Studies that are
concerned with the karma of human beings must be undertaken with
deep earnestness and inwardly assimilated. For it is not the mere
knowledge of some particular karmic connection that is important.
What is really important is that such studies should quicken the
whole of man's nature, enabling him to find his bearings in life.
Such studies will never be fruitful if they lead to greater
indifference towards human beings than is otherwise the case;
they will be fruitful only if they kindle deeper love and
understanding than are possible when account is taken merely of
the impressions of a single life.
Anyone who reviews
the successive epochs in the evolution of humanity cannot fail to
realise that in the course of history very much has changed in
man's whole way of thinking and perception, in all his views of
the world and of life. Generally speaking, man is less interested
in the past than in the future, for which the foundations have
yet to be laid. But anyone who has a sufficiently clear grasp of
how the souls of men have changed in the course of the earth's
evolution will not shrink from the necessity of having himself to
undergo the change that will lead him to study, not merely the
single earthly life of some individual, but the succession of
earthly lives, in so far as these can be brought within the range
of his vision.
I think that the
examples given in the last lecture — Conrad Ferdinand
Meyer, Pestalozzi, and others — can show how understanding
of a personality, love for this personality, can be enhanced when
the latest earth-life is viewed against the background of other
lives of which it is the outcome.
And now, in order
that our studies may be really fruitful, I want to return to a
question to which, as many of those present here will know, I
have already alluded. Reference is often made in spiritual
science to the existence in olden times of Initiates possessed of
clairvoyant vision, personalities who were able to communicate
the secrets of the spiritual world. And from this the question
quite naturally arises: Where are these Initiates in our own
time? Have they reincarnated?
To answer this
question it is necessary to point out how greatly a later
earth-life may differ from a preceding one in respect of
knowledge and also in respect of other activities of the soul.
For when in the time between death and a new birth the moment
approaches for the human being to descend to the earth and unite
with a physical-etheric organisation, a very great deal has to
take place. The direction towards family, race and so forth, has
indeed long been determined, but the resolve to undergo this
tremendous change in the form of existence, the change involved
in the transition from the world of soul-and-spirit into the
physical world — this resolve is a stupendous matter. For
as you can well imagine, circumstances are not as they are on
earth, where the human being grows weaker as he approaches the
end of his normal life; after all his experiences on earth he
will actually have little to do with the decision to enter into a
different form of existence when he passes through the gate of
death. The change, in this case, comes upon him of itself, it
breaks in upon him.
Here on earth,
death is something that breaks in upon man. The descent from the
spiritual world is completely different. It is a matter, then, of
fully conscious action, a deliberate decision proceeding from the
deepest foundations of the soul. We must realise what a
stupendous transformation takes place in the human being when the
time comes for him to exchange the forms of life in the
pre-earthly existence of soul-and-spirit for those of earthly
existence. The descent entails adaptation to the prevailing
conditions of civilisation and culture and also to the bodily
constitution which a particular epoch is able to provide. Our own
epoch does not readily yield bodies — let alone conditions
of culture and civilisation — in which Initiates can live
again as they lived in the past. And when the time approaches for
the soul of some former Initiate to use a physical body once
again, it is a matter of accepting this body as it is, and of
growing into the environment and the current form of education.
But what once was present in this soul is not lost; it merely
comes to expression in some other way. The basic configuration of
the soul remains but assumes a different form.
Now in the 3rd and
4th centuries A.D. it was still possible for the soul to acquire
a deep knowledge of Initiation truths, because at that time,
especially in Southern Europe and Asia Minor, body followed
soul, that is to say, the bodily functions were able to adapt
themselves inwardly to the soul. One who may have lived in the
early Christian centuries as an Initiate, with a soul wholly
inward-turned and full of wisdom, is obliged to descend today
into a kind of body which, owing to the intervening development,
is directed pre-eminently to the external world, lives altogether
in the external world. The result is that owing to the bodily
constitution, the inner concentration of soul-forces that was
still possible in the 3rd or 4th century of our era, is so no
longer. And so the following could take place in the course of
evolution. — I am telling you of things that reveal
themselves to inner vision.
There was a certain
Mystery-centre in Asia Minor, typical of all such institutions in
that part of the world in the early Christian centuries.
