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Matter Incidental to the Question of Destiny
GA 172

18 November 1916, Dornach

Translator Unknown

You will have seen how intricate are the deeper problems of destiny in human life. The fact is brought home to us when we attempt to approach them by the paths which spiritual science opens out.

Many another thing will yet be necessary to enable the man of the present time to enter rightly into these questions, and thus to lead him to a fruitful grasp, a really practical hold on life. Considering the complicated problems into which we are now trying to find our way, we must explore many a side-track so as to understand the difficulties which confront us here especially. In a certain sense we are all of us a product of the thinking of the present time. So many of us believe ourselves to be unbiased in our thought; but it is always well to be unsparing in self-knowledge and self-criticism, and most of all with respect to the virtue of ‘unbiased thought.’

It is often very difficult to discuss these matters, for language itself is obstinate when we try to elaborate ideas according to reality. A concept, elaborated—drawn forth, as it were,—from the rich store of occult science, may easily appear to lead in quite a different direction from what is really meant. In this way many a misunderstanding can arise. Nowadays one may often make a certain observation, especially when people are discussing the biography, the human life, of great or outstanding personalities. Let me give one example. A booklet has just been published here in Switzerland about Friedrich Theodor Vischer, author of Auch Einer and of a large treatise of Æsthetics, of whom we spoke the other day in a different connection. This book describes the life of the distinguished Swabian with genuine interest and real devotion. ‘Vischer with a V’ as he is nicknamed was indeed a man of sterling qualities and of a good spirit—diligent and productive withal. I give him here as an example of certain things which we will now consider, as to the problems of human destiny. We might equally well have chosen some other example.

‘Vischer with a V’ was a true Swabian, living and thriving in the 19th century. In the recently published biography we are told how he grew out of straitened circumstances,—how through the poverty of his family he had to be educated in the charity school at Tübingen, and so on. And at the very outset we are told how even the grammar school education which he thus received was limited and narrow-minded. The boys learned Latin thoroughly and were afterwards introduced to the Greek authors too. But at a late age they were still quite ignorant of their home country—for instance, Into what river does the Neckar flow? They had never even seen a map ... and so on. Many such faults in the educational system are cited.

Now let us consider the matter well. ‘Vischer with a V’ grew up to be a great man in some respects, and he achieved great work. He grew to be a famous man. We want to understand, therefore, how he became what he was. How did he become the specific individuality who stands there in history as Friedrich Theodor Vischer? The fact that he had not seen a map until he reached a certain age was indeed not without importance; for if he had, a certain trait in his character would have been absent. And many another thing which is sharply criticised in this book was equally necessary. Look at it from a larger aspect and in the long run we shall say, The soul of Friedrich Theodor Vischer, descending from the spiritual worlds, hit upon this milieu and no other—by an unfailing choice. He wanted to have an education which would make it possible for him not to see a map for so and so long. He wanted to have the Neckar—the little river of his home country—for a long time before him, and yet not know into what river it flows. Study Friedrich Theodore Vischer and you will see: All his queer cranks and eccentricities—and he had plenty of them—are an integral part of his greatness. Thus it is quite unsuitable, in writing his biography, to blame the schools which made him what he was.

Some one may say at this point, Now he is trying to tell us that schools which fail to show their children any maps are after all excellent schools. No, that is not the point. Such a retort would be unjust. But for ‘Vischer with a V’ it was good so; it had to be.

We have experienced this sort of thing often enough in the 19th century, and on a larger and larger scale in our own days. Famous natural scientists have arisen to protest against the existing system of education, demanding the introduction of far more science into the schools. And when one asked these gentlemen, ‘Well, but you yourselves went through the existing system, is it so bad after all?’—one generally got no answer. Let us make no mistake about it. Everything has at least two aspects,—indeed it has often many more than two.

What does it mean when a biographer—in this case it is a woman—sets to work and forms her ideas in such a way as to write down what I have just cited. It can contribute nothing to an understanding of the personality in question. Forming ideas like that, one simply cuts as with a knife—only one does it in the mind—cuts into the living being one is treating. If one had not this impulse to ‘cut’ with one's ideas, one would describe with loving interest what the school was like,—in all its narrowness—how it brought forth this individuality. But no, one cuts and criticises. To criticise is indeed very largely to ‘cut.’ What is the origin of this?

