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The Human Soul in Life and Death

Schmidt Number: S-2979

On-line since: 15th September, 2018

The Human Soul in Life and Death

Rudolf Steiner Archive Document

Lectures Section

This lecture is the third of fourteen lectures from the lecture series entitled, Out of a Fateful Time, published in German as, Aus Schicksaltragender Zeit. Given in Berlin in November of 1914, it is also known as, The Soul's Passage through the Portal of Death.

By Rudolf Steiner

The Translator is unknown
Bn 64; GA 64; CW 64

This lecture is the third of fourteen lectures from the lecture series entitled, Out of a Fateful Time, published in German as, Aus Schicksaltragender Zeit. Given in Berlin in November of 1914, it is also known as, The Soul's Passage through the Portal of Death. Subjects and people touched upon in this lecture are: European Folk Souls, Robert Prutz, the ego, the Grand Duke of Weimar, Goethe, and Fichte.

This lecture series is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. From Bn 64, GA 64, CW 64.

This e.Text edition is provided through the wonderful work of:
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Thanks to an anonymous donation, this Lecture has been made available.

The Human Soul in Life and Death


Berlin, 26.11.1914


In the first two lectures with which I began this winter series I attempted to make a connection between the impulses which the great contemporary events are capable of exciting in us, and the nature of German spiritual culture as represented by its great personalities. With these observations I attempted to show that it is in the nature of this spiritual culture to become more and more deeply aware of the reality of the existence of the spiritual and eternal. To-day I will attempt to give, in a sense, a special chapter on the subject to which spiritual-scientific thought has brought us so far, in order to have a basis for the subject of my lecture tomorrow on the nature of European Folk Souls [Published in English as The Soul of the People Considered in the Light of Spiritual Science.]. In so doing I should like to indicate at least in several directions suggested by spiritual-science, what this science has to contribute, from its own point of view, to an understanding of the happenings around us.

The problem that I want you to join in considering to-day, of the human soul in life and death, has always concerned men as one of the profoundest in life — but it does so now especially when we see the question as to the nature of life and death urged so violently and so near us, when countless people are becoming profoundly convinced of the reality of existence because of the presence of this question, when we see that the noblest sons of our nation are confronted with it — in the shape of facts — every hour of their lives. In the lectures which I have been permitted to deliver here during recent years I have often drawn attention to the fact that we live at a time in which such questions as that of the nature and fate of the human soul and indeed man's destiny and other similar questions are coming to be the concern of a certain scientific line of thought furthered by the development of that other scientific sphere that has achieved such consummation in the last two to four centuries: the sphere of natural science. The work of spiritual-science has often been outlined here as the addition of all that can be known of the soul-spiritual to all that has been won scientifically for humanity; we have also said that there is no cause for surprise that this spiritual-scientific approach is still rejected to-day by the great majority of people. After all, the spiritual-scientific point of view shares this fate with all new contributions to the development of human thought and culture, and it shares it with science itself, which started in just the same relation to its own time, finding opposition after opposition, and having first to prove — but only able to prove in the course of centuries — what it was called upon to contribute to human progress. It is true that the spiritual approach must stand in a different relationship from that of natural science, to what we call knowledge and science. Just so that the spiritual approach may be called scientific in the best and highest sense, it must be entered on differently, it must be brought to people in a different way, from that essential to natural science. Looking at things from the point of view of natural science we first turn our eyes outward upon the facts of nature and life, and in the abundance of the variety that we there meet with, we distinguish the laws of life. What we experience through the senses becomes within us an inner psychic experience, becomes within us thought, conception, idea. But who does not feel that with this elevation of the outer variety, seen in all its fullness, into the clarity — but also into the abstraction — of ideas and natural laws, the human soul with its inner experiences really becomes removed from what we might call reality, actuality. We have before us the abundance of nature; by means of our science we master it, but we feel how, in fact, ‘thin,’ even ‘empty of reality,’ compared with the external reality, the concepts and ideas are, which express for us the laws of nature. And so we rise from the fullness of external reality, that lies spread out for our senses, to the almost ethereally fine psychic experience that is ours when we have mastered, in our world of ideas, the laws of nature. In so doing we place ourselves at a distance from nature and her abundance; but we desire this distance from her, for we know that we can only know nature and her laws if we stand at some distance from her. This is the highest that science aims at the inner psychic experience in ideas and thoughts.

If spiritual research is to be science it must proceed in exactly the opposite way. What is for science the last step in inner experience of external nature is a preparation — nothing but a preparation — for the realization [Erkenntnis] of the spiritual, of the psychic; and one would be utterly mistaken in thinking that spiritual science can proceed exactly like natural science. What natural science aims at as its supreme attainment is for spiritual science preparation only: for the life of inner psychic experience, for being dissolved into the inner source of the soul's strength, which does not spring from nature. In a word, knowledge and science can only be a preparation for the final stage: the contemplation and the perception of the spiritual world. One might say that the goal of natural science is knowledge and science; but that spiritual science is a preparation by means of knowledge and science for what is to touch the soul, and all that knowledge and science can give us is only in spiritual science, in the main, an inner psychic opportunity. But what the soul, what the spirit experiences, does not lead to mere subjectivity, to something only concerning the individual soul, but it leads to what is real, and actual, in the sense that external nature is actual.

