Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Philosophy, Cosmology & Religion
GA 215

9. The Continuation of Ego Consciousness after Death in Relation to the Christ

14 September 1922, Dornach

The ordinary earthly soul life runs its course in the inwardly experienced manifestations of thinking, feeling and will. In reality, as we have seen in the previous lectures, the reason for this is that when we wake up an etheric and astral organism as well as an ego being are contained in man's physical organization. In a certain respect, man's astral organization and ego being are outside his physical body during sleep, or, more accurately, outside the head organization of the physical body. When man is awake in earthly life, however, the etheric and astral organisms and the ego being are completely united with the physical organism. They are active in the physical corporeality. During sleep, the soul's own system of forces is not strong enough to become conscious of what it experiences in the astral and ego organisms. On the other hand, in the waking condition only that enters clearly into ordinary consciousness which the physical body reflects as thoughts from the activity of the etheric and astral organism and the ego being.

If, in his waking state, man were fully capable of experiencing the activity of his own entire soul being, he would experience first of all the course of his own life, namely, what underlies the memories as the reality of the course of life. He would be equally aware of the cosmic experience in the higher worlds that we have learned about and which, during sleep, remains unperceived and beyond consciousness. For if man were fully capable of using his astral body, there would descend into his waking consciousness what he experiences each night as a replica of the planetary movements. He would feel how the after-images of these planetary movements stream through his breathing and circulatory system. As paradoxical as it sounds to ordinary consciousness, he could say: Through my veins streams the power of the Sun, intensified by the force of Mars, permeated by the substantial force of Jupiter, etc. Man would be able to say that he was feeling an after-effect in his own being of the planetary movements. And if he could experience his complete ego being during waking consciousness, he would also feel how the spiritual essence of the fixed stars in the sky permeates his own self.

All this is suppressed during ordinary waking consciousness. Man experiences nothing in waking consciousness of the ether body's activity, which, after all, comprises the actual foundation that underlies the course of his life. He knows nothing of the impulses that come from the movements of the planets and live as stimuli in his breathing, and pulse through his blood circulation. Nothing comes to experience in ordinary waking consciousness of the many activities of the astral organization. He also experiences nothing of what is expressed in the constellations of the fixed stars and is reproduced in the eternal core of his ego being, and which, if he could experience it, would lead him to say, “I am permeated by God.” This too does not come into awareness in ordinary consciousness because the activities that are carried out in the everyday condition of wakefulness by the etheric and astral bodies and the ego relate to the physical organization in the same manner in which man clothes himself with it anew each morning. Although unaware of them, he actively permeates his physical organism with the forces that he has gathered during sleep out of the starry world and has acquired from the planetary movements. Because man actively penetrates his physical body, because his three soul elements—etheric and astral organizations and the ego being—affect the physical organism with their activity from the moment of waking up until the moment of falling asleep, the bodily organization is worked upon in a specific way. For the purely physical activity which then arises in the body itself causes and enables the whole soul life to express itself in concepts, in thoughts that are reflected images thrown by the physical body back into the soul.

Man has no awareness of the vitality that courses through him, he is not conscious of the planetary movements and the world of the fixed stars, because all the activity of his inner being is reflected during waking life onto the physical body. Through its senses, the physical body carries the effects of the outer world into the physical inner being; the phenomena of light stream in through the eyes and through the ear, the world of sounds; the realities of heat and cold enter through the sense of warmth. By means of the activity put forth by the soul all this is reflected as thoughts in the physical organism, and the soul experiences these reflected thoughts in its clear, ordinary consciousness.

These are the facts surrounding the soul's experience in ordinary wakefulness, and this poses the question to us: What does the soul actually do to the physical organism so that thoughts appear as reflections?—But first, let us keep firmly in mind that the physical organism really prevents the soul from having a consciousness of the cosmic facts, which actually reverberate and produce after-effects in it. We shall next occupy ourselves with the details of how the waking consciousness unfolds.

