by Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, July 4, 1924
Volume III, Lecture 2
Translated by George Adams (slightly modified here) based on stenographic notes not reviewed by the speaker
Today I shall say more of how the karmic forces of preparation undergo their further course of evolution when man has passed through the gate of death. So far as ordinary consciousness is concerned, the forming of karma, and indeed that of the whole intercourse with the world which we call ‘karmic’ takes place in the human being in a more instinctive way. We see the animals act instinctively. Words like ‘instinct,’ which are used so frequently in science and every-day life, are generally applied in a vague and undefined way. People make no real effort to associate them with clear conceptions. What is it that we call instinct in the animals? We know that the animals have a Group-soul. The animal, such as it is, is not a self-contained being. The Group-soul is standing there behind it. Now to what world does the Group-soul belong? We must first answer this question: Where do we find the Group-souls of the animals? They are certainly not to be found here in the physical sensory world. Here we have only the single individual animals. We do not find the Group-souls of the animals until, by Initiation or in the ordinary course of human evolution between death and a new birth, we come into that altogether different world which man passes through between his successive earthly lives. There indeed we find, among the beings with whom we are then together, including above all those of whom I have been speaking to you, those with whom we elaborate our karma, — there we find the Group-souls of the animals. And the animals that are here on the earth, when they act instinctively, act out of the full consciousness of the Group-souls.
You may conceive it thus, my dear friends. (Dr. Steiner here made a drawing on the blackboard). Here we have the realm in which we live between death and a new birth; and out of it there work the forces which proceed from the Group-souls of the animals. And here upon this earth we have the single animals which act and move about, guided as it were by threads which pass to the Group-souls — the beings whom we ourselves discover in the realm between death and a new birth. Such in truth is instinct.
It is obvious that a materialistic worldview cannot explain instinct, for instinct is: — to act out of that sphere of being which you will find described as Spirit-land in my Theosophy for example, and in my Occult Science.
For man however it is different. Man too has instinct, but when he acts through his instinct, he is not acting out of yonder Spirit-realm, but out of his own former lives on earth. He is acting across time, out of his former earthly lives, out of a whole number of former lives on earth.
As the spiritual realm works upon the animals, causing them to act instinctively, so do the former incarnations of man work on his later incarnations in such a way that he instinctively lives out his karma. But this is a spiritual instinct — an instinct that works within the I.
It is just by understanding this that we shall come to understand the absolute consistency of this instinctive working with human freedom. For the freedom of man proceeds from the very realm out of which the animals act instinctively, namely the realm of the spirit.
Today we will concern ourselves especially with the way in which this instinct is gradually prepared when man passes through the gate of death. Here in earthly life, as we have seen, the inner experience of karma is instinctive. It takes its course beneath the surface of consciousness; but the moment we pass through the gate of death we become objectively conscious, during the first few days, of all the experiences which we first underwent on earth. We have them before us in ever expanding pictures; and what we thus behold as a great tableau of our life contains, in addition, all that took place instinctively in the working of our karma.
When man passes through the gate of death, and his life, expanding ever more and more, is unfolded before his eyes, there goes with it all that was instinctive, of which he was not conscious in his life — the web of karma. He does not actually see it in the first days after death. But what he would otherwise perceive only in pale images of memory, this he now beholds vividly as a living configuration, nor does he fail to perceive that something more is contained in it than ordinary memory. And if we look with the vision of Initiation on all that the human being has before him at this stage, we can describe it as follows:
The person himself, who has passed through the gate of death having possessed ordinary consciousness during his earthly life, sees his life spread out before him as a mighty panorama. But he sees it only ‘from in front.’ The vision of Initiation sees it also from the other side — ‘from behind,’ as it were. The human being himself sees it only from the one side. With the vision of the Initiate we can see it ‘from behind,’ and then the whole web of karmic relationships springs forth from it. We behold this web of karmic relationships arising to begin with from the thoughts, that lived within the Will during the man's earthly life. But immediately something else enters into it, my dear friends.
