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Karmic Relationships VII
GA 239

Lecture III

9 June 1924, Breslau

The conception of karma and its background given in the lecture yesterday can be deepened in many essential respects. We heard that behind human destiny there are worlds in relation to which the aspect of destiny usually observed amounts to no more than the letters of a script as compared with what is produced by the combinations of those letters in a work such as Goethe's Faust. Behind the destiny of a human being we can in very truth gaze at the life and weaving deeds of higher worlds and of the Beings belonging to those worlds. But this picture can be deepened and elaborated.—When man is passing through the Moon sphere after death, he lives in communion with the great primeval Teachers of humanity who have their abode in that sphere. Through the whole of the period between death and a new birth he is associated with human souls—particularly those with whom he is karmically connected—who have also passed through the gate of death and are living through the same period of spiritual existence. In the Moon sphere man lives in communion with the Beings we know as the Angeloi, Arch-angeloi and Archai, and as he passes through the following planetary spheres, with higher and ever higher Beings. It is not really correct to make demarcations and assign one particular Hierarchy to each heavenly sphere, for this is not in accord with reality. But in a general sense it can be said that the Archai, Archangeloi and Angeloi enter into communion with us before we pass into the Sun sphere; in that sphere we find our way into what has to be accomplished between death and a new birth in cooperation with the Hierarchy of the Exousiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes. And then we gradually live on into the realms of the Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim as we approach the Mars sphere and the Jupiter sphere. It is not correct to say that one Hierarchy corresponds only to one particular planetary sphere; but there is something else that will have important bearings when we come to study karmic relationships in greater detail.

It will, however, be necessary to familiarise ourselves with a conception which, to begin with, will seem strange and perplexing to ordinary thinking. As we stand on the Earth and feel our way into existence, we conceive of the Earthly as being immediately around us, on, under, and a little above the surface of the Earth in the environment, and when our minds turn to the so-called super-Earthly, our gaze is instinctively directed upwards. We feel the super-Earthly to be above us. Strange as it seems, it is true nevertheless, that when we ourselves are within those super-Earthly realms to which we look upwards from the Earth, when we are actually within them, the opposite holds good; for then we look downwards to the Earthly—which now lies below. In a certain sense we do so through the whole of our existence between death and a new birth. The question will occur to you: Is our experience of earthly things during physical existence so inadequate that between death and rebirth we have to look down from those super-earthly spheres to the Earth as a kind of nether heaven below us? ... But something else must be remembered here. The vista of all that we behold around us and in the cosmic expanse while we live on Earth between birth and death in a physical body enclosed by the skin, this vista is majestic and splendid; it refreshes and delights us, or it may bring tragedy and pain. At any rate it is a vista of rich and abundant life and a man might well believe that in comparison with the majesty of the world of stars, with everything that is revealed to him as his outer world, what is enclosed within his skin during physical existence is puny and insignificant. But the vista before us in our life between death and a new birth is entirely different. All that was our outer world during life on Earth now becomes our inner world. We feel ourselves expanding ever more and more into the cosmic spheres. What is there experienced may be described in earthly language in somewhat the following way.

Here on Earth we say, ‘my heart’—meaning something that is inside our skin. Between death and a new birth we do not say, ‘my heart,’ but ‘my Sun.’ For at a certain stage between death and rebirth, when our being has expanded into the Universe, the Sun is within us just as here on Earth the heart is within us—and the same applies in a spiritual sense to the rest of the starry worlds as I have described. Conversely, what was enclosed within our skin on Earth now becomes our outer world. But do not imagine that it bears any resemblance to what an anatomist sees when he dissects a corpse. The spectacle is even grander and more majestic than the panorama of the Universe presented to us on Earth. From the vantage-point of our life between death and a new birth, a whole world is revealed in what the physical senses perceive merely as heart, lung, liver, and so forth; it is a world greater and more impressive than the outer Universe at which we gaze during life on Earth.

