Frequency of incarnation

From Anthroposophy

The period between death and a new birth, in earth years, varies with the spiritual maturity of the soul. It also depends on the type of life that one leads (materialistic vs spiritual), and the duration of that life (eg early death). People who lead a very materialistic life, or even with criminal activities, incarnate much faster. People who are spiritual, live for ideals, etc take a much longer period between death and a new birth. However these are general indications, and there

One can contemplate the idea of a pie chart distribution of the population of either physical human beings on earth, and/or spirits that incarnate: this population consists of very different segments and within that various cohorts.

As a result, there is no simple or single answer regarding frequency of incarnation. The question regarding an average number of years between incarnations is an intellectual ‘trick question’. An average is a mathematical calculation, and in this case there is no data so this question has no answer, not even indicative, but like any question has the merit of contemplating in breath and depth.

The spiritual maturity of the soul influences the speed with which the astral rewind (kamaloka) is gone through, and also how much time is spent in the spirit world. Whereas the astral period is usually regarded as about a third of the length of life on earth (the time we slept), the time spent in the spirit world takes much longer - upto quite a number of centuries - and depends much on the spiritual maturity of the soul. Whereas immature 'savage' human souls may touch on the spirit world unconsciously for an instant, mature Individualities go higher and spent more time in the spirit world because they can develop more there.

Aspects

Base premise

  • As a default indication, Rudolf Steiner indicates that the original plan (see 'Occult atom') foresaw two incarnations per cultural period of about 2160 years, (often but not as a rule or always) a male and a female incarnation alternating. This is related to the Zodiac Clock and the time the Sun takes to pass one zodiac sign, as in that time the Earth, humanity and culture changes completely, so Man can get new experiences. (1906-06-07-GA094, 1906-08-25-GA095, 1923-08-29-GA227)
  • the laws that decide on reincarnation depend not solely on the Individuality, but also on the forces of attraction and circumstances on Earth that either do or do not press for incarnation (1906-11-26-GA283)
    • as a consequence, the faster the culture and humanity develops, will also push to reduce this as the opportunities to learn are related to humanity's consciousness development ànd the state of affairs on Earth. Rudolf Steiner also commented on the increased rate of change since the industrial epoch and technological and societal changes, compared to earlier epochs when this rate of change was slower.
    • certain souls (especially with a certain maturity, see below) can consciously speed up their return to a next life (1923-08-30-GA227).
      • initiates can renounce the spirit world and thereby 'skip' the longest period between death and a new birth (1905-09-27-GA093a and various other lectures in the period 1904-5)
      • examples are known in the anthroposophical movement at the time of Rudolf Steiner (eg Elisabeth Vreede) and especially the return towards the end of the 20th and start of the 21st century (see the Michael prophecy under 'Further reading' section on The Michaelic stream)
  • in certain lectures, Rudolf Steiner hints at what could be typical contemporary periods between incarnations for his then-audience, for example:
    • "wait for one or two incarnations .. until about the year 2800 or 3000" (1923-03-18-GA222 see quote )

Influence of spiritual maturity

  • Spiritually mature souls, who concerned themselves with the spiritual during incarnate life, spend longer time between death and a new birth, because they spend more time in the spirit world of which they know more and hence can learn more and develop further there (1923-05-30-GA350)
  • Materialistic unspiritual souls reincarnate (much) faster than others, they spend a (very) short life between death and rebirth, and their number is very considerable and growing due to the materialistic culture (1919-10-12-GA191, 1921-11-27-GA209, 1912-10-27-GA140), example given: Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540)
    • Connecting to this, the research of Ian Stevenson (continued by Jim B. Tucker) is worthwhile looking at. Stevenson spent his life studying cases of remembrance of previous life in a scientific way, and delivered a foundational body of research. Central to his books (1960, 1966/1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1987) are the four volumes ‘Cases of reincarnation’, providing case data for people with memories of previous lives – some just decades apart.
    • Speedy premature incarnations can cause the collective form of desires of a previous life (previous karma) to reappear, and cause their previous lower nature to continuously be beside them as a specific form of the Double. As a result of the materialistic civilization, this will become an epidemy causing a special kind of insanity, of which the current increasingly neurotic tendencies are the precursor. (1905-09-27-GA093a) example given: pope Alexander VI (1431-1503)

Other influencing factors

  • people who die young or before the middle of a normal life (say before age 35) will incarnate quicker: "An early death brings about a more rapid condition of sleep between death and rebirth" (1912-10-27-GA140)
    • an example is a World War where many people die young, and often with anger/antipathy towards another nationality, which becomes the nationality in which the next incarnation takes place (1914-10-31-GA157)

Additional complexities

  • not every human being we see on Earth in a physical body will actually reincarnate as a spiritual 'I', see ‘I-less human beings’. Lecture pointers bundled in Schema FMC00.238 on that page.
  • things regarding the process of reincarnation and its relationship to karma are far more complex
    • refer to the ‘spiritual economy’ lectures, where Steiner points out how things are far more complicated than the main process that is usually described
    • also see a.o. 1924-08-08-GA237 (confusion in karma) and 1922-11-19-GA218 (taking another human being's cross).

Data points

Illustrations

Lecture coverage and references

1903-10-09-GA090C

discusses the question of the frequency of reincarnation at length (several pages). It is stated that 1500-1800 years is an average, but that some souls take 2000-4000 years, and in the spiritual movement some souls incarnate allmost immediately after the previous death.

1905-09-27-GA093a

[the Chela can renounce the spirit world]

When a human being has progressed so far that he has transformed his entire etheric body, Devachan is no longer necessary. This is the case with the occult pupil who has perfected his development and who has transformed his etheric body so that it remains intact after death and has no need to pass through Devachan. This is called the renunciation of Devachan.

It is permissible to allow someone to work on one's etheric body when one is certain that he no longer brings anything of evil into the rest of the world; otherwise he would work his harmful instincts into it. Under hypnosis it can happen that the one hypnotised works into the world the harmful instincts of the hypnotist. In the case of normal people the physical body prevents the etheric body from being dragged and drawn hither and thither. When however the physical body is in a state of lethargy it is possible for the etheric body to be worked into. If one person hypnotises another and works harmful instincts into him, these also remain with him after death. Many of the practices of black magicians consisted in their creating willing servants by this means. It is the rule of white magicians to allow nobody to have his etheric body worked into unless by someone whose instincts have passed through catharsis. In the etheric body rest and wisdom prevail. When something bad enters into it, this element of evil comes to rest and therefore endures.

Before the human being as pupil is led to that point at which of his own choice he can work on his etheric body, he must at least, to a certain extent be able to evaluate karma in order to achieve self-knowledge. Meditation therefore should not be undertaken without continual self-knowledge, self-observation. By this means, at the right moment man will behold the Guardian of the Threshold: the karma which he has still to pay back. When one reaches this stage under normal conditions it merely signifies the recognition of his still existing karma. If I begin to work into my etheric body, I must make it my aim to balance my still remaining karma.

It can happen that the Guardian of the Threshold appears in an abnormal way. This happens when a person is so strongly attracted to one particular life between birth and death, that because of the very slight degree of inner activity he cannot remain long enough in the spirit world. If someone has accustomed himself to be too outward looking, he has nothing to see within. He then soon comes back into physical life. His desires remain present, the short Devachan is soon over, and when he returns, the collective form of his earlier desires still exists in Kamaloka; he comes up against this also. He incarnates. The old is then mingled with his new astral body. This is his previous karma, the Guardian of the Threshold. He then has his earlier karma continually before him. This is a specific form of the Double.

[Examples]

  • Many of the popes of the notorious papal age, as for example Alexander VI, have had such a Double in their next incarnation.
  • There are people, and at present this is not infrequent, who have their previous lower nature continually beside them. That is a special kind of insanity. It will become ever stronger and more threatening, because materialistic life becomes ever more widespread. Many people who now yield themselves up completely to materialistic life will in their next incarnation have the abnormal form of the Guardian of the Threshold at their side.

If now the influence of spirituality were not to be very strongly exercised, a kind of epidemic seeing of the Guardian of the Threshold would arise as the result of the materialistic civilisation.

Of this the neurotic tendency of our century is the precursor. It is a kind of losing oneself in the periphery. All the neurotics of today will be harassed by the Guardian of the Threshold in their next incarnation. They will be pursued by the difficulties of a too early incarnation, a sort of cosmic premature birth. What we have to strive for with spiritual science is a sufficiently long time in the spirit world, in order to avoid too early incarnations.

1906-06-07-GA094

These changing conditions of the Earth which determine the times of rebirth, are themselves determined by the passage of the Sun through the Zodiac. Eight centuries before Jesus the Christ, the vernal equinox fell with the Sun in the sign of the Ram. Reference is made to this in the legend of the Golden Fleece and in the name of the Lamb of God — the Christ. 2.160 years before that, the vernal equinox fell with the Sun in the sign of the Bull, a fact expressed in the cults of the Egyptian Apis or the Mithras Bull in Persia. 2.160 years before that again, the vernal equinox fell with the Sun in the sign of the Twins and we find this expressed in the cosmogony of the very ancient Persians, in the two opposing figures of Ormuzd and Ahriman. When the civilisation of Atlantis was destroyed and the age of the Vedas was beginning, the Sun at the vernal equinox was in the sign of Cancer, (inscribed as the sign of cancer) indicating the end of one period and the beginning of another. There has always been some consciousness among the peoples of the Earth of their relation to the heavenly constellations. The great periods of human civilisation are subject to the heavenly cycles and the movement of the Earth in its relation to Sun and stars. This fact explains the different characteristics of the various epochs and gives new meaning to the incarnations occurring in them. 2.160 years is approximately the time needed for the accomplishment of a male and a female incarnation — that is to say, for the two aspects under which the human being gathers all the experiences of one epoch.

1906-08-25-GA095

The ancients knew that with this movement of the Sun round the Zodiac something important was connected, for it meant that the Sun's rays fell on the Earth under quite different conditions as time went on. And indeed the period of 2.160 years does signify a complete change in the conditions of life on Earth. And this is the length of time spent in the spirit world between death and a new birth. Occultism has always recognised these 2.160 years as a period during which conditions on Earth change sufficiently for a Man to reappear there in order to gain new experience.

We must remember, however, that during this period a person is generally born twice, once as a man and once as a woman, so that on average the interval between two incarnations is in fact about 1.000 years. It is not true that there is a change from male to female at every seventh incarnation. The experiences of the soul are obviously very different in a male incarnation from those it encounters in a female incarnation.

Hence the general rule is that a soul appears once as a man and once as a woman during this period of 2.160 years. It will then have had all the experiences available to it under the conditions of that period; and the person will have had the possibility and opportunity to add a new page to his Book of Life. These radical changes in the conditions on Earth provide a schooling for the soul. That is the purpose of reincarnation.

1906-11-26-GA283

Let us assume we are dealing with a number of individualities who happen to find themselves in the spiritual world and who bring with them from the previous incarnation the predisposition for music that now wishes to come to expression on the physical plane. What significance would the predisposition have if the individuals could not incarnate in bodies possessing a musical ear? These individualities would have to go through life with this faculty remaining mute and undeveloped.

Hence, these individualities naturally feel themselves drawn to a family with a musical ear, with a bodily predisposition that will enable them to realize their potential. The family below on the physical plane exerts a power of attraction on the individuality above in the spirit world. Even if the individual's spiritual sojourn perhaps has not been completed and he might have remained another 200 years in the spirit world, if a suitable physical body is available on the physical plane, he may incarnate now.

Chances are that the individuality will make up the 200 years during his next time in the spirit world by remaining there that much longer.

Such laws lie at the basis of incarnation, which depends ..

  • not only on the individuality ready for incarnation
  • but also on the force of attraction being exerted from below.

When Germany needed a Bismarck, a suitable individual had to incarnate, because the circumstance drew him down to the physical plane. The time in the spiritual world thus can be cut short or extended depending on the circumstances on Earth that either do or do not press for reincarnation.

1907-05-29-GA099

Occult investigation reveals that the human being returns to incarnation within an average period of from 1.000 to 1.300 years.

The reason for this is that the human being may find the face of the Earth changed on his return and therefore be able to have new experiences.

The changes on the Earth are closely connected with certain constellations of the stars. This is a most significant fact. At the beginning of spring the sun rises in a certain zodiacal constellation. The sun began to rise in the constellation of Aries 800 years before Christ; before that epoch it rose in the adjacent constellation of Taurus. About 2.600 years are required for the passage through one constellation. The circuit through the whole twelve constellations is known in occultism as a Cosmic Year.

1912-10-27-GA140

[Variance in incarnation period]

What I have described refers to the average person.

  • For example, in one case consciousness after death might be dimmed earlier than in another, or the condition of sleep might set in more quickly, as you will have understood from what was said previously. But a cosmic law operates so that the cosmic sleep shortens the period that we spend in the spiritual world after death. The one who enters the condition of unconsciousness earlier experiences it more rapidly. Time passes at a quicker rate for him than for one whose consciousness extends farther. Investigations of life between death and rebirth do indeed reveal that unspiritual people reincarnate relatively more quickly than others. A person who only indulges in sensual pleasures and passions, who lives strongly in what we might call his animal nature, will spend but a short time between incarnations. This is due to the fact that such a person will fall comparatively rapidly into a condition of unconsciousness, of sleep. Hence he will travel quickly between the period of death and rebirth.
  • Moreover, I have only described an average case because I have specially considered people who reach a normal age in life. Fundamentally, there is a considerable difference between souls who die after their thirty-fifth year and those who die earlier. Only those who have reached their thirty-fifth year experience more or less consciously the various phases described.

An early death brings about a more rapid condition of sleep between death and rebirth.

It might be objected that, after all, one cannot be responsible for an early death and therefore one is innocently involved in an earlier cosmic sleep. Yet this objection is not valid. It is not so because an early death has been prepared as a result of previous karmic causes, and further development can take place just because the soul enters more rapidly into the cosmic realm.

However strange and shocking this may appear, we know, as a result of objective investigations of cosmic existence, that Man from a certain point onwards expands into the cosmos and receives the impressions of the cosmos, of the macrocosmos. Just as Man is most deeply involved in earthly matters during the middle years of his physical life, so in the middle period between death and rebirth he is most deeply involved in the cosmos.

Let us consider the child. As yet he does not live fully on the Earth. He lives with all the inheritance from earlier periods, and he has to establish himself in earthly existence. Now consider the life of Man after death. He lives with what he has carried away from the Earth, and he has to acquire the perceptive faculties for life in the cosmos. In the middle period of our earthly existence we are most deeply entangled in earthly conditions, whereas in the middle stage between death and rebirth we are most deeply involved in cosmic conditions. The nearer we draw to the end of our existence on Earth, the more we withdraw from earthly conditions in a physical sense. The farther we have gone beyond the mid-point between death and a new birth, the more we withdraw from the cosmos and turn again to the life on earth.

1915-05-30-GA162

It has often been pointed out that this period of time is a long one for the normal human life, compared to the time which we pass here in the physical body between birth and death.

  • The period of time between death and a new birth is short only in the case of human beings who have applied their life in a manner inimical to the world, and have done only what may be called, in a true sense of the word, criminal. In this case there is a short lapse of time between death and a new birth.
  • But, in the case of people who have not given themselves up to egoism alone, but who have spent their life between birth and death in a normal way, the period passed between death and a new birth is usually relatively long.

But the following question should burn, as it were, in our souls:

‘By what is the return of a human soul to a new physical incarnation regulated?’

The reply to this question is connected intimately with everything which can be learned with regard to the significance of the destructive processes which I have mentioned. Picture to yourselves that when we enter physical existence we are born with our souls into quite specific conditions. We are born into a particular age and impelled towards particular people. So we are born into quite specific conditions. You should consider deeply that our life between birth and death is, in reality, filled with everything into which we are born. What we think, what we feel, in short the whole content of our life, depends on the time into which we are born.

[explanation follows, see lecture link]

1919-10-12-GA191

The Economic type of man, who came up at the Reformation, regarded it as his special mission to make all intellectuality a matter merely of the body. What this business type of man really did during the Reformation period was to tear himself violently loose from the spiritual foundation of man's life on Earth. One can see it illustrated in individual cases. At the beginning and during the first half of the 15th century, there was a man in England, Thomas Cromwell, not Oliver Cromwell [editor: who caused the execution of the king and the re-entry of the jewish people into the UK], but Thomas Cromwell, quite a different person, who played a very important part in introducing the principles of the Reformation into England. There was one person, James I, who still made an effort to save the old dominion of the priesthood; and one best understands James I if one looks on him as a Conservator, a man who was trying to conserve the rule of the priesthood. Only, his plans were thwarted by others. And amongst the people who came to the top at that time, and who were, so to speak, the earliest type of economic man, was Thomas Cromwell. It is impossible to understand Thomas Cromwell unless one recognises that he was one of those people who have a very short life between death and rebirth, before taking on a body here on earth again. And it is just those people who are unusually numerous among the ruling types coming to the top in modern times, who have had but a short life in the spiritual world before their present life here on earth.

1921-11-27-GA209

When a somewhat lengthy period has elapsed after death, the important moment comes when the angel must as it were deliver up to the archangels what he has received from us through the ‘idealistic’ experiences described. It is as though man were placed before the world of the archangels, who can then receive these experiences he has unfolded in his soul and spirit during his life between birth and death.

There are great differences among human souls living between death and a new birth. In our age there are persons who have brought very little in the way of idealistic thoughts and feelings, of human love, of piety, when the time comes for the angel to pass on to the archangel for the purposes of cosmic evolution, what has been carried through death. This activity which unfolds between the angel and the archangel must, under all circumstances, take place. But there is a great difference, dependent upon whether we are able to follow consciously, by means of the experiences described, what takes place between the angels and the archangels or whether we only live through it in a dull, dim state, as must be the lot of human beings whose consciousness has been purely materialistic. It is not quite accurate to say that the experiences of such human beings are dull or dim. It is perhaps better to say: they experience these happenings in such a way that they feel continually rejected by a world into which they ought to be received, they feel continually chilled by a world which should receive them with warmth. For man should be received with loving sympathy into the world of the Archangels at this important moment of time; he should be received with warmth.

...

Those who try to understand life today from the spiritual vantage-point, know that the experience arising in the period between death and a new birth when man comes for the second time into the realm of the angels, is very important. All over the Earth today the peoples are adopting a false attitude to nationality, race and language, and much of what has arisen in the catastrophe of the second decade of the twentieth century in the evolution of the Western people, is only explicable when studied from such points of view. He who studies life to-day in the light of anthroposophical Spiritual Science must assume that in former earthly lives many men became more and more deeply entangled in materialism. You all know that, normally, the period between death and a new birth is lengthy. But especially in the present phase of evolution, there are many men whose life between their last death and their present birth was only short, and in their former earthly life they had little human love or idealism. Already in the former earthly life their interests were merely utilitarian. And as a result, in their second contact with the realm of the angels between death and a new birth, the seeds were laid for all that arises today in such an evil form in the life of the West.

1923-08-29-GA227 In GA227 is described how Man crosses the spheres of the spirit world (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) in about 30x12= 360 years per cycle. Crossing these in ascent, and again in descent, one comes to about 360x6=2160 years. However most people can only go through the Mars sphere consciously, and afterwards crosses the planetoid belt with beings of Jupiter and Saturn who can offer Man a surrogate influence of the higher spheres.

Now I said yesterday that on passing from the soul-world into the land of spirit, or, as we must express it today, from the sphere of the Moon-dwellers to that of the Sun-dwellers, a man proceeds more slowly in his journeyings through the cosmos. Whereas the circling of the Moon takes about a third of his earthly lifetime, the next rounds, the circling of Mars, of Jupiter, and of Saturn — I mentioned yesterday how these rounds are not completed — takes a more leisurely course, twelve times slower than the circling of the Moon.

If now we reckon up the actual time, we arrive at the following result. We must start from the original plan decreed for human beings by the cosmos. Then we find that a man goes through the Moon period in a third of the time he has spent on Earth. If we allow for the fact that at the beginning of life more time is spent in sleep, and add on the time given to sleep in later life, we find that a man needs approximately thirty years to accomplish the first cycle, that of the Moon. Each of the following cycles takes twelve times as long, or 360 years for each cycle. If we follow a man in his further journeying through the worlds, we find him going through three cycles. He does not reach Saturn, but has to go through the cycles in the way originally decided. He then has to go backwards through the three again. Thus he completes three cycles in an outward direction and, on returning towards his next earthly life, another three backwards, making six in all. We then have the time originally intended for man. I shall still have to speak of how things are different for human beings today; but according to the original cosmic decrees, the time was 2,160 years.

What do these 2,160 years signify? You have only to recall that the position of the Sun at the vernal equinox moves forward year by year. In recent centuries it has advanced from the Ram to the Fishes, and approximately in 25,920 years — or close on 26,000 years — the Sun travels round the whole zodiacal circle, and the twelfth part of this is 2,160 years. In 2,160 years the Sun progresses from one sign of the Zodiac to the next. It was originally decreed that a man should return to Earth when the Sun had thus moved on.

1923-08-30-GA227

All this means that things cannot work out in exact conformity with the originally-intended plan I referred to yesterday. I spoke then of 2160 years having to pass between two incarnations. But during his earthly life a man is far from absorbing all that he could absorb; hence for many people to-day the interval between death and a new birth proves to have changed: no longer 2160 years for anyone, but essentially shorter.

Men who have given themselves up entirely to an earthly life, those with certain criminal tendencies, are very poorly equipped for sailing out into the ocean of starry existence; and after a short time between death and rebirth they very soon return to earthly life. Others need a long time in which to purify and perfect what they have made of their soul and spirit during life on Earth. So one can say that those with animal tendencies, who easily succumb to their instincts and desires, soon come back to Earth, while those with a normal spiritual development take longer to return.

But there may also be human beings who, through a deeper insight during earthly life into the way things are going at the present time, are able to arouse in themselves a self-sacrificing wish to return as soon as possible in order to contribute to the future course of earthly affairs. For if a man has filled his spirit with love during his life on Earth, he can make the three to six transits, through Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, more quickly.

When persons with lower instincts pass through death, they draw back trembling before these circles and do not complete them; they are particularly repelled by the region of the planetoids. Tomorrow I shall be speaking of how human beings to-day are enabled to enter various circles by submitting themselves to certain influences in the world, in their personal life, in their national life, and so on.

Those who enter the region of the planetoids rightly will today spend seven or eight hundred years between one earthly life and the next. That is normal for people who are not of an actually degraded nature. But through deeper insight into things, and through love of the spiritual world, life between death and a new birth can be consciously shortened. Those who have gained much from their life on Earth can make a comparatively quick return, so that as soon as possible they can work on the transforming of earthly civilisation and culture.

1923-05-30-GA350 (not on rsarchive, freely translated)

When does Man return?

.

When a Man has occupied himself on earth with the spiritual world, then he grows much more easily after death within the spirit world. He then takes a long time, relatively speaking, between death and a new birth, because he was much concerned with the spiritual world. The period spent in the spirit world is longer because he already learned a lot about it, and can develop further there, hence they stay longer there and return later.

Discussion

If with reincarnation we mean the repeated life of the spiritual part of the ‘I’, this means this part has to at least touch the spirit world. Hence we can consider the minimum/average time(s) required to go through the ‘windback’ in the astral world (kamaloca), and also the minimum ‘touchpoint’ time required in the spirit world (devachan).

The memory package of a previous life may be picked up from the etheric by an incarnating being, without the regular process of incarnation. It is my opinion that Stevenson’s research contains examples of such specific cohort and not the regular process.

Related pages

References and further reading