I have often emphasised the fact: The thoughts we experience consciously during our earthly life are dead thoughts. But the thoughts that are woven into our karma, the thoughts that now emerge, are living. Thus — on the ‘other side,’ as it were, of the panorama of our life — the living thoughts spring forth. And now, (this is a fact of untold significance) — now the Beings of the Third Hierarchy draw near, and receive what is springing forth from the ‘other side’ of the panorama. Angels, Archangels and Archai draw it into themselves, they breathe it in!
This takes place during the time when man ascends on his way upward, after death, to the end of the Moon Sphere. Thereafter he enters the Moon Sphere, and his backward journey through his life begins, lasting — as we know — a third of the time he spent on earth, or — to speak more accurately — lasting for the same length of time as the periods of sleep which he spent while he was on the earth.
I have often described how this backward journey through life takes place. We may now ask ourselves: What is man's condition in ordinary sleep, in relation to the condition in which he finds himself directly after death? Normally when he goes to sleep, man as a being of soul and spirit is only in his astral body and his Ego. He has not his etheric body with him, for this has remained behind in the bed. Hence his thoughts remain unliving; they have no active power, they are mere pictures. But when he passes through the gate of death, to begin with he takes his etheric body with him, and the etheric body begins to expand. Now the etheric body has a life-giving quality, not only for the physical existence, but for the thoughts themselves. By this means the thoughts can become alive, inasmuch as man has taken his etheric body with him. The etheric body, as it frees itself, carries forth the living thoughts from man to the Angels, Archangels and Archai, who in their Divine Grace receive the thoughts.
This, if I may so describe it, is the first Act that is unfolded in the life between death and a new birth. Beyond the threshold of death, the Beings of the Third Hierarchy approach that which loosens itself from the human being — which is entrusted to his etheric body as it dissolves away. The Beings of the Third Hierarchy receive it into their care. And we as human beings on the earth utter a simple and good, a wonderful and beautiful prayer, when we think of the connection of life and death, or of one who has passed through the gate of death, in this way, saying: —
Angels, Archangels and Archai in the Ether-weaving
receive the human being's Web of Destiny.
For as we say these words we turn our eyes to a real spiritual fact. Much depends upon it, whether human beings on the earth think the spiritual facts or not: whether they merely accompany the Dead with thoughts that remain behind on the earth, or accompany them on their further path with thoughts which are a true image of what takes place in yonder realm which they have entered.
This, my dear friends, appears so infinitely desirable to Initiate Science: That thoughts shall be within the earthly life, which are a true image of real spiritual happenings. By merely thinking in theories — enumerating so many higher members of the human being, and the like — we achieve no union with the spiritual world. We can only do so by thinking the realities that are enacted there.
Therefore, human hearts should be ready to hear once more, what human hearts did hear in the old ages of Initiation, in the ancient Mysteries, when they called out impressively, again and again, to those who were about to be initiated: ‘Accompany the Dead in their further Destinies!’ ‘Memento mori’ is all that is left of it now, a more or less abstract exhortation which no longer affects the human being deeply. For it no longer expands his consciousness into a life more living than this life in the world of the senses.
Now the reception of the human web of destiny by Angels, Archangels and Archai unfolds before us in this way: we have the impression: it lives and moves and has its being in the bluish-violet ethereal atmosphere. It is living and weaving in the bluish-violet atmosphere of the ether.
When the etheric body is dissolved, that is, when the thoughts have been breathed-in by the Angels, Archangels and Archai, then, after a few days, man enters into that backward course of life which I have described to you. There he experiences his deeds, his impulses of will, his tendencies of thought, in the way in which they worked on other men, to whom he did either good or evil. He enters right into the minds and feelings of other men. He does not live in his own mind. With the clear consciousness that it is his concern, he undergoes all that took place in the depths of other human beings' souls, with whom he entered into any kind of karmic relationship, to whom he did anything whatever good or ill. And once again it shows itself, how that which the human being thus experiences is received. He experiences it in fullness of reality — a reality, which I had to describe not long ago as a reality more real than that of the senses between birth and death. He experiences a reality in the midst of which he stands more fully, more glowingly than in any reality of this earthly life.