It is due to a specific human quality—a quality very widely spread, especially in the thought-system of the present time, and that is cruelty. Only it is rooted in the subconscious life and people are unaware that they possess it. Because the people of our time have no courage to practise cruelty externally, they practise it in their concepts and ideas. In many a work of our time we can feel this latent cruelty in the whole manner of exposition. In much that is done and said in our time we can perceive it. It is far more widespread in the foundations of human souls than we imagine.

I have told you how they are wont, in certain schools of so-called ‘black magic,’ to acquire the black-magical qualities they need by causing their pupils, to begin with, to cut into the living flesh of animals. Certain qualities of the soul are thereby developed. Not everyone can do that in the present time; but many a one finds satisfaction for the same craving in his system of thoughts and concepts, where it produces—not indeed black magic, but the civilization of our time. Let us make no mistake about it. Much in our time is permeated with this quality. Only by observing such things as this can we gain a really unprejudiced grasp of the world in which we find ourselves ... Only so, and not otherwise—not by any means.

Now in the present time certain beginnings have decidedly been made towards a true perspective of the conditions of the fifth post-Atlantean age. We cannot understand this age if we merely criticise it, giving ourselves up to an abstract idealism; ... if we fail to bear in mind, for instance, how all that appears in our time as mechanism, mechanical civilization, belongs with absolute necessity to the 5th post-Atlantean age. Merely to criticise and denounce the mechanical qualities of our age, is senseless.

Certain beginnings, as I said, have indeed been made, towards a human understanding—however limited—of what inspires the fifth post-Atlantean age already now, and will do so increasingly. Hitherto, however, few concepts and ideas have been found, adequate to the realities of this fifth post-Atlantean age. Moreover, people are too little inclined to study the works of those who have made a real attempt to grasp the conditions of the age. They will have to be studied; and in many respects, these efforts especially will have to be followed up by a true and vigorous spiritual-scientific movement.

There is, for instance, a distinguished poet of the fifth post-Atlantean age, whose poems are truly vibrant with the life of the age. I refer to Max Eyth—a man who ought to be well known. He is a true poet of our age. He, too, was a Swabian—son of a Swabian schoolmaster, who wanted his son also to be a schoolmaster. Karma, however, had a different intention, and at an early age Max Eyth turned to a technical career. So he became a thoroughgoing engineer, and subsequently went abroad—to England, where he devoted himself to the manufacture of steam ploughs. Indeed, he became the poet of the steam plough. The warm and loving heart with which he sings the praise of this strange beast of modern time—the steam plough—that is the true poetry of our age. Strange things are interwoven in his heart. On the one hand Max Eyth is a man absolutely devoted to the technics and machinery of modern time. On the other hand, he is receptive to all that a modern man's intelligence will understand if he finds his way with open mind into those things which can be opened out, if this intelligence is trained in the mechanical and materialistic concepts of the fifth post-Atlantean age. For instance there is one of the novels of Max Eyth, where—for the rest—he deals with the purely modern life of Egypt. (He worked a lot in Egypt, whither the English Society, in whose employ he was, exported their steam ploughs, which he had to test and put into action on the spot.) In one of his novels on this subject, he describes how the pyramids are built after a certain system. If we calculate certain relationships (we find this in the appendix to the novel) we discover the number Ï€, with which the double radius of a circle must be multiplied to get the circumference. We find it, true to at least thirty places of decimals! You know how it is—3.14159 and so on. But it goes on ad infinitum—many, many decimals. Now one might easily imagine this number Ï€ to be the result of comparatively recent discoveries. Max Eyth, however, finds that the Egyptian priests must have known it in very ancient times, even to the thirtieth or fortieth place of decimals. For they thereby determined the proportions according to which they built the pyramids. Engineer that he was, there was revealed to Max Eyth much that lies deeply hidden in the old pyramid-construction. And this enabled him to point out that our civilization has in reality a twofold origin. There is its origin in ancient times, when people based themselves on quite another science—a science connected with the old atavistic clairvoyance which subsequently disappeared and must be found anew in our own time. But another thing, too, you will find in Max Eyth; and—inconspicuous as it may seem—this is the great importance. Among his poems, some of which are collected in the volume Hinter Pflug und Schraubstock (‘Behind the Plough and the Lathe’) there is one which raises a great riddle, as it were, of life and fate. He describes an engineer—a builder of bridges. Magnificently he describes the faculties he has,—how he is able to build his bridges. This engineer, however, is—as we might say—a rather flighty man of genius. He builds a certain bridge. Once more, it is magnificently described. He himself is in the first train to cross it. But he made one slip in the construction, and when the first train goes over, the bridge collapses and he is killed. There we have a tremendous Karmic question—not of course answered, but thrown up. We see how the modern man approaches these great questions of destiny. Here we have a man, brilliant in his profession, losing his life at a comparatively early age even through his profession—ruined by the very work which he himself created. This poem, I would say, stands before us with a mighty question; and these are the very questions to which spiritual science will seek the answers.