Let us examine to begin with what it is that this triad—the etheric and astral bodies and the ego being—produces as it works in the physical head organization of man. It turns out that the activity that is exercised on the human head organization by this triad has a degenerative effect. If the human etheric body alone were to penetrate the physical organization, a continuous revitalizing activity would be present in the physical head system. In a manner of speaking, the head's activities would be completely filled with life. But in that case no physical consciousness would arise. Physical consciousness only arises because the astral organism intervenes in the head organization. This astral organism is adapted and attuned to man's pre-earthly life, something that we have already become familiar with. The astral organism must consider it its task, if I may put it like this, not to work upon this densely material, physical corporeality but to fill with its own astral activity the body's cosmic spirit form as it did in pre-earthly existence. This astral organism of man is, after all, an after-image of what the soul brought forth out of the secrets of the planetary movements and the constellations of the fixed stars in order to form what I have called earlier the cosmic germ of the physical organization. The activity of the astral organism is therefore not directed to the earthly metamorphosis of the physical body, but toward the cosmic spirit-metamorphosis of the physical organism. This means that while the astral organism is active in the physical organism, it continually wants to spiritualize the physical insofar as the brain or head organization is concerned. Indeed, our astral organism works constantly to transform our head organization into something spiritual. An actual, outwardly visible transformation is not achieved, only the tendency toward transformation is always there.

This tendency, then, is present continually. Degenerative forces are constantly added by the head organization of the astral body to the regenerative forces of the human head organization that would otherwise produce fresh, sparkling, but unconscious life in the human head. To the extent that it is head organization, these degenerative forces try to destroy the physical organism, making it feasible for a spirit organization to shine forth from it, for that is what the astral organism is accustomed to from pre-earthly life. The physical head configuration, however, offers resistance, it cannot be broken down. This resistance is expressed in the fact that each time sleep must intervene at the moment when the physical configuration of the head would otherwise disintegrate due to the astral body's activity. Then, in sleep, the forces of the etheric body alone are active once again in the head.

The alternating states of waking and sleeping may also be characterized by saying that during the waking state the astral forces continually expose the human head organization to death. The instant their destructive activity is on the verge of changing from a latent to an active state, if I may put it that way, sleep intervenes. The imaginative consciousness of modern initiation knowledge can observe these facts in the appearance of man's etheric body during the periods of waking and sleeping.

In regard to the head organization, the etheric body, which permeates the physical body as spiritual activity, becomes increasingly undifferentiated during the waking hours. In a man who is awake you find an etheric organism that is markedly differentiated inwardly and possesses complicated forms in those parts of the physical body where the lungs, the liver, the stomach, and limbs are located. The etheric organism has an abundance of shapes in these areas during waking hours. By contrast, the longer wakefulness lasts, the more undifferentiated the ether body in the head organization becomes. Finally, it turns into something comparable to a uniform cloud in the head, for the characteristic regenerative forces that are otherwise present in this etheric organism lose their impact as the degenerative forces of the astral organism in the waking state exercise their deadening effect upon the head system.

It is quite different during the state of sleep. You see with imaginative consciousness how this element of differentiation, of manifoldness of the etheric organism penetrates the etheric head system. In sleep, the head's etheric organization acquires the same kind of forms as possessed by the rest of the etheric organism during the waking state. In sleep, the life forces, the formative forces of the etheric body wake up in the head. Then, the head becomes an unconscious but most alive organization.

So you can see that in earth existence, due to waking consciousness, man bears potential death continually in his head organization. The tendency to die is present in the head all the time. The astral organism wants to transform the head system continually into spirit. It wants to make the head into an organ of planetary motion, into an image of the starry constellations. The astral organization is an ever-present destroyer of the physical head configuration.

If present-day science knew about these facts, it would find it utterly impossible to succumb to materialism. For what is it that those people say who want to interpret the whole human organization in a materialistic way? They say that the organic processes of life take place in the head just as they do in the liver or in the stomach, only in the brain they are expressed as thoughts, as soul activity. Compared to the facts, however, this is sheer nonsense. We do not think and experience the soul in ordinary consciousness due to constructive life processes that go on in the head, but because our nervous system is continually on the verge of being destroyed as a result of the presence of death in us. To be awake in the life of soul in ordinary consciousness signifies that organic processes are not developed but rather made to die down. They must first die down within themselves and make room for the soul, if they are to unfold in ordinary consciousness. If this were correctly understood, people would have to say that quite certainly soul life cannot originate from organic processes, because these processes have to come first to the point of dying down. They must first withdraw from the head organization if the soul is to be active there.

