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Factors of Karma, Deficiencies in Psychoanalysis

Schmidt Number: S-3296

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A Lecture by
Dr. Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, November 13th, 1916
Bn/GA 172

This is the 5th of 10 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at Dornach, in November of 1916. The title of this series of lectures is: The Karma of Human Vocation as related to Goethe's Life. They were published in German as: Das Karma des Befurs des Menschen in Anknuepfung an Goethes Leben. Kosmische und menschliche Geschichte.

This lecture appears in the book: The Karma of Human Vocation. It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. From Bn/GA number 172. The London Reference number is, S-3296.

Copyright © 1927
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Anthroposophical Movement

Weekly News for English-speaking Members of
the Anthroposophical Society

VOL. IV. No. 49

4th December, 1927

Published at the Offices of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 46, Gloucester Place, London, W.1, England. Subscriptions: Great Britain and Dominions, 15s. yearly, 3s. 9d. quarterly. Single Copies, 3d. America, $4.00 yearly, $1.00 quarterly. All right reserved.

Lecture by Rudolf Steiner

Dornach, 13th November, 1916.
Shorthand Report unrevised by the Lecturer. For the preceding lectures of this Course on the
‘Karma of Vocations,’ see Anthroposophical Movement, Vol. IV, Nos. 37, 38, 41, 44 and 46.


 ROM our Studies of such an impulse in human life as is contained in man's calling or vocation and in all that is connected with it, you will have seen how difficult it is to make these matters clear. For in effect, so many things are here involved. We must bear in mind that all that is introduced into our life through the law of Destiny or Karma depends on countless factors. To this, indeed, the manifold nature of human life is due. In describing certain human aspects of our life's destiny by the word ‘calling’ or ‘vocation’ one remark must perhaps be made, namely this: We ought not to confuse what we may describe as man's calling or vocation with what is commonly spoken of as his office or position in the widest sense of the term. For it goes without saying, much confusion would arise, if, having in mind what one man or another represents in his official position, we applied to this the points of view which have here been brought to bear on the vocational life. Frequently, though by no means always, man has to pursue his vocation in some official position, and many an extraneous factor comes into play at this point in human life, mingling other Karmic threads with that one which we may call the ‘Karma of vocation.’ We are living in a time which is slowly undergoing a certain transformation. Nevertheless, in our time, the aspects we are here outlining for the ‘Karma of vocation’ are by no means exclusively predominant in placing a man into this or that position in life. As you are well aware, the Karma of vocation is still cut across in many ways by the Karma of classes, social castes, etc. Within such groupings, ambitions, vanities, the prejudices of himself and other people, and many other factors too, help to determine how a man is placed in his official post. All these things, entering into the Karma of vocation as extraneous factors, make it possible for Ahrimanic influences constantly to interfere with the true course of human activity. A man who has been placed at a certain post in life — who has become a Cabinet Minister for instance, or a Privy Councillor or the like (through circumstances which are well enough known, and need not be gone into here) — such a man need not by any means have the corresponding vocation. He can occupy a high position and yet his vocation may only be that of a ‘pen-pusher’ — perhaps not even that. Nor must you imagine that the position then remains unoccupied. That is just the peculiarity of our time. In its materialistic interpretation of the just foundations of Darwinism, it has evolved such a theory of life as the ‘Selection of the Fittest,’ which is now being criticised so vehemently by Haeckel's pupil, Oskar Hertwig. (Our standpoint need not be that of the pessimist who adversely judges his own time and constantly refers back to the ‘good old days.’ We simply take our stand on the real facts.) While on the one hand the people of this age pride themselves on the ‘Selection of the Fittest,’ this age in its reality is dominated by the very opposite tendency — that of selecting the worst, the un-fittest, for the very posts in life which one would think the most important. Bitter as it may be for our time to hear it, this truth would be admitted, were it not for the fact that our time is impressed with a far-reaching belief in authority, combined with the greatest possible opportunism and slackness. I say again, it is a bitter truth, which would be recognised were it not for the prevalence of what is called ‘public opinion.’ (Public opinions, according to a 19th century philosopher, are private stupidities.) We should recognise the fact to which I here refer, were we not so much impressed by the public opinions with which we are fed to-day from such unclean sources. On this we must be clear, our age needs above all to be educated to a more intense grasp of life. The prevalent one-sidedness — the selection of the un-fittest — must be recognised for what it is, albeit these ‘un-fittest’ are overwhelmed with adulation by the aforesaid ‘public opinion.’

