Spectrum of death

From Anthroposophy
Page to be developed

This page will cover the spectrum of death types - early death vs old age (and in first instance, later to be separated on a second page also death causes: illness, nature catastrophes, suicide)


dying extremely young: miscarriage, children born death, baby-death

  • children born death may be due to various reasons (1906-08-29-GA095). The physical body can thrive only in so far as the higher principles can live within it, if for some reason all conditions are not met, the physical body remains alone and the baby is born death. See Schema FMC00.331.
    • even though the physical and etheric bodies may be properly constituted, the astral body (and I-organization) will withdraw if certain physical organs are not in the proper condition for the higher bodies to dwell in them
    • the way in which the various bodily fluids are combined may be at fault, so the incarnating entity comes to a physical body which cannot house the higher members of its being.
  • when dying before or shortly after birth, this incarnation is to be counted karmically to the previous earth life and not to the next incarnation (1914-03-31-GA069D)
  • the 'midnight born' (or 'blessed boys') is the term in Goethe's Faust for the young dead (or those who died immediately after death), with unused etheric bodies full of will and love forces (1915-09-05-GA163 and 1915-08-14-GA272, also 1915-08-16-GA272)

dying young – sacrificial death (children, war)

  • Sacrificial death, eg war, martyrs and the link with ideals and the development of the Earth (1915-11-20-GA157A)
  • young children:
    • compensating in a very short life for a faculty missing in the previous life (1906-08-29-GA095)


human intervention: abortion and euthanasy

cause of death and destiny/karma

  • death through natural catastrophe, eg nature events: volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, epidemics (1910-05-21/22-GA120)
  • accident
  • disease-illness
  • murder (killed)


Lecture coverage and references


We will now deal with several particular questions about karma which are often asked.

What is the karmic reason that causes many people to die young, even in childhood?

From individual instances known to occult science we may come to the following conclusion. If we study a child who has died young, we may find that in his previous life he had good abilities and made good use of them. He was a thoroughly competent member of society, but he was rather shortsighted. Because with his weak eyes he could not see clearly, all his experiences acquired a particular colouring. He was wanting in a small matter which could have been better, and because of his weak eyes he always lagged behind. He could have achieved something quite remarkable if he had had good sight. He died, and after a short interval he was incarnated with healthy eyes, but he lived only a few weeks. By this means the members of his being learnt how to acquire good eyes, and he had gained a small portion of life as a corrective of what had been lacking in his previous life. The grief of his parents will, of course, be compensated for karmically, but in this instance they had to serve as instruments for putting the matter right.

What is the karmic explanation of children born dead?

  • In such cases the astral body may well have already united itself with the physical body, and the two lower members may be properly constituted. But the astral body withdraws, and so the child is born dead. But why does the astral body withdraw? The explanation lies in the fact that certain members of man's higher nature are related to certain physical organs. For instance, no being can have an etheric body unless it possesses cells. A stone has no cells or vessels, and so it cannot have an etheric body. Equally, an astral body needs a nervous system: a plant has no nervous system and therefore cannot have an astral body. In fact, if a plant were to be permeated by an astral body it would no longer be a plant, but would have to be provided with cells if it were to be permeated by an etheric body.Now if the I-body is gradually to find a place for itself, there must be warm blood in the physical body. (All red-blooded animals were separated off from man at the time when the I-condition was being prepared for man.) Hence it will be seen that the physical organs must be in proper condition if the higher bodies are to dwell within them. It is important to remember that the form of the physical body is moulded by purely physical inheritance.
  • It may also happen that the way in which the various bodily fluids are combined is at fault, although parents are well-matched in soul and spirit. Then the incarnating entity comes to a physical body which cannot house the higher members of its being. Thus for example the physical and etheric bodies may be properly united; then the astral body ought to take possession of the physical body, but the organism at its disposal is not in a suitable condition, and so it has to withdraw. The physical body remains, and is then still-born. A still-birth may thus be the outcome of a faulty mixture, on the physical level, of the fluids of the body, and this, too, will have a karmic connection. The physical body can thrive only in so far as the higher principles can live within it.

is an early cycle on karma, covering karma in relation to disease and health (18/19/20-May), and death causes such as accidents or natural diasters (21/22-May)


internet translation (to be replaced with better extract)

When we look at the diseases like this, we will gain from a higher perspective through karma a kind of reconciliation, a deep reconciliation with life; for we will know that it is in the legality of karma that even if a disease begins with death, man favors will that even in such a case the disease has the goal of taking people higher.