Traditions were everywhere alive in those olden days when men
were deeply initiated into these Mysteries. But everywhere, too,
men were more or less aware of the rules that must be imposed on
the soul in order to acquire knowledge leading to its own deep
foundations, as well as out into the cosmic All. And in the early
Christian centuries these very Mysteries of Asia Minor were
occupied with a momentous question.
wisdom had streamed through the sanctuaries of the Mysteries. If
you will read what was described in my book Christianity
as Mystical Fact
— as far as description was possible in a printed
publication at that time — you will see that the ultimate
aim of all this wisdom was an understanding of the Mystery of
Golgotha. And in these Mysteries of Asia Minor the great question
was: How will the sublime content of the Mystery of Golgotha, the
reality of what has streamed into the earth through the Mystery
of Golgotha — how will it evolve further in the hearts and
minds of men? And how will the ancient, primeval wisdom — a
wisdom that encompassed the Beings who have their habitations in
the stars and the manifold orders of Divine-Spiritual Beings who
guide the universe and the life of man — how will this
primeval wisdom unite with what is concentrated in the Mystery of
Golgotha? How will it unite with the Impulse which, proceeding
from a sublime Sun-Being, from the Christ, is now to pour into
mankind? — That was the burning question in these Mysteries
of Asia Minor.
There was one
personality who with his Mystery-wisdom and Mystery-experiences
felt this question with overwhelming intensity. It is in truth a
shattering experience when in the search for karmic connections
one comes upon this man who was initiated in one of these
Mysteries in Asia Minor in the early Christian centuries. It is a
shattering experience, for with his Initiation-knowledge he was
aware in every fibre of his being of the need to grasp the
meaning and import of the Mystery of Golgotha, and he was faced
with the problem: What will happen now? How will these weak human
souls be able to receive it?
Weighed down in
soul by this burning question concerning the destiny of
Christianity, this Initiate was walking one day in the wider
precincts of his Mystery-centre, when an experience came to him
of an event that made an overwhelming impression — the
treacherous murder of Julian the Apostate. With the vision and
insight of Initiation he lived through this event.
It was known to him
that Julian the Apostate had attained a certain degree of
Initiation in the ancient Mysteries, that he wanted to preserve
for the spiritual life of mankind, the impulses that had been
cultivated in the ancient Mysteries, to ensure their continuance,
in short to unite Christianity with the wisdom of the Mysteries.
He knew that Julian the Apostate proclaimed, in the sense of the
Mystery-wisdom, that as well as the physical Sun there is also a
Spiritual Sun, and that whoever knows the Spiritual Sun, knows
Christ. But this, teaching was regarded as evil in the days of
Julian the Apostate and led to his treacherous murder on his
journey to Persia. This most significant, symptomatic event in
world-history was lived through by the Initiate of whom I am
of you who for many years have been listening to what has been
said on the subject of karmic connections in world-history, will
remember that in the lectures I once gave in Stuttgart on certain
chapters of occult history — reference was also made to the
same theme at the Christmas Foundations Meeting [Lecture-Course
Stuttgart, December 27th–31st, 1910 and January 1st, 1911.
in the Light of Anthroposophy.
Dornach. December 24th–31st, 1923.] — I spoke of the
deep tragedy of Julian the Apostate's position in the history of
His death was felt
and experienced by the Initiate to whom I am now referring, whose
Initiate-knowledge, received in a Mystery-centre in Asia Minor,
was shadowed by the question: What will become of Christianity?
And through these symptomatic events there came to him the
crystal-clear realisation: A time will come when Christianity
will be misunderstood, will live only in traditions, when people
will no longer know anything of the glory and sublimity of
Christ, the Sun-Spirit Who dwelt in Jesus of Nazareth.
All this lay like a
weight upon the soul of the Initiate. And for the rest of his
life at that time he was heavy-hearted and sorrowful in regard to
the evolution of Christianity. He experienced the consternation
and dismay which a symptomatic event of the kind referred to must
inevitably cause in an Initiate. — It made an overwhelming,
shattering impression upon him.
And then we go
further. — The impression received by this Initiate was
bound to lead to a reincarnation comparatively soon afterwards —
in point of fact at the time of the Thirty Years' War, when very
many outstanding, interesting incarnations took place,
incarnations that have played an important part in the historical
evolution of mankind.
