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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Karma of Untruthfulness I
GA 173c

Lecture XXI

20 January 1916, Dornach

Impulses connected with the spiritual world, whatever their direction, can only be understood from the viewpoint of spiritual science. As we have seen, playing into today's events there are impulses which we have traced back to human beings, but only to those who know how to handle spiritual impulses in one way or another.

We must ask ourselves: Why do certain people do the kind of things we have been talking about? Which leads to the next question: Why are we living in an age when untruth—untruthfulness—is working as a dominant force in the world, a force which drives human beings with a veritable passion that could, if only it would turn towards the truth instead, bring about infinitely much in the way of healing?

These things are indeed connected with what are, at the moment, the deepest impulses of humanity. We can gain a closer understanding of them, in a manner appropriate for our time, by including in our considerations the most urgent task of that spiritual-scientific view of the world which we have made our own. Remember that our anthroposophical spiritual science seeks to understand certain spiritual aspects which exist in the world, certain forces which are at work in the world of human beings in so far as they develop not only between birth and death but also between death and a new birth. It is difficult for people today to think about these things in the right way, because they have lost certain faculties which were once present in human evolution; for a while these faculties had to go underground, but now they must light up again through spiritual science.

We know well enough that in olden times the human soul was linked with the spiritual world in a way that was more elementary, more natural; such links did not have to be brought about by active spiritual work but existed of themselves. We called them atavistic. We know, too, that in those days it was impossible for human beings to doubt the existence of life after death. The possibility of such doubt only arose for an interim period which is now to be succeeded by an age in which all shall know about life between death and a new birth.

In those olden times something else—a third condition—came as naturally to the human soul as waking and sleeping do today. In today's state of being awake, human beings are restricted entirely to the physical world which they can perceive with their senses; they live between birth and death in a world which they can experience through their senses and through their understanding which is bounded by the brain. And in sleep they are unconscious. The entities of ego and astral body in which they live between falling asleep and waking up are not yet strong enough to supply them with a comparable consciousness. We know that the astral body has only been developing since the time of ancient Moon and the ego only since the beginning of Earth evolution. Both are young measured against cosmic evolution and they are not yet strong enough to achieve consciousness when left to themselves between going to sleep and waking up.

Dreams, however, with all their manifold pictures, do rise up out of sleep. These dreams can contain a great deal that belongs to the spiritual world. There is a great deal in dreams which belongs to the spiritual world, but the human soul as it is today is not capable of seeing beyond the dreams in order to discover what it is that lives in these dreams. Dreams are deceptive pictures woven out of a veil of maya. When they are rightly interpreted they yield experiences of earlier times or prophetic indications for the future. They also reveal the interplay which takes place between the living and the dead during sleep. Everything can come to us through dreams. But, at the present stage of their evolution, human beings do not understand the strange language of dreams. Dream pictures remain incomprehensible, and this is quite natural. Just as Europeans cannot interpret the sounds spoken by the Chinese, so people today cannot interpret the picture language of dreams.

Thus during this interim period the human being is totally restricted in consciousness to whatever he can discover through those older instruments, the physical body and also the etheric body, which have been developing since the time of ancient Sun and ancient Saturn and are therefore so constituted that they can offer him consciousness as long as he is in them, that is, between waking up and going to sleep.

Now the spiritual science for which we are striving gives us concepts of the super-sensible world working in and behind the sense-perceptible world. The concepts and ideas given to us by spiritual science and which we make our own are related to nothing that can be perceived by the senses. They relate either to what lies between death and a new birth, or to the super-sensible world which lies beyond the world of the senses. Comprehension of these is not, or ought not to be, a mere comprehension of certain theories. We are not concerned with knowing one thing or another but with achieving a certain inner mood of soul when we take in truths relating to the super-sensible world.

It is difficult to describe these things in words because our language has been coined for the external, physical plane, so we have to exert ourselves when applying it to super-sensible conditions. You could say that everything to which we ordinarily apply our understanding lives coarsely, densely in our soul because our brain is always at our disposal and is trained to deal with ideas and concepts relating to the physical plane. But to explain things which do not relate to the physical plane we have to exert our soul to such an extent that, when we study spiritual science, our brain plays an ever-decreasing part. When we experience difficulties in understanding what spiritual science gives us, this is only because our brain impedes our understanding. Our brain is adjusted and adapted to the coarse concepts of the physical plane and we have to exert ourselves to acquire the subtler concepts—subtler only in so far as human comprehension is concerned—of the spiritual world. This exertion is entirely healthy, it is certainly good, because with spiritual science we then live in our soul in a new way, quite different from that required by physical knowledge and understanding and ideas. We transport ourselves into a world of mobile, subtle pictures and ideas, and that is significant.

