20 August 1922, Oxford
Today we would like to look at some things that will bring together for a wider circle of anthroposophists many of the truths already known to us. Perhaps you are already familiar with the description I have given in my book Theosophy 31Rudolf Steiner, Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man, (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1986). I described there the worlds that the human being has to live through between death and a new birth. Today I will describe something of these worlds from a point of view somewhat different from the one given in that book.
For the most part in that book Imaginations are used for the soul and spiritual worlds through which a human being passes — after going through the gate of death — in order to develop and advance to a new life on earth. Today I will describe these things not so much from an Imaginative point of view, but rather from a point of view resulting more from Inspiration.
In order to acquire the possibility of understanding at all, we can begin with the experiences we have during earthly life. At any given point in time between birth and death we stand here in our physical body confronted with the outer world. What is contained within our skin, what is contained within our physical bodies, we call ourselves, our human being. We assume that this human being contains not only anatomical and physiological processes, but we also assume that somehow soul and spiritual processes are going on in there. We speak of “ourselves” and mean thereby what is contained within our skin. We look out into the world and see it around us; this we call our “outer world.” Now, we know that we make mental pictures of this outer world and then these mental pictures live within us. We have, then, the outer world around us and something like mirror images of the outer world within our soul life.
When we are in the life between death and a new birth we are in the very same world that is outside of us here on earth. All that you can see clearly, or only dimly sense, as an external world, becomes then your inner world. To all that you then say “my I.” Just as you now regard your lung as belonging to your I, so do you regard — in the life between death and a new birth — the sun and moon as your organs, as being in you. And the only outer world that you then have, is you yourself, as you are on the earth, that is, your earthly organs.
While on the earth we say: In us is a lung, in us is a heart; outside us is a sun, outside us is a moon, outside us is a zodiac. But during the life between death and a new birth we say: In us is a zodiac, in us is the sun, in us is the moon, outside us is a lung, outside us is a heart. Between death and a new birth everything we now carry within our skin becomes more and more our outer world, our universe, our cosmos. Our view of the relationship between world and man is exactly opposite when we are living between death and a new birth.
So it is that when we live through death, that is, when we go through the gate of death, we have, to begin with, a distinct picture of what was before, of how we were on earth. But it is only a picture. Yet you must think of this picture as having an effect on you like the outer world. At first you have this picture like a kind of appearance within you. In the first period after death, you still have a consciousness of what you were on earth as a human being — consciousness in the form of earthly memories and earthly pictures. These do not last long; in your view of the human being you advance more and more to the following: I is the world; the universe is the human being. This is more and more the case. But you must not imagine that the human lung, for instance, looks the same as it does now; that would not be a sight to compensate for the beauty of the sun and the moon. What the lung and heart will be then is something much greater, something much more wonderful than what the sun and moon are now to the human eye.
Only in this way do you really get an impression of what maya is. People speak of maya, that this present earthly world is a great illusion, but they do not really believe it. Deep down people still believe that everything is just as it appears to earthly eyes. But that is not the case. The human lung as we see it now is mere semblance; so is the heart. The truth is that our lung is only a magnificent part of our cosmos, our heart even more so. For in its true essence our heart is something much more majestic, something vastly greater than any sun.
We gradually begin to see a mighty cosmic world arising — a world in which we can say that below us are the heavens. What we actually mean is that below us is what is preparing the human head for the next incarnation. Above, we then say, is what was below. Everything is turned around. Above are all the forces that prepare man for his earthly life, so that in his next earth life he can stand and walk on two legs.
All this we can then sum up in these words: The closer we approach to a new life on earth, the more this universe that is the human being contracts for us. We become increasingly aware of how this majestic universe — it is most especially majestic in the middle period between death and a new birth — how this majestic universe, so to speak is shrinking and contracting, how, out of the weaving of the planets that we bear within us, something is created that then pulsates and surges through the human etheric body, how out of the fixed stars of the zodiac something is formed that builds our life of nerves and senses. This all shrinks together, it shapes itself to become first a spiritual and then an etheric body. And not until it has grown very, very small is it taken up into the mother's womb and clothed there with earthly matter.
Then comes the moment when we draw near to earthly life, when we feel the universe that was “ours” until recently vanishing from us. It shrinks together and becomes smaller. This experience begets in us the longing to come down again to earth and once more unite with a physical body. We long for the earth because this universe is withdrawing from our spiritual sight. We look to where we are becoming a human being.
However, we must reckon here with a very different scale of time. Life between death and rebirth lasts for many centuries. If a person is born in the twentieth century, his or her descent has been prepared for gradually, even as early as the sixteenth century. And the person himself has been working down into the earthly conditions and events.
