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Between Death and Rebirth
GA 141

Lecture III

3 December 1912, Berlin

From what has already been indicated about the life between death and the new birth you will recall that during that period a human being continues, to begin with, to live in conditions and with relationships he himself prepared during his existence on Earth. It was said that when we again encounter some personality in the spiritual world after death, the relationship between us is, at first, the same as was formed during our existence on Earth and we cannot, for the time being, change it at all. Thus if in the spiritual world we come into contact with a friend or an individual who has predeceased us, and to whom we owed a debt of love but during life withheld that love from him, we shall now have to experience again the relationship that existed before death because of the lack of love of which we were guilty. We confront the person in question in the way described in the last lecture, beholding and experiencing over and over again the circumstances created during the life before our death. For instance, if at some particular time, say ten years before the death of the person in question, or before our own death, we allowed the relationship caused by our self-incurred debt of love to be established, we shall have to live through the relationship for a corresponding length of time after death and only after that period has elapsed shall we be able to experience once again, during our life after death, the happier relationship previously existing between us. It is important to realise that after death we are not in a position to expunge or change relationships for which we had been responsible on Earth. To a certain extent change has become impossible.

It might easily be believed that this is inevitably a painful experience and can only be regarded as suffering. But that would be judging from the standpoint of our limited earthly circumstances. Viewed from the spiritual world things look different in many respects. It is true that in the life between death and the new birth the individual concerned must undergo all the suffering resulting from the admission: I am now in the spiritual world and realise the wrong I committed, but I cannot rectify it and must rely upon conditions to bring about a change. An individual who is aware of this undergoes the pain connected with the experience, but he also knows that it must be so and that it would be detrimental for his further development if it were otherwise, if he could not learn from the experience resulting from such suffering. For through experiencing such conditions and recognising that they cannot be changed we acquire the power to change them in our later karma. The technique of karma enables these conditions to be changed during another physical incarnation. There is only the remotest possibility that the dead himself can change them. Above all during the first period after death, during the time in Kamaloka, an individual sees what has been determined by his life before death, but to begin with he must leave it as it is; he is unable to bring about any change in what he experiences.

Those who have remained behind on Earth have a far greater influence on the dead than the dead has on himself or others who have also died have upon him. And this is tremendously important. It is really only an individual who has remained on the physical plane, who had established some relationship with the dead, who through human will is able to bring about certain changes in the conditions of souls between death and rebirth.

We will now take an example that can be instructive in many respects. Here we can also consider the life in Kamaloka, for the existing relationships do not change when the transition takes place into the period of Devachan. Let us think of two friends living on Earth, one of whom comes into contact with Anthroposophy at a certain time in his life and becomes an anthroposophist. It may happen that because of this, his friend rages against Anthroposophy. You may have known such a case. If the friend had been the first to find Anthroposophy he might himself have become a very good adherent. Such things certainly happen but we must realise that they are very often clothed in maya. Consequently it may happen that the one who rages against Anthroposophy because his friend has become an adherent is raging in his surface consciousness only, in his Ego-consciousness. In his astral consciousness, in his subconsciousness he may very likely not share in the antipathy. Without realising it he may even be longing for Anthroposophy. In many cases it happens that aversion in the upper consciousness takes the form of longing in the subconsciousness. It does not necessarily follow that an individual feels exactly what he expresses in his upper consciousness. After death we do not experience only the effects of the contents of our upper consciousness, our Ego-consciousness. To believe that would be to misunderstand entirely the conditions prevailing after death. It has often been said that although a human being casts off physical body and etheric body at death, his longings and desires remain. Nor need these longings and desires be only those of which he was actually aware. The longings and desires that were in his sub-consciousness, they too remain, including those of which he has no conscious knowledge or may even have resisted. They are often much stronger and more intense after death than they were in life. During life a certain disharmony between the astral body and the ‘I’ expresses itself as a feeling of depression, dissatisfaction with oneself. After death, the astral consciousness is an indication of the whole character of the soul, the whole stamp of the individual concerned. So what we experience in our upper consciousness is less significant than all those hidden wishes, desires and passions which are present in the soul's depths and of which the ‘I’ knows nothing.