It is possible for all of you to be aware of the point at which you are sufficiently within the sphere where the etheric body more or less lives on its own, using the brain only in faint vibrations. It is the point at which you begin to feel that you no longer have to exert yourself to think the thoughts given by spiritual science, in the way in which you have to exert yourself to think everyday thoughts. You know very well that you yourself make the thoughts which you think about everyday matters on the physical plane; you develop the concepts in accordance with the daily requirements and conditions of life, in accordance with sympathies and antipathies and with whatever is prepared by your senses and by your brain-bound understanding. With spiritual science, however, once you really enter into it, you will begin to sense: I have not thought all this myself; it has already been thought before I think it; it is floating there as a thought and merely enters into me. When you begin to feel: This is floating in the objective thinking of the universe and merely enters into me—then you will have won a great deal. You will have experienced a relationship to that delicate etheric, floating and weaving world in which your soul lives. After that it is really only a matter of time, though it might be quite a long time, before you gradually enter that sphere which we share with those among the dead with whom we are karmically linked.

I said that in olden times there was no question of discussing whether immortality existed or not. People then had a third condition apart from sleeping and waking, an in-between condition which was not merely a state of dreaming. It was an elementary and natural condition, in which human beings saw their dead spiritually face to face. They were there and they lived together with them. In those earlier times, when people did something, or when something happened to them which was a little out of the ordinary—and this of course happened and still happens all the time, for we are not only creatures of habit—they then felt beside them one or another of those who had gone through death before them, either long, or not so lang, ago. They felt as though the dead person acted with them, or joined in their counsel. So when the soul of a person living on the earth decided to do something, or when something happened to that person, this soul felt that there was one who had died who joined in the action or the suffering. The dead were present. So there was no discussion about immortality or the lack of it. It would have been as pointless as questioning whether someone with whom we are speaking is actually there or not. Whatever we experience is a reality, and in olden times people experienced how the dead shared in all that happened.

We know the reasons why those times had to go into the underground of existence. But they will return, though in a different form. The manner of their return will be brought about by human beings who achieve the mood of soul which can be achieved through spiritual science, through actively living in the pictures of the spiritual world given by spiritual science. This will enable the soul to attain a delicate attuning, and then into this delicate attuning the souls of the so-called dead will enter. Of course they are always present, but what matters now is that we should be aware of how they enter into our soul-sphere. Of course, the dead always surround those of us with whom they were karmically linked during life. But to enable them to enter our consciousness we must go to meet them with the fine attuning I have just described. For you see it is always possible for the dead to gain entry into human souls if these souls lead their life in a mood such as that described just now, where the concepts and ideas formed by these souls live, somehow, in a super-sensible sphere. From the bodily, physical aspect of man the dead have to flee, for at the moment they cannot enter there. Neither can they enter those thoughts which only rise up from the brain after the manner of the physical world. And because today human beings mostly entertain only thoughts that rise up from the brain, it is so very difficult for the dead to make contact with the living.

But if the living go to meet the dead by developing the fine attuning that arises when one concerns oneself a great deal with super-sensible ideas, then the dead can enter that floating and weaving world which extricates itself from the bodily aspect and takes no account of it. Today everything depends on whether human souls will find it possible, in some measure, to tread the path which leads to the dead. For then the dead will come to meet them. There must be a meeting in a common realm.

I have often stressed that what spiritual science has to say about the super-sensible world, the concepts and ideas we develop—all this is there for both the living and the dead. That is why I have recommended the practice of reading to the dead: that is, of unfolding thoughts orientated to them which refer to the super-sensible world. Doing this is a way of offering them a bridge and it is one which can reach not only those who have died recently, but all those who have died, even a very long time ago.

In this way the living have the possibility of approaching the dead. And similarly the dead have the possibility of working into the thoughts of the living. When you have absorbed the spirit of spiritual science you will be able to form from such arguments a fair conception of the fact that in the materialistic age we human beings have lived through for so long the dead can have less and less influence on the course of events here in the physical world where human beings have turned towards more materialistic ideas relating only to the physical plane, ideas which are of no use to the dead. So events in the physical world now run their course without any, or with only very little, influence from those who have passed on. This will have to change. Active communication must once more be established between the living and the dead. Those who have died must become able to work into the physical world, so that what takes place there no longer goes on solely under the influence of conceptions which arise in this physical world.

