Karmic Relations

Volume II: Lecture X

by Rudolf Steiner

A lecture for members of the Anthroposophical Society from notes not revised by the author.
Dornach, May 16, 1924

In the last lecture we spoke of how the seed of karma is formed in the period immediately following a person's death. And I tried to describe to you with what living force and intensity the experiences undergone during this period work upon him and also upon one who is able to follow the life of a human being through this period — which, as you know, lasts for about a third of the time of the earthly life. We must, of course, bear in mind how the terrestrial world in which the fulfilment and development of karma take place, works upon a person, and in what a different way he is influenced by the extra-terrestrial world.

When we survey the scene of our karma — the earth — it is obvious that everything belonging to the earth, all the beings of the kingdoms of nature, exercise a very real influence upon man. This influence makes itself felt in his life even when his cognition is not directed to his earthly surroundings. He must be nourished, he must grow; to this end he must take into himself the substances of the earth. These substances work upon him through their qualities and inner forces quite independently of anything he may know about them. And expressing it rather radically, we may say that no matter what attitude a person adopts in his soul towards the kingdoms of nature surrounding him in earthly existence, he is related in a very definite way to the facts and realities of his physical environment.

This can be observed in many domains of life. How would it be, for instance, if the quantity of foodstuffs we consume were determined by what we know about the effects of the various foodstuffs upon the organism? Obviously we cannot wait until we possess such knowledge; we are obliged to eat. Our relationship to our earthly environment is entirely independent of our knowledge, independent too, in a certain sense, of our soul-life.

But now think of the utterly different character of our relationship to the world of stars. Influences of the world of stars cannot be said to have the same instinctive basis as the influences of the kingdoms of nature. The starry worlds fill man with wonder, he can be moved and inspired by them. But just think to what an extent his soul is involved in everything that concerns the world of stars, how his soul-life is affected. Take the nearest heavenly body that is related to man — the moon. That the moon has an influence upon man's life of phantasy and imagination is common knowledge. And even those people who repudiate everything else in respect of influence of the celestial bodies upon the human being will not deny that the ‘magic of moonlight’ — to use a romantic phrase — has an effect upon phantasy.

But it is impossible to imagine that even this crudest and most obvious influence of the heavenly bodies could take effect a person who had no soul-life. Without a soul-life there could be no such relationship as exists between man and his earthly environment, where in truth nothing essential depends upon whether he admires or does not admire, shall we say, a cabbage — it is simply there to be eaten — or upon what he knows of its effect upon his organs; what he has to do is to eat it! In this case, knowledge is merely an accessory. Knowledge does indeed raise man's soul-life above the nature; but man lives his life within the realm of nature, and the spiritual life itself is an accessory. But if the spiritual life is excluded we cannot conceive that any influence could be exercised upon man by the world of the stars — let alone by the world lying still further beyond: the world of the Hierarchies, of the higher Spiritual Beings.

On the lowest level, so to speak, of the Hierarchies are those [spiritual] beings of whom I said in the last lecture that inasmuch as they themselves live within the experiences of man after death, they impart tremendous power and intensity to these experiences. If these moon-beings who were once the great primeval Teachers of humanity on earth did not live, as it were, within man's very being after death, his experiences would be like dreams. But they are anything but dreamlike; they are stronger, more full of reality than the so-called normal experiences of earthly life. Karma is actually prepared by means of these experiences, because we live with such intensity in others, not in ourselves, and have to establish the balance for our deeds. We experience things as the others experienced them, and with tremendous intensity. In this way our karma is prepared. And then comes a transition. Having shared these experiences with the moon-beings, man passes on to experiences shared with beings who have never been on the earth. The moon-beings of whom I spoke in the last lecture were at one time on the earth. But now, in a later period between death and a new birth, man ascends to beings who were never on earth. The beings belonging to the first group of the higher Hierarchies are those we know by the name of the Angels. These beings guide and accompany us from one earthly life to another. Among the ranks of the higher beings they are the nearest to us and they are also very near to us throughout our earthly life.

When we reflect about the external circumstances of our earthly life, about things we have seen or heard, about what we have gleaned from the world of nature or from history, or about what other people have said to us … when our thinking is occupied exclusively with what comes to us from outside during earthly life, then that being of the Hierarchy of the Angels to whom we belong has little to do with our thoughts; for the Angels never dwelt on the earth — unlike the primeval Teachers who although they were present in etheric bodies only, did nevertheless inhabit the earth. The Angels were never earth-dwellers. Our relation to them is therefore different from our relation to the moon-beings of whom I have been speaking to you.

