Interaction with deceased souls

From Anthroposophy


  • being of service
    • reading to the dead (1912-12-03-GA141, 1913-05-01-GA152)
  • their language and features characteristic of communication with the deceased (1922-08-22-GA214, 1922-08-30-GA214)
    • "the language of the dead bears no relation to earthly conditions, it arises from the heart and is verily a language of the heart"
    • nouns and verbs: no understanding for nouns, but the dead retain an understanding for all verbs, words expressing action, for a relatively long time after death. Hence absolutely required to eliminate all nouns and noun-like forms and 'clothe all nouns in verbal form', verbs made as pictorial and vivid as possible, words of activity and becoming.
    • meaning of feeling in sounds and combinations of sounds: the dead speak in the actual sounds of the alphabet, sounds and combinations of sound. This requires us to develop the ability to understand and distinguish the sounds of earthly language, go beyond the abstract meaning of words and enter into the feeling content of the sounds. (see examples in 1922-08-22-GA214). The language of the dead is similar as exclamations or interjections in earthly languages(eg ‘Ah!’ when moved to wonder or admiration).
    • asking questions: only be able to converse with a deceased person if you know the right way to put your questions, eg concentrate on some real, concrete experience which he very much enjoyed during earthly life; then you will gradually get near. As a rule you will not get an immediate answer. Often you will have to sleep on it, perhaps for several days, before you get the answer. Answers too will always be in verbal form, or often not even in verbal form; they may only consist of what we on earth would call interjections, exclamations. The answers of the dead often come in an understanding carried by the meaning in sounds, they speak in such a way that only heart and soul can understand them.
  • asking questions - Q&A at falling asleep and waking (1918-02-05-GA181)
  • relation with the living souls of the deceased (evolutionary)
  • postmortem communication examples
    • Oberlin and his wife (1910-12-31-GA126)
    • Rudolf Steiner's association with Helmuth and Eliza von Moltke
    • book 'Brücke über den Strom' with messaging received by the sisters of van Botho Sigwart (Graf zu Eulenberg) (1884-1915) after the latter (a young personal student of Rufolf Steiner) died in WWI in 1915. It is said Steiner validated these messages as being authentic (source tbc)
  • erroneous communications and manipulation by seances
  • relation with the living souls of the deceased (evolutionary)


Lecture coverage and references


Is there any value in reading Masses for the dead?

Good thoughts are balm for the dead.

It is not selfish love that we should send them, not mourning because we no longer have them here; this harms a dead person and weighs on him like lead.

But love that endures, which does not lay claim to the dead person by wanting him back again — this nourishes him and augments his happiness.

On communion with loved ones in Kamaloka

It is clearer, more definite, in Devachan, for in Kamaloka consciousness is clouded by the paying off of debts incurred through personal guilt.



In Steinthal, near Strassburg, Oberlin lived. [Johann Freidrich Oberlin. Protestant priest] The deep-thinking German psychologist and researcher, G. H. von Schubert, has repeatedly referred to him This Oberlin was an unusual personality and he had a strange effect upon people.

He was clairvoyant — I can allude to this only briefly — and after he had lost his wife comparatively early, he was able to live with her individuality in a communion as real as with a living person. Day by day he made notes of what was happening in the world where his wife now dwelt; he also marked this an a map of the heavens and showed it to the people who gathered around him, so that actually a whole community shared in the life Oberlin was leading with his deceased wife.

Such a thing is strangely out of place at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries; but if you take what I have said into consideration, you will grasp what it portends. Things such as were revealed to Oberlin are among the most significant in this domain in modern times.

I may perhaps remind you that we now have a very fine literary and historical work dealing with Oberlin and these affairs: it is the novel by Fritz Lienhard. [Oberlin. A novel by Fritz Lienhard] You will find it extraordinarily stimulating reading, with regard not only to the character of this priest but also to the cultural conditions of those days. Such things, which can easily be underestimated and regarded as chance, are able to show us how an occurrence of this kind strikes into evolution, how it can take effect in the whole process of the evolution of mankind. For the human beings who are thrown together in such circumstances, who gather round a personality as the central figure, are destined to undertake certain tasks in later incarnations.

