5th September, 1915
GA 163: 7 of 8
I have often mentioned the fact that we can derive the right impulses
from spiritual science only if we make the effort to progress ever further
in a positive, concrete understanding of the spiritual beings about
whom spiritual science wishes to instruct us. I have emphasized
here before that we must of course realize first that human beings
consist of a physical body, an etheric body, an astral body, and so
on, and we need to know how these various members are related to one
another. But if we are intent upon deriving the right impulses from
spiritual science it is not enough to rest content with these abstractions.
We need to become thoroughly familiarized with the interrelationships
in the cosmos whereby these members of the human entelechy are incorporated
into the entire cosmic process.
Our physical bodies incorporate us into the
physical world and set us down on the physical plane. They make us resemble
our parents and other forbears in the ongoing stream of heredity. They
bring this about through the fact that they bear within themselves certain
preconditions of similarity to our ancestors. And much else is also
responsible for the incorporation of our physical bodies into the physical
world. We concerned ourselves yesterday to some extent with an awareness
of how human beings who gradually advance to what is known as clairvoyant
perception free themselves from their dependence upon their physical
bodies as tools for relating to the world.
The next step is then that the etheric rather
than the physical body serves as the direct means of interrelationship
with the world; imaginative perception takes the place of the mental
images and other knowledge acquired with the use of our physical bodies,
i.e., with the sense organs and the brain. I tried yesterday to describe
in a more pictorial way how changed the soul feels when it progresses
from using the physical body to making use of the etheric body.
It is true, of course, that we are always
making use of our etheric bodies, except when we are sleeping, but we
use them in the sense that they carry on their activity within our physical
bodies, so that both the physical and etheric bodies are made use of
during our life on the physical plane. But we come to know what the
particular characteristics of the etheric body are when it is lifted
out of its connection with the physical body and put to use as our sole
perceptive instrument. We know that this condition comes about naturally
immediately after death, when we have laid the physical body aside.
Then, for a short time, we make use of the etheric body, until that
too is laid aside.
We have therefore to distinguish the first
condition after death, in which we dissolve our bond with the physical
body, from the second condition that soon follows it, and brings about
the dissolution of our bond with the etheric body.
I have been saying that the physical body
binds us to everything that comes to us on the physical plane. What,
then, does the etheric body bind us to? It binds us to everything that
relates us to the cosmos, to the extraterrestrial, to everything that
lives in us that cannot be ascribed directly to any connection with
the physical realm. If, for example, a person is born with a physically
defective ear, he won't be able to become a musician. But physical defects
are due to physical heredity. This is a radical case that illustrates
our dependence upon the ongoing heredity process. But we must turn our
attention from the capacities to which our physical bodies predispose
us to those occasioned by the etheric. These show up more distinctly
in particular predispositions of the soul. Only a poor observer can
miss the fact of the great differences of soul manifested by individuals.
Dull-witted materialists are sometimes little interested in subtle differences
of soul; they want to investigate the external form element alone. But
alert observers of life are perfectly aware that nobody resembles any
other person as far as his individuality is concerned.
People who have entertained theosophical
concepts for awhile are satisfied to explain these individual differences
by saying that everyone has lived through repeated earth lives and demonstrates
in his individual characteristics what he has brought with him from
the past. This is right, of course, but it does not suffice for true
understanding. Just imagine, for example, a person being born with a
sensitive musical ear, but with no opportunity to get a musical education.
In such a case his musical ear would go undeveloped. One cannot, of
course, be musically educated if one lacks a musical ear, but external
opportunity, a person's milieu, must also permit it. There are people
who are always satisfied to fall back on the same one-sided explanation
of facts, saying that our higher ego, our higher self, takes care of
everything. The higher self is actually the world! This may be true,
but it is by no means enough to explain everything in the universe.
It is true that karma is the cause of our individual predispositions,
that our individual differences come from the way we develop in the
course of our incarnations. But it is not enough to know that we pass
through various earth lives and develop ourselves as individuals; we
need to know what enables us to make actual use in life of the capacities
developed by us as individuals.
