Historical Necessity and Freewill
3. Our Life with the Dead
10 December 1917, Dornach
In an introductory way, I will touch shortly upon a few facts that have already been considered, because we shall need them in the further course of our considerations. I have said that what we may call the threshold between the usual physical world of the senses and the soul-spiritual world lies in man himself, also psychically. It lies in him in such a way that in the usual everyday consciousness with which man is endowed between birth and death, he is really awake only as far as his sense-perceptions, or his perceptive activity, are concerned; he is awake in all that comes to him in the form of ideas — ideas concerning that which he perceives through his senses, or ideas arising out of his own inner being; they make the world intelligible and alive for him. Even a very ordinary self-recollection teaches us (clairvoyant endowment is in no way necessary for this) that when usual human consciousness is fully awake it cannot embrace more than the sphere of the life of ideas and the sphere of sense perceptions. However, we experience in our soul also the world of our feelings and the world of our will. But we have said that we live through this world of our feelings only as we live through a dream; the life of dream enters the ordinary waking consciousness and, inasmuch as we are feeling human beings, we are, in reality, mere dreamers of life. Things occur in the depths of our feeling life, of which our waking consciousness, contained in our ideas and sense perceptions, knows nothing at all. The waking consciousness knows less still concerning the real processes of the life of our will. Man dreams away his feeling life in his usual consciousness, and he sleeps away the life of his will.
Consequently, beneath the life of our thoughts lives a realm in which we ourselves are embedded, and which is only partly known to us; it is only known to us through the waves that break up through the surface.
We have emphasized further, that in this realm, which we dream and sleep away, we live together with human souls that are passing through the existence between death and a new birth. We are only separated from the so-called dead through the fact that we are not in a position to perceive with our ordinary consciousness how the forces of the dead, the life of the dead, the actions of the dead, play into our own life. These forces, these actions of the dead, continually permeate the life of our feeling and the life of our will. Therefore we can live with the dead. And it is indeed important to realize at the present time that the task of Anthroposophy is to develop this consciousness — that we are in touch with the souls of the dead.
The earth will not continue to evolve in the direction of the welfare of humanity unless humanity develops this living feeling of being together with the dead. For the life of the dead plays into the life of the so-called living in many ways.
During the course of these public lectures I have purposely drawn your attention to the historical course of life — what man lives through historically, what he lives through socially, what he lives through in the ethical relationships between people. All this really has the value of a dream, of sleep; the impulses which man develops when he surpasses his personal existence and is active within the community, are impulses of dream and sleep.
People will consider history in quite another way when this has reached their living consciousness; they will no longer consider as history the fable convenue that is usually called history today; but they will realize that historical life can only be understood when that which is dreamed and slept away in usual consciousness, and contains the influences of the deeds, impulses and activities of the so-called dead, is sought in this historical life. The deeds of the dead are interwoven with the impulses of feeling and will of the so-called living. And this is real history.
When the human being has gone through the Gate of Death, he does not
cease to be active
within the human community. He continues to be active, although his activity is of another kind. We live under the illusion that our actions are our own, because they flow out of our feelings, out of our impulses of will; in reality they flow out of the deeds of those who have departed, even in the very moment in which we are carrying out our actions.
In the future development of man it will be of great importance to know that when we do something connected with our life in common with other men, we do this together with the dead. But of course, such a consciousness, which is related essentially to the life of the feeling and of the will, must be grasped also by the feeling and by the will. Abstract and dried-out ideas will never be able to grasp this. But ideas that have been taken from the sphere of spiritual science will be able to grasp this. Indeed, people will have to accustom themselves to form quite different conceptions about many things.
You all know that he who is firmly rooted in the comprehension of spiritual-scientific impulses may undertake to remain connected with those who have passed through the Gate of Death. The thoughts of spiritual science, the ideas that we form about the events in the spiritual world, are thoughts that are intelligible to us on earth, but are also intelligible to the souls of the dead. This may result in what we may call “reading to the dead.” When we think of the dead, and in doing so read to them, especially the contents of spiritual science, this is a real intercourse with the dead. For spiritual science speaks a language common to both the souls of the living and of the dead. But what is essential is to approach these things more and more, particularly with the life of feeling, with the illuminated life of feeling.
