Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

From Limestone to Lucifer
GA 349

V. Human life in sleep and death

21 March 1923, Dornach

Good morning, gentlemen! Let us try and bring the subject we have started to a conclusion, at least for the time being. You see, we only learn to understand life if we begin to consider the sleep of human beings, which I have mentioned to you a number of times before. When we are in the fullness of life from morning till night, we usually think that sleep will give us energy again, getting rid of the tiredness, and so on. But sleep actually does much more than that. Just think about it. Looking back on your life, think of the dreams you had in your sleep. These do not always come to mind. Dreams are something we soon forget, as you all know. Though perhaps once in a while you did have a dream that you would often tell. You remember it because of the telling. But the dreams we do not tell vanish in no time at all. Going back to the time when you were boys in your memories, you'll recall many things from your boyhood and from later on in life. But your memories are always interrupted. If you think back over today, you come to the time when you slept. That is a break, something you do not remember. Your memories only start again with last night, going back to yesterday morning. So that in remembering back we do not get the whole of our life, for the part that was during the night will always be missing. If you draw a line to show the process of remembering back, there is a period of time, from evening to morning, that is beyond recall; then you have recall again from morning to evening, a pause again from evening until morning, and so on [Fig. 16].

Figure 16

Our recall of life is really such that there is a whole part of our life which we do not remember. This is quite clear. It is the time we have slept through.

Let us now think of someone who is unable to sleep. As you know, many people complain of being unable to sleep. But many of those complaints should not be taken seriously, for some people will tell us they never sleep at night, and if you ask them for how long they have not been sleeping at night, they'll say: 'Oh, not for years!' Well, someone unable to sleep for such a long time would have been dead long since. People do sleep, but they have such lively dreams in their sleep that they feel they've been awake. Now tell such a person: 'Have a good lie-down, you don't need to go to sleep; just lie down.' For he'll then sleep all right, and though he may not know it, he does sleep. I just wanted to tell you this so that you can see that people really need sleep in their life. Sleep is more important for life than food is. And someone who would be unable to sleep would not live.

Well, now, how much time do we spend asleep between birth and death? You see, gentlemen, the sleeping time is longest for very young infants. When an infant is born he'll sleep almost all the time. Gradually the time spent sleeping grows less. And when you've reached something of an age and reckon it up, you'll have to say that you have really slept through one third of your life. And that is healthy. We really sleep through one third of our lives.

This has been known for a fairly long time. Only people don't like to remember things that have been known for a long time. Just as far back as the nineteenth century, right at the beginning of it, people writing about these things would say: 'Man should work for 8 hours, have 8 hours for himself and sleep for 8 hours. That gives us 16 waking hours and 8 hours of sleep, with 3 times 8 = 24 hours. And one third of the 24 hours is given to sleep.' This was a perfectly accurate observation. Man needs a third of his whole life for sleep. But of course people don't consider how important sleep is for life, for they do not care about soul and spirit today. They only concern themselves with the things they experience when their bodies are in the waking state, but not with their soul and spirit. And that is the way it is, so that people will often say in their everyday lives today: 'Lord, yes, it is a good thing to sleep, but all it needs is that you're tired enough.' And they'll then drink enough beer at night so that they'll be able to sleep. But it is not a matter of being tired enough; what matters is that people realize the real importance of sleep.

Let us clearly understand what it really means to sleep. You see, gentlemen, basically people like themselves a great deal. You see this especially when they are sick. Sick people show how much they like themselves, for they'll take very good care of themselves when they have a pain somewhere, and so on. All this is quite right and proper, but it does show that people are terribly fond of themselves. What is it they are fond of when they like themselves so much? They are fond of their bodies. And this is the great secret of life, I'd say, that people are fond of their bodies. And the love they have for their bodies shows itself when something is not quite right with their bodies.