I have often drawn attention to the nature of this preparation for the contemplation, for real inner experience, of spiritual reality. To-day I will do so again from a certain historical point of view.

Only through this preparation can the soul be developed further and further, and so far, that at last spiritual reality lies spread around it. We leave nature behind; she is there. We advance towards the spirit. We must seek spiritual reality. We cannot set out from it because it is at first not there; we can only prepare ourselves for the contemplation of it, but if we prepare ourselves by inner experience for the contemplation of it, it comes to meet us like a gift of grace, dawning in the spiritual twilight. We must woo a sight of it.

The first thing necessary for experiencing in some degree the human soul in its reality, is an inner experience — not only attention or alertness, not mere pondering — but an inner experience of what we otherwise know only as a reflection of external reality: of the world of thought: of the world of feeling — of what we normally feel within us when we find ourselves face to face with exterior nature, and what we consider an image of nature, a concept, into which nature has been moulded. We must experience this strongly and intensely, and turn our gaze quite away from external reality, making ourselves blind and deaf to it; we must so experience this that we let it be intensely present in our soul, that we let it be the one inner reality. The natural-scientist wants to extract from the external reality of the senses a law of nature, in the form of a thought. The spiritual-scientist surrenders himself in his inner experience to a thought, or still more to a thought permeated with feeling; at the same time, withdrawing from external reality his eye and ear, he allows this inner woof and influence of psychic experience to rise into prominence, and becomes most intensely aware of it; he forgets himself and the world and only lives in what his ‘empty but wakeful consciousness’ allows at the moment to rise out of the depths of psychic experience. Then a strange thing happens: the thought, to which we surrender ourselves with infinitely increased awareness for a long period of time, growing stronger through our inner strength, grows weaker in content; it grows more and more transparent, more and more and more ethereal. One might say: the more powerfully the spiritual-scientist exerts himself, in order to let himself be present in the thoughts, as in what is called inner concentration, the more the content of the thought vanishes. The more effort we make to strengthen and visualize the thought to which we surrender ourselves, the more certainly this surrender brings about the gradual extinction of the thought, that dissolves as though in a mist until it completely vanishes from consciousness. Another way of putting the principle of this inner experience is this: the more the thought is experienced in its keenness by the soul, and the more effort it acquires through our effort, the more it dies away in the soul. Equally epigrammatic is the statement: For the thought to reach the goal of spiritual-investigation it must die in the soul; and in dying it experiences the fate of the seed that is buried in the earth, to rot: but from its decay there springs the energy for a new plant. When the thought dies within us through the force of our concentration on it, it awakes to a life of quite a different kind; and this new kind of life is not discovered until the thought has died through intense inner concentration. We have to ‘stop thinking,’ in order to let the psychic plant, that springs from the thought, appear and bud.

But what is it that springs from the thought? It is difficult to express in human speech what it is that springs in this way from the thought, because, of course, human speech is made for the outer experiences of the senses, and not yet for the inner experiences of the soul. So one can give only a certain suggestion of the inner experiences in question. While the thought, compounded of energy, dies away, a rising force fills the soul inwardly, a force of which the soul becomes aware, and which it recognizes, in its moment of awareness, as spiritual-psychic power; and knows that it is something not dependent on the body; something we carry within us, independently of the nervous system or the brain. But this realization, not of the thought, but of the energy from the thought, brings into being — as if by inner necessity — and as if by a flash of lightning before your consciousness — the question: Whence came the thought? In the last analysis it is yourself, the surrender of yourself to it through intense concentration. You lived in the thought, and in dissolving and dying, it took you with it. Whence did you come, and where are you now? Here we must make a comparison. Just as we have the thoughts that we get from external nature, just as we know that we ‘have’ them, we become immediately aware of a state of being in us which enables us to say to ourselves: The thought, as you have just had it, has died in the process of thought-concentration in you; but it has awakened to another life — and has taken you with it. It is thinking you now, in the world of spirit!

