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Karmic Relationships I
GA 235

Lecture X

16 March 1924, Dornach

In our study of karmic connections I have hitherto followed the practice of starting from personalities in more recent times and then going back to their previous lives on earth. Today, in order to amplify the actual examples of karmic connections, I propose to go the other way, starting from certain personalities of the past and following them into later times, either into some later epoch of history, or right into the life of the present day. What I want to do is to give you a picture of certain historic connections, presenting it in such a way that at every point some light is shed on the workings of karma.

If you follow the development of Christianity from its foundation, tracing the various paths taken by the Christian Impulse on its way across Europe, you will encounter a different stream of spiritual life which, although little heed is paid to it today, exercised an extraordinarily deep influence upon European civilisation under the surface of external events. It is the stream known as Mohammedanism, the Mohammedan religion, which, as you know, came into existence rather more than 500 years after the founding of Christianity, together with the mode of life associated with it.

We see, in the first place, that monotheism in a very strict form was instituted by Mohammed. It is a religion that looks up, as did Judaism, to a single Godhead encompassing the universe. “There is one God and Mohammed is his herald.”—That is what goes forth from Arabia as a mighty impulse, spreading far into Asia, passing across Africa and thence into Europe by way of Spain.

Anyone who studies the civilisation of our own time will misjudge many things if he ignores the influences which, having received their initial impetus from the deed of Mohammed, penetrated into European civilisation as the result of the Arabian campaigns, although the actual form of religious feeling with which these influences were associated did not make its way into Europe.

When we consider the form in which Mohammedanism made its appearance, we find, first and foremost, the uncompromising monotheism, the one, all-powerful Godhead—a conception of Divinity that is allied with fatalism. The destiny of man is predetermined; he must submit to this destiny, or at least recognise his subjection to it. This attitude is an integral part of the religious life. But this Arabism—for let us call it so—also brought in its train something entirely different. The strange thing is that while, on the one hand, the warlike methods adopted by Arabism created disturbance and alarm among the peoples, on the other hand it is also remarkable that for well-nigh a thousand years after the founding of Mohammedanism, Arabism did very much to promote and further civilisation. If we look at the period when Charlemagne's influence in Europe was at its prime, we find over in Asia, at the Court in Baghdad, much wonderful culture, a truly great and splendid spiritual life. While Charlemagne was trying to spread an elementary kind of culture on primitive foundations—he himself only learnt to write out of sheer necessity—spiritual culture of a very high order was flourishing over yonder in Asia, in Baghdad. Moreover, this spiritual culture inspired tremendous respect in the environment of Charles the Great himself.

At the time when Charles the Great was ruling—768 to 814 are the dates given—we see over in Baghdad, in the period from 786 to 809, Haroun al Raschid as the figure-head of a civilisation that had achieved great splendour. We see Haroun al Raschid, whose praises have so often been sung by poets, at the centre of a wide circle of activity in the sciences and the arts. He was himself a highly cultured man whose followers were by no means men of such primitive attainments as, for example, Einhard, the associate of Charles the Great. Haroun al Raschid gathered around him men of real brilliance in the field of science and art. We see him in Asia—not exactly ruling over culture, but certainly giving the impulse to it at a very high level.

And we see how there emerges within this spiritual culture, of which Haroun al Raschid was the soul, something that had been spreading in Asia in a continuous stream since the time of Aristotle. Aristotelian philosophy and natural science had spread across into Asia and had there been elaborated by oriental insight, oriental imagination, oriental vision. Its influence can be traced over the whole of Asia Minor, almost to the frontier of India, and its effectiveness may be judged from the fact that a widespread and highly developed system of medicine, for example, was cultivated at this Court of Haroun al Raschid.

Profound philosophic thought is applied to what had been founded by Mohammed with a kind of religious furor; we see this becoming the object of intense study and being put to splendid application by the scholars, poets, scientists and physicians living at this Court in Baghdad.

Mathematics was cultivated there, also geography. Unfortunately, far too little is heard of this in European history, and the primitive doings at the Frankish Court of Charles the Great are apt to obscure what was being achieved over in Asia.

