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Karmic Relationships VII
GA 239

Lecture IV

10 June 1924, Breslau

In the lecture yesterday we began to speak about the connection of man's life on Earth between birth and death with his other life in super-sensible worlds between death and a new birth, with special reference to karma. We heard that man works together with other human souls with whom he is karmically connected and with the spiritual Beings of the higher Hierarchies to give shape to his karma and to mould the deeds, thoughts and feelings of an earlier earthly life or a series of lives, in such a way that they become the basis of experiences in a coming incarnation. This knowledge sheds light upon the historical life of humanity itself, inasmuch as every individual—whether his achievements are of outstanding, epoch-making significance or whether he works in limited circles only—is seen against the background of momentous happenings in the spiritual worlds. We were able to realise that human destiny, when we begin to understand it, becomes the outer expression, the earthly expression of stupendous happenings in the spiritual worlds. Thus it is man himself who carries over to a later epoch and brings to fulfilment in that epoch, the effects of experiences lived through in earlier times. The processes connected with historical ‘Becoming’ are therefore set in operation by man himself, and I think that such a view of history cannot fail to be impressive and uplifting. We shall learn to feel and experience our own karma rightly if to begin with—before entering in the following lectures into matters connected with individual karma—we observe personalities whose lives are more or less common knowledge, and perceive from such examples how the one earthly life works over into subsequent incarnations.

We learned how the spiritual Beings belonging to a planetary sphere and the whole spiritual constitution of that sphere penetrate and work into what a man brings with him when after death he is journeying onward in the spiritual world. Certain things were said about the working of the Jupiter sphere. The Saturn sphere works in a still more drastic way. I told you that even with the insight of Initiation one must have passed the sixty-third year and be able to look back over the period of life between the ages of fifty-six and sixty-three before it is possible to acquire independent vision of all the connections, and, in the setting of the weaving spiritual life of the whole Universe, discern how the Saturn sphere works upon man. The whole working of the Saturn sphere is conditioned by the fact that in all the Beings of this sphere there is an intense, all-pervading consciousness of the past, and more or less unconsciousness of the immediate present. This makes a deep and shattering impression. The immediate deeds of the Saturn Beings, even including the deeds of the Seraphim, are performed in a kind of unconsciousness. These Beings are not aware, in the immediate present, of what is happening to them and through them; but they know at once, with unerring exactitude, what they have done, what they have thought, what has taken place among them, directly it has actually happened.

Let me try by means of a picture to characterise the conditions of existence prevailing in the Saturn sphere. Imagine yourselves walking about the Earth, never knowing in the immediately present moment what you are doing, what you are thinking, what is happening to you or through you; you are just walking. As you walk you do not see yourselves, but you leave traces behind; from the spot you reached a moment previously there arises, let us say, a little snow-man; you take another step—another little snow-man is there; a further step—again a little snow-man ... and so it goes on. Mobile figures are being left behind you all the time and you can look back and see yourselves exactly as you once were. The very moment something has happened through you, you see it there, see how it remains, becomes part of Eternity. You look back and in this perspective see everything that has happened through you inscribed as it were in an eternal chronicle in the Universe. The consciousness of the Saturn Beings is of this character. But what the Saturn Beings behold as a vista of past ages of evolution unites with a vista of the past evolution of all Beings belonging to the entire planetary system. The consciousness of the Saturn Beings may therefore be characterised by saying that they gaze back upon the memory, if I may so express it, of all the Beings of the whole planetary system. Everything is inscribed in this faculty of cosmic remembrance, cosmic memory, of the Saturn Beings. If the vista of the weaving life and realities of existence in the Saturn sphere is a shattering experience for the initiated observer, it is even more shattering for him to perceive how the effects of a previous incarnation are carried down into a new earthly life by individualities whose karma, determined by their particular experiences, was shaped and given configuration in the Saturn sphere. And when this is revealed in a personality of outstanding importance in world-history, our vista of the Universe takes on a content of untold majesty and power.