So our pursuit of spiritual science is indeed intimately bound up with giving the dead an opportunity to work here in the physical world. It must be said that a grave and lofty aim of our work in spiritual science is the creation of a link between the spiritual world, where the dead have their home, and the physical world. Then the dead will no longer have to say to themselves that they are more or less exiles from the physical world owing to the fact that the living, down here, cannot develop thoughts through which the dead might bring their influence to bear in this physical world.

Many, for sure, will say: I have been striving to open myself to the ideas of spiritual science, but I have seen no sign of any influence emanating from the dead. My dear friends, these things demand a good deal of patience. You must take into account the degree to which for centuries the life of mankind on the physical plane has tended towards materialism and against anything that might make it possible for the dead to work here in a suitable way. Amongst all that has been going on for centuries, certain feelings, certain sensations have developed which human beings now entertain quite unconsciously towards the spiritual world. To these feelings and sensations, what comes today from spiritual science frequently appears as no more than abstract theory. One may well be convinced that what spiritual science has to say about the spiritual world is true. And yet it has not thus far entered so fully into one's whole soul life as to enable one to develop those sensations and feelings which do not disturb the delicate and subtle play of what comes over from the dead.

It is not easy to see these things in their proper light. People today are the children, or the grandchildren, or the great-grandchildren, or even the great-great-grandchildren of those who have lived during recent centuries and who have, under the influence of rising materialism, turned their sensations and feelings in certain directions. These directions are now expressed in every detail of these feelings and sensations. We can have the best will in the world to turn in the right way to someone who has died, to remember someone in the right way. But the whole disposition of our feelings and sensations working, perhaps one could say, through our blood which flows down to us from our ancestors, is not suited to placing before our soul in a proper way the delicate and intimate manifestations and revelations which come from the dead. Instead our feelings are like flickering lights, excitable flickering lights which interpose themselves in front of these subtle impulses which are today still so very delicate and intimate.

But though this may be the case we need not be discouraged, but should always cling to the positive aspect. And the positive aspect is that we genuinely strive for that condition which in certain moments of life, as the fruit of studying spiritual science, can give us a peacefulness of soul. What matters is that peacefulness of soul, the fine attuning in that peacefulness of soul, which makes it possible for us to receive these delicate, intimate manifestations and revelations from the kingdom of the dead.

Something else, too, is necessary, and that is the goodwill to resist all that untruthfulness about which we have been speaking in these lectures. All these untruthfulnesses that buzz about in the world enter into what might be called the spiritual aura and generate there a thick fog which the dead find impossible to penetrate. This thick fog contains all that black rubbish which comes, for instance—to name only one source—from today's journalism, in the form of untruths which are printed and repeated, creating an aura of untruthfulness spanning the earth. It is no exaggeration to say that it is exceedingly difficult for the dead to penetrate this black fog. Therefore, with the help of ideas such as those we have been developing concerning the absolutely concrete untruthfulness buzzing about in the world, it is necessary to endeavour to reach clarity, to really make the effort in this field to recognize the purely external truth of the physical plane in so far as this can become accessible to us, in order not to cover our soul with a dense fog through which the spiritual world simply cannot penetrate. You will understand how very necessary this is.

In conjunction with the concepts we have just been discussing, let us now touch on the question: What is the aim of those secret societies which send impulses of the kind we have been describing into the world, impulses which then live in the life of untruthfulness and which have led, out of this untruthfulness, to the painful events of today? What do these secret societies want? Among others—we cannot go into everything—there is one particular thing they want: They want to materialize materialism even further; they want to create even more materialism in the world than would come about as part of the natural evolution of mankind in the fifth post-Atlantean period. They want even more materialism. This is only one aspect of what they are aiming for, but it is the aspect we want at least to touch on here. With this aspect in mind such societies are founded and with this aspect in mind people are persuaded to join them, people who are approached during their lives because they are deemed suitable.

There are the most varied types of such societies. One type, much in evidence in the West and taking all kinds of forms, includes organizations which practise ceremonial magic. Ceremonial magic can, of course, be good magic, but we are speaking now of those societies which do not practise ceremonial magic for the good of mankind in general, but for the good of certain groups of people, or certain specific aims which are not general human aims.

