Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Anthroposophy as a Substance of Life and Feeling
GA 140

16 February 1913, Tübingen

Translator Unknown

If we pause at times in the midst of our anthroposophical considerations and then ask ourselves: What leads us into a spiritual movement such as our anthroposophical movement? ... we may of course answer a similar question from many different stand-points. One of the standpoints (although it is not the only one, it is nevertheless the most important one) which is able more than any other to supply a satisfactory answer is the contemplation of the course of life which the human soul experiences in feelings between death and a new birth. Indeed, the events which take place during the long span of life between death and a new birth are not less important or detailed than the events which take place between birth and death; yet we are only able to single out a few of the important things which we must experience. We may say, however, that whenever and at whatever point we observe the life between death and a new birth it always convinces us that humanity must prepare itself for a time when it will know and feel something concerning the super-sensible worlds.

Let us now penetrate at once into definite and concrete facts. If a clairvoyant who is able to contemplate life between death and a new birth perceives what will be described below, this sight may indeed induce him to consider it as an urgent task to spread the knowledge of the spiritual world! Let us take the case of a man who has died. The clairvoyant seeks him, he tries to see him some time after the person in question has passed through the portal of death. In the manner in which it is possible to communicate with the dead, he may hear the following words spoken by the departed one. (This is a concrete case.) The departed one will speak to him as follows: “I have left my wife behind; I know that she is still dwelling in the physical world.” (Of course, the dead man does not express himself with physical words.) “While I was living with her in the physical world, and while I attended to my work at the office from morning to night, she has always been the sunshine of my life. Every one of her words filled me with happiness; indeed, my life was so that I could not imagine it without the sunshine shed over it by the partner of my life. I then passed through the portal of death and left her behind. Now I am longing to be back again, I feel how I miss everything and my longing soul seeks to find a path leading to the companion of my life. But I cannot find this soul, I cannot penetrate to where she is dwelling, it is just as if she were no longer there. And if at times I have an inkling of her presence and feel as if she were there, as if I were in her neighbourhood, she is dumb, so that I only compare this with the case of two people, one of whom is filled with the desire that the other one speak a few words to him, while the other silent and cannot speak. Thus the soul that has filled me with bliss for such a long time during my physical life has now grown silent”.

You see, if we investigate what may be the cause of all this we obtain the answer: there is no language in common between the departed and the living who have remained behind. Nothing fills the soul with a substance which would continue to render it perceptible. Because a language in common is lacking, two souls feel separated.

This was not always the case. If we go back further into human evolution we find that the souls possessed a certain spiritual inheritance, a spirituality rendered them perceptible to one another not only upon the physical plane, but also when one of them dwelt in the physical and the other in the spiritual world. But the old heirloom of spiritual inwardness has been used up and to-day it exists no longer, so that the distressing case may really arise that one soul who has been loved by the other as dearly as I have just described, cannot be found beyond death by the soul, because nothing of what can be perceived by the departed soul lives within the soul who has remained upon the earth. What can be perceived by the departed soul is spiritual knowledge and spiritual feelings: this is the link which connects the soul upon the earth with the spiritual world. If here upon the earth a soul who has remained behind has fostered the knowledge of spiritual world, and if thoughts connected with the spiritual world have passed through this soul, these thoughts may be perceived by the departed soul, even the old religious feelings suffice to give soul something which may be perceived by the other soul. If it were possible to trace this case still further, the seer would discover that even when both souls have passed through death the departed souls are only able to perceive one another dimly; they are quite unable to establish a reciprocal connection, or they have the greatest difficulty in doing this, because they have no language in common. Clairvoyance reveals the deeper meaning of Anthroposophy: it is the language which will gradually be spoken both by the living and by the dead, by those who dwell in the physical world and by those who live between death and a new birth. The souls who have remained behind and who have taken up within them thoughts concerning the super-sensible worlds become visible to the souls of the departed. If they have strewn out love before death, they will do this also after death. This may convince us that Anthroposophy is a language which renders perceptible to the super-sensible world what takes place in the world of physical events. Indeed, the danger threatening humanity upon the earth is that the souls will become more and more estranged from one another and will be unable to build a connecting bridge, if spiritual ideas do not enable them to find the thread which links up souls. This is the reality of Anthroposophy, for it is not a mere theory. Theoretical knowledge is the very least; what we take up within us is a real soul-elixir, real substance. This substance enables the soul who has passed through death to see the soul who has remained behind. We may say that the seer who has an insight into these things, who has once perceived a soul filled with longing to see what it has left behind upon the earth, but unable to see it because its family has not yet found Anthroposophy—the seer who has perceived how the souls suffer under similar privations, knows that he cannot do otherwise than to speak to his fellow-beings about spiritual wisdom, and to consider that the time has come when spiritual wisdom must enter the hearts of men. We may say that those whose mission is based upon the knowledge of the super-sensible worlds feel that it is an urgent necessity to speak about the super-sensible worlds, a necessity which cannot be overlooked, for this would be the greatest sin of all. Thus they feel the necessity of proclaiming anthroposophical truths, of making revelations concerning the super-sensible worlds.