But for all that, as we follow the paths which lead us after death in a certain sense past the planets, and come, first of all, into the domain of the moon-beings, we are also in the realm of the Angels. Thus while we are living together with the primeval Teachers of humanity who have now become moon-dwellers, we are living, too, with the Angels.

Then, as our path leads further, we enter the sphere which in all spiritual science that has ever existed, is known as the sphere of Mercury. None of the Beings in this region were ever on the earth. Here live only Beings who were never earth-dwellers. When we pass into the sphere of Mercury between death and a new birth, we come into the realm of the Archangels. And when subsequently we pass into the sphere of Venus we come into the realm of the Archai.

In passing through these realms of the Third Hierarchy we approach what is in reality the spiritual sphere of the Sun. And the spiritual Sun-sphere is truly, in the most sublime sense, the dwelling-place of those beings who in the ranks of the higher Hierarchies are named Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes. Thus it is the Second Hierarchy which, in reality, is the soul, the spirit, of the Sun-existence. We enter this sphere and spend in it the greater part of the time between death and a new birth.

Now these beings can be understood only when we remember that their existence is entirely remote from what makes us into earth-men and holds us within the bounds of natural law. In the realm of true Sun-existence there are no natural laws as we know them on earth. In the realm of spiritual Sun-activity, spiritual laws — including, for example, the laws of will — and natural laws, are one. In that realm, natural laws do not in any way run counter to spiritual laws, for natural law and spiritual law are completely at one.

Let us be quite clear as to the consequences of this. — We live here on earth and have our various experiences. Perhaps we strive for goodness, we endeavour not to deviate from a path we consider morally right. With these intentions we perform certain deeds. We see someone else to whom such intentions cannot possibly be ascribed, to whom we can attribute only evil purposes. We wait a few years, continuing to unfold side by side with the other person's evil purposes, what we consider to be our own good intentions. But now we perceive that nothing has been achieved; our good intentions have had no effect and, in addition, ill-luck may have befallen us, whereas the other person whose purposes we deemed evil is living by our side in what appears to be good fortune.

This is something that leads so many people who have eyes only for earthly life, to rebel against it and to declare that in this earthly life there is no evidence of a power that deals justly with good and evil. And indeed no really unbiased observer will be able to say that a person who says this is entirely wrong. For would any reasonable person be prepared to insist that every occurrence in someone's life is connected, in respect either of merit or guilt, with what has come from his intentions in this earthly life? When we consider how earthly life takes its course we can only say that it is impossible to find any kind of balance there for the moral impulses issuing from the soul. Why is this impossible?

It is because we are not in a position, of ourselves, to translate our intentions, those innermost forces which by freely willed assent hold sway in our life of soul, into the reality wherein we live on earth. There, in the outer world, natural laws prevail and events occur for which the influences of many different human beings are responsible. We cannot but realise that in earthly life there is an abyss between the impulses of will in our souls and what we see taking effect in external life as our destiny.

Just ask yourselves how much of what is destiny in this external life and therefore significant for you is a direct realisation of the intentions you bear within your soul? The terrestrial world is not the realm in which the spiritual laws in accordance with which man allows himself to be governed, or governs himself, are at the same time natural laws. In this earthly world, spiritual laws are not identical with natural laws; spiritual laws hold sway in man's inner being only. And if we face the world fairly and squarely, we can only say: if someone misconstrues my good intentions, deeming them evil, if he does not recognise my good intentions and judges them by what my destiny may be after a few years ... if, therefore, someone says that my good intentions are, in reality, bad, and when ill-luck befalls me a few years later justifies himself by saying: ‘See what has happened now; I said all along that his intentions were bad ...’ then this would be an impossible way of living. The spiritual must work from soul to soul. But in the external, earthly world, the spiritual does not yet work as a force of destiny.

Thus we must keep vividly in mind that in earthly life there is an abyss between the moral and psychical on the one side and the natural and physical on the other. This abyss is caused by the fact that spiritual laws are not identical with natural laws.

Now if people leave entirely out of account the world which leads on from terrestrial existence — the world from B to C, from death to a new birth — whether they simply disregard it or whether they think that owing to the boundaries of cognition nothing can be known of it — what will such people say? They will say: ‘Natural laws and what the human being does and experiences because his life is involved in them — that is actual, that is real. Our knowledge, our science can encompass it. But the outcome of the intentions which are present within us as experiences of soul-and-spirit — that we cannot know.’ Nothing, indeed, can be known, if the life from B to C is ignored. That these things living within the soul will in some way find fulfilment can only be a matter of belief. In the measure in which, since ancient times, knowledge of the span from B to C has faded, in that same measure has this separation arisen between knowledge and belief.

