Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, October 18, 1905:
Yesterday we considered the forms in the astral world brought about by the influence of man himself. Today we are coming to those beings in astral space who are more or less its permanent inhabitants.
To understand what part man takes in astral happenings, we must consider the nature of the sleeping human being. Man consists, as we know, of four members: physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego. When he sleeps, the astral body with the ego is outside the human sheath. Such a person wanders about in astral space. As a rule he does not move far away from the physical and etheric bodies which remain lying in the bed. The two other members, the astral body and the ego, are then in astral space.
Now, when the physical and etheric bodies remain on the physical plane, we must certainly not imagine that because of this only physical forces have an influence on them and only physical beings have access to them. Everything that exists as thoughts and mental images has an influence on the etheric body. When someone sleeps, the etheric body remains on the physical plane. If in the vicinity of a sleeping person we think about something, we exercise an influence on his etheric body; only nothing of this will be experienced by the sleeper. When awake, the human being is so taken up with the outer world that he represses all the thoughts which penetrate into the etheric body. But in the night the etheric body is alone, without the ego, and is exposed to all the thoughts flying hither and thither around him, without the sleeper knowing anything about it. During waking life also he knows nothing of this, because the astral body, which dwells in the etheric body, is engaged with the outer world. When man is in a sleeping condition, any being having the power to send out thoughts can gain an influence over him. He can therefore be influenced by higher individualities, such as those we call Masters. They can send thoughts into the etheric body of the sleeper. Someone can therefore receive into his etheric body pure and lofty thoughts when the Masters consciously wish to make this their concern. But in the night, thoughts that flit into it from the outer world also enter into the etheric body. These man finds when in the morning he slips again into his etheric body. There are two kinds of dreams. The one kind arises directly from the experiences of the astral world: from echoes of day experiences and certain things from the astral world. As a rule the ego at night in astral space experiences little else than things connected with daily life. When the ego returns, it may or may not bring with it into waking life the experiences of the astral world. Certain things are however already present in the etheric body. What is found there is taken up by the astral body and then manifests itself to us as dreams. What however has taken place during the night in regard to the etheric body is another kind of experience. Thus in the morning there are to be found in the etheric body, firstly thoughts which have approached it from the environment, and secondly thoughts also which the Masters or other individualities have implanted into it. The introduction of these latter is made possible by the person in question meditating. In that someone occupies himself during the daytime with pure, noble thoughts dealing with eternal things, he brings into his astral body the disposition for such thoughts. Should he not have this disposition, it would be useless were a Master to wish to work upon his etheric body. If one reads Light on the Path and meditates upon it, one prepares the astral body in such a way that when the Master imbues the etheric body with lofty thoughts, the astral body can actually contact them. This is called the relationship of man to his higher self. Such is the true nature of this process. The higher self of man does not live within us, but around us. The more highly developed individualities are the higher self. Man must be clear that the higher self is outside him. Were he to seek for it within himself, he would never find it. He must seek it with those who have already trodden the path that we wish to tread. Within us is nothing except our karma, what we have already experienced in earlier incarnations. Everything else is outside us. The higher self is around us. If, in preparation for the future, we wish to approach it more closely, we must seek it above all in the company of those individualities who can work during the night on our etheric body. The higher self is in the universe; therefore the Vedantist says: ‘Tat twam asi’ — That art thou. If through appropriate writings, such as Light on the Path or the Gospel of St. John, we incline the astral body to take in lofty spiritual nourishment and thus to understand the Masters, we are thereby working in a good way toward what will lead to the higher self.
In the night therefore we find in astral space the sleeping bodies, or the pupils with their Masters, insofar as someone who has formed a tie which unites him with the Master, through an appropriate meditation, is led toward him. This is what can happen during the night. It is possible for everyone by immersing himself in inspired writings to reach the point of taking part in such intercourse and through this to attain to the development of his higher self. What in the course of some thousands of years will become our self is now the higher self. In order however really to get to know the higher self we must seek for it where it already is today, with the higher individualities. This is the communication of the pupils with the Masters.