Man lives, between death and a new birth in an environment which is essentially permeated through and through, not only with living forces, but with living forces full of feeling. This is his lowest sphere. As the insensible mineral kingdom surrounds us during our sense life, so a realm surrounds the dead, which is of such a nature that, when he comes in contact with anything within it, he calls forth pain or joy. Thus, with the dead it is as if we were forced to realize, during life, that as soon as we touch a stone, or the leaf of a tree, we call forth feelings. The departed one can do nothing that does not call forth feelings of joy, feelings of pain, feelings of tension, relaxation, etc., in his surroundings. When we come into contact with the departed human being — this is the case when we read to him — he himself experiences this communion as already mentioned; he becomes aware of this when we read to him; he experiences it in this particular case. In this way the departed one comes in connection with that soul who reads to him, that soul with whom he is in some way related through Karma. The dead is connected with his lowest realm (which we had to bring in connection with the animal kingdom) in such a way that everything he does calls forth joy, pain, etc; he is connected with all that calls forth a relationship with human souls (whether they are human souls living here on the earth, or souls already disembodied and living between death and a new birth) in such a way that his feeling for life is either increased or diminished through what takes place in other souls.
Please realize this clearly. When you read to a so-called living person, you know that he understands what you read to him, in the sense in which we speak of human understanding; but the departed one lives in the contents, the departed one lives in each word that you read to him. He enters into that which passes through your own soul. The departed one lives with you. He lives with you more intensely than was ever possible for him in the life between birth and death. When this companionship with the dead is sought, it is really a very intimate one, and a consciousness endowed with insight intensifies this existence in common with the dead.
If man enters consciously into the realm that we inhabit together with the dead, the intercourse with the dead is such that when you read or speak to the departed one, you hear from him, like a spiritual echo, what you yourself are reading. You see, we must become acquainted with such ideas as these if we wish to gain a real conception of the concrete spiritual world. In the spiritual world things are not the same as here. Here you can hear yourself speak when you are speaking, or you know that you are thinking when you think. If you speak to the dead, or if you enter into a relationship with the dead, your words, or the thoughts you send to him, come to you out of the departed one himself, if you consciously perceive your connection with the dead.
And when you send a message to the dead, you feel as if you were intimately connected with him. If he replies to this message, it seems at first as if you were dimly conscious that the departed one is speaking. You are dimly conscious that the departed one has spoken, and you must now draw out of your own soul what he has spoken. This will make you realize how necessary it is for a real spiritual intercourse to hear from the other one what you yourself think and conceive, to hear out of yourself what the other one says. This is a kind of inversion of the entire relationship between one being and another being. But this inversion takes place when we really enter the spiritual world.
Because the spiritual world is so entirely different from the physical, and because — since about the fifteenth century — people only wish to form conceptions based on the physical world, they displace and obstruct their entrance to the spiritual world. If people would only realize that a world can exist which is, in certain respects — not in all — the direct opposite of what we call the true world; if people would be willing to form ideas which, perhaps, appear most absurd to those who insist upon living only in a materialistic world — then they will transform their souls and attain the possibility of seeing into the spiritual world, which is always around us. It is not that human beings, through their nature, are separated from the spiritual world; but that through habit, through the circumstances of inheritance, they have become entirely unaccustomed, since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, to forming other ideas than those borrowed from the physical world. This applies even to art. What other scope has modern art than to copy, from the model, what Nature forms outside? Even in art people no longer attach value to what arises freely out of the spiritual life of the soul, and is also something real. But in the free reality that thus arises, people cannot efface what is effective and active in historical events, in the ethical, moral and social life of the community — except that they dream and sleep away this active element. As soon as man goes beyond his own personal concerns, even in the smallest measure — and in every moment of life he goes beyond these — the spiritual world, the world — I must emphasize this again and again — which we share with the dead works through his arm, through his hand, his word, his glance.
As the departed one grows familiar with the realm I have already spoken of, with the lowest one connected with the animal kingdom (just as we become familiar with the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human physical world in the life between birth and death during our gradual growth) — as the departed one continues to develop in the second region, where companionship with all those souls arises, with whom he is karmically connected either directly or indirectly, he evolves to the point of becoming familiar with the kingdom of the Beings who stand above man, if I may use this expression, although it is merely figurative — with the kingdom beginning with the Angeloi and Archangeloi.
