Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, May 11, 1924:
We shall continue for a time to study the laws prevailing in the development of human karma, and I shall say something to-day about the inner aspect of the shaping of karma, of the part of karma that is connected especially with the moral, ethical and spiritual life.
You must remember that directly we look beyond the physical world — and this is always so in studying karma — the karmic connections are spiritual. Even when they take effect in the physical, for example in illness, whatever is karmic in an illness has a spiritual cause. So that under all circumstances we come to the spiritual whenever we approach the study of karma. To-day, however, we shall turn our attention more particularly to the ethical aspect of karma, to the workings of karma in the life of soul.
I have already told you that the forming of karma is connected with those Beings who in very ancient times of evolution were actually present on the earth and who departed from the earth at the time of the separation of the moon, taking up their abode in the cosmos as Moon-inhabitants, Moon Beings.
What we call Moon — of which the physical part as ordinarily described is no more than an indication — must be regarded as the bearer of certain spiritual beings, the most important of whom once lived on earth as the great primeval Teachers. It was they who established among men on earth that ancient wisdom of which I have so often spoken. These Beings were on the earth before the separation of the moon. In those times they infused the primeval wisdom into man who acquired it through a kind of inner illumination. And the way in which these Beings worked was altogether different from the way in which men can work on the earth to-day.
The activity of these ancient, primeval Teachers among men must in truth be described as a kind of magic, taking effect inasmuch as the influence of the human will upon happenings in the external world was infinitely greater than is possible to-day. Nowadays the will can work on the external world only through physical means of transmission. If we want to push some object we must put our will into operation through the arms and hands. But in the days of the primeval Teachers the human will still had a direct and immediate action upon processes in the outside world, upon the very processes of nature. It was a kind of action that we should now call magical. But in point of fact the last vestiges of this power of the human will persisted until comparatively recent times. Rousseau, for example, tells us that in certain warmer regions he was able to paralyse and even kill toads which came near him, simply by fixing them with his gaze. This power of the human will which in warmer climates persisted until the 18th century, has diminished through the course of the ages and has now vanished. But in ancient Egypt man was still able to influence and promote the growth of plants through his will. And when the primeval Teachers were on the earth, even inorganic processes of nature could be brought under the sway of the human will.
These things of course depended upon a true, instinctive insight into the connections of world-existence which remain completely hidden from the crude, material science of modern times. It is evident, however, that the influence of warmth upon the working of the human will must be taken thoroughly into account, for Rousseau, who was able, in warmer regions, to kill toads with his gaze, subsequently tried in Lyons to stare at a toad in the same way, supposing that it would at least be paralysed. But the toad was not paralysed; on the contrary it fixed its eyes upon him and he himself became partially paralysed and had to be restored to life by snake-poison administered by a doctor.
This way of activating the will is of course dependent upon an instinctive knowledge of the whole environment of man.
Out of their own spiritual foundations the primeval Teachers possessed a totally different, far deeper and more penetrating knowledge of nature than is within the reach of man to-day. They were endowed with powers which cannot be comprised in natural laws. Nor was this necessary when the primeval Teachers were working on the earth, for nothing in the least resembling modern natural science was then in existence. It would have seemed utterly pointless and nobody would have understood its purpose. For in those days all such activity was founded upon a far deeper, more inward knowledge and understanding than is possible to-day.
These primeval Teachers transferred the scene of their work from the earth to the moon and as everything in the cosmos is interconnected, a mighty task is now allotted to them within the nexus of cosmic happenings. They are Beings who have a great deal to do with karma, with the forming and shaping of human karma. For an essential part of the weaving of karma is to be observed when, after having laid aside his etheric body a few days after death, the human being lives through his sleeping life (not his waking life) backwards. When he passes through the gate of death he has, first of all, a clear retrospective vision of what he has experienced in life — a grand and majestic panorama in pictures. After a few days this panorama slowly fades away as the etheric body dissolves in the cosmic ether, and then an actual journey backward begins.
Earthly existence flows in such a way that although we grasp it in remembrance as a unity, this is an illusion. Life does not flow onwards uninterruptedly. We live through the day consciously, the night unconsciously; the day consciously, the night unconsciously, and so on.
When in remembrance man thinks back over his life, he forgets that the nights are always there between the days. During the nights a very great deal happens to the soul, to the astral body and ego, only man knows nothing about it. What happens to him while he is unconscious during the nights in earthly existence, this he lives through in a backward course after death, so that time actually seems to him to be flowing backwards; in full consciousness he lives backward through the nights.
As approximately a third of life is spent in sleep, this backward journey is also lived through in a third of the time of the earthly life. If, therefore, a man has reached the age of 60, some 20 years have been spent in sleep and the backward journey lasts for about 20 years. Then he enters the Spirit-land proper, into a different form of existence. This backward journey, this vision of what has happened during the nights, is lived through after death in such a way that the great and significant difference between its experiences and those of ordinary sleep is strikingly apparent.
With the exception of the dreams rising out of sleep which do not, after all, reproduce the experiences of earthly life very faithfully but in an illusory, fantastic shape — with the exception therefore of the dreams welling up from the night-life, the human being has little consciousness of all the manifold happenings in which he is involved. In earlier lectures here I have described what happens to the human being during sleep; but after death he experiences it with extraordinary clarity and definition. This life in the soul-world after death is much richer in impressions than earthly life. The pictures a man experiences and how he himself is involved in them — all this comes to him with extraordinary intensity; there is nothing dreamlike about it. It is experienced, if I may put it so, as a kind of photographic negative. If you caused suffering to some person during your earthly life, you experienced this infliction of suffering as it proceeded from yourself. You experienced what proceeded from yourself, was done by yourself. But journeying backward after death you do not feel what you experienced during earthly life, but you slip as it were into the other person and feel what he experienced as the result of your action.
To take a drastic example. — If you gave someone a box on the ears, you do not experience what you felt in earthly life as you planned and carried out this act, but on the backward journey you experience, instead, the feelings of the other person whose ears you boxed. You live through it as your own experience, and indeed with extraordinary concreteness, with greater intensity. No impression on earth is as powerful as the impressions along this backward course after death for a third of the time of the earthly life. During this period the whole karmic fulfilment of what was done in life is experienced — from the standpoint of the other man. You live through the whole karmic fulfilment, but not, of course, as earthly experience — that will come in the subsequent life on earth. Even though it is not as intense as regards the action as it will be in a later incarnation, you experience the impression more strongly than could be the case in any earthly life.
This is a very striking fact. It is the intense reality of the experiences that is so remarkable.
But even if the human being were able to unfold in his ego and astral body the degree of strength that is his when he passes through the gate of death, he would experience this whole backward journey at most as a very vivid dream. And he might expect it to be so if, after death, he were merely to look at the earthly life and what it has made of him. But this backward journey is not a vivid dream; it is an experience of far greater intensity than any experience in earthly existence. Only now there is no physical body, no etheric body, through which man's experiences are mediated to him on earth.
Just think what you would experience on earth with your ordinary consciousness if you had no physical body and no etheric body. You would flit over the earth with now and again a dream arising; then you would sleep again, and so it would continue.
It is easy to conceive that after his earthly life a man who had reached the age of 60 lives through a dream continuing for 20 years; but what he lives through is by no means a dream, it is an experience of the greatest intensity. What makes this possible? It is because the moment a human being has passed through the gate of death, has laid aside his etheric body and begins his backward journey, the Moon Beings draw near him and with their ancient magical powers they pass into him, into his experiences, and impregnate his pictures with cosmic substance.
If I may use an analogy, what happens is just as if I were to paint a picture. In the first place it is simply a picture and doesn't cause actual pain — provided it is not too hideous — and even then the impression is only a moral or aesthetic one. It hurts nobody. But suppose I were to paint a picture, let us say, of three of you here and the picture were permeated with some magic power causing these three to step from the picture and carry out everything they had planned against others. You would react with more force and vigour than anthroposophists are wont to reveal! So it is after death. The experiences are full of living force, living activity, because these Moon Spirits permeate the pictures with their own substantiality; they saturate these pictures with a super-reality of being.
After death, therefore we pass through the region of the Moon Beings and what we experience as the balancing-out of our own deeds is stamped with mighty force in the cosmic ether. This backward journey — when it is described not merely in principle as in the book Theosophy, but when one tries to describe it as concretely as I want to do now — this backward journey after death is extraordinarily interesting and a highly important section of life.
In our time the experiences that may come to a human being during this period after death are particularly complicated. Just think how essentially the whole constitution of soul of these Moon Beings differs from that of the inhabitants of the earth. These Moon Beings with whom we have so much to do after death once imparted to men that primeval wisdom which in our time has completely faded away. As I have often explained, men could not have attained their freedom if the mighty wisdom of these primeval Teachers had remained. It has faded away and been replaced by something else, namely, abstract thinking. The human being to-day thinks in concepts which no longer have any very real relationship with the spiritual world. Let me repeat an example I gave on another occasion. — Aristotle has bequeathed to us ten concepts which were really a survival of ancient wisdom: Being, Quantity, Quality, Relation, Position, Space, Time, Possession, Action, Suffering. He called them the ‘Categories’. They are ten simple concepts. These ten concepts are generally enumerated in our text-books of Logic. In classical schools they have to be learned by heart; professors of philosophy are familiar with them. But nothing more is known than just the ten concepts by name: Being, Possession, Position, Space, Time, and the rest. To what does such knowledge amount? These ten concepts seem tedious and dry to a modern man. But to one who perceives their significance they are no more tedious than are the 22 or 23 letters of the alphabet: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, ...
Just think of it. — If you knew nothing more about the alphabet than a, b, c, d, e, f, g, up to z, if you knew this and nothing more, what would you make of Goethe's Faust? You would open the book and find these 22 signs scattered about in manifold permutations and combinations. Faust contains nothing but these 22 signs inter-connected in different ways. And if you knew nothing more, if you had never learnt to read but merely opened the book and saw these signs, just think how different it would be from what it is now, when you can take Faust and read it. That is a different matter altogether! No book in the world contains anything except these 22 signs and yet just think what you can make of them! The whole world of the mind is open to you because by juggling with these 22 letters you can apply them.
But the logicians who have accepted the ten Categories to-day: Being, Quantity, Quality, Relation, Space, Time, Position, Possession, Action, Suffering — these men know as little to what these Categories really apply as someone who has never learnt to read and simply recognises a, b, c, d, e, f, knows of all the books of the world. It is exactly the same thing. For these ten concepts of Aristotle's Logic have to be understood in such a way that they can be applied in manifold permutations, just as the letters are manipulated in the physical world by multifarious combinations and permutations. Then, with these ten concepts we read in the spiritual world. They are the letters.
But in our time the concepts are known by name and that is all — which is equivalent to knowing nothing more of the alphabet than the letters in their sequence. Think what you would miss if you could not read but only knew a, b, c, d! Correspondingly, men miss everything that is in the spiritual world if they are unable to manipulate and apply the ten concepts of Aristotle in all manner of ways, in order to read in the spiritual world.
In this connection something very droll has been happening among philosophers for a long time. About the middle of the Middle Ages there lived a very astute and clever man, by name Raymond Lully. From tradition he still knew something about this permutation of the categories of logic, of the fundamental concepts of logic, and he gave out what he knew — clothing it in the form of pictures as was customary in those times. What he really wanted to say, or rather, what he would have said if he had expressed the reality, was this: My contemporaries are all blockheads, because they only know a, b, c, d; they do not know how to read with the fundamental concepts, the root concepts. A man must understand in his head how to combine these fundamental concepts as letters are combined into words and sentences. Then he can read in the spiritual world. — Raymond Lully did not say this in such direct words for that was not the custom in his days. He said: Write the fundamental concepts on slips of paper, then take a kind of roulette, spin it and the concepts will be thrown about among each other; and then read. Then there will be results.
This, however, was only an analogy, for he did not really mean anything like a dead, mechanical roulette; he meant the spiritual head which must manipulate and combine these concepts. But those who heard of it took the analogy literally and have laughed about it ever since, considering it to be a piece of childishness on the part of Raymond Lully. The childishness, however, is purely on the side of modern philosophy which does not understand what was meant.
Practically everything that in olden days was brought to humanity by the primeval Teachers whom we know as the Moon Beings, has been lost. But during his backward journey in the first period after death the human being becomes acquainted in a very special way with this knowledge. He knows then how these ancient Sages thought, what kind of wisdom they possessed. Hence the graphic, concrete reality of his experiences during this period.
But in our time things have become complicated and confused owing to a kind of lack of understanding. Human beings, who since the fading of the primeval wisdom have been living here on earth with their abstract concepts, have not the power to understand the inner soul-constitution of these primeval Teachers since they entered the Moon-existence.
When a modern scholar is passing through this period of his life after death, be speaks a very different language from these primeval Teachers who, as I shall describe to you in more detail, have a very great deal to do with the shaping of karma. These primeval Teachers and the men of to-day who die imbued with modern culture and the fruits of modern civilisation do not really understand one another.
It is extremely difficult to form a clear conception of these things, for observation of what is happening to human beings in this connection is by no means easy. But in characteristic cases observation is possible: for instance, one can study two men who died not so very long ago and who have gone their way backward after death, two men who were steeped in modern culture and who nevertheless were very different from each other.
We can take a man who was brilliant in his own way, a scientist of average calibre like Du Bois-Reymond, or someone of the same type, and observe his backward journey after death. Another personality, too, can be observed in the same way. A very interesting personality as regards this backward journey through the soul-land is the one who hovered before me while I was composing my Mystery Plays and who took shape in the character of Strader. Strader in the Mystery Plays is an image of an actual person who in his youth entered the monastic life but subsequently abandoned it and worked in the field of rationalistic philosophy as a professor in a University. This man — he was responsible for a number of writings — has all the abstraction of a modern thinker, but his thoughts are extraordinarily penetrating, full of warmth and vigour. It does one good to find this quality of heart in a modern thinker.
The full-blooded vigour of Hegel, for example, who could present the highest abstractions with tremendous depth of emotion but also with utmost concreteness, is of course no longer possible to the same extent in a man of to-day. Hegel was a thinker who was able to imbue concepts and ideas with such concrete reality that he could, so to speak, hack wood with them. But the man to whom I am now referring revealed something of the same heart-quality in handling abstract concepts. As I said, his life hovered before me when I was shaping the figure of Strader in the Mystery Plays.
When this man died his backward journey was particularly interesting to me. A fact to be taken thoroughly into account was that all his thinking had a certain theological bent. Like that of a modern scientist, or at least a natural philosopher, it was entirely abstract, but all the time there was this nuance of theology (coming of course from earlier incarnations) and his thinking was lit by a gleam of consciousness that it is possible to speak, at least, of the reality of a spiritual world.
Hence this man's thinking has more affinity with the soul-constitution of the Moon Beings than has the thinking of an average scientist like Du Bois-Reymond, for example. When such men are passing through the soul-world, through the Moon sphere, one can perceive a marked lack of understanding — it is like someone who lives in a foreign country and never learns the language; the others do not understand him and he does not understand them. This, broadly speaking, is the fate of a man who is a typical product of modern civilisation when he enters upon this backward journey after death.
But it was rather different in the case of this personality, the prototype of Strader. — I have to resort to earthly language although it is utterly inadequate when applied to what I am here describing. — When, after death, this personality was journeying backward through the course of his life, it could be observed that the Moon Beings took a certain interest in the way he was bringing his thoughts, his abstract thoughts, into the soul-world. And he, in his turn, experienced a very remarkable awakening, an awakening in which he seemed to be saying to himself: ‘Ah, now I see that all I fought against is, in reality, quite different.’ (He had fought against many things that were traditional). — ‘I see now that it only gradually came to be what it is, because the ancient truths have become abstract words. I was often fighting against windmills; now, however, I see realities.’
Something of extraordinary interest is happening here — and a whole number of such men in modern life might be cited as examples. There is something extremely interesting in this backward journey after death where the foundations of karma are laid.
An even more striking figure in this connection is the philosopher Jacob Frohschammer, who wrote Die Phantasie als Weltprinzip (Imagination as a World-Building Principle). I have often mentioned him. There was still a great deal of inner substance in his abstract concepts, but, like the man just described, he was an abstract thinker. He could, however, so little tolerate the abstractions of modernism — I do not now mean ‘modernism’ in the terminology of Roman Catholicism — that he simply refused to acknowledge concepts as world-building forces; he would acknowledge only imagination. He said: imagination is working everywhere; the plants grow, the animals exist and so forth, through imagination. In this respect Frohschammer's book is extraordinarily interesting.
It is wonderful to observe how such a personality, who has still retained much of what was alive in cultural life before the modern, abstract way of thinking became customary, is able to blend with the substance of the Moon Beings. Investigations of this kind are profoundly interesting because a closer insight into the laws of the evolution of karma grows out of them. And when one is drawn by a certain sympathy to such a personality — as I myself was drawn to the prototype of Strader in the Mystery Plays — it is the warmth of soul by which one is united with him that makes it possible to share the experiences of this very significant journey after death.
The fact that the impressions are so strong for the man who is passing through these experiences has an after-effect, too, upon the person who is following them with knowledge. And that in itself is a very remarkable thing. For it becomes evident how much more impressive are the experiences after death than those of earthly life. I ask myself to-day in all earnestness: If I should wish to add a fifth Mystery Play to the four already written, would it be possible for me again to include the figure of Strader, now that for some considerable time I have watched these pictures of what Strader's prototype experienced after death? ... It would be quite impossible, because the moment I want to present the earthly figure, where the impressions are far less intense, the pictures of the impressions experienced by Strader's prototype after death are there before me. And they are far, far stronger; they blot out what was there during the earthly life.
I can observe this quite clearly in myself. As you may imagine, I took an extraordinary interest in the life of this man, for he was the prototype of Strader. He has since died and the impressions coming to him, after death, are incomparably more interesting to me than anything I can find out or describe about him while he was alive.
When I think about my Mystery Plays I realise that because of the vivid impressions of this prototype of Strader in the life after death, the character of Strader is the one that fades away from me most completely of all. This does not apply to the same extent to the other characters in the Plays. You see there how what is here on earth aligns itself in true observation with what is beyond the earth, and how the effect of such things enables one to realise the tremendous intensity of the life after death on this backward journey. The sheer intensity of it blots out the impressions of earthly life.
Still more can be said about these matters. I am not speaking here of anything that has been invented, but of realities. We may know a man very well in his earthly life and then experience what he has to undergo in the backward journey after death. Everything takes a different form because of the intensity of the pictures. If we have been exceedingly interested in a man's earthly life — as I was in that of a man who died a number of years ago — then our whole relation to the earthly life changes; it has an entirely different character when we subsequently share in the experiences of the personality in question during the backward journey after death. And many things in the earthly relationships are only now revealed in their whole truth.
This is all the more the case when the relationships in the earthly life were not of a spiritual nature; when they were, when they were essentially spiritual, there is, as it were, a continuous, onflowing development. If, however, there had been, for example, a human relationship without agreement in ideas and thoughts, then in certain circumstances this relationship may be transformed after death into something quite different, into an entirely different life of feeling and the like. The cause of this change is the vividness of the pictures which then appear.
I am describing these things in order to call up before you a concrete image of types of realities differing from those of earthly existence. There are many different types of realities. And when, so to speak, the deeds of the Moon Beings flow into the pictures which a man himself shapes, this reality is such that it appears even more wonderful than the subsequent reality when the man is passing through the spiritual world proper and in union with the Hierarchies is concerned with the elaboration of the results of his earthly life; this state of existence runs a much simpler course because it is a kind of continuation. But the radical transformation of the human being after death, due as it is to the fact that he enters into relation with Beings who left the earth long ago and founded a kind of Moon colony in the cosmos — this is something that with tremendous forcefulness discloses to us a reality which, because it follows immediately after the life on earth, is closely related to and yet essentially different from earthly reality.
When human beings cling too strongly to earthly things it may be difficult for them to find their bearings in the sphere of the Moon Beings. Something happens then which I will describe in the following way. Picture to yourselves the earth here, the moon there. — Now the active moon-influences which are, in reality, reflected sun-influences, penetrate just so far into the earth ... At this point they cease. The moon-influences do not penetrate very deeply into the earth, actually only as far as the roots of the plants spread in the soil. The moon-influences are not really active below the stratum of the roots of plants. There is only a shallow layer up here where the moon-influences are held fast. Sun-influences, of course, penetrate deeply into the earth. The warmth of the sun in the summer is preserved; when you lay potatoes in the soil the sun's warmth is still there during the winter. The sun-influences penetrate deeply into the earth, the moon-influences only as far as the level of the roots of plants ... a shallow layer.
The moon-influences, rising up like mist from this shallow layer, may cause human beings who have to pass after death into the Moon sphere — the soul-world — but are unable to understand the Moon Beings, to be trapped by this shallow stratum of moon-influences and they can actually be seen by sensible-super-sensible perception wandering about as ghosts, as spectral shades.
The legends and poems which tell of these things are based upon reality, but in order to form a sound judgment in this domain we must be entirely free from superstition, we must proceed with critical deliberation and accept only what can be put to the test.
In this backward journey after death which lasts for a third of the time of the earthly life, karma is prepared. For the Moon Beings mingle in these ‘negatives’ of a man's deeds, also of his deeds in the life of thought. The Moon Beings have a good memory and they inscribe into the cosmic ether every experience they share with the human being.
We pass through the life between death and a new birth and then, on the return journey when we come back once more into the Moon sphere we find everything inscribed there. And we bear it all with us into our life in order to bring it to fulfilment by means of our earthly will.
This, my dear friends, is what I wanted to place before you to-day as a theme of study.