In the case mentioned, let us suppose that the man who denounces Anthroposophy because his friend has become an adherent passes through the gate of death. The longing for Anthroposophy, which may have developed precisely because of his violent opposition, now asserts itself and becomes an intense wish for Anthroposophy. This wish would have to remain unfulfilled, for it could hardly happen that after death he himself would have an opportunity of satisfying it. But through a particular concatenation of circumstances in such a case, the one who is on Earth may be able to help the other and change something in his conditions. This is the kind of case that may frequently be observed in our own ranks.

We can, for instance, read to the one who has died. The way to do this is to picture him vividly there in front of us; we picture his features and go through with him in thought the content, for example, of an anthroposophical book. This need only be done in thought and it has a direct effect upon the one who has died. As long as he is in the stage of Kamaloka, language is no hindrance; it becomes a hindrance only when he has passed into Devachan. Hence the question as to whether the dead understands language need not be raised. During the period of Kamaloka a feeling for language is certainly present. In this practical way very active help can be given to one who has passed through the gate of death. What streams up from the physical plane is something that can be a factor in bringing about a change in the conditions of life between death and the new birth; but such help can only be given to the dead from the physical world, not directly from the spiritual world.

We realise from this that when Anthroposophy actually finds its way into the hearts of men it will in very truth bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual worlds, and that will constitute its infinite value in life. Only a very elementary stage in anthroposophical development has been reached when it is thought that what is of main importance is to acquire certain concepts and ideas about the members of man's constitution or about what can come to him from the spiritual world. The bridge between the physical world and the spiritual world cannot be built until we realise that Anthroposophy takes hold of our very life. We shall then no longer adopt a merely passive attitude towards those who have passed through the gate of death but shall establish active contact with them and be able to help them. To this end Anthroposophy must make us conscious of the fact that our world consists of physical existence and superphysical, spiritual existence; furthermore that man is on Earth not only to gather for himself the fruits of physical existence between birth and death but that he is on Earth in order to send up into the superphysical world what can be gained and can exist only on the physical plane. If for some justifiable reason or, let us say, for the sake of comfort, a man has kept aloof from anthroposophical ideas, we can bring them to him after death in the way described. Maybe someone will ask: Is it possible that this will annoy the dead, that he does not want it? This question is not entirely justifiable because human beings of the present age are by no means particularly opposed to Anthroposophy in their subconsciousness. If the subconsciousness of those who denounce Anthroposophy could have a voice in their upper consciousness, there would be hardly any opposition to it. For people are prejudiced and biased against the spiritual world only in their Ego-consciousness, only in what expresses itself as Ego-consciousness on the physical plane.

This is one aspect of mediation between the physical world and the spiritual world. But we can also ask: Is mediation also possible in the other direction, from the spiritual to the physical world? That is to say, can the one who has passed through the gate of death communicate in some way with those who have remained on the physical plane? At the present time the possibility of this is very slight because on the physical plane human beings live for the most part in their Ego-consciousness only and not in the consciousness connected with the astral body. It is not so easy to convey an idea of how men will gradually develop consciousness of what surrounds them as an astral or devachanic or other spiritual world. But if Anthroposophy acquires greater influence in the evolution of humanity, this will eventually come about. Simply through paying attention to the teachings of Anthroposophy men will find the ways and means to break through the boundaries of the physical world and direct attention to the spiritual world that is round about them and eludes them only because they pay no heed to it.

How can we become aware of this spiritual world?

