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The Souls Progress through Repeated Earth Lives

The Souls Progress through Repeated Earth Lives

A Lecture By
Rudolf Steiner
Bern, December 14, 1920
GA 202

Translated from a shorthand report unrevised by the lecturer. Lecture 9 of 16 from the volume: The Bridge between Cosmic Spirituality and the Physical Constitution of Humans. The volume of the Complete Edition of the works of Rudolf Steiner containing the original text of the this lecture, among sixteen others, is entitled: Die Bruecke Zwischen der Weltgeistigkeit und dem Physichen des Menschen. Die Suche Nach der Neuen Isis, der Goettlichen Sophia. Der Mensch in seinem Zusammenhang mit dem Kosmos.. (No. 202 in the Bibliographical Survey, 1961).

This English edition of the following lecture is published by permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

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Esoteric Studies

Printed in Manuscript for the members only of the School of Spiritual Science, Goetheanum, Class One. No person is held qualified to form a judgment on the contents of these works who has not acquired — through the School itself or in an equivalent manner recognized by the School — the requisite preliminary knowledge. Other opinions will be in so far disregarded, as the authors of the works in question are not willing to take them as a basis for discussion.




A lecture delivered in Bern December 14, 1920

Published from a stenographic report not edited by the lecturer with permission of


Translated from the original by



Anthroposophic Press, Inc.: New York Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co.: London

Authorized English translation, printed in agreement with Harry Collison, M.A. (Oxon.)

Copyright: Anthroposophic Press, Inc. 1944

Printed in the U. S. A.


The Soul's Progress through Repeated Earth Lives

The Historical Aspect of Social Life in Its Reality
Lecture by Rudolf Steiner, Bern, December 14, 1920

It is our intention today to begin by considering the soul's progress through successive earth lives. You are already familiar with the outer phenomena connected with this as a result of your anthroposophical studies; but today it is our intention to speak of certain things that require a still more detailed study.

As you know, when the human being goes through the portal of death, he first lays aside his physical body; then he is in possession of what we call the ego. Besides this he has his astral body, and at the beginning, although only for a short time, the etheric body also. This brief period during which the human being still has an etheric body is devoted to a retrospective view of his last earth life, which appears before his soul like a panorama. This period ends when the etheric body is, one might say, pushed upward into cosmic space, just as the physical body is pushed downward towards the earth.

The human being is then left with his astral body. In this astral body we still find the after-effects of the etheric body, that is to say, all that this astral body has experienced by being linked in the last earth life with the etheric body, and also with the physical body. As you know, considerable time elapses before the astral body is also stripped off.

I have already drawn attention in our literature to the fact that one cannot simply speak sweepingly of dissolution of the etheric and the astral bodies, but that this dissolution is in reality a releasing into the cosmos of those forces which the human being has within himself. The etheric body bears within itself, as it were, the imprints of all that the human being has gone through in life. This is an aggregate of what I would call form structures. This aggregate of form structures, becoming ever more widely diffused, actually stamps itself upon the cosmos; what has thus happened in our life and what has imprinted itself upon the etheric body actually continues to work within the cosmos as forces. We commit to the cosmos the nature and mode of our behavior towards the etheric body. Our life is not without moment for the entire universe. It is precisely through the knowledge of anthroposophical spiritual science that the human being acquires a strong feeling of responsibility, because he is compelled to realize how that which he incorporates into his etheric body by means of his intellectual life, his feeling life, his will, that is, by means of his morality, is imparted to the whole cosmos. In the cosmos is contained, if I may put it that way, the conduct of those human beings who have lived in former times. That which through our conduct in life contributes to the configuration of the etheric body, detaches itself in a certain way only to be gathered up into the whole great universe. In reality we participate in the making of the world! And we must develop this sense of responsibility that makes us feel ourselves as participants in the creation of the world.

That which we continue to bear as our astral body must not be looked upon as something merely to be dispersed later on, merely to be dissolved in the cosmos. This is not the case. The astral body also imparts itself to the universe, though to be sure, to the spirit-soul part of the universe.

