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Karmic Relationships II
GA 236

Lecture XVI

30 May 1924, Dornach

Dornach, 29th June, 1924

The day before yesterday I tried to picture for you the cosmic drama, as it were, wherein human beings are shown in their relation to Beings of the spiritual world, so that one can see how there stems from this relationship not only the working out of karma, but also the living out of karma during physical life on earth. To-day I should like to turn to a thought touched upon in that lecture. I said that the present period in human evolution confronts anyone who has the knowledge of Initiation-Science with problems of world-karma in the deepest sense of the words. And before proceeding to consider how knowledge of karma is acquired, we will study its world-historic aspects, which in the nature of things must closely concern the whole of civilised humanity at the present time.

Things are happening in the world to-day which stir even the everyday consciousness of man and the heart that is bound up with this everyday consciousness. A heavy cloud looms over the civilisation of Europe and from one point of view it is amazing to find what little willingness there is on the part of mankind in general to feel and realise what this cloud portends.

Think only of what is emerging as the result of views of life and of the world widely prevalent in humanity to-day. Look at what is being made of Christianity in the East of Europe! Information—not entirely to be discredited—has reached us that the works of Tolstoy are to be banned by the present Government of Soviet Russia with the object of keeping them out of the reach of future generations. Although such things do not always work out exactly as they are announced, we must not blind ourselves to the gravity of the present moment in world-history; we do well to listen to the warning which Initiation-Science would like to repeat day in and day out—that now is the time when the many petty concerns occupying men's minds ought to be silenced and the attention of numbers of souls directed to the great concerns of life. But in point of fact, interest in these great concerns is dwindling rather than increasing.

We see views of life and of the world arising to-day with a certain ‘creative’ force, although this actually takes effect in destruction; these views are the offspring of human passions and emotions, of an element in human nature working entirely in a Luciferic direction. It may truly be said that reality is denied and rejected by a large portion of humanity to-day. The essential nature of matter is not understood by materialistic thinkers. Matter can be understood only when the creative spirit within it is apprehended. Therefore anyone who denies the reality of the creative spirit within matter knows only a false image of matter and the consequent idolatry is a far greater menace than that of the primitive peoples who are said to represent civilisation in the stage of infancy. Fantastic ideas and conceptions of what is, after all, unreality, hold sway in mankind.—This is one side of the picture.

Such things have of course occurred in various forms throughout human history. But spiritual science teaches us to recognise their connections in the whole World-Order, and to realise with what earnestness they must be studied.

And so we must be mindful of what is brought into existence when certain social orders are created under the influence of materialistic, fantastic ideas—ideas which have sprung entirely from human aberrations, have nothing to do with reality and could never have originated elsewhere than in man himself.

Having turned our minds to a phenomenon of history which has, however, immediate bearing upon our present age, let us consider occurrences in elemental nature like those mentioned in the last lecture, when groups of human beings are suddenly snatched away from earthly existence as the result of an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, or the like. The news reaches us of a catastrophe of this kind and we hear that a large number of people have met their death or suffered grave disablement.—Again, there are events for which the devices of civilisation are responsible. We hear, for example, of a railway accident, where again the karmic threads of life are abruptly severed, but in this case as the result of man-made institutions.

If we are earnest in our study of karma, we must ask, on the one hand: What form does karma take in the case of adherents of a social order originating from sheer emotionalism, sheer fantasy in man himself and devoid of objective reality? And on the other, we must ask: What form does karma take when the thread of life is suddenly severed by a catastrophe of nature or one that is the outcome of civilisation?

Here is one of the points where Initiation-Science enters deeply into man's life of feeling and perception. Ordinary, everyday consciousness does not ask about the consequences of such happenings in the successive earthly lives of men. In the case of catastrophes of civilisation particularly, the question of human destiny in the wider sense is never asked. The destiny of a man who has been the victim of such a catastrophe is regarded by ordinary consciousness as finished and done with.

Initiation-Science observes on the one side what takes place in the foreground of earth life and, in the background, the deeds of gods in connection with the souls of men. And it is what proceeds in the background that provides Initiation-Science with a criterion for assessing earthly life. For as we shall see in our further studies of karma, a great deal has to be moulded, recast in one way or another in earthly existence in order that the divine things behind it may take effect in the lives of men—in accordance with the will of the gods.