Let us turn our attention to the life between
death and a new birth. You are familiar with the content of the published
lecture cycle entitled
Life between Death and Rebirth,
and can gather from it that the various factors preparing us for rebirth,
for a new incarnation in a physical body, must be brought together during
[ Note 01 ]
But it has to be
possible in the spiritual world for human beings to find there what they
need in order to develop their individual capacities. We can conceive of
having had an incarnation during which we laid the foundation for certain
developments in the following earth life, but finding no possibility
between death and rebirth of bringing to development the potentialities
implanted in us for the following incarnation. A plant seed may be full
of potential, but unless it is planted in favorable soil it is impossible
for its potential to develop. Similarly, we may be ever so full of promise
as individuals, but if we are unable to find in the spiritual world
factors that nourish us as suitable soil does a plant seed, then the
life-conditions needed for the unfolding of the capacities we have
developed for a future incarnation cannot be provided.
This can make us aware that the world contains
deep hidden secrets that can be discovered if we train the light of
spiritual science on the actual facts. A few catchy theories or sayings,
such as that we have various incarnations and so on, each as our individuality
dictates, from one to the next, are not enough; they do not reach down
to what we experience as the riddles of life. The need, as I have reiterated
these last few days, is always to find the right perspective. We will
encounter much in life that will strike us as profound riddles that
need some degree of solution if we are not to feel ourselves helpless
strugglers who, though we may see the riddles life presents, cannot
cope with them.
There is a riddle I want to bring up here
because it deals with the spiritual investigator's connection with the
question of what conditions contribute to the development of individuality.
I'll characterize it later on. I refer to the riddles we encounter in
life with respect to the varying ages at which people die. Let's say
one person lives to a great old age, while someone else dies very young.
People die, of course, at all the various ages. We can state this thoughtlessly;
there is particularly little inclination to be sensitive to a riddle
so frequently encountered. But the fact is that the most commonplace
matters pose the greatest riddles.
A contemplation of the relationship of the
etheric body to the world as a whole brings us closer to this riddle.
Everyone knows as a fact of experience that our physical bodies age;
we grow older and older physically. And everyone understands what is
involved in aging. But where our etheric bodies are concerned the opposite
is true: we grow younger, ever younger. When we are very old, our physical
bodies are old, but our etheric bodies have grown young. Some of you
have already heard of this in my lectures, but I want to discuss it
today in a different context. We have to develop our etheric bodies
during an incarnation in such a way that when we have come to its close,
our astral bodies will be so embedded in these etheric bodies that they
feel themselves prepared for their appropriate entrance into the next
life. It is really true that when an individual is old and gray and
wrinkled, his etheric body burgeons with fresh life, for his astral
body must accustom itself at this point to live in an etheric body already
teeming with germinal potential. The way the astral body is to permeate
and work in the physical body of a child in the following incarnation
must already find some degree of expression in its connection with the
etheric body grown young.
It is remarkable how the genius of language
can reveal some secret or other. As I've mentioned on other occasions,
you will find a beautiful passage in Goethe's Faust where the term
“growing young” is used in place of “being born,”
“growing young” rather than “growing old.” In
other words, we start to grow young when we are born.
This is based, of course, on the conception
of the soul pre-existing birth. But the forces it will need to enable
it to work through the body into which the child is born must have been
acquired while the etheric body is growing young in the aging physical
body of the previous earth life.
Materialists find special corroboration of
their materialistic theories in the fact that even geniuses —
or at least those who are regarded as such — sometimes become
senile in their old age, and Kant is cited as a particularly relished
case. But people who subscribe to this way of thinking do not grasp
the fact that the soul can manifest here on the physical plane only
through the agency of the physical organs. Kant's brain became unable
to serve as the tool of the soul forces he had evolved, and this is
why he appeared feebleminded in old age, even though the soul that was
preparing to organize the physical body of his next incarnation was
actually already living in him. But in the previous earth life this
soul was unable to make a suitable instrument of the physical body it
If you apply what I have just been saying,
you will see that it makes a tremendous, an enormous difference whether
an individual dies in extreme old age or as a youngster, perhaps even
in childhood. For the etheric body of someone who dies in youth has
not yet grown young. If we are speaking of physical human beings we
can say that they are growing old, but in speaking of the etheric body
we would have to say that it “grows young.” That would be
the proper expression for it. The etheric body grows young but it has
not yet grown entirely young in those who die at an early age. I once
tried to suggest this by saying that when a person dies in childhood
or in youth his etheric body has not actually been used up. This etheric
body would have lasted him a lifetime; he could have reached sixty years
or more with it if he hadn't died young. But the force inherent in such
an etheric body remains in existence, just as forces in the physical
world do; they are not lost. However, we need to make a closer study
of the special, unique attributes of this etheric body.
