Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Evolution of Consciousness
GA 227

10. Man's Life after Death in the Spiritual Cosmos

28 August 1923, Penmaenmawr

If we wish to bring before our souls the nature of our experiences between death and rebirth, we must above all grasp the great difference between them and those of earthly life. Here on Earth we carry out whatever we do in such a way that once done, it separates from us—it no longer belongs to us. For example, we manufacture various things and they become detached from us. Most people get free of them by selling them. Hence we find that anything a man makes on Earth, as the outcome of his will, goes out into the world in such a way that he feels relatively—I say expressly, relatively—little connection with it. And the thoughts out of which he creates something on Earth slip back within him, into his inner being, where they either remain merely passive or become memories, habits, aptitudes.

It is different between death and a new birth. There, everything a man achieves flows back to him, in a certain sense.

Now we must remember that here on Earth we carry out the impulses of our will on things belonging to the kingdoms of nature—on the minerals, plants and animals. We more or less mould them, move them around, and even set other people into motion.

In the spiritual world, between death and rebirth, we are among purely spiritual Beings, partly with those whose whole existence has been in the spiritual world, who have never been incorporated in earthly substance. Among such Beings belong the higher Hierarchies—the Angels, the Exusiai, the Seraphim and Cherubim. Other names may be preferred; but here, too, there is no need to quarrel over terminology. These particular names are old and venerable; they may well be used now for what we are rediscovering in spiritual realms.

Between his death and rebirth, accordingly, a man dwells partly among such Beings, and partly with the souls of men who have cast off their earthly bodies and taken on spiritual ones; or with those souls who are awaiting their coming re-descent to Earth. This co-existence, it is true, depends somewhat on whether we are connected with such souls, whether we have formed a bond with them in earthly life. For those persons with whom we have not been in close contact on Earth have little to do with us in the spiritual world. I shall have more to say about this.

Then, too, a man stands in relation to other beings who have never been so directly incorporated in earthly life as he was himself, for they are at a lower stage and not ready to take on human form. These are the elemental beings who live in the kingdoms of nature, in the plant kingdom, in the kingdom of the rocks, of the minerals, as well as in that of the animals. Thus, between death and rebirth, a man grows together with the whole spirit-populated world.

I must add that these beings are perceptible to Inspired, Intuitive and Imaginative consciousness, for with these forms of consciousness one can see into the world where we live between death and a new birth.

Because a man lives then in a quite different way, his whole mood and condition are changed. When here on Earth, for example—I am coming back to this same important theme—we make a machine, our action, the handling and fitting together of the parts, flow from our will and our thoughts. But all this becomes detached from us. When between death and a new birth we are in the spiritual world—where as souls we are continually active, always doing something—there shines out from our actions something we recognise as thoughts living in light. Here on Earth a thought stays with us; there, it shines out in everything we do, gleaming as a being of light. So that in the spiritual world we can never do anything without a thought springing from it. This thought is not like the thought of an earthly human being which he can often conceal, however harmful it may be, for it is a personal, individual thought. But in the life between death and rebirth the thought which springs out of things is a cosmic thought, expressing the response of the whole spiritual cosmic world to what we are doing.

Now picture this to yourselves vividly. In the life between death and a new birth a man is active. Through his activity, every action by the soul, every grasping, one might say every touch, immediately changes into a cosmic thought, so that in doing anything we imprint it on the spiritual world. Then on all sides an answer rings back from the Cosmos; out of what we do there flashes up what the Cosmos says of it, and this cosmic verdict is final. But that is not all. In this flashing up of the cosmic world of thought, something else glimmers—other thoughts which we cannot say originate in the Cosmos. Thus we find the brilliantly flashing thoughts permeated by all sorts of dark thoughts, glimmering out of our surroundings.

While the brightly gleaming thoughts from the Cosmos fill us with a profound feeling of pleasure, the glimmering ones—very often, though not always—carry something extraordinarily disquieting; for they are thoughts still working on from our life on Earth. If we have cultivated good thoughts during earthly life, they glimmer out, after death, from the radiant cosmic environment. If we have cherished bad thoughts, evil thoughts, they may be said to glimmer out towards us from the shining thoughts of the cosmic verdict.

