A lecture given to members of the Anthropsophical Society.
From stenographic notes not revised by the author
Dornach. May 18, 1924
If we are to understand the real nature of karma, it is of paramount importance to turn our attention to the extent to which the cosmos participates in the evolution of mankind.
In order, therefore, to be able to envisage those Beings of the spiritual cosmos who play a part in man's evolution, let us consider, to begin with, man's connection with the beings belonging to the earthly realm. Man on earth is surrounded by beings of the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, and must be regarded as having all these three kingdoms of nature within him — in a higher form. In a certain respect man is related to the mineral kingdom through his physical organism but he elaborates what is otherwise to be found in the external mineral kingdom into a higher form of existence.
Through his etheric body man is related to the realm of the plants, but again he elaborates this within himself. The same holds good of man's relationship through his astral body to the beings of the animal world. When, therefore, we think of the spatial environment of man we must realise that he bears the mineral, the plant and the animal kingdom within him.
Just as man bears within him these external kingdoms of nature, so does he bear within him — but in respect of time, not of space — the kingdoms of the higher Hierarchies. And we can only understand human karma in all its aspects when we know how the various realms of the Hierarchies work upon man through the course of his earthly life.
In considering how the mineral kingdom works upon man, we have to do with the processes connected with nourishment. For whatever means of nourishment man draws from kingdoms higher than the mineral, are reduced, in the first place, to the mineral condition. Passing on to the plant kingdom, we know that man has within him life-forces, vital forces. Again, in reference to the animal kingdom we know that through his astral body man raises mere life into a higher sphere, into the sphere of perceptive experience. In short, we can follow the sequences of processes in the three kingdoms of nature as well as within the human organism.
In the same way we can follow the workings of the higher Hierarchies in man's life of soul-and-spirit. The mineral nature, the plant nature, the animal nature in man can be understood in the light of the processes operating in the three kingdoms of nature in space. Equally, we must understand the higher forces operating in the life of man.
To begin with, we will consider human destiny and endeavour to understand how the kingdoms of the Hierarchies work into it. But here we must study, not what is present simultaneously in man, namely, physical body, etheric body and astral body but in connection with the working of the Hierarchies we must study what transpires in man's earthly life in the succession of time — regarded, of course, from the spiritual point of view.
In our anthroposophical studies we have always recognised distinct periods in the course of human life: from birth until the change of teeth at about the 7th year; from the change of teeth to puberty; from puberty to the 21st year where the differentiation is less perceptible; then from the 21st year to the 28th; from the 28th year to the 35th; from the 35th year to the 42nd; from the 42nd year to the 49th; from the 49th year to the 56th; and so on. Concerning what lies beyond the 56th year I shall speak in the next lecture. To-day we shall consider the course of human life up to the 56th year.
We have therefore three periods of life up to the 21st year, then three further periods, and so on.
Man says “I” of himself. But many forces play upon this “I”. Outwardly considered, the “I” is worked upon by mineral forces, plant forces and animal forces; inwardly, in the aspect of soul-and-spirit, the “I” is worked upon by the third Hierarchy, by the Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai, by the second Hierarchy (Exusiai, Kyriotetes, Dynamis), and by the first Hierarchy (Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones).
These Beings do not, however, all work into the course of man's life in the same way. Even externally there is a difference in the influences taking effect in the human being according to his age. When, for example, we observe a little child at the very beginning of earthly life, we find what is characteristic of the animal kingdom especially marked in him; a growing, thriving, up-building process.
When we consider the last portion of life, the years that lead into old age, we find evidence of a mineralising process; the organism becomes sclerotic, brittle. Because this mineralising process is more subtle and intimate in man it works more strongly in him than in the animals — with the exception of the higher animals. The difference there is due to conditions into which we cannot enter now, but which will be dealt with on some later occasion. Whereas in the animal the ebbing of the life-forces begins directly the up-building process is complete, the human being carries over important phases of his development into the period of decline which in reality begins already in the thirties. A very great deal in the evolution of humanity would simply not exist if human beings developed in the same way as the animals, carrying nothing over into old age. Human beings can carry very much into old age, and many momentous achievements of culture are due to what has thus been carried over into old age, into the period of physical decline when the mineralising process is particularly in evidence.
Outwardly, then, it is clearly perceptible that at the beginning of earthly life the animal nature predominates, at the end of earthly life the mineral nature, and in the intervening period the plant nature.