But we cannot speak of karma as we speak of knowledge and belief. For karma is the expression, the manifestation, of law — not of something that is mere belief — just as is the case with natural law.

Returning now to man's life between death and a new birth, after the earliest period which I have already described to you, our study brings us to a world where dwell the beings of the Second Hierarchy, the Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes, and instead of earthly existence we have a Sun-existence. For even when we pass beyond the region of the stars, the sun still radiates, though not in the physical sense; and it continues to radiate as we live through the time between death and a new birth. Whereas here on earth the sun shines down upon us with its physical influences, in the life between death and a new birth the sun shines upwards to us; that is to say, we are borne and sustained by the beings of the sun, by Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes. But in the world wherein we are then living, the natural laws which obtain in earthly life have no meaning at all, for everything is governed by spiritual laws, laws of soul-and-spirit. In that world there is no need for grass to grow; no cow needs grass to eat; for neither cows nor grass exist. Everything is spiritual. And within this spirit-realm we can bring to realisation the intentions in the soul which cannot be realised in the earthly realm, so little realised that in extreme cases the good can lead to unhappiness and the evil to happiness. Everything in the realm of the sun finds fulfilment and expression according to its inner worth, its intrinsic nature, and it is therefore impossible for the good not to take effect in proportion to its power of goodness and the evil in proportion to its power of evil. — There is a very special reason why this is so. — From the Sun-existence which enshrines the Second Hierarchy, the Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes, a kindly, gracious welcome is extended to all the good intentions and purposes that were harboured in our life of soul on earth. This could also be expressed by saying that whatever has lived in a man's soul with any nuance of goodness is received in this Sun-existence with graciousness, but the evil is utterly rejected; it cannot enter.

In a series of lectures [ Philosophy, Cosmology and Religion. Ten lectures, September, 1922.] I was able to give in the Goetheanum before its destruction by fire — the French Course as it is called — I spoke of how a person must leave behind his bad karma before a certain point of time is reached between death and a new birth. Evil cannot enter the realm of Sun-existence. There is a proverb which, to the modern mind, refers of course only to the physical effects of the sun. This proverb says that the sun shines equally upon the evil and the good. That is indeed so; but the sun does not admit evil into its realm. If you can perceive spiritually what is good in a person's soul, you will see it bright as sunlight — bright in the spiritual sense. If you perceive what is evil in him, it is dark, like a spot where no sunlight can penetrate. Whatever is evil in a person must be left behind when he enters the Sun-existence. It cannot go with him.

But think of it: in his earthly life man is one whole. His physical existence and his existence of soul-and-spirit are linked together, they form a unity. Although it cannot be proved with crude instruments, it is a fact that not only does the blood of a man who harbours only evil, flow differently, but the very composition of the blood is different from that of a person who has goodness in his soul!

Picture to yourself that in the life between death and a new birth a really evil man arrives at the threshold of the Sun-existence. He must leave behind him all that is evil. Yes, but this means that a considerable part of him remains behind, for the evil is bound up with him, is one with him. In so far at least as the evil is one with him, he must leave part of himself behind. But if at this threshold a person has to leave behind something of his own being, what is the consequence? The consequence is that he is maimed, stunted, and he passes into the Sun-existence as a kind of spiritual cripple. The Sun-existence can have an effect only upon what a person brings of himself into this realm. And in this realm those beings who can work together with him between death and a new birth are led to him.

Let us take an extreme case — the case of someone who was so evil, so utterly inhuman that he wished ill to all men. Let us imagine him to have been evil to a degree in which evil does not really exist ... but hypothetically at any rate we will imagine him to have been an unmitigated villain. What will become of such a man who has identified his whole being with evil? What will become of him when he arrives at the point where he must leave behind everything of himself that is evil, or connected with evil? He will be obliged to leave the whole of himself behind! He will have passed through the realm of the Moon Beings, will have encountered the Being of the Hierarchy of the Angels who is specially connected with him, and also other Beings of that Hierarchy. But now, having reached the end of this realm, and pursuing his way through the spheres of Mercury and Venus, he approaches the realm of the Sun. Before entering this realm of Sun-existence he must leave all of himself behind, because he was wholly evil. — What is the consequence? The consequence is that he does not pass into the Sun-existence at all. And if he is not to disappear from the world altogether he must at once prepare to reincarnate, to enter again into an earthly life.

