7 September 1924, Dornach
As I have said, theoretical explanations about karma and repeated earthly lives cannot but remain unliving and inadequate, until our thought in this direction really flows into our understanding of the life around us. We must contemplate life itself in the light of karma and repeated earthly lives. But such a contemplation requires the very greatest earnestness, for it may indeed be said that the temptation is very great for man to spin out all manner of ideas about karmic connections and repeated earthly lives. The temptation is great; the source of illusions in this sphere is exceedingly great. And indeed, real investigations in this sphere can be made only by one to whom the spiritual world has in a sense been opened through his own soul-development.
Hence it must also be said that in these matters especially the investigator must rely on those foundations of conviction in his audience which may follow from other things he has brought to light. Indeed we ought not to have any confidence in one who begins without more ado to speak about repeated earthly lives in detail. What is derived from such occult depths as these must be confirmed and supported by the fact that many other things have already been produced which give a real basis for confidence in the spiritual investigator.
Now I think I may say that in the twenty-three to twenty-four years during which we have cultivated Anthroposophy, enough occult material has been gathered to warrant the description at this present time even of these bold researches into karma and repeated earthly lives, for the benefit of those who may have gained true confidence through the other realms of spiritual life which have been unfolded before them in the course of time. True, many are present here to-day who have been in the society for a comparatively short time. But the evolution of the society would be made impossible if we always had to begin at the beginning for those who enter newly; and on the other hand, to our great joy and satisfaction, large numbers of our oldest Anthroposophical friends have come here at this busy time when so many lecture-courses are to be given. Many Anthroposophists are gathered here who have witnessed nearly the whole period of Anthroposophical development and as time goes on opportunities must be created in the Anthroposophical Society for those in the earlier stages of membership to be properly introduced to all that must now be cultivated for the further course of the society's development.
I had to make these preliminary remarks, because what I shall say to-day will be given more in the form of a simple communication, and much of it may well appear exceedingly bold. It will however form the starting-point for what will follow in the succeeding lectures.
A human life after all only appears in its true nature when we consider how it passes through repeated lives on earth. Serious and responsible research in this domain is however by no means easy, for the results we gain do in a certain way contradict our habitual ideas on the subject.
At first sight, when considering the life of a man on earth with all the contents of his destiny, most people will be struck by those events of destiny which are connected with his outer profession or inner calling, with his social position and the like. As to the essential content of his earthly life, a human being will naturally appear to us in the light of these characteristics, nor need they by any means be superficial, for they may signify much for his inner life of soul. Nevertheless, to look into those depths in which repeated lives on earth are seen, it is necessary to look aside from many of these obvious and outer things that stamp themselves upon the destiny of a human being in his earthly life.
In effect, we must not imagine that the outer or inner calling of a man has a very great significance for his karma that passes through repeated lives on earth. True, even if we take a comparatively external and typical calling, that of a civil servant for example, we can conceive how much it is connected, even outwardly, with his destiny. Nevertheless, for the deepest relationships of karma or destiny those things that we can describe in a man as proceeding from his external calling are sometimes of no significance at all. And so it is with inner callings too. How easily we are tempted, in the case of a musician, to think that at any rate in one former earthly life he was, if not a musician, an artist of some kind. But it is by no means always so. Nay, I must go farther — it is so only in the rarest cases. For when we investigate these things in reality, we find that the continued thread of karma or destiny goes far deeper into the inner being of man and is little connected with his outer profession or inner calling. It is far more concerned with the inner forces of soul and resistances of soul, with moral relationships which can, after all, reveal themselves in any and every calling whether it be an outer or an inner one.
For this very reason, the investigation of karma — of the thread of destiny — requires us to concentrate on circumstances in the life of a human being which may often appear outwardly trivial or of small importance. In this connection I must refer again and again to a fact that once occurred to me.