But in respect of the working of the higher Hierarchies upon man the difference is even more emphatic. In earliest childhood the Third Hierarchy — Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai — work with particular strength upon the life of soul-and-spirit. The activity of this Third Hierarchy embraces, properly speaking, the first three periods of life. The Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai work throughout this period. In the little child and the young human being the organism is all the time being built up by the soul-and-spirit. This activity embraces almost everything: and into it works forces from the world of the Third Hierarchy, the Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai.
At the 14th year the Second Hierarchy (Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes) begins to work. So that here, again through three periods, between the 14th and 35th years, I must write: Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes. You will see, my dear friends, that in the period between the 14th and 21st years the Third and the Second Hierarchy together exercise their influences upon the human being. It is not until the 21st year that the Second Hierarchy begins to work by itself.
At puberty, great cosmic processes, which until this age are not present in the human being, begin in some measure to be active in him. Little reflection is needed to perceive that when he becomes capable of procreation the human being is able to receive into himself from the cosmos those forces which co-operate in the creation of a new physical man. Before the age of puberty these cosmic forces do not work in the human being. A change takes place in the physical organism at puberty whereby it is imbued with mightier forces than it previously contained. These stronger forces are not present in the child before that age. In the child are the weaker forces which, to begin with, work only upon the soul in earthly life, not upon the body.
In the 35th year a period begins when the human being becomes weaker in respect of his inner soul-forces, less able than he was before to withstand the onset of the destructive forces of his organism. Before the 35th year the organism itself provides essential support, for its inherent tendency is to up-build. This tendency continues on into the thirties but then a destructive tendency begins to predominate. This process of destruction cannot be counteracted even by the forces emanating from the Beings of the Second Hierarchy. Henceforth the soul must receive from the cosmos enough support to prevent the normal course of life being ended by death at the age of 35. For if until the 21st year only the Beings of the Third Hierarchy were to work and then from the 14th to the 35th year only the Beings of the Second Hierarchy, we should be ripe for death at the age of 35, that is to say at the very middle of earthly life proper — unless the physical body were still to hold together from sheer inertia. Death does not occur at this time because actually from the 28th year, not only from the 35th, and again through three periods, the Beings of the First Hierarchy, the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, work upon man.
Again there is a period, between the 28th and the 35th years, when the Second and the First Hierarchies are working together. Thus in point of fact the Second Hierarchy works by itself during the period from the 21st until the 28th year of life.
As I said before, we will consider the later period of life in the next lecture. You will naturally say: But is a human being who has passed his 49th year forsaken by all the Hierarchies? We shall consider that on another occasion. What has been said to-day need not therefore be taken as applying only to those who are under the age of 49 and not to the others. To begin with, however, we must learn to know how the Hierarchies pour their forces, their particular strength into human life as it runs its course.
Naturally you must not think that such matters can be adequately studied by setting them out diagrammatically. This is never possible when we have to do with any higher form of life.
For many years I have been speaking of man as a threefold being: the man of nerves-and-senses, the rhythmic man, the metabolic-limb man. A professor once inferred from this — what will professors not infer! — that I divided man into three — head, chest, abdominal system. This was because he thought of everything side by side. I have of course always emphasised that although the nerves-and-senses system is concentrated mainly in the head, it extends through the whole organism. The same is true of the rhythmic system. The three members must not be thought of in spatial juxtaposition. You must also conceive the sequence of which we have been speaking, in the same way: the working of Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai is limited, in the main, to the first three periods of life, but the aftermath of these periods continues through the whole of life, just as the nerves-and-senses system is concentrated mainly in the head but is present through the whole organism. We can feel with the big toe, because it too contains nerves-and-senses life.
Nevertheless this threefold organization of the human being is a reality; so too is the other threefold organization of which I am speaking to-day.
When you study these periods in human life, you will be able to say: on the spiritual side, the human “I” is subject to any number of influences proceeding from the spiritual world, just as on the physical side it is subject to influences coming from the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms. As human beings we stand with our “I” in the midst of what is coming to us in a most complicated way from the cosmos. And this activity which extends spiritually from the cosmos, from the Hierarchies, to man, is also concerned with the shaping of karma during physical life on earth.
It is the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai who bring us from the spiritual world into the physical world, and it is they who mainly accompany us through the first three periods of life. They work most strongly of all upon the nerves-and-senses system. In all the complicated and wonderful development taking place in our sense-life and in our intellectual life up to the age of 21 — in all this, the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai participate.
Countless happenings take place behind the scenes of the ordinary consciousness. And it is precisely in these happenings that the Beings of the higher Hierarchies participate.
Then again from puberty, from about the 14th year onwards, Beings whose forces are stronger than those of the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai, begin to take hold of the rhythmic system. The real task of the Beings of the Third Hierarchy, the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai, is to influence our life of soul. From pre-earthly existence we bring with us into the first three epochs of life such strong forces that the soul is able to work powerfully upon the body. During this period, only the comparatively weaker forces of the Third Hierarchy are required to come to our help.