The offices are occupied, in fact, only too frequently by Ahriman-Mephistopheles. And you may well see from the further course of Goethe's Faust how Mephistopheles fulfils his office. Not until the end of his life does it become possible for Faust to free himself from Mephistopheles. Faust comes to the imperial court. He even makes an invention — most important for the last few centuries. He invents paper-money. Mephistopheles is the real inventor. Afterwards, Faust is conducted into the world of classical antiquity by Homunculus. Homunculus himself, once more, is brought into being with Mephistopheles' assistance. Faust even becomes a military commander and conducts wars. But from Goethe's manner of description in this act especially, we see that it is really Mephistopheles who conducts them. Only at the very end do we see Faust gradually free himself from Mephistopheles.

Though Faust is roaming through the world without any definite position — having vacated his professorship — nevertheless, we must admit, the whole way in which Mephistopheles stands at his side is not unlike the way the Mephistophelean forces frequently play into the life of mankind to-day.

That is the one thing which must be borne in mind, but there is another thing as well. It is by no means easy rightly to discover in human nature what it is that really works in Karmic evolution. Here, too, the development of natural science has reached a point, which must be attained once more by spiritual-scientific study.

Notably when it tries to enter into the life of the soul, the natural-scientific way of thought makes the most ghastly errors. Witness the rise to-day of a mistaken school of science, which ventures to approach the human life of soul, studying it in the spirit of mere natural science. This school of thought admits that the life of the soul does not merely take its course as it appears to man's present consciousness. It admits that much is there beneath the threshold of consciousness — or as they say, in the unconscious or subconscious — beating-up into the conscious life.

In former lectures we have mentioned specific things which are truly there in the subconscious, and surge up into consciousness like the clouds of smoke which arise in the Solfatara country when one sets a light to a piece of paper. Much indeed is present down below in depths of consciousness.

So we may say: There are those today, who, wishing to pursue a science of the soul, already divine the fact that dark unconscious faculties of soul — and failings of soul — must be included for any true explanation. But as these schools will not yet admit a comprehensive spiritual-scientific world-conception, they can only bring to light mistaken notions. Those who take this standpoint of a purely natural-scientific psychology, observe a human life, — how it has evolved. They have indeed departed from the belief that what a soul feels and wills, wherewith it is happy or unhappy, filled with joy or grief, depends only on what the soul itself has preserved in the immediate consciousness. So now they try to catechise the soul. Somehow they try to get out of human souls the joys and pains, the disappointments of life which they have some time undergone and in their every-day power of thought have forgotten. What is forgotten, so these theorists declare, has not therefore vanished. It is still burrowing on in the subconsciousness.

Cravings, above all, are burrowing in the subconsciousness — cravings which at some earlier time of life remained unsatisfied or were repressed. Take a concrete instance — it is a woman in her 30th year. At the age of 16 she fell in love. She evolved a strongly erotic craving (so says this school of science), but this craving, if she had given herself up to it — if it had been fulfilled — would have led into some bye-way of life. Influenced by education, by the exhortation of her parents, she repressed it. To put it tritely, she ‘swallowed it down’ in her soul's life. Then she lived on. Fourteen years have passed. Perhaps she has married meantime according to her station. For her daily thoughts and feelings it is long forgotten. But the forgotten has by no means disappeared. The soul is not exhaustively contained in what it knows. In the underlying levels of consciousness the thing is still there, and presently it finds expression. For though the lady in her outer life is happy, she suffers from an indefinable, pessimistic leaning, a partial weariness of life or something similar. She is, as they say, ‘nervous,’ neurasthenic, or the like.