If we study the life of such personalities here on Earth—that is to say, if we study it spiritually, not merely figuring out letters of a script but reading its meaning—we are led to the realities of existence in the Saturn sphere. Our conceptual life is infinitely enriched in spiritual content when the workings of the Saturn sphere are revealed; we look down to the Earth and perceive in happenings there a reflected image of what occurred in the Saturn sphere.

There is an individuality who lived in the South of Europe in the first century A.D., at the time when Hellenism was still a potent influence in the development of Christianity, and who with strong intellectual leanings to Hellenised Christianity passed through experiences in the Roman Empire that were of common occurrence during those early centuries. He witnessed the cruel persecutions of the Christians, the brutalities of Roman Imperialism, the unjust treatment meted out to the better types of men. Filled with profound indignation by these happenings, he passed through the gate of death in a mood of despair and resignation, questioning whether there is any hope of progress for a world in which such things are possible. Having witnessed the evil deeds of the Caesars and the sacrifices of individual Christian martyrs, doubt arose in this soul as to whether there is any prospect at all of ultimate adjustment between good and evil in the world. The spectacle of the good on the one side and of the evil on the other, stood before him in dire and often terrible contrast. With this impression the soul passed through the gate of death and subsequently through less important earthly lives. But the experiences of the Graeco-Roman incarnation had engraved deep furrows in the life of soul and it was these experiences which, as the eighteenth century approached, were elaborated and wrought out in the Saturn sphere into the subsequent karma of this individuality. The Saturn sphere has a deep and incisive effect upon the shaping of karma. Whenever it is a case of laying hold of the human soul in its very depths and of developing radical, potent forces from these depths, the Saturn sphere works in such a way that the forces will penetrate deeply, very deeply into the physical organisation. Everything that happens in the Saturn sphere is intrinsically and essentially spiritual but also takes far deeper effect when the human being descends to earthly embodiment. The result is a physical organisation which strives for a balancing-out of the experiences undergone by the soul in an earlier earthly life. The element of retrospection is always strongly at work. When a man's karma is being wrought out in the Saturn sphere he looks backwards, to remembrances, to the past. Then, when he comes down to the earthly realm, the negative image as it were of what he has lived through in the Saturn sphere discloses itself. The intense concentration upon the past is transformed into a resolute striving for ideals which lead forward, towards the future. Human beings who bring down their karma from the Saturn sphere are fired with enthusiasm for the future, for ideals which point to the future, precisely because in a purely spiritual life in the Saturn sphere their gaze was directed paramountly to the past. The individuality of whom I am here speaking appeared again in the second half of the eighteenth century Friedrich Schiller.

Think of Schiller's whole life, think how it comes to expression in the tremendous forcefulness and fire of the early dramas, with their possibly faulty artistic construction, and side by side with this, think of the deep seriousness, the profound melancholy that weighed upon his soul. See how everything in Schiller, especially the pathos of his early destiny, emanates from the vein of melancholy that is so deeply rooted in his soul. And then, when he becomes acquainted with Goethe, see how he unfolds a kind of inspired understanding of Hellenism; see all this as the foreground and behind it the man whose outlook acquired its basic trend on the one side in the early centuries of Hellenised Christianity and on the other from the horror and indignation aroused by the behaviour of the Roman Emperors, and then see how these experiences are deepened and wrought out into new karma by the forces of the Saturn sphere. Schiller is through and through a Saturn man in respect of his karma.—These things are not rightly experienced if they are regarded as so many theories. They can be truly grasped only by one who with all the forces of his heart and mind steeps himself in the realities of this spiritual life and being in the starry worlds—in this case, the Saturn sphere—and having acquired a deeper understanding of an individual earthly destiny, observes them in manifestation there.