When we consider all that had developed directly out of Mohammedanism, we have before us a most remarkable picture. Mohammedanism was founded in Mecca and carried further in Medina. It spread into the regions of Damascus, Baghdad and so forth, indeed, over the whole of Asia Minor, exercising the dominating influence I have described. This is the one direction in which Mohammedanism spreads—northwards from Arabia and across Asia Minor. The Arabs continually lay siege to Constantinople. They knock at the doors of Europe. They want to force their way across Eastern Europe towards Middle Europe.

On the other hand, Arabism spreads across the North of Africa and thence into Spain. It takes hold of Europe as it were from the other direction, by way of Spain.

We have before us the remarkable spectacle of Europe tending to be surrounded by Arabism—by a forked stream of Arabic culture.

Christianity, in its Roman form, spreads upwards from Rome, from the South, starting from Greece; this impulse is made manifest later on by Ulfila's translation of the Bible, and so forth. And then, enclosing this European civilisation as it were with two forked arms, we have Mohammedanism. Everything that history tells concerning what was done by Charles the Great to further Christianity must be considered in the light of the fact that while Charles the Great did much to promote Christianity in Middle Europe, at the same time there was flourishing over yonder in Asia that illustrious centre of culture of which I have spoken, the centre of culture around Haroun al Raschid.

When we look at the purely external course of history, what do we find? Wars are waged all along a line stretching across North Africa to the Iberian Peninsula; the followers of Arabism come right across Spain and are beaten back by the representatives of European Christianity, by Charles Martel, by Charles the Great himself. Then, later, we find how the greatness of Mohammedanism is overclouded by the Turkish element which assumes the guise of religion but extinguishes everything that went with the lofty culture to which Haroun al Raschid gave the impetus.

These two streams gradually die out as a result of the struggle waged against them by the warlike Christian population of Europe. Towards the end of the first thousand years, the only real menace in Europe comes from the Turks, but this has nothing much to do with what we are here considering. From now onwards no more is to be heard of the spread of Arabism.

Observation of history in its purely external aspect might lead us to the conclusion that Arabism had been beaten back by the European peoples. Battles were fought such as that of Tours and Poitiers, and there were many others; the Arabs were also defeated from the side of Constantinople, and it might easily be thought that Arabism had disappeared from the arena of world-history.

On the other hand, when we think deeply about the impulses that were at work in the sciences, and also in many respects in the field of art in European culture, we find Arabism still in evidence—but as if it had secretly poured into Christianity, had been secretly inculcated into it.

How has this come about? You must realise, my dear friends, that in spiritual life, events do not take the form in which they reveal themselves in external history. The really significant streams run their course beneath the surface of ordinary history and in these streams the individualities of the men who have worked in one epoch appear again, born into communities speaking an entirely different language, with altogether different tendencies of thought, yet working still with the same fundamental impulse. In an earlier epoch they may have accomplished something splendid, because the trend of events was with them, while in a later they may have had to bring it into the world in face of great hindrances and obstructions. Such individuals are obliged to content themselves with much that seems trivial in comparison with the mighty achievements of their earlier lives; but for all that, what they carry over from one epoch into another is the same in respect of the fundamental trend and attitude of soul. We do not always recognise what is thus carried over because we are too prone to imagine that a later earthly life must resemble an earlier one. There are people who think that a musician must come again as a musician, a philosopher as a philosopher, a gardener as a gardener, and so forth. By no means is it so. The forces that are carried over from one incarnation into another lie on far deeper levels of the life of soul.

When we perceive this, we realise that Arabism did not, in truth, die out. From the examples of Friedrich Theodor Vischer and of Schubert I was recently able to show you how the work and achievements of individualities in an earlier epoch continue, in a later one, in totally different forms.

Arabism most assuredly did not die out; far rather was it that individuals who were firmly rooted in Arabism lived in European civilisation and influenced it strongly, in a way that was possible in Europe in that later epoch.