Now no one is allowed to conclude: then it could also be that we would have to wish death in certain cases of illness. No one is allowed to say that because the decision of what should occur, whether healing or incurable, falls to a higher reason than the one we can grasp with our usual consciousness. With our usual consciousness, we must humble ourselves within the world between birth and death, to stand with such questions.

With our higher consciousness, however, we are allowed to put ourselves to the point of view that even accepts death as a gift from the higher spiritual powers. However, with that consciousness, which is supposed to help and intervene in life, we must not measure ourselves to face this higher point of view. We could easily be wrong and would be in one

Invading in an outrageous way into something we must never interfere in: the human sphere of freedom. If we can help a person to develop the self-healing powers, or by coming to the aid of nature ourselves to allow healing to happen, we must do it. And let the decision be made whether Man should continue to live or if he will be more supported when death occurs, then she can never fall apart from that our help can be an aid in healing. If this is the case, we make it in a person's individuality to use his powers, and only medical assistance can be one that supports him. Then it does not affect the human individuality. It would be different if we encouraged someone to be incurable in such a way that he sought his further demise in another world. We would intervene in his individuality and transfer his individuality to another sphere of influence. Then we would have imposed our will on others individuality. We have to leave this decision to the individual.

That means with others words: We need to do as much as we can to make a cure happen. Because all thoughts that lead to healing come from the consciousness that is justified for our Earth; all other measures would trespass over our Earth sphere; there must be forces other than those that fall into our usual consciousness.


Extract from Q&A, p 401 - freely translated

When dying shortly after birth, then this incarnation is to be counted karmically to the previous earth life and not to the next incarnation. This is especially the case when death happens before birth. Sometimes it is like this, sometimes differently, there can be hundreds of different constellations underlying


about the many young deaths in the war

It seems reasonable to ask: which meaning do the deaths have for the spiritual world?

Countless human beings go in the prime of life through the gate of death. At first the connection of I, astral body, etheric body with the physical body is separated. The physical body is handed over apparently to the earth, the etheric body to the etheric world; astral body and I go on.

However, this must strike us: are the etheric bodies of the human beings of normal age going through the gate of death different from those of the young men?

As to the physical body one understands this, as to the etheric one will understand it now. The etheric body could still have supplied the physical body for decades, and could have worked on it. It goes with these unused forces through the gate of death, coalesces there with the folk-soul, and the work of the folk-soul will be impregnated in future with the unused forces of these etheric bodies.

Human beings will be there who will know: the folk-soul is an active element. Only if one knows that the unused etheric bodies will work as a spiritual force in concrete way in the spiritual world, then one can understand what takes action really. The consciousness of this concrete relationship with the spiritual world will be important. Thereby, namely by creation of such a consciousness of the spiritual world, spiritual science becomes more and more life in the souls and does not only remain doctrine. The human being knows that he is in a spiritual aura as he knows here that the air is in his surroundings. Like he distinguishes clean and dirty air here, he will feel good and bad spirits, experiencing and feeling the spiritual aura.


from the synopsis:

Those dying prematurely are for the spiritual world like the Idealists for the physical. A child who dies is not necessarily a child. There must be martyrs for the world.

An infinitely deep and significant discovery can be made on coming to this chapter of spiritual investigation, when one learns to know these idealists impelled to the heavens, who become what they are, by going through the gates of death in the manner indicated here. And in the present time it is very fitting that we really unite such a thought with our souls.

On entering the domain of spiritual life it is necessary that besides those who, as it were, accomplish their task in the spiritual life, there should be also those who point to the earth, who have really woven something into the earth evolution, but have taken it out earlier than should have been done according to plan. Thus we may say that those who go early through the gates of death become in many respects for the human souls in the spiritual world just those who make it possible to believe in the heights of earth-life. They make it possible for those yonder to believe that earth-life really contains something spiritual which is of value; for these souls adopt a similar position there to the idealists here on earth.