Today I want to make you aware of how little a man really knows about the things of the world surrounding him. He knows very little indeed of what is of essential importance in that world. Through his senses and intellect he gets to know and recognise the ordinary facts of life in which he is involved. He gets to know what is going on both in the world and in himself, establishes some kind of association between these happenings, calls the one ‘cause’ and the other ‘effect’ and then, having ascertained some connection based either upon cause and effect or some other concept, thinks he understands the processes that are in operation. To take an example: We leave our home at eight o’clock in the morning, walk along the street, reach our place of work, have a meal during the day, do this or that to amuse ourselves. This goes on until the time comes for sleep. We then connect our various experiences; one makes a strong impression upon us, another a weaker impression. Effects are also produced in our soul, either of sympathy or antipathy. Even trifling reflection can teach us that we are living as it were on the surface of a sea without the faintest idea of what is down below on the sea's bed. As we pass through life we get to know external reality only. But an example will show that a very great deal is implicit in this external reality. Suppose one day we leave home three minutes later than usual and arrive at work three minutes late; after that we carry on just as if we had left home at the usual time. Nevertheless it may be possible to verify that had we been in the street punctually at eight o'clock we might have been run over by a car and killed; if we had left home punctually we should no longer be alive. Or on another occasion we may hear of an accident to a train in which we should have been travelling and thus have been injured. This is an even more radical example of what I just said. We pay attention only to what actually happens, not to what may be continually happening and which we have escaped. The range of such possibilities is infinitely greater than that of actual happenings.

It may be said that this happening had no significance for our outer life. For our inner life, however, it is certainly of importance. Suppose, for instance, you had bought a ticket for a voyage in the Titanic but were dissuaded by a friend from travelling. You sold the ticket and then heard of the disaster. Would your experience have been the same as if you had never been involved? Would it not far rather have made a most striking impression upon you? If we knew from how many things we are protected in the world, how many things are possible for good or for ill, things which are converging and only through slight displacement do not meet, we should have a sensitive perception of experiences of happiness or unhappiness, of bodily experiences which are possible for us but which simply do not come our way. Who among all of you sitting here can know what you would have experienced if, for example, the lecture this evening had been cancelled and you had been somewhere else. If you had known about the cancellation your attitude of mind would be quite different from what it now is, because you have no idea of what might conceivably have happened.

All these possibilities which do not become reality on the physical plane exist as forces and effects behind the physical world in the spiritual world and reverberate through it. It is not only the forces which actually determine our life on the physical plane that stream down upon us but also the measureless abundance of forces which exist only as possibilities, some of which seldom make their way into our physical consciousness. But when they do, this usually gives rise to a significant experience. Do not say that what has been stated, namely that numberless possibilities exist, that for example this lecture might have been cancelled, in which case those sitting here would have had different experiences—do not say that this invalidates karma. It does nothing of the kind. If such a thing were said it would imply ignorance of the fact that the idea of karma just presented holds good only for the world of realities within the physical life of men. The truth is that the spiritual life permeates our physical life and there is a world of possibilities where the laws operating as karmic laws are quite different. If we could feel what a tiny part of what we might have experienced is represented by the physical realities and that our actual experiences are only a fractional part of the possibilities, the infinite wealth and exuberance of the spiritual life behind our physical life would be obvious to us.

Now the following may happen. A man may take serious account in his thoughts of this world of possibilities or perhaps not in his thoughts but only in his feelings. He may realise that he would probably have been killed in an accident to a train which he happened to miss. This may make a deep impression upon him and such happenings are able as it were to open the soul to the spiritual world. Occasions such as this with which we are in some way connected may actually reveal to us wishes or thoughts of souls living between death and the new birth.

When Anthroposophy wakens in men a feeling for possibilities in life, for occurrences or catastrophes which did not take place simply because something that might have happened did not do so, and when the soul abides firmly by this feeling, experiences conveyed by individuals with whom there had been a connection in the physical world may be received from the spiritual world.

