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Karmic Relationships VII
GA 239

Lecture V

11 June 1924, Breslau

As our studies continue we shall, gradually come to understand what karma may signify in the individual life of man, although I shall constantly be drawing attention to certain karmic connections of personalities known in history. For if we observe the manifestations of karma across the wide perspective of history, light will also be shed upon details of our own karma which cannot fail to interest us. At the very outset let it be said that clairvoyant insight is not essential to the perception, the feeling, of the working of karma. It is quite true that in order to survey the whole range of karmic laws such insight is necessary; and much that I have been telling you during the last few days can, of course, be discovered only by means of clairvoyance. But the feeling, the clear and distinct feeling for karma is a preparation for clairvoyant insight. This feeling and perception can play a part in the life of every individual provided that he is not exclusively concerned with superficialities and outwardly sensational happenings, but unfolds a sensitive understanding of the more intimate experiences of existence and an inkling of certain connections of destiny which by their very nature show that they cannot possibly be rooted in the one earthly life between birth and death.

Let us think of how we meet and become acquainted with other human beings. By far the greatest part of our destiny depends upon these meetings. We meet one person or another and the experiences we share with him have an effect upon our life. And precisely the experiences we share with others in different circumstances of life will make it evident to attentive observation that karma is not irreconcilable with the ingrained feeling of the extent to which our actions are the outcome of free decision. After all, we are sent into existence in an epoch of life when as far as earthly impulses are concerned there can be no question of freedom. A very great deal depends upon how we are placed in existence as children. The faculties that are drawn out of us, the paths along which we are directed—all this is of infinite significance in the destiny of our whole life. Later on, as independent human beings, we can of course take a hand in directing our own existence but even then the place assigned to us in childhood is determinative. And so if we observe closely we shall certainly be able to perceive how destiny plays into our free actions, our free deeds and activities.

Think of the following.—We meet other human beings and there is clearly a difference between one kind of acquaintanceship and another. We may meet someone for the first time and feel at once that there is a bridge leading over from our soul to his. We may well be strongly drawn to him but not nearly as interested in the details of his outward appearance, whether he is handsome or ugly, whether he looks friendly or ill-disposed. What draws us to him is something that wells up from within us; we feel sympathy towards him. In the case of another person we may actually feel antipathy simply when we are near him and conscious of his presence. Our feeling for him does not depend upon the impression he makes through his actions or what he actually says to us. Such experiences stand in earthly existence like question-marks, like far-reaching problems set us by reality. With both these kinds of acquaintanceship we feel no urge at all to ask: what is the individual really like? What does he actually do? Everything that attracts us to him gathers into an aggregate of feelings arising from experiences and components of our soul-life, feelings which there is no need to justify by what he actually does.

But there are acquaintanceships of a different kind, where no such experiences occur. Although there is no feeling of deep-seated sympathy or antipathy, such individuals interest us. We feel an urge to discover whether their attitude is friendly or unfriendly, whether they are gifted or not gifted. Having made such an acquaintanceship it may happen that we meet someone who also knows the person in question and we feel we want to talk about him, to ask about his position in life, who he is, and so forth; we are interested in what he is outwardly. But in connection with an acquaintance of the other category we may find it extremely embarrassing to meet someone who knows him and begins to speak about him. We simply do not want to talk about this person. Now when Spiritual Science endeavours to get to the root of an occurrence of this nature, it turns out that if an inexplicable feeling of affection or dislike wells up in us when we meet a particular person, then we have had some karmic tie with him in the past and this has really guided our whole path in such a way that at a certain moment in life we come across him. Experiences shared in past ages shape and determine the feelings we have about him. And it is these feelings that count—not whether he is good-looking or ugly, kindly or ill-disposed. When such feelings are emphatic and distinct and it is possible for spiritual-scientific investigation to shed light upon them, their explanation is forthcoming from what such investigation has to say about karma that was formed in the past. Moreover we shall find this confirmed in many other ways.