Now they seek to introduce this kind of psychology into medical science. They try to cure such souls by catechising them. Such experiences, they say, abiding in the hidden depths of the soul's life and for the surface consciousness apparently forgotten, must be drawn forth. If this be done — if under the influence of a good catechiser (who must of course, after the prevailing notions of to-day, be a physician) the patient gets to grips with the thing — then it will all grow better.

Cures are indeed effected in this manner. Often indeed they are more or less real cures, though in the majority of cases they will prove to be only semblances of cures. (We can explain how this is on some other occasion.)

That is one kind of thing they seek for, down in the depths of the soul's life. Here is another: It is a man of 35 or 40, suffering from a certain weariness of life, a morbid indecision. He does not know why, and the people around him do not know why. He knows it least of all. One who busies himself with the aforesaid ‘science of the soul,’ will try in this case too, to rummage in the forgotten though not vanished depths of the inner life, and will elicit the fact that in his 15th, 16th or 17th year, may be, the man had this or that plan in life, which plan fell through. He was obliged to turn to another plan of life — not according to the one he cherished. In all that he daily feels and thinks and wills, he has apparently been reconciled to the change. But what a man consciously feels and thinks and wills is not the entire life of the soul. In hidden depths the disappointed plan lives on as a real force.

Once more, these people believe that they can effect a cure by catechising and bringing the disappointment to the surface, giving the man an opportunity to discuss the whole matter with his catechiser.

But there are many other things besides, which they believe are resting there in the soul's depths without man's consciousness being aware of it. In short, they have perceived the fact that consciousness is a small circle and the soul's life a far larger circle of which the consciousness comprises only a little part. Not only so, they also look in the very depths of the soul's life for something else which is not of the soul — which, it appears, a theologian recently described — with questionable taste — as ‘the animal slime at the bottom of the soul.’ Thus they find disappointments, suppressed craving's, broken plans of life and finally the ‘animal slime at the very bottom of the soul,’ which means: all that is rooted in life, coming, so to speak, from flesh and blood, from the hidden animal nature, and rising from the soul's foundation in an unconscious way (for the consciousness would naturally rebel against it and does indeed rebel).

There is of course some truth in this theory of the ‘animal slime.’ We often see it happening in life: — Consciousness says to itself, ‘I want nothing more; I want to discover this or that. Therefore I turn to this or that person.’ But the ‘animal slime’ is really at work, for it may well be animal cravings which are only camouflaged and masked by what the consciousness declares.

Moreover this school of science (‘science,’ I say, with a grain of salt) has conjectured that in these same unconscious regions we shall also find what comes from the individual's connection with race and nation, with all manner of historic residues which play their part in the human soul unconsciously, while consciousness behaves quite differently. In view of what is now surging through the world, we cannot even deny that these things are apparently confirmed by multitudinous examples. For who will fail to see how many a man declares by word of mouth lofty ideals of ‘right and freedom for the nations,’ while in his soul's reality that alone is active, which, stirring the slime in the soul's depths, arises out of such connections as the Psycho-analyst would analyse — or pretend to analyse — in the above directions.

Moreover, the theologians among the Psycho-analysts especially, include in the subconscious regions of the soul's life the ‘demonic’ element which, they allege, arises from still more hidden depths — from the mysterious depth of the ‘irrational.’ I am unaware how the natural scientists and the theologians among Psycho-analysts come to terms with one another. But the latter class too undoubtedly exists, and they especially are fond of saying that unknown demons are at work in the subconscious in the human soul, so as to make men Gnostics for example, or Theosophists. ‘Psycho-analyse the soul and penetrate to the foundations where the primeval slime resides and you will find it. Gnosis is a demonic teaching, likewise Psycho-analysis’ ... no, I beg your pardon, not Psycho-analysis. Psychoanalysis, according to these men and women (for ladies, too, are taking part in these things) Psycho-analysis is not included in the black list, but Theosophy and other things.

