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Life Between Death and Rebirth
GA 140

12. Life Between Death and Rebirth I

10 March 1913, Munich

In materialistic circles a phrase is currently in use which, though quite sensible from an outer aspect, acquires a totally different complexion when viewed in the light of spiritual science. It was prevalent at the time when theoretical materialism flourished and gained widespread popularity. Yet, even today this phrase is still used: Assuming that there is a life after death we need not concern ourselves with it until we get there because when we cross the gate of death we shall see what happens. As for our physical existence, it is sufficient to plunge into it, and one may hope, if indeed there is a life beyond, that one is thereby adequately prepared to enter it.

In the light of super-sensible cognition capable of beholding the realm that man crosses between death and rebirth, such a way of speaking is pure nonsense. When we cross the gate of death we are, to begin with, occupied with the remains, the memories and the connections of our last earthly embodiment. For a period of decades during the first stages after death, an individual looks back in retrospect in a sense on his last incarnation. He is still involved with what remains in the astral body as forces from the last earthly life but increasingly he enters into the sphere that we described from a cosmic aspect on a previous occasion. He gradually enters a realm where he comes into contact with the beings of the higher hierarchies. Man must encounter these beings because this enables him to gather the forces he needs when later on, through birth, he again enters physical existence.

The human being has to bring with him two things that have been elaborated and strengthened between death and rebirth. He has to bring with him the forces which, once he has connected himself with the stream of heredity, enable him to fashion plastically his corporeal form from within outwards for many years to come, in order that the bodily constitution may be fully adapted to the individuality that he has brought over from previous earth lives. What is provided by way of our ancestors in the physical hereditary stream only corresponds to the individuality inasmuch as we are attracted by the mixture within the hereditary stream, so to speak, that arises because of the nature of our forefathers. Man is attracted by the potentialities within the physical hereditary stream, but what he receives as his outer sheath by going through birth, first has to be fashioned in its finer aspects. This is made possible by means of a remarkably complex structure of forces that he brings with him from the spiritual world and receives in such a form that one particular hierarchical order bestows these, another those, forces. To express it in a pictorial way we could say, man between death and rebirth receives those gifts from the beings of the higher hierarchies that he needs in order to adapt to his individuality what is obtained by means of heredity.

This is the one aspect we have to consider in the incarnating human being. The other is that even if he remains unaware of it, he has to work at the elaboration and formation of his destiny. Much of what appears as chance occurrence in life is actually conditioned by means of the forces he has acquired between death and rebirth that enable him to bring about precisely what lies in his karma. This indicates how man receives the gifts of the beings of the hierarchies whom he encounters between death and a new birth.

Supersensible perception confirms that the human soul can journey through the realm between death and a new birth in a twofold way. It is possible for the soul to wander through the realm of the higher hierarchies as if stumbling in the darkness without being able to receive the corresponding gifts from the higher hierarchies because of inner tendencies. In order to receive the gifts from the higher hierarchies between death and rebirth one must be able to behold, to confront these beings consciously. Pictorially speaking, one can wander in darkness, without light (spiritual light, of course) through this realm, through the experiences one should have in the presence of the beings of the higher hierarchies.

The journey can also be accomplished in such a way that, according to the necessities of our karma, the gifts are illuminated so that we receive them in the right manner. The light that illumines so that we do not tread in darkness through the realm of the higher hierarchies can never be kindled once we have crossed the gate of death, unless we bring it with us by virtue of the feelings and thoughts towards the higher worlds that we have developed on earth. We ourselves have to prepare it in this life before our physical death. The light is prepared by the thoughts and feelings that we direct, even if only tentatively, towards the super-sensible worlds. This light can shine forth only from ourselves—the light that enables us to pass the beings of the higher hierarchies so that they can rightly hand their gifts to us, so that we do not fail to grasp what we should receive.

So we see that the saying that we can wait and need not concern ourselves with the super-sensible world until after death is totally untrue. It is absolutely incorrect for the way in which the hierarchies approach us. Whether we encounter them so that we can receive the forces that we need for a next life depends on our being able to illumine a particular area along the journey between death and a new birth. We remain in darkness if we have denied or turned completely away from the idea of the spiritual world until the moment of physical death.