I had to investigate the karmic connections of a certain human being. He had many characteristics in this his present life. He had a certain task in life, he had indeed his profession. But to intuitive vision, from all that he did out of his profession, or that he did as a philanthropist and the like, no indication of his former earthly lives could be found. Not that these things were unconnected with his former lives on earth, but for spiritual vision they gave no clue. One could penetrate no farther when concentrating on these facts of his profession or of his philanthropic work. On the other hand, curiously enough, a quite unimportant peculiarity of his life gave a result. He frequently had to lecture. Every time before he began he quite habitually took out his pocket handkerchief and blew his nose! I often heard him lecture, and without exception whenever he began to speak (I do not mean when he began to speak in conversation, but whenever he had to speak continuously) he first took out his pocket-handkerchief and blew his nose. Now this gave a picture from which there radiated out the power to look into his former lives on earth.
I give this as a particularly grotesque example. It is not always so grotesque; but the point is, we must be able to enter into the whole human being if we wish to look in any valid way into his karma.
You see, from a deeper point of view, the special calling of a man is, after all, something that results from education and other circumstances. On the other hand, it is deeply connected with his inner spiritual configuration if every time before he begins to make a speech he simply cannot help taking out his pocket-handkerchief and blowing his nose! That is a thing far more intimately connected with the being of a man. Still, I admit, this is a radical and extreme example. It is not always quite like this. I wanted only to awaken in you the idea that for the investigation of karma, that which lies on the obvious surface of a man's life is as a rule of no use. We have to enter into certain intimate features of his life — I do not mean into things that one pries into unjustifiably — but into the finer qualities and characteristics that nevertheless appear quite openly.
Having said this by way of introduction, I will now relate a certain instance perfectly frankly and straightforwardly, and of course with all the reservations which are necessary in the case. I mean with the reservation that everyone is free to believe or disbelieve what I now say, though I must assure you that it is based on the deepest and most earnest spiritual-scientific research.
These things do not by any means come to one if one approaches them with the deliberate intention to investigate, like a modern scientist in his laboratory. In a certain way, researches on karma must themselves result from karma.
I had to mention this fact at the end of the new edition of my book Theosophy, for among the various strange requirements that have been made of me from time to time during my life, this too occurred not long ago. — It was suggested that I should submit myself to examination in some psychological laboratory, so that they might ascertain whether the things I have to say on spiritual science are well founded. It is of course just as absurd as if someone were to produce mathematical results and, instead of testing their accuracy, you were to challenge him to submit to an examination in a laboratory, to see whether or not he was a real mathematician. Absurdities of this kind go under the name of scholarship to-day and are taken seriously by learned people!
I said quite definitely at the close of the new edition of my Theosophy, that experiments in this spirit can of course give no result. And I also mentioned that all the paths of approach which lead to the discovery of a certain occult result must themselves be prepared in a spiritual, in a super-sensible way.
Now I once had occasion to meet an eminent doctor of our time, who was well known to me by reputation and especially by his literary career. I had a very high regard for him. You see, I am mentioning the karmic details which led to the investigation, the results of which I shall now describe. The investigation itself took a very long time and only reached its conclusion during the last few weeks. Only now has it reached a stage which enables me conscientiously to speak of it. I am mentioning all these details in order that you may see some at least of the inner connections, though of course not all of them.
Thus I made the acquaintance of this doctor, a man of our own day. When I met him I was in the company of another person whom I had known very well for a long time. This other person had always made, I will not say a deep, but a very thorough impression on me. He was exceedingly fond of the society of men who were interested in occultism in the widest possible range, though an occultism somewhat externally conceived. He was fond of relating the views of his many acquaintances on all kinds of occult matters, and especially on the occult connections of what the modern artist should strive for, as a lyric and epic poet, or as a dramatist. Around this person there was what I might call a kind of moral, ethical aura. I am applying the word ‘moral’ to all that is connected with the soul-qualities under the command of the will.