These are the true facts in regard to the way man's soul and his physical body function together. This also shows how, through being born, man at once bears within his head system the predisposition for death. Through supersensible knowledge we learn to understand that death has the tendency to occur continually in us and is constantly kept in check only by sleep. The once-in-a-lifetime event of dying, death in the physical sense, is indeed only a summing up, a more pronounced process in comparison to the continuous, if I may say so, atomistically minute death processes that take place all the time in waking consciousness. As long as we possess a physical organism, it defends itself against the destruction wrought by the astral organism. This is how matters stand with the head organization.

Man's astral organization, however, does not merely have this effect in waking life, only a part of it does. Another part finds its way into earthly life more in the form in which it is active in pre-earthly existence. This part of man's astral body is not active in the head organization but in everything that constitutes the rhythmic system, that is to say, those organs of the physical body in which breathing, blood circulation and the other rhythmic processes take place. Although this part of the astral body, to which I refer now, lives in man's rhythmic system, it does not unite itself as closely with the rhythmic system as does the other part that is active in the head. That part takes hold of the head organization so strongly that it continually makes it incline toward death by breaking it up, whereas the part of the astral body that enters the human rhythmic system permeates this organization. It lives in the breathing and in the blood circulation, but because it does not take hold of this organization in such an intense manner, it leaves it in some respects undisturbed. It does not lay hold of this system for the purpose of destroying it. But for this reason, no thought life comes into being through this union of the astral organization of man and the rhythmic system. The expressions of the soul life are reflected in the physical head organism which has the constant tendency to die. This produces fully conscious thinking. On the other hand, what is continually taking place in the streaming together of the astral and the rhythmic organizations is not reflected in the same manner as in the life of thoughts so that a clear consciousness could result. It is expressed in the more vague form of soul life: man's emotional life, his feelings. Emotions arise, because, in waking life, the astral organism pulses through the breathing and blood circulation but does not destroy these processes and does not immerse itself so deeply into them. Instead, through its interplay with the rhythmic system, man's life of feeling is roused.

While an element of what the human being has experienced in his pre-earthly, cosmic sojourn lives in the rhythmic-organic system, it does not reach clear consciousness. This has a quite definite consequence. Through this interplay between the astral and the physical-rhythmic organisms which I have described, something continually takes place below in the unconscious that enters ordinary daytime consciousness only as a weak reflection. Let us study this in detail. Say that a person carries out his activities, his deeds in physical life. These actions of his do not express themselves in him as do mere natural phenomena. Out of a certain impulse that arises from his subconscious, he feels impelled to judge whether these activities are moral or immoral, valuable or worthless, wise or unwise. Moral evaluation, moral judgement joins in with the otherwise amoral, not anti-moral life of thinking.

Now, what is it that flashes up from the depth of soul experience and tells us: This action is good, that one is bad, this deed is wise, that one is foolish? It is a soul activity which has remained as it was in pre-earthly existence, which penetrates man's rhythmic organism of breathing and blood circulation but cannot fully stream up into the life of thoughts. It only colors it. This way, we also have reflections of this inner experience in our conscious life of thoughts, which are valuable for the activities we carry on in the physical world. We do not bear within us only what we express in our actions as the conscious judgement of thinking. No, in the rhythmic system of man there lives and pulses an astral-spiritual element that is similar in form to what it was already in pre-earthly life and which—distinctly for itself but indistinctly for ordinary consciousness—says Yes or No to his actions. Here, within us, lives a judge who judges the worthiness of our soul, and this soul-judge is as real as is our soul that lives as thinking-soul within our head organization.

In ancient times of humanity's evolution, those who wanted to attain higher perception in the old manner sought, therefore, to bring the rhythmic system into consciousness, the breathing and also the blood circulation. Now observe what resulted from their efforts to use an older method of entering into the spiritual world, a method no longer to be employed today. It turned out that those people were able to discern their own human value from what the cosmos inscribed into their breathing, considering it good or bad, wise or foolish. In the old Indian Yogi, judgement as to what was morally natural and naturally moral in him was carried up into the brain by the breath from the rhythmic system. During his Yoga perception, he made his brain into a breathing organ for a while and experienced what the cosmos said about his activity.