During sleep, when we are outside our physical and etheric bodies, living a spiritual existence in the ‘I’ and astral body, dreams occur. But with rigorous self-observation let us ask ourselves whether it is not the case, when certain acquaintanceships are accompanied by these uprising feelings and experiences, that we at once begin to dream about these people. We dream so readily about certain acquaintances. This indicates that there is a connection between the person in question and our own soul-and-spirit which has shared experiences with him either in many lives or maybe in one life only; our ‘I’ and astral body in which we live during sleep, are connected in some way with this individual. Others whom we may encounter in our profession, business or the like, interest us in the different way I described. It may well happen that we have a great deal to do with them; life throws us together, but we simply cannot dream about them. In such cases the connection belongs only to the present earthly life and the link is made by what binds the soul-and-spiritual part of man to the physical and the etheric. Now it is paramountly the physical and etheric bodies which are involved in interests connected with external activities, outward appearances, and the reason why we cannot dream about these particular people is that the physical and etheric bodies lie there in the bed and the being of soul-and-spirit is not within them. Spiritual Science reveals that although karma is certainly at work here it is only now beginning to form and that not until we look back from spiritual existence upon this earthly life will it be possible to say that karmic connections began in that life. In this case, karma is in process of coming into being.

We have heard how karma takes shape, how all that we experience in communion with spiritual Beings between death and a new birth works for long ages at the weaving of karma. But if you reflect upon what has here been said about the laws of karma, you will say to yourselves: earthly life brings human beings together and a karmic link is formed between them; they pass together through the life between death and rebirth and in cooperation with higher Beings shape their karma for the next earthly life. What, then, is the consequence in the earthly life of man? Broadly speaking this: that individuals who have been together in an earthly life where karma begins to form, will endeavour in the next earthly life to find their way to one another again. Once again they will establish karmic links, will again pass through the life between death and rebirth where a still stronger link is forged between them, and again seek for a common earthly existence. And here the remarkable fact comes to light that as Earth-evolution runs its course, human beings live together in groups. Time flows on: a certain group of human beings living as contemporaries in a particular epoch and karmically connected with one another, appears again on the Earth after the life spent between death and rebirth. A different group of human beings linked together by karmic ties appears on the Earth in a common existence; a third group likewise. As the periods between death and rebirth are by far the longer, it follows that the majority of human beings only meet in the life after death and before birth and that those specially connected with one another by karma pass through evolution in groups, coming together again and again on the Earth. That is the general rule. As a rule it is the case that on Earth we do not encounter those who formerly were not incarnated at the same time as ourselves.

We learn that this is so when with spiritual insight we ponder upon the facts and consequences of human relationships. Provided we reflect without prejudices or preconceptions, spiritual observation will certainly confirm what has here been said.—As you know, for a considerable time in my early life I was engrossed in the study of Goethe. I had this spiritual preoccupation with Goethe so much at heart that I often asked myself: What if I had been a contemporary of Goethe? Outwardly, the prospect would have been entrancing! For when one is strongly drawn to Goethe, loves to steep oneself in his works and devotes part of one's life to elucidating and interpreting him, how could one fail to think of how delightful it would have been to have lived in Weimar at the same time, to have seen him, perhaps even to have been able to converse with him. But that, after all, is a superficial point of view which deeper insight immediately corrects. At all events I realised that the very thought of living as a contemporary of Goethe would be quite unbearable. For one treasured Goethe so highly just because the creations he bequeathed had worked in one for a time and it was then possible to draw it all forth again from spiritual depths of world-existence. To have lived as a contemporary of Goethe would have been unbearable! When it is clear that the relationship was the result of having been born at a later time, when the subtler connections of the life of soul are taken into account in a case like this where one is drawn to a personality with whom karma did not bring one into direct contact, where the karmic relationships are more complicated, it becomes clear to spiritual insight that had one lived at the same time as this personality, he would have acted like poison upon the soul. I know that this is a strong statement, but it is a fact, nevertheless. To have been a contemporary of Goethe would have made it impossible to keep one's own disposition and configuration of soul firmly knit.

From the wider point of view such circumstances sharpen our perception of the inner truths, the inner relationships, of human life. We no longer talk out of the blue nor shall we be tempted to come out with the hackneyed exclamation: ‘Oh, if only I had been alive then!’ When karma is interpreted rightly, it becomes a source of strength in the circumstances of our life, establishes us in earthly existence at the place where we truly belong. That karma is in truth destiny becomes plain when we begin to reflect upon why we were born at a particular time. We come into earthly existence just when we do, because together with other souls who are karmically connected with us we have prepared our karma for the time when we are to descend to physical existence on Earth.