Although during the hurry and bustle of daily life people are for the most part disinclined to give rein to feelings of what might have happened, nevertheless there are times in life when events that might have happened have a decisive influence upon the soul. If you were to observe your dream-life more closely, or the strange moments of transition from waking life to sleep or from sleep to waking life, if you were to observe with greater exactitude certain dreams which are often quite inexplicable, in which certain things that happen to you appear in a dream-picture or vision, you would find that these inexplicable pictures indicate something that might have happened and was prevented only because other conditions, or hindrances. intervened. A person who through meditation or some other means makes his thinking more mobile, will have moments in his waking life during which he will feel that he is living in a world of possibilities; this may not be in the form of definite ideas but of feelings. If he develops such feelings he is preparing himself to receive from the spiritual world impressions from human beings who were connected with him in the physical world. Such influences then manifest as genuine dream-experiences which have meaning and point to some reality in the spiritual world. In teaching us that in the life between birth and death karma holds sway, Anthroposophy makes it quite clear that wherever we are placed in life we are faced perpetually with an infinite number of possibilities. One of these possibilities is selected in accordance with the law of karma; the others remain in the background, surrounding us like a cosmic aura. The more deeply we believe in karma, the more firmly we shall also believe in the existence of this cosmic aura which surrounds us and is produced by forces which converge but have been displaced in a certain way, so that they do not manifest on the physical plane.

If we allow our hearts and minds to be influenced by Anthroposophy, this will be a means of educating humanity to be receptive to impressions coming from the spiritual world. If, therefore, Anthroposophy succeeds in making a real effect upon culture, upon spiritual life, influences will not only rise up from physical life into the spiritual world but the experiences undergone by the dead during their life between death and the new birth will flow back. Thus here again the gulf between the physical and the spiritual worlds will be bridged. The consequence will be a tremendous widening of human life and we shall see the purpose of Anthroposophy fulfilled in the creation of an actual link between the two worlds, not merely a theoretical conception of the existence of a spiritual world. It is essential to realise that Anthroposophy fulfils its task in the real sense only when it permeates the souls of men as a living force and when by its means we not only comprehend something intellectually but our whole attitude and relationship to the world around us is changed.

Because of the preconceptions current in our times, man's thinking is far too materialistic, even if he often believes in the existence of a spiritual world. Hence it is extremely difficult for him in the present age to picture the right relationship between soul and body. The habits of thought peculiar to the times tend to make him picture the life of soul as being connected too closely with the bodily constitution. An analogy may be the only means of helping to clarify what must be understood here.

If we examine a watch we see that it consists of wheels and other little metal parts. But do we look at our watch in the course of everyday life in order to study the works or the interplay of the wheels? No, we look at our watch in order to find out the time; but time has nothing whatever to do with any of the metal parts or wheels. We look at the watch and do not trouble about what there is to be seen inside the watch itself. Or let us take another example. When somebody speaks of telegraphing today he has the electric apparatus in mind. But even before electric telegraphy was invented, telegraphing went on. Provided the right signs, etc. are known it would be possible for people to speak from one town to another without any electric telegraph—and perhaps the process would not be very much slower. Suppose, for instance, pillars or poles were erected along the highway between Berlin and Paris and a man posted on the top of each pole to pass on the appropriate signs. If that were done quickly enough there would be no difference between this method and what is done by means of the electric telegraph. Certainly the latter is the simpler and much quicker method but the actual process of telegraphing has as little to do with the mechanism of the electric telegraph as time has to do with the works in a watch.

Now the human soul has just as much and just as little to do with the processes of the human body as the communication from Berlin to Paris has to do with the mechanism of the electric telegraph. It is only when we think in this way that we can have a true conception of the independence of the soul. For it would be perfectly possible for this human soul with all its content to make use of a differently formed body, just as the message from Berlin to Paris could be sent by means other than the electric telegraph. The electric telegraph merely happens to be the most convenient way of sending messages, given the conditions of our present existence, and in the same sense the body with its possibility of movement and the head above provides the most convenient means, in the conditions of our existence on Earth, for the soul to express itself. But it is simply not the case that the body as such has anything more directly to do with the life of the soul than the electric telegraph with its mechanism has directly to do with the transmission of a communication from Berlin to Paris, or a watch with time. It would be possible to devise an instrument quite different from our watches for measuring time. Similarly it is possible to conceive of a body—quite different from the one we use in the conditions prevailing on Earth—that would enable the soul to express itself.