What has just been said may show you the tremendous earnestness connected with the necessity of revealing spiritual truths. But there is still another aspect of the communication between the living and the dead. We have not advanced very far in this direction, but we shall gradually progress. In order to understand how the living will gradually be able to establish a kind of communication with those who have departed, we must bear in mind the following things. Very little indeed is known concerning the physical world. For how is this knowledge of the physical world acquired? By using the senses and applying thought, by feeling what comes toward us from the world outside. But this is only the very least part of what is contained in the world outside. It contains still other things. I would like you to have some idea of the fact that there are still other things in the world which are far more important than what is real in a physical sense. I do not mean the super-sensible world, but something else. Imagine, for instance, that you are accustomed to go to your office every day at 8 a.m. One day you discover that on that particular morning you are three minutes late, and you happen to cross a certain square where you would have been obliged to pass through a kind of garage with a roof supported by columns. On that particular day on which you cross the square three minutes later than usual you realise that had you been punctual—that is to say, had you not been three minutes late—you would have been killed by the collapsing roof. Try to imagine this quite vividly You may also take the case of a man who misses a train which is afterwards wrecked in a collision; he would have been killed had he left by that train! All these are things which have not taken place, and this is why people do not notice them. But if something similar faces you, so that you must hit upon it, it will undoubtedly make an impression upon you. The day's course from morning to night always contains things which have not occurred to you. These are beyond your range of sight, things which may perhaps seem “invented”, yet they belong to the most important ingredients of life. You will have an inkling of these facts if you consider, for instance, the case of certain man in Berlin who had booked a berth on the Titanic. He met an acquaintance who told him: “I wish you would not leave on the Titanic!” He actually succeeded in persuading him to postpone his departure. The Titanic was sunk, and so this man escaped death. This undoubtedly made an indelible impression upon him. This is a special case, yet similar cases continually occur unnoticed: if they are noticed, they make a deep impression upon the human soul.

Let us now observe things from another aspect: How many impressions and feelings escape our attention because we are unable to perceive the dangers from which we have been preserved!