Another singular fact is the following.—You may say: ‘Yes, but as this world is present in every human being, everyone who dies must carry a separate world within him through death, and this suggests that the worlds to be perceived in the after-death existence greatly outnumber the individuals with whom one actually comes in contact there ...’ The secret lies in the fact that, firstly, all those human beings with whom we have some karmic tie are seen as a unity, as one world. Then there are the other souls who also form a unified, though less defined whole: this host of souls is linked with those with whom we have actual karmic ties, and again there is a unified whole. The moment we pass from the physical world into the spiritual world, everything is different. A great deal that has to be said will seem paradoxical to those unaccustomed to such conceptions but it is necessary now and again to draw attention to the conditions prevailing in the spiritual world as revealed to Initiation-wisdom. In the physical world we can count: one, two, three ... we can also count money—although perhaps not just at the present time!—but counting does not really mean anything in the spiritual world. Number has no particular significance there; everything is more or less a unity. If things are to be counted they must be distinct and separate from each other and this does not apply in the spiritual world. In describing the spiritual world and the physical world, quite different terms have to be used in each case. From the vantage-point of the spiritual world, that which in the physical world is within man, presents a very different appearance. Man's structure is even more splendid, more awe-inspiring than the structure of the Heavens as perceived from the Earth. And what we prepare in communion with the higher Hierarchies for the incarnation that will follow the life between death and a new birth must be an entelechy of soul-and-spirit that befits this human structure, permeates it, gives it life.

How does the life of a human being develop on Earth? When we are born from pre-earthly existence into earthly life, the whole physical body has, apparently, been provided by our parents. It may seem as though having come down from the super-sensible world we unite in a purely external way with what has been prepared for us in the physical world by our parents and has developed in the mother's body. What happens in reality, however, is the following.—

The substance of the physical body is constantly changing; it is all the time being thrown off and replaced. Think only of your finger-nails and your hair. You cut your finger-nails and they grow again. But this is only a process that is externally perceptible; in reality, man is all the time throwing off matter and replacing it from within, from the inner centre of his being. Substance is perpetually scaling off and in seven or eight years time all the physical substance that was within us seven years previously has been thrown off and replaced by new. Just think of this.—Seven years ago I was able, to my great joy, to lecture to friends here in Breslau. There they were, sitting on chairs in front of me; but nothing remains to-day of the physical substance contained in those bodies; it has all vanished and been replaced by other physical substance. What has remained in each case is the individuality of spirit-and-soul. The individuality was present before birth, in pre-earthly existence, in earlier earthly lives too, and has remained. But the substance of the bodies sitting in the chairs seven years ago has long since passed away into other regions of the Universe. Now this exchange of substance begins at birth and is complete after the lapse of seven years or so. What our parents provide is the substance and its particular organisation up to the time of the change of teeth. Thereafter the task of moulding the substance is taken over by the individuality. The change of teeth is a process of great significance. Until that time we have received from our parents a model, this model resembles our parents, embodies the hereditary traits. Then, in accordance with this model, the individuality of spirit-and-soul slowly builds up the second body which exists from the time of the change of teeth to the onset of puberty, is then cast off, and the third body begins to develop. Hereditary traits which remain in us are due to the fact that in the second body we have copied them from the model. What is copied from the model at a later stage is adapted and elaborated by the unconscious faculty, acquired in pre-earthly existence, to mould the human organism in accordance with the secrets it contains. The purpose of the first body which we bear until the time of the change of teeth is to enable us, in conformity with our karma, to resemble our parents. The real secrets, the deep, all-embracing secrets whereby the human organism is built up as the wonderful image of the outer structure of the Heavens—these secrets in their innermost essence have to be acquired during the life between death and a new birth.

Having lived through the first half of the Sun-existence we have to find our way into the second half, where the impulse to live out our karma is kindled. Here again a vista lies before us of wonderful happenings which take place between ourselves and the Beings of the higher Hierarchies.