Something else that we can meet with in astral space is the black magician with his pupils. In order to train himself to become a black magician, the pupil has to go through a special schooling. The training in black magic consists in a person becoming accustomed, under methodical instruction, to torture, to cut, to kill animals. This is the ABC. When the human being consciously tortures living creatures it has a definite result. The pain caused in this way, when it is brought about intentionally, produces a quite definite effect on the human astral body. When a person cuts consciously into a particular organ this induces in him an increase in power.
Now the basic principle of all white magic is that no power can be gained without selfless devotion. When through such devotion power is gained, it flows from the common life-force of the universe. If however we take its life-energy from some particular being, we steal this life-energy. Because it belonged to a separate being, it densifies and strengthens the element of separateness in the person who has appropriated it, and this intensification of separateness makes him suited to becoming the pupil of those who are engaged in conflict with the good powers.
For our Earth is a battlefield; it is the scene of two opposing powers: right and left. The one, the white power on the right, after the Earth has reached a certain degree of material, physical density, strives to spiritualize it once again. The other power, the left or black power, strives to make the Earth ever denser and denser, like the Moon. Thus after a period of time the Earth could become the physical expression for the good powers, or the physical expression for the evil. It becomes the physical expression for the good powers through man uniting himself with the spirits working for unification, in that he seeks the ego in the community. It belongs to the function of the Earth to differentiate itself physically to an ever greater degree. Now, it is possible for the separate parts to go their own way, for each part to form an ego. This is the black path. The white path is the one which strives for what is common, which forms an ego in community. Were we to burrow more and more deeply into ourselves, to sink ourselves into our own ego organization, to desire always more and more for ourselves, the final result would be that we should strive to separate ourselves from one another. If on the other hand we draw closer, so that a common spirit inspires us, so that a center is formed between us, in our midst, then we are drawn together, then we are united. To be a black magician means to develop more and more the spirit of separateness. There are black adepts who are on the way to acquire certain forces of the Earth for themselves. Were the circle of their pupils to become so strong that this should prove possible, then the Earth would be on the path leading to destruction.
Man is called upon to enter into the atmosphere of the good Masters to an ever greater degree. Near the adept with his pupils, there is also on the astral plane the black magician with his pupils. One also finds there human beings who have died some time previously, and they are there for the purpose of gradually getting rid of the connections they have had with the Earth. The satisfaction of desires must be put aside. Such desires are a process in the astral body, but the astral body cannot satisfy them. As long as one lives on the physical plane one can satisfy the desires of the astral body through the instrument of the physical body. After death the desire for enjoyment is still there, but the means for its satisfaction are not to be found. Everything that can only be satisfied through the physical body must be relinquished. This takes place in Kamaloka. When man has put aside all such desires, Kamaloka is at an end and is followed by the time in Devachan.
When Kamaloka time comes to an end something can occur which is not quite normal in human development. In the normal way the following happens: the person has freed himself from desires, wishes, instincts, passions, and so on. Now everything which is of a higher nature lifts itself out of the astral body. Then a sort of shell remains behind, the residue of what man made use of in order to enjoy the pleasures of the senses. And when someone has left the Kamaloka plane, these astral human shells float around there. They gradually dissolve, and when the person returns most of them have usually disappeared. It may well happen that strongly somnambulistic or mediumistic natures can be troubled by these astral shells. This shows itself in the case of weak mediumistic people in a way that makes a very unpleasant impression on them. It can come about that in his ego someone may have such a strong inclination for the astral body, in spite of the fact that on the other hand he is already so far developed as to be comparatively soon ready for devachan, that parts of his already developed Manas remain united with this shell. It is not so bad if someone develops lower desires when he is still a simple person, but it is a bad thing if someone uses his highly evolved intellect to gratify those desires. Then part of his manasic nature unites with these lower desires. In the materialistic age this is extremely frequent. With such people part of Manas remains united with the shell, and then this shell has automatic intellect. These shells are called shades. These shades endowed with automatic intellect are very frequently what manifest through mediums. Through this, one can be exposed to the illusion that what is merely the shell of a person is his real individuality. Very often what is made known after the death of a person proceeds from such a shell that has nothing whatever to do with the ego, which is developing further. But with the dissolving of the shades, karma is not absolved.