Here in the physical world man is, as it were, the crown of creation — many like to emphasize this; he feels himself as the highest of all beings. The minerals are the lowest, then the plants, then the animals, and then man himself He feels that he belongs to the highest kingdom. It is not thus with the dead in the spiritual realm; the dead feels himself connected with the Hierarchies above him, the Hierarchies of the Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai, etc. As man here in the physical world feels, in a certain sense, that the physical kingdom of man evolves and grows out of the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, so the departed one feels himself sustained and carried by the Hierarchies above him, in the life between death and a new birth.
The way in which the human being gradually becomes familiar with this kingdom of the Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai, etc., can be described as follows: — It is like a liberation from Self. Again we must acquire a conception of these things that cannot be won in the physical world of the senses. In this world of the senses, as we grow up from childhood, we gradually become acquainted with things, first with our nearest surroundings, then with what is to be our life experience in a wider sense, etc. We become acquainted with things in such a way that we know — they approach us little by little. This is not the case between death and a new birth. From the moment on, in which we know that we are connected with the Angeloi, we feel as if we had been united with them since eternity, as if we belonged to them, were one with them; yet we are only able to develop our consciousness by reaching the point of separating the idea of the Angeloi from ourselves. Here in the physical world we make our experiences by taking up ideas. In the spiritual world we make our experiences by separating the ideas from ourselves. We know that we carry them within us — and we know that we are entirely filled by them, but we must separate them from ourselves in order to bring them to consciousness. And so we set free the ideas of Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai.
In the lowest kingdom, man is, as it were, connected with the animalic, which he must strive to conquer, as I have already explained. Then he is connected with the kingdom immediately above this one — the kingdom of the souls with whom he is directly or indirectly linked up through Karma. In this kingdom man experiences his relationship with the Angeloi. His relationship with the kingdom of the Angeloi gives rise, at first, to a great deal of that which creates a right connection with the kingdom of human souls. Hence, in the life between death and a new birth, it is difficult to distinguish between the experiences which man has in common with other human souls and those with the Beings belonging to the kingdom of the Angeloi. There are many links between human beings and the Beings belonging to the kingdom of the Angeloi. Although we can speak of these things merely in comparison, and although we can only allude briefly to them, we may however say: — Just as here, in our physical life, memory leads us back again to some event which we have experienced, so does a Being belonging to the kingdom of the Angeloi lead us to something which we must experience in our life between death and a new birth. Beings belonging to the kingdom of the Angeloi are really the mediators for everything that arises in the life of the so-called dead. And the Angeloi help man in everything that he must do between death and a new birth in connection with the conquest of the animalic (he must raise his animal nature into the spiritual part of his being in order to prepare himself for his next incarnation). If you grasp this in its right meaning you will say: — Because man associates with the Angeloi between death and a new birth, he can form the right kind of relationships in connection with the souls with whom he must come into touch. And because man is in contact with the kingdom of the Angeloi, he can prepare rightly the things that must take place during his next incarnation. The tasks of the Archai, or the Beings belonging to the Spirits of the Time, are common both to the dead and to the living. My explanations will show you that the departed one has more to do with the Angeloi, who regulate his connection to other souls, and with the Archangeloi, who regulate his successive incarnations. But in his association with the Beings of the Hierarchy of the Archai, the dead works together with the so-called living, with those who are incarnated here in the physical body. The dead who is passing through the life between death and a new birth, and the so-called living, in his life between birth and death, are embedded alike in something which the Spirits of the Time weave as an unceasing stream of universal wisdom and universal activity of the will. What the Spirits of the Time thus weave is history, is the ethical-moral life of an age, the social life of an age.
We might say that we can look into the spiritual kingdom and realize: — The so-called dead are there; what they experience in this kingdom — inasmuch as these experiences are their own — is regulated by the Angeloi and Archangeloi; what they experience in common with the so-called living is woven by the Beings who belong to the Hierarchy of the Archai. We cannot fulfill any fruitful work in the social, historical, and ethical-moral life unless we realize this work must come from an element that we share with the dead — the element of the Archai, or Spirits of the Time.
These Spirits of the Time do their work alternately. We have often spoken of this. Through several centuries, one of the Time Spirits weaves the events contained in the stream of historical and social life and in the ethical-moral stream of human events; then another Time Spirit relieves him. The moment in which a Time Spirit relieves another one is most important of all, if we wish to observe what really takes place within the evolution of mankind. We cannot understand this evolution unless we bear in mind the living active influence of the Time Spirits and, in general, of the entire spiritual world. We cannot understand what takes place between man and man unless we consider the kingdom of the Spirit.
