Karmic Relations

by Rudolf Steiner

Volume III: Lecture IV, (GA 237)

For members of the Anthroposophical Society

Dornach, July 8, 1924

From stenographic notes unrevised by the speaker. Translator unknown

About the people who are seeking Anthroposophy

Today I would like to mention certain things which will afterwards make it possible for us to understand more closely the karmic connections of the anthroposophical movement itself. What I wish to say today will take its start from the fact that there are two groups of human beings in the anthroposophical movement. In general terms I have already described how the anthroposophical movement is composed of the individuals within it. What I shall say today must of course be taken in broad outline and as a whole; but there are the two groups of human beings in the anthroposophical movement. The things which I shall characterize do not lie so obviously spread out ‘on the palm of the hand,’ as we say. They are by no means such that crude and simple observation would enable us to say: in the case of this or that member, it is so or so. Much of what I shall characterize today lies not in the full everyday consciousness of the personality, but, like most karmic things, in the instincts — in the sub-conscious. Nevertheless, it does thoroughly impress itself on the character and temperament, the mode of action and indeed the real action of the human being.

We have to distinguish the one group, who are related to Christianity in such a way that those who belong to it feel their attachment to Christianity nearest and dearest to their hearts. There lives in these souls the longing, as anthroposophists, to be able to call themselves Christians in the true sense of the word, as they conceive it.

This group derives great comfort from the fact that it can be said in the widest and fullest sense: The anthroposophical movement is one that recognises and bears the Christ Impulse within it. Indeed, for this group, pangs of conscience would arise if it were not so.

Now as to the other group: — In the manifestations of their life, those who belong to it are indeed no less sincerely Christian. And yet, they come to Christianity from rather a different angle. To begin with they find great satisfaction in anthroposophical cosmology — the evolution of the earth from the other planetary forms, and so forth. They find satisfaction in all that Anthroposophy has to say about humanity in general. From this point they are then led naturally to Christianity. But they do not feel in the same measure an inward need of the heart to place Christ in the center at all costs.

As I said, these things work themselves out to a large extent in the subconscious. But whoever is able to practice true observation of souls will be able to judge the different individuals in the right way in every single case.

Now the origins of this grouping go back into very ancient times. You know, my dear friends, from my Occult Science that at a certain period of earthly evolution the souls took their departure from the continued evolution of the Earth and came to dwell on other planets of our system. Then, during a certain time — during the Lemurian and Atlantean times — they came down again to Earth. Thus the souls came down again from the various planets — not only from Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, etc., but also from the Sun — to take on an earthly form. And we know how there arose, under the influence of these facts, what I described in Occult Science as the Oracles.

Now there were many among these souls who tended through a very ancient karma to come into that stream which afterwards became the Christian stream. We must remember, after all, that less than a third of the population of the earth are professing Christians to this day. Thus only a certain number of the individual souls who came down to earth developed the impulse to evolve towards the Christian stream.

The human souls came down at different times. There were those who came down comparatively soon, in the first periods of Atlantean civilisation. But there were also those who came down relatively late — whose sojourn, so to speak, in the pre-earthly planetary life was long. When we look back into the life of such a soul — beginning with the present incarnation — we come perhaps to a former Christian incarnation and maybe to yet another Christian incarnation. Then we come to the pre-Christian incarnations. But we reach comparatively soon the earliest incarnation of such a soul, whereat we must say: Tracing the life still farther back from this point, it goes up into the planetary realms. Before this point, these souls were not yet present in earthly incarnations.

In the case of other souls, who have also found their way into Christianity, it is different. We can go very far back; we find many incarnations. It was after many incarnations, pre-Christian and Atlantean, that these other souls entered into the Christian stream.

For intellectual thinking such a thing as I have just mentioned is exceedingly misleading. For one might easily be led to suppose that those who by the judgment of present-day civilisation would be considered as particularly able minds, are the very ones who have had many incarnations. But this need not by any means be the case. On the contrary, people who have excellent faculties in the present-day sense of the word — people who are well able to enter into modern life may often be the very ones for whom we find comparatively few past incarnations on the earth.

