Steiner Online Library Spiritual Science for Human Evolution

Karmic Relationships VIII
GA 240

Lecture II

14 August 1924, Torquay

I have raised the question: How can we find in earlier earthly lives the explanation of a later incarnation, in the case not only of historical personages but also in that of many a personality unnoticed by history whose influence nevertheless arouses our interest? And to-day, as a foundation for further studies, I shall indicate connections in the incarnations of certain individuals. What I shall put before you is the outcome of a particular kind of spiritual investigation, and with this foundation — which will be given in narrative form to-day — we shall begin to understand how the successive earthly lives of individuals can be discovered.

We will take characteristic personalities whose names I gave as examples in the last lecture. Such personalities make us alive to the fact that spiritual impulses of very different kinds are working in our present civilisation. For well nigh two thousand years Christianity has been spreading in the West and in many colonial territories, influencing civilisation to a greater extent than is imagined. It is true, of course, that really close study may reveal the working of the Christ Impulse in many things where there is at first no evidence of it. But for all that, it cannot be denied that there are elements in our civilisation which seem to have no connection whatever with Christianity. Certain views and customs of life which seem to be utterly at variance with Christianity take root in our civilisation.

The attention of one who calls super-sensible research to his aid in order to discover the deeper reasons for the course taken by the spiritual life of mankind, is drawn to a phenomenon insufficiently studied in connection with the growth of Western civilisation. His attention is drawn to the work of an institution which flourished in the East in the days of Charlemagne in the West. I am referring to that Court in the East whose ruler, surrounded by oriental splendour and magnificence, was Haroun al Raschid, the contemporary of Charlemagne whose achievements in the West fade into insignificance as compared with the brilliance of what was going forth, at the very same time, from the Court of Haroun al Raschid.

All branches of spiritual life had been brought together at this Court in Western Asia. It must be remembered that through the expeditions of Alexander, Greek culture had been carried over to Asia in a form of which only a faint inkling remains to-day. The finest fruits of Greek culture had found their way to Asia, brought thither by the genius of Alexander the Great. And as a result, many centres of learning in the East had adopted conceptions of the world which faithfully preserved the old, while rejecting many elements that in the West were threatening to submerge the old.

Through the expeditions of Alexander the Great, a certain rational and healthy form of mysticism had been carried over to Asia, with the result that men who were more adapted for the kind of philosophical thinking thus introduced, regarded the world as pervaded by the Cosmic Intelligence. Over in Asia in those times a man did not say: “I think this or that out for myself, I have my own, personal intelligence” — but he said: “Everything that is thought is thought by Gods, primarily by the supreme Godhead — the Godhead as conceived by Aristotelianism.” The intelligence in a human being was a drop of the Universal Intelligence manifesting in the individual, so that in head and heart man felt himself to be an integral part of the Universal Intelligence.

Such was the mood-of-soul in those times and it prevailed, still, at the Court of Haroun al Raschid in the 8th and 9th centuries after the founding of Christianity. Nor must it be forgotten that many learned sages had taken refuge in Asia when the Schools of Greek philosophy were exterminated in Europe. Astronomy with a strongly mystical trend, architecture and other forms of art revealing truly creative power, poetry, sciences, directives for practical life — all these things flourished at the Court of Haroun al Raschid. He was a splendour-loving but at the same time a highly gifted organiser and he gathered at his Court the most learned men of his day, men who although they were no longer working as Initiates, still preserved and cultivated in a living way much of the ancient wisdom of the Mysteries.

We will consider more closely one such personality. He was a very wise Counsellor of Haroun al Raschid. His name is of no consequence and has not come down to posterity, but he was a man of great wisdom and in order to understand him we must pay attention to something that may surprise even those who are to some extent conversant with Spiritual Science.

There is a question which may occur to all of you. You may say: Anthroposophy tells us that there were once Initiates, living here or there, possessing far-reaching knowledge and profound wisdom. But since men live again in new earthly lives, why is it that to-day, for example, we do not recognise reincarnated sages of old? This would be an entirely reasonable question.