So you see how the great macrocosmic penetration from the vast universe into the souls of men is connected with what may take place in a minute arena.

But these things become especially interesting if we connect them with another law, with such points of intersection in evolution as was the year 1250.

  • At that time there was the strongest possible penetration into the souls of men — and that is not so readily noticed as the upheavals of continents.
  • During the Atlantean catastrophe the Spirits of Form worked so little into the souls of men that the younger hierarchies held the field, as it were, at that time. Thus the activities of the different ranks of hierarchical Beings are distributed.

And it is important to know that again in these cyclic movements certain laws of ascent and decline prevail. I indicated something of this when I said that in the year 1250 there was an impetus and then an ebbing away which manifested in the current of materialism. Such things are often to be perceived. And it is interesting to notice how cycles of ascent and of decline alternate in the history of mankind.



Relationships established during existence on Earth cannot, to begin with, be changed during the life after death. From the possible suffering caused by this realisation the power is acquired to change conditions in later karma. Those living on Earth are able to have a great influence on those who have died. Reading to the dead.

quote A

Those who have remained behind on Earth have a far greater influence on the dead than the dead has on himself or others who have also died have upon him. And this is tremendously important. It is really only an individual who has remained on the physical plane, who had established some relationship with the dead, who through human will is able to bring about certain changes in the conditions of souls between death and rebirth.

We will now take an example that can be instructive in many respects. Here we can also consider the life in Kamaloka, for the existing relationships do not change when the transition takes place into the period of the spirit world. Let us think of two friends living on Earth, one of whom comes into contact with anthroposophy at a certain time in his life and becomes an anthroposophist. It may happen that because of this, his friend rages against anthroposophy. You may have known such a case. If the friend had been the first to find anthroposophy he might himself have become a very good adherent. Such things certainly happen but we must realise that they are very often clothed in maya. Consequently it may happen that the one who rages against anthroposophy because his friend has become an adherent is raging in his surface consciousness only, in his I-consciousness. In his astral consciousness, in his subconsciousness he may very likely not share in the antipathy. Without realising it he may even be longing for anthroposophy. In many cases it happens that aversion in the upper consciousness takes the form of longing in the subconsciousness. It does not necessarily follow that an individual feels exactly what he expresses in his upper consciousness. After death we do not experience only the effects of the contents of our upper consciousness, our I-consciousness. To believe that would be to misunderstand entirely the conditions prevailing after death. It has often been said that although a human being casts off physical body and etheric body at death, his longings and desires remain. Nor need these longings and desires be only those of which he was actually aware. The longings and desires that were in his sub-consciousness, they too remain, including those of which he has no conscious knowledge or may even have resisted. They are often much stronger and more intense after death than they were in life. During life a certain disharmony between the astral body and the ‘I’ expresses itself as a feeling of depression, dissatisfaction with oneself. After death, the astral consciousness is an indication of the whole character of the soul, the whole stamp of the individual concerned. So what we experience in our upper consciousness is less significant than all those hidden wishes, desires and passions which are present in the soul's depths and of which the ‘I’ knows nothing.

In the case mentioned, let us suppose that the man who denounces anthroposophy because his friend has become an adherent passes through the gate of death. The longing for anthroposophy, which may have developed precisely because of his violent opposition, now asserts itself and becomes an intense wish for anthroposophy. This wish would have to remain unfulfilled, for it could hardly happen that after death he himself would have an opportunity of satisfying it. But through a particular concatenation of circumstances in such a case, the one who is on Earth may be able to help the other and change something in his conditions. This is the kind of case that may frequently be observed in our own ranks.

We can, for instance, read to the one who has died. The way to do this is to picture him vividly there in front of us; we picture his features and go through with him in thought the content, for example, of an anthroposophical book. This need only be done in thought and it has a direct effect upon the one who has died. As long as he is in the stage of Kamaloka, language is no hindrance; it becomes a hindrance only when he has passed into the spirit world. Hence the question as to whether the dead understands language need not be raised. During the period of Kamaloka a feeling for language is certainly present. In this practical way very active help can be given to one who has passed through the gate of death. What streams up from the physical plane is something that can be a factor in bringing about a change in the conditions of life between death and the new birth; but such help can only be given to the dead from the physical world, not directly from the spiritual world.