In the case of a hardened evil-doer, therefore, you will find that very soon after his death he comes back again to earthly life.

There are, in reality, no such unmitigated villains in existence, because in a certain sense there is some good in every human being. All of them, therefore, can enter a little way into the realm of Sun-existence. Whether a person penetrates far or only a little way into this realm depends upon the extent to which he has crippled himself in psychically and spiritually. And this also determines what measure of power he is able to draw from the Sun-existence for his next earthly life. What a human being has within him can be founded only upon forces gathered from the Sun-existence.

You know the scene in the second part of Faust, where Wagner produces Homunculus in the retort. — Now to be able actually to create a being like Homunculus, Wagner would have needed the knowledge possessed by the Sun Beings. But Goethe does not depict Wagner as such a man; if Wagner had possessed that knowledge, Goethe would not have used the words “soulless groveller” in connection with him. Wagner is undoubtedly very clever but he lacks the knowledge possessed by the Sun Beings. That is the reason why Mephistopheles — a spirit-being who has this knowledge — must come to his aid. Wagner could have achieved nothing without the help of Mephistopheles. Goethe divined quite clearly that only so could there be produced in the retort a being like Homunculus who can then himself actually accomplish something.

We must be quite clear that the human cannot proceed from the earthly but only from the Sun-nature. What is earthly in man is only an image. Man bears the Sun-nature within him; the earthly is but an image, a picture, of his true being. [See: Man as Picture of the Living Spirit. Lecture given by Rudolf Steiner, 2nd September, 1923, in London.]

So you see, the World Order commits us into the care of the sublime Sun Beings during our life between death and a new birth. And together with us, these Sun Beings work upon as much of our being as we have been able to bring into the realm of Sun-existence. The rest remains behind and must be gathered in again when we return to earthly life.

Man passes out into cosmic existence — I shall describe the further stages in the lecture the day after to-morrow — and then he returns to the earth. On the path of return he passes once more through the Moon region. There he finds the evil he left behind and he must receive it into his being, it must again become part of himself He receives it in the form in which he experienced it immediately after having passed through the gate of death; and now he makes it so truly a part of himself that it comes to realisation in earthly existence.

Let us think once again of the rather unpleasant example I gave a little while ago. — If during my life on earth I have given someone a box on the ears, then after my death, in the course of the backward journey, I live through the pain he felt. This experience too I find again on my return and strive for its realisation. If, therefore, something befalls me that is the consequence of what the other human being experienced, I myself have striven to this end on departing from the last life on earth. And when I return to the earth I bring with me the impulse for its realisation. — But let us leave that for the time being. — I shall speak in the next lecture about the fulfilment of karma. What I want to impress upon you now is that what I find again as I return, has not passed through the Sun-existence. I have taken through the Sun-existence only that in me which was related to the good.

Having built up in the realm of the Sun a somewhat stunted human being, I now take into myself once again what I left behind. What I now take into myself forms the basis of my earthly-bodily organisation. As I brought into the realm of Sun-existence only the part of myself that was able to enter this realm, I can only bring back, quickened and spiritualised by the Sun-existence, the part of my human being that was able to accompany me through that realm.

Let us therefore make this distinction:

  1. A part of man that has passed through the realm of Sun-existence appears on earth.

  2. A part of man that has not passed through the realm of Sun-existence appears on earth.

What I have been saying hitherto concerns man's life between death and a new birth and its after-effects in the earthly life. But the sun also works upon the human being while he is on the earth. And the other realms too, especially the realm of the Moon, work upon man in earthly existence. There is, firstly the influence of the Sun-existence between death and a new birth, and, secondly, the influence of the Sun-existence during life on earth. Similarly, if we take together the workings of Moon, Mercury and Venus, we have, firstly, the influence of the Moon-existence between death and a new birth, and, secondly, the influence of the Moon-existence upon the human being while he is on earth.

During earthly life we need the sun, in order that we may have a head-life. What the sun sends to us in its rays calls forth the head-life from our organisation. This is the part of man that is conditioned by the Sun-existence, that is dependent upon the workings of the head. I say “the head”, meaning the whole life of the senses and of ideation. The other part of man, the part that is dependent upon the influences of the spheres of Moon, Mercury, Venus, is connected, not with the head-life, but with the life of procreation in the widest sense.