But one who is aware of the conditions by which earthly life is determined, knows that an individuality whose karma leads him from pre-earthly existence to birth in a particular epoch, must accept the educational facilities which that epoch affords. And so it may well be that although some individual was an Initiate in bygone times, the knowledge he possessed as an Initiate remains in the subconscious realm of the soul; his day-consciousness gives indications of powers of some significance but does not directly reveal what was once in his soul in an earlier incarnation as an Initiate.

This is true of that wise Counsellor of Haroun al Raschid. In very ancient Mysteries he had been an Initiate. He had reincarnated and he lived as a reincarnated Initiate at the Court of Haroun al Raschid; the fruits of his earlier Initiation revealed themselves in a genius for organisation and he was able to administer in a truly masterly way the work of the other learned men at that Court. But he did not make the direct impression of an Initiate. Through his own being and qualities, not merely through the fact of earlier Initiation, he preserved the ancient Initiation-Science — but as I said, he did not actually give the impression of having attained Initiation.

Haroun al Raschid held this wise man in high esteem, entrusting him with the organisation of all the sciences and arts flourishing at the Court. Haroun al Raschid was happy to have this man at his side, feeling tied to him by a deep and sincere friendship.

We will now turn our attention to these two individuals, Haroun al Raschid and his wise Counsellor — remembering that in the 8th and 9th centuries at the Court of Charlemagne in Europe, men of the highest social rank (including Charlemagne himself) were only just beginning to make their first attempts at writing; at the same Court, Eginhart was endeavouring to formulate the early rudiments of grammar. In days when everything in Europe was extremely primitive, over in Asia much brilliant spiritual culture was personified in Haroun al Raschid whom Charlemagne held in great veneration. But this was a kind of culture which knew nothing of Christ nor wished to have anything to do with Christianity; it preserved and cultivated the best elements of Arabism and also kept alive ancient forms of Aristotelian thought — those forms which had not made their way to Europe, for it was chiefly Aristotelian logic and dialectic which had spread so widely in the West and were the principles upon which the work of the Church Fathers and later on that of the Schoolmen was based.

As a result of the achievements of Alexander the Great, it was the more mystical and scientific knowledge imparted by Aristotle that had been cultivated in Asia where it had all come under the influence of the tremendously powerful intelligence of Arabism — which was, however, held to be a revealed, an inspired intelligence.

The existence of Christianity was known to the learned men at the Court of Haroun al Raschid but they regarded it as primitive and elementary in comparison with their own intellectual achievements.

We will now follow the subsequent destinies of these two personalities; Haroun al Raschid and his wise Counsellor. Having worked in the way I have described, they bore with them through the gate of death the impulse to ensure that the kind of thinking, the world-conception cultivated at this Court, should spread in the world.

Let us consider soberly and in all earnestness, what then ensued. Two individualities start out from Asia: the wise Counsellor and his overlord, Haroun al Raschid. For a time after death they remained together. It was to Alexandrianism, to Aristotelianism, that they owed the knowledge they had acquired. But they also absorbed all that in later times had been done to re-cast, to re-model these teachings. Unless it is possible to grasp what is happening in the spiritual world while the events of the physical world take their course on the earth below, we can understand only a tiny fraction of the world.

History gives a picture of what transpired after the epoch of Charlemagne and Haroun al Raschid. But while all that history relates about Asia and Europe was proceeding in the 8th and 9th centuries and on into the late Middle Ages, other most significant happenings were taking place in the spiritual world above. It must not be forgotten that while the physical life below and the spiritual life above flow on, influences from souls passing through their existence between death and rebirth stream down perpetually upon earthly life. Therefore we do right to attach importance to what the discarnate souls yonder in the spiritual world are experiencing and how they are acting in any particular epoch. Human life, above all in its course through history, can never be really comprehensible unless we turn our attention to what is happening behind the scenes of external history, in the spiritual world.

Now it must be remembered that the impressions which men carry with them through the gate of death often differ in a very marked degree from the impressions people have of them during earthly life. And those who cannot throw off preconceptions when they are observing the spiritual life may find it difficult to recognise some particular individuality who in his existence after death is revealed to the eye of the seer. Nevertheless there are means whereby one can learn to perceive phases of spiritual life other than the one immediately following earthly existence. I have spoken of this in the Lecture-Course that is being given here 1True and False Paths in Spiritual Investigation. Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969. and I shall have still more to say about the later phases of the life stretching from death to a new birth. We shall then understand more clearly the nature of the paths which enable us to make contact with the so-called Dead.

