Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Life between Birth and Death as a Mirror of Life between Death and a New Birth
GA 161

2 February 1915, Dornach

Translated by Christian von Arnim

The point has often been made in our discussions that anyone who wants to understand life and existence cannot start from the premise that they are simple. I have often drawn attention to the complexity and diversity of the harmonious cosmos, of which human beings are an integral part, even if only for the reason that people are often heard to say that truth—and normally they mean truth concerning the highest things—has to be simple. People like it best if they are told that such truth about the highest things does not really need to be studied, but that we simply possess it without the need to acquire it.

Everyone—I have said this before—is willing to admit that they cannot understand the workings of a watch if they have not learnt how the cogs and the rest of the mechanism functions. Only as far as the great, magnificent and mighty workings of the cosmos are concerned do people wish comprehension without effort. The basic aim of the science of the spirit, however, is to permit us slowly and gradually to make real sense of the meaning of existence and life.

Today I want to add something to the things we have discussed previously, starting with concepts and ideas with which we are already familiar and with which we have often concerned ourselves. To begin with, we have to say from the standpoint of the science of the spirit that outer existence within which we live is maya, the great illusion. But I have emphasized that within a western world conception it cannot be our view that everything which surrounds us is illusion in the sense that it is unreal. Not the world as such which affects our senses, which we grasp with our reason, is maya; in its innermost being this world is true reality. But the way that human beings perceive it, the way it appears to human beings, turns the world into maya, turns it into a great illusion. And when through inner training of the soul we reach a stage at which we find the deeper foundation of the things which are revealed to the senses, which are subject to our reasoning, we will soon recognize the extent to which the outer world is an illusion. For it appears in its true light, as it really is, when we know how to supplement and penetrate it with those aspects which must remain hidden in our initial observation of the world.

It is precisely what makes human beings human, what gives them their dignity and purpose, that the cosmos does not treat them like immature children to whom truth is presented on a platter, but that it is taken for granted that they acquire truth through their own work—their life’s work. In a certain sense the cosmic powers count on our help in gaining truth, they count on our freedom and dignity.

Now the whole of human life as it initially progresses between birth and death is maya, an illusion. It has to be an illusion because when we view the world only as external physical objects and events we ignore the other aspect of the world and of existence in so far as it affects the human being; we ignore the things which human beings experience between death and a new birth.

Of course one might well say that one can understand human life between birth and death simply by observing it. Why is the other side, the life between death and a new birth, necessary? But even that is a false conception for the simple reason that the life between birth and death is a reflection of the life between death and a new birth. The things which we experience in the life preceding our present physical life are reflected in the life between birth and death.

In order to understand this reflection, it is necessary to consider two further things. The first is that we observe certain stages, certain highlights in our life between birth and death and investigate how these are reflections of the life between death and a new birth. At the same time it is necessary to realize that the life between death and a new birth is connected to a much greater extent with the unknown worlds to which we refer in the science of the spirit; with the events which occurred—before the development of our earth—on what we call Old Saturn, Old Sun and Old Moon. These events on Saturn, Sun and Moon are connected much more closely with our existence between death and a new birth than with the life between birth and death. We might even say that the life between death and birth is influenced everywhere and in all its aspects by those foregoing lives which we know as the past planetary lives of Saturn, Sun and Moon. The effect of the latter on our hidden earth life between death and a new birth is in turn reflected in the lift between birth and death. Thus the life between birth and death is a reflection of the events which occur between death and a new birth; they, in turn, are influenced by events on Old Saturn, Old Sun and Old Moon.

We have to examine certain key points, certain stages of our earth life if we want a more detailed understanding of this process.

The first event which belongs to our life on earth is what in human physical existence we describe as conception. This is followed by the embryonic stage. Only then does the birth of the human being, his entry on to the physical plane, occur. Now a peculiar circumstance is revealed to the science of the spirit. There is only one event in the whole of human life, in so far as it is spent in a physical body, which is solely connected with the earth, which is in a sense explicable purely from earth existence. That event is conception. Nothing in human life other than conception is fundamentally connected directly and exclusively with earth existence. I must emphasize the word ‘exclusively’. Conception has no connection with the life of Moon, Sun and Saturn; the causes of the event which occurs with conception originate in earth life.