And when the ego has freed itself from this astral body, after the transition through the soul world has been accomplished, then what we have incorporated into our astral body is to be found outside in the universe, — only now the ego and the astral body take separate paths. The astral body, divided from the ego, now goes its own way, and in a similar manner the ego takes its own course. We cannot, however, speak of the destruction of the astral body; on the contrary, this astral body continues to evolve. Through its interrelationship with the universe, it continues to evolve simply as a result of our having implanted into it the effects of certain moral impulses; and with the form it has acquired as the result of these moral impulses, it imparts itself to the cosmos, — it inserts itself, so to speak, into the spirit-soul part of the universe with which it enters into reciprocal activity. Indeed one can even put it this way (although half figurative, it, nevertheless, corresponds to the facts): the astral body expands more and more, but it reaches a certain limit in this expansion; and when it can expand no further, it begins to contract. And the speed or slowness with which it expands or contracts depends essentially upon what has been incorporated into it in the course of life. One can thus say that the astral body imparts itself to the universe; if I may use the expression, it strikes against the outer limits of our spiritual-soul cosmos and is thrown back again.

The ego follows its path in a world very different from that of the astral body. As I expressed it in yesterday's lecture, (Bern, December 13, 1920; The Results of Spiritual Science and Their Relationships to Art and Religion.) the ego develops a certain kind of inward craving. And it is chiefly this craving that makes the ego feel attracted to just this particular returning astral body, which however has now become something different. Indeed there takes place a kind of union between the metamorphosed, transformed astral body and the ego. It thus comes about that when the human being approaches the time for his return to earth, he acquires certain inclinations, I might say, in divers directions.

I have indicated how the astral body expands into the universe, then returns, and how the ego in a certain way finds it again. We can follow this up in the outer human form, if we look at the being of man in its totality.

For we must imagine that the human being, as he appears when he is born on earth, is really formed from two directions. I have described to you just now how the astral body expands into the universe and how it returns again; this astral body, so to speak, now meets the ego. Figuratively speaking, it approaches in the form of a hollow sphere, — a sort of hollow sphere that grows ever smaller and smaller. Thus it approaches the ego. It has kinship with the planetary system. The ego on its way between death and a new birth develops quite another kind of longing. Although it has a longing for the astral body, it develops an even greater longing for a certain spot on earth, for a certain people, a certain family. On the other hand there is a drawing together of what comes from without as the transformed astral body, and the ego after having completed the period between death and a new birth with its strong inclination toward the earthly realm, toward a people, a family, and so forth. If we look at the human being after birth with special reference to the outer surface of his body, we can see just what is subject to the forces of the metamorphosed astral body. What is organized from without, from the skin inwards, including the sense organs, is built for us from out of the cosmos. But what is brought forth organically through the ego's feeling itself linked with the earth, feeling itself drawn toward the earth, creates the organization from within outwards, which is counter to the other organization; it creates rather the bone-muscle organization, and so forth, the part which radiates from within, so to speak, against what radiates inward from the skin and the senses. So far as the outer periphery of our body is concerned, we are organized by the macrocosm, but what streams through our ego, what grows from within outward against the skin-sense formation, is organized by the earth.

Thus the human being is really born out of the universe. And his sojourn in the maternal body provides only the opportunity for these two forces, one a macrocosmic and the other an earthly force, to unite. But man is definitely a being who does not spring from one point alone, from the germ. He is rather the fusion of the extra-earthly forces, which are held together by his metamorphosed astral body, and that force which, bearing the influence of the earth, grows counter to these extra-earthly forces. What we call our mental faculty, our intellect, our power of forming mental pictures, is deeply akin and intimately connected with what comes to us from the cosmos. Our power of forming mental pictures points in fact to our previous earth life. We acquire this power of forming mental pictures by virtue of the fact that what we have woven into our astral body in our previous earth life has expanded into the cosmos, has come back again, and now chooses our head, so to speak, as its chief organ, our head which has been formed from without as a skin-sense organ. The rest of the skin-sense organization is, so to speak, only an appendage of the head. Our will organization, however, expresses itself in what is related to the earth forces, because the human ego on approaching birth feels attracted to a particular spot on earth. So we can say that when we are reborn, we receive our mind from the heavens; our will from the earth. Between the two lies feeling, which is given to us neither by heaven nor by earth, but is based on a kind of continuous swinging back and forth between earth and heaven, and which has its outward organ chiefly in the rhythmic system of man, the breathing system, the blood circulation, and so forth. It stands in the middle between the head organization proper, which is essentially the product of the macrocosm acting upon the great circuit of the former astral body, and our will organization, which comes to us from the earth. Between these two stands our rhythmic system, stands our feeling life, which can develop on the foundation of this rhythmic system and which, I might say, we also bring to outer visible expression between heaven and earth. Our head points more to our extra-earthly origin; our will is intimately related to what is ours from the earth. Between the two stands our feeling life and, from a physical point of view, our circulation, our breathing life.