The Initiate was
born again as a woman, at the beginning of the 17th century,
before the actual outbreak of the Thirty Years' War. She lived on
into the time of the conflict and was in contact with certain
attempts that were made from the side of Rosicrucianism to
correct the tendencies of the age and to make preparation in a
spiritual way for the future. This work, however, was largely
overshadowed and submerged by the savagery and brutality
prevailing during the Thirty Years' War. Think only of the
Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz which appeared
shortly before its outbreak. And many other significant impulses
came into the life of mankind at that time, before being stamped
out or brutalised by the War.
who as an Initiate had experienced the deeply symptomatic event
connected with Julian the Apostate and had then passed through
the incarnation as a woman in the 17th century, was born again in
the 19th century. All that had become even more inward during the
incarnation as a woman, all that had formerly been present in the
soul — not the Initiation-wisdom but the horror caused by
the terrible event — all this, in the last third of the
19th century, poured into a peculiarly characteristic view of the
world which penetrated deeply into the prevailing incongruities
of human existence.
The whole tenor and
trend of the present age is such that it is difficult for one who
has carried over ancient Initiation-wisdom from an earlier
earth-life into the life of the 19th and 20th centuries, to work
effectively through deeds. And so, in this case, what was brought
over — deeply transformed and apparently externalised,
though in reality still inward — pressed its way from the
heart — the seat of the old Initiation-wisdom —
towards the senses and sense-observation, striving to find
expression in poetry, in literature.
That is the reason
why recent times have produced so many really splendid examples
of literature. Only they are incoherent, they are simply not
intelligible as they stand. For they have been created not only
by the personality who was present on earth at the end of the
19th or beginning of the 20th centuries, but an additional factor
has been some experience in a past life such as I have related,
an experience that had such a shattering effect upon an Initiate
— albeit an Initiate in Mysteries already decadent. This
shattering experience in the soul works on, streams into
artistic, poetic qualities of soul — and what, in this
case, comes over in so characteristic a way, lives itself out in
the personality of Henrik Ibsen.
When this vista is
open to one, the secrets of the evolution of humanity light up
from writings which appeared at the end of the 19th century and
which cannot be the work of a single man but of a man through
whom and in whom earlier epochs are also coming to expression.
In approaching a
theme like this, we shall certainly not lose respect either for
the course taken by world-history or for the single personality
who stands before us with greatness and distinction. In very
truth, the experiences that come upon one in this domain are
shattering — that is to say when such matters are pursued
with the necessary earnestness.
Now you will often
have heard tell of an alchemist who lived in a comparatively
early period of the Middle Ages: Basilius Valentinus His achievements in the spheres of medicine and alchemy were of momentous significance and to study him in connection with karmic relationships in world-history leads to remarkable results, results which show very clearly how difficult it is to understand the age in which we ourselves are living. Many things in our
time are not only incomprehensible but often repellent,
disagreeable, horrifying in a certain respect, and if we look at
life merely as it is perceptible to the senses, it is impossible
not to feel indignation and disgust.
It is different,
however, for one who can perceive the human and historical
connections. Things are by no means what they seem! Traits may
show themselves in life today for which the onlookers have, quite
understandably, nothing but censure and indignation. And yet all
the time, even in the unpleasant elements themselves, there may
be something that is intensely fascinating. This will be the case
more and more frequently.
As I said, there in
the early Middle Ages we find Basilius Valentinus, a Benedictine
monk, engaged in the pursuit of medicine and alchemy in his
cellars in the monastery and making a number of important
investigations. There are others with him who are his pupils and
they write down what Basilius Valentinus has said to them.
Consequently there are hardly any original writings of Basilius
Valentinus himself; but there are writings of pupils which
contain a great deal that is genuinely his wisdom, his alchemical
Now when, at a
certain time of my life, one of the pupils of Basilius Valentinus
who especially interested me came into my field of vision, I
realised: This pupil is again in incarnation, but spiritually
there has been a remarkable metamorphosis. He has come again in
the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century.
But the alchemical
activity, directed without co-ordination towards the senses,
manifested outwardly as a view of life in which alchemical
concepts are always, so to speak, being welded into
sense-observations. In this later incarnation the man observes
external facts — how people act, how things happen among
them, how they talk to one another — and he groups it all
together in a way that is often repellent. But the explanation
lies in the fact that the personality in question had, in an
earlier incarnation, worked at alchemy under Basilius Valentinus.