I do not wish to enter now into any detailed criticism of Psycho-analysis. I only wish to have pointed out that in the Psycho-analytic school we have the evidence, how modern research is driven to observe what works and weaves beneath the conscious portions of the soul. But the prevailing scientific prejudices can only result in the most wrong conclusions on these matters. Meanwhile these people are quite unwilling to consider the investigations of Spiritual Science. Consequently they will not discover how impossible it is truly to analyse what they find in the soul's life, so long as they are unaware that man's existence takes its course in repeated lives on Earth. For in their Psycho-analysis they try to explain, what is there at the bottom of the soul, out of one Earth-life only. No wonder they are then obliged to place it frequently in a distorted light.

For example, suppose we find disappointed plans of life, deep down within the soul. We ought first to consider what kind of meaning this wrecking of a plan in life may have for the human being's existence as a whole, which goes on through repeated lives on Earth. Then perhaps we shall discover that there are also working in the man's subconsciousness certain aspects of his life, which, by a true working of destiny, have prevented the fulfilment of his plan. And then we shall observe that the disappointed plan, which is still there in the soul's depths, is not merely destined to make the man ill in this incarnation, but to be carried through the gate of death when this life is at an end, and to become a potent force in the life between death and new birth. For only in the next life will it play its proper part. It may indeed be necessary for such a broken plan of life to be preserved and nurtured to begin with, in the depths of the soul, so that it may be strengthened and enhanced. Then between death and a new birth it will be able to rise to its true stature, till in the next life on Earth it assumes its predestined form, which, on account of other qualities within the soul, it was not able to assume in this life.

Then as to the so-called ‘animal slime at the bottom of the soul's life’ (though, as I said, the expression is by no means in good taste), undoubtedly such a thing is there. But I beg you to remember what I have explained, of the relation between the head of man and the remainder of his organism. The latter is in many respects connected with man's earthly life, his present incarnation, while the head is the result of former planes of evolution of the Earth itself, and is, moreover, related to the man's former incarnations. If you consider this, then you will understand how many things are working upward from the remainder of the organism (by virtue of the part it plays in the whole karmic connection) — things which are at a different stage of maturity than that which comes from the human head and from the nervous system. But the Psycho-analyst, who to begin with only ‘analyses’ the ‘slime,’ will go completely wrong. Analysing this ‘animal slime,’ as they call it, he is like a man who wants to know what kind of corn will grow on a given soil. He analyses the soil. He digs and finds a certain manure, with which the field was manured. He says, Now I know the manure, and out of this the corn will presently spring forth. But the corn does not grow from the manure, albeit the manure is necessary. The point is, what is imbedded in the basic slime; for that which is imbedded in it is generally destined to work on through the gate of death, into the next evolution on the Earth. It is not a question of investigating the animal slime itself. The point is, what is imbedded in it as a real ‘seed of the soul.’

Psycho-Analysis, so called, gives ample opportunity to observe how perilous are the prejudices of the present time. True, it is entering a realm to which the thought of our time is tending. For the soul can no longer rest satisfied with what the surface experience of consciousness provides. So do the men of our time find themselves driven to the very quarters where they should indeed investigate; but as they cannot understand spiritual science they have no guiding lines for such investigation. Therefore they rummage about in the most clumsy way in these realms which are assigned to them by their profession, or by their own agitations. They put everything in the wrong place, not knowing how to put in it the right. For this they could only do, if they were able to follow up the real Karmic threads as I have tried to indicate them now, in the one case and in the other. Above all when Psychoanalysis begins to burrow in the elemental realms, it proves itself appallingly unsound.

Nevertheless, the desire to pursue the continuous thread of destiny into its finer and more intimate ramifications is important. That which goes on in the conscious life of a man's soul, from the time he awakens until he falls asleep again, reveals very little of the Karmic stream which works on and on through his incarnations. What we experience consciously in waking life largely belongs to the present incarnation, and it is good so. For in the present incarnation man should be healthy and efficient. On the other hand, much of what is carried through the gate of death — as a seed which grows out of our experiences and trials and faculties acquired during the present life — plays a great part in our life from our falling asleep to our awakening, and very largely finds its way into our dreams. We must only be able to estimate the dream-formations truly. We say, Dreams are reminiscences, — and so they often are. But in the stream of our Karma they do not work in a simple and straightforward way. In their inherent forces they often signify the opposite of what appears upon the surface. Let me give you an example from literature to explain what I now mean.