Now the forces which the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai need in order to guide and direct human life up to the 21st year, stream to them from the spiritual radiations of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. When physical science describes the cosmos, it is extremely naïve. From Saturn, Jupiter and Mars radiate forces of which the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai have the very deepest understanding.
When man is passing through the life between death and a new birth, he enters, first of all, into the Moon-sphere, where he comes into contact with Beings who were once on earth and who are stern judges of the good and the evil he brings with him. For the time being he must leave behind in the Moon-sphere the evil that is part of him. He cannot bear it into the Sun-sphere.
Then he passes through the Sun-sphere and still farther out into the cosmos. The forces of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn begin to work upon him. He passes through the whole of life between death and a new birth, and only on the path of return, when he has come again into the Moon-sphere, do Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai approach him, saying, as it were: We have learned from Saturn, Jupiter and Mars that thou art crippled. — I have said that the evil must be left behind, but this means that man leaves something of himself behind. He enters as a cripple into the Sun-sphere as well as into the regions beyond. And there the gaze of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars falls upon him.
Truly, my dear friends, this life between death and a new birth is complicated! As soon as we pass through the gate of death, what I have described takes place in the Moon-sphere. Man must leave behind whatever of his being has identified itself with evil. It is as though the physical body were obliged to leave its limbs behind. Because he has identified himself with evil, man enters the Sun-sphere and all the rest of the cosmos in a maimed, mutilated condition, for he has been obliged to leave behind certain parts of his being. And when, having passed through the Sun-sphere, he enters the spheres of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, he feels how Mars, Jupiter and Saturn gaze upon him with the penetrating eye of justice; for as the weavers of cosmic justice they watch him in order to behold how much of his being he may bear upwards. They gaze upon him. Each one of us perceives how much good or evil has become part of us, what we have been able to bear upwards, as well as what is lacking, that is to say, what we were obliged to leave behind; each one of us realises to what extent we are identified with evil, how much is lacking in us. The gaze directed upon us by the Beings of Mars, Saturn and Jupiter makes us realise our imperfections and shortcomings.
When a person returns again, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars have in the intervening time communicated to the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai what they beheld and experienced when he passed before them with all his imperfections. The Beings of the Third Hierarchy weave this into him, so that there is inscribed in his being what he has to do in compensation. In these first three epochs of life when Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai work upon the human being with particular strength, the demands of karma are inscribed into the nerves-and-senses system, into the head-system.
When the 21st year has been passed (how things are with human beings who die before that age will be explained in later lectures) the karmic demands upon life have already been stamped into a person. If one is able to read what is there in a human being of 21, one can perceive what karmic demands are inscribed into him; for it is in this period up to the 21st year, that these demands are inscribed. They lie mainly in the hidden, occult foundations of the nerves-and-senses system, in that which spiritually underlies the nerves-and-senses system.
When, on the other hand, we direct our attention to the further course of life, when we observe the human being between the ages of 28 and 49, we find that it is less a matter of the inscribing of karmic demands, but rather of the fulfilment of karma, the discharging of karma. For it is particularly in this period of life that what has been inscribed into a person's being in the first three epochs of life must be brought to karmic fulfilment.
So that here (see diagram) I can write: fulfilment of karma (28th to 49th years). During the period from the 21st year to the 28th year, karmic demands and karmic fulfilment are in balance.
Now there is one remarkable phenomenon to which attention must be paid in our time. In the present epoch of evolution there are a great many human beings whose last incarnation of importance occurred in the first centuries after the founding of Christianity, up to about the 8th or 9th century. (This does not imply that there has been no other incarnation in the intervening time, but if this was the case it was an unimportant one.) If we were to make a survey of the human beings living in our time and sharing in its culture, we should find that by far the greater number of them had their last important incarnation in the first seven or eight centuries after the founding of Christianity.
Now this period was one that had a striking effect upon the human beings then living. This can be perceived to-day when one observes certain people in respect of their karma. Again and again, my dear friends, I have set myself the task of studying a number of people from this particular point of view, people who have acquired a certain amount of contemporary culture, intellectual culture, and also, speaking comparatively, considerable learning. Think of the large numbers of people nowadays who have become teachers in secondary schools, civil servants, and the like. They have learned a great deal, they have been to secondary schools, even to universities, and have really become exceedingly clever. (I do not mean this ironically, I only ask you to take it in connection with what I have said at other times about such things.) There are untold numbers of clever people to-day. The majority, indeed, are so clever that one can hardly tell them anything, for they know it already! Everyone has his own point of view; everyone passes judgement on what he hears.