Of course, such things occur in life in manifold variations. Here we have described a case which shows us the fulfilment of Karma, as it were, with the greatest acceleration—with the greatest speed. But let us assume (it is of course only an hypothesis, for when such a thing occurs, Karma works itself out with necessity)—let us assume as an hypothesis what might have happened in another case. Suppose the man had not been in the first train, but had been sitting quietly at home at his fireside. Well, he might have got two years imprisonment, but scarcely any more would have happened to him in this life between birth and death. How would it then have been?

That, you see, is the great question. The same thing which would have brought death into his Karma—death which he suffered by his own work—must find its way into his Karma inevitably, whatever happens. The man who does not get it here, will get it in his life between death and a new birth. Somehow, the experience must be undergone. Such an experience may be undergone with acceleration, as in the case Max Eyth describes, or on the other hand it may extend over long spaces of time. Thus will the fifth post-Atlantean age engender great and important questions of fate, out of the immediate reality of life. The very conditions of life in this age will bring it home to many individuals. Riddles are being set by life in a new way; it was not so at all in former epochs.

We can well observe it, if we consider those individuals of our time who are gifted, in a way, with clear, light-filled intelligence. In their artistic creations they are looking already now for quite other complications of life than were looked for in former epochs. Moreover, it is often just the ones who stand in the practical vocations of today, who discover these significant complications of life. In a certain respect the books of Max Eyth are most instructive. In the first place, he is a really great and gifted poet. And secondly, being an altogether modern man, he creates right out of the requirements of modern life.

It is not without interest (let me make this remark, once more, in parenthesis)—those who read Max Eyth can learn by purely external reading many a fact which theosophists in their turn might find it important to know—all manner of things, for instance, connected with the life of the first President of the Theosophical Society, Colonel Olcott. All this is hidden in Max Eyth's descriptions. For he was in America at a time when Olcott was up to all manner of things over there. In short, social Karma too is brought home to us if we do not scorn to make ourselves to some extent acquainted with this very modern spirit.

All in all, it is a peculiar fact. Eyth was a man of genius; sometimes, however, people who are not exactly ‘men of genius,’ but whom the fifth post-Atlantean age—with its mechanisms of life—has moulded and produced, perceive with astounding clarity the intricacies of this modern life, through the peculiar form of their intelligence.