The accepted view may appear plausible, but in the light of higher worlds it is no longer valid. Supersensible perception often reveals that a person who has failed to occupy himself with higher worlds, who has turned away from them and lived exclusively with his thoughts and feelings directed towards the physical world, goes through darkness and misses the gifts that he should have received from the higher hierarchies. When such a soul enters a new earthly existence through birth he lacks certain forces that would have enabled him to fashion his bodily constitution, to form it plastically from within so that he [can] be adequately equipped according to his karma. If a person has dulled himself to the super-sensible world in a previous incarnation in the manner indicated then in a new life he will be ill-equipped and weak. He will have failed to fashion forces in his physical constitution that he should have had at his disposal during his next earthly life; certain inner formations will be lacking. He will be in a certain sense retarded in relation to what he might have been—indeed, to what he should have been. He was dull in a previous life and he will become of necessity duller in the next than he need or should have been. He will not be able to understand as much as he might otherwise have grasped. He will not be able to participate in the life of the world as he otherwise could have done and he will remain disinterested in what otherwise should have interested him.

This may be the result of an obdurate dullness in a previous earth existence. Thus an individual may cross the gate of death again with a soul content that is far below the level of what he could have attained. One might well imagine that when such a person again enters the spiritual world and again journeys between death and rebirth, his forces are even more dimmed, he becomes still more incapable and he wanders in even greater darkness. One might well despair and think that such a person will never find an upward path again but that is not so. Something else intervenes between death and rebirth, a second aspect that we should consider.

In the existence following the life when the individual was of necessity dull, Lucifer and his powers have particularly strong influence, and it is Lucifer who now illumines an area between death and rebirth. He must now receive the gifts of the higher beings illuminated by the luciferic powers. As a result, these gifts are endowed with a special coloring. The person who has not gone through darkness, yet is unable to illumine the particular area independently out of his own forces, is capable in the next life of forming plastically what he receives through heredity. Everything that he thus fashions is luciferically colored. When we then observe such a person during his next life we find that he bears the characteristics of many people we meet, especially in our time. These individuals possess a prosaic dry and egoistic capacity for judgment, and are endowed with a selfish intellect that seeks only its own advantage. These soul characteristics are the result of what has been described previously. Clever egoists who are inclined only to place their cleverness at the service of their own selfish motives are mostly souls who have traveled the path that has been outlined above. Because such souls are no longer dull but are endowed with a variety of forces from earlier incarnations, a further opportunity is given them to bring a ray from the super-sensible world into their new earth existence.

In such a way the possibility arises for such souls to be fired with a knowledge of higher worlds. They need not be debarred from further entry into the spiritual world, but have the possibility of climbing upwards again. Here we have a remarkable and important connection between three earthly lives and the two intervening periods between death and rebirth.

Supersensible perception discovers—particularly when it directs its gaze towards contemporaries who are said to be clever, but who act exclusively to their own advantage—that such souls follow a particular pattern. First, an existence during which the soul turns away from all interest in the super-sensible world. Second, a life of limited ability because the soul lacks the necessary inner physical organs to take an interest even in its immediate physical surroundings (unless it was in some way predisposed this way). Third, this is followed by a life that serves only a selfish intellect, an egoistic intelligence. We are able to trace the path of such individuals precisely because selfish intelligence is so widespread in our time. It leads us back to a period in which we find a multitude of people who in a previous incarnation, because of insufficient development, manifested a dull interest in their surroundings. Then we find a third incarnation that for many souls took place during the fourth post-Atlantean period when more atheism and lack of interest for the spiritual world prevailed in many parts of the world than is currently believed today. Because of the particular circumstances of our time it is possible to study the path of development of the soul as characterized above, but this study also plainly reveals the lot of the soul who in our time willfully shuts himself off from super-sensible worlds.