For on looking into the background we perceive the karma that is woven between one human soul and another during the life between death and rebirth; we perceive how human souls work together with the Beings of the higher Hierarchies. We see, too, the activities of the Luciferic and Ahrimanic powers. Within the living organism of gods behind the organism of the earth we perceive the justification for this intervention by the Luciferic and Ahrimanic powers; we realise that Lucifer and Ahriman play an essential part in the deeper, spiritual ordering of the world. But although this necessity becomes evident to us, we must nevertheless often stand aghast at the way in which Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences penetrate into the earthly world.

When our vision extends beyond the earthly into the spiritual world, many things must be viewed in the light of their inter-connections, which need not necessarily be the case in ordinary consciousness. If in times when Initiation Science was regarded with the reverence that must prevail once again—if in those ancient times the question arose whether a person was in truth an Initiate, men knew the right attitude with which such a question must be approached. And when a man who took life earnestly met another like him and their opinions differed as to whether a third person was an Initiate, the question was wont to be put to the one who felt uncertain: “Have you looked into his eyes?” For in those olden times, when clairvoyance was a natural gift in civilisation all over the earth, Initiates were recognised by the deep, earnest look in their eyes.—And something similar will come again. Without losing sight of the humour of life, men must again be mindful of its gravity.

Many of these lessons can be learned from what is happening in our present time and has indeed happened in some form through all ages, but they stand before humanity now as a great and mighty riddle ... And now let us think of the facts connected with a certain kind of event.

Numbers of human beings have perished in some region where a terrible earthquake has taken place. Contemplating the event in the light of spiritual science, it cannot be said that the thread of karma belonging to the present earthly lives of these men has in every case come to an end. Think of the thread of karma in those who have met their death: in the case of the aged, whose earthly karma in this incarnation would soon have been completed, the thread of life will be shortened possibly only by months or at most by a few years. Younger people in the prime of life who have thought a great deal about what they wanted to achieve in the time ahead of them for themselves, for their family, or for a wider circle of humanity, are robbed of many years of activity. Children in process of education as a prelude to manhood are torn away from earthly existence together with the elderly and aged. Babies just weaned or still unweaned are snatched away, together with the old and the young.

The great riddle is this: How does karma work in an event of this kind?

And now think of the difference between such an event in elemental nature and an event that is due, fundamentally, to civilisation, for example, a terrible railway accident. There is obviously a difference, a difference that becomes significant and fundamental when studied from the point of view of karma.

As a rule it will be found that when human beings perish together, let us say in an earthquake, there is some kind of karmic connection between them all—just as men who live in a particular district are, broadly speaking, karmically connected or at any rate have some link with one another. These people have a certain common destiny into which they have been impelled through having descended from prenatal existence to a particular locality on the earth, and with this common destiny they are led along their path to the point where the threads of their lives are severed.

On the other hand, in the case of a railway accident it will generally be found that only a few of the victims are karmically connected with one another. What, then, is their situation? As a rule they are human beings between whom there is no definite link, who are brought together without any such connection as invariably exists between victims of a particular earthquake. The victims of a railway accident may be said to have been brought together at a certain spot by destiny. Do we not see karma working quite differently in these two cases?

With the help of Initiation-Science, let us think of a catastrophe like that of a devastating earthquake. We are concerned there with human beings whose karma at birth did not entail the severance of the thread of earthly life by the time the catastrophe occurred. As the result of this event they were torn as it were out of their karma.

How could this be? It is the decree of the gods that karma shall come to fulfilment, shall be lived out to the full. Now upheavals in nature—earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, great floods and the like—are not an integral part of the onflowing evolution of the earth; something extraneous—although still under the sway of natural laws—intervenes here in the evolutionary process, something that in times when man was not subject to birth and death as we know them to-day was both necessary and propitious for evolution. To form a clear conception of what this means, we must turn our minds to the epoch of the Old Moon.

In the epoch of the Old Moon which preceded that of the Earth, man was not led into physical existence by a transition as abrupt as birth or conception, nor led out of physical existence by a transition as abrupt as death. The transition in each case was much gentler; it was a transformation, a metamorphosis, rather than a sudden change. The Moon-man was not as densely material as the man of to-day; nor in the spiritual world was he as bereft of spirit as he is to-day.