Perhaps I may here remind you of what I said at the time when the anthroposophical stream which we now have in the anthroposophical movement was inaugurated. I may remind you of what I said at the Christmas Foundation Meeting, when I spoke of those individualities with whom the Epic of Gilgamesh is connected. [See World History in the Light of Anthroposophy. Rudolf Steiner Press, 1977.] I explained certain things about such individualities. We find, as we look backward, that they had had comparatively few incarnations.

Now, my dear friends, for those human souls who come to Anthroposophy today — no matter whether there are still other, intermediate incarnations or not — that incarnation is important which falls roughly into the 3rd or 4th or 5th century after Christ. (We find it nearly always, spread out over a fairly long period, — two to three centuries. Sometimes it is later — even as late as the 7th or 8th century). Above all, we must look into the experiences of these souls in that early Christian time. We then find a subsequent incarnation when all these experiences were secured or confirmed.

Now in the case of all these souls, the important thing is: According to all their past conditions, their former lives on earth, how were they to relate themselves to Christianity? You see, my dear friends, this is a very important karmic question. Later on we shall have to consider other, more subsidiary karmic questions; but this question is a cardinal question of karma, because, passing over many other subsidiary things, it is through their deepest, innermost experiences in former incarnations — through what they underwent with respect to world-conceptions, religious beliefs and the like — that human beings come into the Anthroposophical Society. With respect to the karma of the Anthroposophical Society, this must therefore be placed into the foreground. What have the souls in this Society experienced, in matters of knowledge, world-conception and Rreligion?

In those early centuries of Christian evolution, one could still take one's start from traditions of knowledge — which had existed ever since the founding of Christianity — about the Being of Christ Himself. In those traditions, He who lived as Christ in the personality of Jesus was regarded as a Being of the Sun, before He entered into this earthly life. We must not imagine that the attitude of the Christian world to these truths was always as negative as it is today. In the first centuries of Christianity they still understood the Gospels, certain passages of which speak so distinctly of this Mystery. They understood that the Being who is called Christ had come down into a human body from the Sun. How they conceived it in detail is less important for the moment; the point is that they still had this idea.

At the same time, in the epoch of which I am now speaking, the possibility of really understanding such a conception had dwindled very much. It was hard to understand that a Being coming from the Sun descends to the Earth. Above all, many of the souls who had come into Christianity having a large number of earthly incarnations behind them — far back into Atlantean times — could no longer fully understand how Christ can be called a Being of the Sun. The very souls who in their old beliefs had felt themselves attached to the Sun-Oracles, and who thus revered the Christ even in Atlantean times inasmuch as they looked upward to the Sun — the souls therefore who according to the saying of St. Augustine were ‘Christians before Christianity was founded upon Earth,’ * Christians of the Sun — these very souls, by the whole character of their spiritual life, could find no real understanding of the saying that Christ was a Sun-Hero. Therefore they preferred to hold fast to that belief which — without such interpretation, without this cosmic Christology — simply regarded Christ as a God, a God from unknown realms, who had united Himself with the body of Jesus. Under these conditions, they accepted what is related in the Gospels. They could no longer turn their gaze upward to the cosmic worlds in order to understand the Being of the Christ. They had learned to know Him only in the worlds beyond the Earth. For even the Mysteries on Earth — the Sun-Oracles — had always spoken to them of Christ as a Sun-Being. Thus they could not find their way into the idea that Christ — this Christ beyond the Earth — had really become an earthly Being.

[* St. Augustine: Retractationes. I.xiii.3. “When I said [in his book De Vera Religione] ‘That is in our times the Christian religion, to know which, is the most secure and certain salvation,’ it was said in relation to the name, not in relation to the thing itself, of which it is the name. For the thing itself, which is now called the Christian religion, was there among the people of antiquity, and was not wanting from the beginning of the human race, down to the time when Christ came in the flesh; whereafter the true religion, which was always there, began to be called Christian. For when the Apostles began to preach Him after the resurrection and ascension into heaven, and very many believed, first of all at Antioch, as it is written, they were called Christian disciples (Acts X1, 26). Therefore I said: ‘This is in our times the Christian religion,’ not because it was not there in earlier times, but because in later times it received this name.” (Tr. from the Latin text).]