For instance, there is a modern lawyer, known to myself and to others. At least he was a lawyer in his youth—at a period of life when this profession is generally un-remunerative. He was a gifted thinker, observing the things around him without prejudice, and his outstanding ability made no little impression on his superiors,—as I suppose you would call them—not so much for his real clarity of vision, but because he was useful to them, being a good and expeditious worker. Well, having done excellent service as an ‘actuary’ or ‘assessor’—whatever they call these official posts—he was promoted to a ministry of state. Here, too, he proved an excellent worker, albeit one who observed everything with open eyes. And so on one occasion he was given an important commission. He was to prepare a Report on school and educational matters, and his instruction was: the gist of the report should be to recommend the transition to a kind of ‘Liberal’ system. This idea pleased him, and—clear thinker that he was, seeing through the facts,—he produced a very good report, a really excellent plan of reform. Scholastic affairs were to be ‘liberalised’ and given a more modern form. Meanwhile, however, while he was making the report, the Government policy had changed and they now wanted a reactionary report. So his superior said, Your report is so excellent, I doubt not you could make an equally good reactionary one. Will you not now prepare me a reactionary Report? To which he answered, No, I cannot.—Cannot, how so? No, this represents my conviction! What,—your conviction? ... The superior, in short, was very angry. After all, he realised, this man is no good. (For surely we can have no use for a man who, not content to be a good worker, even has his own convictions!) Nevertheless, he was an excellent jurist and a first-class worker. What does one do in such a case? He has proved his ability in all directions and is well known as a good jurist. Well, one tries somehow to promote him. When people prove their ability so well, one must somehow keep them quiet and content. And so, with a little wire-pulling behind the scenes (as the saying goes), one day—I think it was at a game of skittles—as if by chance, a secretary of a big Theatre met him. The secretary said, You know the post of Director in the Theatre is vacant? Well, the said man—being a lawyer by profession and hitherto a civil servant in a ministry of state—naturally had no suspicions when he was told this interesting piece of news. But when they had finished their game, the other said to him: Come with me now to the Cafe, and I will explain the matter more in detail. Would you not like the job yourself? At the moment we are without a Director at the Theatre. No doubt we could choose some man or other, but we cannot tell whether he will want the post under the prevailing conditions. The other, being well-informed and very much on the spot in such matters of administration, answered: He must accept! He must be willing, and if he is not—you simply commandeer him.

The end of the matter was, the post was offered to himself. But there was one difficulty. There was a very famous actress at the theatre, whose favour the Director must, of course, enjoy. Well, said the secretary, cannot you somehow earn her favour? ‘Oh, well, if that is all! ... True, I have only been to the theatre seven times in my whole life. But while I am about it, if I do undertake to become a theatrical Director, I shall somehow manage to earn the favour of this actress. Can you not tell me what she likes to eat?’ Well, the secretary happened to know. It was Mohnbeugerl—some kind of poppy-seed cakes. That was a fine solution. ‘We will drive to the confectioner's at once,’ he said, ‘and order a large consignment of poppy-seed cakes.’ Sure enough, early the next morning they were delivered at the actress's house. In the afternoon the secretary had to call on her—to sound her, as the saying goes. ‘We would like to make this man Director,’ he said, ‘What do you think about it?’ He knew that she was very influential. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘True, I know nothing of him, but hitherto nothing but good has come to me from him.’ Now, therefore, things were so far arranged that he could become Director of the Theatre. But there was also the critic to be considered—the most famous critic of the town. He too must be won over. And he always wrote the most dreadful stuff ... till one fine day he too was changed in his attitude, so that at least he no longer wrote about him quite unfavourably, albeit not exactly with good will. How was it brought about? I am telling you no fairy tales; this actually happened. I will only characterize it briefly. The important personage of the Theatre—he who was even higher than the Director—did not know what to do. The Director was there; nay, more, he was making good, for he proved just as efficient as Director of the Theatre as he had been in his other jobs. But the head personage was at his wits' end. We cannot dismiss the Director who has only just been appointed; and yet, the critic is constantly running him down. What did he do? He invited them both to dinner (not letting either of them know that the other was coming) and served them with excellent (wines. The Director was able to drink and drink and drink. So was the critic, but only to a certain extent. His capacity was less than the Director's. And so it came about that one fine morning very early—I think it was at five o'clock—the Director rings the front-door bell at the critic's flat and insists that he must speak to the critic's wife in person,—he has something most important to deliver, which he has left at the bottom of the stairs. Well, she put on her dressing gown and thereupon he brought her husband as a ‘pretty pile of woe,’—handed him over in a rather limp condition. From that day onward, the criticisms were a little better. Afterwards, having been just a little too bold as Director of the theatre (in the view of his superiors once more) he was ‘promoted’ again into the sphere of jurisprudence.