What I have been telling you is the general rule—but in the spiritual world everything is individual. Rules have their significance but this must not be taken to imply that they are to be regarded as principles. A man who is a stickler for rules, who insists that they can have no exceptions, will never find his way into the spiritual world. For in the spiritual world nothing is the same as it is in the physical world. What could be more obvious to a man living in the physical world than the mathematical axiom: the whole is greater than any of its parts—or the straight way is the shortest distance between two points? Only a lunatic would contend that the whole is not greater than any of its parts. Such things are called ‘axioms’ because they are self-evident truths and, as it is said, cannot and need not be proved. The same applies to the formula: the straight way is the shortest distance between any two points. But neither formula holds good in the spiritual world. What actually holds good in the spiritual world is the formula: the whole is always smaller than any one of its parts. And we find confirmation of this in the very being of man. Observed in the spiritual world, the spiritual counterpart of your physical being is about the size—a trifle larger but approximately the same size as it is in the physical world. When, however, you see your lungs or your liver in the spiritual world, they are of gigantic magnitude, and yet they are parts of something small. We have to learn to change our thinking entirely. In the spiritual world the straight way is by no means the shortest but on the contrary the very longest, because in that world to move from one point to another is a different matter altogether. In the physical world it is pedantically correct to say: that way is long, this longer, this—the straight—the shortest. But in the spiritual world the straight way presents such enormous difficulties that any of the winding ways is the shorter. Hence there is no sense in saying: the straight way is the shortest between any two points—because in actual fact it is the longest of all.

We have to recognise that in the spiritual world nothing is the same as in the physical world. The reason why people find it so difficult to reach the spiritual world with the exercises they practise quite faithfully is that they cling to preconceptions such as: the whole is greater than any of its parts, or, the straight way is the shortest between two points. So much for the axioms.

But we must also give up clinging to all other truths which hold good in the physical world if we are to penetrate into the spiritual world. In the spiritual world there can be no all-embracing principles, for everything there is individual. Each fact must be approached as something entirely individual. In the spiritual world there is none of this dreadful, logical assembling of facts, this basing of everything upon general rules. And so the truth of which I have spoken, namely, that human beings pass through their earthly evolution in groups—although it is indeed a truth and holds good in the broad sense—is sometimes broken through. And precisely from those cases where it is broken through we can realise its significance. Let me give an example.