A sequence of three earthly lives may take its course in yet another way. The following may occur. We observe a soul who, gripped by a certain fanaticism, satisfies its own strivings, a soul who reveals a religious, egoistic element. We find such souls today. There have always been such souls in the course of the evolution of humanity on the earth, souls who are instinctively endowed with a certain faith because of an inner egoism that awaits a kind of retribution or compensation for earthly life in the world beyond. Such an expectation may be thoroughly egoistic and connected with a fanatic narrow-mindedness in relation to what is imparted to humanity by spiritual science or the Mysteries. There are many people today who hold fast to the possibility of insight into the spiritual world, but who reject fanatically, in a narrow-minded way, anything that is contrary to the confession in which they were born and brought up. Such souls are usually too easy-going to learn to know anything about the spiritual world and although they believe in a beyond, they harbor a profound egoism.

A configuration of this nature indicates again that the soul cannot find the correct path between death and rebirth. The gifts of the beings of the higher hierarchies cannot be received rightly. They work in such a way that although he can fashion his bodily constitution and partly participate in the formation of his karma, nothing fits properly. He becomes, for example, a hypochondriac, a hypersensitive person who is destined by his mere physical organization to be so affected by his surroundings that he goes through life with a morose, dissatisfied, discontented disposition. Life impinges upon him and he feels continually wounded. The reason a person is a hypochondriac, a pathologically melancholy individual, may be found in what has been described. It is prepared and predestined through the physical organization. When such a soul again goes through the portal of death, super-sensible investigation reveals that he falls strongly under the influence of the Ahrimanic forces. These forces now color what a man gathers between death and rebirth and in the next incarnation without his intervention he is so predisposed in his thoughts and feelings as to be narrow-minded. He is incapable of looking at the world in an open, unbiased way. Souls in our environment who display a narrow-mindedness, who are incapable in their thinking of going beyond certain limits, who are as if equipped with blinders, who in spite of genuine efforts are limited, owe their karma to the conditions described above.

In order to clarify still further what is meant, let us consider the following instance. In the spring, the first issue of the Liberal Thinking Calendar of the Free-Thinkers (Freidenkerkalender) appeared, devoted to the religious education of children. The man responsible for it appears well-meaning and no doubt thoroughly convinced of the truth of what he writes. He develops the following theory. One should give no religious education to children because it is unnatural. For if one allows children to grow up without injecting religious concepts and feelings into them, one notices that they do not come to them of their own accord. This is supposed to demonstrate that it is unnatural to instill such ideas into children because they merely come from outside.

There can be no doubt that adherents of the free-thinker movement receive such ideas with enthusiasm and even consider them to be profound. Yet one need but reflect on the following. It is common knowledge that if a young child were removed to a desert island before he learned to speak, and there grew up without ever hearing the human voice, he would never learn to speak! This shows clearly that children do not learn to speak unless speech comes to them from outside. The good free-thinking preacher would also have to forbid his followers from teaching children how to talk, for speech also is not developed of its own accord. Thus something that appears eminently logical, and that is regarded as profound by a considerable group of people, is nothing but logical nonsense. As soon as one thinks it through it simply does not hold. This is a typical example of a person wearing blinders.

There are many people like that today. Indeed they appear to have a highly developed soul activity but as soon as they have to go beyond a certain field that they have worked out for themselves, everything collapses. They are utterly incapable of going beyond their rigid boundaries. If we look back into previous embodiments of such people, we find two incarnations as described earlier. This can also shed light on the future of the many souls who, because of love of ease and egoism, lock themselves up in a faith the foundations of which they never inquire about. Is it not so that many people today adhere to a faith because they were born into it and are too easy-going to question it? They are—it is perhaps an impossible thought—equally as good Protestants or Catholics as they would have been Moslems had their karma arranged for them to be born in Islam! We have reached the point in the evolution of humanity when souls will lag behind, in a sense, and will be handicapped in a future incarnation unless they are prepared to open their eyes to what can stream from the spiritual worlds today in a variety of ways.