But if we look at it once more with the vision and insight of Initiation from the ‘other side,’ we see all this, which the human being experiences, received into the essence, into the reality and being of the Kyriotetes, Dynamis and Exusiai. They draw into themselves, as it were, the ‘negative’ of the human deeds. This wondrous process unfolds before the vision of the Initiate. The consequences of man's actions, transformed in righteousness and justice, are taken up into the Exusiai, Dynamis and Kyriotetes.
Now the vision of all this transplants him who has it into such a consciousness that he knows himself to be in the centre of the Sun and with it of the whole Planetary system. From the aspect of the Sun he beholds what is now taking place. He sees a lilac-coloured living and weaving; he sees the Exusiai, Dynamis and Kyriotetes absorbing the human deeds, transformed into righteousness, in the living and weaving of a pale violet, lilac-coloured astral atmosphere.
Here, you see, we have the truth: the aspect of the Sun as it appears to earthly man is only the one side, it is seen here from the periphery. From the centre the Sun is seen as the field of action for the living spiritual deeds of Exusiai, Dynamis and Kyriotetes. There it is all spiritual action, spiritual happening. There we find as it were the ‘other side’ of the pictures of that earthly life which we experienced consciously here between birth and death.
Once again we can think truly of what is happening there. We must think of the word ‘verwesen’ which is ordinarily used for the fading, dying, destroying process, the passing out of existence, — in its true and original meaning, which is: ‘to carry the real Being away.’ (As when we say ‘to forgive’ or ‘to forego,’ which means in reality a ‘giving away’ in devotion).
Thinking thus we may say:
In Exusiai, Dynamis and Kyriotetes, in the astral
feeling of the Cosmos the righteous consequences of
the earthly life of man die into the realm of Being.
At length, this too has been accomplished. Man after death has lived through a third of the time of his earthly life. Journeying backward, he feels himself once more at the starting point of his earthly life — in the spaces of the Spirit — at the moment before his entry into his past earthly life. And now, we may say, he enters through the centre of the Sun into the essential Spirit-land, and in the Spirit-land his earthly deeds — transformed into the Divine Righteousness — are received into the activity of the first Hierarchy. They come into the domain of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. Man feels, as he steps out into this new kingdom: ‘All that took place through me on earth is now being received by Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones into their own active Being.’
Consider well what this means, my dear friends. We are thinking truly of what happens to the person in his further life after death, if we cherish the thought: The web of destiny which he wove here on earth is caught up, to begin with, by the Angels, Archangels and Archai. In the next part of the life between death and new birth, they bear it into the realm of Exusiai, Dynamis and Kyriotetes. These in turn are gathered in and woven around by the Beings of the first Hierarchy. And in the process, ever and again, man's action upon earth is received into the Being — into the deeds of Being, into the living action — of Thrones and Cherubim and Seraphim.
Once again we are thinking rightly if to the first and the second saying we now add the third, which is as follows: —
In Thrones and Cherubim and Seraphim, as their
Deeds of Being, the justly transmuted ‘fruits of the
earthly life’ of man are resurrected.
Thus we can turn the gaze of Initiation upon what is going on perpetually in the spiritual world. Here on earth we have the unfolding life and action of men with their instinct of karma, their ceaseless weaving of destiny — a weaving more or less similar to the weaving of thought. Looking up into the spiritual worlds, we see there what were once the earthly deeds of man — having passed through Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai, Exusiai, Dynamis and Kyriotetes — received by the Thrones and Cherubim and Seraphim, expanding as their heavenly Deeds above.
Es empfangen Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai im Aetherweben das Schicksalsnetz des betreffenden Menschen. Angels, Archangels and Archai in the Ether-weaving receive his Web of Destiny.
Es verwesen in Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes — im Astralempfinden des Kosmos — die gerechten Folgen des Erdenlebens des Menschen. In Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes, in the astral feeling of the Cosmos, the righteous consequences of his earthly life die into the realm of Being.
Es auferstehen in Thronen, Cherubim, Seraphim — als deren Tatenwesen — die gerechten Ausgestaltungen des Erdenlebens des Menschen. In Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim, as their Deeds of Being, the justly transmuted fruits of his earthly life are resurrected.