The beings inhabitating the Old Moon were subject to quite different natural laws, laws under which this Moon-life was involved in constant movement; it was inwardly mobile, in ceaseless, surging flow. This surging, flowing life has become rigid—but only partially so—in the present Moon, our companion in the universe. The rigidification in the Moon—it has really a kind of hornlike quality—points to the past inner mobility of the Moon which takes effect in the earth when elemental catastrophes of nature occur of the kind of which I have been speaking. The ordinary natural laws of the earth are not operating, but the Old Moon is beginning to stir, to rumble in the earth. The Moon revolving out yonder in the universe has the constitution that is proper for it to-day, but after its separation from the earth, forces were left behind; and it is these Moon-forces that rumble and stir in the earth when nature-catastrophes occur.

As you will remember, I told you that the Beings who were once the great primeval Teachers of humanity are connected with man's karma; it was they who brought the ancient wisdom to mankind. They did not live on the earth in physical bodies but in etheric bodies, and at a certain point of time they departed from the earth to establish their abode in the Moon; and there we encounter them during the first phase of our life between death and a new birth. These are the Beings who engrave a record of men's karma into the cosmic ether, in an unerring script of soul-and-spirit.

But in the cosmos a pledge has been taken—if I may put it so—a pledge that use shall be made not only of the relations between the present Moon and the earth but also of the Moon-forces that were left behind and are still astir within the earth. And it is here that the Ahrimanic powers can step in and take hold of the threads of human life. It can actually be seen how from the depths of the earth the Ahrimanic powers present a countenance of gloating satisfaction when such catastrophes of nature befall.

With the help of Initiation-Science we can perceive how up to the moment when the thread of life is abruptly severed, part of the karma of one who perishes in a catastrophe of this kind has been absolved. According to whether death occurred in old age, adult life or babyhood, a longer or shorter portion of life would have remained to him; life might have continued until the completion of its course, but as things are, the events that would otherwise have been spread across this whole span lay their grip in a single, sudden moment upon the physical organisation.

Think of this situation, my dear friends.—Suppose such a catastrophe befalls a man at the age of thirty. If he had not been a victim of the catastrophe he might, in accordance with his karma, have reached the age of sixty-five, living through countless experiences which now are no more than possibilities. But everything is contained in his karma, in the make-up of his etheric and astral bodies and of his ego-organisation. And what would have been happening up to the sixty-fifth year of life? After the culmination of the upbuilding process, the organism would have been involved in a process of slow and steady decline; a subtle, gradual decline would have been taking place until the sixty-fifth year of life. This steady decline which, in the slow tempo corresponding to such a lengthy period, would have lasted for at least thirty-five years, is fulfilled in a single moment, concentrated as it were into a single moment. Such a thing can happen to the physical body but not to the etheric body, the astral body or the ego-organisation.

When the circumstances are as described here, a man enters the spiritual world in quite another way than would have been the case had his karma been lived out to the full. Something is brought into the spiritual world that would otherwise not have been there: an etheric body, an astral body and an ego-organisation which might still have been living on earth. Instead of remaining in earthly existence they are taken into the spiritual world. What was destined for earthly existence is carried into the spiritual world.

And so we see an earthly element streaming into the spiritual world from all such nature-catastrophes.

Such is the situation of human beings who have been turned aside in this way from the karmic course of their life by the working of the Ahrimanic powers; such is their situation when they arrive in the spiritual world.

And now we must ask ourselves a question—for if we take spiritual science earnestly we must learn to put questions from the standpoint of the spiritual world and of the spiritual Beings in that world, just as with our ordinary consciousness we put questions relating to the physical world and its beings. We must ask the question: How do the Beings of the three Hierarchies respond when human beings ascend to their realm bearing with them an earthly element, bearing this earthly element into the spiritual world?

It then becomes the task of these spiritual Beings to re-integrate into the World-Order what seems to have been turned to evil, to run counter to the World-Order. The gods have now to reckon with what confronts them in these circumstances, in order that they may transmute the Ahrimanic evil into a higher good.

This leads to the question: What is the situation within the World-Order of those human beings who are destined after their death to pass into the spiritual world in this way? The Beings of the higher Hierarchies are confronted with a particular state of affairs and have to say to themselves: In the previous incarnation of this human being and through the whole sequence of preceding lives, a world of facts was prepared, a world of experiences belonging, properly speaking, to the incarnation that has just ended. But only the first part of what was thus prepared has been able to come to expression; the second part has remained without fulfilment. Hence there is part of a life which ought, in reality, to correspond in respect of karma, to all that went before. There ought to be complete correspondence, but there is not ... there is only a part which corresponds to some extent with the previous incarnation, but not with the whole of it.