It is by these same paths that we are able to follow the further destinies of individuals such as Haroun al Raschid and his wise Counsellor. In order to understand later developments in European civilisation it is of the greatest importance to take account of these two individuals, above all of the bond between them in their thought and principles of action. Haroun al Raschid and his Counsellor also bore with them through the gate of death a deep and strong affinity with the individualities of Alexander and Aristotle — who had, of course, preceded them in earthly existence by many centuries — and an intense longing to come into direct contact with them again. Moreover a meeting actually took place, with consequences of far-reaching significance.

For a while, Haroun al Raschid and his Counsellor journeyed onwards together in the super-sensible world, looking down from thence upon happenings in the civilised world further to the West, in Greece, in certain regions North of the Black Sea, and so forth. They looked down upon it all and among the events upon which their gaze fell was one of which much has been said in anthroposophical lectures, namely the 8th General Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in the year 869 A.D.

The effect of this 8th Ecumenical Council upon the development of Western civilisation was incisive and profound, for Trichotomy, the definition of man as body, soul and Spirit, was then declared heretical. It was decreed that true Christians must speak of man as a twofold being, consisting of body and soul only, the soul possessing certain spiritual qualities and forces. The reason why so little inclination to spirituality is to be discerned in Christian civilisation is that acknowledgment of the Spirit was declared heretical by the 8th Ecumenical Council in the year 869.

It was a momentous event, the effects of which have been far too little heeded. The Spirit was done away with: man was to be regarded as consisting only of body and soul. But the shattering experience for one who can observe the spiritual life and above all for one who truly participates in it is that precisely when here on earth in the year 869 A.D. the Spirit was done away with, there took place in the spiritual world above the meeting between the souls of Haroun al Raschid and his wise Counsellor and the souls of Alexander the Great and Aristotle.

In thinking about what follows, you must accustom yourselves to the fact that super-sensible happenings will now be spoken of in Anthroposophy as naturally as we speak of happenings in the physical world. The lives of Alexander the Great and of Aristotle in those particular incarnations marked the culmination of a certain epoch. The impulse which had been given by ancient cultures and had come to expression in Greece was formulated by Aristotle into concepts which in the form of ideas dominated the West and human civilisation in general for long ages of time.

Alexander the Great, the pupil and friend of Aristotle, had with stupendous forcefulness spread the impulses given by Aristotle over wide areas of the then known world. This impulse was still working in Asia in the days of Haroun al Raschid. It had long possessed a centre of brilliant and illustrious learning in Alexandria but at the same time, working through many hidden channels, it had a profound effect upon the whole of oriental culture.

All this had reached a certain culmination. The impulses of ancient spirituality in their manifold forms had converged in Alexandrianism and Aristotelianism. Christianity was born. The Mystery of Golgotha took place — in an age when the individualities of Alexander and Aristotle were not incarnated on the earth but were in the spiritual world, in intimate communion with what we call the dominion of Michael whose earthly rule had also come to its close, for Oriphiel had then succeeded Michael as the ruling Time-Spirit. Centuries had passed since the Mystery of Golgotha. What Alexander and Aristotle had established on earth, the aims to which they had dedicated all their powers, the one in the field of thought, the other giving effect to a great genius for rulership — all this had been at work on the earth below. And from the spiritual world these two souls beheld it flowing on through the centuries, during one of which the Mystery of Golgotha had taken place. They turned their gaze upon all that was being done to spread a knowledge of the Mystery of Golgotha. They saw their work spreading abroad on the earth beneath, spreading too through the activities of individuals like Haroun al Raschid and his Counsellor.

But in the souls of Alexander and Aristotle themselves there was an urge for something completely new, for a new beginning — not a mere continuation of what was already on the earth, but veritably a new beginning. In a certain respect, of course, there would be continuation, for it was not a question of sweeping away the old. But a new and mighty impulse whereby a particular form of Christianity would be instilled into earthly civilisation — it was to the inauguration of this impulse that Alexander and Aristotle dedicated themselves.