I was paying a visit to him, and in his company I found the other man first mentioned, whom I knew by reputation and respected very highly for his literary and medical career. Everything that took place during this visit made a deep impression on me and impelled me to receive the whole experience into the realm of spiritual research.
Then a very remarkable thing happened. By witnessing the two persons in the company of one another, and by the impression which my new acquaintance made on me — (I had known him for a long time as an eminent literary and medical man and had a great regard for him, but this was the first time that I saw him in the flesh) — by these impressions I gained certain perceptions. To begin with however, it enabled me, not to investigate in any way the connections in life and destiny of my new acquaintance. On the contrary, my seeing them together shed light as it were upon the other one, whom I had long known. And the result was this. — He had lived in ancient Egypt, not in his last, but in one of his former lives on earth. And (this is the peculiar thing) he had been mummified, embalmed as a mummy. Soon afterwards I discovered that the mummy was still in existence. Indeed a long time afterwards I saw the actual mummy. This, then, was the starting-point. But once the line of research had been kindled in connection with the person whom I had long known, it shed its light still farther, and eventually I was enabled to investigate the karmic connections of the other man, my new acquaintance, the doctor. And the following was the result.
As a general rule one is led from one earthly life of a human being to the preceding one. But in this case intuition led far back into ancient Egypt, to a kind of chieftain in ancient Egypt. It was a chieftain who in a certain sense, indeed in a very interesting way, possessed the ancient Egyptian Initiation, but had become somewhat decadent as an Initiate. In the further course of his life, he began to take his Initiation not very seriously, indeed he even treated it with a certain scorn. Now this man had a servant, who in his turn was extremely serious. This servant was of course not initiated; but both of them together were given the task of embalming mummies and procuring the substances for this purpose, which was no easy matter.
Now especially in the more ancient periods of Egypt, the process of embalming mummies was very complicated and demanded an intimate knowledge of the human being, of the human body. Nay more, of those who had to do the embalming — if they did it legitimately — deep knowledge of the human soul was required. The chieftain of whom I spoke had been initiated for this very work, but he gradually became, in a manner of speaking, frivolous in relation to this, his proper calling. So it came about that in the course of time he betrayed (so they would have put it in the language of the Mysteries) the knowledge he had received through his Initiation to his servant, and the latter gradually proved to be a man who understood the content of Initiation better than the Initiate himself. Thus the servant became the embalmer of mummies, and at length his master did not even trouble to supervise the work, though of course he still took advantage of the social position, etc., which this honourable task involved. But at length his character became such that he no longer enjoyed great respect, and he thus came into various conflicts of life. The servant, on the other hand, worked his way up by degrees to a very, very earnest conception of life, and was thus taken hold of, in a remarkably congenial way, by a kind of Initiation. It was no real Initiation, but it lived within him instinctively. Thus a large number of mummies were mummified under the supervision and co-operation of these two people.
Time went on. The two men passed through the gate of death and underwent the experiences of which I shall speak next time — the experiences in the super-sensible which are connected with the development of karma or destiny. And in the Roman epoch they both of them came back to earthly life. They came back at the very time when the dominion of the Roman Emperors was founded, in the time of Augustus — not exactly, but approximately, in the time of Augustus himself.
I said above that this is a matter of conscientious research, no less exact in its methods than any researches of physics or chemistry, and I should not speak of these things unless for some weeks past it had become possible for me to speak of them so definitely.
The chieftain, who had gradually become a really frivolous Initiate, and who, when he had passed through the gate of death, had felt this as an extraordinarily bitter trial of earthly life, experiencing it in all the bitterness of its effects — we find him again as Julia, the daughter of Augustus. She married Tiberius, the step-son of Augustus, and led a life which to herself seemed justified but was considered, in the Roman society of that time, so immoral that at length both she and Tiberius were banished.
The other man — the servant who had worked his way from the bottom upwards nearly to the grade of an Initiate — was born again at the same time, as the Roman historian Titus Livius, or Livy.
