a connection with the super-sensible world, but he needs Lucifer's support. He now receives from beings of the higher hierarchies forces that guide him to a certain place at a certain time.
Let us consider an outstanding example. Luther's appearance at a specific moment had to be prepared from the ninth century onward. Already at that time forces had to be directed in the appropriate people. Lucifer has to cooperate to this end so that the time and place of our reembodiment may be determined. Through the fact that an individual harbors Christ in his soul, what he has gained by dint of effort is preserved. But man is not yet sufficiently mature to know where his karma can best be worked out and for this, Lucifer's assistance is needed.
A further period of time elapses and then a major matter has to be decided that involves a deeply stirring activity. By means of our everyday language it can only be described as follows. The question now has to be resolved as to how the parents of the soul that is to incarnate at a certain time and place are to be endowed with their own characteristics so as to give birth to that particular being. All this has to be determined long in advance. But this means that the higher hierarchies, supported again by Lucifer, must work in a preparatory way through the whole genealogical stream long before the incarnation of the particular individual. In Luther's case his ancestors had to be determined as early as the tenth and eleventh centuries so that he might have the right parents.
Science believes that a person takes on the characteristics of his ancestors. Actually he influences the characteristics of his ancestors from the super-sensible world. In a certain sense we ourselves are responsible for the way our great-great-great-grandparents were. Obviously, we cannot influence all their characteristics and yet, among others, those must be present that we ourselves later require. What one inherits from one's ancestors one first has oneself instilled into them.
First the time and place of birth are determined; then the ancestry is chosen. Fundamentally, what is called a child's love for his parents is the emergence of a union with a stream in which he has worked for centuries from the super-sensible world. At the moment of conception the individual receives the forces that cooperate in the formation of his own body, namely, of the head and the general bodily form. We must so picture these forces that from then onwards they are mainly active in the deeper structure of the head, less in the hands and feet, less also in the trunk, but going from the head towards the trunk. We lay the foundation for this, and after birth we continue to shape it. First everything is woven into the astral body. The shape of the head is prefigured astrally. This goes so far that actually only at the final stage is the shape of the cranium incorporated into the astral prototype that then unites with the bodily formation. The shape of the head is individual, and the shape of the brain is chiseled out at the last stage. Then what we receive through the hereditary stream is able to unite with what we bring with us out of the super-sensible world. Picture what comes from the super-sensible world as the chalice. The water that fills it is provided by the hereditary substance. The pure stream of heredity provides only the characteristics of the part of our bodily constitution that is more independent from the system of blood and nerves. Whether we have big and strong or weak and fine bones depends more on heredity than on the forces we receive from the preparatory spiritual powers.
The individuality that is to be born at a particular time and place in order to work out his karma may be the child of parents with strong bones or blond hair, and so forth. This is made possible by the hereditary stream. If the theories of physical heredity were correct, men would appear with deformed nervous systems and a mere indication of hands and feet.
Only super-sensible insight is able to lead to matters that are truly meaningful. Let me relate an actual instance. I met a hydrocephalic child who was different in many respects from the rest of his family. Why was he a hydrocephalic? Because the council of higher powers together with Lucifer had decreed that that particular individuality should be born in a particular place and his parents were the best available for him. But he was unable to work rightly into the ancestral line so he could create what would result in the appropriate substance in order that his head might harden in the right way. Only during his lifetime would he be able to adapt his brain to its general structure. Such an individuality did not find the right conditions enabling him to influence his ancestry so that his head could harden in the appropriate way.
These matters are of considerable importance and also show the technique that has to be adopted in order to go out into the world at large. When the time comes in which such questions will be rightly understood by science, the workings of the higher worlds, also, will be felt.
If we continue our journey with Lucifer and Christ we acquire the right relationship to the progressive stream in evolution.
In conclusion, during life after death one first has to overcome the dangers of loneliness by means of one's relationships to other human beings, by means of moral and religious connections. Then one fashions the new man that is to incarnate in the future. One now has a task that involves facing oneself instead of facing the world.
If a human being goes through the stages during which he could have been sociable but was condemned to loneliness, a longing arises in him after death. He longs for a condition of unconsciousness. But consciousness is not lost; one merely becomes lonely. In the higher worlds matter no longer exists. Everything there is a question of consciousness. This is true of souls who lack a connection to other souls. Death does not exist in the world beyond.
As here we live rhythmically between waking and sleeping, so in the other world life alternates between withdrawal into ourselves and sociable intercourse with other souls. As I have described above, our life in the higher worlds depends on how we have prepared ourselves here on earth.
Dr. Steiner gave the following answer to the question of whether one also could read to children who have died at birth or in early childhood.
One is a child only here on earth. Supersensible vision frequently reveals that a person who dies at an early age is less childlike in the spiritual world than many who cross the portal of death at eighty. The same criterion therefore cannot be applied.
On a previous occasion I have spoken of how we are to understand occultly the painting known as “The School of Athens.” Recently I came to know an individuality who died an early death. My connection with him enabled me to become aware of Raphael's original intention in relation to this painting. This being explained that on the left near the group in the foreground a part had been painted over. It is the spot where something is being written down. Today we find there a mathematical formula. Originally there was a gospel passage. So you see that a “child” can be a highly evolved individuality able to guide one to things that can be discovered only with great difficulty.
I would say therefore that one also can practice reading to children who have died young.