How are we to picture the relation of the human soul to the body? A saying of Schiller, applied to man, is particularly relevant here: “If you are seeking for the highest and the best, the plant can teach it to you.” We look at the plant which spreads out its leaves and opens its blossoms during the day and draws them in when the light fades. That which streams to the plant from the sun and the stars has been withdrawn. But it is what comes from the sun that enables the leaves to open again and the blossom to unfold Out yonder in cosmic space, therefore, are the forces which cause the organs of the plant to fold up limply when they withdraw or unfold when they are active. What is brought about in the plant by cosmic forces is brought about in the human being by his own Ego and astral body. When does a human being allow his limbs to relax and his eyelids to close like the plant when it draws in its leaves and blossoms? When his Ego and astral body leave his bodily organism. What the sun does to the plant, the Ego and astral body do to the organs of the human being. Hence we can say: the plant's body must turn to the sun as man's body must turn to the Ego and astral body and we must think of these members of his being as having the same effect upon him as the sun has upon the plant.

Even externally considered, will it still surprise you to know what occult investigation reveals, namely that the Ego and astral body originate from the cosmic sphere to which the sun belongs and do not belong to the Earth at all? Nor will you be surprised, after what has been said in previous lectures, to realise that when human beings leave the Earth, either in sleep or at death, they pass into the conditions prevailing in the Cosmos. The plant is still dependent upon the sun and the forces operating in space. The Ego and the astral body of man have made themselves independent of the forces in space and go their own way. A plant is bound to sleep when the sunlight withdraws; in respect of his Ego and astral body, however, man is independent of the sun and planets which are his real home, and for this reason he is able to sleep by day, even when the sun is shining. In his Ego and astral body man has emancipated himself from that with which he is really united—namely the forces of the sun and stars. Therefore it is not grotesque to say that what remains of man on the Earth and in its elements after death belongs to the Earth and to its forces; but the Ego and astral body belong to the forces of the Cosmos. After the death of the human being Ego and astral body return to those cosmic forces and pass through the life between death and rebirth within their spheres. During the period on Earth between birth and death, while the soul is living in a physical body, the life of soul which strictly belongs to the sun and the stars has no more to do with this physical body than time as such—which is in reality conditioned by the solar and stellar constellations—has to do with the watch and its mechanism of wheels. It is quite conceivable that if, instead of living on the Earth, we were born on some other planet, our soul would be adapted to a quite different planetary existence. The particular formation of our eyes and ears is not attributable to the soul but to the conditions prevailing on the Earth. All we do is to make use of these organs. If we make ourselves consciously aware of the fact that with our soul we belong to the world of the stars, we shall have taken a first step towards a real understanding of our relationships as human beings and our true human nature. This knowledge will help us to adopt the right attitude to our conditions of existence here on Earth. To establish even this more or less external relationship to our physical body or etheric body will give us a sense of security. We shall realise that we are not merely beings of the Earth but belong to the whole Universe, to the Macrocosm, that we live within the Macrocosm. It is only because a man here on Earth is bound to his body that he is not conscious of his connection with the forces of the great Universe.

Wherever and whenever in the course of the ages a deepening of the spiritual life was achieved, efforts were made to bring this home to the souls of men. In point of fact it is only during the last four centuries that man has lost this consciousness of his connection with the spiritual forces weaving and holding sway in cosmic space. Think of what has always been emphasised: that Christ is the great Sun-Being who through the Mystery of Golgotha has united Himself with the Earth and its forces and has thus made it possible for man to take into himself the Christ-force on Earth; permeation with the Christ Impulse will include the impulses of the Macrocosm and in every epoch of evolution it will be right to recognise in Christ the power that imparts feeling of kinship with the Macrocosm.

In the twelfth century a story, a splendid allegory, became current in the West. It was as follows: Once upon a time there was a girl who had several brothers, all of whom were as poor as church mice. One day the girl found a pearl, thereby becoming the possessor of great treasure. All the brothers were determined to share the wealth that had come her way. The first brother was a painter and he said to the girl: “I will paint for you the finest picture ever known if you will let me share your wealth.” But the girl would have nothing to do with him and sent him away. The second brother was a musician. He promised the girl that he would compose the most beautiful piece of music if she would let him share her wealth. But she sent him away. The third brother was an apothecary and, as was customary in the Middle Ages, dealt chiefly in perfumes and other goods that were not remedial herbs but quite useful in life! This brother promised to give the girl the most fragrant scent in the world if she would let him share her wealth. But she sent this brother away too. The fourth brother was a cook. He promised the girl that he would cook such good dishes for her that by eating them she would get a brain equal to that of Zeus and would be able to enjoy the very tastiest food. But she rejected him too. The fifth brother was an innkeeper (Wirt) and he promised to find the most desirable suitors for her if she would let him share her wealth. She rejected him too. Finally, or so the story tells, came one who was able to find his way to the girl's soul, and with him she shared her treasure, the pearl she had found.