These Christian souls, when they afterwards passed through the gate of death, came into a strange position, which I may describe — somewhat tritely perhaps — as follows. These Christians, in their life after death, came into the position of a man who knows the name of another man and has heard many things about him; but he has never made his acquaintance in person. To such a man it may happen, at a moment when all the support which served him as long as he merely knew of the name are taken away, that he is suddenly expected to know the real person, and his inner life completely fails him in face of this new situation. So it was with the souls of whom I am now speaking: those who in ancient times had felt themselves belonging especially to the Sun-Oracles. In their life after death, they came into a situation in which they had to say, ‘Where, then, is the Christ? We are now among the Beings of the Sun, where we had always found Him, but now we find Him not.’ That He was on Earth, this they had not really received into the thoughts and feelings which remained to them when they passed through the gate of death. So after death they found themselves in a state of great uncertainty about the Christ and they lived on in this uncertainty about Him. They remained in many respects in this uncertainty. Thus, if in the intervening time another incarnation followed, they tended easily to join those groups of people who are described to us in the religious history of Europe as the various heretical societies.

Then, no matter whether they had passed through such another incarnation or not, they found themselves together again in that great gathering above the earth, which I described here the other morning, placing it at the time of the first half of the 19th century. Then it was that these souls among others found themselves face to face with a great super-sensible ritual consisting in mighty imaginations. And in the sublime imaginations of that super-sensible ritual there was enacted before their spiritual vision the great Sun-Mystery of Christ. These souls, as I explained, had come to a blind alley with their Christianity. And the object was, before they should descend to earthly life again, to bring them, in picture-form, at least, face to face with Christ, whom they had lost — though not entirely — yet to such extent that in their souls He had become involved in currents of uncertainty and doubt.

Now these souls responded in a peculiar way. Not that they found themselves in a still greater uncertainty through the fact that all this was enacted before them. On the contrary it gave them a certain satisfaction in their life between death and a new birth — a feeling of salvation from many doubts. But it also gave them a kind of memory of what they had received about the Christ — albeit in a form that had not yet been permeated in the true cosmic sense by the Mystery of Golgotha. Thus there remained in their inmost being an immense warmth and devotion of feeling towards Christianity, and at the same time a subconscious dawning of those sublime imaginations.

All this was concentrated into a great longing, that they might now at last be able to be Christians in the true way. Then when they descended — when they became young again, returning to the earth at the end of the 19th or at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries — having received the Christ by way of inner feeling though without cosmic understanding in their early Christian incarnation, they could do no other than feel themselves impelled towards Him. But the impressions they had received in the imaginations to which they had been drawn in their pre-earthly life, remained in them only as an undefined longing. Thus it was difficult for them to find their way into the anthroposophical world-conception, inasmuch as the latter studies the cosmos to begin with and leaves the consideration of Christ until a later point.

Why did they have such difficulty? For the simple reason, my dear friends, that they had their own peculiar relationship to the question ‘What is Anthroposophy?’ Let us ask: What is Anthroposophy in its reality? My dear friends, if you gaze into all those wonderful, majestic Imaginations that stood there as a super-sensible spiritual action in the first half of the 19th century, and if you translate all these into human concepts, then you have Anthroposophy. For the next higher level of experience — for the adjoining spiritual world whence man descends into this earthly life — Anthroposophy was already there in the first half of the 19th century. It was not on the earth, but it was there. And if Anthroposophy is seen today it is seen indeed in that direction: towards the first half of the 19th century. Quite as a matter of course one sees it there. Nay, even at the end of the 18th century one sees it.

For example, one may have the following experience. There was a certain man who was once in a peculiar position. Through a friend, the great riddle of human earthly life was raised before him. But his friend was not altogether free of the angular thinking of Kant (“das kantige Kant'sche Denken”), and thus it came to expression in a rather abstract philosophical way. He himself — the one of whom I am now speaking — could not find his way into the ‘angular thinking of Kant.’ Yet everything in his soul stirred up the same great riddle, the great question of life. How are the reason and the sensuous nature of man connected with one another? And lo, there were opened to him — not merely the doors but the very flood-gates, which for a moment let radiate into his soul those regions of the World in which the mighty imaginations were being enacted. And all this — entering not through windows or doors but through wide-open flood-gates into his soul — translated as it were into little miniatures, came forth as the fairy-tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. For the man of whom I speak was Goethe.

Miniatures — tiny reflected images, translated even into a fairy-like beauty — descended thus in Goethe's Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. We need not therefore wonder that when it became necessary to give Anthroposophy in artistic scenes or pictures, (where we too must naturally have recourse to the great imaginations), my first Mystery Play, The Portal of Initiation became alike in structure — albeit different in content — alike in structure to the Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily.