If we could observe everything that is so closely connected with these things and that escapes notice, we would pass through the world with entirely different feelings. The seer discovers the following possibility: Let us suppose, that the above-mentioned example is true. You actually cross that square three minutes later than usual. The moment in which you cross the square is the most appropriate one in which to hear a dead person who wishes to be perceived by you, who wishes to speak within you. You may then think or feel: Whence do the feelings come which now arise within my soul? This is not necessarily restricted to these particular cases, it may occur in many ways. Men will begin to feel these things if they observe also the world of possible events, not only the world of physical happenings. Real are, for instance, a great number of herrings in the sea; but they are possible only because an infinite quantity of eggs has been laid. Thus an infinite wealth of possibilities lies concealed within the depths of life. What is real, is related to the example of the herrings in the same way as the life destroyed within the eggs. This is what makes such an infinitely significant impression upon the seer who reaches the boundary line separating the two worlds. The seer may there obtain the following impression: “How infinitely great and full of contents are, events which take place in the super-sensible world, yet only a small part of all this becomes real in our world of the senses!” If this has been experienced, also the following may be felt: “Infinite things lie concealed within the depths of life.“ This feeling will develop with the aid of anthroposophical thoughts. We shall be able to feel that every point containing something which is real in the physical meaning, conceals something within it. Behind every flower, every breath of air, little stone and crystal lie infinite possibilities. Anthroposophists will gradually develop this feeling, so that reverence and devotion for what lies concealed within things will gradually unfold. If human beings gradually develop this feeling they will discover quite independently that during moments such as those which have just been described they will enter into a relationship with those who are dead as far as earthly life is concerned. The dead will begin to speak. In the future, men will experience as something quite normal that a dead person is speaking within their soul. They will gradually learn to know the source of these communications; that is to say, they will recognise who is speaking to them. Only because to-day men pass by so carelessly before the infinite world of the dead and the infinite depth of what is possible, only because of this they do not hear what the dead wish to speak within the hearts of the living.

The twofold aspect of the things which I have just explained to you, namely, that through the living souls, through the thoughts of anthroposophists, something is formed here which can be perceived by the dead—and that the dead will be able to speak to the hearts that have found their way into anthroposophical feelings—may show you the transformation which can take place for the whole of humanity through the spreading of Anthroposophy. A bridge will be built uniting these worlds with the worlds beyond. And it is a fact that the life between death and a new birth will change. It will not merely be a theory, it will become a reality, so that communication will be established between the so-called living and the dead, who are, however, more alive than we. The souls upon the earth will then also be able to feel what can be so fruitful for the dead. For if we do not feel how beneficial it is for the dead, if we reach out to them, we cannot do this in the right way.

Let us now take an extreme case. You may experience it if you are an anthroposophist and live with someone else as brother or sister, father or mother, husband or wife. Whereas one of the two feels attracted by Anthroposophy, the other one may be filled with hatred while the former is approaching Anthroposophy! How often we come across this! It may indeed take on this form in the sphere of consciousness, but not within the soul. Something else may take place there. In the astral body there is the sub-consciousness. Whereas someone may be raging violently against Anthroposophy, his sub-consciousness may be filled with an intense desire to know something about Anthroposophy. The more someone inveighs against Anthroposophy, the more he will have in his sub-consciousness the longing and the impulse to know something about Anthroposophy. When we cross the threshold of death, things take on their true aspect and nothing can be masked. Here upon the earth we may tell lies and pretend to be different from what we really are; but after death everything becomes true and shows its real countenance. If during our life on earth we have inveighed strongly against Anthroposophy, a longing for Anthroposophy will arise after death, and we shall suffer torments because this longing cannot be satisfied. A person who is still alive could, for instance, imagine that he is sitting in front of a departed one; he should then harbour anthroposophical thoughts, for the departed soul will understand these thoughts, even if he has not been an anthroposophist during his lifetime. If the living person is an anthroposophist, the departed one will in that case be able to perceive him.

What we may call, a certain inclination toward the language spoken during life, this is a fact which should be borne in mind, because soon after death the dead person still has a certain connection with the language which he has spoken during his life. For this reason, we should clothe our thoughts in the language which the dead person was accustomed to speak; after five, six, eight years, however—in some cases even sooner—it is evident that the language of the Spirit is able to overcome the obstacles arising out of the external form of speech, and the deceased can understand anthroposophical thoughts even if he has spoken another language during his lifetime. In any case, it has proved to be something very beautiful if an anthroposophist has read to a departed friend, particularly to one who has not been an anthroposophist during his lifetime. This has proved to be an enormous benefit to the dead, one of the greatest services of love. We do not merely wish to spread Anthroposophy as a teaching—this should be done, of course, for it is necessary—but Anthroposophy should also be active within the soul in a far more unobtrusive way. Spiritual tasks, even spiritual offices, may, as it were, develop and be of great help to the souls in their development after death. And this is what we should strive after more and more: to help the souls who live between death and a new birth to overcome a great difficulty, consisting therein that the old spiritual inheritance does not exist any longer, for a time has come in which it is very difficult for the souls to find the right direction after death, in which it is almost impossible for the souls who dwell between death and a new birth to find their way about.