Here on Earth we live and move among minerals, plants, animals, other human beings; between death and a new birth we live together with other human souls in the way described—but now, instead of minerals, plants, animals, there are the Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi, and together with them we shape our karma. Through the whole of the time we gaze at the earthly realm below where our karma must take effect, gaze at it longingly, as something to which all our forces of feeling are directed,—just as here on Earth between birth and death we gaze upwards with longing to the Heavens. In ascending to the Moon sphere, Mercury sphere, Venus sphere, we find our way to the Beings of the Hierarchy of Archai, Archangeloi and Angeloi. These Beings are the judges of what is good and evil in us, also of the mutilation we undergo, as I described in the previous lecture. For the consequence of unrighteousness is that we suffer a kind of mutilation as beings of soul and spirit. There, in these higher spheres, we have our judges, we are involved in the operations of Cosmic Justice.—In the Sun-existence we reach the sphere of the Exousiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes. We are now within the ranks of Beings who do not only judge but actually work with us at the shaping of our karma. These Beings—Exousiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes—are primarily denizens of the Sun, and therewith of the whole Universe. They belong essentially to spiritual worlds. But mediators are necessary between the spiritual world and the material, physical world, and these mediators are the Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. Their rank in the spiritual Cosmos is higher because they are mightier Beings—mightier not merely in the realm of spiritual life but because they bring to effect in the physical world what is thus lived through in the spiritual worlds. In the life between death and a new birth we gaze consciously and with longing at the earthly realm below, but in reality we are gazing at what is proceeding among the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, in their mutual connections with one another. It is a shattering, awe-inspiring experience. We learn, gradually, to understand the deeds performed between Seraphim and Seraphim, Cherubim and Cherubim, Thrones and Thrones, and again between Thrones and Seraphim, Thrones and Cherubim, and so forth. These Beings are engaged in bringing about a process of adjustment which, as we learn to understand it, we feel has something to do with ourselves. What is it, in reality? It is the image that arises in cosmic existence from the good and the evil for which we were responsible in our earthly life. The good must result in good; the evil must result in evil. Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones elaborate the consequences of what we have sown on Earth; our evil deeds have injurious consequences, in cosmic existence. We witness how Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones are occupied with the consequences of our evil deeds. And the knowledge gradually dawns upon us that in what comes to pass in cosmic evolution among the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, our karma is being lived out in the Heavens before we can live it out on Earth. This awe-inspiring experience is enhanced inasmuch as we now realise with all the force we possess in this spiritual life between death and a new birth, that what the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones experience in their divine existence finds its just fulfilment when we ourselves experience it in the next earthly life. Thus in super-earthly realms our karma is lived through in advance by the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. In very truth the Gods are the Creators of the Earthly. They live through everything in advance, in the realm of spirit; then in the physical realm it comes to fulfilment. Our karma is prefigured by the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones in their divine existence. Thus are the forces which shape our karma set in operation.

During existence in the planetary spheres we experience the deeds, the judgements, of the Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi. But Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones are also at work, in order that they may live through our karma in advance. Thus are we made aware of the debt we owe to the world on account of our previous deeds, thus do we experience the divine foreshadowing of what our life is to be. These experiences are complex and intricate, but they are part and parcel of that super-earthly existence upon which earthly life is based.

Not until we realise how rich in content is the life between death and a new birth and think of this in conjunction with the happenings of earthly life do we obtain a really adequate conception of what comes to pass in the world through man and in man. Thus is self-knowledge deepened, enriched and spiritualised. The only way whereby we can obtain a true picture of the earthly life of humanity is to view it against the background of happenings in the spiritual world.

We see human beings appearing on the Earth; they are born, grow up, are creative or active according to their destiny and the particular faculties they possess. The historical life of humanity through the ages is, after all, the outcome of human faculties, human deeds, human thoughts and feelings. But all these human beings who appear in an earthly life between birth and death—all of them have passed through previous lives in which they experienced the Earthly in a different way, worked upon it in a different way. The influences of earlier lives make themselves felt in all later lives, but it is only possible to understand the sequence of connections by taking account, too, of the periods lying between death and rebirth. Then, for the first time, we have a true conception of history, for we realise that what appears on the Earth through human beings in one epoch is linked with the happenings of an earlier epoch. But the essential question is: How are the fruits and happenings of an earlier epoch carried over into later times?—Historians have long been content to record consecutive facts but from data of this kind it is impossible to understand why later events follow those that preceded them. Some have said that ideas are at work in history and then become actuality. But no genuine thinker can conceive why this should be so. Others—those who hold the materialistic view of history—say: Ideas—so much twaddle! Economic factors are the only reality, they lie at the root of everything!—Such is the materialistic, mechanistic conception of history.

