For centuries now men have become less and less accustomed to turn their minds to the spiritual world. We say, and rightly say, that the last few centuries have inaugurated an age of materialism which has set its stamp not only upon man's thinking but also upon his will, his actions, indeed upon his whole life. And we in the Anthroposophical Society realise that the purpose of this Society is to awaken forces whereby men will be released from their bondage to matter, from influences which make them deny the reality of the Spiritual.
But if the Anthroposophical Movement is to provide the impulse that is needed in the evolution of humanity, all the teachings, all the treasures of wisdom which have for many years been flowing through it must be applied with real earnestness. We must ponder deeply on the realities of man's life to-day. He comes into the world through birth with traits inherited from parents and ancestors, he is influenced and guided by current views and opinions and at a certain age he becomes alert and awake to the life that surrounds him in the outer world. He pays attention to the ideas, the thoughts, the deeds, the impulses to be found in his environment; he tries to understand his place as a member of a particular nation, as a member of humanity in general, and so forth.
In the Anthroposophical Movement we accept the enlightening truth that all of us who are present here have passed through earlier lives on the earth. We have carried into this present life the fruits of those earlier lives. And we are mindful not only of what we are within our present nation, within modern humanity, but we realise that we have already passed through a number of incarnations on the earth and that in other conditions of existence between death and rebirth we have so worked at the development of the Self, the Ego, that we have made ourselves what we are to-day.
But in his everyday consciousness man does not realise that these previous earthly lives must also be taken into account. Nor will any progress be possible unless he studies the whole of life in the light of karma, of destiny taking shape from one earthly life to another. The historical life of humanity must, above all, be studied from this point of view. We say to ourselves that here or there an outstanding personality appeared, one who accomplished great things for mankind. Do we really understand such a personality if we merely consider that he was born at a certain time and then follow the experiences and events of that single life? If the teachings available in the Anthroposophical Movement are taken seriously, our attitude must rather be this: There we see a personality who in his incarnation now or in the past, represents the fruits of earlier earthly lives, and we cannot really understand him without taking those earlier lives into account.
If this point of view is seriously adopted, however, our conception of history will be radically different from that prevailing to-day. It is customary nowadays to recount the facts and events of the various epochs of human history — in connection, let us say, with a statesman, a painter or some other outstanding figure. Accounts are given of his life and deeds on earth, but the idea that earlier earthly lives play over into a given incarnation is never seriously considered. Yet there can be no real understanding of history without the knowledge that what happens in a later time is the fruit carried over by the human being himself from earlier into later epochs. The human beings who are living to-day or who lived centuries ago were also on the earth in past ages and have carried over into this later epoch the results of what they thought and experienced in those bygones times.
How, for example, are we to understand a phenomenon of the present age as disturbing as the following? — For well nigh two thousand years, all that was inaugurated through the Mystery of Golgotha has been with us; ever since then the Christ Impulse has been working in European and Western civilisation. But in the very same world through which the Christ Impulse has passed, warming the hearts and enlightening the minds of men, a different element has taken root. In that same world are to be found the results of all that is inculcated even into our children through the introduction of modern science into the schools, all the ideas and views presented to us by the newspapers every morning at breakfast. Then again, think of the prevailing conceptions of the nature and being of man, think of all that science has introduced into public life, all that art and other branches of culture have produced .. . it cannot be said that these things are permeated by the Christ Impulse. They are there side-by-side with the Christ Impulse. Indeed many men are at pains to prevent the influence of the Christ Impulse finding its way into the domains of anatomy, physiology, biology or history, and to keep all such fields of knowledge separate and apart.
Why is it so? As long as we merely speak of some personality who was, let us say, a scientist, who received this or that kind of education, who engaged in some form of research, or again, if we merely speak of a statesman as having been a Liberal or a Conservative, we shall not understand how the Christ Impulse can flow through modern civilisation simultaneously with elements that need have nothing whatever in common with Christianity. How can this be? We shall, however, be able to understand if we study the different earthly lives of outstanding personalities, for we shall realise then that human beings carry over into later epochs the thoughts, the impulses of will they unfolded in their earlier incarnations.