When their karma led them down again to incarnation on the earth ( — it was before the meeting had taken place with Haroun al Raschid and his Counsellor — ) they lived, unknown and unheeded, in a corner of Europe not without importance for Anthroposophy, dying at an early age, but gazing for a brief moment as it were through a window into the civilisation of the West, receiving impressions and impulses but giving none of any significance themselves. That was to come later.

They had returned again into the spiritual world and were in the spiritual world when in the year 869 the 8th Ecumenical Council was held at Constantinople. It was then that the meeting took place in the spiritual world between Aristotle and Alexander on the one side and Haroun al Raschid and his wise Counsellor on the other. It was an exchange of thought and ideas in the super-sensible world, of immense, far-reaching significance. We must realise that exchanges or conferences of this nature in the super-sensible world are of infinitely greater moment than mere discussions in words. When people on the earth sit together in discussion, when words shoot hither and thither without having much effect one way or the other, this is not even a shadowy image of what transpires when great decisions affecting the spiritual life as well, are taken in super-sensible worlds.

Alexander and Aristotle affirmed at that time that what had been established in earlier days must now be guided undeviatingly into the dominion of Michael. For it was known that Michael would again assume his Regency in the 19th century.

At this point we must understand one another. As the evolution of mankind flows onwards, one of the Archangels becomes Regent and exercises earthly rule for a period of three to three-and-a-half centuries. At the time when Aristotelianism was carried by Alexander the Great to Asia and Africa, at the time when the spread of this culture was pervaded by a cosmopolitan, international spirit, Michael was the Ruling Archangel; the spiritual life was under his dominion. The Regency of Michael was followed by that of Oriphiel. Then, until the 14th century A.D., there follow the Rulerships of Anael, Zachariel, Raphael, Samael — each lasting for three to four centuries. Gabriel is Regent from the 15th until the last third of the 19th century, when Michael again assumes dominion. Seven Archangels follow one another. Thus the earthly Rulerships of six other Archangels follow that of Michael, which was in force at the time of Alexander, and Michael assumes dominion again at the end of the 19th century. We ourselves, do we but rightly understand the spiritual life, live under the direct influence of the Michael Rulership.

And so in the century when the meeting with Haroun al Raschid took place, Alexander and Aristotle turned their gaze to the earlier Rulership of Michael under which their work had been carried forward, they turned their gaze to the Mystery of Golgotha which as members of the Michael-community they had experienced from the sphere of the Sun, not from the earth — for at that time Michael's rule on earth was over. Michael and his own, among them Alexander and Aristotle, did not experience the Mystery of Golgotha from the vantage-point of the earth; they did not witness the arrival of Christ on the earth, they witnessed His departure from the Sun. But all that they experienced formed itself into the impulse which remained alive in them — the impulse to ensure that the new Michael Rulership, to which with every fibre of their souls Alexander and Aristotle had pledged their troth, would bring a Christianity not only firmly established but more inward, more profound. The new dominion of Michael was to begin in the year 1879 and last for three to four centuries. This is our own epoch and it behoves Anthroposophists to understand what it means to be living under the Michael Rulership.

Neither Haroun al Raschid nor his Counsellor were willing to accept this — the Counsellor with less emphasis, but fundamentally it was so in his case too. They desired, first and foremost, that the world should be dominated by the impulse that had taken such firm root in Mohammedanism. The participants in this spiritual struggle in the 9th century A.D. confronted each other in resolute, intense opposition — Haroun al Raschid and his Counsellor on the one side and, on the other, the individualities who had lived as Aristotle and Alexander.

The aftermaths of this spiritual struggle worked on in the civilisation of Europe, are indeed working to this day. For what happens in the spiritual world above works down upon and into the affairs of the earth. And the very opposition with which Haroun al Raschid and his wise Counsellor confronted Aristotle and Alexander at that time added strength to the impulse, so that from this meeting two streams went forth — one taking its course in Arabism and one whereby, through the impulses of the Michael Rulership, Aristotelianism was to be led over into Christianity.