You see it is possible to look into the deeper connection even through the actual things that have taken place among us. Everyone who has had anything to do with occult matters knows that what happens on earth is the downward reflection of something that has taken place long, long before in the spiritual world, though in a somewhat different way, inasmuch as certain spirits of hindrance are not mingled in it there.

These souls now, who were preparing to descend into earthly existence at the end of the 19th or at the beginning of the 20th century, brought with them — albeit in their subconscious — a longing also to know something of cosmology, etc., that is, to look out upon the world in the anthroposophical way. But above all, their hearts and minds were strongly inflamed for Christ. They would have felt pangs of conscience if this whole conception of Anthroposophy — to which they found themselves attracted as an outcome of their pre-earthly life — had not been permeated by the Christ Impulse. Such was the one group, taken of course ‘as a whole.’

The other group lived differently. If I may put it so, the other group, when they emerged in their present incarnation, had not yet reached that weariness in Paganism which the souls whom I described just now had reached. Compared to those others, they had indeed spent a relatively short time on earth — they had had fewer incarnations; and in these incarnations they had filled themselves with the mighty impulses which a man may have, if through his lives on earth he has stood in a living connection with the many Pagan Gods, and if this connection echoes strongly in his later incarnations. Thus they were not yet weary of the old Paganism. Even in the first centuries of Christianity the old Pagan impulses had still been working in them strongly, although they did incline more or less to Christianity, which, as we know, only gradually worked its way forth from Paganism.

At that time they received Christianity chiefly through their intellect. Though indeed it was intellect permeated with inner feeling, still they received it with their intellect. They thought a great deal about Christianity. Nor must you imagine this a very learned kind of thinking. They may indeed have been relatively simple men and women, in simple circumstances; but they thought much.

Once again it matters little whether there was a subsequent incarnation in the meantime. Such an incarnation will of course have wrought some changes; but the essential thing is this: When they had passed through the gate of death, these souls looked back upon the earth in such a way that Christianity appeared to them as something into which they had not yet really grown. They were less weary of the old Paganism; they still bore within their souls strong impulses from the old Pagan life. Thus they were still waiting for the time when they should become true Christians.

The very people of whom I spoke to you a week ago, describing how they battled against Paganism on the side of Christianity — they themselves were among the souls who in reality still bore much Paganism, many Pagan impulses within them. They were still waiting to become real Christians. These souls, then, passed through the gate of death. They arrived in the spiritual world. They passed through the life between death and a new birth, and in the time which I have indicated — in the first half of the 19th century or a little earlier — they came before those sublime and glorious imaginations; and in these imaginations they beheld many impulses to ignite their work and their activity. They received these impulses mostly into their will.

And, if I may say so, when we now look with occult vision at all that these souls are carrying today, especially within their will, we find — above all in their life of will — the frequent impress of those mighty spiritual Imaginations.

Now the souls who enter their earthly life in such condition feel the need to experience again here upon earth — in the way that is possible on earth — what they experienced in their pre-earthly life as a determining factor for their karmic work. For the former kind, for the former group of souls, the life in the first half of the 19th century took its course in such a way that they felt themselves impelled by a deep longing to partake in that super-sensible ritual. Yet they came to it — if I may so describe it — in a vague and mystic mood, so that when they afterwards descended to the earth only dim recollections remained to them; albeit Anthroposophy, transformed into its earthly shape, could make itself intelligible to them through these recollections. But with the second group it was different. It was as though they found themselves together again in the living aftereffect of the resolve that they had made. For they, even then, had not been quite weary of Paganism. They still stood in expectation of being able to become Christians in a true way of evolution. And now it was as though they remembered a resolve that they had made during that first half of the 19th century: a resolve to carry down on to the earth all that had stood before them in such mighty pictures, and to translate it into an earthly form.

When we look at many an anthroposophist who bears within him the impulse above all to work and co-operate with Anthroposophy most actively, we find among such anthroposophist of the kind I have now described. The two types can be distinguished very clearly.