In this way we behold both what the Cosmos is saying to us and what we ourselves have brought with us to the Cosmos. This is not a world that detaches itself from a person; it remains intimately bound up with him. After death he bears within him his cosmic existence, and, as a memory, his last existence on Earth. His next task is to lay aside this earthly life and to accustom himself to a different way of living, so that he may become a cosmic being in the true sense. As long as we are in that region of spiritual experience which in my book, Theosophy, I called the soul-world, we are pre-occupied with this aftermath of glimmering earthly thoughts, earthly ways of life, earthly aptitudes. Because of this we make what we feel could be beautiful cosmic forms into grotesque ones, and so, under the guidance of these distorted cosmic forms during our passage through the soul-world, we wander on through the Cosmos until we are freed from everything binding us to the Earth. Then we can find our way into the realm called spirit-land in my book, Theosophy. We have then left behind the state of soul habitual to us in physical life on Earth, and we are able to act in perfect accordance with the admonitions of those spiritual Beings whose realm we have to enter as the only one where it is possible for us to be.

You will see that a man does not take with him into the world after death anything that lives in his physical and etheric bodies. That is thrown off and sinks away into the Cosmos. He takes with him only what as Ego and astral body he has experienced within his physical and etheric bodies.

Something of outstanding significance and importance follows from this. While a man is going about on Earth, he regards his physical body and his etheric body—of which he knows little, but at least he feels it in his powers of growth, and so on—as his own body, but he has no right to do so. Only his Ego and his astral body are his. Everything present in his physical body and etheric body—even while he is on Earth—is the property of the divine-spiritual Beings who live and weave within them, and continue their work while the man is absent in sleep. It would go badly with anyone if he had to care for his own etheric and physical bodies in continual wakefulness between birth and death. Time and time again he is obliged to hand over his physical and etheric bodies to the Gods—especially during childhood, for then sleep is the most important thing of all. Later in life sleep works only as a corrective; the really fructifying sleep is the sleep that comes to a child in the first years of its life. Thus the human being has continually to be yielding up both physical and etheric bodies to the care of the Gods.

In past ages of human evolution this was so clearly perceived that the body was called the temple of the Gods, for so was its wonderful structure experienced. And in all architectural work—this can best be seen in oriental buildings, but also in those of Egypt and of Greece—the laws of the physical body and the etheric body were followed. In the very way the Cherubim are set on the temples of the East, in the attitude of a sphinx, or in the placing of pillars—in all this the work of divine-spiritual Beings in the human physical and etheric bodies has been made to live again. In the course of evolution, consciousness of this has been lost; and to-day we refer to the physical body as our own—with no notion of how unjustified this is—whereas as an earthly creation it belongs in reality to the Gods. Hence, when anyone to-day talks of “my body”, when he speaks of the healthy functioning of his body as due to himself, it is just an instance of the prodigious arrogance of modern man—a subconscious pride, certainly, expressed with no awareness of it, but none the less deplorable. It shows how in speaking of their bodies as their own, people are really laying claim to the property of the Gods, and this pride is embodied in their very speech.

To all these things attention must be drawn anew by Spiritual Science; it must show how a moral element is already mixed into our ordinary naturalistic life—and truly, as we have seen in the case just referred to, it can take a by no means healthy form. These matters show how, through genuine spiritual knowledge, our whole feeling life can be so transformed that, if Spiritual Science has been really understood, even ways of speaking can become different from the way in which people like to talk under the influence of purely materialistic thinking.

In order to understand the further experience we have between death and rebirth, we must be able to recall what was said yesterday—that, on growing accustomed to the spiritual world, a man loses the physical aspect of the stars and in its stead there arises the spiritual counterpart of the brilliance of their rays which meet the eye physically. Just as the Earth is the dwelling-place of men who, with their Ego and astral body, live upon it as spiritual beings, so certain spiritual Beings dwell in every single star. And during his physical life a man is connected also with elemental beings dwelling in the kingdoms of the minerals, plants and animals. He is also connected through his ordinary bodily life with other human souls. Then, between death and a new birth, he is in connection with the dwellers on other stars, and his life is actually spent in experiencing the world of the stars through its spiritual counterpart, through life in common with the other divine-spiritual Beings dwelling there.