Let us look first at those societies which practise ceremonial magic from this point of view. As we have said, it can be good, but in these societies it is not good. Certain kinds of ceremonial magic have definite effects on the human physical body. Everything physical is, after all, a manifestation of the spirit. Certain spiritual aspects which come into being under the influence of ceremonial magic can have an effect on the human physical body, specifically on the system of ganglia, as I described it the other day, and also on the spinal system. The cerebral system is the most difficult of all to influence by means of ceremonial magic. All this has to be done via the detour of the spiritual element, but it can be done and it can become effective.

Imagine certain secret societies carrying on a form of ceremonial magic directed towards its grey or black aspects. Imagine they influence their members in a way that affects even their physical body, even the delicate vibrations and weavings of their physical body, so that something spiritual flows into this physical body.

What is the consequence? The consequence is that something now comes about which was suitable in earlier periods of human evolution but is no longer permissible today. Such procedures make it possible for the spiritual world to influence those human beings who participate, even though they do not turn towards it along the path I have described. This means that it becomes possible for the dead, as well as other spirits, to influence the members of a circle created by ceremonial magic. In this way today's materialism can be made hyper-materialistic.

Imagine a human being—and there are countless such in the West—who is entirely materialistic, not only in his view of the world but also in all his feelings and sensations. And then imagine this materialistic disposition increasing to a high degree. Such a person must of necessity develop an urge to exercise an influence on the material world, not only while he lives in his physical body but also after he has died. He is bent on the following: When I die I want to have some abode through which I can affect the people I have left behind on the earth, or who are trained in such a way in relation to me. There are indeed certain people today whose materialistic urge is so great that they strive for means by which they can cultivate connections with the physical world even beyond death. And such means, through which a person secures for himself the possibility of affecting the material world from beyond death, are abodes of certain kinds of ceremonial magical practice.

This is something that can have immense consequences. Imagine a number of people brought together to form a certain brotherhood. These people know: Others have gone before us; their urge to exercise their power was so great that their life on earth was not enough for its gratification, so they want to go on gratifying it even after death. For them we are creating an abode, and through the acts of ceremonial magic we perform, they work into our bodies. Because of this we gain greater power than we have; because of this we are enabled to exercise a certain degree of magical power over other, weaker people who stand outside such brotherhoods. When we speak words, when we give a speech, these dead souls work in us because we have been prepared by sharing in these acts of ceremonial magic.

It is one thing if somebody who simply participates honestly in the cultural processes of our time gives a speech in parliament or writes a newspaper article. But it is something entirely different if a person who belongs to a circle of ceremonial magic, and is thus strengthened by the power urges of some who have died, gives a speech in parliament or writes an article for a newspaper. The latter exercises an immensely greater degree of influence in the direction of his wishes than would be the case if he did not have this backing. This is one side of the matter.

The other side is that those who enter the circle of certain societies practising ceremonial magic are securing for themselves a power that reaches beyond death, a kind of ahrimanic immortality. For these people this is their main concern. For them, the society they enter provides a kind of guarantee that certain forces—which should by rights only live in them until the moment of death—will continue to live, even beyond death. More people than you might think are nowadays filled with this idea of guaranteeing for themselves an ahrimanic immortality, which consists in exercising influence not only as an individual human being, but also through the instrument of a society of this kind. Such societies exist in the most varied forms, and individuals who have attained certain degrees of advancement in these societies know: As a member of this society I shall become to some degree immortal because forces which would otherwise come to an end at my death will continue to work beyond death.

What these people then experience through this ceremonial magic makes them quite oblivious to a thought which would concern someone who takes such things truly seriously and in a genuinely dignified way. This is that the more a person gains by way of materialistic immortality, or rather ahrimanic immortality, the more he loses of the consciousness of true, genuine immortality. Yet materialism has taken such a hold on many souls today that they remain unconcerned about this and are tricked into striving for ahrimanic immortality. It could indeed be said that societies exist today which, from a spiritual or occult point of view, could be called ‘insurance companies for ahrimanic immortality’!