I will give you another example where the working of destiny again took quite a different form. One can perceive an individuality who in a preceding earthly life had reached a certain degree of Initiation. But before I speak of this particular karma, I must enunciate a question which will have occurred to everyone who thinks about such matters and which many of you will certainly have put to yourselves. It is the question that arises when in our anthroposophical studies we hear that in the course of the earthly evolution of humanity there have been Initiates, men initiated into the great secrets of existence and of earthly wisdom, to whom we look up with deepest respect and veneration. When we speak of repeated earthly lives, the question may be raised about the reincarnation of these Initiates. It may be asked: Have they, then, not reincarnated in the present age? Is it a fact that at the present time the Initiates have withdrawn entirely from the world in which we ourselves are living between birth and death? This is by no means the case; but it must not be forgotten that when a human being comes down from pre-earthly existence in realms of soul-and-spirit into an earthly life, he is dependent upon the physical body, the education and so forth, which a particular epoch can provide. The individuality who reincarnates on the Earth must submit to all these conditions. We may certainly be able to observe some Initiate belonging, let us say, to a very distant past, whose karma it is to be born again in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. But in the eighteenth century there were no bodies on Earth in the least like the bodies of remote antiquity which were so pliable and therefore readily adaptable to the spiritual individuality. The view that the human body has not changed since time immemorial is due to a deterioration of knowledge. In the age of materialism the body has become hard, unyielding, stiff, not easily manipulated. The hereditary relationships which are also connected with the disposition, the whole inner soul-constitution of man, are as they are, and the individual can do nothing to alter them; the whole of civilisation stands in the way and the individual must submit. The nature of these hereditary relationships is such that part of what a man has carried over in his soul from an ancient Initiation cannot be brought down into the physical organism and for this reason cannot be raised to the level of consciousness; for man can bring into the outer consciousness prevailing in a given epoch only that which he has been able to carry right down into the physical body. And here I shall have to say something highly paradoxical, but you must accept it because it is the truth.

In ages of remote antiquity the Initiates were preserved from something that is nowadays a great boon for the human race. If they had been subjected to it in those times it would have been regarded as anything but a boon, on the contrary as a great hindrance to Initiation. It is not permissible now to prevent anyone from learning in the modern way to read and write. But as a matter of fact one loses a great deal through being forced to adopt these alphabetical ciphers to which one has no human relationship whatever. When the more civilised Europeans showed the letters of their alphabet to the uncultured American Indians, the latter were frightened by what they took to be so many little kobolds, little demons. This will show you what it means to introduce to a human being something that is so unnatural, so alien to him at the age of six or seven, as the letters of our script—for I ask you, has an A or a B in the form that is thrust upon us as children any relation to human life? It has none, not the very remotest! In ancient Egypt there were at least hieroglyphs, and the picture that was painted or drawn did bear some suggestion of resemblance to the reality; moreover men were made conscious of the relation between the picture and the reality. But to-day we learn A, B, C, as something entirely remote from life. Those who want to judge everything materialistically, to live in the world only with the ordinary, everyday consciousness, cannot possibly realise all that is driven out of the human being, what is really killed in him as the result of having to learn this A, B, C, this reading and writing, by modern methods. (In the Waldorf School we are trying to rectify the worst mistakes in education and so, among other things, we have introduced a different way of teaching reading and writing.)

The fact that when I was fifteen years old I was still unable to spell accurately has certainly been a shock to others, but never to me personally. I have spoken at some length on the subject in The Story of My Life, and I owe much to this fact. For it meant that I was protected from many things against which there is no protection if by the age of fifteen one's spelling is orthographically perfect. Many things that are the outcome of the materialistic education of our day sever the human being from the spiritual life. This is a far more serious matter than people think. I mention it here in order to show you that an Initiate of bygone times has no other alternative than to avail himself of the kind of education that a particular epoch has to offer. What else can he do but adapt himself to the life of body and soul belonging to the times? True, he is obliged to let many things in his life of soul lie in the background. But for all that, from signs which may come into evidence at a certain age in his life, it will certainly be possible, even in the case of one who outwardly appears again as an ordinary citizen of the Earth and not at all as an Initiate, to discern the karmic connection with earlier Initiation. What works in karma is not what is thought, on the face of it, to be the outstanding feature in a man's life. For instance, in the case of someone with a very definite stamp of mind, one is readily inclined, if karma is being judged merely from the intellectual standpoint, to trace it back to similar quality in the previous earthly life. But this does not hold good. The karmic forces that become free and work over from one earthly life into the other, lie in a region of the soul far, far deeper than that of the intellectual makeup. I need only give an example and you will see that what influences karma proceeds from quite other regions of the life of soul than those from which the intellect derives.