No thorough and comprehensive view of man can be taken one-sidedly either from the soul aspect or from the physical aspect, for these two, the soul and the physical nature in such a total view, must interpenetrate one another.

Furthermore, because we are connected with the entire macrocosm, bearing within us just in our head organization something formed by the macrocosm, we can see that we are directed back to our past through our intellect; only, with our ordinary consciousness we do not discover how we are thus referred to our former earth lives.

In the ancient oriental striving for wisdom, the pupils of the initiates tried to establish a connection between their rhythmic life and their head life. For the epoch in which the ancient oriental wisdom flourished, it was natural to seek a higher stage of human development by making breathing a conscious process, and thereby also the process of circulation; breathing in accordance with definite rules raised the breathing process as well as the circulation to consciousness. The old Oriental could do that because his soul and spirit were not yet so intensely linked to the body as they are in the man of today. If, applying a sort of anachronism, anyone were simply to practice this old oriental method today, without attaining to higher knowledge, he would, more or less, ruin his human body; for it would be interfering too much with the health of the physical body, now that the human being is so much more intimately connected with his body than was once the case, for instance, at the time when the ancient Indian sought after wisdom.

But what did a student acquire by going through these exercises in ancient India? He made the breathing process into something conscious, that is, he inhaled consciously. Through these exercises he gradually acquired the possibility of following the process that takes place when the pressure of inhalation causes the brain fluid to oscillate toward the brain through the spinal canal, and to strike, as it were, against the brain. It is this impact of the brain fluid against the solid parts of the brain (this brain fluid, which rushes upward during inhalation, falling again during exhalation), it is this impact that causes mental pictures to arise. The production of mental pictures is something much more complicated than is imagined today, when everything is thought out materialistically. Today it is thought — or at least it was until recently, for today people are no longer interested in thinking in clear concepts — it is thought that some kind of evolution, some nerves underlie the forming of mental pictures. This is nonsense. The real fact is that there is actually a constant striking of the brain fluid against the nerve system taking place which starts off those processes underlying the forces of the nervous system. The ancient Indian student of wisdom raised this activity to consciousness. What did he learn by following this whole process consciously? He learned from it how the underlying processes which had formed his brain really point back to former earth lives. Through his present rhythmic system he experienced, so to speak, his former earth life; this past earth life became a certainty to him. For such a student of wisdom it was simply self-evident that he had had a previous earth life. He could perceive it, you understand, by raising his breathing process to consciousness. Today this must be accomplished in another way. It cannot be brought about today by meditation that arises from a special way of shaping the breathing process; for this method must not be used by the modern human being. Quite the contrary, meditation today should proceed from a quiet dwelling on mental pictures: thus it starts out from the opposite side, and thereby takes into consideration the fact that modern man is much more closely united with his physical body. But by dwelling quietly on a mental picture, we learn to know this nuance of the rhythmic system from the other side, from the spirit-soul side. We come to know the process from the other side; in such a way, however, that we do not penetrate deeper into our body, as did the ancient Indian, — indeed we must not do so, because we have already penetrated into it deeply enough; but by freeing ourselves from the corporeal nature, we trace out the whole cosmos in the realm of spirit and soul, and the cosmos teaches us how the former earth life is connected with this life.