But there's also a drawback to this fondness for the body. The body is active all day long. The body toils hard all day long. And the liking which the element of soul and spirit has for the body gets less and less as the day goes on, though the person is not aware of this. This is the strange thing, something we should know. During the day, when a person needs to be active all the time, the element of soul and spirit gets less and less fond of the body. That is why an infant sleeps such a lot. It loves its body very much, always wants to enjoy it. Looking at an infant you can always see how he enjoys his body. Just think of an infant who has had his milk and goes to sleep. In this sleep, the infant relishes his digestion. He enjoys the processes that occur in his body. And he'll only wake up again when he's hungry. For he is less fond of what happens when he's hungry. So he'll wake up again. You see, therefore, that an infant wants to enjoy his body in sleep. You can make the most wonderful observations. But the academics don't do this, for they do not have the ability.

Look at a herd of cows feeding in their pasture and then lying down contentedly to enjoy their digestive processes. They are enjoying the processes that happen in their bodies.

This is something we have to know—the human being really wants to enjoy his body. But it is a bit different with humans than it is with cows, and again a bit different with an adult than with a child. The young child is not yet working and therefore enjoys his body in sleep. The cows do it all from instinct, and therefore also enjoy their digestion in sleep. The human being never gets to enjoy his digestion. Using his body all day long he has reached a point by evening when he is quite out of sympathy with his body. He does not like it any more. And you see, that is why he sleeps. He sleeps because his body is no longer dear to him. The antipathy a person develops to his body all day long will make him go to sleep at night, and he'll sleep until he's overcome this antipathy in his soul, waking up again when he is once more in sympathy with his body. This is the first thing we need to understand, that waking up occurs when the individual is in sympathy with his body again. And this sympathy is for all the individual organs in the body. When someone wakes up, therefore, he slips into his organs, as it were.

Just think of the way waking-up dreams are. Our wakingup dreams are such that we may dream of snakes, for example. We are slipping into our intestines at that point and dreaming of snakes. The snakes represent our intestines. The human being thus slips into his body with spirit and soul when he is in sympathy with his body and wakes up. He has to have this sympathy, otherwise he'd always want to leave his body.

And now consider this. Someone has died, he has put his body aside; the body is no longer part of the human being. The first thing to happen, as I've told you, is that he has thoughts that recall the whole of his life. And these thoughts are lost after just a few days. They disperse into the whole world. But he'll still feel sympathy for the things his body has experienced. And this sympathy will gradually have to go as well. This is the first thing we go through after death, that we must lose the sympathy we have with our body.

How long does it take for us to regain sympathy for the body when we live for one day? It takes a third of the day. And because of this, losing that sympathy after death also takes a third of our whole life. Someone who has lived, let us say, for about 30 years will need about 10 years to get rid of his whole body, so that he is no longer in sympathy with the world and with life—all this is approximate, of course. So a human being first has a few days after death when he recalls his life, and then he is weaned, I might say, from this backward look, which will continue for a third of his life span on earth. This is the average term for human beings, but it will be longer for some and shorter for others, for one person is more in sympathy with his body, likes himself more, and another likes himself less, and so on. After death we therefore go through something which we might describe as: 'The human being weans himself from all the things that connect him with his body.'

Now you may well say that the things I am telling you are really quite theoretical. How can we know that a human being is still attached to something when he has put aside his physical body? How can we know that? Well, gentlemen, to know this we have to look at the way a human being develops in the course of life.

We have the first period in life in which the human being develops, the first period of time in life; it continues until the individual gets his second teeth. First he has his milk teeth, then he gets his second teeth. Now you see, we can say that the milk teeth are something we inherit. But the second teeth are not inherited. The second teeth come from the ether body. The ether body is active in us and gives us our second teeth. So we have the physical body, as I wrote it up for you the other day; this gives us our first teeth. Then there is the ether body; this gives human beings their second teeth, the teeth which remain.

Now we really must develop the ability to see. Today people only develop the ability to think, form theories, but not to see and behold the things I have described in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. If we really look at a child who is gradually getting his second teeth, we see the ether body at work at a level not apparent to the ordinary senses. And this is the body which we keep for a few days after we die and which then disperses throughout the whole world. So if we make a real study of what gives people their second teeth, we find that after death human beings have their ether body for a few days and then cast it off after those few days; that is, the ether body goes out into the world.