A great, great ... grandfather of yours, way back in the sixteenth century, fell in love with a great, great ... grandmother. They felt the urge to come together, and there, in this urge, you were already working into the earthly world from spiritual worlds. And in the seventeenth century when a less distant great, great ... grandfather and great, great ... grandmother loved each other, you were, in a sense, once again the mediator. You summoned all these generations together so that finally those who could become your mother and father could emerge.
In the mysterious and indeterminate aspect of such earthly love relationships, forces are at work that proceed from human souls seeking future incarnations. Therefore full consciousness and complete freedom are never present in the external conditions that bring men and women together. These are things that still lie entirely outside the range of human understanding.
What we call history today is actually only something very external. Little is known to us in outer life today of the soul history of human beings. People today are completely unaware that the souls of human beings even in the twelfth or thirteenth century A.D. felt very differently than they do now. Not as distinctly as I have just described but in a more dreamlike way, the men and women in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries knew of these mysterious forces working down to earth from spiritual worlds, working down, in effect, from human souls. In the West little was said about repeated earthly lives, about reincarnation, but there were human beings everywhere who knew about it. Only the Churches always excluded or even anathematized all thoughts concerning repeated earth lives. But you should actually know that there were many people in Europe, even into the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, who were aware that a human being passes through repeated lives on earth.
Then came the time during which humanity in the Western world had to develop through the stage of intellectuality. Man must gradually achieve freedom. There was no freedom in ancient times when dreamlike clairvoyance prevailed. Neither is there freedom — there is, at most, belief in freedom — in those affairs of human life, governed, shall we say, by earthly love such as I have just described. For here the interests of other souls on their way down to earth are always in play.
Yet within the course of earth evolution humankind must grow freer and freer. For only if mankind becomes freer and freer will the earth reach its evolutionary goal. For this to happen it was necessary that intellectuality reign in a certain age. The age in question is, of course, our own. For if you look back into earlier times and conditions upon earth when human beings still had a dreamlike clairvoyance, you will see that spiritual beings were always living in this dreamlike clairvoyance. A person at that time could never say, “I have my thoughts in my head.” That would have been quite false. In ancient times one had to say, “I have the life of angels in my head;” and then in later times one had to say “I have the life of the spirits of elemental beings in my head.” Then came the fifteenth century; and in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries we no longer have anything spiritual in our heads; only thoughts are in our heads — mere thoughts. By not having any higher spiritual life but only thoughts in our heads, we can make pictures of the outer world for ourselves. Through the fact that we no longer have any kind of higher spirituality within ourselves, but only thoughts, we are able to form pictures of the external world within ourselves.
Could human beings be free, so long as spirits were indwelling them? No, they could not. For spirits directed them in everything; everything was due to them. We could only become free when spiritual beings no longer directed us — when we had mere pictures, mere images, in our thoughts. Thought pictures cannot compel one to do anything. If you stand in front of a mirror the reflections of other people, no matter how angry they may be, will never be able to give you a box on the ears, never a real box on the ear because they have no reality; they are mere pictures. If I decide to do something, I can arrange for this to be reflected in a mirror but the reflection itself, the picture, cannot decide on anything.
In the age when intellectuality puts only thoughts into our heads, freedom can arise because thoughts have no power to compel. If we allow our moral impulses to be only pure thoughts — as described in my book, The Philosophy of Freedom — then we can achieve true freedom in our age. 32Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (The Philosophy of Freedom), (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1986). The intellectual age, therefore, had to arise.
Yet strange as it may sound, in essence the time is already past in which it was right for us to develop mere intellectuality, mere thinking in pictures. Along with the nineteenth century, that has become a thing of the past. If we now continue to develop mere thoughts as images then our thoughts will fall prey to Ahrimanic powers. The Ahrimanic powers will then find access to us and, having just reached our freedom, we will lose it — lose it to Ahrimanic powers. Humanity is confronted with this danger right now. Human beings today are faced with the choice: either to comprehend the spiritual life — to understand that the kinds of things I have described to you today are realities — or to deny this. But if we deny the spiritual today we will no longer be able to think freely. Rather Ahriman, Ahrimanic powers, will then begin to think in mankind. And then all humanity will undergo a downhill evolution.
Therefore, in the highest degree, it is necessary that an increasing number of human beings in our time understand the need to return to the spiritual life. This feeling that we must return to a spiritual life is what people today should seek to awaken within themselves. If they fail to seek this, humanity will fall prey to Ahriman. Seen from a higher standpoint, this is how serious the situation of humankind on earth is today. We should actually put this thought before all others. All other thoughts should be seen in the light of this one. This is what I wanted to present as the first part of today's lecture.