When a person can live to what is considered
a normal old age — say seventy or eighty — his etheric body
has grown very young. The whole fruit of his life experience lodges
in this young etheric body, is imprinted on and expressed in it, and
the astral body then takes possession of it. That happens in the following
way. Let us picture the physical body abandoned by the etheric body.
So long as the etheric body remains in the physical body, it cannot
develop the forces it has acquired in life because it is imprisoned
in the physical body. Picture how, in our previous earth life, we acquired
this or that capacity. This is to say, we acquired it with the physical
body of that incarnation. What we have added to it in the present incarnation
has not yet had time to develop organs for its use; we must first create
these in our current incarnation for the life to follow. But all this
is lodged in the etheric body, which is more elastic, more fluid than
the physical. No use can be made of it, however, as long as the etheric
body remains bound to the physical body. But when the physical body
has fallen away, the etheric body is freed. And now this etheric body
brings forth all the fruits of the life we have lived through up to
our death. That is also the reason why it presents the whole life-panorama
that spreads out before us for a few days, the tableau of finished earth
life, so that we may learn and acquire from this panorama everything
that can be extracted from our past experiences. And that takes place
during the few days during which we have the tableau before us.
Every morning, on awakening, when our astral
body enters our physical and etheric bodies, it has to adapt itself
to what has evolved out of the physical and etheric bodies of the past
incarnation, and there it encounters what we have made of ourselves.
The astral body never enters the etheric body in a way that allows it
to make use of what the etheric body has developed in the present incarnation.
But after death it does so. It is related to the etheric body in a way
that lets it feel and perceive and sense the fruits gathered from the
life just ended. And when, a few days later, the astral body separates
from the etheric, the entire product of that life is contained in the
astral body as the result of the astral body's having drawn it out of
the etheric body during the days it has spent there. The astral body
needs to spend only those few days in the liberated etheric body to
live through everything that an incarnation has brought forth. But it
takes a long time so to shape what it has thus experienced that a new
earth life can be fashioned from it.
It requires a great deal, as you see, to
fashion a new life. And if it were left to human wisdom to achieve this
fashioning all by itself, the result would certainly be most inadequate.
Try to picture yourselves having to shape your entire physical instrument
with the content of your consciousness. You would first have to have
a thorough understanding of it. But every glance into external science
makes it clear how little insight into our physical make-up we possess.
But between death and rebirth we possess it sufficiently to be able
to fashion our physical body, right down into its most delicate details,
in a way that qualifies it to make use of the capacities evolved in
the previous incarnation.
If someone were to ask you how a convolution
of the brain could be arranged to conform with the capacities acquired
in the previous incarnation and you had to decide whether it should
be turned or twisted thus or so, you wouldn't be able to say, if you
were examined on the subject, that twisting in some particular direction
would correspond to a person's having been an orator in his past incarnation,
and that that particular twist would produce the right working out in
this life of the acquired capacity. How could you conceivably answer
out of the consciousness you possess on the physical plane? But we have
to answer that question in the life between death and rebirth, for we
must endow the new etheric body with the requisite capacity delicately
to chisel out our organs. A single word suffices to describe what is
needed, but I wanted to evoke a sense of what this word encompasses:
wisdom is required, a wisdom human beings really need to have.
Even though Kant grew feebleminded in old
age, his soul — which is to say, his astral body as it lived in
his newly constituted etheric body — his soul was wise, for it
was already in possession of wisdom. But his ego was unable to raise
it to a conscious level with the brain. His soul contained the wisdom
that was to emerge between death and rebirth and make its contribution
to Kant's future incarnation. Kant lived into old age. The older a person
grows, physically speaking, the more pronounced is this moment of wisdom.