Ernst Haeckel was undoubtedly a most interesting personality of the nineteenth century. What struck people most forcibly about him was his materialistic view of the world, his fight against Ultramontanism, against the Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. Haeckel worked himself into such a pitch of fervour in this fight that the expressions he used, although at times very refreshing, were at others lacking in taste. When his karma is traced back into the past, one finds him, in his most important previous incarnation, as Pope Gregory the Great, the mighty Pope who strove to establish the external, worldly supremacy of the Papacy as against that of the Emperors. Pope Gregory the Great, as Hildebrand, had come from the Cluniac Order which from the sixth until the thirteenth century had been engaged in a struggle with Rome, until one of its own members actually became Pope. To begin with, he too, in his own way, was actively at variance with the Papacy in the form it had assumed in those days. What worked over from the Hildebrand incarnation into the Haeckel incarnation was the enthusiasm for pressing home a certain world-conception, enthusiasm for the realisation of impulses arising from a particular view of the world. This is only an example to disprove the belief that it is possible to discover an earlier incarnation of importance by external observation of a particular constitution of soul. Caution is necessary in these matters, and attention must be given to what often seem to be trifling idiosyncrasies. If these are discerned with spiritual insight they will gradually provide the clue to the content of the earlier earthly life.

Saturn-karma—Saturn-karma above all—works in deep, very deep regions of the soul. I want now to direct your attention to an individuality who in an earlier incarnation was actually an Initiate. I speak very objectively in this case and it has cost me a good deal of effort to work through to the truth because I was never specially attracted by this individuality in his new incarnation, nor am I to-day. But it is a matter of establishing objective facts and although effort is necessary, the truth is that one can discern with greater prospects of exactitude the karma of individuals to whom one is not drawn by personal sympathy and the like. And so I am going to speak to you about an individuality who in an earlier earthly life was an Initiate in Mysteries which were of very great moment in the evolution of humanity. This individuality was an Initiate in Irish Mysteries, the Mysteries of Hibernia, to which I have referred in one of the Mystery Plays. There were many experiences to be undergone before a man was led onwards through Initiation to wisdom in the form in which it was presented to him in these Irish Mysteries. The aspirant for Initiation had first to experience every kind of doubt that can arise in the human soul concerning the great truths of existence. The pupil was actually taught to doubt, to be utterly sceptical of everything, especially of the highest truths. And only when he had undergone all the suffering, the sense of tragedy, dejection and inner despair which accompany such doubt, only then was he guided to a full comprehension of truth, first of all as an Imaginative, pictorial experience and then as an experience of spiritual reality. Thus everyone who attained Initiation in the Hibernian Mysteries had learned not only to believe in the truth but also not to believe in it. Only so could his fidelity to truth prove itself a potent, unshakable force in life. Another feeling too was awakened in those who sought the Initiation-wisdom of Hibernia. It was the feeling that all existence may be as earthly existence: illusory, unreal. The pupils were brought to a point where they not only doubted truth but where they experienced the nothingness, the non-reality in human existence. And then, in order that the pupil might experience the etheric forces in their constant transformations and the physical forces which though involved in destruction are ever and again restored by the Spiritual, in order that when the right state of soul had been induced he might experience in a real imagination the destructive and upbuilding forces implicit in all life, he was led before two mighty pillar-statues. He was exhorted to press into one of the statues; this caused an indentation but because the substance of this statue was elastic throughout the form was ever and again restored and the statue seemed as though it were alive. And because the impression made by the actual touch was received by the pupil in a mood of reverence and solemnity, he became aware, inwardly aware, of the essential nature of the Living. The other statue was so constructed that pressure left an indentation which defaced the form and it was not until the following day, when the pupil was again led before this statue, that the deformation was repaired. The inner constitution of the Physical and the Etheric—something therefore of the truth revealed to self-observation—was presented in this way to the pupils. Then they were taken before other images and were thus led on to an even fuller understanding. The experience of spiritual reality was strong and intense in the pupils and Initiates of Hibernia. Indeed at certain stages of Initiation they no longer paid much heed to outer, physical reality, so intensely conscious were they of spiritual reality. It is actually the case that while the Mystery of Golgotha was taking place in physical reality over in Asia, the Hibernian priesthood so conducted the ceremonies that at the very time when the Mystery of Golgotha was fulfilled in outer, physical reality in Palestine, it was enacted in the form of a sacred rite in a Mystery Centre of Hibernia. Thus a physical fact taking place in a different region of the Earth was experienced in distant Hibernia as a spiritual fact. This will show you to what depths men were led in those Hibernian Mysteries.