Now this man has written an excellent description of all that he saw in his work. I only wished to point out how such people especially, who come out of the immediate life of the present, are often able to characterise it very significantly.

There is another interesting case—a man not unlike the one of whom I have just told you, though, if I may say so, he was a little superior to him in style. He wrote many things during his life. But shortly before his death (all these men are dead by now!) he wrote an interesting narrative, a short story, a typical work of art of the present time. How does one write short stories nowadays, according to the prevalent taste? On no account must anything really ‘spiritual’ be contained; or if it is, it must emerge with the utmost clarity that the reader may believe it or not, as he pleases, and at any rate—he will do better to treat it as a fairy tale. I will describe the subject matter, which this man chose out of life of the present.

The hero is, once more, a lawyer by training and profession. He advances comparatively far in the circles in which the man of whom I spoke just now was living for so long. All this can, of course, be described. We describe how he goes through the several stages in the career of jurisprudence, experiencing this and that, such and such complications. Then again—for needless to say, this too is modern and correct,—we can weave a love-story into the plot. We can describe how some exotic maid arrives, accompanied by her mother. The high official of the law falls in love with her. And now, some story of espionage forms part of the plot, which he himself—as judge or public prosecutor—has to treat. And the affair is somehow connected with the girl with whom he has fallen in love, and this brings him into dire conflict. In the end you can describe, quite realistically, how he comes to commit suicide.

But the author to whom I now refer did not do it so. He wove the following very significant theme into his story. Outwardly, the plot is almost exactly like the one I just related. But in addition he describes how this official of the law read Schopenhauer and other Philosophers. And he read Philosophy so as to unite it—if I may say so—with his own individual being, right down into his nervous system. Now he is a first-class lawyer. What does it mean to be a first-class lawyer, as judge (or public prosecutor)? It means, to devise all manner of clever points, completely to entangle the accused. (And as defender? Then he must be well up in all the clever points and cute devices of defenders.) This lawyer, in a word, is extraordinarily clever; and he condemns a man in circumstances similar to those I just described. But the accused, during the proceedings, behaves in an extraordinary way—demonically, one might say. Especially his look remains quite unforgettable to those who witnessed it. In the end, needless to say, he is locked up. And the whole affair somehow involves the girl with whom the ‘judge’ in question falls in love. The man is condemned to 20 years' penal servitude. And he is ailing ...

The ‘judge’ is very well described in this short story. One night after the case is over (which in the general opinion he conducted brilliantly),—meanwhile, he has not given the convict another thought—one night at twelve o'clock, he awakens (this will no doubt be more or less correct) and remains in a half-sleeping state. About two there is a knock at the door of his bedroom. In comes the convict himself. Imagine the judge's situation. But he falls again into a half-slumbering condition, and when he awakens it is day. Now he is dreadfully afraid. He goes into the law-courts. He hears nothing; only once, as he is walking along the corridor, he hears the name of the convict called. It gives him an awful fright. He resolves once more to study the records of the case. He has them given to him; but for three weeks he leaves them on one side. Till finally the fact emerges in a conversation: On a certain night at two o'clock the convict died in prison. It was at the very minute—the judge is afterwards able to ascertain,—at the very minute when he visited him in his bedroom.

Such is the plot of the short story. Hofrat Eisenhardt is the title. Eventually he dies by suicide. Hofrat Eisenhardt, by Berger,—an altogether modern story, showing by other descriptions also, which occur in it, how well the author was acquainted with many attempts of recent times to penetrate into the secrets of occult life. From this point of view alone, the story is excellently written. And now there is a strange thing. This Berger is not the same man whom I described to you before. I gave him only as an instance of a man who looks around him with clear and open vision, and well describes what is the very nerve of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. But as his colleague, as it were, in the same profession, I wanted to cite the instance of this Berger—Alfred, Baron von Berger, is his full name—who wrote the brilliant story, Hofrat Eisenhardt. From the whole way in which it is written, one can see: The man is well acquainted with the many efforts of modern times to enter into the spiritual world. Throughout his life, Alfred Baron von Berger was an author; he wrote many things. But he did not publish this story till he had reached a post from which no further advancement was possible. Indeed, ‘by chance’ as one would say, he published it very shortly before his death. All this is significant. For it shows us how the men of our time—if they want to ‘get anywhere,’ as they say, in outer life,—do not do well to tamper with such questionable matters. On the other hand, it also shows us how it is the real striving of the men of our time to penetrate into the mysterious aspects of existence, which will indeed impress themselves upon us more and more, for they confront us with great and important riddles.