Very abstract are man's thoughts concerning that which is social, ethical-moral and historical. He thinks that history, or the stream of events taking place in the course of time, is a continuous current, where one event follows upon the other. He asks: — Why did certain events happen at the beginning of the twentieth century? — Because they were caused by events at the end of the nineteenth century. — Why did certain events happen at the end of the nineteenth century? — Because they were caused by events in the middle of the nineteenth century. And events in the middle of the nineteenth century were caused again by events at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and so on.
This way of considering historical events as the result of immediately preceding events is just the same as if a peasant were to say: — The wheat that I shall harvest this year is the result of the wheat of last year. The seeds remained, and the wheat of last year is again the result of the wheat of the year before last. One thing depends on the other — cause and effect. Except that the peasant does not really follow this rule: he must of course interfere personally in the growth of the wheat. He must first sow the seeds in order that an effect may follow the cause. The effect does not come of itself. From a certain point of view this is one of the most terrible illusions of our materialistic age, for people believe that the effect is the result of the cause; they do not wish to form the simplest thoughts concerning the real truth of these things.
I have already given you an example, by relating to you a sensational event in the life of a human being. It is indeed so, that people prefer to contemplate sensational events rather than consider the other events, which are of exactly the same kind and take place every hour and every moment of our life. I have told you how such an event can occur: A man is accustomed to take his daily walk to a mountainside. He takes this walk every day for a long time. But one day during his walk, on reaching a certain spot, he hears a voice calling out to him: — Why do you go along this path? Is it necessary that you should do this? The voice says more or less these words. On hearing them he becomes thoughtful, steps aside and thinks for a while about the curious thing that has happened to him. Suddenly a piece of rock falls down, which would have killed him had he not stepped aside after hearing the voice. This is a sensational event. But one who considers the world calmly, yet spiritually, will see in this event one of the many which take place every moment of our life. In every moment of our life something else, too, might happen, if this or that would occur.
A very clever man — we know that especially modern people are very clever — would say: Why was this man spared? Because he went away. This is the cause. Very well — but suppose he had not gone away; in this case he would have been killed, and a very clever modern man would argue:--the falling stone is the cause of the man's death. Indeed — seen from outside and in an abstract and formal way — it is true that the falling stone is the cause, and the man's death the effect: but the cause has nothing to do with the effect; it is quite an indifferent matter to the falling stone, where the man was standing. This cause has nothing whatever to do with the effect. Ponder this matter and try to understand what is really contained in all this talk of cause and effect. The so-called cause need not have anything to do with the effect.
The stone would have taken exactly the same course had the man been standing elsewhere. As far as the stone is concerned, nothing has been changed owing to the fact that the man was warned and went away. I gave you an example that, even in outer quite formal things, the so-called cause need have nothing to do with the so-called effect. The whole way of looking at cause and effect is based entirely on abstraction. It is only possible to speak of cause and effect within certain limits. Take this example, for instance: Here you have a tree with its roots. What takes place in the roots can certainly be considered, in certain respects, as the cause of the growing tree; what takes place in the branches can, to a certain extent, be designated as the cause of the growing leaves. You see, the tree is, to a certain extent, a whole; and a concrete way of looking at life considers totalities and the aspect of the whole; an abstract way of looking at life always links up one thing with another, without considering the complete whole. But for a spiritual way of looking at things it is important to bear in mind the whole. You see, where the outer leaves end, the tree ceases to exist, as well as the inner causes of its growth. Where the leaves end, also the forces of their growth end; but something else begins there. Where these forces end, the spiritual eye can see spiritual beings playing around the tree, spiritual elementary beings. Here begins, if I may say so, a negative tree, which stretches out into infinity, but only apparently so, because after a while it disappears. An elementary existence meets what comes out of the tree; where the tree ceases, it comes into contact with the elementary existence, which grows toward it. It is thus in Nature.
The plant ceases to exist when it grows out of the soil, and the causes of its growth cease when the plant ceases. But an elementary existence from the universe grows toward the plant.
In the lecture on human life from the aspect of spiritual science, I have mentioned some of these things. The plants grow out of the soil from below. A spiritual element grows toward the plant from above. It is thus with all beings. What you observe in Nature is contained in all existence. Above all, there is a stream of social, ethical-moral and historical life. Events do not consist in a continuous stream, but a Time Spirit reigns for a while; another one replaces him; a third one replaces him; a fourth one replaces him; and so on. When a Time Spirit replaces another one, there is a difference also in the stream of continuous events. When such a new period begins, it is not possible to say that its events are the immediate effect of preceding events. They are not the effect of the preceding ones, in the sense in which we imagine this.