This is a succession of spiritual facts infinitely sublime and significant especially for our present age. For the dominion of Michael has now begun, and in this world-historic moment it is as though we could behold the deeds of those who lived upon earth before the end of Kali-Yuga, in the 1880's and 90's. That which was then enacted among men on earth, has now been received by Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. Yet never was the spiritual contrast-of-light so great as it is to-day, in the realm of these spiritual facts.
In the 1880's one could look upward and see how the people of the Revolutionary period of the middle of the 19th century, were received as to their deeds by Thrones and Cherubim and Seraphim. But as one looked, a kind of darkling cloud settled over the middle of the 19th century. What one then saw passing into the realm of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, lighted up only a very little.
But today, when we look back to all that took place at the end of the 19th century — the deeds of men, their relations to one another, — having seen it clearly still, only a short time ago, it vanishes away ... We saw it clearly still, a moment since, — all that took place in that declining age of Kali-Yuga, — like thought-masses wafted away before our eyes ... We saw what was worked out in destiny among the human beings of the end of Kali-Yuga. And then it vanishes, and we behold in clear, radiant light what became of it as it passed heavenward.
This fact bears witness to the immense importance of what is taking place at the present time in the transmutation of the earthly deeds of men into the heavenly deeds of souls.
What man experiences as his destiny or karma takes place for him, within him and about him, from earthly life to earthly life. But in the heavenly worlds the consequences of what he did and experienced on earth go working on — and they work on even into the historic shaping of this earthly life. For there are many things which are not grasped or controlled by the individual human being here upon earth.
My dear friends, you must take this statement in its full weight and importance. The individual experiences his destiny. But as soon as two human beings are working together, something more arises, — more than the working out of the individual destinies of the one and of the other. Something takes place between the two, transcending the individual experiences of either. Ordinary consciousness perceives no connection of what happens between person and person, with what goes on in the spiritual worlds above. For ordinary consciousness the connection is at most established when sacred spiritual actions are brought into this physical world of sense, — as when in a sacred ritual men consciously transform their physical actions so as to make them actions of the spiritual world at the same time.
But in a far wider sphere, all that happens between person and person is more than what the individual experiences as his destiny. All that is not merely the destiny of individuals, but what is brought about by the feeling-together and working-together of men on earth is forever in connection with the deeds of Seraphim and Cherubim and Thrones above. Into the latter there flow the deeds of men in their mutual connection with one another, as well as their individual earthly lives.
Most important at this point is the wider range of vision that opens out for the Initiate. For today as we look upward we behold the heavenly deeds and consequences of what took place on earth in the late 70's, the 80's and 90's of last century. And it is as though a fine spiritual rain were falling, falling to the earth, moistening the souls of men, impelling them to many things that arise historically in our time, in the relations between person and person.
Once more we can see how there lives again today in living mirror-images of thought — through Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones — what was enacted here on earth by people of the 1870's, 80's and 90's.
When one sees through these things, again and again one must say to oneself: Here you are speaking to a human being of today. What he says to you out of the commonly accepted opinion — not from his own emotions or inner impulses but simply as a person of this age — seems often as though it stood in connection with human beings who lived in the 70's, 80's and 90's of last century. It is so really. We see many a human being of today as though he were in a meeting of departed spirits, surrounded by human beings who are busily at work upon him. But in reality they are only the after-images, rained down from heaven, of what lived through human beings upon earth in the last third of the 19th century.
Thus in a spiritual sense the shades — the real ghosts, I would say, — of a former age are roaming about in a later age. This is one of the more intimate workings of karma which are indeed widely present in the world, though they frequently remain unnoticed even by the most occult of occultists. To many a man of today, when he utters some opinion not individual but stereotyped, one would fain whisper in his ear: ‘That was said to you by this person or that, of the last third of the 19th century.’
Only so does life become a real totality. And in this respect once more we must say of the present age — the age that began with the end of the Kali-Yuga — that it is different from all historic ages preceding it. It is different in this sense, that in very truth the human deeds on earth in the last third of the 19th century have the greatest imaginable influence on the first third of the 20th.