This is a shattering, great, tremendously significant experience in the life of the spiritual scientist. For we can only rise into the world of spirit through the sense of its grasp over us — as the thought, if it were living, would feel itself held by us. And, in the last resort, the only way of experiencing ‘immortality’ is the power of appeal, by virtue of the inner development of our soul, to the invisible, spiritual Beings, that eternally rule over us — just as the forces of nature have visible sway around us — and by the appeal to our connections with these spiritual Beings, which, in the moment in which the thought vanishes, begin to absorb it and to think us. Now we begin to know that in the spiritual world are Beings whose existence is beyond that of mere nature; just as we human beings think with our thoughts, these higher genii think our spiritual nature, think the content of our soul. They hold us, they bear us; and our immortal nature, standing beyond our mere bodily existence, is conditioned by our presence within them. With the help of spiritual science, we say to ourselves: Even if we cannot keep ourselves in death, if there falls from us what inner experience we have won from external nature between birth and death, yet we go through death's door and see, with the help of the results of spiritual science, that what is independent of our bodies is really the thinking of higher powers. Contrary to the expectations of many, what we call the world of spirit does not lie spread around us like external nature. External nature stands before us; we stand before it and contemplate it. When we rise into the world of spirit, it is different. Here the spiritual world penetrates our own experience, that we have just transformed; here we do not ‘think’ about the spiritual world, but we must experience inwardly how we are being thought. Towards the spiritual world we stand as our thoughts of external reality stand to our soul. On the whole the most astonishing thing compared with external reality is the discovery that spiritual reality is opposite to the experience of the reality of the senses, in the following way: that our relation to spiritual reality, when we really experience it, is that of nature to us, in the reality of the senses; we do not think about the spiritual powers; we experience their thinking and containing us, when we have elevated ourselves to them. We become, to put it strictly scientifically, an ‘object of the spiritual world.’ As we are the ‘subject’ in the external reality of nature, we become ‘object’ in the spiritual world. And as the external reality of nature confronts us, we elevate ourselves to an experience of spiritual reality, in which we ourselves are the object; for spiritual reality comes to meet us in the position of subject — or as a plurality of subjects.

This inner experience is frequently, but always by those who do not know it or have no desire to go into the matter, made out to be something ‘subjective,’ a purely personal opportunity. In a sense, the objection is quite correct. For what one can learn at the first stage of spiritual investigation is subjective in character; there is a personal nuance through all the struggles, all the inner conquests then to be made. And to these first steps the objection can very justifiably be made, that the investigator has the task of demarcating the boundaries of human knowledge, and that he should be aware that what goes beyond the common boundary drawn for us by external nature can only be, in fact, subjective knowledge. The objection is justified, and no one will be so ready to acknowledge it as the spiritual investigator; but it holds good only to a certain point, for the reason that in reality all that can be experienced subjectively, personally, is only preparation. At the moment in which the preparation is sufficient, objective spiritual reality comes to meet us like a grace bestowed on us in the form of power. The preparation, on the whole, can be different for the most different kinds of people; but the ultimate goal is the same for all. The objection is also often raised that the spiritual investigator usually communicates with a subjective colouring what he has to impart; that one pronounces this, another that, about the spiritual world. This is quite true, but only true because many do not know how to impart what is given by the grace mentioned, but only impart something still personal, something subjective, because they have not yet reached the point at which the spiritual investigator comes upon a spiritual world that lies as objectively before him as the forms of nature lie objectively before the human soul. The spiritual investigator — as I have often said here — is the most qualified to appreciate the objection to spiritual scientific research.

When the spiritual investigator, after sufficient preparation, has reached the world of spirit, he knows that he is experiencing an invisible, supra-sensuous world. His knowledge has ceased to be important to him. This knowledge is completely transformed into experience, into the most direct participation. And now the spiritual investigator gains what for him becomes the direct experience of truth. He knows that he now lives in the world, which he inhabits now the whole course of the twenty-four hours; he lives now in the state of spirit, in the psychic life, in which, without being aware of it, he often used to be in sleep. Through spiritual investigation we learn to know the nature of sleep, we recognize that in it the human soul actually is outside its body, that it has, as it were, the body before it as usually only the objects of external nature are before us. How do we come to know this? By actual experience of a condition that is only otherwise known to us in sleep, but in a completely opposite way. In sleep, consciousness is suppressed, so that darkness surrounds us. But now as spiritual investigators we can contemplate this condition because we experience it — not unconsciously, however, as in sleep, but consciously. We know that, in emerging from the body (for we do emerge from it, consciously) we are inwardly united to the spiritual world, we are become one with the spiritual world. And here is the answer to the question: Why is the soul usually unaware of itself in sleep? Why is it in its detachment from the body, in a state of indistinctness and obscurity? This question has its own answer for the spiritual investigator in the fact that he now can acknowledge what his preparation has done away with in his inner psychic being, and what exists there for the soul when asleep. For his preparation brings the spiritual investigator to a field of battle, an inner field of battle, and words can hardly describe what he feels with tremendous intensity, with inner tragedy when he wants to achieve the power to extinguish his thoughts and make them blossom again in another sphere. There then comes to the fore in the human soul, able to tear and wound it fatally, unless it is duly estimated, an inner opposition, an inner rebellion against the inner experience. For in the moment of extinction of the thought we feel that the more we emerge from our own consciousness into the consciousness of the invisible spiritual Beings who pervade the invisible world, the stronger become inner forces violently opposed to this rising out of one consciousness into another. We are aware of something that objects. And this inner disruption, this self-rebellion against our own action, is the tragic inner struggle that has to be pursued to the end by all genuine spiritual research. There are no words strong enough to express what has to be endured in this struggle. For when, conscious of ourselves inwardly, we feel ourselves as though taken away, when we feel ourselves lifted up into another sphere, the opposition becomes loud, which says: You do not want to lose yourself, but you are going the best way to lose yourself. You are preparing nothing but your own death; for you are not living in your own nature, within yourself, but are becoming the thought of some other nature. You are dying in yourself. And all the tremendous will we are capable of for inner protest against the deed rises in opposition to this elevation, expansion.