Because external biology, external science, is concerned in the main only with physical existence, and from its perspective considers everything related to the life of the Moon, Sun and Saturn as folly, this external science can discover the truth in the physical sense of the word only about conception. That is why we find, when we read works such as those by Ernst Haeckel, that they emphasize those aspects which relate the human being to the processes in other organisms, and that those things are dealt with which are in some way connected with conception. Compare what I have just said with external science and you will find it to be true. When physical external science investigates the processes in the human being it usually descends to the level of the most simple cells. Such cells, forms from which human beings too originate (they develop from the fertilized egg), did not exist on Old Saturn, Old Sun and Old Moon. They are to be found only on earth; and on earth the combination of cells takes place which is of such importance to external science.

This particular stage of our life is nothing but the reflection of a real event which takes place before conception and which is connected with human life. In the final period of our life between death and a new birth, but also at the time of physical conception, we are clearly in the spiritual world. Something is continually happening to us on a spiritual level and conception is nothing but a reflection, maya, of this happening. But the event which takes place in the spiritual world is one which occurs between sun and earth in such a manner that the female element is influenced by the sun and the male element is influenced by the earth. Thus the event of conception mirrors the interaction between sun and earth.


This event, which human beings frequently reduce to a level so degrading for mankind, therefore becomes the most significant of mysteries, the reflection of a cosmic event. It is of interest to draw attention to some details here. When a person approaches the time of his renewed entry to earth, a soul-like image of the parents through whom he will enter the earth is formed. How he comes to choose one particular set of parents we can discuss another time; this is connected with karma. But the thing to which I want to draw attention today is that the person progressing towards birth receives an image of the physical world primarily through the mother, he primarily sees the mother. He receives an image of the father—and I would ask you to consider this because it is important—because the mother carries an image of the father in her soul. Thus the father is seen through the image which the mother carries in her soul.

This is, of course, expressed in a somewhat simplified form, but it is essentially correct. These supersensory processes can only be put into words by characterizing them in their essential form. In order to prevent too fixed an image arising in your mind, I might add that if it is important for example that the soul and spiritual inheritance from the father’s side plays a special role, if special soul and spiritual characteristics of the father are to be passed on to the human being approaching birth, a direct image of the father can also be created. But the image of the mother weakens to the degree that the image of the father is directly observed.

The next step of physical existence on earth is the life between conception and birth. This stage too—we call it the embryonic stage—reflects an event which takes place in the spiritual world before the aforementioned process. While birth in physical life obviously follows conception, that of which birth is a reflection precedes the sun-earth process which is mirrored in conception.

The existence of human beings between conception and birth can certainly not be explained from the conditions prevalent on earth. To try and explain it on the basis of physical forces and laws is pure nonsense, because it is the reflection of a process before birth which is essentially influenced by the remains of the sun and the moon from an earlier stage than the earth. It is a process which takes place between the sun and the moon, and thus it is in essence a spiritual one.


The forces which are active here are primarily those in play between the sun and the moon. Outer science has still preserved an awareness of this fact by calculating the embryonic period in lunar months, saying that it occurs over ten lunar months.

In this sense we have to take into account that in our life between death and a new birth we are subject to real influences from the sun and the moon. And that in our subsequent physical life we reflect this process, which is a sun and moon process, between conception and birth.

It should be noted that the term ‘reflect’ is used here in a somewhat different sense from the spatial one. In spatial reflection the object and the image are simultaneously present, but here we have the real process taking place before birth. The reflection occurs later in time. It is thus maya of a spiritual process before birth.

The next thing to take into account is the period between birth and that frequently mentioned important time in human life when we start to unfold our ego-consciousness, when we consciously start to call ourselves ‘I’. This can be described as the real period of childhood. The period of early childhood—we can call it the infant period—is again a reflection of a process which lies even further in the spiritual past. The real process which is mirrored in the period when we start to babble without establishing the link between speech and ego-consciousness is a reflection of a process from before birth which extends even further into the cosmos. Here there is interaction between the sun and all the planets which belong to the sun, between the sun and its orbiting planets with the exception of the moon. The forces which are at play between the sun and its planets affect our life between death and a new birth, and what is created thereby long before our birth is reflected in the life of early childhood.