As they survey this previous earthly life the gods must say: There is something that has not taken effect as it should have done. Causes are there which have not been utilised or turned to account.—And now the gods can take hold of these unutilised causes, guide them to the human being and so strengthen him inwardly for his next earthly life. The power of what existed as a cause in a previous incarnation can manifest all the more forcefully in the incarnation following the present one. If such a catastrophe had not befallen the man in question he might have appeared again in the world in his next incarnation with inferior faculties or very possibly with faculties of quite a different kind. A change has been wrought in him to the end that karma may be adjusted. But he also comes into the world endowed with special qualities; his astral body is reinforced, as it were, because unutilised causative forces are membered into it.

Will you then still be astonished by the legend of a philosopher who threw himself deliberately into the crater of a volcano? What can have been the motive of such a resolve on the part of one who was initiated into the secrets of world-existence? The motive could only have been a conscious intention to achieve through the agency of human will something that could otherwise have been achieved only through the agency of elemental nature: the sudden sweeping away of a process that would otherwise have worked itself to an end by slow degrees.

What is thus told of a philosopher may be due to a resolve to appear in the world in the next incarnation endowed with special powers. The world takes on a very different aspect when we enter into the deep problems of karma!

In principle, therefore, this is how things are in the case of nature-catastrophes. Let us think now of a catastrophe due to the institutions of civilisation, where human beings between whom there are no strong karmic links are as it were massed together by the Ahrimanic powers to suffer common destruction.

The situation here is altogether different. Again the Ahrimanic powers are in action; now, however, the human beings concerned are not, to begin with, grouped together by karmic ties, but for all that are led together. The consequences here are essentially different from those of nature-catastrophes.

A nature-catastrophe evokes in a man whom it befalls a vivid, intensified remembrance of what lies in his karma as causation. For when the human being passes through the gate of death he is made mindful of everything that is contained in his karma. And remembrance of karma is intensified, made more vivid in the soul as the result of a fatal nature-catastrophe.

On the other hand a railway accident, any catastrophe due to the institution of civilisation, brings about oblivion of karma. But because of this oblivion a man becomes highly sensitive to the new impressions coming to him in the spiritual world after death. And the result is that such a man is impelled to ask himself: What is to become of the unexhausted karma I bear within me?

Whereas in the case of a nature-catastrophe the intellectual qualities especially are intensified in the astral body of the victim, a catastrophe of civilisation leads to a strengthening, an enhancement of the will.

But now we will turn from these catastrophes and think of a state of affairs arising from fanatical emotionalism in a group of human beings, where the sole source of the impulses is man himself, where he lives in sheer unreality and works, moreover, as a destructive force. Let us think of a structure of civilisation as fantastically distorted as that presented to us to-day in the East of Europe, and ask ourselves what happens when the men who help to produce such conditions pass through the gate of death.

Here too—as in the case of the other catastrophes something is carried into the spiritual world, namely a Luciferic element which begets darkness and devastation.

From catastrophes of nature and of civilisation it is, in the last resort, light that is carried from the physical into the spiritual world. But from aberrations and misguided impulses in cultural life, darkness is brought into the spiritual world. When men pass into that world through the gate of death they must make their way as it were through a dark, dense cloud. For the light which Lucifer kindled in human emotions on earth becomes dense darkness in the spiritual world when man enters it after death. And in this case, forces and passions engendered entirely by man himself and are concerns of his subjective life, are carried into the spiritual world.

These are forces which through Ahriman's power can be changed in the spiritual world in a way that enables use to be made of the Moon-elements still present in the earth. Lucifer is here stretching out a helping hand to Ahriman.

What is carried up into the spiritual world through impulses in civilisation arising from sheer emotionalism, from blind, misguided earthly consciousness—this, in different guise, is what bursts from the earth's interior in the form of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and the like.