You can see, my dear friends, the statements made in Anthroposophy are not abstract and fanatical, but are founded upon a penetrating knowledge of the human organization as seen from within; they are not based on an external examination of the organism as a corpse, — or, even if not as a corpse, still from without — but upon a knowledge of it coming from within, from intimate contact with both aspects, the reciprocal action between the rhythmic and nerve-sense systems on the one hand and on the other between the rhythmic and metabolic systems (for the rhythmic system also has an impact upon the metabolism). And by coming to know from the other side this interweaving of the rhythmic with the metabolic processes, we become certain that the germ of the next earth life lies buried within us, for the metabolism in its spiritual aspect contains the germ of the next earth life. Even though it is the lowest part of the human organism for this earth life, from the spiritual aspect it contains the germ of the next earth life. Thus we rise to a consideration of the human being as a whole.

You see, in this respect those people especially who are living within the realm of western civilization are often really like a blind man confronting color. Perhaps what I am about to say is far from the thoughts of many of you, but I should like to call your attention to the following: All that we conceive as mathematics, all that comes into play in linear or angular forms, in the vertical or the horizontal, as well as all that we measure, all that we conceive mathematically, we develop really out of our inner being; it is the foundation of our inner life. The moment we learn to perceive what underlies our inner being, we no longer speak in the Kantian fashion, simply pouring that which springs up within the inner being of man into some kind of unintelligible expression. Mathematics is said to be “knowledge a priori.” A priori! Now, that is a word for you, is it not? It means “there from the very beginning,” a priori. But if one learns to see inwardly, then one knows whence this curious mathematical knowledge springs. The astral body has gone through the mathematics of the whole universe, and all this has condensed again. We simply let that rise out of the soul which we have experienced in a former incarnation, which has then passed through the whole cosmos, only to emerge once more in the purity of mathematical-geometrical lines.

You thus see that in this a priori conception of the world is expressed analogous to the blind man's conception of color, Otherwise one would have to say that what is called in the Kantian sense “a priori” arises out of our former incarnations and appears in this incarnation in a metamorphosed form, after having gone through the entire macrocosm.

I have been speaking to you here, my dear friends, about the laws underlying the whole human being which reveal themselves when we consider life as it passes through repeated incarnations. Our modern age is very reluctant in giving heed to such things. That is why our present world conception remains external. I should like to make this clear to you by an illustration.

Let us assume that we are now examining — according to the prevailing method — a people belonging to a certain locality on earth. Now what do we do today as historians? We say: there lives the present generation; another preceded it; this generation was in turn preceded by one still further back. We thus go back to former centuries, back to the Middle Ages, and, I might say, we follow the blood streams down through the generations, follow all that is transmitted down through external heredity, and come to the conclusion that what lives in the present people can be traced back to the earlier phases of development of this people.

Thus is history regarded today. If a typical historian wishes to follow German, French, or English history as far back as possible, he does so by going back through the chain of ancestors according to their physically inheritable characteristics. What a present-day generation of a certain people manifests in life is supposed to be understood from what former generations of this people have experienced, that is, from what can be inherited physically; this is the way people talk. This is, however, nothing but materialistic thinking applied to history. For if you consider what anthroposophical spiritual science offers you, not as a mere theory, but as something to carry over into your view of life, then you must not be content to speculate upon the repetition of earth lives, to consider as something isolated the fact that your soul has gone through previous earth lives, and will go through others in the future, but you must also consider with this in mind what takes place all over the earth. For if we look at one or another generation living today, we can certainly trace it back to former generations through the blood — through external, physically inheritable characteristics; these former generations may have lived in the same part of the earth or, if we consider the streams of migrations, they may be traced back to ancestors who at an earlier age lived in another part of the earth; but in doing all this we remain entirely in the realm of the physical-material.

There is, however, more to it. In this present age we have before us a generation of people who, in regard to what concerns its physical bodily nature, descends from its ancestors; but the souls that dwell in the individual human beings need not at all be related to these ancestors. In fact the soul has not co-experienced with them on earth what has happened in the course of the many generations, and what outwardly represents the destiny of these ancestors; this the soul has experienced in the spirit-soul world during life between death and a new birth.

