Karmic Relations

By Rudolf Steiner

Volume III, Lecture V (GA 237)

Dornach, July 11, 1924

A lecture for members of the Anthroposophical Society from stenographic notes not revised by the speaker. Translator unknown. (Translation somewhat revised.)

Spiritual Conditions Leading up to the Anthroposophical Movement

The members of the Anthroposophical Society come into the Society, as indeed is obvious, for reasons that lie in their inner life, in the inner condition of their souls. And as we are now speaking of the karma of the Anthroposophical Society, nay of the Anthroposophical Movement altogether, showing how it arises out of the karmic evolution of members and groups of members, we shall need to perceive the foundations of this karma above all in the state of soul of those human beings who seek for Anthroposophy. This we have already begun to do, and we will now acquaint ourselves with certain other facts in this direction, so that we may enter still further into the karma of the Anthroposophical Movement.

Most important in the souls of anthroposophists, as I have already said, are the experiences which they underwent in their incarnations during the first centuries after the founding of Christianity. As I said, there may have been other intervening incarnations; but that incarnation is above all important, which we find, approximately, in the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth century A.D. In considering this incarnation we found that we must distinguish two groups among the human beings who come to the Anthroposophical Movement. These two groups we have already characterised. We are now going to consider something which they have in common. We shall consider a significant common element lying at the foundation of the souls who have undergone the development I described in the previous lecture.

Looking at the first Christian centuries, we find ourselves in an age when people were very different from what they are today. When the person of today awakens from sleep, he slips down into his physical body with great rapidity, though with the reservation which I mentioned here not long ago, when I said that this entry and expansion into the physical body really lasts the whole day long. Be that as it may, the perception that the I and the astral body are approaching takes place very quickly. For the awakening human being in the present age, there is, so to speak, no intervening time between becoming-aware of the etheric body and the becoming-aware of the physical body. Man passes rapidly through the perception of the etheric body — simply does not notice the etheric body, — and descends at once into physicality. This is a peculiarity of people the present time.

The nature of the human beings who lived in those early Christian centuries was different. When they awoke from sleep they had a distinct perception: “I am entering a twofold entity: the etheric body and the physical body.” They knew that man first passes through the perception of the etheric body, and then only enters into the physical one. Thus in the moment of awakening they had before them — though not a complete tableau of life — still very many pictures of their past earthly life. And they had before them another thing, which I shall describe directly. For if man enters thus, stage by stage, into what remains lying on the couch, into the etheric and physical bodies, — the result is that the whole period of waking life becomes very different from the experiences which we have in our waking life today.

When we consider the moment of falling asleep nowadays, the peculiar thing is this: when the I and astral body leave the physical and etheric bodies, the I very quickly absorbs the astral body. And as the I confronts the cosmos without any kind of support, being unable at its present stage to perceive anything at all, as he falls asleep he ceases to have perceptions. For the little that emerges in his dreams is quite sporadic.

This was not so in the times of which I am now speaking. The I did not at once absorb the astral body; the astral body continued to exist independently, even after the human being had fallen asleep. And to a certain extent, it remained so through the whole night. Thus in the morning the human being awakened not from the utter darkness of unconsciousness, but with the feeling: “I have been living in a world filled with light in which all manner of things were happening.” Albeit they were only images, something was taking place there. It was so indeed: the person of that time had an intermediate feeling, an intermediate sensation between sleeping and waking. It was delicate, it was light and intimate, but it was there. It was only with the beginning of the 14th century that this condition ceased completely in the civilized world.

Now this means that all those souls experienced the world differently from the man of the present time. Let us try to understand, my dear friends, how those human beings — that is to say you yourselves, all of you, during that time — experienced the world.