Karmic connections are indeed complex but light is thrown on them by considering some such examples as have here been discussed. In many other ways does the life between death and rebirth, and therefore also the next incarnation, depend on what has happened previously. By means of super-sensible cognition, for example, we can follow souls in the spiritual world who have special tasks between death and rebirth. We do not see in all events on the physical plane how super-sensible forces continually play in. Materialism is in this respect the most short-sighted of all ideologies. Thus, all therapeutic forces in the air, or healing forces in the water, or other therapeutic influences in our surroundings are only partly explained by means of the current materialistic therapeutic theories. The way in which healing influences such as growth and blossoming forces bring healthy influences to man's physical being depends on whether the higher hierarchies send their powers of well-being from the super-sensible into the sense-perceptible world. All growth and blossoming manifestations, every breath of healthy air—this can be perceived by super-sensible perception—is brought about by means of super-sensible forces directed by beings of higher hierarchies. The seer can perceive how during a particular phase of life between death and rebirth the human soul becomes the servant of these beings of the higher hierarchies whose task it is to send healthful forces, powers of growth and healing, from the super-sensible into the physical world. We can perceive many souls dedicated for a time to the service of such activity between death and rebirth. Souls who are called upon to serve the beings of the higher hierarchies in this way experience a profound blessedness as a result.

Whether a human soul is called upon to become the servant of the good powers as described above depends on whether the soul concerned has accomplished certain specific deeds during his physical incarnation. There are people who inwardly growl at every action they have to perform and are weighed down by the yoke of duty. They may be conscientious, yet everything they do lacks real devotion, enthusiasm and love for the task at hand. Others, on the contrary, bring warmth and enthusiasm to their deeds and are permeated by the feeling that what they do serves a social purpose which profits mankind at large.

Another aspect should be considered in this connection that is of particular importance, especially in our day and age. As compared with ancient times conditions have changed radically. Activities that do not inspire enthusiasm are on the increase. This is a necessary trend in the progressive development of humanity. Indeed, a person should not be deterred from fulfilling his duty, even against his will, if his karma has placed him in a certain situation. Yet every person, if he really has the will, or at least when he is given the opportunity to act, can do something in the course of his life with real devotion providing his karma does not entirely preclude it. Those who have an insight into such matters should realize that they bear a special responsibility in the difficult social conditions of our time. They should do everything in their power to devote themselves to a social activity that can in some way alleviate the burdens borne by those whose lives do not inspire enthusiasm. Souls who are dulled by the prevalent social darkness should be given the opportunity, even if only for a brief span, to accomplish something with enthusiasm, be it only in the sphere of thinking. This is reason enough to be ever more pleased at the expansion of our anthroposophical movement, that it takes root in the social sphere and goes out as a call to the man in the street who might otherwise pursue his life totally unaware that he can in fact think and feel in such a way that he can accomplish something with enthusiasm. It is our task to fire people's enthusiasm.

Our work will become ever more effective in this sphere as time goes on. The connection between earthly existence and life between death and rebirth throws a special light on this thought. Everything we are able to accomplish on earth with devotion, with love for the task at hand so that we are completely involved in what we do and realize that what we do is worthy of man, contributes to making us after death servants of the spiritual beings of the higher hierarchies who send healing, constructive forces from the spiritual into the physical world. This shows the importance of enthusiasm in man's deeds here in the physical world. If enthusiasm were to fade away in the physical world, if love were to die, mankind in the future would enter a physical existence with less healthful and constructive forces from super-sensible realms than at present. Because of what is often an unconscious fear, people who turn away from a spiritual conception of the world today prefer to ignore connections between the physical and super-sensible worlds. Yet connections between a moral and physical world-order do exist.

The opposite situation should also be considered. We find souls who for a certain period between death and rebirth have to become the servants of spiritual beings who, on the contrary, foster disease and bring misfortune from the super-sensible into the physical world. It is a shattering experience to behold souls between death and rebirth who are forced to become the servants of evil spirits of disease and premature death, evil spirits of a gruesome human destiny conditioned by karma by means of external events. That we suffer such a fate depends on our karma. That the external circumstances, however, are so arranged in the sense-perceptible world that we suffer such a fate—this comes about by means of forces directed from the super-sensible world. Diseases and epidemics that sweep the world are meant here because in respect to their external occurrence they are directed by super-sensible powers, and so are premature deaths.