But in the case of those who die young the
situation is different, for the etheric body has not grown young, and
there is consequently less earth-acquired wisdom stored up in it. It
is earth-acquired wisdom that is involved here. Something else takes
its place. Those who die early have old etheric bodies that have not
had time to grow young, and these are all the more teeming with will.
Direct will-force in all its immediacy, the love element, creative love-force,
permeates them. That is the difference between the etheric bodies of
the old and young. The former bear more the character of wisdom, the
latter of will. The etheric body of a person who dies young streams
out love, warm love, a warm etheric love-element, while that of an older
person streams out an aura filled with light and wisdom.
We can answer the question that interests
us here by asking spiritual science what would happen if, for some reason,
everyone were to grow very old, living on to eighty or ninety, if not
a single person died young. What would the result be?
In that case, all the etheric bodies deserted
by their souls would be imbued with loving wisdom. People living on
the earth in the continuity of history would find it possible to learn
a great deal during their physical earth lives, for their physical bodies
would be wisely fashioned. They would be born somewhat undifferentiated,
each similar to all the rest, but they could learn a great deal on the
physical plane. They would be delicately and wisely built, and could
learn a great deal, since such learning would be connected with an extremely
mobile constitution. Due to their extraordinarily sensitive, mechanistically-wisely
constituted physical organisms, these people would be in a state of
labile balance that could easily shift. A person would learn a great
deal, but be terribly nervous, as the current “nervous”
age would express it. It would be a humanity tending to fidget and to
have a precarious balance, very gifted for learning on the physical
plane, but nevertheless very restless and fidgety. We had better say
fidgety rather than nervous; why not put it in a way that feels right?
In earlier times, even a couple of centuries ago, throughout Europe
a person who had strong nerves and could stand a lot was referred to
as “nervy” or “nervous.” But nowadays the tone
is not set by the same people, so the meaning of the word got turned
into the exact opposite.
Now the soul-differentiations we bring with
us into an incarnation from the spiritual world would not exist in human
development if everybody grew old, if no one were to die young. There
would be no talents, no being born with special gifts. People would
come into the world more or less like each other, more or less undifferentiated.
They would differ from one another and learn different things only as
a result of experiencing different conditions on the physical plane,
and would be rather similarly adaptable to whatever circumstances they
encountered. Special individual needs would be taken care of by karma
through the agency of heredity. Beyond this, what we know as predispositions
to special soul-qualities would be lacking. People would simply not
possess inner differences.
But everything in the world has to be founded
on balance, as I've often said, and in these matters too there can be
no one-sidedness. Human life must accordingly be built, on the one hand,
on the possibility of pouring into the physical body what an individual
has stored up as wisdom in the etheric body's growing younger for use
in a future incarnation. On the other hand, the will impulses of those
who die young are needed. I have shown at hand of many examples how
children who die very young have not expended their etheric bodies.
Right here at the Goetheanum we ourselves live in the aura of an etheric
body out of which those forces that provide artistic stimulus are derived.
I explained how a child belonging to the Goetheanum community left his
etheric body at his death, and that this etheric body has created an
aura that is incorporated into our building. Those able to perceive
the nature of the impulses that come from this etheric body find support
in them for the artistic impulses to be lived out here.
But this is in general the situation with
the etheric bodies of those who die young. They go back; they haven't
as yet grown so young as entirely to have worn down the will element;
instead, will and creative love-forces accompany them into the spiritual
world. And now a continuous interchange has to take place between those
etheric bodies that have grown wholly young and those less young. Continuous
mutual support is exchanged in the spiritual world between what ascends
from the earth in the etheric bodies of the very aged and the etheric
bodies of young people, or, indeed, of those in the in-between years.
When very young children die, those referred to in Faust as “the
midnight-born,” their etheric bodies are very old, quite hoary
in fact, but they are endowed with strong will- forces. Etheric bodies
of this kind are able to work powerfully on the long-lived etheric bodies
of those who grow physically old.