We have already seen how, immediately after earthly life, we pass through existence in the soul-world, and how it is essentially a living backwards through all that we have slept through in unconscious imagery during our nights on Earth. One-third of the duration of a man's earthly life is thus spent in weaning himself from that which his glimmering thoughts carry into the thoughts of the Cosmos. Anyone who has lived to the age of sixty, say, on Earth, will therefore go through the soul-world in twenty years, while he is working his way out of everything connecting him with physical existence. Inwardly, during this time after death, he experiences his coming into relation with the world of the stars, and especially with the Moon. Yesterday I spoke of a man describing a circle, as it were, completing the first half between birth and death, and the return half in a third of that time. I would now add that he feels this circling to take place round the Moon-existence and the spirits belonging to it. As I pointed out yesterday, he is not conscious of returning to his birth, and so his movement is not actually a circle but a spiral, a progressive spiral.

The reason why we do not simply circle round the Moon, but move on to approach another state of existence, is partly the onward driving force of the Mercury beings. These beings are rather stronger than those of Venus. Existence is urged forward by the Mercury beings, whereas through the Venus beings it is brought to a stop, as though completed. Hence the essential course of a man's passage through the soul-world is such that he feels himself taken up into the activity of Moon, Mercury, Venus.

We must make a quite clear picture of this form of existence. Here on Earth we say: “As a man I have a head”, activated chiefly by what might be called the middle brain—the pineal gland and so on. “In the middle of my body is my heart, and in my whole kidney system the organism for metabolism and movement.” In the soul-world all this would have no meaning; we have laid it all aside. After death we say: “As a man I consist of what comes from the Moon-spirits on the Moon.” This corresponds with saying on Earth: “I have a head.” And whereas on Earth we say: “I have a heart in my breast”—which covers the whole breathing and circulatory system—in the soul-world we say: “I bear within me the forces of Venus.” Again whereas on Earth we say: “I have a metabolic-limb system with all its organs,” of which the chief is the kidney system, after death we have to say: “The forces coming from the Mercury beings live in me.” Therefore on Earth we must say: “As man I am head, breast, lower body and limbs”; and after death: “As a man I am Moon, Venus, Mercury.”

This corresponds entirely with our true inner existence during life. For our whole physical existence here on Earth depends upon how head, heart, and digestive system work together—everything turns on that. The slightest movement of the hand involves the action of head, heart and digestive system, for continuous changes in the relevant substances come into play. Our whole earthly existence takes its course in head, heart, limbs—to put it in a very summary way. So in the soul-world the activity of the Moon, Mercury and Venus forces within us fills our whole existence. And through this we are in fact carried back to a time when human beings were experiencing natural existence in long past epochs of human evolution—epochs to which I have often alluded during these lectures.

In those days people had a kind of instinctive vision, and I have already spoken here of certain types of this which can still be found. Even on Earth a man then had a presentiment of his connection, in life beyond the Earth, with Moon, Mercury and Venus. Why has this consciousness disappeared today? When anyone speaks of these deeply significant things which lie behind the veil of the physical world and can be spoken of only from the realm beyond the threshold, one naturally stirs up ill-feeling, or, to put it more elegantly, one arouses contemporary criticism. For to-day it is particularly difficult to put into words the truths of Initiation. It must either be done in such abstract concepts that people to-day will not realise what is meant, or terms that really belong to such truths must be used—and this makes many people downright angry. One can understand this anger, for they are being told about a world they want to be rid of, a world they fear and hate. But this cannot prevent a start being made in speaking honestly of these matters in civilised circles. Were one to show great consideration—though it would not help us much—towards the people who hate Initiation-knowledge—not of course any of those sitting here but those in the world outside—one would have to say: As a man grows accustomed to life in the soul-world, he finds himself in conditions resembling an earlier condition on Earth, when he had instinctive spiritual knowledge of the truth, and in this knowledge, lived the forces of the Moon. In that way one might perhaps have gone halfway, quite respectably, towards the materialistic concepts of to-day; but it would have been put far too abstractly. If one is not afraid of the criticisms that will of course come from materialistic thinkers, one has to speak differently and say: When people were going through a far-off prehistoric epoch in earthly evolution—of which more is to be said later—even on Earth they were in the company of spiritual beings who were in direct connection with the Cosmos rather than with the Earth itself. We can say that divine Teachers, not earthly ones, directed the Mysteries and instructed human beings then on Earth.