The descent into the etheric and physical bodies took place in distinct stages. And the effect of this was that throughout his waking life man looked out upon nature differently. He saw not the bare, prosaic, matter-of-fact world of the senses, seen by the person of modern times, who — if he would make more of it — can only do so in his fancy or imagination. No, when the person of that time looked out upon the world of plants, for instance, he saw the flowering meadow as though there were spread over it a slight and gentle bluish red cloud. Especially at the time of day when the sun was shining less brightly (not at noon), it was as though a bluish red light, like a luminous mist with manifold and moving waves and colours, were spread over the flowering meadow. What we see today, when a slight mist hangs over the meadow (which comes of course from evaporated water), — such a thing was seen at that time in the spirit, in its astrality. Indeed every tree-top was seen enveloped in a cloud, and when one saw the corn-fields, it was as though blueish-red rays were descending from the cosmos, springing forth in clouds of mist, descending into the soil of the earth.

And when one looked at the animals, he had not merely an impression of the physical shape, but the physical was enveloped in an astral aura. Slightly, delicately and intimately this aura was seen. It was only seen when the sun's light was working in a rather gentle way; — but seen it was. Thus everywhere in outer Nature man still perceived the spirit, working and weaving.

Then, when he died, the experience he had in the first days after passing through the gate of death — gazing back upon the whole of his past earthly life — was in reality not unfamiliar to him. As he looked back upon his earthly life directly after death, he had a distinct feeling. He said to himself: Now I am letting go that quality, that aura from my own organism, which goes out into all that I have seen of the aura in external Nature. My etheric body goes to its own home. Such was one's feeling.

Naturally all these feelings were much stronger in more ancient times. But they still existed — though in a slight and delicate form — in the time of which I am now speaking. And when one beheld these things directly after passing through the gate of death, he had the feeling: “In all the spiritual life and movement which I have seen hovering over the things and processes of Nature, the Word of the Father-God is speaking. My etheric body is going to the Father.”

And if man thus saw the outer world of Nature differently owing to the different mode of his awakening, so too he saw his own outer form differently than in subsequent ages. When he fell asleep the astral body was not immediately absorbed by the I. Now under such conditions the astral body itself is filled with sound. Thus from spiritual worlds there sounded into the sleeping human I, — though no longer so distinctly as in ancient times, still in a gentle and intimate way, — all manner of things which cannot be heard in the waking state. And on awakening people had the very real feeling: It was a language of spiritual Beings in the light-filled spaces of the cosmos in which I partook between falling asleep and awakening.

And when man had laid aside the etheric body a few days after passing through the gate of death, to live henceforth in his astral body, he had once more this feeling: “In my astral body I now experience returning all that I thought and did on earth. In this astral body in which I lived every night during my sleep,-herein I am experiencing all that I thought and did on earth.” Moreover, while he had carried into his awakening moments only a vague and undetermined feeling, he now had a far clearer feeling. Now in the time between death and a new birth, when in his astral body he returned through his past earthly life, he had the feeling: “Behold in this my astral body lives the Christ; I only did not notice it, but in reality every night my astral body dwelt in the essence and being of the Christ.” Now he knew that for as long as he would have to go thus backward through his earthly life Christ would not desert him, for Christ was with his astral body.

My dear friends, it is so indeed, whatever may have been one's attitude to Christianity in those first Christian centuries, whether it was like the first group of whom I spoke or like the second, whether one still lived with the strength, or with the weariness of Paganism, one was sure to experience — if not on earth, then after death — the great fact of the Mystery of Golgotha. Christ, who had been the ruling Being of the Sun, had united with humanity on earth. Such was the experience of all who had come in any way close to Christianity in the first centuries of Christianity. For the others, these experiences after their death remained more or less unintelligible.

Such were the fundamental differences in the experience of souls in the first Christian centuries, and afterwards. Now all this had another effect as well. For when man looked out upon the world of nature in his waking life, he felt it as the essential domain of the Father-God. All the spirituality that he beheld there, was for him the manifestation and the glory of the Father-God. And he felt that this world, at the time when Christ appeared on earth, was in need of something. It was the need that Christ be received into the substance of the earth for humanity. In relation to all the processes of nature and the whole realm of nature, man still felt a living principle of Christ. For his perception of Nature, inasmuch as he beheld a spirituality living and moving there, involved something else as well. All this which he felt as a spiritual living and moving and, — hovering in ever-changing spiritual shapes over all plant and animal existence, — all this he felt so that with simple and unbiased human feeling he would describe it in the words: It is the innocence of nature's being. Yes, my dear friends, what he could thus spiritually see was called in truth: the innocence in the kingdom of Nature. He spoke of the pure and innocent spirituality in all the workings of nature.