Vischer, the aestheticist, tells a pretty little story in his book, Auch Einer. I quote it here because I am now speaking in a wider sense of the vocational life and all that is connected with it. Vischer relates a conversation between a father and his son. They are going for a walk together, and after the father has asked him many things the boy tells the following story: ‘Teacher told us one should always find out what kind of a job a man has. A man should have a proper occupation. By that you can recognise whether he is a sound and good man altogether.’ ‘Oh,’ said the father. ‘Yes, and after teacher had told us that in school, I dreamt I was walking past yonder lake, and in the dream I asked the lake what kind of a job it had. And the lake said: My job is to be wet.’ ‘Hm,’ said the father.

A witty story, revealing some knowledge of life in him who thought it out. The father said ‘Hm’ because he did not wish to spoil the boy. He did not wish to tell him what nonsense his teacher had been talking. No doubt he kept his thoughts to himself. He should have enlightened his son more wisely than the teacher. He should have said, One must not pass judgments in such a superficial way, for it may well be that one's judgment of what constitutes a ‘decent and proper occupation’ is mistaken, and one will thus be led to misjudge one's fellow-men. Or again, the man's career might somehow have been marred. In short, the father should have instructed the son. But in this case he did not need to do so. For in the young human being the dream can still work helpfully. The dream, which in this instance came to the boy's consciousness, is there as a real inner force, in place of such instruction. In the sub-consciousness the dream is working. And it works in such a way as to expunge from the soul the nonsense which the teacher created by his foolish teaching. This explains the forming of the dream in the boy's sub-consciousness, which is wiser than the surface consciousness. It spreads an atmosphere of laughable absurdity over the teacher's foolish exhortations. The lake says, ‘It is my job to be wet.’ That will work wholesomely. It will drive away the noxious effects to which such teaching might otherwise give rise.

In this case the dream is indeed a reminiscence; it follows in the very next night. But at the same time it is a corrector of life. Indeed the life of the astral body frequently works in this way. Beside the relics of what is there in the soul from the experiences of life, we should frequently find this factor. Especially where a mistaken education is at work, we can frequently detect in the sub-conscious forces of the soul this ‘corrector,’ who often works even in the same incarnation, especially in young human beings. But above all, this corrector is carried through the gate of death and there works on. There is really a kind of self-corrector in the human being. This must be borne in mind.

With all these things I only want to point out how much there is in the soul of man, pressing on from one incarnation to another. There is a whole complex of forces, working across from one incarnation to another. We must now consider what is the relation between this complex of forces and the human being of the present, inasmuch as his life continues between birth and death.

In this respect man is really a four-stringed instrument, on which the above-named ‘complex of Karmic forces’ plays. Physical body, etheric body, astral body and Ego are the four strings, and Karma plays on them. According as the one or the other string is played on more or less intensely by the bow of Karma (if we may retain this analogy of the violin which also has four strings), so does the individual life arise. It may be more the etheric body or the astral body, or the etheric and the astral together, or the physical and the astral together, or the physical body and the Ego. In the most manifold ways, the four strings of human life can play together. Therefore it is so difficult if we desire to speak not in general and vague abstractions but in reality. It is so hard to decipher the several melodies of a man's life, for we can only decipher them if we are able to behold how the fiddle-bow of Karma plays on the four strings of Man.