After this encounter in the super-sensible world, Haroun al Raschid and his Counsellor continued along a path leading towards the West, watching and observing what was happening below on the earth. From this super-sensible existence, the one (he who had lived as Haroun al Raschid) concerned himself deeply with civilisation in Northern Africa, in Southern. Europe, in Spain, in France. During approximately the same period, the other (he who had been the wise Counsellor) concerned himself with the happenings of the spiritual life more towards the East, in the neighbourhood of the Black Sea, and thence through Europe as far as Holland and even England. And at roughly the same time, both were born again in European civilisation.

Now there need not necessarily be external similarity between such reincarnations. It is as a rule quite erroneous to believe that a man who has in him a particular kind of spirituality will be born again with that same spirituality. We must look more deeply into the roots of the human soul if we are to speak truly about repeated earthly lives. So, for example, we may take the famous Pope Gregory VII, the former Abbot Hildebrand — a Pope who worked fervidly for the cause of Catholicism and to whom is due much of the power wielded by the Papacy in the Middle Ages. He was born again in the 19th century as Ernst Haeckel, a bitter opponent of the Papacy. Haeckel is the reborn Abbot Hildebrand, Gregory VII, Gregory the Great. In giving this example my only object is to show that it is the inner, deep-rooted impulses of the soul and not external similarity of thought and outlook that are carried over from one earthly life into another.

And so while the Arabians were still surging across Africa into Spain, it was the natural tendency of Haroun al Raschid and his Counsellor to watch and exercise a protective influence over these campaigns. Outwardly, of course, the spread of Mohammedanism was checked, but its inner characteristics and trends were carried through the spiritual life by both these individualities on their journey between death and rebirth — carried over from the past into the future.

Haroun al Raschid was born again as Bacon of Verulam. His wise Counsellor too was born again, almost at the same time, as Amos Comenius, the educational reformer.

Think of what was brought into the world through Bacon of Verulam who was only outwardly a Christian and who introduced the abstract trend of Arabism into European science; and then think of what Amos Comenius instilled into education — his advocacy of material, concrete realism, his principles of the form in which all teaching matter should be imparted. It is a trend that has no direct connection with Christianity. Although Amos Comenius worked among the Moravian Brothers, what he actually brought into being is to be explained by the fact that in a previous incarnation he stood in the same relationship to the development of the spiritual life of mankind as did the culture flourishing at the Court of Haroun al Raschid.

Think of every line of Bacon's writings, of what lies inherent in the sense-realism, as it is called, of Amos Comenius — it is all a riddle, perplexing, inexplicable. Lord Bacon is a violent opponent of Aristotelianism. His passionate antagonism is so clearly in evidence that one can perceive how deeply this impulse is rooted in his soul. The spiritual investigator who is able to discern and penetrate these things, not only studies Bacon of Verulam and Amos Comenius but also follows their life in the super-sensible world between death and rebirth. In the writings of Bacon of Verulam and Amos Comenius, in the very tone of their writings, in everything about them there is evidence of rebellion against Aristotelianism. How is this to be explained?

The following must be remembered. When Bacon and Amos Comenius returned to earthly life, Alexander and Aristotle had already again been in incarnation during the Middle Ages, at a time when they, for their part, had accomplished- what it was then possible to accomplish for Aristotelianism, moreover when Aristotelianism itself was present in a form very different from that in which it had been cultivated by Haroun al Raschid — who, as I said, is the same individuality as Bacon of Verulam.

Picture to yourselves the whole situation. Think of the meeting — if I may express it so — in the year 869 A.D. and of how under this influence there had taken shape in Haroun al Raschid impulses of soul which now encountered something that had already been partially accomplished on the earth — for Alexander and Aristotle had already been in incarnation and their lives as men on earth in the pre-Christian era had played no part in giving effect to their aim. Realising this, you will understand the nature of the impulses resulting from that meeting in the spiritual world. And from the fact that Bacon and Amos Comenius could now perceive what Alexandrianism and Aristotelianism had become in the world, you will be able to understand the tone pervading their writings — the writings of Bacon especially, but also those of Amos Comenius.