Now we still have our astral body then and our I. The astral body is the part of us that goes on longing for the physical body. With the I, which is inside it, we continue to long for the physical body. We may say, therefore, that man develops needs and desires in his astral body—as I told you the other day. All needs are developed by the astral body. They are not part of the physical body. When the physical body has become a corpse it no longer has any needs [Fig. 17].

Figure 17

Thus we are able to say that the principle which gives human beings their second teeth will also be gone a few days after death. So what remains? Here we must find a way to study what begins to be particularly active in the human being from the time when he has his second teeth to the time when he reaches sexual maturity. This is another important period in human life. These things cannot be studied in modern science where no attention is paid to them.

You see, from the getting of the second teeth to reaching puberty something is active in the child that is not perceptible to the ordinary senses. And what does this invisible principle want? It gradually wants to take hold of the whole body. It is not yet in it when the child has his second teeth and begins to receive this astral body into the whole of his body, so that it may be present in all parts of it. Then the child matures more and more. And when the astral body is wholly in the body the child has reached sexual maturity. It is important for us to know that it is the astral body which brings sexual maturity into the child.

It is, of course, not possible to study these things the way modern academics would like to study them. Modern academics only want to study the things they can lay their hands on. They do not observe human life. But anyone who has learned to observe properly what it is that works its way into the body from the second teeth to puberty knows that this is the astral body. This gives rise to all needs and desires. A child does of course have needs even before he gets his second teeth, at a time when the astral body is mainly present in the head; but later it spreads through the whole body. You can see very well how the astral body spreads if you look at boys. The voice changes as they reach puberty. This marks the astral body entering into the whole physical body. In women you can see it from the way the secondary organs of their sex life, the breasts, and so on, develop. This is the astral body entering into them. And human beings keep their astral body even when they have cast off their ether body after death.

How long has someone been in his physical body when he is 30 years of age? He's been in it for 20 years; for 10 years he was not in it. After death he wants to be in it again for those 10 years during which he was not in his physical body, which he has slept through. He will therefore be active in his astral body after death for one third of the life he has gone through here on earth. After this time, the astral body will be satisfied and the human being then lives only in his I. Having gone through about one third of his life span after death, the human being lives only in his I.

But this I, the truly spiritual element in man, will now need tremendously much to be able to live on. You see, it was not without reason that I have all the time told you that common sense, the rational mind, thoughts, are really spread out over the world. I have told you that everything in the world is really arranged in a sensible way, if one studies it properly. I have explained this to you by speaking of the animal world. This whole world is such that we should not imagine our own rational mind to be the only one; the rational mind we have has been taken from the rational mind spread out in the world—like a portion of something with a ladle. Rational thinking is all-present. And anyone who thinks his rational mind is the only one is as foolish as someone who thinks: 'I have a glass of water here. The glass was empty to begin with, then it was full, that is, the water has grown out of the glass.' No, the water must first be got from the well, from the whole body of water. And that is also how we first have to get our own thinking mind from the big rational mind that is in the world.

We simply fail to notice any of this in our lives. Why? Because it is something our body does. Gentlemen, if you were ever to know—I have spoken of this before—what your body does with a very small lump of sugar you have eaten, with the sugar not just dissolved in the body but transformed into all kinds of other substances—if you knew everything that was going on there you'd be amazed. You are amazed even when I tell you just the very beginnings of everything that goes on in the human body. But however much of it all you consider, you are always only considering a little bit. You take a breath. The breath you inhale must always be used in the whole of your body. Just think, you take a breath about 18 times a minute. And that breath you take must always be used in the whole of your body. That needs tremendous rational thinking, an absolutely tremendous rational mind.

Now our body does all this. Our body really works for us with tremendous good sense. It is truly admirable, and we have to feel this when we discover how much the human body really produces by way of good sense. It is simply enormous. Our body therefore relieves us of a great many things during life.

But now, after death, we no longer have it. Now we do not even have the ether body any more. We do not have the astral body, nor even a longing for the physical body. All we have, therefore, is the I, and the I now realizes that it does not have the body and begins to familiarize itself with everything that will be needed for a body.