The next step then is to master this inner opposition that originates in the depth of our soul. First, we have to find what possibility there is of getting out of the state we are in. When it is found, it is the second step that must follow on that of thought-concentration, and form as it were the second great spiritual law for the development of the human soul.

We ask ourselves what it really is, that is rebelling in us. What is it, that rises up like a fearful rebel? And just as we start with the thought, in having it and making it vanish and live again in another sphere, we must link up with what we have already. And what is already linked up with us and is ours to start from is what we call human fate. This human fate comes upon us in such a way that we experience its inner pulse — whether for good or ill — as if it came from outside. How far are we, in our human experience, from taking fate as something that comes to us, that is, at best, ‘chance?’ But we can begin to take it differently. And in so beginning to take fate differently we become spiritual investigators. We can begin by asking what we really are in relation to our fate. We can look back on our past, the past of our youth or all the years lived till now, and survey our fate we can look back with the eye of research on the separate events of our fate as far as we are able, and we can ask the question: What would you really be, if this fate with all its chances or accidents had not befallen you? And if we follow out closely this question which must now of course be a personal one, we notice that however the blows of fate may have fallen, whether bringing good or ill — we are what we now are through all the hard and kind blows of fate: we are in the end nothing but the result of this fate of ours. We ask ourselves: What else we are but the result of this fate. If this or that had not befallen us it would not have shaken and jolted our soul and we would not be what we are now. And if we survey our whole fate like this we find that our present self and its whole experience depends on our fate, like the sum in an addition table depends on the separate equations and addenda. As the sum in an addition is nothing but what flows together through the separate addenda we are essentially nothing but the sum of all the gentle and hard blows of fate that we have known, and in making this reflection we grow into our fate. The first feeling to which we can then give ourselves, is: thou art one with thy fate. And whereas formerly we had separated ourselves from our fate, whereas formerly we had set ourselves up detached, as a separate Self, the separate Self now flows into the stream of these events in our fate. But it flows in such a way that it is no longer a ‘result’ in the stream of the present; but while we gradually experience this flowing together, fate takes our Self — what we are — along with it. We look back on the expiration of the blows of fate and we find, in looking at our fate, our own activity in it; we grow into the emergence of our fate. We not only feel ourselves one with our fate, but we grow gradually so into our fate that we become identical with our fate and its action. And again, it is one of the most important great inner experiences that, looking back on a blow of fate, we do not say: It has fallen on us by chance, but we say: We were in this fate before it came; through it we have only made ourselves what we are to-day.

Such a reflection cannot be made only in thoughts, in ideas, and concepts. Every step in such a reflection becomes full of inner emotional, living, psychic reality. We experience the growing identical with fate; our Self is extended over it. And we recognize this expansion as something quite other than thought, we recognize it as the other psychic element that is present in us, as the will, carried by feeling. We feel the thought becoming concentrated, dying, and evolving as energy into an unfamiliar world of spirit, which as it were thinks us; our will, carried by our feeling, grows back into the expanse of time, and so outgrows itself that it becomes identical with our fate and becomes more and more powerful. In feeling ourselves one with our fate we do not experience death in the thoughts, but an ever-increasing aliveness of the will. Whereas first the will is concentrated in the single point of our present from where we let it flow into our actions and words, it expands as if from the minute point of a germ out into the stream of time, that gleams backward and has in a sense moulded us ourselves. Our will — this is the second law that concerns us here — in surrendering in this way to fate, in losing itself in fate, becomes inwardly stronger and stronger, increasing more and more in power. It passes from the state in which we usually know it into quite another.

The thought dies, to live again in another existence. Our position with regard to the will is that at a certain moment it is dead to our fate; it is dead to the chances of fate. But when we conduct our will by inward meditation beyond our fate — so that it sacrifices and surrenders itself more and more to our fate, so that it recognizes that we ourselves live in our fate, it increases in power. The thought passes from its greatest strength to death and to a second flowering in another sphere; the will passes from its activity of the moment to colossal vastness as it bears our entire fate. And it is here that the experience really extends to a province that is not accessible to external experience. The province is accessible to external experience only as far as the experiences in which the consciousness is awake and external memory begins: in the third or fourth year of a man's life. But when we are really permeated by our will, so that we no longer look on our fate as something alien, as something outside us, we no longer remain — and this inner experience strengthens with time — with our psychic consciousness in the midst of our present life. We then look back into far distances, we look back into states of our soul anterior to birth — or our conception, we look back on times when our soul itself lived in the spiritual world, before it made its appearance in the physical, earthly existence, we look back on a psychic state in which the soul was creating for itself the energy necessary to appropriate our body. When we prepare our will to let us experience the opposite of what we experience through thought-concentration, we take possession of our own life, beyond birth and death. If we want to grasp the thought we have to detach ourselves from external reality, we have to become blind and deaf to the external reality of the senses, we have to retire completely within ourselves; then the thought becomes so transformed that we ourselves become the objects of the thought of higher consciousnesses. With the will we must proceed in a contrary way; we must permeate our inwardness with what is otherwise outside us. With the thought we penetrate into ourselves; with the will we get out of ourselves, enter into our fate and find through the course taken by our fate our way into the spiritual world, where measured in terms of psychic reality we live in the most comprehensive reality, in that reality that already took possession of us before we descended into the physical life.