There is indeed an order of law in the successive course of events, but what we generally call necessity is an illusion, if we look upon it as it is often looked upon today. In the course of continuous events, we have something similar to what we find when we look at the tree — where the tree ceases, the elementary tree begins; but in Nature, a being belonging to the visible kingdom of the senses touches a being that remains invisible to the senses, a super-sensible being; the world of the senses and the super-sensible world touch. There is something similar also in the course of Time. Just as the physical tree ceases and an elementary tree begins, so also in the course of Time, something ceases and something new begins. There are epochs in which old events and old impulses cease, as it were, and are replaced by new ones. At such points of time, people like to keep to Lucifer and Ahriman, who help them to maintain what is really dead. It is possible to keep alive in human consciousness impulses and forces that are, in reality, dead. This is not possible in Nature. If someone cultivates exactly the same kind of ideas in 1914 that were justified in 1876, he can do so of course. He can do this because, in the continuous stream of human events, which is seized by Ahriman and Lucifer, the old can be maintained even if it is already dead. It is the same as if someone were to make a tree grow on and on without ceasing, after it had reached its natural limits. In the course of history we generally find that people cannot face a new epoch rightly; in other words, that they cannot place themselves at the service of the new Time Spirit.
In our age this is particularly important. During the last weeks we have spoken of the spiritual events of 1879. This was the end of an epoch. Something died and ceased to exist, just as the tree ceases. From 1879 onward it became necessary (this is of course still necessary today and will be so for a long time) that people should open themselves to the ideas and impulses coming from the spiritual world. Otherwise the old impulses become Ahrimanic or Luciferic.
These remarks contain something very important. The last third of the nineteenth century was an important time in the evolution of humanity. It was necessary, and it is still necessary, that people should become accessible to the influence of inspired ideas. People must open themselves to these. But looked upon from outside (we shall not only look upon this from outside, but study the deeper inner meaning), looked upon from outside, things have a very hopeless aspect. Impulses did come from the spiritual world. They came streaming in and worked in order that men might be led beyond this point, beyond the year 1879, and in order that they might open themselves to inspired ideas. They were impulses that could give men thoughts enabling them to become conscious, even at the end of the nineteenth century, that whenever we fulfill actions of a historical, social or ethical-moral value within the life of the community, we fulfill them together with our dead, and with the Archangeloi, Angeloi, and Archai. These impulses were there; they were there, but went past many people without leaving a trace. I have said that today I will first consider these things from an outer aspect, and it is good if you realize how apparently everything went past without leaving a trace. In the second half of the nineteenth century important things and important impulses already existed, and there were people who proclaimed and wrote significant thoughts. If we look at these thoughts today they may seem abstract. This is indeed so. But they are not abstract thoughts and they should not remain as they were then. (I repeat once more that this is looked upon from outside, tomorrow we shall consider these things from an inner aspect.) This was the case more or less in all spheres of modern civilized life. For instance — who studies the life of this country, Switzerland, in such a way as to say: In the fifties of the nineteenth century a man lived here in Switzerland, a man with great ideas, that were indeed of a philosophical kind. But had they been accepted by two or three, had they been popularized, would they not have had a very fruitful, spiritualizing influence on the entire history of Switzerland? Who considers, for instance, that in the middle of the nineteenth century a high spirit lived in Otto Heinrich Jäger? He is one of the greatest men of Switzerland. But who knows his name now, and who names him? Who is aware of the fact that although his thoughts had an abstract appearance they were only apparently abstract. They might have become concrete, they might have blossomed and borne fruit, because something very great was in this man, who taught at the Zurich University and wrote books on great thoughts, thoughts that should enter the life of the present. He wrote on the idea of human liberty and its connection with the entire spiritual world. Otto Heinrich Jager wrote, here in Switzerland, a kind of “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity,” from another point of view than my own The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, which arose in the nineties.
Innumerable examples like this one could be given. The most fruitful ideas germinated and greened, but what is recounted today as the spiritual history of the nineteenth century leading into the twentieth century is the least significant part of all that really took place, and the most important part, that influenced it most of all, has not been considered at all.
This is how matter stand, from an exterior aspect, to begin with. Perhaps they will look more hopeful when we shall look at them from an inner standpoint.