But this is no more than a dabbling on the surface of things. The reality is that what came to pass in earlier epochs of history is carried over into later epochs by human beings themselves. All those who are sitting here now lived in earlier epochs. Their deeds and manner of acting are the consequences of what they experienced in earlier lives. And so it is with everything that comes to pass in the course of history, be it of importance or of little account. The earlier is carried over into the later by human souls themselves. The conception of life prevailing nowadays can be deepened in the true sense only by the realisation that historical evolution too is borne onwards by man himself. But everything is determined by what is achieved in the starry worlds between death and rebirth where man works in cooperation with the Beings of the higher Hierarchies.

And now let us take an example to illustrate what has been said. In comparatively early times, not long before the founding of Christianity, a certain Initiate was incarnated in the East, in the Indian civilisation. In his earthly life this individuality had poor eyesight—in describing karmic relationships one must go into details of this kind—and his perceptions remained more or less superficial. This life which was characterised by the mystical outlook typical of Indian culture, was followed by other, less important incarnations. But there was a life between death and a new birth during which the superficial experiences of the Indian incarnation were worked upon in the Mercury sphere, partly too in the Venus sphere and in the Mars sphere, in conjunction with Beings of the higher Hierarchies. In the majority of human beings the influences of one of the cosmic spheres are dominant in the shaping of the karma, but in the case of this particular individuality the influences of the Mercury sphere, the Venus sphere and the Mars sphere worked with almost equal strength at the karmic transformation of incipient faculties arising from the experiences of an Indian incarnation. In the nineteenth century this individuality appeared again as a somewhat complex personality, namely, Heinrich Heine.

Let us think about an example such as this which has been brought to light from the depths of spiritual life by very penetrating and exact investigation. A rigid, superficial thinker will argue that this tends to take away the whole atmosphere and quality of the personality, that what he wants is a picture of the elementary characteristics of the man in question ... well, he has every right to take this attitude if he chooses; it is his karma to be a philistine and he has the right to speak in this way ... but he will not succeed in reaching more than a fragment of the truth. When we look more deeply into the facts, the foundations and the background of the reality come to light. The life of an individual is certainly not impoverished but infinitely enriched in meaning when it is studied in the light of such foundations, when we can perceive the experiences of an earlier, Indian incarnation glimmering through that problematic, fitful Heine-life. Having absorbed the influences operating in the Mercury sphere and the Venus sphere, this individuality passed into the Mars sphere, where a certain strain of aggressiveness developed for the next earthly life; the experiences of an earlier life were transformed into a faculty in which there was a certain vein of aggressiveness. In the Mercury sphere the soul acquired the tendency to flit from one experience to another, one concept to another, and in the Venus sphere an element of eroticism—eroticism in the spiritual sense—crept into the imaginative, conceptual faculties.

In surveying a human life in this way we gaze into cosmic existence, and what we thus perceive is certainly not poorer in content than the commonplace picture of a man's elementary characteristics desired by superficial observers. We perceive how earlier history is carried over into later history through the instrumentality of the starry worlds and the Beings of those worlds. History becomes reality only when it is viewed in this setting; otherwise it remains so many disjointed ciphers. But now we begin to read from history how behind the individual destinies of men there are the deeds of Gods and of worlds which become manifest in ever greater grandeur and power in the process of the historical evolution of humanity—where we shall always discern the weaving of the destinies and the thoughts of individuals.