We observe personalities in history who have had great influence upon our own epoch. Think, for example, of one whose influence upon external life, especially in domains where science plays a part, has been deep and far-reaching — I am referring to Bacon, Lord Bacon of Verulam. He appears in the world and details of his life are well known. We see him working in the sphere of Christian civilisation. Yet there is no trace whatever of the Christian Impulse in his writings. Bacon of Verulam might equally have arisen from some non-Christian civilisation. What he actually says about Christianity is extremely superficial compared with the real impulse that was within him. The same characteristic is to be perceived in Bacon the scientist, Bacon the philosopher, Bacon the statesman.
Again, think of a personality like Darwin. Darwin was a good and sincere Christian, but there was no connection whatever between his Christianity and his ideas about the evolution of animals and man. The trend of thought in both cases is altogether different from that of the Christian Impulse.
We shall make no headway unless we ask ourselves: What can there have been in the earlier earthly lives, let us say of Bacon, or of Darwin? What had they carried over from their earlier incarnations?
If the Anthroposophical Society is to fulfil its purpose, such questions must no longer remain abstract. The mere knowledge that man lives many times on the earth, that one thing or another is carried over from an earlier into a later life will not lead us far. There is of course nothing against reflections of this kind; they amount to no more than a general belief and are innocuous. But what we must do is to study the concrete realities of man's being and understand his life in some later epoch in the light of what he was in earlier incarnations.
We shall now proceed to study these matters, beginning with an example taken from history, in order to tackle the subject of karma in all earnestness. Observing the progress of evolution revealed by civilisation, by the deeds of humanity, we shall be able to perceive how individuals carry over into a later epoch what they acquired and made their own in an earlier one.
For example: Bacon of Verulam appears in a certain age; Darwin appears in a later epoch. We discern a certain similarity between them. Superficial study merely sets out to discover how Bacon, how Darwin, evolved their particular views and ideas. But if we go more deeply into the matter we find that both of them introduce into Christian civilisation an element which, to begin with, is altogether inexplicable as a product of that civilisation.
As we look back, the question arises: Had not Bacon and Darwin passed through earlier lives on earth? They carried over from those earlier incarnations the traits and characteristics revealed in their later lives. When we understand them as individuals, then and only then do we understand their real place in history. For when the reality of karma is taken seriously, history resolves itself into deeds of men, into streams of human lives flowing from remote ages of the past into the present and thence into the future.
From now onwards these things will be spoken of without reserve; we shall speak of facts of the spiritual life in such a way that external history and the external world of nature will themselves reveal to us the spiritual realities lying behind.
It is certain that these questions, bearing as they do upon the spiritual and physical worlds alike, will, to begin with, be taken less seriously than is their due. For judgments about such matters cannot be formed as judgments are formed about the things of ordinary life. And in order to indicate the many underlying factors which have to be taken into consideration, I should like to make a certain personal reference — although it is meant to be quite objective — before we come to answer the questions: Who was Bacon in his previous life? Who was Darwin in his previous life? [Dr. Steiner did not speak further of Darwin in these lectures. Readers are referred to his lecture in Dornach, 16th March, 1924. Karmic Relationships, Vol. I.]
In the Goetheanum Weekly, as you know, I am writing the story of my life. But in a periodical intended for the outside world as well, it is not possible to speak of everything and certain additions must be made for the sake of those within our Movement who earnestly desire to find their way into the spiritual world. And so to-day, before I proceed in the next lectures to answer such questions as have here been raised, I should like to make this brief personal reference.
Those who like myself were born in the sixties of last century have lived through the epoch when the Gabriel Rulership of the preceding three and a half centuries was superseded by the Michael Rulership. The Michael Rulership, that is to say the entry of the Sun-Impulse belonging to Michael into the civilisation of humanity, began at the end of the seventies of last century. In the time immediately after the entry of the Michael influence, in the eighties and nineties, when the Michael Rulership was beginning to take effect behind the scenes of external happenings, those who were passing through the period of the development of the Intellectual or Mind Soul — that is to say between the ages of twenty-eight and thirty-five — were really living in a kind of aloofness from the physical world. For when a human being is consciously active and alert in the Mind Soul he is aloof in a very real sense from the material world.
We speak of man as a being composed of physical body, etheric body, sentient body. With his physical body he stands clearly within the physical world. With his etheric body, sentient body and sentient soul too, he is strongly involved in the external world. But he can live aloof and apart from the external, material world when he is fully conscious in the Mind Soul, before the Consciousness or Spiritual Soul awakens in the thirty-fifth year of life. Full consciousness within the Mind Soul can transport a man altogether into the world of soul. And so in the eighties and nineties of last century there was opportunity for those possessed of the corresponding faculties to live in the Mind Soul, aloof to a greater or less extent from the physical world.