We realise from this that when Anthroposophy actually finds its way into the hearts of men it will in very truth bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual worlds, and that will constitute its infinite value in life. Only a very elementary stage in anthroposophical development has been reached when it is thought that what is of main importance is to acquire certain concepts and ideas about the members of man's constitution or about what can come to him from the spiritual world.

The bridge between the physical world and the spiritual world cannot be built until we realise that anthroposophy takes hold of our very life. We shall then no longer adopt a merely passive attitude towards those who have passed through the gate of death but shall establish active contact with them and be able to help them. To this end anthroposophy must make us conscious of the fact that our world consists of physical existence and superphysical, spiritual existence; furthermore that man is on Earth not only to gather for himself the fruits of physical existence between birth and death but that he is on Earth in order to send up into the superphysical world what can be gained and can exist only on the physical plane. If for some justifiable reason or, let us say, for the sake of comfort, a Man has kept aloof from anthroposophical ideas, we can bring them to him after death in the way described.

Maybe someone will ask: Is it possible that this will annoy the dead, that he does not want it?

This question is not entirely justifiable because human beings of the present age are by no means particularly opposed to anthroposophy in their subconsciousness. If the subconsciousness of those who denounce anthroposophy could have a voice in their upper consciousness, there would be hardly any opposition to it. For people are prejudiced and biased against the spiritual world only in their I-consciousness, only in what expresses itself as I-consciousness on the physical plane.

This is one aspect of mediation between the physical world and the spiritual world. But we can also ask:

Is mediation also possible in the other direction, from the spiritual to the physical world? That is to say, can the one who has passed through the gate of death communicate in some way with those who have remained on the physical plane?

At the present time the possibility of this is very slight because on the physical plane human beings live for the most part in their I-consciousness only and not in the consciousness connected with the astral body. It is not so easy to convey an idea of how men will gradually develop consciousness of what surrounds them as an astral or spirit world. But if anthroposophy acquires greater influence in the evolution of humanity, this will eventually come about. Simply through paying attention to the teachings of anthroposophy men will find the ways and means to break through the boundaries of the physical world and direct attention to the spiritual world that is round about them and eludes them only because they pay no heed to it.


Intercourse with the Dead


is on reading to the dead, see lecture extract here: Christ Module 15 - Study of Spiritual Science and the Mystery of Golgotha#1913-05-01-GA152



The dead are starving for spiritual food which it is our duty to supply. The consciousness of the dead is refreshed when we read to them. The religious disposition of the future. Importance of communion with the dead.

quote A

[The dead are on starving ground]

Let us imagine that some sort of climatic change were to corrupt the whole ground of the earth, so that nothing good for food could grow on it; we should then discover how important the earth's mineral and plant kingdoms are for man. If the earth were to decay under our feet, we should realize how much we need the lower kingdoms of earth, that human life may be sustained.

What the ground and fruits are for our physical life ..

that we are, as living beings with the activities of our souls, for those who have passed through the gates of death.

It is a fact that the dead living in their sphere have need of a ground from which they may gather fruits. The following illustration will give an idea of this: Let us think of a crowd of people asleep, all filled with conceptions belonging to earthly life alone, materialistic ideas. This ground which they form for the dead, is just as sterile for them as waste, corrupt ground would be to us. The dead feel this as a region in which they starve.

Every spiritual conception which we take into our soul and carry into sleep helps, while we sleep, to create part of the ground needed by the dead, even as the mineral and plant kingdoms are needed by us.

In a certain sense souls filled with spiritual ideas during sleep, form the fruitful spiritual basis for the nourishing of the dead; and we take away the nutriment which the dead need and which must be gathered on our earth, if we allow our souls to become desolate, i.e., empty of spiritual ideas — and conceptions.

Here we see still more clearly the importance of cosmic spiritual knowledge, and its fruitfulness for the spiritual world itself. Just as our sleeping souls provide the ground from which the dead draw their sustenance, so, if we knowingly cause spiritual concepts to pass through our souls .. that helps the dead in their power of perception.