And now, another example.—There is an individuality who at the time when Islam was spreading across North Africa to Spain, had acquired much scholarship according to the standards then prevailing. Schools similar to that in which St. Augustine had received instruction still existed in North Africa, but now, in a later period, the School had fallen into decline. This individuality imbibed a great deal of the knowledge that had been preserved in these Schools in which much wisdom deriving from the ancient Mysteries still survived, although in a decadent form. Then his path took him to Spain where he came in contact with the earlier—not the later—Cabbalistic School, acquired much of this earlier Cabbalistic learning and thus became thoroughly versed in Manichean-Cabbalistic doctrine. In the course of further development during a life between death and a new birth, a certain strain of aggressiveness was acquired and, in addition, a talent which had something rather dangerously fascinating about it, namely, fluency of speech and language in dealing with all kinds of problems which arose in the soul from the earlier incarnation. With these characteristics the individuality in question was born again in the eighteenth century as Voltaire.

To know that the Voltaire-life leads back to experiences akin to those of St. Augustine in his early days, experiences which were associated with the Cabbalistic School and hence with all the irony peculiar to Cabbalistic learning, to know that all these elements play a part and, by penetrating into what happened during life between death and rebirth, to perceive the connection between the two lives—this alone can lead to a picture of the whole reality. At first sight there seems to be no connection between successive earthly lives; we do not perceive how the one reaches over into the other. The intervening periods are not perceived but for all that they are fragments of the whole picture in which everything is embraced. It is only by studying the spiritual background as well as the earthly nature of a man that we can hope to approach reality.

In this connection a new trend must take effect on our Movement, from now onwards. When the German Section of the Theosophical Society was founded in Berlin in 1902, I gave as the title of my first lecture: Studies of the concrete working of Karma. The lecture was announced but could not be delivered for the simple reason that the older members of the Theosophical Society had their own ideas of what may or may not be spoken about, and this attitude had determined the whole atmosphere. The leading Members would have been horrified if at that time one had spoken of the concrete workings of karma. The Theosophical Movement was not ready for it. A great deal of preparation was necessary and has, in fact, been going on now for more than two decades. But at the Christmas Foundation Meeting the impulse was given to speak without reserve, not only about the Spiritual in general but also about what can be discovered concerning man's life in the realm of spirit. And so in future we shall speak quite openly in the Anthroposophical Society of matters of which from the very beginning it was the intention to speak, but for which preparation had to be made. This is part of the esoteric trend and impulse with which the Anthroposophical Society was imbued through the Christmas Foundation Meeting. The Christmas Meeting was no trifling episode; it betokened the assumption of new responsibilities for the Anthroposophical Movement, responsibilities flowing from the realm of spirit.

To be able to gaze at what takes place between death and a new birth brings home to one the rich diversity and many-sidedness of the world. For when it is said that the qualities of aggressiveness and also of fluency of language are quickened in the Mars sphere, this is only one aspect; other aspects of life too are quickened in that sphere. And the same applies to the Jupiter sphere. The Jupiter sphere and its Beings are experienced when in the process of self-observation one looks back with the insight of Initiation over the period between the forty-ninth and fifty-sixth years of life—and then obliterates the pictures. The vista of the Jupiter sphere may be a shattering experience, for the Beings of Jupiter are utterly different from human beings. Think of a quality which is sometimes more and sometimes less in evidence, namely the quality of wisdom. Men insist that they are wise ... but what a struggle it is for them to acquire wisdom! The tiniest fragment of wisdom in any field is difficult to attain and demands inner effort. Nothing of the kind is necessary for the Jupiter Beings. Wisdom is an integral part of their very nature—I cannot say it is ‘born’ in them, for the Jupiter Beings do not come into existence through an embryo as men do on Earth. You must picture to yourselves that there is something around Jupiter like the cloud-masses around the Earth. If you were now to imagine bodies of men forming out of the clouds and flying down to the Earth, that would be a picture of how the new Beings come forth from a kind of cloud-mass on Jupiter; but these Beings have wisdom as an original, intrinsic characteristic. Just as we have circulating blood, so they have wisdom. But their wisdom is not a merited reward, nor has it been acquired by effort; they have it by nature. Therefore their thinking, too, is utterly different from the thinking of men. The experience is shattering, overwhelming, but we must gradually get accustomed to the idea. Just as we on Earth are pervaded by air, so everything on Jupiter is pervaded by wisdom. Wisdom there has substantiality, streams in the atmosphere, discharges itself like rain on Jupiter, rises like mist to the heights. But Beings are there—Beings who ascend in a cloud, a mist of wisdom. Herein live the Cherubim, who in this realm of existence gather up and give shape to the karma of human beings. Other impulses too are in operation, but what holds good unconditionally is that the experiences of an earlier incarnation are gathered together and moulded into shape by the forces of the self-subsisting wisdom of the Jupiter sphere. Then, when the individuality comes down again to incarnation on the Earth, he bears the stamp arising from the re-shaping of his earlier experiences by wisdom which ultimately takes effect in very diverse forms.—Again we will take an example.