And now he jumbles everything together — the relationships
between people, how they behave to one another, what they say,
what they do and so forth. He does not look at these things with
the eyes of a modern philistine — far from it! — but
with the eye of a soul in which impulses from his former
alchemical pursuits are still alive. He jumbles up events that
occur among men, makes dramas out of them, and becomes: Frank
These things must
of course be studied in pursuance of a longing for a genuine
understanding of man. When this is the case, life becomes, not
poorer, but infinitely richer. Take Wedekind's ‘Hidalla’
or any other of his dramas which make the brain reel when one
attempts to find the thread connecting what comes first with what
comes later. Yet there is something fascinating about it for
anyone who can look beyond the surface, and the commonplace
judgments of the critics sitting in the stalls will leave him
untouched. From their own standpoint, of course, these critics
are justified — but that is of no account. The real point
is that world-history has here produced a strange and remarkable
phenomenon. — Alchemical thinking, flung as it were across
centuries, is now applied to human life and human deeds; these,
together with human rules and standards are all jumbled into a
hotchpotch, just as once in alchemical kitchens — at a time
when alchemy was already on the decline — substances and
their forces were mixed in retorts and tests made of their
Even in respect of
the point of time at which they occur on earth, the lives of men
are determined by connections of destiny and karma. Let me give
you another example in corroboration of this.
We turn our gaze
back to the time when the Platonic School flourishes in Greece.
There was Plato, surrounded by a number of pupils. In their
characters these pupils differed greatly from one another and
what Plato himself depicts in the Dialogues, where characters of
the most varied types appear and converse together, is in many
respects a true picture of his School. Very different characters
came together in this School.
In the School there
were two personalities in particular who imbibed, each in a very
different way, all that fell from Plato's lips, bringing such
sublime illumination to his pupils, and that he also carried
further in conversations with them.
One of these two
pupils was a personality of rare sensitivity and refinement. He
was particularly receptive to everything that Plato did, through
his teaching on the Ideas, to lift men's minds and hearts above
the things of earth. Everywhere we find Plato affirming that over
against the transitoriness of the single events in man's life and
environment, stand the Eternal Ideas. The material world
is transitory; but the material world is only a picture of the
Idea which — itself eternal — passes in perpetual
metamorphoses through the temporal and the transitory. Thus did
Plato lift his pupils above the transitory things belonging to
the external world of sense to contemplation of the eternal Ideas
which hover over them as the heavens hover over the earth.
But in this
Platonic treatment of the world, man in his true being fares
rather badly. For the Platonic conceptions and mode of thinking
cannot properly be applied to man, in whom the Idea itself
becomes alive in objective reality. Man is too individual. The
Ideas, according to Plato, hover above the things. This is true
in respect of the minerals, crystals and the other phenomena of
the lifeless sense-world; Goethe too, while on the track of the
archetypal plant [the ‘Urpflanze’]
was observing the varying types; and the same applies in
the case of the animals. With man, however, it is a matter of
seeking the living Idea within each single human individuality.
It was Aristotle — not Plato — who taught that the
Idea as entelechy has entered into the human being.
The first of the
two pupils shared with whole-hearted fervour in this heavenward
flight in Platonism. With his spiritual vision he could accompany
Plato in this heavenward flight, in this soaring above the earth,
and words of mellowed sweetness would fall from his lips in the
Platonic School on the sublimity of the Ideas that hover over and
above the things of earth. In his soul he soared to the Ideas.
When he was not lingering in his world of vision but living again
in his heart and mind, going about among the Greeks as he loved
to do, he took the warmest interest in every human being with
whom he came into contact. It was only when he had come down as
it were to everyday life that his heart and feelings could be
focused upon the many whom he loved so well, for his visions drew
him away from the earth. And so in this pupil there was a kind of
split between the life of heart when he was among living human
beings and the life of soul when he was transported to the
Eternal Ideas, when he was listening in the Academy to Plato's
words or was himself formulating in words full of sweetness, the
inspirations brought by Platonism. There was something
wonderfully sensitive about this personality.
Now a close and
intimate friendship existed between this man and another pupil in
the Platonic School. But in the course of it, a different trend
of character which I will now describe, was developing in the
friend, with the result that the two grew apart. Not that their
love for one another cooled, but in their whole way of thinking
they grew apart; life separated them. They were able, at first,
to understand one another well, but later on even this was no
longer possible. And it led to the one I have described becoming
irritable and ‘nervy’ as we should say to-day,
whenever the other spoke in the way that came naturally to him.