Now it is easier to go forward from some historical personality in order to find him again than to go the reverse way, as in recent lectures—starting from later incarnations and then going back to earlier ones. When we learn to know the individuality of Haroun al Raschid inwardly in the astral light, as we say, when we have him before us as a spiritual individuality in the 9th century, bearing in mind what he was behind the scenes of world-history—and when what he was had been unfolded on the surface with the brilliance of which I have told you—then we can follow the course of time and find such an individuality as Haroun al Raschid passing through death, looking down from the spiritual world upon what is happening on earth, looking down, that is to say, upon the outward extermination of Arabism and, in accordance with his destiny, being involved in the process. We find such an individuality passing through the spiritual world and appearing again, not perhaps with the same splendour, but with a similar trend of soul.

And so we see Haroun al Raschid appearing again in the history of European spiritual life as a personality who is once again of wide repute, namely, as Lord Bacon of Verulam. I have spoken of Lord Bacon in many different connections. All the driving power that was in Haroun al Raschid and was conveyed to those in his environment, this same impulse was imparted by Lord Bacon in a more abstract form—for he lived in the age of abstraction—to the various branches of knowledge. Haroun al Raschid was a universal spirit in the sense that he united specialists, so to speak, around him. Lord Bacon—he has of course his Inspirer behind him, but he is a fit subject to be so inspired—Lord Bacon is a personality who is also able to exercise a truly universal influence.

When with this knowledge of an historic karmic connection we turn to Bacon and his writings, we recognise why these writings have so little that is Christian about them and such a strong Arabic timbre. We discover the genuine Arabist trend in these writings of Lord Bacon. And many things too in regard to his character, which has been so often impugned, will be explicable when we see in him the reincarnated Haroun al Raschid. The life and culture pursued at the Court of Haroun al Raschid, and justly admired by Charles the Great himself, become the abstract science of which Lord Bacon was the bearer. But men bowed before Lord Bacon too. And whoever studies the attitude adopted by European civilisation in the 8th/9th centuries to Haroun al Raschid, and then the attitude of European learning to Lord Bacon, will have the impression: men have turned round, that is all! In the days of Haroun al Raschid they looked towards the East; then they turned round in Middle Europe and looked towards the West, to Lord Bacon.

And so what may have disappeared, outwardly speaking, from history, is carried from age to age by human individualities themselves. Arabism seems to have disappeared; but it lives on, lives on in its fundamental trend. And just as the outer aspects of a human life differ from those of the foregoing life, so do the influences exercised by such a personality differ from age to age.

Open your history books, and you will find that the year 711 was of great significance in the situation between Europe and the Arabism that was storming across Spain. Tarik, Commander of the Arabs, sets out from Africa. He comes to the place that received its name from him: Gebel al Tarik, later called Gibraltar. The battle of Jerez de la Frontera takes place in the year 711. Arabism makes a strong thrust across Spain at the beginning of the 8th century. Battles are fought, and the fortunes of war sway hither and thither between the peoples who have come down into Spain to join with the old inhabitants, and the Arabs who are now storming in upon them. Even in those days the “culture,” as we would say today, of the attacking Arabs, commanded tremendous respect in Spain. Naturally, the Europeans had no desire to subject themselves to the Arabs. But the culture the Arabs brought with them was already in a sense a foreshadowing of what flourished later in such unexampled brilliance under Haroun al Raschid. In a man such as Tarik there was the attitude of soul that in all the storms of war wants to give expression to what is contained in Arabism. What we see outwardly is the tumult of war. But along the paths of these wars comes much lofty culture. Even outwardly a very great deal in the way of art and science was established in Spain. Many remains of Arabism lived on in the spiritual life of Europe. Spain itself soon ceased to play a part in the West of Europe. Nevertheless the fortunes of war swayed to and fro and the fighting continued from Spain; in men such as Spinoza we can see how deep is the influence of Arabist culture. Spinoza cannot be understood unless we see his origin in Arabism.

And then this stream flows across to England, but there it runs dry, comes to an end. We turn over the pages of history, and after the descriptions of the conflicts between Europe and the Arabs we find, as we read on further, that Arabism has dried up, externally at any rate. But under the surface this has not happened; on the contrary, Arabism spreads abroad in the spiritual life. And along this undercurrent of history, Tarik bears what he originally bore into Spain on the fierce wings of war. The aim of the Arabians in their campaigns was most certainly not that of mere slaughter; no, their aim was really the spread of Arabism. Their tasks were connected with culture. And what a Tarik had carried into Spain at the beginning of the 8th century, he now bears with him through the gate of death, experiencing how as far as external history is concerned it runs dry in Western Europe. And he appears again in the 19th century, bringing Arabism to expression in modern form, as Charles Darwin.