What does this mean? It means that in the Mind Soul, aloof from the material world, one was able to live in the very world into which Michael was entering on his way down towards the earth. The eighties and nineties produced many things that evoked wonder and admiration, there were many fields in which men became expert and many ways by which culture was enriched. Modern literature has words of high praise for this period. Think only of what was achieved by newspapers and in the world of art from the years 1879, 1880–1890 onwards. But in these very years there were happenings of an altogether different character. — Behind a thin veil, a very thin veil at that time, was a world adjoining our physical world. Peculiar conditions prevailed shortly before the close of Kali Yuga at the end of the 19th century. In a neighbouring world, separated from the physical world by a veil so thin that it was impenetrable only to the everyday consciousness of men, things were taking place which must come to clearer and clearer evidence in the physical world and their influences brought to effect.
In very truth something mysterious was at work in the closing decades of the 19th century. There were momentous happenings, grouped around the Spirit we name Michael. Participating in these happenings were strong and forceful followers of Michael, human souls living at that time in their existence between death and rebirth, not yet incarnate in the physical body; but there were also mighty demonic Powers who under the sway of Ahrimanic influences set themselves in rebellion against what was thus to come into the world.
If I may now be allowed to make a personal reference, it is this: Conceptions of the reality of the spiritual world presented no difficulty to me at any age. What the spiritual world revealed penetrated into my soul, formed itself into ideas, into thoughts. On the other hand, things that came easily to others were difficult for me. I was always able quickly to grasp the arguments of natural scientific thinking, but concrete facts would not remain in my memory, simply would not register there. I could without effort understand the wave-theory, the arguments of the mathematicians, physicists and chemists; on the other hand, unlike most others, I could not recognise a particular mineral if I had seen it only once or twice; I was obliged to look at it perhaps thirty or forty times before I could recognise it again. I found it difficult to retain concrete pictures of the things of the external, material world. It was not easy for me to come fully into the physical world of sense.
For this reason I lived with all the forces of the Mind Soul through what was taking place in this world behind the veil, in this sphere of Michael's activity. And it was there that the great challenge arose once and for all to deal earnestly with the reality of the spiritual world, to bring these momentous questions to the light of day. External life offered no incentive, for all that was done there was to hash up once again the old, well-worn biographies of men like Darwin and Bacon. But there behind the scenes, behind this thin veil, in the region where Michael was at work, the great questions were brought to an issue. And this above all was borne in upon one: What a vast difference there is between asking these questions inwardly and putting them into actual words!
At the present time people think that once something is known it can immediately be spoken about. Indeed everything that enters people's ken to-day is at once put into words and announced. But when the questions at issue in Michael's sphere in the eighties and nineties took hold of a man, they worked on into the 20th century. And even after having lived with these questions for decades, every time one wanted to utter them, it was as though the opponents of Michael gathered round and sealed one's lips — for about certain matters silence was to be maintained.
Much that remained a Michael secret had therefore to be carried onward in the heart of the Anthroposophical Movement itself — above all the truths relating to historical connections of the kind to which reference has been made. But for a certain time now — actually for months — it has been possible for me to speak of these things without reserve. That is why I have been able to speak freely of the connections between earthly lives, and shall also do so here. For this is part of the unveiling of those Michael Mysteries which took the course I have described to you.
This is one of the subjects which, up till now, has been dealt with in a more abstract way. At the beginning of the lecture I spoke of an eventuality, namely that the spiritual world might have withheld consent. It has not been so. What has actually happened is that since the Christmas Foundation Meeting and above all because of the opportunities vouchsafed to me for occult work, the demons who hitherto prevented these things from being voiced have been compelled to remain silent. The things to which I refer are not, of course, entirely new, for they were experienced a long time ago in the way I have indicated to you. But it must be remembered that in occultism things that are discovered one day cannot be communicated the next.
I have now spoken of a certain change in circumstances and am telling you these things in order that when, in the future, reference is made to concrete realities in the repeated earthly lives of conspicuous or inconspicuous personalities, you may understand them with the necessary earnestness. Such things must not be lightly taken but with the respect that is their due.
In the forthcoming lectures such indications will be multiplied and elaborated. But before speaking about earlier incarnations of men like Darwin and others I wanted first to emphasise by what kind of spiritual atmosphere these things must be pervaded and the nature of the enlightenment that needs to be shed upon them.