It is most interesting how Livy came to be an historian. In the ancient Egyptian times he had embalmed a large number of mummies. The souls who had lived in the bodies of these mummies — very many of them — were reincarnated as Romans. And certain ones among them were actually reincarnated as the seven Kings of Rome. For the Seven Kings were no mere legendary figures. Going back into the time when the chieftain and his servant had lived in Egypt, we come into a very old Egyptian epoch. Now through a certain law which applies especially to the reincarnation of souls whose bodies have been mummified, these souls were called back again to earth comparatively soon. And the karmic connection of the servant of the chieftain with the souls whose bodies he had embalmed was so intimate, that he had to write the history of the very same human being whom in a previous life he had embalmed, though naturally, he also included the history of many others whom he had not embalmed. Thus Titus Livius became an historian. Now I would like some, indeed as many of you as possible, to take Livy's Roman History, and, with the knowledge that results from these karmic connections, to receive a real impression of his style. You will see that his peculiar penetration into the human being and his tendency at the same time towards the style of the myth, is akin to that intimate knowledge of man which an embalmer could attain.
We do not perceive such connections until the corresponding researches have been made. But once this has been done, a great light is shed on many things. It is difficult to understand the origin of the peculiar style of Titus Livius, who as it were embalms the human beings whom he describes. For such is his style. Real light is thrown upon it when we point to these connections.
Thus we have the same two people again as Julia and Titus Livius. Then Julia and Livy passed once more through the gate of death. The one soul had had the experience of being an Initiate to a considerable degree, and having then distorted his Initiation by frivolous conduct. He had discovered all the bitterness of the after-effects of this in the life between death and a new birth. He had then undergone a peculiar destiny in his new life on earth as Julia, of which life you may read in history. The result was, that in his next life between death and a new birth (following on the life as Julia) he conceived a strong antipathy to this his incarnation as Julia. And in a curious way this antipathy of his was universalised. For spiritual intuition shows this individuality in his life between death and a new birth as though perpetually crying out: “Would that I had never become a woman! It was the evil that I did in yonder life in ancient Egypt which led me thus to become a woman.”
We can now trace the life of these two individualities still farther. We come into the Middle Ages. We find Livy again as the glad poet and minstrel in the very centre of the Middle Ages. We are astonished to find him thus, for there is no connection between the external callings. But the greatest possible surprises that a human being can possibly have are those that result from a real study of successive lives on earth. The Roman historian, with his style that proceeded from a knowledge of man acquired in embalming mummies, with his style so wonderfully light — we find him again as the poet Walther von der Vogelweide. His style is carried upwards, as it were, upon the wings of lyric poetry.
Walther von der Vogelweide lived in the Tyrol. He had many patrons; and among his many patrons there was one very peculiar man, who was on familiar terms with alchemists of every kind, for there were scores of alchemists at that time, in the Tyrol. This man was himself the owner of a castle, but he frequented all manner of alchemists' dens and hovels. In so doing he learned extraordinarily much, and (as happened in the case of Paracelsus too) by spending his time in the dens of alchemists he was impelled to study all occult matters very intensely, and gained an unusually intense feeling for occult things. He thus came into the position of rediscovering in the Tyrol what was then only known as a legend, namely, the Castle in the Mountain — the Castle in the Rocks — (which indeed no one would have recognised as such, for it consisted of rocks, it was hollowed out of the rocks) — I mean, the Castle of the Dwarf King Laurin. The daemonic nature in the district of the Castle of the Dwarf King Laurin made a profound impression on him. Thus there was a remarkable combination in this soul — Initiation which he had carried into frivolity, annoyance at having been a woman and having thus been drawn into the sphere of Roman immorality and, at the same time, Roman cant and hypocrisy about morals; and lastly, an intimate knowledge, though still only external, of all manner of alchemical matters, which knowledge he had extended to a clear feeling of the nature-daemons and of other spiritual agencies in nature.