That is how things are in our time, but only in our time. In earlier epochs it was quite different. Then there were individuals who had knowledge and the others listened to them. Clever people were by no means as numerous as they are to-day, when even in youth they are already clever. Just think of how many people under the age of 21 write — I will not say poetry, for this they have always done — but newspaper articles, even serious critiques.
In our time, then, intellectuality is very highly developed. In the case of most individuals this intellectuality is influenced, fundamentally, by their incarnation during the first seven or eight centuries after the founding of Christianity. In these centuries the feeling in the human soul for what came from pre-earthly existence into earthly life was all the time growing weaker. People were beginning more and more to take an interest in what comes after death and were less and less concerned with what had preceded earthly life. In this connection I have frequently pointed out that we have no adequate expression for eternity but only for the half of eternity which has a beginning and never ends. For this part of the eternity of man's existence we have the word ‘immortality’, but unlike ancient languages we have not a word for the other half of eternity, which has never had a beginning. But eternity embraces both ‘immortality’ and ‘un-bornness’. We have come into this world as beings to whom birth means only a metamorphosis, just as we depart from the earthly world through death which again signifies only a metamorphosis, not an end.
The strong consciousness that was alive in man until the early Christian centuries: ‘I have descended from the spiritual world into physical existence’ — this consciousness grew fainter and fainter and man began to confine himself to that other thought: I am here! What went before does not interest me. What does interest me is what follows after death. — This was the consciousness that grew stronger and stronger during the first Christian centuries. The feeling for pre-earthly existence grew dim in those who at that time were passing through their last incarnation of importance, and that is why intellectual cleverness now is entirely directed to the earthly. Great though it is, it is directed entirely to the earthly. Striking and tremendously significant discoveries can be made in this domain when one embarks on investigations into karma. I will mention two cases.
The first is that of a man who taught history in a secondary school, an extremely clever man and really impressive as a teacher. Until the time when the karmic demands were still working and then through this neutral zone here (see previous diagram) — that is to say until the beginning of the thirties — his cleverness was very evident. He was one of the many really clever men of our time. But the moment he entered this phase here (28th to 49th year) his cleverness was no longer a support and his moral impulses were in jeopardy. There was nothing left but intellectuality, which was then undermined. When the forces which are not bound up with the nerves-and-senses system but in the later part of life with the metabolic system began to work, the lower nature of the metabolic-limb system undermined what had previously come to a very fine form of expression in the nerves-and-senses system. The man in question, who in respect of intellect had begun his life really well, actually ended in degeneracy; there was a moral débâcle. That is one example.
And now another example — of a personality who was even more intelligent than the one I have just mentioned — but again merely intelligent. He was extremely short-sighted and was possessed of really remarkable intelligence. Up to the age of 30, this personality too, because of his intelligence, had a strong influence upon his fellow-men. When, however, he had passed his 30th or certainly his 35th year, when the nerves-and-senses system was no longer working so powerfully but when the metabolic-limb system became especially active in this later phase of life, this man, who had previously been so able and clever, became utterly trivial and banal, absorbed in petty squabbles. I had known him in his youth and confess that I was astonished when I found him subsequently among people who were taken up with all kinds of party factions. Observation of the path that leads from karmic demands to karmic fulfilments disclosed that the forces of intelligence in men of our time, prepared as they were in the earlier incarnation during the first Christian centuries, were not strong enough to enable the soul to reach the realm of the First Hierarchy in the period when the soul becomes weaker and the body puts up greater resistance.
And then it became evident to me that the large numbers of people to-day who are so clever, who can, above all, be made so clever through their education, in the first epoch of life develop the capacity to reach up with the forces of their intelligence to the Third Hierarchy, to the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai. This they achieve. And in this epoch of life they are personalities of great promise.
When they come into the realm of the Second Hierarchy, they are, as it were, given over to this Hierarchy. The Second Hierarchy reaches down to people; practically all human beings become capable of procreation. This cosmic Hierarchy reaches downwards. Here there is no real abyss between man and the Hierarchy.
When, however, man reaches his 28th year and must begin to find a relation to the still higher Hierarchy, the First Hierarchy, he must find this relation with his whole nature, right down into the metabolic-limb system. Here he needs stronger forces of inner support in the spiritual realm; and the seed which was planted in him during an earlier life, in an epoch when men ceased to think about pre-earthly existence, proves unable to supply these forces.