One can see from this that the child’s life is affected by the reflection of things which are even further removed from physical existence than the moon. This has a deeply significant practical result; it has the result that human beings must not be diverted in this period of their lives from the forces which they receive and need to utilize. Consider the situation. Cosmic forces at play between the sun and its planets affect us before birth. These forces are present in the child which has passed through birth and has entered earth life. They want to emerge from the child. They really are in the child. In this sense the child in its innermost being is a messenger from heaven and these forces want to emerge. In principle we can do no more than allow them the greatest possible opportunity to come out. That is basically all that we should attempt to do on an educational level in the human infant stage: we should not interfere with the forces which are trying to emerge.

Such a view provokes a humble attitude. Whilst people normally believe that they represent a great deal to the child, the real point is that the forces which want to emerge should be interfered with as little as possible. Not that the educating adults mean nothing to the child—they do, because what emerges is a reflection which must be made real by the educator, which must be given substance.

Our task as educators can be shown in the following way. If we have a reflected object we have to fill the image with something which gives it more inward strength than it has purely as an image. Human beings are indeed born as reflections and they have to acquire the substance to make that image real. That is what their development between birth and death is all about. The reflections of the processes which we obtained from the cosmos before birth want to emerge and must be interfered with as little as possible.


Through our action we must give them the substance of reality; we interfere with them by giving them the substance of false reality by attempting to correct them. They are spiritual by nature.

Now you can understand the great significance of the consequences which arise from this. The person who brings up a child needs to have in his own soul, which has its existence alongside the child, supersensory ideas and feelings. For all purely material ideas and feelings which we bring close to the child interfere with his or her development.

The question is often asked how best to bring up a child. As with so many things, it is not a matter of setting up a few principles which we carry around with us to guide our actions. It is important that we start with ourselves, that we make an effort to carry within us a fund of supersensory ideas, that we are permeated by attitudes and feelings which enter the supersensory. For they have a far greater effect than what we can achieve through outer intellectual principles, through intellectual pedagogy. A loving mind which is at home in the supersensory world and thus deepens all feelings, thereby introduces a certain—please do not misunderstand this word—religiousness into the upbringing of the child. Such religiousness consists of loving a being sent from the spiritual world, of raising our love of the child into a spiritual sphere with the feeling that in extending our hands to the child we are giving him or her something as representatives of those forces which are not to be found on earth but in the supersensory sphere.

We can think up all kinds of educational principles but they will bear little fruit for as long as this science proceeds along materialistic lines. Only the things which are the result of the science of the spirit will bear fruit for the true education of the child. And the most important thing is the way in which we develop ourselves. In the outer, material world we may achieve much by what we do. As educators we achieve much more by what we are. This should be well noted and could well serve as a motto for good education.

Then comes the age of boyhood and girlhood, an age when we are still being brought up, but in a different way from the period of infancy. That is the next stage to be considered. It includes the whole period from the time when human beings consciously begin to refer to themselves as ‘I’ up to the point when they are released from education as such, when they freely enter life—the time when as well or badly brought up people they have to enter the whirlpool of life.

This too is a reflection, maya on a physical level, of previous events. The reality again lies between death and a new birth. Here the whole planetary system, from the sun to Saturn—or Neptune if we choose modern astronomy—is at work. The whole of the planetary system works together with the stars in the heavens, and the interaction between the stars and the whole planetary system becomes the forces which are active in us during the time of our upbringing.

So little of the reality of human beings can be explained purely from processes on earth that the only way to comprehend them during their upbringing is if there is a clear understanding that forces are at work in them during their life as a whole which are not on earth, which are not even in the planetary system but which lie outside the planetary sphere and work in harmony with the stars.


When we meet a child which can already call itself T, which we approach, therefore, in a certain sense as human being, we must be quite clear that something lives in him or her which is a reflection of something which is active not only outside our earth but outside our planetary system.