Descriptions such as these may help illustrate the fact that the life we go through in the spiritual world between death and new birth is entirely different from what we go through here between birth and death. Therefore, pictures taken from the earthly life, however brilliantly conceived, will always be inadequate to characterize the actual spiritual life of the human being. We can only slowly and gradually be led to an understanding of the kind of reality present in spiritual worlds. Let me give some examples.
Suppose a human being leaves his earthly body and, with his life of soul and spirit, enters the world of soul and spirit. And let us suppose that someone here on earth, who has achieved initiation knowledge in the deeper sense, is able to observe human souls in their continued life after death. Much preparation is necessary for this to happen; also necessary is a certain karma that connects the human being upon earth with the one on the other side. What is of importance is that we find some means of mutual understanding with the deceased. I am speaking to you here of spiritual experiences that are extraordinarily difficult to achieve. In general it is easier to describe the world spiritually than to approach a departed soul. People like to believe that it is not so difficult to approach a deceased person. But it is actually far more difficult to really come close to the dead than to achieve spiritual knowledge in general.
I would like now to relate some features characteristic of communication with the dead. To begin with, it is only possible to communicate with them by entertaining memories of the physical world that can still live within them. For example, the dead still have an echo of human speech, even of the particular language that they spoke most of the time while on earth. But their relationship to language undergoes a change. So, for example, when conversing with a soul who has died, we soon notice they have no understanding, not the least, for nouns. The living can address such words to a dead person; a dead person, if I may use the term, simply does not hear them. On the other hand the dead retain an understanding for all verbs, words expressing action, for a relatively long time after death.
As a general rule you will only be able to converse with a deceased person if you know the right way to put your questions to him. With these questions you must sometimes proceed as follows. One day you try to live with him in something concrete and real, for he has pictures in his soul rather than abstract thoughts. Therefore you must concentrate on some real, concrete experience which he very much enjoyed during earthly life; then you will gradually get near him.
As a rule you will not get an immediate answer. Often you will have to sleep on it, perhaps for several days, before you get the answer. But you will never get an answer from the dead if the question is posed in nouns. You must try to clothe all nouns in verbal form. Such preparation is absolutely necessary. What the deceased understands most readily are verbs made as pictorial and vivid as possible. The deceased will never understand for example, the word “table,” but if you manage to imagine vividly what is happening when a table is being made, which is a process of becoming rather than a finished thing, then you will gradually become intelligible to him. He will understand your question and you will get an answer. But the answers too will always be in verbal form, or often they will not even be in verbal form; they may only consist of what we on earth would call interjections, exclamations.
Above all, the dead speak in the actual sounds of the alphabet — sounds and combinations of sound. The longer a soul has lived in the spiritual world after death, the more he will come to speak in a kind of language we on the earth must first acquire. We do this when we develop the ability to understand and distinguish the sounds of earthly language, when we go beyond the abstract meaning of words and enter into the feeling content of the sounds. It is just as I was saying in the educational lectures held here. With the sound a (a as pronounced in father) we experience something like astonishment and wonder. In a certain sense we even take this sense of wonder into our soul when we not only say a but ach (ch here pronounced as in the German or Scottish Loch. Ach is the German equivalent of the exclamation ah!). Ach signifies: A — I feel wonder, and with the sound ch the sense of wonder goes right into me. And if I now put an m in front and say mach (German for make or do) the result is a kind of following of what awakened wonder in me as if it were approaching me step by step — mmm — until I am entirely within it. The answers of the dead often come in this kind of understanding, an understanding carried by the meaning in sounds. The dead do not speak in English, they do not speak in German, nor in Russian; they speak in such a way that only heart and soul can understand them — if heart and soul are connected with the ears that hear. I said just now that the human heart is greater and more majestic than the sun. Seen from the earthly point of view the heart is somewhere inside us, and if we cut it out anatomically it will not be a pretty sight. But in reality the heart is present in the entire human being, permeating all the other organs; it is also in the ear.
More and more we must get used to the language of the heart used by the dead, if I may so describe it. We get used to it as we gradually eliminate all nouns and noun-like forms and begin to live more in verbal forms. The dead understand words of activity and becoming for a relatively long time after death. At a later stage they understand a language that is no ordinary language. What we then receive from the dead must first be translated back into an earthly language.