The story is graphically told and it has been narrated in greater detail and even more beautifully by Jakob Balde,1Jakob Balde, born in Ensisheim, Upper Alsace, 4th January, 1604, died 9th August, 1668. Entered the Order of Jesuits in 1624. Was widely acclaimed during his life but after his death was neglected as a poet until the end of the eighteenth century. Herder translated many of Balde's lyrics and brought his genius to the notice of scholars. a lyric poet of the seventeenth century. There is also an exposition dating from the thirteenth century by the poet himself, so it cannot be called a mere interpretation. The poet says that he had wanted to portray the human being and the free will. The girl represents the human soul endowed with free will. The five brothers are the five senses: the painter is the sense of sight, the musician the sense of hearing, the apothecary the sense of smell, the cook the sense of taste, the innkeeper the sense of touch. The girl rejects them all, in order, so the story tells, to share her treasure of free will with the one with whom her soul has true affinity—with Christ. She rejects the attractions of the senses in order to receive that to which the Christ Impulse leads when it permeates the soul. The independence of the life of the soul—the soul that is born of the Spirit and has its home in the Spirit—is beautifully contrasted with what is born of the Earth, namely the senses and all that exists solely in order to provide a habitation—an earthly body—for the soul.

In order that a beginning may be made in the matter of showing that right thinking can lead beyond the things of everyday life, it will now be shown how reliable and well-founded are the findings of occult investigation when the investigator knows from his own direct vision of the spiritual world that the Ego and astral body of man belong to the world of the stars. When we consider how man is related to those members of his being which remain together during sleep, how this condition is independent of the world of the stars, as indicated by the fact that a man can also sleep in the daytime, and if we then make a comparison with the plant and the sunlight, we can be convinced of the validity of occult investigations. It is a matter of recognising the confirmations which can actually be found in the world. When someone asserts that the findings of occult research lack any real foundation, this is only a sign that he has not paid attention to everything that can be gathered from the external world and lead to knowledge. Admittedly this often calls for great energy and freedom from bias—qualities that are not always put into practice. But it may well be insisted that someone who genuinely investigates the spiritual world and then passes on the results of his investigation to the world, passes it on, presumably, to sound judgement. Genuine occult research is not afraid of intelligent criticism; it objects only to superficial criticism which is not, properly speaking, criticism at all.

If you now recall how the whole course of the evolution of humanity has been described, from the Old Saturn period, through the periods of Old Sun and Old Moon up to our Earth period, you will remember that during the Old Moon period a separation took place; a second separation occurred again during the Earth period, one of the consequences being that the life of soul and the bodily life are more widely separated from each other than was the case during the Old Sun period. As a consequence of the separation of the Moon from the Sun already during the Old Moon period, man's soul became more independent. At that time, in certain intervals between incarnations, the element of soul forced its way out into the Macrocosm and made itself independent. This brought about those conditions in the evolution of the Earth which resulted in the separation of the Sun from the Earth and later of the Moon, during the Lemurian epoch. As a consequence, a host of individual human souls, as described in detail in the book Occult Science—an Outline,2See PP. 177–9 in the translation by George and Mary Adams, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1963. pressed outwards in order to undergo particular destinies while separated from the Earth, returning only at a later time. Now, however, it must be made clear that when a man has passed through the gate of death into the spiritual world which is his real home, he—or rather what remains of him—lives a life that is radically different from and fundamentally has very little relationship with the former earthly body.

In the next lecture we shall be able to learn what is necessary for more detailed knowledge of the life between death and the new birth.