The seer may then discover that, between death and a new birth, there are souls who are forced to undertake certain tasks, which they do not, however, understand. This, for instance, is a fact: The seer who directs his clairvoyant gaze toward the life between death and a new birth may discern souls who are obliged to fulfil definite tasks. For a certain length of time they must be the servants of powers who are known to us as the spirits of death and illness. We must here speak of a death which does not occur as a regular phenomenon, but takes hold of men before their time, so that they die in the flower of their life. When illnesses arise, these are physical events, but they are caused by forces coming from the super-sensible worlds. The deeds of super-sensible beings lie at the foundation of illnesses which spread rapidly. It is the task of certain spirits to bring premature death. That this is nevertheless rooted in wisdom, is a fact which we cannot consider just now; but it is essential to observe that we come across souls who are under the yoke of these beings. And although the seer must have grown accustomed to a certain composure and calmness, it is nevertheless painful and distressing to watch these souls labouring under a yoke, who are obliged to bring illness and death to the human beings upon the earth. And if the seer tries to retrace the path of these souls until he comes to their preceding life upon the earth, he will discover why these souls are now condemned to be the servants of the spirits of illness and death. The cause lies in the unscrupulousness which these souls have unfolded during their physical life. To the extent in which they have been unscrupulous during their life upon the earth, they now condemn themselves to be the servants of these evil beings. Just as cause and effect are connected when two balls collide, so must unscrupulous people become the servants of these evil powers. This is a deeply moving fact! There is still another thing which the seer perceives: there are souls who are under the yoke of ahrimanic spirits; they must prepare the spiritual causes of everything which occurs here in the form of obstacles and hindrances to our actions. Ahriman also has this task. All the obstacles which arise here, are the result of influences emanating from the spiritual world. Servants of Ahriman do this. Why are these souls compelled to perform these services? Because they were addicted to a comfortable, indolent way of living during their existence between birth and death. And if you consider how many people are indolent and lazy, you will find that Ahriman may expect a very great number of recruits! It is this lazy indolence which influences human life to a great extent. Even modern political economists now take into account not only human egoism and competition, but also this inclination toward a comfortable life. Comfort has become a life-factor.

It is another matter, however, if we have these experiences so that we are able to find our way about and know why we must experience them, or whether we experience them unconsciously, without knowing why we must serve these spirits. If we know why we are under the yoke of the evil spirits who bring epidemic diseases, we also know what good qualities will be required in our next life in order to bring about a cosmic adjustment annulling the evil influences. If we cannot understand these experiences, we do indeed form the same karma, but we create something which will be adjusted only in the second incarnation, so that we retard our real progress. For this reason, it is important to learn to know these things here upon the earth, for after death we shall experience them. We must learn something about them here upon the earth. Also this shows us how urgently necessary it is to render this new knowledge accessible to men by spreading spiritual truths, because the old form of knowledge no longer exists. The question, “Why are we anthroposophists?” should be answered by the spiritual facts themselves, which appeal profoundly not only to our understanding, but also to our feelings. Thus we gradually learn to consider Anthroposophy as a universal language enabling us to break down the barrier between the worlds in which our soul alternately dwells within a physical body and outside a physical body. The dividing wall hiding the super-sensible world from our sight will fall if spiritual science really penetrates into the souls of men. We must feel this, and then we shall have a true, inward enthusiasm for Anthroposophy.