That is why the things which have been said about the early upbringing of the child are true in far greater measure for the following periods of education. Namely, that good education will only come about when it is drawn from the science of the spirit, when the teacher is aware that outside the planetary system a world exists which unfolds in the human being, and when this world is more than theoretical knowledge in the teacher and informs his feelings and attitudes and he himself has experienced the truth of this world beyond the planets. The unsure steps of such a teacher are often better than the ingenious educational principles of a materialistic teacher. Because insecure steps, actions undertaken in ignorance, can be improved in the course of our life. But what we do because of what we are does not correct itself during life.

It would be a good thing if the following were included among the areas which would benefit from metamorphosis and change through spiritual science: an increasing understanding that those who want to become good teachers and educators—and that includes in principle all those who want to become parents—should do so through the assimilation of spiritual ideas in their soul. In order to become a good educator, the bulk of the work has to be undertaken on oneself. And it is more important for a teacher, for instance, to live wholeheartedly in the material to be dealt with in school the next day, before he enters school, than that he possesses the best possible educational principles on how to do this or that. After he has grown to love the subject, grown to live it inwardly in the spirit, he can even stumble in the lesson—although I do not want to recommend that—and he will do a better job than the person who enters school with all sorts of principles straitjacketed into his brain and who knows everything about the most correct way to set about things.

We know that at present in the world things still take place the other way round. Those who want to be teachers today are tested above all for the things which they know, for the content of the knowledge they have assimilated. It is almost true to say that they are tested on the things which they can find in books, on which they can establish a library. The things which can be looked up in a library, if one has been taught how to do so, are the things which are largely examined. In teachers’ examinations the important things ought not to be what the person concerned can easily find if he needs it, factual knowledge ought not to be the most important thing, but instead teachers ought to be examined in how in their attitudes, their feelings, they can establish a link with knowledge of, with feeling for the development of the universe as a whole. Attitudes towards human and cosmic development ought to be the yardstick for whether or not someone is a good teacher. Then, of course, those would fail the examinations who only knew the most facts and those would pass the examinations with flying colours who were good human beings in the spiritual sense.

That is also what will happen in the end. In the end we will have to move in the following direction: human beings who are not good, whose soul does not incline towards the spiritual life, will fail the teachers’ examinations in future however much they know, even if they have all the facts that are required today at their fingertips.

This area in particular, then, will provide the opening that will permit less emphasis to be placed on intellectual knowledge and more on the development of the soul as a whole. Let me repeat: in such a situation our value will not be determined by the influence we wield in the outer material world but by what we do. As educators we are of value above all by what we are.

It is important that we take account of everything which is related to the reality of the process reflected in conception. All of that belongs to the earth. But in so far as it lies before birth it belongs to the interaction of sun and earth, it takes place in the earth’s aura. A significant spiritual event takes place in the earth’s aura preceding human conception which is reflected in conception. What takes place between conception and birth is in reality the interaction between sun and moon, and this is essentially a repetition of events which took place earlier during the Old Moon period of the earth.

In the embryonic period a real event is reflected which is like a repetition of the events which took place on the Old Moon. Similarly the process which occurs between the end of childhood, the point when human beings consciously begin to refer to themselves as ‘I’, and birth is a repetition of the influence of the Old Sun. The things which occur even before that, which are reflected in the period when we are educated, are a repetition of the Old Saturn stage of the earth.

And then, when our education is finished, and we enter the world well or badly brought up, what processes are reflected at that point? Then processes are mirrored which lie even before the Saturn period, which are not part of the visible world at all to the degree that they have no correlation in the outwardly visible stars. The correlations of our experiences up to the end of our educational period are still visible. They are yet related to the outermost stars which can still be seen. But our subsequent experience, our subsequent development belongs to the invisible world. We are released from the visible cosmos when we have truly completed our education.

And then, of course, it is a matter of enriching, or of having already enriched our soul with the truths of the supersensory worlds. That is the only way to find our true path through life. Otherwise we are puppets, guided by forces which are not meant to do so. The person who is free to enter the world after the Saturn stage has been reflected in his development, and has no idea in his soul of a spiritual world, is not in his intended element but is carried along by invisible forces as the puppet is carried along by the forces contained in the strings of the puppet master.

