Biography work

From Anthroposophy

Biography work is a retrospective process that consists in looking at one's life and how it has unfolded on various fronts, and trying to discern meaning and patterns into it. This implies taking a step back and contemplating the highs and lows that one has lived, to gain a deeper understanding of one's life lessons and journey.

The process may include elements such as:

  • karmic study work, as per karma exercises described by Rudolf Steiner in the Karmic Relationship lectures
    • relationships, both new people that enter one's life, and others that move to the background or dissappear
    • life hardships such as illness and losses
  • astrological and astrosophical work, a.i. the study of one's natal birth chart (incl elements, progressions)
    • if done for another person and not oneself, this may include the person's death chart


  • The personalities covered by Rudolf Steiner in the Karmic Relationship lectures have been subject of biographical case studies, see Karma research case studies and the references to a.o. Wolfgang Schuchhardt and Norbert Glas.

Inspirational quotes


The unexamined life is not worth living


FMC00.237 depicts Life Chart diagram diagram by George O'Neill based on Steiner's lecture of 1924-08-16-GA311 (by Florin Lowndes, see publication under references for an excellent book). This diagram is often used and appears in many books for personal biography work.


Lecture coverage and references

Rudolf Steiner lectures from the book 'Biography' (and GA volumes added, tbc):




The first step is in some degree to practise the normal kind of self-cognition, which consists in looking back over one's life and asking oneself:

·        What kind of person have I been?

·        Have I been a person with a strong inclination for reflection, for inner contemplation; or am I one who has always had more love for the sensations of the outer world, liking or disliking this or that in everyday life?

·        Was I a child who at school liked reading but not arithmetic, one who liked to hit other children but did not like being hit?

·        Or was I a child always bound to be bullied and not smart enough to bully others?

·        It is well to look back on one's life in this way, and especially to ask oneself:

·        Was I cut out for activities of the mind or of the will?

·        What did I fund easy or difficult?

·        What happened to me that I would like to have avoided?

·        What happenings made me say to myself: “I am glad this has come to pass ”— and so on.

It is good to look back on one's life in a certain way, and above all to envisage clearly those things that one did not like. All this leads to a more intimate knowledge of the inner kernel of our being.

For example, a son who would have liked to become a poet was destined by his father to be a craftsman, and a craftsman he became, although he would sooner have been a poet. It is well to know clearly what we really wanted to be, and what we have become against our will, to visualise what would have suited us in the time of our youth but was not our lot, and then, again, what we would have liked to avoid.

All that I am saying refers, of course, to life in the past, not in the future — that would be a false conception. We must therefore be quite clear as to what such a retrospect into the past means; it tells us what we did not want, what we would have liked to avoid. When we have made that clear to ourselves, we really have a picture of those things in our life which have pleased us least. That is the essential point.

And we must now try to live into a very remarkable conception: we must desire and will everything that we have not desired or willed.

We must imagine to ourselves:

What should I actually have become if I had ardently desired everything that in fact I did not wish for and which really went against the grain in life?

In a certain sense we must here rule out what we have succeeded in overcoming, for the most important thing is that we should ardently wish or picture ourselves wishing for the things we have not desired, or concerning which we have not been able to carry out our wishes, so that we create for ourselves, in feeling and thought, a being hitherto unfamiliar to us. We must picture ourselves as this being with great intensity.

If we can do this, if we can identify ourselves with the being we have ourselves built up in this way, we have made some real progress towards becoming acquainted with the inner soul-kernel of our being; for in the picture we have thus been able to make of our own personality there will arise something that we have not been in this present incarnation but which we have introduced into it. Our deeper being will emerge from the picture built up in this way.


If you call up the counterpart of yourself, the following thought will dawn upon you. This counterpart — difficult as it may be to realise it as a picture of yourself in this life — is nevertheless connected with you, and you cannot disown it. Once it appears, it will follow you, hover before your soul and crystallise in such a way that you will realise that it has something to do with you, but certainly not with your present life. And then there develops the perception that this picture is derived from an earlier life.


If we wish to discover what gifts we may probably have possessed in a former incarnation (here I must remind you that we are speaking of probabilities!) — if we wish to know what intellectual or artistic faculties, say, we possessed in a former incarnation, it is well to reflect upon those things for which we have least talent in the present life.

the fact becomes apparent that the external career of a man in one incarnation, when it is not merely a career but also an inner vocation, passes over in his next incarnation into the inward shaping of his bodily organs. Thus, if a man has been an exceptionally good mathematician in one incarnation, the mastery he has obtained over numbers and figures remains with him and goes into a special development of his sense-organs, for instance, of the eyes. People with very good sight have it as a result of the fact that in their former incarnation they thought in forms; they took this thinking in forms with them and during the life between death and rebirth they worked specially on the shaping of their eyes. Here the mathematical talent has passed into the eyes and no longer exists as a gift for mathematics.