But the other thing, which he felt inwardly — the feeling when he awakened that in his sleep he had been in a world of light and spiritual sounds — that good, and evil too, might prevail there. In the sounds he felt that evil as well as good spirits were speaking. Of the good spirits he felt that they only wanted to raise the innocence of nature to a higher level and to preserve it; but the evil spirits wanted to adulterate with guilt this guiltlessness of nature. Wherever such Christians lived, the powers of good and evil were felt through the very fact that as man slept the I was not drawn into and absorbed by the astral body.

Not all who called themselves Christians at that time, or who were in any way close to Christianity, were in this state of soul. Nevertheless, there were many people living in the southern and middle regions of Europe, who said: “Verily my inner being, that lives its independent life from the time I fall asleep till I awaken, belongs to the region of a good and to a region of an evil world.” Again and again people pondered about the depth of the forces that bring forth the good and the evil in the human soul. They felt strongly the fact that the human soul is placed into a world where good and evil powers battle with one another. In the very first centuries of Christianity, such feelings were not yet present in the southern and middle regions of Europe, but in the fifth and sixth centuries they became more and more frequent. Especially among those who received knowledge and teachings from the East (and as we know, such teachings from the East came over in many ways), this mood of soul arose. It was especially widespread in those regions to which the name Bulgaria afterwards came to be applied. (In a strange way the name persisted even though quite different peoples inhabited these regions). Thus in later centuries, and indeed for a very long time in Europe, those in whom this mood of soul was most strongly developed were called ‘Bulgars.’ Human beings in the later Christian centuries of the first half of the Middle Ages who were most strongly touched by this opposition of the good and evil cosmic spiritual powers were called Bulgars.

Throughout Europe we find the name ‘Bulgar’ applied to human beings such as I have characterised. The souls of whom I am speaking had been to a greater or lesser degree in this very mood of soul. I mean the souls who in the further course of their development beheld those mighty images in the super-sensible ceremony, in which they themselves actively took part, — all of which happened in the spiritual world in the first half of the 19th century. All that they had lived through when they had known themselves immersed in the battle between good and evil, was carried by them through their life between death and a new birth. And this gave a certain shade and colouring to these souls as they stood before the mighty cosmic images.

To all this yet another thing was added. These souls were indeed the last in European civilisation to preserve a little of that distinct perception of the etheric and the astral body in waking and sleeping. Recognising one another by these common peculiarities of their inner life, they had generally lived in communities. And the other Christians, who became more and more attached to Rome, regarded them as heretics. Heretics were not yet condemned as harshly as in later centuries. Still, they were regarded as heretics. Indeed the others always had a certain uncanny feeling about them. They had the impression that these people saw more than other folk. It was as though they were related to the Divine in a different way through the fact that they perceived the sleeping state differently than the others among whom they dwelt. For the others had long lost this faculty and had approached more nearly to the condition of soul which became general in Europe in the 14th century.

Now when these human beings — who had the distinct perception of the astral and the etheric body — passed through the gate of death, then also they were different from the others. Nor must we imagine, my dear friends, that man between death and a new birth is altogether without share in what is taking place through human beings on the earth. Just as we look up from here into the spiritual world of heaven, so between death and a new birth man looks down from that world to the earth. Just as we here partake with interest in the life of spiritual beings, so from the spiritual world one partakes in the experiences of earthly beings upon the earth.