There is an individuality who leads us back to ancient Greece, into a milieu of Platonism, and also of sculpture. This individuality had a very significant incarnation as a sculptor in Greece. What he there experienced was carried over into intermediate incarnations of less importance. This is an individuality whose karma for what is at the moment his latest incarnation was elaborated chiefly in the sphere of the Jupiter wisdom.

Another individuality takes us back to Central America, to Mexico, in times before European people had migrated to America. He was connected with the then declining Mysteries of the early, original inhabitants of Mexico and came into contact with the Mexican deities at a time when the pupils of the Mysteries still had real and living intercourse with these spiritual Beings. This was karma of a special—not a particularly favourable—kind. These Gods—Quetzalcoatl, Tetzkatlipoka, Taotl—are still mentioned by scholars to-day but hardly more than by name. The individuality of whom I am speaking was closely connected with those Mysteries which, in spite of their decadence, enabled a God such as Taotl or Quetzalcoatl to be a living reality to him. There, in those declining Mysteries, he became thoroughly versed in the magic arts—arts which were already rife with superstition—and a Being like Tetzkatlipoka was a vivid reality to him. Tetzkatlipoka was a kind of Serpent God with whom men felt themselves astrally connected. Unlike the other individuality whose life as a man in Greece was followed by female incarnations, this individuality had no intermediate incarnation. He lived as a man within the Mexican Mysteries, passed through the sphere of the Jupiter-wisdom in his life between death and a new birth and then incarnated in the eighteenth/nineteenth century. The other individuality who had lived in Greece also passed through the Jupiter sphere in the way that is possible for one who had been a sculptor and had unfolded the faculty of creative imagination which was still so potent a force in Greece. This was transformed and re-cast in the Jupiter sphere where the wisdom underlying the Greek talent for plastic representation of the human form, for pictorial conceptions of the world, is present in its very essence, and the individuality came down into a body with a strongly Grecian bent of mind that had been elaborated in the Jupiter sphere, being reborn as Goethe.

The other individuality also passed through the Jupiter sphere, where his experiences in the Mexican Mysteries were cast into a new form. But the Jupiter sphere could not produce identical results from an earthly life in Greece and an earthly life in Mexico of the kinds I have described. Both sets of experience were worked upon by the wisdom of the Jupiter sphere but both were conditioned by the formative forces that had been in operation in earlier lives. The individuality who had been connected with the Mexican Mysteries lived through the Jupiter sphere and was reborn as Eliphas Levi. There you have an example of how magic practices, magic rites and enactments have been transformed in a remarkable way into wisdom. It is Jupiter-karma of an inferior kind, but for all that replete with spirituality, replete with wisdom. From this we perceive how what a man has experienced in earthly life works into what he becomes during his life between death and a new birth. The later life is invariably conditioned by the earlier life. But the experiences of earthly life can be transformed by the selfsame sphere into very different karma. Our view of human life can only be deepened in the right way when we perceive how this life is shaped in conformity with karma. Then it is enriched, then and only then do we acquire a real knowledge of man and of human life.