Another case known to occultists is where an individuality in one incarnation lived with intensity in architectural forms; these experiences lived as forces in his inner soul-life and worked strongly upon the instrument of hearing, so that in his next incarnation he became a great musician. He did not appear as a great architect, because the perception of form necessary for architecture was transformed into an organ-building force, so that there was nothing left but a supreme sensitiveness for music.

just as we must reflect upon whatever did not please us and conceive of ourselves as having had an intense desire for it, so we must also reflect upon those things for which we have the least talent, and about which we are stupid. If we discover the dullest sides of our nature, they may very probably point to those fields in which we were most brilliant in our previous incarnation.

the outer capacities we acquire are so closely connected with earthly circumstances that we cannot speak of them reappearing in the same form in the next incarnation; they are transformed into forces and in that way pass over to a subsequent incarnation. For instance, people who have a special faculty for learning languages in one incarnation will not have this in the next; instead, they will have the faculty which enables them to form more unbiassed judgments than those who had less talent for languages; these latter will tend to form one-sided judgments.

If a man follows up these ideas, so that he says: “I will strongly desire and will to be what I have become against my will, and also that for which I have the least capacity” — he can know that the conceptions he thus obtains will build up the picture of his preceding incarnation. This picture will arise in great precision if he is earnest and serious about the things just described. He will observe that from the whole way in which the conceptions coalesce, he will either feel: “This picture is quite near to me”; or he will feel: “This picture is a long, long way off.”

If through the elaboration of these conceptions, such a picture of the previous incarnation arises before a man's soul, he will, as a rule, he able to estimate how faded the picture is. The following feeling will come as an experience: “I am standing here; but the picture before me could not be my father, my grandfather, or my great-grandfather.” If however the student allows the picture to work upon him, his feeling and perception will lead him to the opinion: “Others are standing between me and this picture.” Let us for a moment assume that the student has the following feeling. It becomes apparent to him that between him and the picture stand twelve persons; another may perhaps feel that between him and the picture stand seven persons; but in any event the feeling is there and is of the greatest significance.

If, for instance, there are twelve persons between oneself and the picture, this number can be divided by three, and the result will be four, and this may represent the number of centuries that have elapsed since the last incarnation. Thus a man who felt that there were twelve people standing between him and the picture, would say: “My preceding incarnation took place four centuries ago.”— This is given merely as an example; it will only actually be so in a very few cases, but it conveys the idea.

Most people will find that they can in this way rightly estimate when they were incarnated before. Only the preparatory steps, of course, are rather difficult.



1918-01-08, 1918-01-11 and 1918-01-12

1921-06-17 and 1921-06-18



Related pages

References and further reading

  • Herbert Hahn:
    • Der Lebenslauf als Kunstwerk. Rhythmen, Leitmotive, Gesetze in gegenübergestellten Biographien (1966)
    • Das Erwachen des Geigers und andere Erzählungen von Schicksalsruf, Krankheit und Genesung (1930, 1990)
  • Barbara Nordmeyer: Lebenkrisen und ihre Bewältigung (1975)
  • George and Gisela O'Neil: 'The human life' (1990, third printing 1998)
  • Gudrun Burkhard:
    • Taking charge - your life patterns and their meaning (1997 in EN, third printing 2011; first published in German in 1992 as 'Das Leben in die Hand nehmen')
    • Biographical work - The anthroposophical basis (2007 in EN, fifth printing 2014; first published in Portuguese in 2002 as 'Bases Antroposoficas da Metodologia Biografica')
  • Mechtild Oltmann-Wendenburg: 'Sternstunden der Biographie (1998)
  • Henning Köhler:
    • Das biographische Urphänomen. Vom Geheimnis des menschlichen Lebenslaufes (1998)
    • Der menschliche Lebenslauf als Kunstwerk (2011)
    • Individuelle Entfaltung – was heißt das eigentlich? Über das Ich-Rätsel in der Biografie (2018)
  • Signe Eklund Schaefer: 'Why on Earth?: Biography and the Practice of Human Becoming' (2013)
  • Albrecht Klaus: Levenssinn im Lebenslauf - Biografiearbeit als Begenung mit sich und Anderen (2016)
  • Rudolf Steiner: Biography - enlightening the path of human life (compiled and edited by Erhard Fucke) (2009 in EN, first published in German in 1996 as 'Vom Lebenslauf des Menschen')
  • Mathias Wais: Ich bin, was ich werden könnte: Entwicklungschancen des Lebenslaufs - Anregungen für die Biographiearbeit (2021)


see also:

Specific examples

  • Fred Poeppig: 'Abenteuer meines Lebens: Versuch einer Lebensrückschau aus karmischer Sicht' (1975)
  • Herbert Hahn: 'Der Weg, der mich führte. Lebenserinnerungen.' (1969)
  • see the many biographies on the Indivividualities mentioned in the Karmic Relationship courses, see Karma research case studies