What I am following out in this way — to all appearances theoretically — is only the description of the inner experiences which the spiritual investigator has to go through to rise to the realization of the spiritual world, to attain the sight of the spiritual world. For external nature, nature is first, then comes ‘knowledge’; for spiritual nature, knowledge — that is, an experience like a ‘knowledge’ — leads the way as a preparation; the ‘sight’ comes after. And now we see ourselves again in what actually always lives in us, but that mankind will have to consider scientifically if the progress of spiritual culture is to continue; but so that it can enter into consciousness through the onward march of the forces of progress, we must first comprehend its processes scientifically. Obviously — there should be no need to mention this — we do not ‘make’ the spiritual experience when we comprehend it in this way spiritually-scientifically; but we become aware within ourselves of what is always within us. But as in the knowledge of nature, experience and knowledge spring from sight or contemplation, in spiritual science the sight or contemplation of the spiritual world must spring, if human culture is to go on, from a knowledge of the spiritual processes. And what one learns is independent of the external, physical body, what as it were attracts the physical body, while descending from the spiritual world into the physical one.

But in everyday life, too, we experience ourselves outside our body — for reasons that have often been discussed here — when, by way of change, always in the course of twenty-four hours, we pass into the state of sleep. And if we consider the state of sleep we can put the question: Why, in sleep, does everything that usually enters into the consciousness, evaporate? Why is there darkness all around? And then we realize with the help of spiritual science, because of the moment in which the soul masters itself through the real preparation of thought-concentration and meditation, how its energy enters into the body, and we also realize, because we then comprehend its inner immortal energy, what obscures it in ordinary sleep, what makes impossible in sleep, when we are outside the body, the contemplation of the spiritual reality. If we examine this closely, if we contemplate the spiritual reality which is otherwise obscured, we notice that there is in the soul an excess of desire, an overgrowth of cravings, that it is permeated as though by feelings with the most intense wish-activity, by a much stronger life of desire than is present when the soul plunges again into the body and awakens. What then does the soul desire in sleep? The research of spiritual science enables us to see this: in sleep the soul desires intensely to plunge again into the physical body that it has abandoned. And as the desire to plunge again into the body is irresistibly strong, this desire, like a shape made by mist and shadowing clarity, obliterates for the soul what it would otherwise, as a part of the spiritual world, be aware of: the consciousness of higher Beings and its own experience of being contained by higher Beings — and of being contained by them before birth and death. But because the soul needs the energy which it can only get from the spiritual world, as the body needs the energy that can come from the world of atoms, it must immerse itself continually in the spiritual world; but because it always desires to plunge into the body its consciousness of spiritual processes is still obliterated, even when it is free from the body, in sleep. What man experiences in his body he will never be able to experience directly without it. And in this body, he experiences that the small power he has in his soul for direct contemplation of spiritual things is overgrown in ordinary life by cravings for the body, and that this energy in the body, where the soul keeps it, grows stronger and stronger. The soul learns in the body to cultivate consciousness, self-consciousness. That is the essential of this life of the body. The soul experiences this life in the body, not as if in a prison, not like imprisonment, but as something indispensable to its whole-experience. For the soul can only become what it is to be, and this experience passes from an indistinct one to a clearly conscious one. But the conscious powers are first excited in the body. When the soul is, as it were, satisfied, it gives itself up to the overshadowing consciousness. Consciousness passes like energy into it. And (this is made especially clear by spiritual science) when the soul experiences in the body the ‘becoming conscious,’ it preserves the after-experience of this consciousness. Something comes into play that is higher than ordinary memory and yet resembles it. We remember in life by means of our ordinary memory the experiences we have had; we can call these up again in the soul. The spiritual scientist (if he has experienced what I have described) knows what the soul experiences in the body; this lightning of consciousness [Clarification: As Dr. Steiner refers to a spiritual experience as a flash of lightning before the eye of consciousness, ‘Aufhellung des Bewusstseins’ seems to admit of ‘lightning’ in translation.], this energizing with consciousness, this memory of the self-consciousness, in such a way that the past experiences in the body are present in his soul as though in a memory. We must hold fast to this.