After the age which I have hitherto been describing there came the time when Christendom in Europe was arranging its existence under the assumption that man has no longer any knowledge of his astral or his etheric body. Christianity was now preparing to speak about the spiritual worlds without being able to presume any such knowledge or consciousness. For you must realize, my dear friends, that when the early Christian teachers spoke to their Christians — though there were already many who were only able to accept the truth of their words by external authority — nevertheless the simpler, more child-like feeling of that time enabled people to accept such words when spoken from a warm and enthusiastic heart. And of the warmth and enthusiasm of heart with which the people of those first Christian centuries could preach, people of today have no conception. They, my dear friends, could say: “Behold what shows itself in the glorious rainbow shining over the plants, what shows itself as the desire-nature in the animals. It is the reflection, the manifestation of the spiritual world from which the Christ has come.” Speaking to such people about the truths of spiritual wisdom, they could speak not as of a thing unknown, but in such a way as to remind their hearers of what they could still behold under certain conditions in the gently luminous light of the sun: the spirit in nature. And when they spoke to them of the Gospels which tell of spiritual worlds and spiritual mysteries or of the secrets of the Old Testament, then again they spoke to them not as of a thing unknown, but they could say: “Here is the Word of the Testament. It has been written down by human beings, who heard, more fully and clearly than you, the whispered language of that spiritual world in which your souls are dwelling from the time you fall asleep till you awaken. But you too know something of this language, for you remember it when you awaken in the morning.” Thus it was possible to speak to them of the spiritual as of something known to them. In the conversation of the priests or preachers of that time with these people, something was contained of what was already going on in their own souls. So in that time the Word was still alive and could be cultivated in a living way.

Then when these souls, to whom one had still been able to speak in the living Word, had passed through the gate of death, they looked down again upon the earth and beheld the evening twilight of the living Word below. And they had the feeling that it was the twilight of the Logos. “The Logos is darkening” — such was the underlying feeling in their souls. After their life in the 7th, 8th or 9th century (or somewhat earlier) when they had passed through the gate of death again and looked down upon the earth, they felt: “Down there upon the earth is the twilight of the living Logos.” Well may there have lived in these souls the Word: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. But human beings are less and less able to afford a home, a dwelling place for the Word that is to live within the flesh, that is to live on the earth.” This, I say again, was an underlying mood, it was indeed the dominant feeling among these souls, as they lived in the spiritual world between the 7th or 8th and the 19th or 20th century, no matter whether their sojourn there was interrupted by another life on earth. It remained their fundamental underlying feeling: “Christ lives indeed for the earth, since for the earth He died; but the earth cannot receive Him. Somehow there must arise on earth the power for souls to be able to receive the Christ.”

Beside all the other things I have described, this feeling became more and more alive in the souls who had been stigmatised during their earthly time as heretics. This feeling grew in them between their death and the coming of a renewed revelation of the Christ — a new declaration of His Being.

In this condition of their souls, these human beings — disembodied as they were — witnessed what was happening on earth. It was something hitherto unknown to them, nevertheless they learned to understand what was happening on earth. They saw how souls on earth were less and less taken hold of by the spirit, till there were no more human beings left to whom it was possible to speak such words as these: ‘We tell you of the Spirit whom you yourselves can still behold hovering over the world of plants, gleaming around the animals. We instruct you in the Testament that was written out of the spiritual sounds whose whispering you still can hear when you feel the echo of your experiences of the night.’ This was no more.

Looking down from above they saw how different these things were now becoming. For in the development of Christendom a substitute was being introduced for the old way of speaking. For a long time, though the vast majority to whom the preachers spoke had no longer any direct consciousness of the Spiritual in their earthly life, still the whole tradition, the whole custom of their speech came down to them from the older times, — I mean, from the time when one knew, as one spoke to people about the Spirit, that they themselves still had some feeling of what it was. It was only about the 9th, 10th or 11th century that these things vanished altogether. Then there arose quite a different condition, even in the listener. Until that time, when a person listened to another, who, filled with divine enthusiasm, spoke from the Spirit, he had the feeling as he listened that he was going a little out of himself. He was going out a little, into his etheric body. He was leaving the physical body to a slight extent. He was approaching the astral body more nearly. It was literally true that they still had the feeling of being ‘transported’ as they listened. Nor did they care so very much in those times for the mere hearing of words. What they valued most was the inward experience, however slight, of being transported — carried away. People experienced with living sympathy the words that were spoken by a God-inspired man.