You must forgive these examples being taken from my own life. After all, how can there be closer knowledge of examples of these things than when they are drawn from one's own life? In recounting the story of my life I have mentioned a geometry teacher of mine. Not only had I great affection for this teacher while I was actually his pupil, but afterwards too, and it was interesting for me to investigate his karma and the whole setting of his life. I myself had a personal weakness, as the saying goes, for geometry. Even at the age of nine, a geometry book that fell into my hands brought me sheer delight; it was written by this teacher who thought me far too immature for anything of the kind. To learn that the three angles of a triangle total 180° was sheer joy to me when I was a boy of nine. But later on, when I was about twelve, and for some years after, this man was my geometry teacher. He was a most remarkable and interesting personality, for he was, so to say, the very embodiment of geometry—but of a particular kind: descriptive, constructive geometry. In the higher classes I was obliged to learn analytical geometry—as it is called—from others, because my former teacher simply did not understand it. He was a first-rate constructor and in that branch he was wonderfully impressive. I myself made remarkable progress in geometry just because I loved him so deeply. It was always a happy hour for me when this teacher came into the class and demonstrated geometry in his own characteristic way. Later on—because my interest in him never waned—I realised that it was only natural to investigate the karmic setting of his life. Now when it is a matter of investigating karma, one can get nowhere by focusing attention upon what, at first sight, makes the most striking impression. If I had paid attention only to his excellence as a teacher of geometry, I should certainly never have discovered the threads of his karma. But what made a deep impression upon me in connection with his life was the fact that he had a club-foot. One leg was shorter than the other. These are details which in the ordinary way are thought to have no bearing upon the actual life. The things of really deep interest, however, are those which lead to the karmic connections. They need not necessarily be very striking. One may actually be led to a man's karmic connection by some repeated habit. A trifling habit may form itself into a picture and lead one to the karmic connections in earlier lives of the person concerned. And so in the case of another teacher for whom I had great affection, I was guided to certain karmic connections—of which I do not now propose to speak—through the fact that whenever this teacher came to his class, the first thing he did was to take out his handkerchief and blow his nose! He never by any chance began a lesson without doing this, and the picture into which this habit shaped itself led me back to his earlier earthly lives. And it was the same with the other teacher, the one with the clubfoot. In point of fact it was this club-foot which gave me the first clue to his particular talent. It is usually thought that the ability to construct figures from geometrical lines comes from the head. But that is simply not the case. Man does not experience geometry through his head. You would never be able to think of an angle if you did not walk. It is because you experience the angle in your legs that you know something about it. The head merely looks on, perceives how the arms or the legs form angles. In geometry we actually experience our own will weaving through our limbs. Our limbs teach us geometry. It is only because we have become such creatures of abstraction that we are unaware of this and firmly believe that all geometrising goes on in the head. The head looks on. perceives how we walk, or dance, or whatever it may be. and then evolves the geometrical figures. And now the whole connection, the reason for this characteristic way of presenting geometry, was clear to me as I studied the inner constitution of this man who was obliged to walk about with a club-foot and who because of the deep effect it had upon him became such an excellent geometrician—but in one direction only. Such things belong to the more intimate concatenations of life.

But what led me to further insight? Coupled with this teacher there arose before me the picture of another man, also with a club-foot, namely, the English poet, Lord Byron. The two men with this physical similarity came in a picture before me, side by side, and many things that had played over from earlier karma into the moral and ethical connections of Byron's life but had also come to expression in his club-foot, became clear to me. When perception of karma has reached this point, its range widens and I was now able to discover that these two men had lived as companions in Eastern Europe at a certain time during the Middle Ages; they had shared a similar destiny and the content of their lives at that time was revealed to me.

Neither the earlier life of Byron nor that of my teacher resembled their lives in the nineteenth century. But the two had been associated in destiny of a very intimate kind. During their lives in Eastern Europe they came to know of the significant legend concerning the palladium—the treasure endowed with magical power upon which the might of Troy depended. The palladium had been buried in Troy and was an object of veneration there. Then it was taken across Africa to Rome where it remained for long ages. When he founded Constantinople, the Emperor Constantine caused this palladium—upon which the power, first of Troy and then of Rome was said to depend—to be removed at the cost of great hardships and with tremendous pomp, to Constantinople, where it was sunk in the ground, in order that the power of Constantinople should replace that of Rome. It is said—and with considerable truth—that the Emperor's arrogance had caused him to transfer the palladium from Rome to Constantinople where he erected a massive column over the spot at which it had been sunk and had a statue of Apollo placed upon this column. The task of bringing the column to Constantinople was one of enormous difficulty, entailing the construction of a special road. The column had originally been brought from Egypt to Rome and its weight was so enormous that every road to Constantinople subsided and became dangerous. The column was erected and the palladium safely protected. The Emperor ordered the statue of Apollo to be set in place but let it be known that this statue was a representation of himself. Then, having caused wood and nails from the Cross of Christ to be brought from the East, he had the wood inserted into the statue and the nails moulded into rays around the head of Apollo. Constantine pictured himself standing there aloft, surrounded by rays of glory fashioned from the wood and the nails of the Cross of Christ. Later on, another legend came to be associated with the palladium, a legend which still played a part in the Testament of Peter the Great, to the effect that the palladium would be carried off by men of the East to their capital, that in time to come the power of the Slavs would be founded on its magical power; through the palladium, so it was said, power would pass to the Slavs just as it had passed to Troy, to Rome, to Constantinople. Such things contain deep truths, even though they are presented in the form of legend.