And this is where something tremendous comes in, something we need to understand. In modern science things are made very easy in this respect. People will say: 'Where does the human being come from? Well, the human being comes from something that has arisen in the mother through fertilization, as a fertilized egg.' In modern science it is said, therefore, that you have the fertilized egg and inside it, well—somehow the whole human being is already laid down in there. Someone who knows nothing will say: 'A germ is there; the whole human being will come from this.' Now you see, people have got this really clear in their minds long since, but in their own way, which means they have got it really unclear.

Just imagine this is the egg [Fig. 18] from which you have come. So you would be in there, a tiny human being, as it were. But this egg has itself come from another egg. So this tiny human being must already have been in the maternal womb, and the maternal egg, that is, the mother herself, must have been inside the grandmother, and so on through great grandmother, great great grandmother and all the way to Eve. And you arrive at the strange notion that the whole of humanity was inside Eve, the original mother, but one inside the other like a nest of boxes. Mr Muller was inside an egg; this in turn was inside an egg together with all other human eggs, only it was like a nest of boxes. The whole human race was inside Eve, the original mother. This thesis was called the theory of evolution at the time and later, derisively, the encasement theory.

encasement theory
Figure 18

From the beginning of the nineteenth century people said one really cannot imagine that the whole of the human race was encapsulated in Eve, with one always inside another, and so terribly many of them—this simply will not do. And they then accepted another theory. They then said: 'No, there is really nothing inside the egg; but when the egg is fertilized all the external conditions affect it—wind and weather and sun and light and all kinds of things. And the human being comes into existence under the influence of the whole natural world.'

Indeed, gentlemen, materialists feel really good with an idea like this. But it does not stand up to close scrutiny. For just imagine what becomes of us with the whole of nature having its effect on us all the time. It will make us nervy, as people call it today. Someone who is sensitive to every draught of air and every ray of light will not be a proper human being but a fidget. The natural world around us actually makes us fidgety. So that cannot be the answer. Proper study actually shows us something completely different. Proper study shows that there is nothing at all in the egg. Before it is fertilized the situation is that one sort of discovers all kinds of things in it, I'd say. It has form. We are therefore able to notice all kinds of threads and so on in the unfertilized egg. But when the egg is fertilized the threads are destroyed and the whole egg is then nothing but a real scrunched-up mess, if I may put it like that. To put it in a more formal way, it is a chaos. It is matter lacking totally in organization.

You see, matter lacking completely in organization does not exist anywhere else in the world. All forms of matter are somehow organized, inwardly structured in some way. If you take anything whatsoever, just a speck of dust, and look at it under the microscope you'll see how finely and beautifully it is structured inside. The fertilized egg is the only thing that is in utter chaos inside. And matter must first fall into utter chaos, it must not be anything in itself any more if a human being is to come out of it. People are always thinking about protein, for example. They always want to find out how it is organized inside. Well, protein has an inner structure for as long as it is not fertilized. Once it is fertilized it is what I've called a 'scrunched-up mess', meaning a chaos, absolutely disorganized matter. And the human being comes from this.

Even in the case of Eve, if she ever existed, there was no whole human race, not even later in a fertilized egg, for the egg is completely chaotic, lacking all order, and it also was without order in Eve, the prime mother. And if a human being is to arise from this egg, this must be brought about from the outside, that is, the human being must enter into this egg. Proper scientific study will indeed show that the human being must enter into the egg from outside. This means that the human being comes from the world of the spirit. He does not come out of matter, for matter must actually be destroyed first.

It is like this even with plants. There you have the soil, and the seed in the soil. Again people do not make a proper study of what happens with the seed in the soil. For the seed must first be destroyed. The next spring then makes the new plant rise from the destroyed matter in a spiritual way that comes from outside. It is like this with animals and above all also with man. It is only that the plant has it easier. The whole universe creates its form. With man, the whole universe does not create his form to begin with. He has to create it himself. Man actually just enters into this destroyed matter himself, otherwise it would not be possible for a human being to arise from this destroyed matter. Man must therefore first come out of the world of the spirit and enter into the destroyed matter. The whole of fertilization merely ensures that when a human being wants to come into the world he is presented with destroyed matter, that he has the destroyed matter. He would not be able to do anything with matter that was not destroyed. He cannot come into the world the way a plant does, for then he could only become a plant. He really must create the whole universe within himself. And he does create it. And that is a truly wonderful thing the way the human being configures the destroyed matter to create the universe in it.