[Reading for the dead]

For this reason I have advised those who have been bereaved to read to their dead. If we call them to mind, and read in thought something from Spiritual Science, or cause any other spiritual thoughts quietly to pass through our souls, our dead will perceive these. They observe them and are nourished by the unconscious after-effects of the spiritual ideas. Their own consciousness is refreshed or revived by means of what has been read to them. Here again we see constant intercourse between the physical and spiritual worlds. It may easily be suggested that the dead are in the spiritual world and that this method of reading can be of no use to them. Yes! They are in the spiritual world, but the concepts of Spiritual Science have to be formed on earth, and nowhere can they be conceived except in the minds of men on earth: the dead are indeed in a spiritual world and precisely there can these conceptions reach them and sustain them, and we enhance their consciousness if from earth we send these to them.

As the most intimate connections exist between the dead and those amongst whom they have lived, the best persons to read to them are those who were friends and helpers before they died, or who have been closely related to them. If you cultivate such thoughts about the connections of the physical with the spiritual world, you will actually experience a new disposition, which truly in the greatest sense of the word must be called the religious disposition of the future. From such spiritual-scientific studies as have just been given, a disposition will be developed which in the highest sense deserves to be called religious, for he who thus acknowledges the spiritual world will build upon the foundations of the Divine Wisdom streaming through the Cosmos.


extract from synopsis

In the sleeping part of us we are living with the dead. We are only separated by our state of consciousness. The third consciousness is that of waking or falling asleep. In communicating with a dead Man, he is in us and we in him. On falling asleep we should put our questions to the dead and receive answers on our awakening. We are not accustomed and therefore do not understand such a language as when the dead speak in us and we from the dead. ...

The souls of those dying young remain with us. The souls of those dying old take part of our souls with them. On falling asleep we may address the old, on awaking we hear the messages of the young. The dead children bring religious feeling into our life, and their answers to us are more universal and less individual than those of older people. We become burdensome to those who died old if we have thoughts they cannot entertain.


[Communication with the dead]

I would like now to relate some features characteristic of communication with the dead. To begin with, it is only possible to communicate with them by entertaining memories of the physical world that can still live within them. For example, the dead still have an echo of human speech, even of the particular language that they spoke most of the time while on earth. But their relationship to language undergoes a change. So, for example, when conversing with a soul who has died, we soon notice they have no understanding, not the least, for nouns. The living can address such words to a dead person; a dead person, if I may use the term, simply does not hear them. On the other hand the dead retain an understanding for all verbs, words expressing action, for a relatively long time after death.

As a general rule you will only be able to converse with a deceased person if you know the right way to put your questions to him. With these questions you must sometimes proceed as follows. One day you try to live with him in something concrete and real, for he has pictures in his soul rather than abstract thoughts. Therefore you must concentrate on some real, concrete experience which he very much enjoyed during earthly life; then you will gradually get near him.

As a rule you will not get an immediate answer. Often you will have to sleep on it, perhaps for several days, before you get the answer. But you will never get an answer from the dead if the question is posed in nouns. You must try to clothe all nouns in verbal form. Such preparation is absolutely necessary. What the deceased understands most readily are verbs made as pictorial and vivid as possible. The deceased will never understand for example, the word “table,” but if you manage to imagine vividly what is happening when a table is being made, which is a process of becoming rather than a finished thing, then you will gradually become intelligible to him. He will understand your question and you will get an answer. But the answers too will always be in verbal form, or often they will not even be in verbal form; they may only consist of what we on earth would call interjections, exclamations.