But this much is certain: anyone who understands the history of the palladium will understand very much of the course taken by European history. This legend came to the knowledge of the two men of whom I have spoken—Byron and his contemporary in the early Middle Ages—and they resolved to seize the palladium and take it to the North, to Russia. They did not succeed; the project failed, as indeed it was bound to do. But something of it remained in the two men; in karmic connections, something remained in them in a strange and remarkable way. At a later time, Byron sought for the palladium in a different fashion; he allied himself with the movement for liberty in Greece—it was the search for a spiritual palladium. This was the urge that had remained in him from the time of which I spoke. And it was clear to anyone who observed my teacher closely, that in spite of his relatively unimportant position, in whatever situation he might be, he evinced an inflexible sense for freedom which was deeply connected in his inmost being with the bodily defect—just as in the case of the one who was his earlier contemporary.

What, then, had happened to these two men? Their paths had separated and they did not find one another again. One of them was Lord Byron, the famous poet; the other, who lived at a slightly later time, was the unknown geometry teacher. In that case the rule of which I have spoken was broken through. But in a curious way, life itself brought me confirmation of this. The teacher I loved so deeply, eagerly awaiting him whenever he came to give his geometry lesson, never once gave me an opportunity of a private conversation with him during the whole of the time he was my teacher. He was like a personality of whom I had only read in history. He did not really fit into the times; one got the impression that he was misplaced in his epoch. Later on, when for the purpose of an anthroposophical lecture I visited the town where he was living in retirement, I looked for his name in the directory. I felt that he must be there and now, after such a lapse of time—thirty years or so—I had a desire to talk to him personally, as a friend. By this time he was quite elderly and lived in Graz, the Austrian home of many University pensioners. I went to Graz for the lecture, found his name in the directory and made up my mind to call on him. But visits from others prevented me, even then, from any private talk with him. Although I loved him so dearly, he remained a shadow-personality in my life. When I went to Graz a second time, I again wanted to visit him, but he had since died. And so here I was confronted with a personality who although I felt so near to him, seemed to be like someone I had merely read about, someone who belonged to a quite different epoch. The circumstances were something like this: I was a contemporary of his but had no karmic connection with him. In none of his earlier incarnations had he been a contemporary of mine. This last life was plainly outside the sequence of the karmic groups to which he really belonged. This was also confirmed by the other case. There had been a departure from the sequence of incarnations to which my teacher belonged because in this earthly life he was not connected with the individual with whom he had formerly been associated. Byron and he did not meet. I am telling you these things in order to show you how karma works and how, by deeper observation, precisely through experiences which, to begin with, are bound to be riddles—and life, after all, is full of riddles—one can really perceive the mysterious weaving of karma. But just as certain contemporaries seem to be only pictures because they have moved out of their own karmic sequence, on the other hand one is fully aware that by far the greater majority of human beings are placed in their epoch by strong, inner necessity. This is often very clear in the case of historical personalities.

Here again, let me give an example. Garibaldi, the champion of liberty in Italy, is a well-known figure. His was in truth a remarkable life. As a personality, Garibaldi attracted me as little as the one I mentioned yesterday, whose karma I investigated. It was in the course of research, and not until then, that I began to be more drawn to Garibaldi. Before I had investigated his karmic connections a great deal about him had seemed to me to be unnatural, hollow—which he most certainly was not. This personality, in spite of being intensely active in politics and practical affairs, seems, when one observes him closely, to stand in a strange way outside life—as if he were living in a purely imagined world, as if he were hovering a little above the Earth. Practical as he was, Garibaldi was also an idealist, as is clear even from his external life. We need only think of a few characteristic episodes in Garibaldi's life and this is at once obvious.—I will speak briefly because time is getting on.—It was by no means an everyday occurrence for a young man to sail around the Adriatic Sea in the first half of the nineteenth century—Garibaldi was born in 1807—at a time when its waters were so fraught with danger. He fell more than once into the hands of pirates and freed himself again after perilous adventures. Occasionally, of course, something of the kind may also happen to others, but it certainly does not occur often, as it did to Garibaldi, that when a man has been for a time beyond the reach of newspapers and finally gets hold of one, he reads in it the announcement of his own death sentence! That was what happened to Garibaldi. He had returned from some maritime adventure and without knowing it had been accused of participating in certain political conspiracies. Sentence of death had been passed upon him in his absence and he read this in the newspaper. He seemed through his destiny to stand a little above actual life.