The spiritual investigator lives upwards into a spiritual, higher world; in so doing he becomes the thought of higher Beings. But in permeating himself with what spiritual science can give, he finds what would otherwise be called 'rebellion' transformed into such an inner experience that he now, reaching up to the spiritual world, is yet attached to the life of his body as though by a memory. Now he knows that this life of the body nevertheless belongs to him. And now this rebellion disappears by means of the memory that he has won for himself through expansion of himself over fate. He knows that he is not exposed to spiritual death in the spiritual world. For however we may rise into the consciousness of higher Beings we rise in such a way that the thoughts are indeed comprehended by the higher Beings, but we remain in the power of inner experience, we preserve ourselves, we keep ourselves, when we reach the higher consciousnesses, as the thoughts preserve themselves in the consciousness of the higher Beings. What we keep in our memory as recollection is not reality until we fetch it out of memory. Down there in the obscure subconscious it is of no immediate interest to us; it has no reality there. That is why I called a ‘higher’ memory what the spiritual investigator has, that resembles memory. When we reach up into the consciousnesses of higher Beings it is as if all our thoughts were independent realities, and the stream of our experiences is not only there for our memories, like a stream for us to lift into memory, but it is as if the experiences swam in it in their own spiritual reality. So we live upwards, through the experience that I have indicated, through the memories, into a higher world, but we ourselves are these memories, comprehending ourselves in our own remembering. To use only a simile, but one that describes the true state of the matter, we can say: When the soul develops through meditation, through thought-concentration, and the effluence of will into fate, the human soul becomes something for those Beings who accept it in their consciousness, to hold in the regions in which it lives after death and before birth. But just as the thoughts only have a life that is borrowed from us, we live upwards into the ‘being thought’ [Gedankenschaft] of the higher consciousnesses [Bewusstseine], who, looking back on us look back on beings that have kept their independence. In comprehending ourselves in our fate we preserve ourselves in the consciousness of higher Beings.

All that I am describing in this way is only the ‘knowledge’ of the eternal state of the matter for the soul. For what the spiritual scientist experiences in this way is nothing but the knowledge of what the soul experiences when it goes through the gate of death into the beyond of external reality. But as external natural occurrences take place without our knowing at first about them, death passes by us, making of the soul what it must. But in the course of human culture man must learn what death makes of the soul; through spiritual science he must win knowledge of the so-called ‘approach to the riddle of death.’ That is why people call, with some reason, the goal of the spiritual investigator in his inner psychic development ‘an exploration as far as death's door.’ Already in the consideration of ‘sleep’ it is evident that the pure spiritual life of the human soul is obscured by its craving for the body. When it passes through the door of death and leaves the body it is no longer obscured by this craving. In withdrawing from the body, it is healed of its craving for it, the craving pushes a way out of the soul, and the soul experiences the society of the spiritual world. The soul learns how to experience itself in the spiritual world. But it would not be independent if it had not gone through death. The soul must go through death because it is the greatest fact, and its greatest experience. As we must plunge at birth into the body, we must go out through the body, out through death, we must ‘die,’ to be able to comprehend the experience of death, of dying, of ourselves as a Self in the spiritual world. We become ‘memories’ of higher consciousnesses when we strip ourselves of the consciousness of the present, which we have in our body; and what our Self gives us after death is different from the form of our Self between birth and death. Between birth and death, we are so much in the thick of life that we lose our Self when consciousness is obscured, and that we obscure what we experience in sleep. There is simultaneity between us and our body, but also between us and our self-consciousness. After death it is different. Our ordinary spatial relationship to our spatial body in ordinary life between birth and death becomes after death a relationship to our temporal being. After death we look back on what we have experienced in the life of the body and in this looking back, in this survey, in this sense of bound-up-ness with the being in the body we feel our self-consciousness, we feel ourselves as a Self. Our relationship to our Self becomes temporal. In looking to our spiritual surroundings, we expand and we pass into higher Beings and enter into their life. We preserve our independence, our complete self-consciousness after death, in plunging with our memories into the life of the body that has passed away — as every day we plunge into spatial life to come to our self-consciousness.

In this way the human soul goes through the full experience that includes death, to which death belongs as something essential; for the experience of death in the world of the senses belongs to self-consciousness in the spiritual world. At this point we can suggest (but only suggest — the subject awaits closer examination in my lectures to follow this winter) the nature of the experience of death. Certainly, striding directly through the gate of death we remain unconscious of what we are experiencing. But when we enter more and more into the life of the spiritual world we derive strength from the energies that come to us from the spiritual world and purify ourselves of those that, in the form of a craving for the body, obscure our spiritual consciousness between birth and death; and in this inner self-clarification out of obscurity there grows up a backward survey into our own Self and with it grows our insight into the spiritual world. Experience after death is such that the memory of the experience of death only gradually appears in the human soul, as we penetrate after death into the spiritual world. But then, with each look back towards the life on earth we feel our self-consciousness blossom out, as self-consciousness within the world of the senses blossoms out in an ordinary awakening from sleep.

