Life Between Death and Rebirth by Rudolf Steiner
Thirteen Lectures on the Subject, 1912-1913
Published by Anthroposophic Books in 1989
Book Notes by Bobby Matherne ©1997

This book of lectures could be entitled "Variations on a Theme of Life Between Death and Rebirth." In each lecture Steiner begins anew, proceeds over the same material, and comes to thesame place. And well he might, as he is covering the same body of spiritual knowledge for theenlightenment of audiences in Milan, Hanover, Vienna, Bern, Linz, Tübingen, Frankfurt, Munich, Breslau, Düsseldorf, and Strasbourg during the period 1912 through 1913. If you come to a fullunderstanding by the end of the first lecture, you may skip the remainder of the book. But if, for you,like for me, each lecture adds new pieces to the title's cosmic puzzle, you will read on until the verylast page, filling in a new piece of the puzzle here and there, and reinforcing your knowledge withevery repeated explanation.

The Diagram in Figure 1 appeared on the cover of a recent Oxford University Press Catalogthat I received while reading these lectures. It illustrates one of the important repeated themes ofthese lectures. Prior to reading Steiner, I would not have noticed the curious anomaly in thearrangement of the astronomical bodies: Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Stars [band of the zodiac]. As a physical scientist I'd have been inclined to scoff at thisdiagram as an artifact of the foolish, pre-Copernican, Earth-centered view of the Universe. But toSteiner this is an accurate map of the passage of the human spirit during the time between death andrebirth.

While incarnated we can move our physical bodies from place to place, carrying along ourconsciousness, and no two physical bodies can occupy the same space at the same time. Whileexcarnated, our spiritual bodies fill successive larger and larger spaces, and all excarnate bodies fillthe same space [to the extent of their expansion]. The first space an excarnated spiritual body fillsis the Moon Sphere [Spera Luna in Figure 1.] Then it expands to the Mercury Sphere, to the VenusSphere, etc. [Note: there is an acknowledged reversal of Mercury and Venus in this spiritualhierarchy from the physical planetary arrangement in space.]

In each sphere the excarnate human beings have different concerns. They begin with earthlyconcerns until they fully expand to the orbit of the Moon or the Moon Sphere. This is a period calledkamaloka. Then, to the extent they lived a moral life on earth, their consciousness is not dimmed asthey expand into the Mercury Sphere. As they expand into the Venus Sphere, their consciousnesswill not be dimmed if during their earthly existence they possessed a religious disposition. Duringthe next phase, the expansion into the Sol or Sun Sphere, it is their understanding of the uniformbasis of all religions and Christ event on Golgotha that keeps their consciousness from dimming.

Dimming of consciousness, to the excarnate humans, can be compared to sleep in anincarnate being, in that it fills the passage through the night that the excarnate human experiencesas it expands through the Spheres. The dimming of consciousness is not a pleasant sleep, accordingto Steiner, but rather it is connected with "the most terrible conditions of fear." Once the excarnatehuman has expanded through the Spheres, it has refreshed its life forces, as an incarnate human doesduring its nocturnal sleep, and begins shrinking back to a point on earth, ready to re-enter the seedof a human physical body, once more to learn and grow in the spirit.

Why does this newly re-incarnated spirit need to learn about life all over again as a child?Steiner points out that there's no need to be re-incarnated until the cultural conditions on earth bearno resemblance to our previous incarnation. As a child we must learn what changes have occurred during the previous cultural periods since our last incarnation.

In its spiritual existence the excarnate human being does not grow old, but grows young. Thecycle of reincarnation goes from young to old in an incarnate human and from old to young in anexcarnate human. In old German there was an expression for saying a child is born, "Er ist junggeworden", which translates literally, "He has become young." Goethe in Faust said, "He becameyoung in the Land of the Mists."

Another way Steiner has of talking about the dimming of consciousness is to say that suchpersons are unaware of the other beings who share the same heavenly sphere as they do.Paradoxically they concurrently fill the same space as all the other excarnate beings and yet, becauseof their dimmed consciousness, are unaware of them and unable to contact them. They are thespiritual equivalent of a hermit on earth. The sphere at which this occurs depends on the morality,religious disposition, and the understanding of the nature of all religions possessed by a givenindividual. The hermit conditions begins at the Mercury Sphere if the person led an immoral life, at the Venus Sphere if the person was irreligious, and at the Sun Sphere if the person lacked anunderstanding of the nature of all religions especially the import of the Christ event at Golgotha.

What about materialists, skeptics that don't believe in a spiritual world? Their beliefs willbe confirmed because their very beliefs will cut them off from the spiritual world. They will, due totheir dimming of consciousness, be unable to contact any other excarnate humans, and will, in effect,become hermits in their period between death and rebirth. Steiner mentions several times that theMonistic Union [a organization of materialistic skeptics] will dissolve once its members havereached the Sun Sphere "because, as each of them is a hermit, they cannot possibly meet."

Kant made the statement that two things moved him deeply: "the starry heavens and themoral law within." Steiner mentions this statement of Kant's in most of the lectures, commentingthat "Both are the same." In effect, Steiner is saying that we gather the moral law into us during ourexpansion into the heavenly spheres in preparation for our next incarnation.

Another repeated theme of Steiner's lectures in this book is that of extolling the benefits ofreading to the dead. This process involves reading spiritual literature while holding the face of therecently deceased person in one's mind. On page 189 he says, "One cannot really make life fruitfulfor them unless one feels what an immense service one bestows on the dead by reading to them." Hegoes on to point out that after five, six, or seven years the reading need not be in the same languageas the person spoke while an incarnate being. The person will have developed the ability tounderstand all languages in a spiritual sense by that time.

In talking about Goethe and da Vinci's unfinished works, Steiner points out that "a personwho forms a resolution but has not carried it out before his death, inscribes the fact of non-fulfillment in this [Moon] sphere." On page 260 he continues:

What has not been perfected is the seed of the following divine evolutionaryprocess. Here we come to a remarkable, magnificent paradox. The greatestblessing for a subsequent period is the fruitful imperfection, the fruitful,justifiable imperfection of an earlier period. What has been perfected in anearlier epoch is there to be enjoyed. Imperfection, however, imperfectionoriginating in great men whose influences have remained for posterity, help topromote creative activity in the following period.

What is the special place that Christianity holds vis-a-vis the other religions of the world?Steiner tells us on page 290:

We enter a new age . . . Among the religions of the earth, Christianity hasappeared last. New religions cannot be founded anymore. Such foundationsbelong to the past. They followed one another and brought forth Christianityas the last flower.

And never has that last flower bloomed so brightly as in the person of Rudolf Steiner.