Above all, the dead speak in the actual sounds of the alphabet — sounds and combinations of sound. The longer a soul has lived in the spiritual world after death, the more he will come to speak in a kind of language we on the earth must first acquire. We do this when we develop the ability to understand and distinguish the sounds of earthly language, when we go beyond the abstract meaning of words and enter into the feeling content of the sounds. It is just as I was saying in the educational lectures held here. With the sound a (a as pronounced in father) we experience something like astonishment and wonder. In a certain sense we even take this sense of wonder into our soul when we not only say a but ach (ch here pronounced as in the German or Scottish Loch. Ach is the German equivalent of the exclamation ah!). Ach signifies: A — I feel wonder, and with the sound ch the sense of wonder goes right into me. And if I now put an m in front and say mach (German for make or do) the result is a kind of following of what awakened wonder in me as if it were approaching me step by step — mmm — until I am entirely within it. The answers of the dead often come in this kind of understanding, an understanding carried by the meaning in sounds. The dead do not speak in English, they do not speak in German, nor in Russian; they speak in such a way that only heart and soul can understand them — if heart and soul are connected with the ears that hear. I said just now that the human heart is greater and more majestic than the sun. Seen from the earthly point of view the heart is somewhere inside us, and if we cut it out anatomically it will not be a pretty sight. But in reality the heart is present in the entire human being, permeating all the other organs; it is also in the ear.

More and more we must get used to the language of the heart used by the dead, if I may so describe it. We get used to it as we gradually eliminate all nouns and noun-like forms and begin to live more in verbal forms. The dead understand words of activity and becoming for a relatively long time after death. At a later stage they understand a language that is no ordinary language. What we then receive from the dead must first be translated back into an earthly language.

1922-08-30-GA214 describes the language of the heart

One of the tasks undertaken by initiation knowledge, that presents unusual difficulty, is that of making connection with souls who have left the Earth and gone through the gate of death.

It is not at all easy to establish such connections, but it can be done by arousing the deeper forces of the soul. It is necessary to realise from the first that one has to accustom oneself, by the careful pursuance of certain exercises, to the only kind of language it is possible to speak with the dead. This language is, in a way, a child of our ordinary human speech. Yet you would fail completely, were you to set out with the idea that ordinary human speech, just as it is, would be of any assistance to you in establishing intercourse with the dead.

  • One of the first things we discover is that the dead can understand only for a very short time what we call nouns. There is in their language no way of expressing a ‘thing,’ an isolated thing, which we denote with a word we call a noun.
  • The words in their language all convey the feeling of movement, they are all full of inner activity. Consequently we find that when a little time has gone by since the soul passed through the gate of death, he is responsive only to words that denote activity, that is, to verbs.
  • In our intercourse with the dead, we shall, from time to time, want to put questions to them; we must then put our questions to them; we must then put our questions in a form they can understand. If we are able to do this, after a time the answer will come; only, we must know how to be watchful for it, how to give heed to it. As a rule, a few nights will have to elapse before the one who has died can answer the question we put to him.

It is, as you see, a matter of finding our way gradually into the language of the dead, and it takes a long time before this language shows itself to us. The dead themselves have had to live their way into it; for they have, as you know, to withdraw their soul-life completely from the Earth.

The proper language of the dead bears no relation to earthly conditions, it arises from the heart, — yes, it is verily a language of the heart.

  • It is formed rather in the same manner as exclamations or interjections are formed in earthly languages. You know, for instance, how we say ‘Ah!’ when we are moved to wonder or admiration. The language of the dead takes its origin in the same kind of way. Sounds and combinations of sounds enjoy in this language as in no other their full and real significance.

From the moment of death, language begins to change for us altogether. It is no longer something that is uttered forth from the organs of speech. It becomes the kind of language of which I spoke a little while ago, when I told you how what rises up from the flowers, gives tidings to us concerning some fellow human being. We begin ourselves to speak, instead of with speech organs, with that which comes from the flowers. We ourselves become flowers, we blossom with the flowers. We enter, for instance, with the forces of our soul into the flower of the tulip, and express, in the imagination of the tulip, the same that came to expression here on Earth in the formation of the word. We grow again into the spirit, the omnipresent spirit.


Related pages

References and further reading

  • Working with the dead (compiled by Helmut von Kuegelgen, free PDF)
  • 'Brücke über den Strom' - communications from the life of a deceased soul 1915-1945 (1973, 1985, 2008)
    • see also books published by Peter Signer 'Mitteilungen von Sigwart' and 'Mitteilungen von Dagmar'