We look back upon our grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather. Well, we were then not yet born; our soul was still in the spiritual world. Our body has inherited from all of them, but our soul — nothing! It has lived in an entirely different world during all this time; in its own experiences it need have nothing to do with what our body has inherited from our forefathers. And if research into these things is made in the realm of the spirit, the results often appear paradoxical to outer observance. In general one must clearly realize that speculation or philosophizing on the true facts of life usually gives rise to absurdity. Spiritual perception alone reveals the truth. And a spiritual researcher is often himself astonished at his own results. Indeed he finds in the very surprise awakened by his results a sort of verification of them; for, if he found only what he had already anticipated in his thoughts, he might not feel so strong a confirmation. Just the fact that things are, for the most part, different from what one imagines, usually makes it possible to see that, by being devoted to true spiritual research, one is working not in a subjective, but in an objective realm.

From this source, you will see, something comes to light relating to the historical in humanity. I have pointed to it before, and what I have said will not in any sense be corrected here, but only amplified, for we are moving in a very complicated realm. We have said on an earlier occasion, and this is in a certain respect perfectly true, that we have for instance among the peoples of Europe numerous personalities who as souls previously lived in the south during the first Christian centuries, and now live more in the north — they are, to be sure, incarnated in Europe, but more in the north, This is entirely true, but it does not apply to the majority of the population. In regard to this, we must seek elsewhere in order to learn the actual facts. In the case of the majority, chiefly of the present western, but also of the middle, European peoples, and even part of the Russian population, spiritual scientific research leads us back to those times at which the conquistadors subdued the aborigines of America. These original Americans, these American Indians had strange inner soul qualities. As a rule we fail to do justice to such things, if we, egotistically boasting of our “higher culture,” regard all this as mere barbarism; we fail to do justice, if we do not take into account the entirely different characteristics of those people who were conquered and exterminated after the discovery of America; if we do not regard them as having special qualities of their own, but merely look down upon them from the bird's-eye view of a higher culture. These early inhabitants of America, the American Indians had, for instance, remarkable pantheistic feelings. They worshipped the “Great Spirit” who pervaded all being. Their souls were permeated by the belief in this all-pervading Great Spirit. Through all that was bound up with this belief in the feeling-life of these people, these souls were predestined to go through a relatively short existence between death and a new birth. But the relationship that had developed, on the one hand, between them and their whole environment, their native land, and on the other between them and the destiny they suffered in being exterminated was decisive for their life between death and a new birth. And from this it has happened that the majority — no matter how paradoxical it may sound, it is simply a fact — that the majority of the western, the middle, and even a part of the eastern Europeans (not all, but a great part of them) have souls that once dwelt in the bodies of the old American Indians, although they certainly descend from physical forbears in the Middle Ages as far as their blood is concerned. Although this may sound paradoxical, it is, nevertheless, true in regard to the majority of the European population. This feeling, once experienced for the Great Spirit, reacted with that which admittedly lies in the external historical development of lineal descent, and which we take up with the first feelings of love in childhood, especially when we practice this out of our inner being through imitation. What we thus take up is to a great extent something absorbed from without. It enters into reciprocal activity with what arises in the soul from former incarnations. And European life is not understood rightly if it is considered only one-sidedly from a point of view lacking in reality, that is, according to inherited characteristics. It can be understood only when we know whence come the souls who have united themselves with these inherited characteristics in order to bring about a reciprocal activity. And what has now become reality in European history was formed only as a result of this cooperation between what the souls are through their former earth lives and what they have received in this life through inheritance; also through education, but education in its broadest sense.

These peoples have been extensively intermingled with souls who lived in the south during the first centuries of Christianity and who then also reincarnated in this western and eastern Europe; but all that has taken place in social life, and especially what is taking place more and more now in these catastrophic days, hints at the fact that the reality of this European life is a complicated one. And the spiritual researcher finds that it is made especially complicated because the reincarnated American-Indian souls unite with what appears as inherited characteristics in the various nationalities.