Thus the human being grows out of his body and ever more into the spiritual world, as his entire life of soul becomes altogether different. And when the time approaches for him to come down to earth again he must once again change his entire life of soul. For then the moment draws ever nearer when he is confronted with a mighty task, when he himself must put together, first in the astral form and then in the etheric form, the whole future human being who will be standing here physically on earth. What we do here on the earth is external work. When our hands are at work then something happens in the external world. When we are between death and a new birth our soul is occupied with the work of putting our body together. It only seems as if we come into existence through hereditary forces. Actually we are only clothed in the outermost physical sheath through heredity. But even the forms of our organs we must develop for ourselves. I will give you an example of this, but I would like to borrow a glove for this purpose.
When a human being approaches a new earthly life, he still has the sun and moon within him. But gradually the sun and moon begin to contract together. It is as though you were to feel the lobes of your lungs shrinking together within you. In this way you feel your cosmic existence, your sun- and moon-organ shrinking together. Then something detaches itself from the sun and from the moon. Instead of having the sun and moon within you as before you have before you a kind of copy or image of the sun and moon. Glistening and luminous, you have before you two, at first, gigantic spheres, one of which is the spiritualized sun, the other the spiritualized moon. One sphere is a bright and shining light, the other sphere is glimmering in its own warmth, more fiery warm, holding the light more to itself in an egotistical way.
These two spheres that separate themselves from the cosmically transformed human being — that is, from this Adam Kadmon that still exists to this day — these two spheres draw closer and closer to one another. On our way down to earth we say: Sun and moon are becoming one. And this is what guides and leads us through the last few generations of ancestors until finally we reach the mother who will give us birth. As the sun and moon draw ever closer together they guide us.
Then we see another task before us. We see, far in the distance like a single point, the human embryo that is to be. We see, like a single entity, what has become of sun and moon drawing near our mother. But we see a task before us, which I can describe as follows. Think of this glove as the sun and moon united and going before us, leading us. We know that when our cosmic consciousness has completely vanished, when we go through a darkness (this happens after conception when we become submerged in the embryo), that we will then have to turn this inside out. What is on the inside then comes to the outside. What the sun and moon have been you must turn inside out and then a tiny opening appears; through this you must go with your I, your ego, and this becomes a copy or image of your human body upon earth. And, actually, this is the pupil of the human eye. For what was one, again becomes two, as though two mirror images were to arise. These are the two human eyes; at first they were united, as the united sun and moon, and then they turned inside out.
This is the task that then confronts you, and you fulfill it unconsciously. You must turn the whole thing around and push what is on the inside outward and go through the tiny opening. Then it separates into two. In the embryonic state two physical images are formed. The physical embryonic eyes are two pictures representing what has become of sun and moon.
In this way we work out the formation of the several parts of the human body. We gather together what we experience as the entire universe and give to every part its destined form. Only then does what has been formed in the spirit get clothed in, and permeated by, a plastic material — matter. The matter is only taken on; but the forces that form and shape us we ourselves had to develop from the entire universe.
Say, for example, that in the time between death and a new birth we pass through the sun while it is in the sign of Leo. (It need not be at birth; it can be farther back in time.) We do not then form the eyes that are made of the sun and moon — that occurs at a different time. But during this time we unite with the interior of the sun. If we could walk in the interior of the sun it would look very different from what contemporary physicists imagine. This physical imagination of theirs lacks even a suspicion of the truth. The interior of the sun is not a ball of gas; it is something even less than space — a realm where space itself has been taken away. If you begin by imagining space as something extended, with pressure everywhere present within it, then you must picture the interior of the sun as negative space, as space that is emptier than empty, a realm of suction. Few people have an adequate idea of what this means. Now, when you pass through there, you experience something that can be elaborated and worked upon, something that can be formed into the human heart. It is not the case that only the form of the eyes is made out of sun and moon; the heart form is also fashioned from the sun. But this is only possible when the sun also contains the forces that come from the constellation of Leo.
So the human being builds his entire body from the constellations of the stars and their movements in the universe. The human organism is indeed a kind of copy or image of the world of stars. A large part of the work we have to do between death and new birth consists in this — that we build our body from the universe. Standing on the earth the human being is indeed a universe, but a shrunken universe. Natural science is so naive as to suppose that the human form is produced from the physical embryo alone. This is as naive as it would be for someone who sees the needle of a magnet pointing to the north and south magnetic poles to imagine that the forces causing it to point are only within the needle itself, not realizing that the earth itself is a magnet. It is exactly the same when someone says that the human being comes from the embryo.
The human being does not come from the embryo at all but rather from the entire universe. Furthermore, his life of soul and spirit between death and a new birth consists in working with the spiritual beings on the super-sensible form of the human being. This form is created first in the astral and etheric realms and only then shrinks and contracts in order to be clothed in physical matter. The human being is really only the arena for what the universe — and he himself with his transformed powers — achieves with his physical body.