The second pupil
was no less ready than the first to look upwards to the Eternal
Ideas which were the inspiration of so much living activity in
the School of Plato. This pupil, too, could be completely
transported from the earth. But the deep, warm-hearted interest
in numbers of his fellow human beings — that he lacked. On
the other hand he was intensely attracted by the myths and sagas
of the ancient gods which were extant among the people and were
well-known to him. He interested himself deeply in what we today
call Greek Mythology, in the figures of Zeus, Athene and the
rest. It was his tendency more or less to pass living human
beings by, but he took a boundless interest in the gods whom he
pictured as having lived on earth in a remote past and as being
the progenitors of humanity.
And so he felt the
urge and the strong desire to apply the inspiration experienced
in his life of soul to an understanding of the profound wisdom
contained in the sagas of the gods and heroes. Men's relation to
such sagas was of course completely different in Greece from what
it is today. In Greece it was all living reality, not merely the
content of books or traditions.
personality who had been on terms of intimate friendship with the
first, also grew out of the friendship — it was the same
with them both. But as members of the Platonic School there was a
link between them. Now the Platonic School had this
characteristic. — Its pupils developed forces in themselves
which tended to separate them from one another, to drive them
apart after the School had for a time held them close together.
As a result of this, individualities developed such as the two I
have described, individualities who in spite of their different
natures belonged together and who then grew apart.
individualities — they were born again as women in Italy in
the days of the Renaissance — came again to the earth in
modern times; the first too early and the second rather too late.
This is connected with the strong resolution that is required
before making the descent to incarnation.
through the gate of death, the one I described first, who had
soared in spirit to over-earthly realms but without the fullness
of human nature which expressed itself only in his heart and
feelings, was able between death and rebirth to apprehend what
pertains to the First Hierarchy, the Seraphim, Cherubim and
Thrones; to some extent he could also apprehend the Second
Hierarchy, but not the Hierarchy immediately above man, not,
therefore, the Hierarchy through which one learns how the human
body is built up and organised here on earth.
He thus became a
personality who in pre-earthly existence had developed little
insight into the constitution and nature of the human body;
hence, when he was born again, he did not take into himself the
final impulse. He made a partial, not a full descent into the
body, did not come right down into it, but always hovered a
little above it.
His friend from the
Platonic School waited before descending to incarnation. The
reason for the waiting was that had the two of them met, had they
been actual contemporaries, they would not have been able to
tolerate one another. And yet, for all that, the one who had been
wont to speak at such length about his intercourse with people,
recounting it with such charm and sweetness to the other —
who did not go among his fellows but was engrossed in the myths
and sagas of the gods — this first personality was destined
to make a deep impression upon the other, to precede him. The
second followed later.
personality, having steeped himself in Imaginations of the gods,
had now developed a high degree of understanding of all that has
to do with humanity. Accordingly he wanted to extend his time in
the spiritual world and gather impulses that would enable him to
take deep hold of the body. And what actually happened was that
he took hold of the body too forcefully, he sank too deeply into
Thus we have here
two differing configurations of destiny. Of two members of the
Platonic School, one takes too slight a hold of the body in the
second incarnation afterwards and the other takes too strong a
hold. The one cannot completely enter his body; he is impelled
into it in his youth but out of it again soon afterwards and is
obliged to remain outside. This is Friedrich Hölderlin.
The other is
carried so deeply into his body that he enters with too much
force into his organs and suffers almost lifelong illness. This
is Robert Hamerling.
Thus we have before
us great human destinies stretching through the ages of time, and
the impulses which gave rise to these destinies; and we are now
able to divine how the spiritual impulses work. For we must place
this fact in all clarity before our souls: an individuality like
Hölderlin, who has come from the Platonic School and who
cannot enter fully into his body but has to remain outside it,
such an individuality experiences in the dimness of insanity,
impulses that work in preparation for coming earthly lives,
impulses that destine him for greatness. And it is the same with
the other, Robert Hamerling.
Illness and health
appear in quite a different light when considered in the setting
of destiny than when they are observed within the bounds of the
single earthly life.
I think it can
surely be said that reverence will arise in men's hearts and
minds when life is treated in this way — reverence and awe
for the mysterious happenings brought about by the spiritual
world. Again and again I must emphasise that these things are not
being told in order to satisfy cravings for sensation, but to
lead us more and more deeply into a knowledge and understanding
of the spiritual life. And it is only through this deeper
penetration into the spiritual life that the external, sense-life
of man can be explained and illumined.
Thanks to The Rudolf Steiner Archive
Continued in the next issue of SCR.