We must contrast this with another European population, which we find in the first Christian centuries, at the time of the migrations of peoples — speaking in terms of outer history. I refer to that European population of the past which as barbarians absorbed Christianity as it advanced from the south, transforming it into something entirely different from what in the first centuries had developed as Christianity in the Greek and Roman world. These souls who belonged to the time of the migrations of the peoples and also those of the following centuries were so constituted that, in addition to their original tendencies, they showed themselves deeply impressed by Christianity as it made its way northward from the south. We must clearly realize that this population of Europe which absorbed Christianity at the time of the folk migrations brought to the surface very special qualities. There was in this people a notably strong tendency to form the physical organism in a way that made the ego-consciousness appear with a special vigor. And the ego-consciousness that thus manifested itself was united with the selflessness of Christianity. As a result the soul was shaped in a special manner. These then were souls who, so to speak, absorbed Christianity a few centuries after it had come into existence. Although the souls who have incarnated in the majority of the European population of today have learned about Christianity in an external way through education, as well as through what can be inherited as feelings, they had not in their former lives in America, as Indians, absorbed anything of Christianity. We can easily understand the relation of the present day European population to Christianity once we have discovered that these souls for the most part have experienced nothing of Christianity in their former incarnations; that Christianity with them is merely a matter of education, of a tradition handed down through generations, — a tradition perpetuated by education.

But there is yet another aspect: those souls who came to know Christianity in Europe, that is, in its early development, incarnated, as the present times approached, more toward the east, more toward Asia. So that in fact those souls who were once somewhat permeated with Christianity now swing in the other direction, and absorb what has remained in the Orient of the old oriental traditions and which has fallen there into decadence. The Japanese, if studied in a spiritual-scientific way, are often typical reincarnations of souls who once lived in Europe at the time of the migrations.

What is more, we can develop an understanding for prominent personalities if we know such facts. Try to understand the strange personality of Rabindranath Tagore from this point of view.‘ What was educated into him of Orientalism, especially of Indian tradition, comes to him through heredity. Thus what is given to him through heredity, through education, comes to him from outside. This is for the most part decadent, and for this reason has such an “artful” character. For in a certain way, what one hears from Rabindranath Tagore is formulated in an extremely “artful” fashion. But at the same time the European feels something in Tagore that glows warmly through all that is presented in such an artful manner. And that comes from the fact that this soul lived in a former incarnation among a people who had accepted Christianity.

You can see that it is no less abstract to observe the external world from a merely materialistic viewpoint than it is to develop some other unreal life conception. What do we know of present day humanity if we know only about its blood relationship, about its blood descent, if we are not able to take into consideration what the souls have brought with them from a former incarnation? This element, you can see, merges with the external elements of heredity and education into a single totality.

Those souls who dwelt in Middle Europe at the time of the folk migrations were predestined through the entire configuration of their souls, and, above all, through their inward permeation with Christianity, to remain longer than usual in the spirit world between death and a net birth, in order to experience this realm more intensely.

When the spiritual researcher investigates the present, he is led back to the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, or shortly before or shortly after the event. In Asia, the population had absorbed nothing of this Mystery of Golgotha. Oriental wisdom, nevertheless, that wisdom which blossomed in the oriental character as a result of devotion, laid the foundation for whatever understanding was brought to Christianity in its earliest times. The Mystery of Golgotha stands there for us as a unique fact. When viewed from the various epochs, it can be understood in the most varied ways. The people of the first centuries of Greek and Roman development approached this Mystery by applying to it the wisdom coming to them from the Orient. From oriental wisdom they received the concepts through which they understood the incarnation of Christ in the man, Jesus of Nazareth.