Just think what a brilliant idea it was that
made Goethe have the centenarian Faust go to heaven surrounded by the
etheric bodies of very young boys, the “midnight-born,”
hinting thereby that an exchange of the kind described has to take place!
This interchange is always going on. We can
therefore say that there exist in the spiritual world the etheric bodies
of human beings who have grown physically old, and various things are
taking place in them (see drawing, mauve); then, in red, the etheric
bodies of deceased young people, with various things taking place in
them as well; and an interchange between them, a process of mutual exchange.
And what we encounter in the life between death and rebirth is the result
of the situations that develop in this exchange between the etheric
bodies of those who died young and those who died old. This interchange
is essential; without it, the evolution of humanity on earth could not
The beings who direct this interchange are
to be found in the realm of the angel hierarchy, so that we really have
to recognize such an interchange between the two kinds of etheric bodies
in the spiritual world in which we are immersed. The two kinds of activity
coalesce, like two merging rivers. But they are then given proper direction
and regulation by angelic beings; that is one of the tasks with which
angels are charged. When, therefore, persons are able to come into the
world with special talents, this is due not only to the possibility
that between death and rebirth wisdom of a materialistic nature that
is a fruit of the earth has been imprinted into physical bodies, but
that something not as yet fully developed on earth, the product of the
etheric bodies of those who died young, has brought about effects present
as forces that can be interwoven in the process of fashioning human
You see how spiritual science can bring about
a living feeling for things when we really immerse ourselves in its
secrets. We learn from spiritual science to lift ourselves in spirit
to a contemplation of the mystery of death in an older person. For then
we tell ourselves that people grow old in order that human evolution
may go forward in the right way for as long as physical bodies are needed
as vehicles. We have a premonition, whenever an older person dies, of
the fruits that human evolution on earth will bear as a result. And
when we give ourselves up to a contemplation of what the future holds,
we realize that there has to be a continuous development of talents
in mankind's progressive evolution. This person must be gifted in this
direction, another in that, with capabilities ranging all the way to
the genius level. That could not be the case if nobody were fated to
die young. And as we look up to people of special genius, we can attribute
their gifts to the fact that some individuals have to die young. To
contemplate the mystery of death in the case of young human beings is
to realize that early death too is part of the wise design, for it gives
rise to seed-forces of soul-endowment needed by the human race for its
If we can lift ourselves above a personal
reaction to death to a contemplation of what is needed by mankind as
a whole, we encounter the wisdom involved in the deaths of both young
and old. It is important to realize that a truly genuine and earnest
study of spiritual science does not remain mere theory, but that a proper
grasp of theories leads to attitudes and feelings that enable us to
achieve greater harmony in our lives than we could achieve if we didn't
have it. We need spiritual science to develop the deeper insight that
can lead to a perception of the consonance that lies behind life's otherwise
We learn, too, to understand the sacrifices
that we have to make in life and the things that pain us, if we know
that the entire universe can be rightly maintained only by developments
that cannot help but cause us sorrow. We simply have to make the effort
to sense that the many hundreds of geniuses: Homer, Shakespeare, Goethe,
Michelangelo, Raphael, and so on, are essential to mankind's progressive
evolution, and would not have existed as such had the ground not been
prepared by people dying young. This has nothing to do with the individual.
Those who die young and thus sacrifice their etheric bodies in their
youth provide the entire cosmos with a fruitful soil for the growth
and maturing of human soul-capacities.
We become united with the universe when,
instead of taking an abstract approach to spiritual science, it becomes
for us a seeking out of impulses that flow into us as soul-warmth,
reconciling us with the world, moving us to our depths as they show us
that, though we human beings have to undergo painful experiences, we
suffer them for the sake of harmony in the entire universe.
It is not always easy to withdraw our attention
from individual life to focus on the life of the whole world. But the fact
that achieving this goal is difficult is also the reason why it strengthens
us. And as we develop a feeling for community from our suffering,
that sense of the totality of the cosmic order becomes ever more intense
and lays ever more profound hold on our innermost souls. And we prepare
ourselves in doing this to become participants in the universal order
of a kind the gods make use of.