Thus the human being gradually develops himself. It begins with language, as he no longer uses nouns but finds his way into a special language, a more verbal form of speech. He then goes on to an inner beholding of the world of stars; then he lives within the world of stars. And from the world of stars he then begins to separate out what he himself is to become in his next incarnation. This is man's path: out of the physical through the transformation of language into the spiritual, and then back again through the transforming of the universe once again into the human being. Only if we can understand how the soul-spiritual part of the human being, which thus loses itself in language, becomes one with the world of stars and then draws itself back from the world of stars — only then do we understand the complete cycle of human life between death and a new birth.
These things were still clear to many people at the time when the Mystery of Golgotha took place on earth. At that time people never thought of Christ Jesus as merely the being whom they saw developing on the earth. They thought that Christ Jesus was formerly in the same world to which they themselves belonged during the life between death and new birth. They thought about the question: How did he descend and enter into the life of earth? It was the Roman world that then exterminated the science of initiation. They wanted only the old dogmas to remain. In Italy in the fourth century of our era there was a special organization, a specific body of people who made every effort to insure that the old methods of initiation should not be transformed into new ones. Only the knowledge of the outer physical world should be left to human beings on earth. Only the old dogmas could have any say concerning the super-sensible. Gradually these old dogmas were received into the intellect as mere concepts that could no longer even be understood but only believed. So the knowledge that at one time had in fact existed was split in two: into a knowledge of the earthly world and faith in another world. This faith has even shrunk to the point where, for some, it only consists of a sum of dogmas no longer understood, while for others it is nothing more than a mere basis for believing anything at all. What then is the substance of modern man's belief, when he no longer holds to the dogmas of the Trinity? He believes something altogether nebulous. He believes in a generalized, vague kind of spirituality.
We now need to return to a genuine perception of the spiritual, one made possible by living into the spiritual itself. That is, we need a science of initiation once again, a science that can speak to us about things such as the human eye, which we should look at with wonder, for it is actually a little world in itself. This is no mere picture or figure of speech; it is a reality for the reasons I have explained. For in the life between death and new birth this eye of ours was single, and this unity which was then turned inside out was actually a flowing together of the images of sun and moon.
Furthermore, we have two eyes because if we were equipped with only one, like the Cyclops, we could never develop a sense of self, an 1, in an outward and visible world; we would develop it only in the inner world of feeling. Helen Keller for example has an inner world of feeling and ideas very different from that of other people; she is only able to make herself understood because language has been taught her. Without this we would never be able to develop the idea of our I, or self. We reach the idea of 1 because we can lay our right hand over our left, or, more generally speaking, because we can bring any two symmetrical members together. We develop a delicate sense of self or I because we cross the axis of vision of our two eyes when focusing upon the outer world. Just as we cross our hands, so do we cross our eyes' axes of vision whenever we look at anything.
Materially two, our eyes are one in spirit. This single spiritual eye is located behind the bridge of the nose. It is then reproduced in a twofold image — in the two outer eyes you see. By having a left and a right hand side, the human being is able to feel and be aware of himself. If he were only right or only left, if he were not a symmetrical being, all his thinking and ideation would flow out into the world; he would not become self-possessed in his own 1.
By uniting the twin images of sun and moon into one, we are preparing ourselves for the coming incarnation. It is as though we were saying to ourselves: You must not disintegrate into the widths of the whole world. You cannot become a sun man and have the lunar man there beside you. You must become a unified being. But then, so that you can also feel this oneness, this unified, single sun-moon eye of man comes into being, and metamorphoses into the eye as we know it. For our two eyes are copies, or images, of the single, archetypal sun-moon eye of man.
These are the things I wished to tell you today, my dear friends, about the entirely different kind of experience we have when we are in the spiritual world, so very different from our experiences in the physical. But the two experiences are related to one another. The relationship is such that we are turned completely inside out. Suppose that you could take the human being as you see him here and turn him inside out so that his inside — the heart, for instance — would become the outer surface. Then he would not remain alive as a physical human being — you can believe that. But if this could be done taking hold of him in the inmost heart and turning him inside out like a glove, then man would not remain man as we see him here; he would enlarge into a universe. For if we had the faculty to concentrate in a single point within our heart, and then to turn ourselves inside out in spirit, we could become this world that we otherwise experience between death and a new birth. That is the secret of the inner side of the human being. Only while he exists in the physical world the human being cannot be turned inside out. The heart of the human being is also a world turned inside out. That is how the physical, earthly world is really connected to the spiritual world. We must get used to this “turning inside out.” If we do not, we will never get the right idea concerning how the physical world that surrounds us here relates to the spiritual world.