My dear friends, I am saying something far removed from any superstitious use of words. I say it in the full consciousness of voicing an exact and scientific fact: Never before did the ghosts of the preceding age move about among men so palpably as they do in this present time. And if men fail to perceive them, it is not because we are living in an age of darkness. Rather is it that they are still dazzled by the light of the new Age of Light. But as a consequence, what is done among us by the shades of the past century is an all the more fruitful field for the Ahrimanic beings. Though man is unaware of it, the Ahrimanic beings are working today in a more than usual evil way. They are at pains, if I may so describe it, to galvanize into Ahrimanic life as many as possible of these ghosts of the past century and bring them to bear upon the human beings of today. This Ahrimanic quality of our age is fostered most of all when societies are formed to popularise erroneous ideas of the 19th century — Ideas which, for all people of insight, are out of date and discarded. There never was a time when amateurish persons popularised the outlived errors of the past to the extent they do today. Indeed we have opportunities everywhere today to acquaint ourselves with the essential nature of the deeds of Ahriman. We need only visit many a meeting where people are working out of ordinary consciousness. We have many opportunities to learn how Ahrimanism works in the world today, for it is at work most strongly. By the very path which I have now described, it hinders people from receiving into their hearts and souls what must come forth anew, what was not there before, — what is coming to the light of day in Anthroposophy.
How happy people are when they can somehow contrive to cover up the new, which is coming forth in Anthroposophy today, with some old saying. How contented they are, if in some lecture that I give something occurs of which they can subsequently prove: ‘Look, here it is in an old book!’ In reality, of course, it is there in quite a different form, coming out of altogether different foundations of consciousness. The people of today have so little courage to receive what grows on the soil of the living present. Their minds are set at rest as soon as they can bring something forward out of the past.
It shows, my dear friends, how powerfully the impulses of the past work upon the people of the present time, how contented they feel under these influences. It is due to the fact that the 19th century is working still so strongly into the 20th. Future historians — who will write their descriptions spiritually, as we write ours today by reference to outer documents, — future historians will have to describe this feature above all, and they may well express it in some such words as these: ‘Look at the first three decades of the 20th century. Nearly everything appears as though it were being done by the shades, the images of deeds of men of the end of the 19th century.’
At this point I may perhaps say a word that is truly not intended in any political sense. Politics must be eliminated altogether from our Society. May I say this word, my dear friends, simply as a characterisation of the facts: — We can look back on the stupendous, revolutionary actions — or rather events I should have said, for they were not really active deeds, — which took place notably in the second decade of the 20th century. It has been said so often that it has become a truism. Since time has been, since men have written history, such world-shaking events have not happened. But are not men standing in the midst of them as though they were not there at all? We see it everywhere, — it is as though the revolutionary events were taking place outside of the human beings, and they had no part in them at all. Almost every person we meet today, we would fain ask of him: ‘Did you really live through the second decade of this century?’ And how much more do we feel it when we look at it from a somewhat different point of view! How helpless, how infinitely helpless do the human beings seem today — helpless in judgment, helpless in action. Never were there such difficulties as there are today in filling the ministerial benches in the Cabinets! Consider only how curious this is, — how helpless men are in the midst of the events. At long last we are impelled to raise the question, who then is doing anything? Who is playing an active part? My dear friends, more than any of the men of the present time, it is the men of the last third of the 19th century! Their shadow-forces are to be seen at work in everything.
This is the very secret of our time. Never were the dead so powerful as are the dead of the last third of the 19th century. This too is a aspect of reality.
When we enter into the spiritual content of these things in a single instance, we often come to strange conclusions. I recently had to consider whether I would alter this or that in the new edition of my books, written in the 70's, 80's and 90's of last century. The pedants of today declare: Everything has altered, the scientific theories and hypotheses of that time are out-of-date and long ago discarded. But when we look at it from a standpoint of reality, we can alter nothing at all! For in reality, behind everyone who writes a book today, or lectures from a professional chair, there stands the shade, the shadow-picture of another. There they still are, — the Du Bois Reymonds, the Helmholtzes, the Haeckels, — all those who were the spokesmen of that time, (in medicine the Obholzers, the Billroths and the rest) — they are still speaking.
Here we are lifting a corner of the veil, a secret of the present time. Initiate Science says in all truth: ‘Never were the dead so mighty as in our age!’
This is what I wish to say today in the course of our studies on karma.
Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive.