Descent influencing generations to incarnation

From Anthroposophy

In the process between death and a new birth, an Individuality begins the preparation for the next incarnation in the second half of the life between death and a new birth (after the so-called Midnight Hour).

This is a long process of activity of the spiritual world whereby the soul inclines itself to the physical world on Earth, so as to incarnate as a human being centuries later. The Individuality is influencing this process as far as some 30 generations, down to great-grandparents, grandparents and ultimately parents. So it is a great collaborative participative process in which these generations of souls are stribing together towards incarnation.

Man is connected for more than thirty generations with the blood running through the generations. At a certain point of the life between death and rebirth, Man becomes quite accustomed to live in what is below, and the soul begins to feel itself related to the succession of generations which lead down to father and mother, a connection in pictures grouped together in their great imaginative connections. One gets to know the consecutive pairs of ancestors interwoven into the imaginative images. Intuition is impressed into it until one comes to father and mother. This ‘impression’ is really an entering into what lives through the generations. (1918-04-02-GA181)


  • influence of a soul for bringing together the parental pair starts more than 30 generations (32-35 in longest cases) before mother and father meet. This happens through a connection in imaginative images and the bloodstream, see description above and in excerpt below (1918-04-02-GA181)
  • the process of physical inheritence as an explanation for talents, faculties, character properties
    • a person that incarnates has properties of his ancestors, because they have been in led and influenced in their development through this soul. Contemporary science erroneously believes that character properties are transferred through physical heredity. However, it is not the physical stream which makes the inheritance, but the physical stream is inserted in this process through inheritance. (1916-03-07-GA167)
    • for more on inheritance, see Model for hereditary physical body#Inheritance in general
  • important personalities which carry/bring a major impulse or significant cultural-historical influence for mankind
    • example of Dante: "conditions are brought about out of the spiritual world, but realized with the help of the physical tools: the spiritual world guides this blood to that blood, and so on .. [such a great soul] needs a mysterious alchemy; various blood streams must flow together .. as a rule, a personality like Dante cannot be born of homogeneous blood". Specifically: three consecutive layers of the third Celtic, fourth Roman and fifth Germanic cultural ages, work together. (1916-12-17-GA173) - see also Folk souls


Lecture coverage and references


[not physical heredity of properties]

You must realize that in this it is, I might say, very difficult to give our present age the correct concepts and ideas for reasons which I have often presented. The present age works precisely with the most reversed concepts in this realm. When a human being enters through birth into physical existence, he enters with certain characteristics.

The present time speaks purely of heredity, and means physical heredity, and one speaks of this physical heredity in the following way.

A man shows this or that characteristic. Therefore to find out where those characteristics come from, you must look for its ancestors. For example, there is a very industriously worked over book about Goethe, in which Goethe's characteristics are so presented that it has looked for one thing in this ancestor, another in that, one characteristic from a great-great grandmother, another from a great-great grandfather, and so on, as if everything that Goethe had had came to him through heredity.

I have often said the following: When you say that the child has the qualities of his parents, it is just as wise a saying as a human being is wet when he falls into water and is then drawn out of it. Naturally he is wet from the water when he is taken out.

In the same way he has the properties of his ancestors in him, because they have been led through his soul. There is no greater wisdom there either. Therefore to go back to causes is, for the logical aspect ultimately the most logical, because one can say the following: One wants to prove that the soul-spiritual properties come through heredity in so far as one shows that a genius like Goethe has the same characteristics which his ancestors had, but as we have said, it is no cleverer than the assertion that the man is wet after he has fallen into water.

Now, if you really want to prove that the properties of genius are concerned with heredity, then you would have to show how the descendents of a genius show the properties of the genius. In other words, if you have to prove that genius can be transmitted by heredity, that would be a proof. Look at Goethe's son. See if he has Goethe's genius. Now, behind all this there is a much deeper process. Just imagine this hypothesis, for example, just imagine that there are beings who are not able to see human beings and just imagine that one of these beings who cannot see the activity of man goes to Berlin and sees how watches are being produced everywhere. This being obviously has to say to himself: These watches produce themselves. And that is no wiser than people who say that you do not need any additional explanations about how human beings come into the world; that that occurs quite of itself in the course of propagation in the generations. These ideas can only be held by people who cannot see human beings, who cannot see that that which occurs here in the physical world is only the external expression of an activity which continuously flows down out of the spiritual world just as the activity of the watchmakers flow into the watches. Therefore that which precisely occurs here upon the earth, of which human beings in their foolishness believe that they occur completely for themselves, that is only an external physical process which is directed just as the activity of making watches is a directing activity, so the moment which I have called the Midnight Hour of Existence in my mystery dramas, from that moment on which lies within the middle between death and a new birth, there already begins that activity of the spiritual world, as it were, of inclining itself into the physical in order after centuries to lead the human being into physical existence. When man goes through the portal of death, there is the activity of a working over of that which the human being experienced in his last life which is exercised in the spiritual world. All this occurs in the first half of the life between death and a new birth. However, in the second half of the life between death and a new birth, the preparation for the next incarnation begins. And now the following can be said about the situation.

[preparation for next incarnation]

That person who is born has ancestors; ancestors again have ancestors; these ancestors have ancestors. Just see how far this goes when you go through 30 generations. However, if you go through 30 generations, you will find that in many people, as it were, there already is the tendency which ultimately leads to the fact that man A is brought together with woman B and then they bring another human being into existence. And if the whole thing did not so occur through 30 generations, if the people had not married, A not coming together with B, therefore that human being who descends into a physical incarnation would not have ultimately been produced.

From the whole working together of many people which finally peaks into two, the single individuality of the human being has been a participation in the spiritual world. Thus when we see that the son has the characteristic of his father, of his mother and then again the father's and mother's characteristics are led back to grandfathers and grandmothers and great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers and so on, that is because there has previously been an influence exerted on these great-great-grandparents through 30 generations by that individuality who then later on - after many centuries - wants to be born, and this has all been determined according to the plan to find himself as a human being through the generations.

All that is a participating activity and the fact that you have similar inherited characteristics emanates from the fact that through the generations that power works down through the spiritual world which finally comes to appearance in a certain human being.

This individuality already works in a father, a mother, a grandfather, a grandmother, a great-grandfather, a great-grandmother, and ultimately one gets the qualities which come to expression. It is not the physical stream which makes the inheritance, but the physical stream is inserted in this way through inheritance. Therefore, precisely the reverse of that which the so-called natural scientific view maintains, is true. In order that Goethe ultimately comes to appearance through Johann Casper Goethe and his Frau Eiya, beings of the second hierarchy have worked through 30 generations in such a way that Goethe could ultimately be produced. Naturally this applies not only for genius but for every single human being.

Now, you can say that this is difficult to imagine, and you could also ask yourself how is this compatable with human freedom when we have already been determined 30 generations before we descend. I know it is very complicated, but you must remember that this is complicated for the normal consciousness which has been apportioned to you during your earth existence. You will remember that what we are dealing with is not only the individual himself, but the individual in community with the Spirits of Form, with the Spirits of Motion, and so on, and so it is worked out in such a way that freedom is not influenced. Naturally this works in such a way that it corresponds to the working of these higher hierarchies. The situation is just like that.


This is a rough-and-ready comparison, as I said, because on the one hand we are dealing with two physical people, whereas on the other we mean one physical and one non-physical being, which differ totally from one another when examined concretely. Not until there is an understanding of the mysteries of repeated earth lives and of the karma which these involve will there really be a comprehension of what underlies all this, which it is highly necessary to understand if one wants to speak on a firm basis about these things. An immensely important truth lies in the fact that one lives within a certain folk spirit only for a single incarnation, whereas one bears within one's own individual being something quite different, something immeasurably greater and yet also immeasurably smaller than that which lives within a folk soul. To identify oneself with a folk soul is, in reality, totally devoid of meaning once one goes beyond what is described by such words as love of the fatherland, love of the homeland, patriotism and so on. We shall only understand these things properly, once we can look earnestly and deeply at the truths of reincarnation and karma.

I have spoken recently in various places about the connection between the human soul between death and rebirth and what comes into being when man enters a new existence through birth. I pointed out that between death and rebirth man is linked with the forces which bring people together over many generations.

Through the ever-repeated union of different pairs of parents and all that leads to descendants, as well as other aspects of the succession of generations, it comes about that the human being between death and rebirth finds himself within a whole stream which, in the end, leads him to the parents through whom he can incarnate.

Just as in physical life one is linked with one's physical body, so between death and rebirth is one linked with the conditions which prepare for birth through a particular pair of parents. One is immersed in the forces which bring one to particular parents, and which brought father and mother to their parents, and so on back through the generations, in all their offshoots and ramifications, and whatever works together here in the most varied ways — in all this one is immersed for centuries!

Consider the imposing number of centuries one would remain within all this in order to pass through a mere thirty generations. The period from Charlemagne to the present day encompasses approximately thirty generations, and over all that time, in all that has taken place in the way of meeting, falling in love and begetting descendants which at last led to our own parents — in all this we have ourselves been involved, all this we have ourselves prepared.

[example Dante]

I am repeating this because in connection with those personalities one calls leaders, those who can be recognized as leading personalities in some respects, it is important to understand that what makes them significant for mankind comes about through all that I have just described. I shall draw your attention now to a leading personality, and the climax of what I have to say about him will be expressed in the words of another. You will see in a moment why this is so.

We see in Dante a most eminent personality who lived at the end of the fourth post-Atlantean age. We may juxtapose such an eminent personality with those personalities who gained a certain eminence after the beginning of the fifth post-Atlantean age, such as, for instance, Thomas More. Let us look closely at what may be recognized in general in a personality such as Dante. A personality such as Dante is of far-reaching significance, gives far-reaching impulses. It is therefore interesting to consider, or at least to guess, how such a soul before entering through birth into a physical existence that is to be significant for mankind, puts together — excuse this rather peculiar expression — what he is to become, in order to be born in the right way through the right parents. Obviously these conditions are brought about out of the spiritual world, but they are realized with the help of the physical tools. In a certain sense the spiritual world guides this blood to that blood, and so on.

As a rule, a personality like Dante cannot be born of homogeneous blood. To belong to a single nation is impossible for such a soul. It needs a mysterious alchemy; various blood streams must flow together. Whatever those over-patriotic people might say who claim great personalities for a single people, there is no great reality behind it!


The first element points to the ancient Celtic influence which pulses through him like blood in a certain way, leading him back to the third post-Atlantean age; for the Celtic element in the North leads back to what we have come to know as the third post-Atlantean age. After this we find the fourth post-Atlantean aged in the Roman, and the fifth in the Germanic element. Carducci maintains that the elements in Dante's soul are composed of these three periods and their impulses, so that we really have three layers lying side by side — or rather one above the other — the third, fourth and fifth post-Atlantean ages: Celtic, Roman, Germanic. Dante experts of some stature have gone to great pains to discover how, from the spiritual world, Dante managed to mingle his blood in such a way as to obtain the final composition with which he was born.

... We now see how, in a single personality, the remarkable working together of the three layers of European human evolution is revealed. ...

Herewith we touch on conditions which are well-known in circles familiar with the realities of life, conditions which may be reckoned with and which may be used as forces if one wants to do certain things. These conditions are by no means unknown to the secret brotherhoods, neither in their rightful use, nor in that other direction which uses secret knowledge in one way or another in the service of some group egoism. For the secret of how the three consecutive layers - which are exceedingly meaningful, mainly for Europe - work together, is discussed most carefully in all secret brotherhoods worthy of the name, though naturally in some cases in a manner which deflects from what might be termed the good direction. Please be sure not to forget that knowledge about such things exists, and that it is taught — even though, in the external, clever world no one wants to know much about it — very systematically and with great care, especially in the western and American secret brotherhoods.


longer extract going into how this influence works through from the spiritual world downto the first phase of seven years in the child where this connection to the spiritual world through imaginative images remains

Thus the last part of the time between death and rebirth is that in which the soul chiefly works out the intuitive side. The first part of the time after death the imaginative part of the soul is active; that is the Soul-Man. Then the inspirational part of the soul, the Life-Soul, develops gradually to its full height, and afterwords that which gives full individuality to the soul is developed, the Soul-Self, the intuitive part, the capacity of entering something different and other than oneself and of finding one's way into it.

Into what does the soul find its way? From what do its intuitions chiefly proceed?

At a certain point of the life between death and rebirth the soul begins to feel itself related to the succession of generations which lead down to father and mother. It gradually feels itself related to the ancestors, as they are brought together in marriage and have children and so on.

Immediately after death, we feel the unrolling of the pictures and looking down upon the Earth, we see these pictures grouped together in their great imaginative connections. And as we turn again to the Earth-life we become more and more intuitive, and the pictures which I called forth yesterday appeared before the soul in larger outlines: the sphere of the Earth gleaming bluish over Asia, India and East Africa; and on the other side where lies America (one circles around the earth) glittering reddish; between these there is green and other shades. The Earth also ‘sounds’ in manifold tones: melodies, harmonies, courses of the music of the spheres. Amidst all this, the pictures we had gradually began to move — the pictures of the successive generations which we had first of all. Gradually one learns no one's 36th and 35th pair of ancestors, then the 34th, 33rd, 32nd and 31st, right down to one's own father and mother. One learns to know this; it is interwoven into the imaginative images. Intuition is impressed into it until one comes to father and mother. This ‘impression’ is really an entering into what lives through the generations.

The second half of life between death and rebirth is of such a nature that during this time a man becomes quite accustomed to live in what is below, to live in the outer world already in advance, in that which then becomes his nearest as well as his less near environment, to live not in himself but in this other world. That living in the other is the first experience of life after death. Then one is born again and that first one still retains something of this other life.

  • For this reason we must say that in the first seven years the human being is an “imitator,” he imitates everything that he perceives. Read the book “The Education of the Child” on this subject . Imitation is like the last impression of this “living in the other”which continues into physical life. It is the pre-eminent quality when transformed into the spiritual element, between death and rebirth, and it is the first quality which appears in the child: to imitate everything it sees. This imitative faculty of the child will never be understood unless we know that it proceeds from the magnificent intuitive life in the psycho-spiritual world during the latter part of the time between death and rebirth.

[Parenthesis on teachings of reincarnation and 869]

Here is again a concept which the spiritual development of the future must grasp. In olden times — chiefly because men knew of the Spirit through atavistic clairvoyance — the belief in immortality, which has become doubtful to men who think materialistically, was actuated by direct perception; men knew that life continued. But in the future the thought of immortality must be aroused from the other end. Men will understand that life here is the continuation of the spiritual life. As formally in conformity with the nature of the times, men looked first to the continuation of life after death, so in the future they will learn more and more looked chiefly at all life here as a continuation of the life between death and rebirth. Certainly the churches have erected barriers against this. For nothing is considered so great a heresy by the church as the thought of the “pre-existence of the soul” and, as is well known, the old Church Father Origen was looked at askance, principally because he still knew of the pre-existence of the soul. It was not only because — as I have already said — the “spirit” was done away with in the ninth century by the Church Council at Constantinople, by setting up the dogma that man does not consist of body, soul and spirit, but only of ‘body and soul,’ though it conceded that the soul has something of a spiritual nature in it. “It is forbidden to think,” said the Council, “that man consists of body, soul and spirit; he has a soul-like in the spirit-like soul, but he only consists of body and soul.” That is of course still the law of the church today.

But something else is bound up with this, which is at the same time “unprejudiced science.” And this is the more interesting part. Among philosophers you find men everywhere divided into body and soul; a threefold division into body, soul and spirit is still very little supporter. Read the “celebrated Wundt” and you will see that it is “unprejudiced science” to divide man into body and soul. It is not unprejudiced science. It is the last remnant of the dogma of the eighth Ecumenical Council! Only the philosophers have forgotten that and look upon it as unprejudiced science. That is the one barrier: the doing away with the spirit. The other barrier which the church has erected is the suppression of the believe in pre-existence. I recall the celebrated philosophical theologian or theological philosopher — whichever you like to call him — Frohschammer in Munich. His books are on the Index. But that has not prevented him, however, from turning against the thought of a pre-existence of the soul, because, he says, that if really the soul did not exist beforehand, if it were not conceived at the same time as the body, then the parents would only produce a “little animal”which later receives the soul. That to him is an uncomfortable concept. (I have introduced this as a note in my ”Riddles of the Soul.”) But it is not so. When we know the fact that man is connected for more than thirty generations with the blood running through the generations, we cannot say that the parents only produce a little animal; for the whole process of the spirit which passes through more than thirty generations, belongs to it. Only one must become conscious of this.

Thus in the future men will not only turn their minds to the question of whether this life lasts after death; they will be able to say, if they study the physical earth-life correctly, that this physical earth-life is the continuation of a spiritual life! Close attention will be directed to this in the future. It will be recognized that the spiritual life continues into the mortal one, and the mortal into the immortal one; and when men recognize the mortal in the immortal, they will have therewith a sure foundation for the knowledge of the immortal. If they understand this earth-life properly, they will no longer try to explain it out of itself alone. Of course it would then be necessary to acquire other ideas such as I have just now set forth. It is indeed necessary to correct many an idea. One acquires with much difficulty ideas which count in life, and popular language is a great hindrance in this respect. We must indeed reckon with popular language first of all, because otherwise we should not be understood at all.

But it is a great hindrance to think that we acquire a “likeness” direct from the parents. That is nonsense. I have said in the public lecture that our method of science is suffering very much because what is acknowledged in regard to the science of the inorganic is not also apply to the organic.

  • No one will seek to refer the magnetic power in the magnet to the horseshoe-shaped piece of iron, but will explain the magnetism in the magnet or in the magnetic needle by what pertains to the cosmos; but the origin of the egg in the hen or the embryo in man — these are not explained from the cosmos! The cosmos, however, works everywhere. And strange as it may appear, just as though a sense-impression a canal is poured into the eye in order to open the door for the I to come out, so does propagation rest on the fact that in reality room is made for it. What happened is that the organism of the mother is so prepared that room is created and what originates therein is derived from the cosmos, from the whole macrocosm. It is a complicated process; but in the being of the mother the room only is prepared; the organization of the mother is so far disturbed as to provide a cavity into which the macrocosm can enter. That is the essential point and even embryology will grasp this before long. They will understand that the most important part connected with embryo is where there is nothing, where the substance of the mother is pushed back because the macrocosm wishes to enter.

But man is already united with and beholds the forces which work from the cosmos through this macrocosmic element, which prepared itself ever since he was intuitively bound up with his ancestors — in the longest case from 32 to 35 generations ago. From the sphere of his stars, to which he is assigned, man beholds the ray fall upon the Earth, he beholds the place where he will be incarnated. Then he gradually approaches the Earth.


These are things which can fill our minds with a significant impression. We cannot take up spiritual science as we might perhaps take up mathematics, but we shall accept it as something deeply connected with our higher feelings, which makes us in reality different beings, and which deeply enriches human life and lays the foundation of a real cosmic consciousness. This vivifying, in the best sense of the word “quickening” effect of spiritually-scientific knowledge is both essential and important.

We certainly should not fail to recognize that at the present time we are to a certain extent in a state of transition with regard to the things here meant. Our age must take this on itself, as its Karma. Today people still say lightly: “Must I indeed except such complicated ideas in order to understand your teaching of the destiny of man? Other teaching makes it easier for people.” the point is that we are living in a time of transition and these ideas are still strange to people; but you will have to become accustomed to them.

The time must come when these things will even be taught to children and thereby the discovery will be made that children will understand them surprisingly well. They will understand much better than others what comes from the pictures of spiritual science, for they bring much imaginative faculty with them out of the spiritual world, which we set to work to drive out of them, do not take into account and sometimes brutally ignore; otherwise we should admit that many a child says uncommonly clever things, much cleverer than grown-up people. Sometimes what a child says is much more interesting than what the professor says, because it is more connected with the real being of the world. These things should really be taken with a certain coloring, then it will no longer be difficult to introduce things in a suitable manner to the child-mind. The transition to this is naturally not easy and therefore people very willingly abandon the thought. But just from many questions of a child-mind we can recognize, if we pay attention to the direction and tone of the question, that reminiscences of a former life are present in the child.


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References and further reading