The people, however, who lived in Asia before, at the time of, and even after the Mystery of Golgotha, were still endowed with a far more active creative force than can be found in the present-day Orient, although it had already at that time become somewhat tenuous. These people, who then dwelt in Asia, at least a large part of them, are incarnated today in the greater part of the American population. As a result of their specially developed oriental culture, just this part of humanity had to spend a long time in the life between death and a new birth; they are thus in reality old souls. They are being born in America in bodies in which, if I may say so, they do not feel very comfortable, and which they, therefore, prefer to consider more from the outside than from the inside. That is why we find in America today a special predilection for an external view of life. Thus the curious paradox reveals itself: those souls who lived in the Orient, who had not yet accepted Christianity, but who had a fine spiritual culture, live now in American bodies. A part of these, I should say, shows in an isolated phenomenon how these things really work. The Oriental had an inclination toward the spiritual in the world. As these souls appear again today in America, they develop a special predilection for the spiritual world, but this has now become abstract, has no more the inward, living quality. In times gone by, in previous incarnations, all experiences dealing with the spirit world were connected with a neglect of the physical world, with a disregard for things physical. Among the adherents of Christian Science this appears in a decadent form; the existence of matter is denied, they do not wish to look at matter. One feels that these people, in a certain way, continue to pay homage to the old, but once living spirituality, which has now become more deadened, more corpse-like, has now taken on a spiritually corpse-like form. But this applies only to a distinguishable few among the population. In general, one can see in the American point of view how the souls do not sit quite solidly within their bodies, how they consequently try to apprehend the body from without, how even the science of psychology in America takes on a character in which there is no true concept of the ego. Because the soul was once accustomed to feel itself in the super-earthly, this embodiment of the ego, as it now takes place in the west, is not carried out as it should be. From this it comes about that one thought is not properly linked to another. This then is called the “psychology of association.” In it the human being becomes a sort of plaything, tossed about by the thoughts as they associate with one another. And here, curiously enough, something crops up that could be expressed by a phrase often used disparagingly by certain people in referring to our doctrine of repeated earth lives; they speak of the “transmigration of the soul.” But we must not use the phrase: “transmigration of the soul” when referring to repeated earth lives, unless we do, indeed, intend to speak disparagingly. For in speaking of repeated earth lives, we are dealing with an evolution, with a development of the soul, not with what we are accused of teaching, But in another sense we can speak of soul-transmigrations, for in fact the souls who inhabit one part of the earth during a certain period, do not remain on the same spot on earth in the next epoch, but are at a different place. Hence we find the souls who were incarnated in the south during the first Christian centuries now incarnated in western, middle, and eastern Europe, more toward the north; but this population is now interspersed with other souls who were incarnated in American Indian bodies. Over in Asia we find the souls who lived in Europe at the time of the folk migrations, or even before and afterward; and in America are to be found those souls who lived in Asia at the very time the Mystery of Golgotha took place.

We are now undoubtedly facing an era in which people will develop a longing to penetrate full reality. Today there still exists a strong opposition to this penetration of full reality, not only in the theoretical realm, but also in the realm of outer life. Only consider how I have had to characterize again and again from the most various angles this illness of intellectualism, which has appeared in the last years. Often even in public lectures I have had to point in sharp terms to this deception of a large part of humanity by intellectualism. In this we also find something hinted at, but in an already quite abstract form, which has of course appeared gradually in social thinking as the outcome of materialism. Slowly in the course of the nineteenth century the principle of nationality arose, this emphasizing of the nationality, this wish to live only in the nationality. This represents the antithesis of the soul-spirit nature; for this soul-spirit nature does not trouble itself with nationality. Many of the souls who today live in Europe were formerly incarnated in America. The souls who today live chiefly in Japanese bodies should not point to their ancestors, as far as their souls are concerned, but to the time of the folk migrations in Europe. Yes, indeed, the Americans should not pride themselves on their forebears, their European blood ancestry. Rather they should point to the fact that they once lived in Asia at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, and there went through a culture which was not yet permeated by Christianity; thus they are also those who accept Christianity through external tradition and external education. There is still a strong opposition from this quarter to a soul-spiritual conception of the world.

It is not only in science that we find materialism, but throughout all external civilization. And what politicians want to make of Europe today, this new map of Europe, is entirely created out of materialistic feeling, out of materialistic impulses. Humanity will only awaken, when it adds to these nationalistic impulses — which are materialistic, based solely on an observation of the external continuity of the generations — the social-historical consideration of life in its true reality. We shall then see the souls, as well, who live in present day bodies. These souls have only as an outer sheath what is transmitted through successive generations by means of physical heredity or what is handed down to them through tradition as spiritual culture and merely accepted as such through education.