It is only a small number of people in each case who understand all these things. For as a rule these societies are organized in such a way that the ceremonial magic they practise influences only those who are unaware of the implications, merely desiring to make contact with the spiritual world by means of symbolic ceremonies. There are many such people. And those who have this desire are by no means necessarily the worst. They are accepted as members of the circle of ceremonial magic among whom there are then a few who simply use the rest of the members as instruments. Therefore one should beware of all secret societies administered by so-called higher grades whose aims are kept hidden from the lower grades. These administrative grades usually comprise those who have been initiated to a stage at which they only have a vague idea of what I have just been explaining to you. They comprise those who are to work positively in connection with certain goals and aims which are then realized by the wider group of those who have been merely inveigled into the circle of ceremonial magic. Everything these people do is done in such a way that it leads in the direction required by the higher grades but is strengthened by the forces which come from ceremonial magic.

Those who know how huge a number of such societies exist in the West can begin to gain an idea of what immensely effective tools such societies of ceremonial magic can be for certain far-reaching plans for the world. As you have seen, the chief aim is to prolong into our time a way of proceeding in which the spiritual world works into the sense-perceptible, physical world in a manner that was right in earlier times. For our times, however, the right procedure is for human beings to go towards the dead and meet them half-way. In the mood we have just been discussing, however, a path is sought which was appropriate in earlier, atavistic times but which today is brought about through the medium of ceremonial magic.

This should give you an idea of the disproportionate lengths to which exaggerated materialism, materialism that is hyper-materialistic, is prepared go in order to cross the border to the spiritual world, a border which today should only be crossed by means of attuning the soul to that mood which can be achieved through contemplating super-sensible concepts. An attitude appropriate for today is one that never accepts things which are given out by many secret societies, and which are not understood, for indeed a great deal that has not been understood is today both given out and accepted. Today it is appropriate to treat what these societies give out as something that is at most a failure to give the spoken word its true value, that is, something that uses words as mere concepts.

In much that today buzzes about in the world by way of untruthfulness and by way of egoism, in much that has even led to the canonization of egoism—not by the Pope, of course—in much that has led to the coining of the phrase sacro egoismo, which has become a new saint, though not canonized by the Pope, in much that today buzzes about in the world by way of egoisms and untruthfulnesses, influences and impulses are at work which gain extra strength from the world of the dead, in the manner described. And by searching for these impulses you will be led on to link up with other impulses about which you may find information in my book The Spiritual Guidance of Man. The lectures on which this book is based were given in 1911 in Copenhagen, for the most varied reasons. You will find there a description of how certain angelic powers remained behind in the third post-Atlantean period, in order today to unfold a force resembling that developed during the ancient Egyptian epoch. In those lectures I said:

‘Anything wonderful can become a tempter and seducer of mankind if people follow it one-sidedly; and then if this one-sidedness starts to take a hold, the great danger arises that all kinds of good endeavours begin to manifest as fanaticism. True though it is that mankind progresses by means of its noble impulses, it is equally true that an over-enthusiastic, fanatical pursuit of these most noble impulses can lead to all that would be worst for their right unfolding.’

The lecture then goes on to describe how certain forces which had their proper place in the third post-Atlantean period are now starting to work in our time. One may now add that just as an individual quite rightly finds a connection with his proper angel, so is it also possible for him to find a connection to those retarded spirits of the Egypto-Chaldean period, those retarded angels, if he seeks those forces and impulses which, in fact, are exaggerated ahrimanic forces coming in the manner described from the realm of the dead. These retarded angels play an important role in the secret societies I have been describing to you. There they are important helpers and leading spirits. A great deal that goes on in such secret societies is aimed at bringing Egypto-Chaldean elements in the old way into the present time. When these matters are no mere tomfoolery but stand fully in occult life, this takes place under the influence of retarded beings from the hierarchy of the angels who become leaders there. These are the beings from the hierarchy next above man who are sought by these societies.

This points to something exceedingly important. When we understand how the living testaments of these societies—not written testaments left over for those still alive, but testaments which are forces going beyond death—when we understand how these work and are preserved, which is something that ought not to happen, then we understand something of the magical power wielded by such societies which often enables them to impress the stamp of truthfulness on to something untrue. And indeed, one of their important magical functions is to spread untruth in the world in such a way that it gives the effect of being the truth. For in this working of the ‘untruth in what is true’ lies one of the mighty strengths of evil. This strength of evil is then put to considerable use in all kinds of quarters.

This I wanted to say today, in order to give you the esoteric background to the more exoteric matters I have been describing. Tomorrow we shall continue with this and endeavour to enter even more deeply into certain aspects.