This judgement by the cosmos concerning our deeds is very real in the astral human organization. When man's physical body is laid aside at death, the obstacle is removed which prevents what lives in man's breathing and blood circulation from entering his consciousness. The physical organism is like a non-transparent cover for what takes place in the astral organism in the way that I have just described. Therefore, the astral experiences that live in the breathing and blood circulation between birth and death continue to live on in man's being beyond death. We shall comprehend how this works when, directly after the translation of this part, I shall describe what the human soul undergoes when it actually passes through the portal of death.

When, at death, man's physical organism falls away from the human entity and disintegrates, man remains at the outset in the etheric and astral organisms and his ego being. Inasmuch as the physical organism is no longer an obstacle to the soul's unfolding into the cosmic element and ceases to hold the soul back in its own sphere, the possibility of cosmic consciousness arises at once for the human soul. The human soul is now clothed in the etheric organism that is no longer bound to a physical body. While this etheric organism represents the course of man's life on the one hand, it is at the same time the vehicle for the continuous in-streaming of cosmic forces of life. As the soul gradually passes through death along with the ether body, it experiences the cosmic world-ether in the etheric organism. The activities that take place in this world-ether now stream into the etheric organism, for only the physical body had prevented this earlier. Now this obstacle is gone. In its inner activities, the etheric organism is not as separated from the outer cosmic events and realities as is the physical organism. The occurrences outside in the cosmic world-ether stream actively into man's etheric organism, and what occurs in the human etheric organism pulsates out into the world-ether. After death, man not only lives directly in his own etheric organism, but, inasmuch as he has liberated it from the physical organization he finds his way into the cosmic-etheric element, which continually streams in and out of him.

Since the human soul is a unity, however, man's astral and ego being are drawn along into the cosmic-etheric realm. Increasingly, cosmic-etheric awareness lights up in the human soul as its own inner being. But in comparison to this great, mighty cosmic consciousness, man's own ether body represents only a very small etheric element; and the cosmic ether actually lives within this minute etheric element. For this reason, man's own etheric experiences, which were held together again and again by his physical organization, no longer have any significance in the great cosmic ocean of ether with its cosmic consciousness. This, however, means nothing less than the fact that man's etheric organism dissolves quite soon after death. Then, along with the cosmic consciousness that he has attained, man retains his astral organization and his ego being.

In this astral organism, however, the after-effects are contained of what it experienced on earth while within the physical body. I have characterized how a part of the astral organism retains its cosmic nature, as it were, since it is only loosely connected with the breathing and circulatory rhythms. Now that the physical organs of breathing and circulation are cast off, man's inner nature, which developed along with the physical processes of breathing and circulation during earthly life, lives on with its content of moral qualities and evaluation. Permeated by cosmic consciousness, this lives on and is experienced after death. The element that found its reflection during earth life in physical breathing and the blood circulation comes to expression in a cosmic rhythm after death. A rhythm is present again, but it is one in which man feels that the moral quality-valuation holds sway which he brought along from earthly life. He experiences his astral content as moral qualities; how they came to be good or bad, wise or foolish during life on earth. This is a kind of inner pulse beat.

The cosmic process that is not yet permeated by the moral element but represents a purely cosmic element streams continually into this inner pulse-beat from outside. It represents an amoral, not an anti-moral process that is reflected on earth in the processes of nature. We do not distinguish between “good” or “bad” in nature, everything proceeds according to neutral natural laws. All that goes on in nature is a reflection of a cosmic process, and that cosmic process pulses rhythmically into the after-effect of the rhythmic-moral valuation. After death, man thus experiences himself as existing in a cosmic rhythm, he inhales the cosmos in its moral innocence and exhales into the cosmos the moral judgements he has accumulated. A cosmic rhythm has taken the place of the physical rhythm, and the human soul experiences in this cosmic rhythm how a moral element arises in the cosmos—which is designed to reflect itself amorally in outer nature—an element which, because of human experiences on earth, is carried out through the gate of death into this cosmos. The moral evaluations of its deeds that the human soul bears through the portal of death into the cosmos is incorporated into the cosmic amorality. The moral results of man's life that have been carried through death are now imbedded into the depths of the cosmos. By means of his consciousness that is no longer impeded by anything, man becomes a witness of how a moral element develops for a future world in the depths of the amoral cosmos. Our world is morally neutral inasmuch as nature is a reflection of the cosmos. A future world will arise out of ours whose nature in its reflection (of the cosmos) will not be morally neutral; instead, everything moral will be natural and everything natural will be moral. The seed for this is carried by man into the cosmos through his moral deeds. During this experience, the human soul consciously faces the great question: As my existence continues, do the moral qualities that I have acquired make me worthy to take part in the future cosmos that no longer will have a merely neutral image in nature but a moral one?