Suddenly we shall find a light shed upon something that seems to come like a bolt from the blue—we find a light shed upon it when we follow what has here been carried over from an earlier into a later time, appearing in an entirely different form.

It may at first seem like a paradox, but the paradox will disappear the more deeply we look into the concrete facts. Read Darwin's writings again with perception sharpened by what has been said and you will feel: Darwin writes about things which Tarik might have been able to see on his way to Europe!—In such details you will perceive how the one life reaches over into the next.

Now from times of hoary antiquity, especially in Asia Minor, astronomy had been the subject of profound study—astronomy, that is to say, in an astrological form. This must not, of course, in any way be identified with the quackery perpetuated in the modern age as astrology. We must realise the deep insight into the spiritual structure of the universe possessed by men in those times; this insight was particularly marked among the Arabians in the period when they were Mohammedans, continuing the dynasty founded by Mohammed. Astrological astronomy in its ancient form was cultivated with great intensity among them.

When the Residence of the dynasty was transferred from Damascus to Baghdad, we find Mamun ruling there in the 9th century. During the reign of Mamun—all such rulers were successors of the Prophet—astrology was cultivated in the form in which it afterwards passed over into Europe, contained in tracts and treatises of every variety which were only later discovered. They came over to Europe in the wake of the Crusades but had suffered terribly from erroneous and clumsy revision. For all that, however, this astronomy was great and sublime. And when we search among those who are not named in history, but who were around Mamun in Baghdad in the period from 813 to 833, cultivating this astrological-astronomical knowledge, we find a brilliant personality in whom Mamun placed deep confidence. His name is not given in history, but that is of no account. He was a personality most highly respected, to whom appeal was always made when it was a question of reading the portents of the stars. Many measures connected with the external social life were formulated in accordance with what such celebrities as the learned scholar at the Court of Caliph Mamun were able to read in the stars.

And if we follow the line along which the soul of this learned man at the Court of Mamun in Baghdad developed, we are led to the modern astronomer Laplace. Thus one of the personalities who lived at the Court of the Caliph Mamun appears again as Laplace.

The great impulses—those of less importance, too, which I need not now enumerate—that still flowed from this two-branched stream into Europe, even after the outer process had come to a halt, show us how Arabism lived on spiritually, how this two-pronged fork around Europe continued its grip.

You will remember, my dear friends, that Mohammed himself founded the centre of Mohammedanism, Medina, which later on became the seat of residence of his successors; this seat of residence was subsequently transferred to Damascus. Then, from Damascus across to Asia Minor and to the very portal of Europe, Constantinople, the generals of Mohammed's successors storm forward, again on the wings of war, bearing culture that has been fructified by the religion and the religious life founded by Mohammed, but is permeated also with the Aristotelianism which in the wake of the campaigns of Alexander the Great was carried over from Greece, from Macedonia, indeed from many centres of culture, to Asia.

And here, too, something very remarkable happens. Arabism is flooded, swamped, by the Turkish element. The Crusaders find rudimentary relics only, not the fruits of an all-prevailing culture. All this was eliminated by the Turks. What was carried by way of Africa and Spain to the West lives on and develops in the tranquil flow, so to speak, of civilisation and culture; points of contact are again and again to be found.

The unnamed scholar at the Court of Mamun, Haroun al Raschid himself, Tarik—all these souls were able to link what they bore within them with what was actually present in the world. For when the soul has passed through the gate of death, a certain force of attraction to the regions which were the scene of previous activity always remains; even when through other impulses of destiny there may have been changes, nevertheless the influence continues. It works on, maybe in the form of longing or the like. But because Arabism promotes belief in strict determinism, when the opportunity offered for continuing in a spiritual way what, at the beginning, was deliberately propagated by warlike means, it also became possible to carry these spiritual streams especially into France and England. Laplace, Darwin, Bacon, and many other spirits of like nature were led forward in this direction.