In such remote ages these Teachers did not take on physical bodies of flesh, but worked in their etheric bodies upon men. So that the highest Teachers in the Mysteries, to whom physically incorporated men stood merely as servants, were etheric and divine; but they dwelt among men on Earth. Hence we are expressing something very real when we say: Once, in a long past period of human evolution, divine-spiritual Beings dwelt on Earth together with men. They did not always make their presence known if someone, let us say, was simply going for a walk, but they did reveal themselves if a person was led to them in the right way through the servants of the Mystery-temples. This happened only in the Mysteries, and through the Mysteries these Beings became companions of earthly men. Since then they have withdrawn from the Earth to the Moon, where they now dwell as if in a cosmic citadel, not perceptible from earthly existence, within the Moon's inner being. Thus, when considering this inner existence of the Moon, we have to look upon it as a gathering of those Beings who once, in etheric bodies, were the great Teachers of men upon Earth. And really we should never look at the Moon without saying: Our one-time Teachers on Earth are now assembled there.

Nothing that comes to earthly men from the Moon is inherent in it, but only what is reflected by the Moon from the rest of the Cosmos. For the Moon reflects all cosmic activity in the same way that it reflects the light. Hence when we look at the Moon and see its light most clearly, this is really the least part of it. We are seeing a mirror of cosmic activities, not the inner life of the Moon.

Within the Moon dwell those Beings who once lived on Earth, and it is only during man's life in the soul-world, after death, that he again comes under their influence. It is these Beings who, in accordance with the judgment of the far-distant past, work correctively on what a man has done on Earth. After death, therefore, in our epoch, a man actually comes once more into relation with these Beings who formerly, as divine-spiritual Beings, educated and instructed him and all mankind on Earth.

When the human being has passed through this realm of the Moon, it is then his appointed task in the Cosmos to enter the Sun-existence. Whereas the first circle, the first completed spiral, has existence on the Moon for its central point, this spiral movement now takes a man a further step forward, and on leaving the realm of the Moon, he enters the realm of the Sun.

Any spatial diagram illustrating this process can be no more than illusory, for it all takes its course in the one-dimensional, the super-sensible. However, as we must use earthly words, we can say: When a man has completed the first revolution in the realm of the Moon, he comes to the Sun realm, and the Sun, the spiritual Sun, then stands in the same relation to him as the Moon did previously. The man has now to become a being who—on entering what in my book, Theosophy, I called spirit-land, the spiritual realm of the Sun—must transform his previous Moon-, Venus-, Mercury-, existence. He must in actual fact become a different being. In earthly life he says: I am a being of head, heart, breast; a being of metabolism and limbs. Immediately after death he says: I am a being of Moon, Mercury, Venus. But then he can no longer say this, for it would mean his having come to a standstill in the spiritual world, between the soul-world and the real world of the spirit. He has now to go through a special metamorphosis even of his soul-spirit being and become what I may describe as follows: The Sun must be his skin. Everything around must be Sun. As here on Earth our physical body is wrapped in our skin, so now, on entering the life of the spirit, we have to be clothed in a skin consisting entirely of the Sun's spiritual forces.

Now it is not easy to picture this, for on the Earth you think: There is the Sun, shining down upon us; the Sun is in the centre and sheds its rays all around. On entering the realm of the spiritual Sun we find the Sun to be no longer in a definite place—it is everywhere. A man is then within the Sun; it shines in upon him from the periphery, and is, in truth, the spiritual skin of the entity he has become. Moreover, within the realm of the spiritual Sun, we have what must be described as organs. In the same way that in earthly life we have head, heart, limbs, and, immediately after death, Moon, Mercury, Venus, so, after that, we have organs which we must attribute to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.

These are then our inner organs, just as heart, pineal gland, kidneys, are on Earth. All this has gone through a metamorphosis into the spiritual and these new organs, not fully formed when first we leave the soul-world and enter the world of spirit, now have to be gradually developed. For this purpose we do not describe one circle only in the Sun-existence, as in our Moon-existence, but three. In the first circle the spiritual Mars organ is developed; in the second, the Jupiter organ, and the Saturn organ in the last circle. If we compare them with earthly periods of time, we find that these three circles are traversed much more slowly, about twelve times more slowly than the relatively fast Moon circle. And during this whole journey, while a man is living in the world of spiritual spheres and participating in its forces, he is continually active. Just as we are active here with the forces of nature, so there we are active with the forces, the Beings, of the higher Hierarchies, whose physical manifestation in the surrounding starry heavens is only an outer reflection, as with the Sun and Moon.