Now, my dear friends, perhaps you will say: All that you have here told us may explain many things in the karma of the Anthroposophical Society; but one may well grow anxious: ‘What is coming next?’ — seeing that so many things are being explained about which one might well prefer not to be torn away from blissful ignorance. Are we now to set to work and think whether we belong to the one type or the other? My dear friends, to this I must give a very definite answer. If the Anthroposophical Society were merely to contain a theoretical teaching or a confession of belief in such and such ideas of cosmology, Christology, etc. — if such were the character of this Society — it would certainly not be what it is intended to be by those who stand at its fountainhead. Anthroposophy shall be something which for a true anthroposophist has power to change and transform his life, to carry into the Spiritual what is experienced nowadays only in unspiritual forms of expression.

I will ask you this: Has it a very bad effect upon a child when at a certain age certain things are explained to him or her? Until a certain age is reached, children do not know whether they are French or German, Norwegians, Belgian or Italian. At any rate this whole way of thinking has little meaning for them until a certain age. One may say they know nothing of it in reality. We need only put it radically: — You will surely not have met many Chauvinist babies, or even three-year old Chauvinists! ... It is only at a certain age that we become aware: I am German, I am a Frenchman, I am an Englishman, I am a Dutchman and so on. Yet in accepting these things, do we not grow into them quite naturally? Do we say it is unbearable to discover at a certain age of childhood that we are Poles or a Frenchmen, or Germans or Russians or Dutch? We are used to these things, we take them as a matter of course. But this, my dear friends, is in the external realm of the senses. Anthroposophy is to raise the whole life of man to a higher level. We must learn to bear different things, things which will only shock us in the life of the senses if we misunderstand them. And among the things we are to learn to recognise there is this too: — We must grow just as naturally and simply into the self-knowledge which is to realise that we belong to one type or the other.

By this means the foundation will be created for a right estimation of the other karmic impulses in our lives. Hence it was necessary, as a kind of first direction, to show how the individual — according to the special manner of his pre-destination — stands in relation to Anthroposophy, to Christology, and in relation to the greater degree of activity or passivity within the anthroposophical movement.

Of course there are transitions too, between the one type and the other. These however are due to the fact that what comes over from the previous incarnation into the present is still irradiated by a yet earlier incarnation. Especially with the souls of the second group this is often the case. Many things still shine over from their genuinely heathen incarnations. For this reason they have a very definite predisposition to take the Christ in the sense in which He must truly be taken, namely as a Cosmic Being. But what I am now saying shows itself not so very much in the ideal considerations; it shows itself far more in the practical things of life. The two types can be recognised far better by the way in which they tackle the detailed situations of life than by their thoughts. Thoughts indeed have no great significance — I mean, the abstract thoughts have no such great significance for man. So, for instance (needless to say, the personal element is always to be excluded here) we shall frequently find the transition types from the one to the other among those who somehow cannot help carrying over the habits of non-anthroposophical life into the anthroposophical movement. I mean, those who are not even inclined to take the anthroposophical movement so very seriously, and those above all who are always grumbling, finding fault with anthroposophists. Precisely among those who are always finding fault with the conditions in the anthroposophical movement, especially with the personalities and all the little petty things, we find the transition types, flickering from the one into the other. For in such cases the intensity of neither of the two impulses is very strong.

Therefore, my dear friends, at all costs — even though it may sometimes mean a searching of conscience and character — we must somehow find it possible, each one of us, to deepen the anthroposophical movement in this direction, approaching such realities as these and thinking a learnestly on this: How do we, according to our own super-sensible nature, belong to the anthroposophical movement? If we do this, there will arise a purer conception of the anthroposophical movement; it will become in course of time an ever more spiritual conception. What we have hitherto maintained in theory — and it need not go so very deep, when we merely stand for it as a theory — this we shall now apply to real life. It is indeed an intense application to life, when we learn to place ourselves, our own life, into connection with these things. To talk a lot about karma, saying that such and such things are punished or rewarded thus and thus from one life to the next, need not strike so very deep; it need not hurt us. But when it reaches into our own flesh and blood — when it is a question of placing our own present incarnation, with the perfectly definite super-sensible quality that underlies it — then indeed it goes far nearer to our selves. And it is this deepening of the human being which we must bring into all earthly life, into all earthly civilisation through Anthroposophy.

This, my dear friends, was a kind of Intermezzo in our studies, and we will continue from this point next Friday.

Continued in the next issue of SCR

Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive