The Mystery of Death. Lecture 3 of 15
Rudolf Steiner, Bremen, February 21, 1915:
What spiritual science calls the mystery of death faces us in our times so significantly. Everything is in close or more distant interrelation with them. Above all, through spiritual science we receive not only the basic conviction, but the basic knowledge of the world in the physical body and of the world into which we enter through the gate of death. However, this world is always alive also in the sensory life and surrounds us. It is only not recognizable for the human being engaged in the sensory life, because he does not have the necessary attention for it. If such drastic events flow through the time which demand so manifold sacrifices of the human beings as they surround us now, we must be woven with our whole souls in it. Hence, it is important to inform you about some matters by means of spiritual science.
We want to turn our glance to fields of life that show us how humankind has come to something fatefully illogical concerning its surroundings because of the materialistic way of thinking. We hear, for example, in the way usual today, the individual nations accusing each another: I have not wanted the war; it is you who has incited it. — The question is legitimate and one can now already answer it — for the facts speak clearly — where the external causes are. But for the spiritual-scientific seer it is different. In this question he has to realize that the war is basically the last phase in the course of events, or at least a later phase of matters that were there already before. One commits a mistake in the judgment also with illness processes where one often still speaks of such, whereas these are already health processes, which must take place to recover. The external processes, which take place to paralyze the illness and to recover, have happened before and are not to be observed. The war also is an apparent illness process. It is an effort of humankind to come beyond certain processes which were there before. The illness lies already before in the really unhealthy relations between the peoples. If anyone investigates the external causes with reason, he ignores the internal ones. In the area where we are crowded together like in a fortress and are surrounded with a ring, it must seem reasonable to especially raise the question what the internal causes are, or of which kind the single cause is by which this encirclement was caused. One speaks of such an encirclement for the last years, for the last decades, but if you look at the great connections, it begins much sooner. It sounds peculiar, but one can give the year 860 A. D. — not 1860, but 860. For such a long time the process has been going on which finds expression now in a way we can call the most dreadful war of humankind since it first inhabited the Earth.
In the deeper interrelation of European history one finds the extremely strange fact that in Central Europe something of spiritual substance was crowded together. If anyone investigates this deeper interrelation, he sees that it was crowded together there for a particular purpose. It concerns not the external determinations of blood or race, but the fact that something like a spiritual substance permeates the world. Something like a snake-shaped ring contracts in Central Europe coming down from the distant north. Two currents of the east and west go to the south and meet, forming a ring. From a center, the Normanic tribes move in the 9th century down who are related by blood to so many things that later exist in Central Europe. But they push their way into the Romance element, which comes from Southern Europe, and flow together with it. In 860, they stand in front of Paris; there the Normans were overpowered by the Romance people. Western France came into being from that. More than the Angles and Saxons could bring to the British islands, the Normans brought back from France to England. In the east, the Normanic people moved down, they got from the north to the Volga and the Black Sea into the Slavic regions. Later the Tartar current coalesces. The Slavic element overpowers the Normans and gives them the Christian religion in its eastern form. They become Slavic as “Ros” — they are called in Finland that way — nothing has remained except the name Russia. This name is of Germanic origin. The name Rurik has the same origin.
About these relations one has rather doubtful views. In the west of Europe many people speak that the French are appointed to resurrect the old Celtic element in a kind of Renaissance. One has the idea that in Central Europe are mainly Teutons and that in the west the Celtic element predominates. However, it is vice versa: in the French population is much more Teutonic blood, in Central Europe is more Celtic blood; this is true. Thus maya stands against truth. Only the inhabitants of the west are completely overpowered by the Romance element. In the east the Norman and with them the Teutonic elements are overpowered by the foreign race element. Still today there a religion prevails that is foreign to the Russian folk-soul [see From Symptom to Reality, third of nine lectures (Berlin, 1918), volume 185 of Steiner's Collected Works (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1976)]. Thus the people in Central Europe are encircled as it were. The Romance element reaches to Constantinople, and on the other side the Slavic Normans reach to Constantinople as well. There we have the snake, the ring.
If we consider that which was crowded together there spiritually, we get the view that it has an especially important task. Yesterday I only indicated it, but, nevertheless, I have spoken of the fact that here a certain familiar contact of the folk-soul with the individual soul should take place and just thereby the nicest blossoms are produced with the best relatives. The ego should immediately be seized, not the single members of the soul like in the West, should be immediately living in the ego. From that arises — this would already have to be clear to the exoteric consideration — that in Central Europe basically complete hostility could never hold sway against idealism, that always a certain tendency to the spiritual world was there to a high degree. When we began our spiritual movement, karma ordained that we had to act at first in association with the British movement. But externally everything was only a symptom of what had to happen internally with a certain necessity. If we consider what the theosophical movement represents, from which we had to separate, you will notice that there the cultural life has split in two parts. The external life takes a purely materialistic way, and the spiritual element is coupled to it. They always fall apart.
Compare to that which must be our spiritual life for us. As in the organism the head cannot be thought without body, our spiritual life grows out of the general cultural life. You only need to start with Tauler, Eckhart, Angelus Silesius, then with Herder, Lessing: everywhere we have to develop what should become higher spiritual culture. We cannot couple our spiritual view to anything, we must have it as an organism, must raise it. We have to discover internally that the return of Christ is a spiritual affair. Hence we cannot make the slightest concession. We are able to look at Christ as a figure only with the spiritual eye, approach Him with internal experience. In the West that had to be dogmatized and materialized. People could not imagine it differently than that He would come in the physical body. Hence the absurd idea to present Christ in the body on the salver. This happened in connection with what was encircled there.
Hence the question must touch us objectively: how has the Central European civilization to relate to the future culture? — Truth is something general, but it is something different how it arises. In the Central European civilization are the springs for the whole spiritual culture of the future. We have to find the way from German idealism to spiritual culture. For that is necessary that here in the center an ego-culture is founded. You can see that easily in the esoteric field. The human ego has to enkindle itself in the outside world; there only it is awake and realizes internally. Thus the ego-culture of Central Europe is aroused from without. You need to look only at the last events, the standardization of the German being. It is typical that the German empire was founded in 1871 on foreign ground. So many examples could be given that also show in the external events that there is an ego-culture in Central Europe.
It seems reasonable to ask: what meaning do the deaths have for the spiritual world? — Countless human beings go in the prime of life through the gate of death. At first the connection of ego, astral body, etheric body with the physical body is separated. The physical body is handed over apparently to the earth, the etheric body to the etheric world; astral body and ego go on. However, this must strike us: are the etheric bodies of the human beings of normal age going through the gate of death different from those of the young men? As to the physical body one understands this, as to the etheric one will understand it now. The etheric body could still have supplied the physical body for decades, and could have worked on it. It goes with these unused forces through the gate of death, coalesces there with the folk-soul, and the work of the folk-soul will be impregnated in future with the unused forces of these etheric bodies. It is our task to understand that. Human beings will be there who will know: the folk-soul is an active element. Only if one knows that the unused etheric bodies will work as a spiritual force in a concrete way in the spiritual world can one understand what takes place really. The consciousness of this concrete relationship with the spiritual world will be important. Thereby, namely by creation of such a consciousness of the spiritual world, spiritual science becomes more and more life in the souls and does not only remain doctrine. The human being knows that he is in a spiritual aura as he knows here that the air is in his surroundings. Like he distinguishes clean and dirty air here, he will feel good and bad spirits, experiencing and feeling the spiritual aura.
Only this is the right fruit of spiritual science. We see it if we consider events that are close to us and can teach us. One of them just happened in the place of our construction. In this case it was a child whose etheric body was unused. The forces are there; somebody who beholds them, who knows how to behold them, sees that they have gone over into the aura of our Dornach construction and live in it. This is an example I am responsible for. The etheric body which belongs with its forces more to the community is really working on. Since that time it tries to do something by means of inspirations nearby the construction. These are supporting forces.
Such matters are obvious to us; we can be taught through them how mysterious the connections are in the spiritual world. Just in the last time we experienced in the karma of our society that dear friends have died off. What I said in the Vienna cycle [Inner Nature of Man and Life Between Death and Rebirth, eight lectures (Vienna, 1914), Steiner's Collected Works volume 153] about the life between death and new birth became completely clear just in some of these souls. One of these souls found so surely the way into our movement when the physical body was already worn out. Since it was in our movement, it was a being whose soul faced me like through a body that had become bright and transparent as glass. After death the picture of this soul, as it was already before, grew together with that which it presented after. I was not able to help myself to give the obituary which shows that I was so surely together with this soul. The following words made themselves audible for about three days, after death had occurred:
You came to us.
The gentleness of your being
Spoke out of the calm strength of your eyes —
Calmness of your soul
Flowed in the waves
With which your glances
Carried your internal weaving
To things and human beings; —
And the soul penetrated your voice
Which revealed — more through the kind of word
In its eloquent manner —
What was working as a secret
In your lovely soul
Than was contained in the word;
However, without saying a word
It revealed itself
To the compassionate love of human beings —
This being that told of noble, calm beauty
Of the world-soul's creation
To receptive feeling.
The consciousness is dampened after death, just because a flooding consciousness is there. This happens by the review you have on death, first — not in the case of suicide — as it were a solar point. That belongs to the most beautiful, highest experiences. You resume it there, you say to yourself: there you have lived — and you orientate yourself that way in the spiritual world.
Our friend was out of the stage of the etheric review, so that I spoke to the present, but not yet conscious, being. Then a moment of consciousness occurred as a result of the heat, and she saw the cremation. Time there becomes space.
The events in the physical and spiritual worlds correspond to each other. In such a case, calling does not return like an echo from the spiritual world, but converts itself to an answer, giving the gist from the not yet conscious soul. By such examples we recognize-feel and feel-recognize the spiritual world. The result must be to experience the reality of the spiritual world. It is especially important to get this definite feeling in our time, so that the physical welfare and the mental welfare arise for the whole of humankind out of the seriousness of the present. For always the big, significant world events were, also for a superficial knowledge, the clear expression for the fact that there are not only sensory beings, but that the spiritual beings are working into the sensory world.
It is difficult to break through the veil which separates the physical and spiritual worlds. This makes self-knowledge difficult to the greatest possible extent; one imagines that as something too easy. It is sometimes difficult already in the external physical sense. The significant philosopher Ernst Mach [Ernst Mach (1838–1916), Austrian physicist and philosopher] — not Ferdinand Maack, otherwise, I would not have spoken of a significant philosopher — gave a grotesque example of it. Mach describes in one of his works that when he was a young man a disagreeable countenance struck him once in a mirror of a shop-window, which he had immediately to recognize as his own, to his dismay. He experienced something similar later again. While getting into a bus he saw a man with an ugly face who met him from the other side, and recognized only afterward that he had seen himself in the mirror. The human being is still even more uncertain about the being or form of the soul. People do not dream of what one has to do to get self-knowledge. In the subsoil of the soul, maya has often large dimensions. A human being has the impulse of cruelty; he lives together with people whom he torments every now and then, et cetera. He looks for an external cause for it; he often uses an ingenious gift of invention to veil the structure of his soul. I myself knew somebody who spoke repeatedly how many great sacrifices his activity demanded. But I had to say that it was only a lust of his soul, which he satisfied. When he spoke of sacrifices that way, only egoism stood behind that. Real self-knowledge is only accessible if one advances in spiritual science gradually, in so far as he experiences by himself what is in the world.
There are chatting people in the world who organize chat hours. Apparently, that is even the case when men go to their sundowners. If they are asked why they chat, people have all kinds of important reasons for that. But if we glide with our hand over velvet or silk, we have a feeling of pleasure. While somebody is chatting, his etheric body knocks perpetually against the air set in motion, and in doing so it is stroked. This is nothing bad. You understand what goes forward with chatting only if you know that the human being has an etheric body.