In the depths of human souls, the longing is already prevalent to go beyond what a purely materialistic conception can provide. Of course, the results of true spiritual research, when compared with the customary thinking of today, often seem paradoxical. But anyone who wishes to look deeply into life, especially into present-day life, (which is indeed full of hardships) will see, for instance, that many a thing becomes understandable when he is willing to listen to what the spiritual researcher says out of his exact, conscientious research. People are accustomed to attach some value to what is communicated to them by astronomical observatories or the like. If somewhere an astronomical discovery has been made, people do not say they accept it upon authority. They are not conscious that they do indeed accept it upon authority — although in connection with sound human reasoning which considers that what is given out to the rest of the world by an observatory is not senseless; that things are organized in a sensible way, so that there is no reason for people to doubt the truth of what is communicated to them. The fabric of life is such that we need not say that we accept something merely on authority. But we should also think the same way when occasional spiritual researchers appear, as do occasional astronomers, and announce the results of their spiritual research; for we shall find these results verified everywhere in life if we are willing to apply sound common sense.

Anthroposophical spiritual science would certainly remain theoretical and abstract in reference to life, if it did not permeate each separate branch of human life. You must not imagine that history, for example, ought to be influenced by spiritual science in such a way that we now develop only — although somewhat more profoundly — the history of epochs, of generations or the like; that is not the intention. But spiritual research should be combined with the outer facts of the pragmatic or other view of history, and from this should spring a vision of the complete reality.

However great the longing may be in the unconscious depths of human life for such a vision of life, one corresponding with reality, there exists nonetheless just as strongly, and indeed in the more conscious part of human life, the opposition to our views. And in order to give the appearance of justification, these opponents of ours seek out all ways and means. They do not shrink from any sort of defamation. I showed you yesterday in an example how untruthfully these opponents proceed, how they simply lie, stating the objective untruth. [*Bern, December 13, 1920, public lecture: The Results of Spiritual Science and Their Relationships to Art and Religion. (In this lecture reference is made to the falsity of certain statements made by theologians in Basel concerning the plastic group at the Goetheanum.)] Quite apart from the fact that these are attacks on anthroposophical spiritual science — which does not concern us much — what human qualities are thus revealed to us!

All the more, my dear friends, must we draw strength from sources which, in spite of all this, give us a picture of the world needed by humanity at present, and which will need it even more in the near future, especially that part of it which is still in its prime today. It will no longer be able to live with the old picture of the world! We should draw strength from such a vision of the world as it broadens the historical outlook, and speaks of the origin of souls, not merely of the origin of bodies. And in addition, we should acquire the strength to stand up for Anthroposophy, wherever we can. Anthroposophy, my dear friends, will need people who stand up for it. What appears today as opposition to our work will not diminish and will not assume pleasanter forms in the future. On the contrary, this opposition will embrace worse and worse forms. Whoever is conscious of what Anthroposophy signifies will be able through this very awareness really to find the basis from which he, in his position in life, can work in an adequate way. For what is done through Anthroposophy is really not for any personal ends; it is done for the good of humanity. And we must not let ourselves be disheartened by the fact that our opponents are going to become stronger and stronger and ever more vicious — by the fact that already today many unsavory methods are employed. The meanness of our opponents will continue to increase. If, for this reason, we lose courage, we do not really understand what Anthroposophy means for the future development of mankind.

With these last words it was my wish to draw your attention to something which ought to be considered within our Movement. I have purposely connected these last words with the important study we have undertaken today concerning the progress of the souls through repeated earth lives, and the way our human organization is being built up from two directions, from the great universe and from the earth. What external science knows about these things is indeed very little. This external science has limited itself to the consideration of what is, after all, only the final picture of the really active forces — ectoderm, endoderm, and so forth — without knowing what macrocosmic significance the ectoderm has, what telluric significance the endoderm has, how these, again, are connected with mental image and will. Having no regard for these far-reaching interrelationships, a materialistic method of perception really considers only externalities, only facts which are external to the last degree. And the same applies in the historical field, where the eye is fixed on what, I might say, streams through the blood of the generations, and is to be observed through tradition in the course of the linear continuity of historical development in any territory you might name. Whereas the fact is that the full reality can be understood, if we ask ourselves not only what blood flows in a person's veins, but whence comes the soul which only uses this blood. We must strive after a total consideration of humanity, after a true vision of reality; for this is what is demanded by the world and will be demanded more and more. Anthroposophy is ready to give this.

This is what I wished to say to you today. Let us hope that we shall soon see each other again so that we can continue such studies, which can lead up to an understanding of the present and of the future, to an understanding of human nature and of the universe in so far as man is born out of it.

Last Modified: 07-Sep-2017
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