Studied in the true and real way, history, as you see, leads us from the earth to the heavens. Account must be taken of happenings that can only be revealed in the super-sensible world. To understand Bacon of Verulam and Amos Comenius we must follow them backwards, first through the epoch when Aristotelianism was being promulgated by Scholasticism, backwards again to the encounter in the year 869 at the time of the 8th Ecumenical Council and then still further back, to the epoch when Alexandrianism and Aristotelianism were being promoted and cultivated by Haroun al Raschid and his wise Counsellor in the form that was possible in those days. The happenings of life on the earth can only be really comprehensible when account is taken of how the super-sensible world works into the physical world.

This much I wanted to say, in order to show you that the work and influence of certain personalities on earth can only be understood by following and observing their several incarnations.

There is no time to say more about these things to-day and I will therefore bring the lecture to a brief conclusion.

As we study the progress of human civilisation it becomes apparent that through such individualities as Haroun al Raschid and his Counsellor who was subsequently reborn as Amos Comenius, there creeps into the development of Christianity an element that will not merge with Christianity but inclines strongly towards Arabism. Thus in our own time we have on the one side the direct, unbroken line of Christian development and on the other, the penetration of Arabism, first and foremost in abstract science.

What I want particularly to lay on your hearts is the following: Spiritual contemplation of these two streams leads our gaze to many things which have taken place in the super-sensible world, for example to an event like that of the meeting between Alexander, Aristotle, Haroun al Raschid and his wise Counsellor. Impulses kindled by many such events furthered the spread of true Christianity, while other events were the causes of hindrances along its path. But because in the spiritual world the Michael Impulse has taken the course I have indicated to you, there is good hope that in time to come Christianity will receive its real and true form under the sign of the Michael Impulse. For under the sign of the Michael Impulse other exchanges of thought have also taken place in the super-sensible world.

Let me add only this. Many personalities have come together in the Anthroposophical Society. They too have their karma which leads back to earlier times and appears in many different forms as we go backwards to the pre-earthly existence and then to earlier incarnations. Among those who come to the Anthroposophical Movement with real sincerity, there are only a few who were not led by their karma to participate in such happenings as I have now been describing to you. In one way or another, those who with deep sincerity feel the urge to enter the Anthroposophical Society are connected with events like the meeting of Alexander and Aristotle with Haroun al Raschid and his wise Counsellor. Something of the kind has determined the karma which then, in the present earthly life, takes the form of a longing to receive the spiritual knowledge that is cultivated in the Anthroposophical Movement.

But something else must here be added. Because of the particular form which the Michael Rulership assumes, there will be many deviations from the laws determining reincarnation in the case of those persons whose karma and connection with the Michael dominion leads them into the Anthroposophical Movement. For they will appear again at the turn of the 20th/21st century — therefore in less than a hundred years — in order to carry to full and culminating effect what as Anthroposophists they are able to do now in the service of Michael's dominion. The urge to be a true Anthroposophist expresses itself in the interest taken in matters of the kind of which we have been speaking — provided the interest is deep and sincere. The very understanding of these things gives rise to the impulse to return to the earth in less than a century in order to give effect to the intent and purpose of Anthroposophy.

I should like you to think deeply about the indications that have been given. In these brief words much may be found that will help you to find your true place in the Anthroposophical Movement and to feel that your membership of this Movement is deeply connected with your karma.

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"You can see from this, my dear friends, what mischief will be set on foot if the truths of Spiritual Science are withheld. For man will be exposed to the forces of evil, and he will only be protected from it by giving himself up to the spiritual life of the good. To withhold the spiritual life of goodness from men is to be no friend to humanity. Whoever does this, be he Freemason or Jesuit, is no friend to humanity. For it means handing men over to the forces of evil. And there may be a purpose in doing so. This purpose may be to confine goodness to a small circle, in order by the help of this goodness to dominate the helpless humanity who are thus led by evil into the follies of life."

—Rudolf Steiner,
Spiritual Science Notes On Goethe's Faust, Vol. II, No. 273-8.

Spiritual Exercises

Calendar of the Soul

In 1912 Rudolf Steiner offered a “calendar of the soul” with weekly verses that express how the changing seasons in both the outer natural world and our inner lives help humanity evolve. Download and read the verses in four translations with commentary by Eloise Krivosheia of the Los Angeles Branch of the Anthroposophical Society.


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