Let me speak of still another phenomenon. The seer will experience that a special moment enters the life of the souls between death and a new birth, a moment which has an enormous influence upon the seer, and also upon those who are passing through it. This moment will lie further back in the case of some souls, and in the case of others it will appear sooner. If we observe sleep with a clairvoyant eye, when the human being is outside his physical body with his astral body and his Ego and looks back upon the physical and etheric bodies, we shall generally gain the impression that the physical body appears to be slowly dying. Only during earliest childhood, until the child acquires an understanding and his memory begins, the sleep in the child's body appears as something which blossoms and flourishes; but very soon, and in a way which is clearly evident to the seer, the body begins to wither away soon after it has entered physical life; death is merely the last stage of this process of decadence. Sleep exists in order that the used-up forces may become regenerated. But this regeneration is incomplete. The unregenerated part which remains behind is always, to a small extent, a cause of death. If these unregenerated parts accumulate, so that the forces of regeneration can no longer assert themselves, the human being falls a prey to physical death. Thus, if we observe the human body, we see that death is a gradual process. We really die slowly and gradually from the moment of birth onward. This makes a very profound impression upon us when we first become aware of it.

Between death and a new birth the soul is faced by a moment in which it begins to develop forces enabling it to enter the next existence. Let me indicate an example showing you what I really mean: To-day there are already quite a number of books dealing with Goethe's character and natural dispositions. Scientists endeavour to discover the ancestors from whom Goethe may have inherited this or that capacity. The source and cause of spiritual capacities are therefore sought in the physical line of heredity. I do not wish to contest this, but if one follows the path of the soul between death and a new birth, the following fact may be discovered: Let us take Goethe's soul. Long, long before it is born, it already exercises an influence upon its' ancestors from the super-sensible worlds, and it is already connected with the ancestors through forces living within it. Its influence is even of such a kind that it brings together in an appropriate way the men and women who are able to supply, after a long time, the qualities required by the soul. This is not an easy task, for many souls are involved in it. If you bear in mind the fact that men of the 18th century descend from souls of the 16th century, and that all these souls have been working together, you will realise that such an understanding is most important. Souls who are born in the 18th or 19th century must come to an understanding with other souls already during the 16th century in order to arrange the whole net of relationships. A great deal of work must be done between death and a new birth. We do not only work in an objective way by filling up one part of our time with services rendered to the spirits of hindrance, and so forth, as explained above—but we must also develop forces which render it possible for us to reincarnate. It then appears that we must prepare our form in a primal image. This makes the very opposite impression of what the seer perceives when he looks clairvoyantly upon the sleeping physical body and the etheric body. During sleep, the physical and etheric body appear to be withering away; but what is formed there as a primal image which gradually penetrates into physical Nature gives us the impression of something which blossoms and flourishes.

An important moment, therefore, appears between death and a new birth: it lies between the recollection of the preceding life and the transition to the next existence, when the human being begins to build up his physical organism. If you imagine physical death and compare it with this moment, you will find that it is the exact opposite of physical death. Physical death is the transition from physical existence to a non-existence; the moment described above is the transition from non-existence to a growing existence. If we are able to understand this moment, we experience it in an entirely different way than if we do not understand it.

A thought such as this one, dealing with the opposite aspect of death and with what occurs between death and a new birth, should really become a feeling within the soul of an anthroposophist. It should not merely be grasped with the intellect, but should be felt and permeated with feeling. Then we shall be able to experience how much richer our life becomes if the soul takes up similar ideas. Something else will then arise: namely, that, generally speaking, the soul will gradually acquire a feeling for the many things which exist in the world. If we walk through a wood in the spring and have first meditated upon the idea which I have described above, we shall not be far—if we really notice these things—from perceiving the spirits that weave and work in between the physical things. The perception of the spiritual world would really not be so difficult if the human beings themselves would not render it so difficult. If we try to permeate our feelings with what we have taken up in our thoughts, if we try to awaken them inwardly to life, this striving will open our spiritual eyes. Things such as those which have been explained to-day are intended as a help, so that anthroposophical striving may acquire life. The description of similar things always makes us feel that it is like a stammering, because our language is adapted only for the physical world, and it requires a great effort in order to produce at least a faint idea of the reality of these things; in fact, special means of description must come to our aid. But just this way of speaking about these things may awaken within our hearts what we may designate anthroposophically as a substance of feeling.

Anthroposophy should become for us a substance of feeling and a life-substance, so that we may not look upon the acquisition of anthroposophical ideas as something insignificant, but gladly take hold of them, and attribute the chief importance not to the thoughts themselves, but to what Anthroposophy makes of us.