But everything had been, as it were, damped down. In the East, Arabism was able to knock only feebly at the door of Europe; it could make no real progress there. And those who passed through the gate of death after having worked in this region felt repulsed, experienced a sense of inability to go forward. The work they had performed on earth was destroyed, and the consequence of this between death and rebirth was a kind of paralysis of the life of soul.—We come now to something of extraordinary interest.

Soon after the time of the Prophet, the Residence is transferred from Medina to Damascus. From there the generals of the successors of the Prophet go forth with their armies but are again and again beaten back; the success achieved in the West is not achieved here. And then, very soon, we see a successor of the Prophet, Muavija by name, ruling in Damascus. His attitude and constitution of soul proceed on the one side from the monotheism of Arabism, but also from the determinism which grew steadily into fatalism. But already at that time., although in a more inward, mystical way, the Aristotelianism that had been carried over to Asia was taking effect. Muavija, who sent his generals on the one side as far as Constantinople and on the other made attempts—without any success to speak of—in the direction of Africa, this Muavija was at the same time a thoughtful man; but a man who did not accomplish anything very much, either outwardly or in the spiritual life.

Muavija rules not long after Mohammed. He thus stands entirely within Mohammedanism, within the religious life of Arabism. He is a genuine representative of Mohammedanism at that time, but one of those who are growing away from its hide-bound form and entering into that mode of thought which then, discarding the religious form, appears in the sciences and fine arts of the West.

Muavija is a representative spirit in the first century after Mohammed, but one whose thinking is no longer patterned in absolute conformity with that of Mohammed; he draws his impulse from Mohammed, but only his impulse. He has not yet discarded the religious core of Mohammedanism, but has already led it over into the sphere of thought, of logic. And above all he is one of those who are ardently intent upon pressing on into Europe, upon forcing their way to the West. If you follow the campaigns and observe the forces that were put into operation under Muavija, you will realise that this eagerness to push forward towards the West was combined with tremendous driving power, but this was already blunted, was already losing its edge.

When such a spirit later passes through the gate of death and lives on, the driving force also persists, and if we follow the path further we get this striking impression.—During the life between death and a new birth, much that remained as longing is elaborated into world-encompassing plans for a later life, but world-encompassing plans that assume no very concrete form for the very reason that the force behind them was blunted.

Now I confess that I am always having to ask myself: Shall I or shall I not speak openly? But after all it is useless to speak of these matters merely in abstractions, and so one must lay aside reserve and speak of things that are there in concrete cases. Let the world think as it will: certain inner, spiritual necessities exist in connection with the spread of Anthroposophy. One lends oneself to the impulse that arises from these spiritual necessities, pursuing no outward “opportunism.” Opportunism has, in sooth, wrought harm enough to the Anthroposophical Society; in the future there must be no more of it. And even if things have a paradoxical effect, they will henceforward be said straight out.

If we follow this Muavija, one of the earliest successors of the Prophet, as he passes along the undercurrent and then appears again, we find Woodrow Wilson.

In a shattering way the present links itself with the past. A bond is suddenly there between present and past. And if we observe how on the sea of historical happenings there surges up as it were the wave of Muavija, and again the wave of Woodrow Wilson, we perceive how the undercurrent flows on through the sea below and appears again—it is the same current.

I believe that history becomes intelligible only when we see how what really happens has been carried over from one epoch into another. Think of the abstraction, the rigid abstraction, of the Fourteen Points. Needless to say, the research did not take its start from the Fourteen Points—but now that the whole setting lies before you, look at the configuration of soul that comes to expression in these Fourteen Points and ask yourselves whether it could have taken root with such strength anywhere else than in a follower of Mohammed.

Take the fatalism that had already assumed such dimensions in Muavija and transfer it into the age of modern abstraction. Feel the similarity with Mohammedan sayings: “Allah has revealed it”; “Allah will bring it to pass as the one and only salvation.” And then try to understand the real gist of many a word spoken by the promoter of the Fourteen Points.—With no great stretch of imagination you will find an almost literal conformity.

Thus, when we are observing human beings, we can also speak of a reincarnation of ideas. And then for the first time insight is possible into the growth and unfolding of history.