There is an individuality who in very early times had attained a certain degree of Initiation in the Hibernian Mysteries and then, later on, passed through a female incarnation—but the influence of the Hibernian incarnation worked deeply, very deeply upon the soul. Then, in a life between death and a new birth, this individuality lived through experiences arising when karma is wrought out in the Saturn sphere. The whole significance of what the soul had acquired in an Hibernian Initiation—not at the highest but at a certain stage—was seen in retrospect, in a perspective widening out into a vista of great cosmic happenings. The import of the knowledge which it was possible to acquire in Hibernia was seen in its relation to the whole past evolution of man. In a majestic vision of cosmic evolution it was revealed how human longings and strivings through thousands of years had brought this Hibernia into being. But the modern age held in store for this individuality a body and a kind of education by which the most significant elements were obscured—yet for all that came to a certain expression in keeping with the civilisation of the nineteenth century. In this case too, what had been retained of the great cosmic retrospect was transformed when the soul came down into a physical body and underwent a kind of education neither of which in truth were suited to experiences lived through in an Hibernian Initiation and wrought out in the Saturn sphere. When the soul descended, this was all transformed into ideals reaching out to the future. But because the body was that of a Frenchman of the nineteenth century and therefore altogether different from the remarkable bodies of the old Irish Initiates, a very great deal receded into the background, transforming itself into sublime but fantastic pictures which, however have a certain power, a certain grandeur about them. This individuality reincarnated as Victor Hugo.

There again we can perceive how karma works on, even when two incarnations differ as greatly as do the lives of the Irish Initiate and Victor Hugo. For it is not in external similarities that we must seek for evidence of the working of karma; rather must we be observant of those things which in the deep foundations of a man's being are carried over through karma from one earthly life into another. Perception of the karma of an individual human being, or even of one's own karma, requires the right attitude, the right mood-of soul. The whole study of karma is profaned if this study is pursued in the attitude of mind arising from our modern education and civilisation. The mood in which all teachings about karma should be received is one of piety, of reverence. Whenever man approaches a truth relating to karma, his soul should feel as though part of the veil of Isis were being lifted. For in truth it is karma that reveals, in a way most intimately connected with human life, what Isis was—the Being designated outwardly as: ‘I am that which was, is, and will be.’ This must still be the attitude of soul in all study of human karma. In truth, only when we study karma in the way we have now been doing and having observed how it takes effect in the process of world-evolution acquire the reverence befitting such study, then and only then can we gaze with the right attitude of soul at what may be our own karma, perceiving how from earlier earthly lives it has unfolded and taken shape as a result of experiences in the spiritual worlds of the stars between death and a new birth. With our whole being we gaze at super-sensible worlds when we ‘read’ karma with the right mood-of-soul. For the study of karma acquaints us with laws that are in utter contrast with the laws of external Nature. In the external world, Nature-relationships hold sway, but these must be discarded entirely and we must be able to gaze at spirit-relationships if we are to discern the law operating in the working of karma. Clearly, the best preparation for this will be to study illuminating examples of karma in world-history, in order that light may be shed upon things that are of importance to us in living out and observing our own karma. By speaking of characteristic personalities to illustrate the working of karma in world-history, I wanted to prepare you for other such studies during the next few days.