In order to find his way from the realm of the Moon to that of the Sun, however, a man must have the guidance to which I have already referred. We have seen how, in the most ancient epochs of mankind, Beings lived on Earth who have since withdrawn, entrenching themselves, as it were, in the cosmic stronghold of the Moon. They are the Beings with whom a man, after death, first enters into a relationship. But these Beings have had successors who, in the epochs after the ancient Hyperborean period, appeared on Earth from time to time. In the East they have been called Bodhisattvas. Although they have always made their appearance embodied as men, yet they are the successors of the Beings now entrenched on the Moon, and their life is passed in community with these Beings. There lie the springs of their strength, the sources of their thoughts. And they were the Beings who once acted as the guides of mankind. Through the teaching they gave on Earth, men were enabled to have the strength, on coming to the end of their journey through the Moon-sphere, to pass over into the realm of the Sun.

In future lectures we shall see how, in the course of man's earthly evolution, this has become impossible, and how the Christ Being had to descend from the Sun to carry out the Mystery of Golgotha so that mankind, through the teachings of that Mystery, should be given sufficient force to make the crossing from the soul-world to spirit-land, from Moon-sphere to Sun-sphere.

In the ancient days of Earth evolution, the Moon-influence was closely connected with the Earth, and cared for its spiritual element, with the participation, direct or indirect, of the Bodhisattvas. Then, when the time was ripe, after the first third of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch had expired, the effects of the Mystery of Golgotha, the working of the Christ, came in. This work of the Christ was surrounded by the twelve-fold activity of the Bodhisattvas, indicated—though indeed it was a reality—in the twelve Apostles. Thus the Christ, incorporated in the body of Jesus, is the power who, coming from spiritual existence in the Sun, has now united Himself with the Earth.

If we look up to the Moon with the desire to understand it, rather than merely to gaze at it with our soul and spirit clouded by materialism, and if we realise it to be a gathering of beings pointing to the past evolution of the Earth, then we must look up in the same way to the Sun. The Sun is a gathering of those Beings who point to the future of Earth-evolution and now also to the present, and whose great representative is the Christ, who passed through the Mystery of Golgotha. Through as much as human beings absorb on Earth in their relation to that Mystery, so will their entrance into the spiritual land of the Sun be facilitated, so that they are enabled to take up inwardly the Mars organ in the sphere of Mars, the Jupiter organ in the Jupiter-sphere, and in the sphere of Saturn the corresponding Saturn organ. This is accomplished in threefold circles which take their course far more slowly than that of the Moon; yet this also underlies world-evolution. The complete fulfilment of what I have just been describing—the development into Mars man, Jupiter man, Saturn man—will come about only in the future. During our present epoch we can make only the circle of the Mars region after death, through the activity of world-forces; after that we are unable to do more than touch on the Jupiter region. We have to go through many earthly lives before being able—between death and rebirth—to enter fully the Jupiter region and, later still, that of Saturn.

In order that man, though not yet able to enter the Jupiter region, may receive, between death and a new birth, something of the forces of Jupiter and also of Saturn, many planetoids are interspersed between Mars and Jupiter; in their outer aspect they are constantly being discovered by the astronomers. They make up the region which in its spiritual aspect is experienced by a man after death because he cannot yet reach Jupiter. They have the remarkable characteristic of being spiritual colonies, as it were, of beings from Jupiter and Saturn who have withdrawn there. And before a man is ripe for existence on Earth, he can find in this region of the planetoids, which are there for that purpose, a kind of preparatory substitute, before he is able to enter the region of Jupiter and Saturn. At present, therefore, by the time a man has gone through death and rebirth, he has achieved his Mars-organisation, and has absorbed those Jupiter and Saturn forces to be found in the colonised regions of the planetoids. With the after-effects of this—we still have to learn about them—the human being embarks on another earthly life.

How this life between death and a new birth, which I have now described in relation to the world of the stars, can be further characterised, we shall hear tomorrow.