To assimilate what spiritual science can give means becoming human, means not remaining a puppet of the sensory world but achieving the freedom which is the element in which human beings should live and work throughout their lives. Indeed, freedom can only be understood in concepts which do not originate in the sensory world. For nothing that is given us from the sensory world can make us free. This is what I had in mind when I wrote my Philosophy of Freedom where I emphasized how—even without reference to the ideas of spiritual science—the foundation of ethics, of morals has to be seen in terms of moral imagination; that is to say, it has to be discovered on the basis of moral imagination, on the basis of something that is not contained in any sensory world, although of course morals should not be considered as being purely imaginary. The whole chapter on moral imagination is an affirmation that human beings throughout life, in so far as they want to spend it in freedom, have to recognize their connection with something which is not a reflection of the sensory world but which has to arise freely in themselves, which they carry within themselves, which is more majestic than the visible stars, which cannot be gained from the sensory world but only through an inward creative process. That is the intention of the chapter on moral imagination.

These thoughts were again intended to show the numerous contexts within which we stand in life. As the life before birth is preparatory for its reflection, so the reflected image between birth and death is in turn a preparation for the spiritual life which follows between death and a new birth. The more we can take from this life into the life between death and a new birth, the richer the development of that life will be. Even the concepts which we have to learn concerning that life, concerning the truths between death and a new birth, these concepts have to be different to those which we have to learn from physical maya if we want to understand the latter. Some of the concepts which have to be acquired for an understanding of the other side of life as it passes between death and a new birth can be found in the Vienna lecture cycle of 1914, The Inner Nature of Man and Life between Death and Rebirth. It can sometimes be quite a struggle to formulate, step by step, the concepts and ideas which are required for this different life. And when you read such a lecture cycle in particular, you will notice the struggle to find expressions which adequately reflect these quite different conditions.

At this time in particular, when the deaths of dear members are affecting our anthroposophical life, I want to draw attention to one point. The occurrence of death plays a different role in the life between death and a new birth than does the point of birth in our present life between birth and death. The time of birth is not usually remembered by human beings under the ordinary circumstances of physical life. But the time of death leaves the deepest impression for the whole life between death and a new birth; it is remembered above everything else, it is always present but in a different form than the one seen from this side of life. From this side of life death appears as a disintegration, something of which human beings have fear and dread. From the other side, death appears as the luminous beginning of spiritual experience, as something which spreads sun-like over the whole life between death and a new birth, which warms the soul with joy and which is repeatedly looked back on with deep and warm understanding. That is the moment of death. To describe it in earthly terms: the most joyful, the most rapturous moment between death and a new birth is the point of death as experienced from the other side.

If from a materialistic point of view we have formed the idea that human beings lose consciousness with death, if we have no real conception of the way consciousness develops—I say this particularly today because we are thinking of dear ones who have died recently—if we find great difficulty in imagining the existence of a consciousness beyond death, if we believe that consciousness fades because consciousness appears to fade with death, then we have to understand: this is not true. For consciousness is exceedingly lucid after death, and only because human beings are unused to living in this extremely clear consciousness in the initial period after dying does something similar to a state of sleep occur immediately after death.

But this state of sleep is the opposite of the one which we enter in ordinary life. In ordinary life we sleep because our level of consciousness is reduced. After death we are unconscious in a certain sense because consciousness is too strong, too overLIFE whelming, because we live completely in the consciousness and need to accustom ourselves to this heightened state in the initial days. Then, when we succeed in orientating ourselves sufficiently to feel the emergence of the thought ‘that was you!' from the wealth of world thoughts, at the point when we begin to distinguish our past earth life from the wealth of world thoughts, then we experience in this wealth of consciousness the moment of which it can be said: we awaken. We might be awakened by an event which was particularly significant in our life and which is also of significance for events after our earth life.

Thus it is a matter of growing accustomed to supersensory consciousness, to consciousness which is not built on the foundations and supports of the physical world, but which is sufficient in itself. That is what we call ‘awakening’ after death. One could describe this awakening as a probing by the will which, as you know and also can see from the above-mentioned lecture cycle, develops particularly after death. I spoke there of a feeling-like will and a will-like feeling. When this will-like feeling starts to venture into the supersensory world, when it makes the first probe, then it starts to awaken.

Those are things which, circumstances permitting, we will discuss further.