Let me give you an example of how the human being configures the destroyed matter to create the universe in it. If this is the surface of the earth [drawing on the board]—we can do it like this, for if you look at just a small part of the Earth it does look level. The sun rises in the morning, goes up to a certain height and then goes down again. This is a specific angle, with the sun rising that far. It is most interesting that the sun always rises up to a certain level and then goes down again. The angle is of course a little greater in summer than in winter, but the sun always rises to a specific degree. This angle therefore marks an inclination of the sun to the earth.

We also find this angle somewhere else. You see, when light enters into the eye, we have the blind spot, as it is called, at the point where the optic nerve coming from the brain enters into the eye. This is a spot where we do not see. We only see really clearly in places that are some distance away from this blind spot where the optic nerve comes in. And this is what is so interesting—the spot where we have the clearest visual perception inside us is at the same angle to the blind spot as the sun is to the earth in its orbit.

And there is something else as well. If you take the heart, it is at a slight angle. It has the same inclination as the sun has to the earth. I could tell you any number of things that would show you how everything that exists out there in the universe is also inside us in some way. The inclination of the sun is something we have in the inclination in the eye and in the inclination of the heart. We are entirely created out of the good sense that prevails in the universe.

You know, gentlemen, this is something where one begins, as one gradually gains some insight, to say to oneself that man is really a whole small world. Everything which exists out there in the world is recreated within the human being.

Just think what it would be like if you were given this 'scrunched-up mess', this destroyed matter, and asked to recreate all those things in there. You would not be able to do it. You see, when the I is all by itself after death, it has to learn from the whole world how to recreate the whole world. Having cast off his sympathy with the body during that period of a third of his past life, the human being then begins to learn from the whole universe how to be a human being again. And this takes longer than a life does on earth, for the way things go on earth, well, you can learn a lot or learn a little. Most people really learn very little today. And strange as it may seem, the academics learn least of all, for the things they learn are all quite useless. They only make it possible to know what a corpse looks like, but not how a living body is inwardly brought about. But that is what the I has to learn after death. It must learn all the secrets, from the whole world, of how a living body is built. And there we may refer to this time which the I spends learning from the whole world how a human being functions and lives inwardly.

You see, if someone does the exercises I have described in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and is then able to remember the time which one otherwise does not remember, the time when he was a very young infant, he will discover what the life of an infant consists of, an infant who knows nothing of the world as yet, but merely uses his body, merely wriggles, merely lives his way into his eyes, into his ears, but does not yet understand any of it. In ordinary life people do not generally look back. They'll say: 'Why bother about my infancy; I'm here, that's all.' But when one does look back into that short period which one usually does not remember, and does so with insight, one notices what one was actually doing then. And to begin with you get a terribly unpleasant feeling as you come to this. For the wriggling of the very young infant is an effort to forget all that knowledge of the universe. It is given over to the body, and the body will later know it. It will be able to take over that knowledge in its life.

The young infant gives his body the wisdom of a whole world. It is really most painful, terribly sad, that in modern science people have not the least idea of what goes on in the life process, with the young infant giving the universal wisdom it has gained to his body, and gradually growing into his eyes, into his hands. He gradually grows into them, giving the whole wisdom of the I over to the body. Before that, the I really held the whole wisdom of the world.

It may perhaps seem strange to you, but it is really so: how is it possible for someone who truly has anthroposophy—knowledge of the human being—to tell people something about the universe? One is able to tell something about the universe simply because one is remembering one's earliest childhood, early infancy, when one still knew the whole of it, having learned it earlier, before having entered into the body. And anthroposophy really consists in gradually rediscovering this whole universal wisdom again from the body, to which it has been given.