This experience of the soul after death in the cosmic rhythm, described above as sensations and feelings—we can use these terms even though they do not quite represent the supersensible experience—is proof of the impact of morality upon the physical world. This lends a nuance of its own to the soul's experiences for a certain length of time following death. I once described these experiences, which are now pictured from another side, in my book, Theosophy, and there I called them the “soul world.”

But if, after death, man had to remain only within these experiences, he could not reach the point where he could properly prepare the spiritual archetype of his future physical organism that I have described earlier, and which he must bear within him in a new earth life. It could not be developed in a proper, healthy way out of a soul life filled with moral imperfections from the preceding earth life. Consequently, at a certain point after death, the soul must enter a world where it lives only in the purified cosmos, where the experiences of the cosmic rhythm that I have describe abate. This is because all moral valuation of the soul's activities affects this cosmic rhythm, and this would only produce a decadent spiritual archetype for the future physical organism. A healthy physical body can only be created when the soul is allowed to enter a world where it is no longer influenced by the after-effects of the earthly soul experiences of its past incarnation, where, instead, the nonhuman spiritual impulses of the cosmos are active, as I have pictured it. These experiences that have to be undergone by the human soul in the purified cosmos of the spirit were also characterized by me in my book, Theosophy, from another side than is done here. There I have called them “spirit land.” Man has to enter this spirit land of the soul, for it is only then that he will be able to collaborate in the universal, all-embracing creation of the spiritual organism that in future time metamorphoses into the physical organism. Man must be relieved for a while of the imperfections stemming from an earlier life, otherwise he would have to reincarnate in a misshapen physical organism in his next earth-life.

We thus arrive through inner perception at a description of what man experiences by means of his soul forces in the spiritual cosmos after death. Along with his astral body, he naturally also carries into the cosmic spirit world what lives in his ego being. This ego being, however, must be worked on in still another way. That can be the subject of tomorrow's lecture. Today, I will have to describe in the last portion of my lecture how the form assumed by man after death relates to Christian evolution and the Mystery of Golgotha.

You will understand that a true cosmology can only come into being when we include in it what inspiration can know concerning the incorporation of such a moral, cosmic germ, as I have described. Any cosmology would remain incomplete if it did not know that the present cosmos, which finds a neutral, amoral reflection in physical nature, will through the lives of men become a cosmos one day in which the natural is at the same time moral, and the moral is natural. For this reason, a true cosmology can only arise when ordinary knowledge is enriched by inspiration, just as a true philosophy can only receive a living content when it includes the results of imagination, as I brought out yesterday. Such a cosmology, however, also requires Christianity.

In the age that preceded the Mystery of Golgotha there were initiates who employed methods other than those that must be used in initiation of the present day. Those ancient initiates, who lived prior to this Mystery of Golgotha and who knew what happens in the spiritual worlds that man en counters after death, were already able to say to their followers: “After death, you enter a soul world in which you have to experience the consequences of your moral qualities and qualities similar to them. But you cannot enter the spirit land with the same soul forces that unfolded in the soul world, for even if you were to enter there the after-effect, present in your consciousness, of the moral evaluation present in the astral organism would dull and extinguish your ego consciousness, the consciousness of your self that you would otherwise attain in spirit land after death.”

As I said, ego consciousness has developed here in the physical world on the basis of the physical organism. But precisely for the cultivation of man's spirit germ, an ego consciousness had to be present for the sojourn in spirit land even in ancient times of human evolution.