These two men — though it is not recorded in the biography of Walther, nevertheless it is the case — Walther von der Vogelweide and this other man often came together, and Walther received many an influence and impulse from him.
Here we have an instance of what is really a kind of karmic law. We see the same people drawn together again and again, called to the earth again and again simultaneously, complementing one another, living in a kind of mutual contrast. It is interesting once more, to enter into the peculiar lyrical style of Walther. It is as though at last he had grown thoroughly sick of embalming dead mummies and had turned to an entirely different aspect of life. He will no longer have anything to do with dead things, but only with the fullness and joy of life. And yet again, there is a certain undercurrent of pessimism in his work. Feel the style of Walther von der Yogelweide, feel in his style the two preceding earthly lives: feel too, his restless life. It is extraordinarily reminiscent of that life which dawns upon one who spends much of his time with the dead, when many destinies are unburdened in the soul. For such indeed was the case with an embalmer of mummies.
Now we go on. — My further researches into this karmic chain led me at length into the same room where I had visited my old acquaintance, whom I had recognised as an Egyptian mummy. And now I perceived that this very mummy had been embalmed by the other man whom I now met in his room. The whole line of research led me back to this same room. In effect, I found the soul who had passed through the servant of the old Egyptian embalmer, through Titus Livius, through Walther von der Vogelweide — I found him again in the doctor of our time, in Ludwig Schleich.
Thus astonishingly do the connections in life appear. Who, with the ordinary consciousness alone, can understand an earthly life? It can only be understood when we know what is there in the foundations of a soul. Theoretically, many people know that deep in the foundations of the soul there are the layers of successive earthly lives. But it becomes real and concrete only when we behold it in a specific instance.
Then inner vision was directed out of this room once more. (For in the case of the other man, who had been mummified by this one, I was led to no more clues — at any rate to no important ones.) On the other hand I now perceived the further soul-pilgrimage of the old chieftain, of Julia, of the discoverer of Laurin's Castle. For he came back to earth as August Strindberg.
Now I would like you to take the whole life and literary work of August Strindberg and set it against the background which I have just described. See the peculiar misogyny of Strindberg, which is no true misogyny, but proceeds from quite different foundations. Look, too, at all the strange daemonic elements that occur in his works. See his peculiar attraction to all manner of alchemistic and occult arts and artifices. And at length, look at the adventurous life of August Strindberg. You will find how well it stands out against the background which I have described.
Then read the Memoirs of Ludwig Schleich, his relations to August Strindberg, and you will see how all this arises once more against the background of their former earthly lives. Indeed, from the Memoirs of Ludwig Schleich a very remarkable light may suddenly arise, a light truly astonishing. For the man in whose company I first met Ludwig Schleich — the man of whom I said that in his ancient Egyptian life he was mummified by Schleich — it is he of whom Schleich himself tells in his Memoirs that he led him to Strindberg. In a past life, Strindberg and Schleich had worked together upon the corpse. And the soul who dwelt in that body, led them together again.
Thus, all that we have to explain to begin with about repeated earthly lives and the karmic connections in general, becomes real and concrete. Only then do the facts that appear in earthly life become transparent. A single human life on earth is an entire mystery. What else can it be, until seen against the background of the former lives on earth?
My dear friends, when I explain such things as these I always have an accompanying feeling. If these things which it has become possible to set forth since the Christmas Foundation Meeting are to be regarded in a true sense they demand real earnestness in the listener. They demand an earnest spirit. They require us to stand with real earnestness in the Anthroposophical Movement. For they might easily lead to all manner of frivolities. But they are brought forward here because it is necessary for the Anthroposophical Society to-day to take its stand on a basis of real earnestness and to become conscious of its tasks in modern civilisation.
Having thus laid the foundation, I wish to speak in the next lecture about the karma of the Anthroposophical Society. And in the following lecture which I shall then announce, I shall pass on to describe what these studies of karma may become for the human being who wishes to understand his own life in its deeper meaning.