There you have something very remarkable. The Sun-existence works upon man between death and a new birth, making him truly human, elaborating in him what is connected with the good. During earthly life, however, the sun can work only upon what is connected with the head. Of a truth this head-life has not very much to do with the good, for a man can also use his head to make himself into an out-and-out scoundrel. He can let his very cleverness make him an evil-doer.

Everything in earthly existence that promotes continuity of evolution is based upon the life of procreation. This life of procreation is under the influence of the moon and during the period between death and a new birth is connected with the part of man that does not share his existence in the cosmic spheres.

If you keep this in mind it will be easy for you to understand how what is connected with it makes its appearance in the human being during his earthly life.

We have, firstly, the part of man that has passed through the Sun-existence. In earthly life the Sun-existence works upon the head only; nevertheless what is connected with the Sun-existence remains in the being of man as a whole; it remains as his predisposition to health. That is why the predisposition to health is also connected with the head. The head becomes ill only when the illness is projected into it from below, by the metabolic process or by the workings of the rhythmic system.

On the other hand, the part of man that does not pass through the Sun-existence is connected with his predisposition to illness.

And so it will be clear to you that illness is woven into man's destiny below the realm of Sun-existence and is connected with the effects of the evil which are experienced as soon as he has passed into the life between death and a new birth. The realm of the Sun is connected with the predisposition to health. And only when influences from the Moon-sphere penetrate into the Sun-sphere in man's organism can that part of him which in earthly life is connected with the Sun-sphere — namely, the head — suffer any condition of illness. You see now that real insight into those great karmic connections is possible only when we follow the human being into the realm where spiritual laws are natural laws, and natural laws are spiritual laws.


A part of man that has passed through the realm of Sun-existence appears on earth.

It is the part of man that is dependent upon the workings of the head.

to health



A part of man that has not passed through the Sun-existence appears on earth.

It is the part of man that is connected with the life of procreation.

to illness

You must forgive me for using trivial words in describing matters that are anything but trivial, and for speaking the language of ordinary life. To do so is not unnatural for one who stands within the spiritual world. When we talk with human beings here on earth, we recognise by the way in which they speak that they stand within the realm of nature. Their very language betrays it. But when one comes into the realm I described in the last lecture — the realm into which man passes directly after death — and has converse there with the Beings who were once the primeval Teachers of mankind, or with the Beings of the Hierarchy of the Angels, then there is something strange in this converse. For in that realm — how shall I put it? — folk talk as though they were speaking of natural laws, but these are natural laws in which magic is operating and which are governed by the spirit. These Beings understand magic; but of natural laws they know only that men have such laws on earth. They themselves are not concerned with these natural laws. Nevertheless the processes and happenings in yonder realm appear in pictures which resemble the processes taking place on the earth. Hence the spiritual workings resemble the workings of nature, but are stronger, of greater intensity, as I have described.

When man leaves this sphere and enters the realm of Sun-existence, then no more at all is heard of the natural laws belonging to the earth. The language of the Beings in this realm has reference to spiritual workings, spiritual causes only. In that world nothing is heard of natural laws.

After all, my dear friends, these things must be made known some time or other. For when on earth it is constantly insisted that natural laws are absolute, universal — or even, foolishly enough, eternal — one would fain reply: But there are realms in the universe through which man has to pass in the life between death and rebirth where these natural laws are passed over with a smile because they have no significance there; they exist at most as tidings from the earth, not as any real factor in life. And when man passes through this realm between death and a new birth, and has lived long enough in a world where there are no natural laws but only spiritual laws, he ceases to think of natural laws as something to be taken seriously. Natural laws are not taken seriously between death and rebirth. Man lives in a realm where his spiritual intentions can be realised, where realisation is in sight.

But if in the realm of Sun-existence there were only the Second Hierarchy, if we were to experience in that realm only the kind of realisation that is possible there, then, having passed through this state of existence and desiring to enter earthly life again, we should stand at this point (see diagram) burdened with our karma, knowing that no progress is possible unless what has been brought, spiritually, to realisation, can be led over into the physical. Spiritually, our karma has been brought to realisation when we descend to earth; but the moment we enter earthly existence, the spiritual laws and spiritual aspects must be transformed into the physical. Here is the region where the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones transform the spiritual into the physical.

And so in the next earthly life, what has already been brought to spiritual realisation comes also to physical realisation in karma. Such is the onward course of karma.

Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive

Continued in the next issue of SCR.