In connection with karma, one would fain impress upon all true educators and teachers the urgent necessity of imbuing intellectuality with such spiritual strength that when the human being is passing through the later years of life, what has been permeated with moral force in his intellect may be able to hold the balance against the forces which draw him away from the First Hierarchy. (See arrow in diagram.)
It is a matter of no small interest in this age of ours to compare the second part of human life with the first, and those who have an aptitude for observing life should certainly begin to practice observation from this standpoint. For the things of which I have spoken occur in ordinary life; the examples I have given are taken from everyday life and could be multiplied a hundred — nay, a thousandfold; they are to be found everywhere. But something else of the same kind can also be found at a higher level of life. I have always been interested in the spiritual development of human beings and when I look at many who were creative in early life, who made a great impression on their contemporaries, perhaps as young poets or artists in some sphere, of whom it was said when they were 24, 25, 26, 27 years old: “What wonderful talent!” ... well, they grew older; after the poetic and artistic achievements of youth the stream dried up and they were of no account at all in the sphere where they had once been of real significance.
If you go through the names of those who made reputations as young poets or artists and then lost all right to be included in the annals of literature or art, you will find abundant proof of what I am saying. But what I have told you will, at the same time, show you how the different epochs in human life reveal in manifold ways how karma and the impulses of karma take effect.
Everything that is merely intellectual and materialistic can really only influence a human being inwardly in his youth. The spiritual that is infused into the intellectuality — that alone can hold its own through the whole of earthly life — in accordance with karma. Therefore when we observe the kind of destinies I have described, we must look back to previous incarnations which failed to turn people's eyes to that vista of the spiritual which can be revealed only when the gaze is directed to the life before birth, not merely to the life after death.
Life in our time is often fraught with this tragedy and there is so much that does not stand the test of the years. In youth, ideals are plentiful; in old age few remain. Older people rely more upon the State and upon their pensions than upon the sustaining power of life itself; they need support from outside because they cannot find what brings them into relation with the First Hierarchy.
You see, therefore, that if we are to study karma in the right way, we must pay attention to these different, but inter-penetrating, members of man's being. — When man is passing through the first three epochs of life he lives in relation to the Third Hierarchy. Then, inwardly and unconsciously, he begins to be related to the Second Hierarchy and finally to the First Hierarchy. Only on the basis of this knowledge are we able to judge to what extent man enables the karmic impulses within him to come to expression. For this knowledge of man's relation to the higher Hierarchies, this knowledge alone can reveal human life in concrete reality.
Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai say to us in our subconsciousness during the first three epochs of life: All this thou hast brought over from earlier epochs, from earlier earthly lives. This thou must take upon thyself. — In our subconscious experience of destiny this is said to us. And in truth, throughout these three epochs of life this message of destiny constantly resounds within us. From the Hierarchy of the Angeloi there rings forth: This is what Saturn, Jupiter and Mars have meted out to thee. Their forces have revealed it to us.
Then there follows all that comes from the Second Hierarchy, from the realm of the Sun; and finally what comes from the First Hierarchy, from the sphere of Venus, Mercury and Moon. And just as it is especially the Angeloi whose call resounds in our subconsciousness during the first three periods of life: Saturn, Jupiter and Mars have told us that this is ordained for thee ... so from the 28th year onwards it is the Seraphim who also speak in the unconscious realm of the soul, saying: All this remains with thee because thou canst not fulfil it, because thou art unable to reach up to us; this remains with thee and thou must bear it into the next earthly life; thou canst not balance it because thou hast not the strength.
Under the level of man's consciousness speak the forces of karma, the forces that shape destiny. They speak from all the three higher Hierarchies. And if we have a delicate faculty of perception for what enters our life as destiny, then we can also look behind this vista of destiny and begin to apprehend with reverence and awe how through the course of our life the Beings of all the three Hierarchies are weaving this destiny. And in truth only then do we learn to look at life in the right way.
For who would be satisfied, if, when asking us about a man of whose life on earth he wants to know something, and presumes we can tell him, we merely answer: ‘Oh, he is called Joseph Müller.’ All that we can tell him is the name! But the questioner had expected that he would hear something more than a name: events in the man's life, something that throws light on the forces and impulses that influenced his earthly life! No one who really wants to know something about a human being can be satisfied with merely knowing his name. But in this materialistic age of ours people are, unfortunately, satisfied with the designation ‘Man’. In respect of all that lies behind the ordinary consciousness wherein work Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai, Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes, Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones — people to-day are satisfied with the general designation ‘Man’. They do not look at the concrete realities. But this they must learn to do; they must turn their eyes again to these concrete realities of human life.
Thanks to The Rudolf Steiner Archive
Continued in the next issue of SCR