What I have here followed up can obviously not be proved externally. So it is very easy for those who do not want to commit themselves to the true proof of the spiritual world to make objections. Whoever demands that the spiritual world be proved exactly as are the facts of external natural science and its laws, and when that is impossible thinks that all talk about a spiritual world can only be subjective talk, should have it pointed out that the spiritual world has no general or common appeal, offers no experiment, no observation, that anyone can make. And yet spiritual science is not for that reason mere subjective talk, but something of universal value and significance; for psychic methods, psychic procedures, exist to show everyone who will follow them how to penetrate into the spiritual world. If therefore someone says: Your spiritual world is not clear to me; prove it by the methods of external natural science we must answer: You must get your own proof by applying to your own soul the methods advocated by spiritual science as applicable to every human soul.

I have to-day only discussed in their principal general aspects, thought, its dying and awakening in another sphere, the expansion of will over fate, and the individual nature of its activity at this point, these being the subject of more detailed examination in my book Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment, which has appeared in a new edition after considerable revision; and I have also attempted a different presentation of the subject in my book The Riddle of Philosophy, that has now appeared as a second edition of my Cosmic and Life Conception in the Nineteenth Century, with a sketch of the Future of an Anthroposophy as the sum total of the collective spiritual-philosophic development of the West.

Let me repeat: Spiritual science does not give something that would not be there without it — as natural science does not give anything that is not there to start with. But the fact that man knows something presupposes that the facts for his knowledge are first there. When the facts, however, have entered into our consciousness, spiritual science will give mankind an equipment of psychic energy and strength that it will need in the future. The soul has undoubtedly had in the past, too, a consciousness of its relation to the spiritual world. But mankind continues to develop. And the discoveries from spiritual scientific investigation will more and more contribute to the future needs and satisfaction of the soul in inner energy, in bringing it to the consciousness of itself, as it will also contribute a real knowledge of the spiritual world, of the world of soul, which only research can impart, just as the knowledge of nature can only be secured by research. Through this spiritual-scientific research the human soul learns what expands memory beyond the horizon along which alone it can otherwise roam. This can only be indicated to-day. When the will extends itself over fate and man becomes one with fate, and when the will in man grows to such power that he embraces the hard and gentle blows of fate and knows that he has made them himself — memory grows back beyond former experiences, back into the times that represent earlier human experience on earth. But I can only indicate what I shall follow up in later lectures: that intimately connected with the extension of will to cover fate is the knowledge that man does not only complete one life on earth, but that this one life is the sum of earlier lives on earth, that this preparation of the fate-will has taken place in earlier life on earth. And so our consciousness experiences that what we now learn through the will becomes the origin of later life on earth and influences it.

Precisely in the spiritual culture of Central Europe the stages have always been conspicuous in which prominent leader-spirits have comprehended in their souls this connection of human psychic experience with the spiritual world. And to-day, in saying that the human soul, by thought-concentration, can make a thought die and awake again in a higher world, I can point to a spirit to whom I have drawn your attention in earlier lectures: to Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He did not know ‘spiritual science.’ But his position within the spiritual life of German Central Europe enabled him, by discovering the nature of his position in it, to perceive, as though from an elementary, impulsive consciousness, the certainty of the participation of the human soul in the eternal world. In many places in his works Fichte has declared what rang from him, and what he felt, about the participation of the human soul in the world of a higher consciousness; but we can perhaps find no place in which he more passionately expresses the connection between the human soul and the eternal life than in his exhortation to the public, in which he defends himself against the false accusation of atheism. Here he says — addressing external nature, which he looks upon as existing and passing away in space, as ‘thou,’ and his Ego, which comes to a knowledge of himself, as ‘I’ — these words:

“Thou art mutable, not I. All thy transmutations are only a drama for me to look on, and I shall always hover, safe and unhurt, over the broken fragments of thy forms. It surprises me not that the forces which are to destroy the inner sphere of my activity which I call my body are already now active. This body belongs to Thee and is transitory as everything that belongs to Thee. But this body is not I, myself. I shall myself hover over its broken fragments, and its dissolution will be a sight for me to see. It cannot surprise me that the forces are already active which will destroy my outer sphere — which has only now begun to come into being — which will destroy all of you, you shining suns, and the thousand times thousand stellar bodies that roll round you. Through your birth you are dedicated to death. But when the youngest of the millions of suns … that shine overhead has long sent out its last ray of light, I still stand safe and unchanged, the same man as I am now. And when out of your fragments, as many solar systems should arise as all of you, you gleaming suns overhead, and the youngest has sent out its last ray of light long ago, I shall still stand, safe and unchanged, the same man as I am to-day.” [Footnote by Editor: The reference is to Atheismusstreit in the year 1798/9. Fichte was the editor of Philosophischen Journal, in which an essay appeared to the effect that religion was only Kantian morality. Fichte wrote in the same number that he disagreed, yet the Governor of Saxony confiscated and suppressed the Philosophischen Journal. In 1799 Fichte published his: Appellation an das Publicum wegen der Anklage des Atheismus (pp. 193-238 in Vol. 5 of his Sämmtliche Werke, Berlin, 1845-46). Fichte's Gerichtliche Verantwortungschrift gegen die Anklage des Atheismus (pp. 193-238) was his defence against the same Government, which demanded he should be punished and dismissed from the University of Jena. He was dismissed on 29th March 1799, by the Grand Duke of Weimar, even Goethe himself voting for it! Fichte was also expelled from the Grand Duchy.]