With this knowledge as a background we are led to the question of the karma of the earth and its peoples, the karma of individuals too, inasmuch as the karma of individuals is bound up with that of the peoples and of the earth itself. In putting the question we shall seek for the seeds in Luciferic activities at work in some region where ancient culture is cast on the rubbish-heap by the working of human emotions, where wild, misguided instincts set out to create something new but succeed in spreading only destruction. And we must ask ourselves: Where shall we see the forces seething in the wild passions of men burst forth one day on the earth, in flames or convulsive upheavals of the ground beneath us?

In respect of many an event of elemental nature, Initiation-Science may, nay must, put the question: When and where was this event set in train? And the answer is that it derives from the horrors and atrocities of enmity and warfare through the course of the development of civilisation. There you have the connection.—These happenings lie in the background of existence. In the light of such knowledge, events do not appear in isolation but are seen in their great cosmic setting. How do they find their place in the destinies of men? As I said already, of a truth the gods are there, gods who are linked with the evolution of mankind, and it is their unceasing task to transform these happenings into what is propitious and beneficial for human destiny.

In the interworking between the earthly and spiritual worlds the destinies of men are continually being wrenched from the pinions of Lucifer and the claws of Ahriman, for verily the gods are good! The unrighteousness originating from the activities of Lucifer and Ahriman behind the scenes of existence is led by the good gods into the path of righteousness again and the karmic connection is finally lawful and good.

Our gaze, which must of course be full of understanding for human karma, is now deflected from the destiny of men to the destiny of gods. For when we contemplate the horrors of war, the guilt and ugliness of war in their connection with death-dealing elemental catastrophes, we are watching the battle waged by the good gods against the evil gods—in two directions evil. We gaze beyond the life of men into the life of gods, beholding the life of gods as the background of human life. We watch this life of gods—not with dry, theoretical thoughts, but with our hearts, with deep, inner participation; we watch it in its connection with the individual karma of men on earth because we see human destiny inwoven with the destiny of gods.

When we contemplate these things, the world lying behind human life has for the first time drawn really near to us. For something is then revealed which cannot but stir the very fibres of our hearts. It becomes clear to us that the destiny of men lies embedded in the destiny of the gods, and that in a certain sense the gods yearn for what they have to take in hand for men while their own battle is being waged. And in making such conceptions our own we are led again to what is brought into the world through the Mysteries—as it was brought, too, in the days of the old clairvoyance.

One who had attained Initiation in the ancient Mysteries told how he was led, to begin with, into the world of the Elements; there he beheld his inmost being, with its moral attributes, turn outwards. But then—and he spoke of this experience in words of power and solemnity—he came to know the nether gods and the upper gods, the Ahrimanic and the Luciferic gods. The good gods, the Ahrimanic and the Luciferic gods. The good gods move in the field of equilibrium. And as the pupil of the ancient Mysteries came to know what must be known again by the pupil in our modern age, he was initiated, stage by stage, into the very depths of existence. When this is understood and its implications realised, the strange, yet all-illuminating conception is reached: To what end does calamity exist in the world? To the end that the gods may transmute it into well-being. Ordinary well-being does not lead into the life of worlds. Well-being that springs from calamities befalling man along his path through the physical world of sense—this alone can lead into the depths of existence.

In the study of karma we must never call theoretical concepts alone to our aid; we must call upon the whole man. For knowledge of karma can be acquired only when the heart, the feelings and the will participate. If, however, knowledge of karma is acquired in this, the right way, human life will be deepened and due importance attached to the relationships and circumstances by which human beings are led together.

There will, of course, be moments when karma weighs heavily upon a man who does not lead a superficial life. But all such moments are balanced out by others when karma lends him wings on which his soul can soar out of the earthly realm into the realm of the gods. In our inmost being we must feel the reality of the connection between the divine world and the human world if we are to speak of karma in the right and true way.

What we are of ourselves, what is in us in a single earthly life passes away along the path from death to a new birth. What remains is that wherein the gods, that is to say the Beings of the Hierarchies, hold us by the hand. And no one will be able to cultivate the right attitude to the knowledge of karma who does not perceive in karma the helping hand of the gods.

Thus you must try, my dear friends, to grasp the knowledge of karma in such a way that it calls up the feeling: If I am to approach the holy ground of the spirit where something concerning karma can reveal itself to me, I must take the hand of the gods.

Thus real, thus immediate our experiences must become, if we are to win our way to true knowledge of the spiritual world—which is at the same time knowledge of karma.