Consider the human being in those years of life when the physical body and especially the etheric body are developing (as indicated in my little book ‘Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy,’) — from the seventh to the fourteenth year — all these things are approximate. During this time we shall find certain peculiarities emerging, which distinguish this period of life especially. Certain things, we shall observe, are in a way consolidated during this time. True, many of these things already emerge in the first seven years of life — for all these things merge into one another. But it is only between the seventh and about the fourteenth year that we can observe it deeply and accurately. Certain inner characteristics become consolidated in the growing human being, expressing themselves through the corporeality, through the whole conduct and appearance as it expresses itself in the tenure of the body, in the gestures, in the behaviour as a whole. What is thus consolidated (not all, but a great part of it) causing the human being to be short and thickset, or to have shorter or longer fingers, or to tread in a certain way — with a firm step in one case, tripping it lightly in another (to describe the radical contrasts) — in short, all that is connected with the bodily aspect of deportment, is here intended. As I said, not all, but a great part of what thus appears in the growing human being comes from his Karma. It is the effect of his vocation in the former life on Earth. People who do not observe what I have now said, often make a great mistake, especially when they try to be clever, observing the child's behaviour, and wishing somehow to determine his occupation in this life from the way he deports himself. In this way it is easy to make the mistake of wishing to place him into a similar vocation to what he had in his preceding life on Earth. And that would not be wholesome for him. What we observe in this period of life are the effects of the former incarnation; and when this period is at an end, or even before (as I said, these things merge into one another), the astral body emerges in a very peculiar way, and reacts on what has been developing hitherto. Once we are aware of these facts as derived from spiritual science, we can observe them even outwardly on the physical plane. The astral body reacts. According to quite other Karmic forces, it transmutes that which resulted from the pure ‘Karma of vocation’ between the seventh and fourteenth year. Thus there are two forces in the human being in conflict with one another. The one set of forces mould and form him; these arise more from the etheric body. The others, counteracting and partly paralysing the former, come more from the astral body. Through these latter forces, man is impelled to transform what was stamped upon him by his vocational Karma of the former incarnation. We may say therefore: The working of the etheric body is formative. (All that appears as gesture, posture and deportment in the physical body comes from the etheric.) The working of the astral body is transformative. And in the interplay of the two forces, which are very decidedly in conflict with one another, much of the working of the Karma of vocation finds expression.

This, however, is woven together with other Karmic streams. For we must also bear in mind the physical body. As to the physical body, it is especially important to observe in the first epoch of life how the human being places himself through his Karma into the world. The kind of physical body we have depends on this. For by our Karma we place ourselves into a certain family, belonging to a certain nation and so forth. Thus we get quite a definite kind of body. But not only so. Think how much the course of our life depends on the situation into which we place ourselves, in that we enter a certain family. This already gives the starting-point of infinitely much in our life.

In effect, notably in the first seven years of life, when the physical body is developing, forces are working in (or rather, about) the physical body — forces which come not from the vocational aspect of our former incarnation, but from the way in which we lived with other human beings. In our former incarnation we stood in this or that relation to this or that human being. (I mean now, not in a particular part of our life — for that belongs to a different chapter — but throughout our life.) All this we assimilate. We carry it through the gate of death, and through these forces we bring ourselves once more into a certain family, a certain situation or set of circumstances. Thus we may say: That which places our physical body into life and works on through our physical body — that is what shapes the situations of our life. (It goes on working, of course, through our succeeding lives.) And now it receives a counter-force through the Ego. The Ego works so to annul the given situations of our life. It battles against all that determines our circumstances. Thus we may say: The physical body works so to create life's situation; and the Ego works to re-create it. In the working together of these two-battling one with another — another stream of Karma enters our life. For? there is always present in man on the one hand what strives to maintain him in a certain situation, and on the other, what strives to lift him out of it. Thus I would say, primitively speaking, 1 and 4, and 2 and 3, work upon one another. (See the diagram at the end.) And in manifold other ways the four strings play together. The way we come into connection with fresh human beings in a given life according to our Karma, depends on 1 and 4 and their connections. And this leads back in turn to our relationships of life in former lives. The way we find our connections in calling, work and occupation depends on 2 and 3 and on their mutual interplay.

To begin with I beg you to consider these things well. We shall then continue in the next lecture.


Physical body:


Creating our life's situation.



Etheric body:




Astral body:


Transforming or re-forming.



Re-creating our life's situation.

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