We take with us the cause of every counter-image that we have brought about in astral space. Our works follow us. Just as a monogram is imprinted into a seal, so it is with what we imprint into astral space — and it can bring about devastating effects. What corresponds to the seal, we take with us. What remains behind, however, in astral space, we should not disregard. Let us imagine that in this life someone were to evolve beyond a certain clearly defined stage of development. At the earlier stage he held opinions which those he held later contradicted. When he ascends into devachan the old opinions, with which he had not come to satisfactory terms, remain behind in the shell. Now if a medium comes into contact with this shell, it can be that opinions are found in it which are in contradiction with the later life of this person. This was actually the case when the attempt was made to get into touch with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky on the astral plane. At one time her attitude had been that there was no such thing as reincarnation. The medium in question (57) had obtained this opinion from the shell that Blavatsky had left behind, an opinion which however in her later teachings she declared was erroneous.
Innumerable errors can assail anyone who enters astral space. Besides everything else, there is on the astral plane an imprint of the Akashic Chronicle. If someone has the faculty of reading on the astral plane the Akashic Chronicle, which is there reflected in its single parts, he will be able to see his earlier incarnations. The Akashic Chronicle does not consist of printed letters, but one reads there what has actually taken place. Even after one thousand five hundred years, an Akasha-picture gives the impression of the earlier personality. Thus on the astral plane there are also to be found all the Akasha-pictures from earlier times. So one can easily fall into the error of believing that one is speaking to Dante, whereas today Dante might actually be reincarnated as a living personality. It is also possible for the Akasha-picture to give sensible answers, even to go beyond itself. It can therefore come about that we get verses from Dante's Akasha picture which do not proceed from the progressed individuality but must be looked upon as a continuation of verses coming from the previous personality of Dante. The Akasha picture is something living — by no means a rigid automaton.
In order to be able to find one's way on the astral plane a severe and systematic schooling is necessary, because there is always the possibility of deception. And it is especially important to refrain from forming judgements as long as possible.
Let us now turn our minds to the process of dying, in order to understand the technique of reincarnation. The moment of death consists in the separation of the etheric and physical bodies. The difference between falling asleep and dying is that when one falls asleep, the etheric body remains connected with the physical body. All one's thoughts and experiences are imprinted into the etheric body. They are deeply embedded in it. Man would be able to remember much more of his experiences if it were not that they are continually obliterated by the outer world. He is not always aware of his thoughts and impressions because his attention is directed outwards. If he ceases to do this, he perceives what is stored up in his etheric body. In the main, he directs his attention outwards and absorbs the impressions into his etheric body. These however he partially forgets. When at the moment of death the physical body is laid aside, he perceives what is stored up in his etheric body. This is what happens after his ego has separated from the physical body, together with the astral and etheric bodies. Immediately after death therefore opportunity is given for complete recollection of the past life.
Now we must try to understand another and similar moment, namely the moment of birth, when the human being enters into a new incarnation. Here something different occurs. He brings with him all that he has worked over on the Devachan plane. Like bells, the astral bodies, desirous of incarnation, whirl toward the life-ether and now form a new etheric body. When the human being has united himself with his future etheric body, a momentary vision arises just as previously, at death, he looked back on his past life. This however expresses itself in quite another way, as a gazing into the future, a foreknowledge. In the case of children with somewhat psychic tendencies, one can sometimes hear them tell of such things, in their earliest years, so long as the materialistic culture has not yet affected them. This is prevision of the coming existence.
These are two vital moments, for they show us what the human being brings with him when he descends in order to incarnate. When he has died, the essential thing is memory. When he reincarnates what is essential is a vision of the future. These two are related to one another as cause and effect. Everything that man experiences in the last moment of dying is the gathering together of all previous lives. In Devachan this is transformed from what is connected with the past into what is connected with the future. These two moments can form an important signpost pointing to quite definite connections in two or more succeeding incarnations.
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