These convictions are not accepted merely theoretically; these convictions are experienced. And I wanted you to feel and sense in the last of my lectures here, that precisely the spiritual life of Central Europe, the spiritual life of Germany, contains the best, most beautiful, most energetic seeds for this experience. That is why, too, from this spiritual life the consciousness can flow of its significance in the world, and why now, when in the external experience of Central Europe even this spiritual life is confronted with the question “To be, or not to be,” it can know its mission from the direct knowledge of its own nature, and know it must live and may not succumb, because it is indispensable for the formation of the bond between the human soul and the eternal powers. Especially there flows from this spiritual life the consciousness that sees intensely as we look at all the ‘heroic natures’ — we can well call them that — who stand between life and death in the midst of the stream of contemporary events. We are looking at the great riddle-question, the great fate-question, that our time faces us within the form in which events to-day put it — at the question of life and death. And when from the point of view of spiritual science, we look on what lives in the human body, lives in such a way that it can know itself contained in the consciousness of higher Beings, and believe itself preserved as an independent memory when this body is destroyed — what lives in it must come before our soul's eye now when we see so many bodies fall in the sacrifice, the great sacrifice, of our time.

So we ask ourselves: Considering the events of our time precisely from the point of view of spiritual science, will the events of the soul be equally urgently real to the man, usually the young man, summoned by death because of the events of the time? We look up to the man called by death in the sacrificial service of our time; we see, like a mass of energies, what we comprehend spiritually-scientifically as something spiritual, and we know that the life-threads are torn away from what lives in the body, torn away in the flower of youth, at a time when the psychic and spiritual energies could experience much more. But if we have understood these psychic energies through spiritual science we know that they go on living, that they pass over into a spiritual world, into a new relationship on abandoning the old. And if we remember how we ourselves become memories and thoughts in higher consciousnesses, just this tragic death in these times [Zeitentod] of so many before our eyes to-day, will appear in a higher light. In such a light that we see the energies taken from the body before our eyes penetrate upwards into higher consciousnesses — and we see these higher consciousnesses looking down on the physical life on earth. With their reinforced energies they have absorbed all that man has sacrificed to them. And because it is these higher consciousnesses that offer us the spiritual nourishment, the energies for the fertilization of our soul, the forces of preservation and life, as the physical energies offer us physical nourishment, we can look up to those who through contemporary events are passing with the death-sacrifice into spiritual worlds, as to something that in the future will look down strengthening and vitalizing all that passes on the physical plane of earth. There is now a real, actual sense in the words: “Sacrifice on the battlefield receives a meaning in terms of the total development of mankind.” And we can now explain what is meant by that statement when we know that, as we stand as physical men in relation to nature, and she nourishes us, so we offer ourselves as nourishment to the spirits and gods; but they themselves give us what we need to nourish and strengthen our soul. And when young energies, dying on the battlefield or expiring as a consequence of their wounds, leave the body, these young energies are vitalizing energies for the future evolution of the human race.

It touches us, therefore, very closely that the hero sacrificing himself on the battlefield should be filled with the consciousness that he is not merely dying but coming to life in his death and living on for the salvation and the vital future of mankind — and will live differently from if he had died another kind of death. We see the sense in this death-sacrifice when we recognize that the seed is being sown for the future flowering of mankind and when we know that the soldier may be deeply conscious that he is living to-day his death, experiencing to-day his fate of being wounded, but preserving the energies intact trough which he will live at one eternally with that for which he is dying.

Extracted from all sentimentality, and set down in reality is that which might otherwise be taken as symbolic or metaphorical. Thus, a spiritual meditation such as ours to-day about the life of the human soul in outward existence, and also in the supersensible existence, creates, as I believe, right impulses in a right sense towards what we live through to-day as “the fate of the hour.” And when on the occurrence of an important spiritual event, a poet, Robert Prutz [Footnote by Editor: Robert Prutz, 1816-72, poet, dramatist, journalist, idealist, novelist. He was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for his poems: Mai 1866 against the Austrian War. The event referred to in the last sentence may be the revolution of 1848, or the war of 1870.], says beautiful words about the ideal deeds of his people, we may give a yet deeper sense to his words, from the point of view of spiritual science, as regards the events of the time.

Looking on what the soul of man lives through in life and in death, we may ask: What is the meaning of the deaths, the sufferings, which our time demands from us? We can then to-day, still deepen the sense of Robert Prutz's words, say to everyone who feels and lives through what our time demands, the words that he used on the occasion of an event of less importance in world history:


Es gilt dem kommenden Geschlechte,
Es gilt dem künftigen Morgenrot,
Der Freiheit gilt es und dem Rechte,
Es gilt dem Leben und dem Tod.


Now for the age that followeth,
Now for the dawn that is to be,
Now for the right and liberty,
Now for our life and for our death.




Last Modified: 02-Dec-2018
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