We have often spoken of death in old age that has to occur with the same necessity as that the leaves of a plant must wither when the seed has been formed for the next plant. Such a death comes about after a ripe life, but death can also strike a man in his early years. When death strikes a man in the bloom of life the conditions are brought about by certain beings of the higher hierarchies who, to begin with, serve a retrogressive element. They send forces into the world that bring about premature deaths, disease and karmic misfortune. It is indeed, as has already been mentioned, a shattering sight to behold souls after death who for a certain period serve beings who bring about illness and death and an evil karma in human existence. Yet, although such a contemplation causes somber, painful feelings in us, we sense nevertheless a compensation when we trace back the lives of such souls and find the causes for their condition in an earlier physical existence. We do in fact discover that souls who in a previous earth life were lacking in conscience and did not strictly adhere to the truth become the servants of disease and premature deaths. That is one form of compensation, but a rather somber one.

There are yet other forms that demonstrate that the dark, somber, compensatory measures that are woven into the web of human existence have their justification in the overall wisdom of the world. Even if an oppressive feeling takes hold of us as a result of certain phenomena, we can nevertheless sense a definite relief when we consider its counterpart in the overall structure of existence. For instance, when a person dies prematurely as a result of an accident or because of illness, we find that such souls are still endowed after death with forces that otherwise would have sustained their earthly sheaths. They carry these forces upward into a higher spiritual realm after death. Such souls encounter the super-sensible worlds differently from others who have lived out their earthly existence.

It is important to observe such souls after death and to follow their further existence. They carry into the higher worlds forces that normally would have served a physical earthly existence. What happens to these forces?

These forces are used to a most beautiful end in the super-sensible world. The beings of the higher hierarchies who guide and ordain the progressive course of evolution are endowed with certain forces that make this course possible. This is not due to an imperfection in the universe but it depends on certain other perfect factors, for all forces, even those of the higher hierarchies are to some extent limited, are not infinite. We discover that there are already souls today who, when they enter the spiritual world after death, are so constituted that the spirits of the higher hierarchies who foster progressive evolution cannot do anything with them. I have often emphasized that there are souls today who are in no way inclined to develop an understanding of the super-sensible worlds in accordance with our day and age, who are thoroughly materialistic and who have completely cut themselves off from the spiritual world. It is precisely such souls who after death make it difficult for the beings of the spiritual hierarchies to do anything with them. These spiritual beings of the higher hierarchies possess forces destined for the progressive course of evolution. Souls who have closed themselves completely against this progressive course are also too heavy, so heavy in fact that the beings of the higher hierarchies cannot overcome the weight. We need not despair today in respect to such souls. The real danger point will occur in the sixth post-Atlantean epoch, and ultimately they will be totally cast off from progressive evolution during the Venus period. If, however, nothing else were to intervene, such souls would have to be cast off earlier from progressive evolution because they would be totally useless to the beings of the higher hierarchies.

It is in fact so that obstacles arise against the challenge of progressive evolution that sounds forth to mankind. A considerable number of human beings in our time are as yet unable to find a deep feeling relationship to the Christ impulse even though the earth has reached a stage of development when the human soul needs the Christ impulse if it is to go through life between death and rebirth in the right way. Souls who go through the gate of death without some connection with the Christ impulse are in danger because the leaders of progress, the beings of the higher hierarchies, are unable to bring their forces to bear on souls who have torn themselves out of the stream of evolution and who, as a result of their strange existence, destine themselves to ruin. The beings of the higher hierarchies are only able to make something of this situation by virtue of the fact that the forces of souls who have died prematurely flow toward the higher hierarchies. Thereby forces that have not been made use of, forces that could still have been used on earth but no longer serve the need of physical existence because the body has been cast off prematurely, flow upwards to the spiritual world.

Consider how many souls have entered the spiritual worlds as a result of catastrophes such as the sinking of the Titanic or the earthquake of Messina, consider the considerable numbers of souls who in recent times have died in all parts of the world before their lives had run their courses under normal circumstances. Then reflect on the many forces that could have been used for earthly existence that as a result flowed upwards into higher worlds! These forces increase the powers of the higher hierarchies, which otherwise would not be sufficient to lead souls who exclude themselves from the progressive course of evolution back into the progressive stream.