Yes, gentlemen, we are not shown how to do this in modern science. It does not tell us at all how we can regain the knowledge which we ourselves have put into the body in the first place. In science, people are shown how to experiment, and to learn only the things they can learn from this in a superficial way. The right thing would be to take the human being into the living body. Our students are taken to a dead body, a body that is already a corpse, and they do not learn anything about the living human being. It would, of course, be more difficult to do this, for it needs people to practise self-knowledge, looking inside themselves, for there the human being is meant to grow more perfect. But this is exactly what present-day people do not want. They do not want to be more perfect, they want to be drilled a bit in their education, and stop at that; they do not want to be more perfect. People do not want this because with the education they are given today they are already too arrogant, I'd say, to admit that there is any room for improvement.

So I have now told you a little bit, for the time being, about the I. But we'll talk more about these things in the next few sessions, so that you will hear a great deal more and gradually find it easier to understand it all.

You see, I've told you a little bit about what the I needs to do during the time before the human being comes down to earth again. There are people, however, who'll say: 'Really, I am not interested in what the I needs to do afterwards. Surely one can wait until one has died and then see for oneself.' That's what people say.

Well, gentlemen, that would be the same as if the germ, having developed and been fertilized, with the human being now inside it in the maternal womb, were to say: 'Oh, I find it too boring to live in the womb, I'll leave early.' But it will not be a human being unless it spends the allotted nine months in the womb. This is something it must first go through. In the same way the I will not be able to gain living experience after death unless it lives in such a way here on earth that it is encouraged to do so. It is therefore quite wrong for someone to say: 'I'll wait until after death; then I'll no doubt see if I am something or not/ and so on. People really aren't very logical. They are about as logical today as the man who insisted, who swore that he'd not accept any god. He swore: 'As sure as there is a god in heaven I am an atheist!'25Anzengruber, Ludwig (1839-89), Austrian writer, in his play Ein Faustschlag (1878), Act 3, Scene 6, Kammauf's actual words: 'for ... as true as God ... I am an atheist!' That is more or less the way people are today. They use the old turns of phrase even if they are contradictory. And so they think they can wait and see if they still exist then or not. You see, people say to themselves: 'Do I believe in immortality or do I not believe in immortality? Well, if I do not believe in immortality and it exists after all, I might fare badly. But if I do believe in immortality and there is none, no harm will be done. It is therefore definitely better to believe in immortality.'

But I think you'll agree that we must not play games with our thoughts like that. It is important to be really clear in one's mind. And so we have to say: 'The human being must receive the stimulus he needs here on earth so that his I may really penetrate into the world in a living way after death. And this stimulus is thoroughly driven out in modern science, where people are not made in the least aware of the facts as they really are. It is something that is not admitted, but it is really considered a good idea to keep people as unknowing as possible today, so that they'll sleep after death and have no idea at all of how to penetrate the secrets of the whole universe, and thus be truly human again.

You see, gentlemen, if humanity were to go on living the way people live today, being concerned only with superficial things, people will be born at a future time who will not be able to lift a finger, having learnt nothing before their next life.

The way lives follow one another is something we'll come back to another time. Today I only wanted to give you ideas so that you may see that I was not careless in my use of words when I spoke of the way the I is after death, for it is possible to show, from the knowledge itself, that the human being comes down to earth again and has to create his life for himself in that chaos of matter. This is genuine knowledge based on objective facts.

So this is what it is all about. Only it can't be done so quickly, but I am still going to answer the question fully for you, taking all the things together which we know about the end of human life, how the human being gradually loses his ether body and his astral body, and how the I must then come down to create its astral body and so on. That is what it is all about, how man comes down to earth again and again. And in time one then also discovers when the human being will be freed from the whole of earth life and no longer needs to come down. The question as to when he originally started is one we'll also answer in due course. He must have started at some point as a kind of plant. He did not need to be human for this. But I have also spoken to you of the time when the whole earth was one large plant, and we shall see that one day the earth will be a plant again, and man will then be free from being human.

I'll then consider the whole matter once more from another aspect. You will, of course, have to be patient and not say 'I can't follow this' when we are only just starting. You'll see, the more we go into detail the more it will seem plausible to you.