But from the 9th, 10th, or 11th, and towards the 14th century, this vanished altogether. Mere listening became more and more common. Therefore the need arose to appeal to something different when one spoke of spiritual things. The need arose to draw forth from the listener what one wanted him to have as a conception of the spiritual world. The need arose to work upon him, until he should feel impelled even out to say something about the spiritual world. Thus there arose the need to give instruction about spiritual things in the play of question and answer. There is always a suggestive element in questions. And when one asked: What is baptism? Having prepared the person so that he would give a certain answer; or when one asked: What is Confirmation? What is the Holy Spirit? What are the seven deadly sins? — when one trained them in this play of question and answer, one provided a substitute for the simple elementary listening. This was done with those who entered the Schools where this was possible. Through question and answer, what they had to say about the spiritual worlds was taught. In this way the Catechism arose.

We must indeed look at such events. For these things were really witnessed by the souls who were up there in the spiritual world and who now looked down to the earth. They said to themselves: something must now approach man which it was quite impossible for us to know in our lives, for it was not close to us.

It made a mighty impression when the Catechism was being used upon the earth. Very little is given when historians describe the rise of the Catechism, but much is given, my dear friends, when we behold it as it appeared from the super-sensible world: “Down there upon the earth men are having to undergo things altogether new in the very depths of their souls; they are having to learn by way of Catechism what they must believe.” Herewith I have described a certain feeling, but there is another which I must describe to you as follows: — We must go back once more into the first centuries of Christendom. In those times it was not yet possible for a Christian simply to go into a church, to sit down or to kneel, and then to hear the Mass right through from the beginning — from the “Introitus” — to the prayers which follow the Holy Communion. It was not possible for all Christians to attend the whole Mass through. Those who became Christians were divided into two groups. There were the Catechumenoi who were allowed to attend the Mass till the reading of the Gospel was over. After the Gospel the Offertory was prepared, and then they had to leave. Only those who had been prepared for a considerable time for the holy inner feeling in which one was allowed to behold the Mystery of Transubstantiation, only these — the Transubstantii as they were called — were allowed to remain and hear the Mass through to the end.

That was a very different way of partaking in the Mass. Now the human beings of whom we have been speaking (who in their souls underwent the conditions I described, who looked down on to the earth and perceived this strange Catechism-teaching, which would have been so impossible for them) — they, in their religious worship too, had more or less preserved the old Christian custom of not allowing a person to take part in the whole Mass till he had undergone a longer preparation. They were still conscious of an exoteric and an esoteric part of the Mass. They regarded as esoteric all that was done from the Transubstantiation onward.

Now once more they looked down and beheld what was going on in the outer ritual of Christendom. They saw that the whole Mass had become exoteric. The whole Mass was being enacted even before those who had not entered into any special mood of soul by special preparation. “Can a person on earth really approach the Mystery of Golgotha if in unconsecrated mood he witnesses the Transubstantiation?” Such was their feeling as they looked down from the life that takes its course between death and a new birth: “Christ is no longer being recognised in His true being; the sacred ceremony is no longer understood.”

Such feelings poured themselves out from the souls whom I have been describing. Moreover they looked down upon that which became a sacred symbol in the reading of the Mass, the so-called Sanctissimum wherein the Host is carried on a crescent cup. It is a living symbol of the fact that once upon a time the great Sun-Being was looked for in the Christ. For the very rays of the Sun are represented on every Sanctissimum, on every Monstrance. But the connection of the Christ with the Sun had been lost. Only in the symbol was it preserved; and in the symbol it has remained until this day. Yet even in the symbol it was not understood, nor is it understood today. This was the second feeling that sprang forth in their souls, intensifying their sense of the need for a new Christ-experience that was to come.

In the next lecture, the day after tomorrow, we will continue to speak of the karma of the Anthroposophical Society.

Thanks to The Rudolf Steiner Archive.

Continued in the next issue of SCR.