Humankind goes toward a time when it must face such matters more and more. Spiritual science must arouse the consciousness for it more and more. Then people who state today in their materialistic mind that everything spiritual is daydreaming will look as if anybody wanted to say where the air is, is nothing at all. Like one discovers that the air is real, humankind will find out that the spirit is something real. If you consider the biggest mystery, Christ's Death and Resurrection, you may believe that Christ, after he had gone through the Mystery of Golgotha, would have worked on humankind particularly by means of teaching. However, what people knew about Christ was the least.
The theologians have quarrelled, but very few understood something right. Only a part of historical events happens in the consciousness. An example of that is the battle between Maxentius and Constantine at the Milvian Bridge on the 28th October 312 A. D., which was decided not by some external circumstances, but by effects of a non-physical kind. With an army which was far stronger than that of his adversary Constantine, Maxentius had to defend Rome. Questioning the Sibylline Books he got the advice to lead his troops out of Rome and then he would destroy the enemies of Rome that way. He was still encouraged in that by a dream. Also Constantine had a dream that his soldiers should bear banners with the monogram of Christ instead of the old field signs. Thus it happened, and the army of Maxentius, which had been led out of Rome contrary to reason, was defeated by the weaker armed forces of Constantine, and Maxentius himself found his death on the run. The Christ Impulse had here worked in the subconsciousness of the people.
The impulse lives in the subconsciousness, as if ships go on the sea but the important matters would take place in submarines. An important point in time is again in the 15th century. At that time, the Maid of Orleans intervened in the course of history in such a way that everything that happened later was determined through it. The whole map of Europe would be different, also the spiritual life, if the English had won. The Maid was a servant of St. Michael. Schiller was deeply touched by the figure of the Maid of Orleans: “the world likes to blacken the beaming.” Whereas Voltaire vented his rage against her, even Shakespeare could not understand her, Anatole France pressed her down into the materialistic view, all Western people of intellect did not understand her, and Schiller embodied this sublime figure in his drama.
It was necessary that the Maid of Orleans went through a kind of unaware initiation to fulfill her historical mission. It concerned an initiation as it is described to us in the legend of Olaf Åsteson. Such initiations, for which certain karmic conditions were necessary, could take place in the time of the thirteen nights between the 25th December and 6th January. If the external light has the slightest strength, an inner enlightenment is possible. Thus Olaf Åsteson had real spiritual experiences in the sleeping state during the thirteen nights, which he then reports before the portal of a church, as it is shown in the Dream Song. Also the Maid of Orleans spent thirteen nights as it were in the sleeping state, namely in the body of her mother. In the last time before birth the human being is especially accessible to unaware influences from the spiritual world. On the 6th January the Maid of Orleans was born. During this day all the inhabitants of her birthplace gathered because something quite unusual was to be felt in the aura of the village. It was the birth of the Maid of Orleans, to whom the Christ Impulse was implanted just before she saw the physical sunlight.
The proper purpose of all our attempts and that which depends on us is to gain a living connection between the physical and spiritual worlds. People will recognize that the time of twilight of this war means a turn of an era. Human beings should know that the souls of those who have sacrificed themselves are working on and that this war has the task to close the materialistic age.
It is necessary that souls are there who send thoughts into the spiritual world like extending arms and bring down the consciousness from the spiritual world, souls conscious of spirit. The more such souls conscious of spirit send their thoughts upward — a lot depends on the fact that our spiritual atmosphere is penetrated by such thoughts — the more the fruits which come from the sacrificial deaths can mature. Thus we summarize our consideration in the words:
From the courage of the fighters,
From the blood of the battles,
From the grief of the bereaved,
From the nation's sacrifices
Will grow up the fruits of spirit
If souls aware of spirit turn
Their senses to the spirit land.
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