But other events in his life are even more unusual. Thus, for example, it happened that as the ship in which he had sailed to a foreign country in order to share in certain struggles for freedom, was nearing the coast, he looked through a telescope at the land. There he saw a young, attractive girl and forthwith fell in love with her—through the telescope! It is certainly not the normal way of falling in love. People who are firmly grounded in life do not fall in love through a telescope! But Garibaldi fell head over heels in love and brought his ship with all speed to the spot where he had caught sight of the girl. When he arrived she had vanished, but a man standing there took such a liking to him that he invited him to a meal—it turned out that he was the father of the very girl with whom Garibaldi had fallen in love through the telescope! Thus Garibaldi was able to partake of the meal in the girl's company. He could speak only Italian, she only Portuguese, but both of them understood the language of the heart and they became betrothed. Their life together demanded great valiance on the part of the woman. She accompanied him on his campaigns, acting throughout with great heroism. The circumstances are by no means usual! The first child is born while the husband is many leagues distant and while the wife searches for him on the battlefield she has to strap the child round her neck with a rope in order to keep it warm. She hears that her husband has been killed, faces every imaginable danger in search of him, but finally finds him alive. In spite of everything it was a marriage altogether to be admired. Those familiar with Garibaldi's biography will be aware that the wife predeceased him by a long time and a year after her death, as not infrequently happens, he again became betrothed and married another woman, just like any conventional citizen. This marriage, which was an accomplished fact, lasted only one day and the two separated. Quite obviously, Garibaldi's connection with earthly existence was different from that of other men, and it interested me to investigate a life such as this.

The research led me once again to the Irish Mysteries. Garibaldi too was an individuality who had passed through the Mysteries of Hibernia. Having reached a certain degree of Initiation, he journeyed eastwards, actually working together with others, in the Rhineland. But in respect of karma, what interested me particularly in the life of Garibaldi was that here was a personality whose activities are really difficult to explain. For in a certain sense Garibaldi was the very personification of sincerity. In the deepest fibres of his being, in his whole attitude of soul, he was a Republican—yet in spite of this it was actually through him that Victor Emanuel came to sit on the Throne of Italy. Garibaldi championed the Monarchy in the person of Victor Emanuel. To begin with it all seems incredible. What induced this Republican to make Victor Emanuel King of Italy? Look it up in history and you will find that without Garibaldi there would have been no Italian Monarchy. And then again, Garibaldi is associated with other personalities—Cavour, Mazzini—whose outlooks and leanings are poles apart from his own inner attitude. Cavour and Mazzini are men of utterly different mentality. Mazzini, the idealist who takes no part in practical affairs; Garibaldi, invariably the practical, militaristic statesman but for all that seeming to hover a little above the earthly; Cavour, the shrewd, astute politician—how do these men fit together? That was the problem. And precisely here something comes to light that I will put before you as a characteristic feature in karma. It turns out that these other three men had been followers of Garibaldi when he had been an Initiate in Hibernia; they were his pupils. Now it was an essential principle of the old Irish Mysteries that a vital link should be formed between pupil and teacher. They cannot separate from one another, at all events not in certain incarnations. A karmic tie is forged and there can be no separating. In this particular case we find very singular circumstances: about the year 1807, these four men are born again, one in Genoa, two in Turin, the fourth in Nice—that is to say in the same corner of the globe and also approximately at the same time. They are born together—in the same epoch and in the same region. This is a case where men who belong together are brought together again, in spite of their personal leanings. A fervent Republican such as Garibaldi is tied to Victor Emmanuel—a man with such different persuasions and convictions—and the human relationship counts for far more than all the rest. I give this example to show you what human relationships that are based on karma, really signify. The one may believe this, the other that—but the karmic connection is by far the stronger bond. It is these human relationships that take effect in life, not so much the abstract things mediated by the intellect. But it is only by examining karma in characteristic cases that we discover how human beings are connected with one another, and how, if they have shifted away from the stream to which their own karma really belongs, they may pass through life like shadows.

So much for to-day. We shall continue these studies tomorrow.