“Man cannot possess this ego consciousness by means of his own forces,” said the old initiates to those of their followers who wanted to listen. “He can only have it, if, at a certain moment after he has passed through the soul world, the lofty Spiritual Being, Whose physical reflection is the physical sun, comes and stands beside him, and leads him from the soul world into the spirit land, being his Guide from then on. As man here in the physical world experiences his best physical forces under the influence of the physical sun,” thus spoke the initiates of old, “so he must be taken by the hand, pictorially speaking, when he passes out of the soul world into spirit land in order to receive his best forces from the impulses of that Sun Being, whose physical reflection here is the physical sun. “ In this way, the ancient initiates presented the spiritual Sun Being as the lofty Companion of the human soul through spirit land.

The initiates, who lived at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha and three to four centuries later, said to those who wished to be their followers and wanted to hear what they said: Because of the direction taken by the physical development of man's organization, the inner human being, after his passage through the soul world, is so obsessed by what he has perceived of the moral consequences that if he were to remain dependent upon his own powers, his consciousness would darken there and he would not be able to receive the influence of that Sun Being. For this reason, the Sun Being Itself descended to earth, assumed a human nature in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and accomplished the deed of the Mystery of Golgotha.

If man, in addition to what he can attain here on earth by means of his sense perception and the development of his ego consciousness, can also become aware of the Christ Being in his feelings, if he acquires an insight into the Mystery of Golgotha in his feelings—which are tied to the astral body—then, the after-effect of the relationship between earth events and Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha also exercises its effect upon the astral being of man which lives on after death in the manner that I have described. By means of this after-effect, man's consciousness, which would otherwise remain cloudy and dark, is given strength when he passes from the soul world into spirit land after death. It is made capable of perception in the spiritual world, which in turn enables the soul to prepare the spiritual archetype of the next physical organization between death and a new birth.

Therefore, the initiates, who were contemporaries of the Mystery of Golgotha, or lived a few centuries afterwards, said to their followers: Although man has developed in such a way that he does not carry the forces through death that can lead him from the soul world into the spirit land, Christ did descend to the earth and accomplished the Deed of Golgotha. Through the effects of this Deed of Golgotha on the human soul, the forces of the soul can be strengthened in such a manner that after death, in the transition from the soul world into the spirit land, man has such rich experiences in the cosmic world that out of its impulses he is able to cooperate in working out the physical organism for his next earthly life. Through the Deed of Christ, the human soul is purified during the transition from the soul world into the spirit land. Thus spoke the initiated contemporaries of the Mystery of Golgotha, as had the initiates of antiquity: Through the guidance of the sublime Sun Being, the human soul is purified during its transition from the soul world into the spirit land.

From this you see that what has to be summed up as the mystery of death is connected with the Christian evolution of earthly humanity. After the fourth century, however, as I have set forth already, the initiation knowledge that could have spoken to men who wished to become its followers in the way mentioned above faded away. Now, however, the time has come when a new initiation science is once again able to reveal the connection between men and Christ Jesus. This new initiation science must again say: Whosoever accepts the secret of the Mystery of Golgotha into his life of feelings during earthly life thereby so strengthens and invigorates his inner soul being in the transition from the soul world to the spirit land that it can become strong enough to avoid forming the kind of physical organization it would form if there were no such impulse from a renewed Christianity. For, without this impulse, physical organizations would inevitably arise in future earth evolution that would be pathological. Through a renewed Christianity, we can unite ourselves with the impulse that makes possible physical organizations that will be healthy and vigorous throughout the rest of earth existence.

Thus, there is a profound connection between man's development after death and the Christ Being. In a true cosmology, Christ stands as a World Power, a Cosmic Force. His Power can be perceived in man's transition after death from the soul world to spirit land.

In the next lecture we will consider how the element that lives in the human soul and is expressed in impulses of the will in ordinary consciousness passes through death. We shall see how between death and rebirth it can become the germinal basis for certain forces that will only come to expression in the next life, and how man's destiny—formerly called karma—continues from one earth life to another. Tomorrow's lecture will add a contemplation of the sphere of the human will to today's considerations of the spheres of human thinking and feeling. That will once again show how the significant relationship between man and the Christ Being, the Mystery of Golgotha and the whole of Christian evolution, must be developed in regard to the human will. Today we have placed Christ into cosmological evolution, into true cosmological insight; it will be our task in tomorrow's lecture to place Christ into a renewed Christian perception of religion.