We must, of course, live out our karma. Attention must be drawn to this fact in discussing such a matter. It would be a most sinful deed against the wisdom-filled guidance of the universe if a man were to decide to do something himself in order to become a servant of human progress by virtue of unused forces so as to help souls who are in danger of being cast off. A man should not undertake anything in this direction. If, however, his karma fulfills itself so that he dies prematurely, he thereby becomes a servant of the beings of the higher hierarchies in the noblest, most blessed manner. These unused forces can then be employed to save souls who would otherwise have been lost. That is the beautiful goal of souls who die in the flower of their existence. In spite of the sorrow that fills us when we experience the premature death of someone, such thoughts can bring comfort. At moments such as these we can acquire a wider survey of the wisdom-filled guidance of the universe.

Indeed, how amazing is the cycle of events when we behold it spiritually. On the one hand we have souls who through their lack of conscience prepare themselves to send illnesses, premature deaths and accidents into our world. On the other hand, are those souls who fall ill, are stricken by premature death and are involved in accidents. This offers the opportunity for the karma of a lack of conscience to be lived out. Such observations weigh heavily on one's soul and are among the most gruesome that can be made by the seer when he penetrates into the deeper connections of existence.

One often imagines insight into the spiritual world as a blessed condition. This is true for certain realms but when one penetrates into the mysteries of still higher realms much of what one beholds there fills one with a feeling of horror. The seer is moved most deeply and a considerable call is thereby made on his own forces when karmic connections of human beings reveal themselves to his super-sensible gaze—providing, of course, such investigations are made thoroughly and conscientiously without any form of idle speculation.

But then again we recognize, even when the most gruesome and horrible matters are involved, how wisdom-filled the overall guidance is!

We behold the fate of souls lacking in conscience and how this leads to conditions of illness and premature deaths brought about from the spiritual into the physical world. On the other hand, we behold those who suffer, who are involved in premature death and who thereby increase forces that are destined for healing, for the saving of mankind, forces that otherwise would not be available.

This indeed is a wonderful, redeeming aspect. On the one hand, the possibility to err must be present, to approach because of human error the dangerous condition of being cast out from the stream of evolution. If that were not possible, man could not accomplish his mission on earth. On the other hand, the other possibility of which we have spoken today also exists and it is also part of the earth evolution that certain people die in the flower of youth. Supersensible vision sees that the beings of the higher hierarchies rely on such souls to send forces for the healing and redemption of humanity that otherwise would not be available.

We can feel reconciled to such facts when we consider that a wisdom-filled cosmic guidance needs certain gruesome situations in order to accomplish deeds inspired by a still loftier wisdom. It is utterly nonsensical to ask whether the spiritual powers might not have created a pleasant experience for all men and all beings in the universe without such detours. One who has such a wish might be compared to one who considers the work of the gods quite imperfect because they have ordained that a circle cannot be a square. One might not at once realize that both statements have the same inherent value, and yet it is so. Just as there can be no light without darkness, so there also cannot be a mighty, light-filled impulse that streams upward from unused forces on earth into the spiritual worlds unless the karma of certain souls lacking in conscience were to take its course.

Such considerations make it clear that when we are tempted to discover imperfections in the universe or in man's surroundings, we should permeate ourselves with the feeling that finding fault is based on a lack of insight that does not enable us to survey the total web of connections. Whenever we are tempted to criticize the imperfections of existence, we make a step forward if we consider this attitude due to a shortcoming in ourselves. Even if one experiences sorrow it is best never to resort in one's suffering to criticize the wise guidance of the universe, but rather to say to oneself that where a lack of wisdom appears in the universe it is due to maya. Maya, the great illusion that spreads a veil because we are not able to penetrate to the full reality of things.

Thus much light can be shed on physical earth existence when we turn our gaze to the area that man traverses between death and rebirth. Physical existence is not only penetrated by super-sensible influences, the deeds that man accomplishes between death and rebirth also stream downwards to the earth. Much of what occurs on earth, much of what meets a person, is brought about in a variety of ways by forces that human souls develop between death and rebirth. The activity of souls who go through the gate of death with unused forces, about which we have heard is among the noblest that can be accomplished.