We must always bear in mind that we should not imagine men living on in the spiritual world as they last were, when here. The trivial ideas that people hold, as, for instance, that those who die as children continue to live on as children, are naturally incorrect. The imagination may picture the dead as we last saw them here, but that is not their true form; it is rather the expression of it.

A child may die, but the human entity incarnated in the child may be a highly evolved soul, and continue its life after death as a highly evolved soul. I have often mentioned this. Thus we see something is carried up into the spiritual world which, being bound up with earth existence and nevertheless not consumed by it, should, in a sense not ‘be’ there. That works in the evolution which the human soul passes through between death and rebirth. Those men who have thus gone through death so pass through the intervening stage, between death and rebirth, that they there represent the humanity of the earth in a much richer and more comprehensive sense than one can do who has gone through a normal earth life.

That has nothing to do with what is laid down for man through Karma. If one lives to be old, that is Karma. If one dies young, that is Karma. But just as on earth a man cannot make himself arbitrarily into this or that individuality which his consciousness on this side of the veil might select, neither can he determine from the earth-consciousness how the life between death and rebirth is to be fashioned. If one is taken forcibly from physical existence into the spiritual world, he then has a much more intense imaginative vision of everything human than one who enters the spiritual world in a different fashion. We say that those who pass thus through the gates of death, stand especially near, during their life between death and rebirth, to that which happens on the earth, as far as humanity is concerned. That can be seen by investigating the lives of persons who have accomplished something of a very special importance at a particular time of their life, something which could perhaps only be done by them.

Suppose a man accomplishes something of great importance in a certain direction, at a definite epoch of his life, for example, in his forty-ninth year. (Naturally this can only be investigated occultly). If one traces this back, one finds that in an earlier incarnation, and perhaps just in his forty-ninth year, this man died a more or less violent death. He acquires this strong tendency towards the ideal evolution of the earth by having carried up ‘that which should exist’ into the spiritual world. Thereby he incorporated into his whole physical being the strong force wherewith to accomplish something definite in a definite year. We can again see from this, as I pointed out in the last lecture, that men who have to effect many things, especially through their will, and who thus live more for universal humanity, have carried up in some form, from some earlier incarnation, such life ‘which ought to exist.’

It is indeed specially difficult, while one only wishes to conceive of life in the spiritual as a somewhat more refined earthly life, to reconcile oneself to acquiring the following idea of the spiritual: Here on earth, physical life is always known of itself; while over there is the life which is unknown; and that in the spiritual, things are reversed. People do not take the trouble to understand that actually, unless one does something oneself, everything is dark and gloomy in the spiritual life; that one must first bring everything to light. Everything which is visible is on this side (the physical), but seen from that side. Also the most significant thing that is intermingled there consists in ‘something that should exist.’ This is a conception which one has to acquire if one wants to perceive aright the connection of physical life with the spiritual life.

In our time it is really a good plan to acquaint ourselves with such conceptions for, as I have said, suffering souls so frequently ask themselves today: Why must so many men be called into the spiritual world in the flower of their age? Why cannot they complete their life here?

And wonderful as it sounds (though, as I have said, the spiritual truths may sometimes seem cruel) it is nevertheless true, that there must be carried into the spiritual world the possibility of so looking at the earth that this earth itself can be permeated by the spirit. If all men reached old age normally, if there were no martyrs, no men able to sacrifice themselves in youth, then would the earth, regarded from above, lapse into worthless existence. That which is here mingled with the earth as Ideal, is at the same time that which continually brings from out of the past something better for the future. That is connected with what is here sacrificed. Suppose a man at the age of twenty-six sacrifices his whole future life, which he otherwise would have employed in his external work, and would have devoted it to the progress of humanity. This lives further. In the forces of progress there live the lives that men have sacrificed, the lives which they would have been able to live here. The evolution of the earth needs this sacrifice of life. We can thus see how that which is otherwise merely an abstract idea in our materialistic age, becomes extremely concrete. In yet another sense than I developed it here in July, we can say, ‘Not only do these etheric bodies work in the entire connection of human progress, but the work of those who have gone early through death also lives on.’

The work of these individualities is such that we can ask: Who then are those who principally labour for the good of humanity in general, and who set themselves universal tasks in later incarnations?

They are those who in earlier incarnations, have in some way or other died a death of sacrifice. The devotional natures, those given up to the spiritual here on the earth, owe this to their life of martyrdom in a previous incarnation. The earth could not progress unless people sacrificed themselves.

When we think of this, we can look away from the present into the future. Such an immense number are now being sacrificed and are sacrificing themselves. Painful as this is considered from many a personal standpoint, yet if we look at it from the standpoint of the wisdom of the Cosmos we may console ourselves. For in proportion to what is now sacrificed will the forces of progress be given to the future. Humanity requires such forces of progress. This is not considered deeply enough today, but it will be, when a sufficient number not of centuries but of decades, have come and gone in the present materialistic evolution. The consequence of materialism will follow with incredible rapidity. The zenith of materialism was really attained in the nineteenth century, and man would be swamped by it unless something occurred to arrest it. This conversion should be brought about by spiritual science. And this can only be done by strong forces, working for the ideal to be really worked into earth life. Many who are now called away will help to prevent the earth from falling a prey to materialism and being dominated by it.

Just read the course of lectures on the Apocalypse, in which this is indicated in broad outlines. You can then form some idea how great is the fruit of the sacrificial deaths that will be required by the earth in the future, to redeem it as far as possible from sinking into materialism, and the strife, hate and enmity, connected with it; so that it can pursue its further course in the cosmos. Such a time as ours demands, more than other epochs that we should think, not only on what is taking place, but on the fruits of these happenings. And we can only recognise these fruits if we bear in mind the two sides of cosmic existence, which shows us that we really experience two completely different poles of life: one here between birth and death and the other there between death and rebirth. Here, we are, in a certain sense, passive in our innermost being, and if we wish to raise ourselves to the perception of the spiritual world, we have to work so hard that many find it impossible. There, it is necessary to be active in order to have with us our vision of the immediately present spiritual world in which we find ourselves; on the other hand we always have, as a reminder, the existing world beneath. Here in this earthly world, the Idealists bear ‘that which should exist,’ which makes existence of value. Into that world to which men pass through the gates of death, which those enter whose life has run its regular earth course, come those who die more or less early as martyrs. And there they are: the witnesses, that below on earth, not merely the material exists, not merely that which is given over to the nothingness, to the transitory, and decaying — but that on this earth is also intermingled that which is retained by those who did not complete their life, whose life was indeed forcibly taken from them.

We must take such things not only intellectually but unite them deeply with our feeling, then may things become comprehensible. Certainly our present epoch contains many riddles, but some of them can be solved if we connect the present suffering with the great wisdom of the Cosmos. And this again is a chapter which if we apply what has now been said to our own times, may be embodied in the great truth:

From the fighters' courage,

From the blood of battles,

From the mourners' suffering,

From the people's sacrifice,

There will ripen fruits of Spirit

If with consciousness the soul

Turns her thought to Spirit Realms.



see also here

The Key to Theosophy

Suicide is the worst of crimes and dire in its results.

H.P. Blavatsky,

… the greatest of all living crimes – Suicide.” – Master Serapis Bey, Letters from The Masters of the Wisdom

“Suicides are not dead but have only killed their physical triad … The suicides, who, foolishly hoping to escape life, found themselves still alive, – have suffering enough in store for them from that very life. Their punishment is in the intensity of the latter.”

Master Koot Hoomi, The Mahatma Letters

Because suicide is not natural death but a highly unnatural form of death – self-induced death which, although very tragic and in many cases understandable and worthy of all our compassion, is still spiritually unlawful – the process is different from that which applies in the case of ordinary and naturally occurring death, which has been outlined in the article Death and The Afterlife and also When We Die.

The individual who commits suicide remains fully conscious, trapped in the Kama Loka (the psychic or astral atmosphere surrounding and to some extent interpenetrating the physical plane), able to see and witness everything that’s going on on Earth in regard to the situations and people from which they have severed themselves, and having to remain there for the destined duration of what would have been their life had they not killed themselves.

For example, if the person was destined by their Karma to have lived for 90 years in that lifetime but killed themselves at the age of 20, they will have to remain within Kama Loka for 70 years and cannot progress any further until then. They are not able to undergo the complete death process and enter into the state of Devachan – or “Heaven” – until then.

In this regard the Master Koot Hoomi explained in “The Mahatma Letters” that “That particular wave of life-evolution must run on to its shore.” They are well and truly trapped and the suffering caused by being in that state is far worse than the suffering they tried to escape from on Earth.



describes potassium cyanide suicide or death as the real death of soul and spirit


[1] - About martyrs and sacrificial death

For explanation, see 1915-11-20-GA157A above:

List of martyrs:

  • murdered:
    • Hypathia, Jesus Ben Pandira, Julian Apostate, Kaspar Hauser
    • burning of the Templars (1310, 1314), Cathars at Montsegur (1244)
    • famous persons (20th century): Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Robert F. Kennedy, Dietrich Bonnhoefer
  • death sentence & suicide: Socrates, Empedokles (Etna)
  • Christian Rosenkreutz: at least ten incarnations as martyr - see Individuality of Christian Rosenkreutz#Aspects

[2] - Considerations on the Earth population

For coverage of the Earth's population, see: Planets hosting beings at various stages of evolution#.5B3.5D - Earth.27s population and the process of incarnation.

Contemporary science states there are approx 8 Billion people on Earth, and - interestingly - all sources show this growth with a hockey stick in the last century.

1- Child mortality and life expectation

[1] The following statement in 1915-11-20-GA157A may trigger contemplation about the shift in child death in the last centuries.

A child may die, but the human entity incarnated in the child may be a highly evolved soul, and continue its life after death as a highly evolved soul.

It may be that no trustworthy historical statistical data is available, but it is certainly so that all currently available information states that child mortality in the past was around 50%. See eg source A and source B

[2] On the flipside, if we may believe contemporary medicine and science, life expectancy has increased considerably - overall by one to two or three. See eg source C and source D

2 - Man's conscious control over life: abortion and euthanasy

[3] Furthermore, abortion and euthanasy have become (and/or are on the way to become) legally institutionalized in the last fifty years. See oa source E

3 - Other considerations

[4] It is known, especially since the disclosure by Rudolf Steiner, that large numbers of the human population are not having a developed human I, see I-less human beings. Quoted from 1920-10-22-GA200 on that page:

very many people — at least relatively many — are being born who do not follow the regular course of reincarnation ... there are other beings incarnated here, beings who use these people in order to work through them. ... There are in fact a large number of people, for example in the West, who are not simply reincarnated human beings ... One should not think in an abstract way that everywhere and without exception human beings are subject to repeated lives on earth.

[5] Last, there are other elements that also affect the process of reincarnation worldwide, such as the availability of the right physical bodies for the maturity of the souls that want to incarnate.

An excellent illustration in the context of drugs is: Sixteen paths of perdition#Note .5B3.5D - The opium war

However the consideration can be broader given the lowering of the quality of nutrition due to processed food, the increase of radiation on the biology of the human body, etc.

4 - Commentary

For discussion: What spiritual scientific aspects and consequences do the above elements have?

Related pages

References and further reading


  • Maria von Nagy: 'Rudolf Steiner über den Selbstmord' (1952 in DE, in NL 1998 as 'Voorbij de vertwijfeling : Geesteswetenschappelijke gezichtspunten omtrent zelfdoding'
  • Otto Julius Hartmann: 'Ist Selbstmord sinnvoll ? eine aktuelle Lebensfrage ; Depressionen ; Die Möglichkeit helfender Einsichten ; Fort von der Erde, weg von sich selbst ; Rauschgiftprobleme' (1976)


  • Sergei O. Prokofieff, Peter Selg: Honoring Life: Medical Ethics and Physician-Assisted Suicide (2014)