If we wish to study the problems of destiny without prejudice, we must above all acquire free and open vision. We must try—if you will forgive the hard saying—not to sleep our way through life, but to look about us. Let me tell you, as it were symbolically, what is the point. Suppose this is one stream of life, this the second and this the third. Life, as you know, consists of many streams, crossing one another in the most manifold directions,—the life of the individual, the life of human groups, even the life of all humanity on Earth. The concepts which predominate to-day are generally too easy-going to unravel the tangled threads of life. Very often it is necessary to focus our gaze on one point and then again on quite another, so as to bring precisely these two points into relation—looking at them both together.

We must envisage the right facts. Then and then only do we find the searchlights which illumine life's situations. Now you will ask me, How can such a thing be done? Yes, that is just the question. Study spiritual science in the right way, and you will discover by Imagination those points in life which you must see together, in order that life may be revealed to you. Otherwise you will be trying to study life, observing event after event and understanding nothing of it, like the present-day historians, who draw the threads from event to event, but fail to understand. For the real point is to study the world on a symptomatic basis. This, above all, will be more and more needful, to study the world symptomatically, that is to say, to turn our vision in the right directions and draw the connecting links. Especially when it is a question of concretely studying Karma, especially then is it necessary to be able to see things symptomatically. In the study of Karma there is very much to confuse us, for in effect there is so much that allures us.

This symptomatic study, certain occult societies of our time have tried to keep as far as possible away from mankind. I have already told you how there have remained over, from very ancient institutions, certain brotherhoods which call themselves occult,—notably in the West of Europe. Within these occult societies the study of human character has been pursued, with the definite object of using human characters in the right way—with the object of being able to get hold of them properly. And many means have been adopted to withhold from the remainder of mankind this knowledge, which has been studiously cultivated—if I may put it so—within the walls or within the gates of such societies. It will be one of the most interesting things when the connection is exposed between the occult endeavours of certain societies of our time and the events of public life; when the threads are revealed which pass from certain occult communities to the events of our time, and when their methods are unveiled. For those who worked out of such occult societies knew how to reckon with human characters, taking the threads of their Karmas in hand and guiding them—without the knowledge of those concerned. In the Theosophical Society many attempts were made but they were mere attempts; they did not get beyond the amateurish stage. For they were not so skilled as in these other societies. Of course it is difficult to speak about these things, especially to-day, when an objective characterization is not only accused of prejudice, but is even forbidden by the law. It is difficult—nay, in certain respects quite impossible, to speak about these things. Nevertheless they must be hinted at, in one way or another. For it will not do for people simply to go on living in their time, playing their part in all that enters from the Karma of the age into the unconscious life of human souls, and then—while they go on living in this vague and nebulous conditions which prevails—claiming at the same time to cultivate spiritual science, which requires a clear and unprejudiced mind. In certain matters, Truth must prevail when it becomes a question of the real things of the occult world. The point is, there must be the real Will to Truth. This Will to Truth finds much resistance, in our time above all, for the sense of Truth has gradually become lost to men. Think only of this: in the public life of our time it is generally not a question of getting at the Truth, but rather, of repeating what will suit one side or another, according to the prevailing group-prejudices.

Again and again, we come up against the subjects of which it is impossible to speak. And yet, it would be so necessary to do so. This very fact I beg you clearly to envisage. Here, too, we must make no mistake about it; it is so. You may ask, What have these things to do with the question of Karma which we are now treating? They have very much indeed to do with it, and we must try to enter still more into some of these things if we desire at length to reach the goal which we are seeking in this course of lectures.