The world of the deceased

From Anthroposophy

After a human being dies and throws off the physical and etheric bodies, the soul of the deceased person goes through an experience of first ascending in the astral world and the spiritual world, followed by a descent again from the spiritual to the astral world and into incarnation in the physical world. This is a very individual pathway.

However incarnate living human beings on Earth are also constituted (see Man's bodily principles) with not just physical and etheric bodies but also an astral body and human 'I', and thus also reach into and live in the astral world and spirit world.

Hence souls on Earth, and deceased souls, are linked and intertwined, in a continuous exchange and influencing eachother. Today our waking consciousness is not able to be aware of this, and it appears as two separated worlds, which they are really not.


  • the dead come to the souls they know (and were connected with during incarnate life) during their sleep for nourishment, in the form of spiritual (and non-mundane materialistic) thoughts (1913-10-10-GA140)
  • the dead live in (1917-11-29-GA182)
    • feeling and willing, and through this impact of social history
    • in the group souls of the animal kingdom
  • between death & rebirth souls are bouncing against a ceiling of plant & animal kingdoms if no spiritual concepts/thoughts in life on Earth


Lecture coverage and references


quote A

Another thing which will appeal even more strongly with respect to the intercourse between the living and the dead is that the dead in a sense also require nourishment, though, of course, not the same nourishment as do human beings on the earth, but spiritual psychic nourishment.

Just as we on earth must have our harvest-fields in which the fruits ripen upon which we support our physical life (I may use the comparison, for it corresponds to the facts), so too must the dead have their harvest-fields, from which they can reap the fruits they need in the time between death and a new birth. When clairvoyant vision follows the dead, it can see that the sleeping human souls are the harvest-fields of the dead. It is, indeed, not only surprising, but really extremely upsetting to a man who for the first time is able to see into the spiritual world, to perceive how the human souls living in the intervening period between death and a new birth hurry to the sleeping souls, seeking for the thoughts and ideas to be found in them. From these they obtain the food supply which they require.

When we go to sleep at night the thoughts and ideas which have passed through our minds in our waking hours come to life — they become living beings, so to speak. Then the souls of the dead draw near and take part in these ideas, and in so doing they feel themselves nourished. Oh! it is an extremely affecting experience when we turn our clairvoyant vision to the dead who nightly visit their sleeping friends. (This applies particularly to blood-relations.) They wish to bathe in and, as it were, nourish themselves on the thoughts and ideas that the living took with them into their sleep, but fail to find anything nourishing. For there is a very great difference between one idea and another as regards our sleeping state.

If we are busy all day long with the materialistic ideas of life, giving our minds only to what goes on in the physical world and to what can be done there, and do not give a single thought to the spiritual worlds before going to sleep — indeed, in some respects just the opposite — we can offer no nourishment for the dead.

I know some parts of Europe where the young people are so educated that they go to sleep after having tried to drink as much beer as they can hold! That means that the thoughts and ideas which they carry over cannot live in the spiritual world, and when the dead approach them they find a barren field; this is just as hard for them as when our own crops fail and famine ensues. Particularly in our present time great famines can be observed in the spiritual worlds, for materialistic feelings are very prevalent now, and there are a great number of persons who consider it childish to think about the spiritual world. They thus withhold from those souls who ought to obtain nourishment from them after death their necessary soul-food.

[key sentence and section]

In order that this fact may be rightly understood it is necessary to mention that after our death we can feed on the thoughts and ideas of those souls with whom we were in some way connected in our lifetime. We cannot draw nourishment from those with whom we had no connection.

If we propagate spiritual science today, so that we may once again have living spiritual content in our souls, then, my dear friends, we are not only working for the living that they may have satisfaction, but we try to fill our hearts and souls with thoughts about the spiritual world, knowing that the dead who were related to us on earth must be nourished by them. We feel today that we are not only working for the so-called living, but that by spreading spiritual science we are also serving the spiritual world.

When we are addressing the living, talking to them about what this daily life should be, then, by reason of the satisfaction which these souls experience, we are creating ideas for their night-life which can be fruitful nourishment for those whose karma has led them to die before ourselves.

That is why the need is felt, not only of making anthroposophy known by the ordinary outer methods, but there is also an inner longing to cultivate it in groups, for it is of great importance that persons who study anthroposophy should associate together.

As I have already said, the dead can only draw nourishment from those with whom they were connected in life, and they try to bring souls together so as to make the harvest-fields for the dead ever more extensive. Many a man who can find no harvest-fields after death because his whole family are materialists, can find some in the souls of the anthroposophists with whom he has associated. That is a deeper reason why we should work together and are anxious that any member who dies should, before his death, become acquainted with persons, anthroposophists, who while still on earth occupy themselves with spiritual things, for he can afterwards draw nourishment from them when they are asleep.


lecture: Life between Death and a New Incarnation

The dead can experience their present spiritual environment only to the degree in which they formerly reflected, as much as earthly men are capable of doing, on the spiritual world.


Note [1] - On the worldview and belief system and life after death


In many lectures, Rudolf Steiner describes the loneliness of materialistic souls and the fact how atheism is - from a spiritual perspective - a disease of the soul.

1923-05-17-GA226 (see above) states that "The dead can experience their present spiritual environment only to the degree in which they formerly reflected, as much as earthly men are capable of doing, on the spiritual world."


1 - This note develops the aspects of atheistic and materialistic lives on the soul.

On the other opposite, a related topic is how the study of spiritual science and the Christ is important for the soul in it's journey after death. Here also is described the importance of what we choose to fill our soul contents with during incarnate life, and it's impact of life between death and a new birth, and the evolution of our soul and spirit. One might wonder how just 'knowing the Christ, or not', relating to the Christ with one's soul 'in full', could have such an impact. This topic is expanded in full on: Christ Module 15 - Study of Spiritual Science and the Mystery of Golgotha.

Essential in this however, and in a way to counterbalance this consideration, it is clear that the soul impact is not through any 'dead' intellectual thoughts, but through the feelings and the touching of the heart string, see Christ Module 13 – Teachings through the ages#1913-10-01-GA148

2 - introductory positioning with some relevant links to related topic pages that provide the foundation for this discussion

In other words, this Discussion note is about 'the importance of what we believe and think' (see worldview). This is to be related to how the soul works in Thinking Feeling Willing (TFW), and the Truth Beauty Good (TBG) (search TBG on the site search to see dependencies).

See also the bottom of Schema FMC00.431 on Human character - the I and threefold soul for a visualization of how the spiritual, containing moral impulses (see Moral ideals), ripples through the consciousness soul to the other members of the soul, and thus affects the whole human being in its functioning in the world and vis-a-vis other souls.

Secondly, regarding Christos, see Schema FMC00.481 on Christ Module 15 - Study of Spiritual Science and the Mystery of Golgotha .. as an illustration of what one needs to contemplate when using the word 'Christ'. It is not the label, or any meaning in the way we form and describe earthly human concepts, but the cosmic principle of selfless love.

Some perspectives

The section below is to be developed (section initialized with input taken from facebook anthro group discussion 2023-05, here merged and made anonymous as the focus is solely on the contents). The goal is first position a number of different views, and then elaborate on how these various perspectives integrate by resolving the dichotomy or apparent contradictions.

Question: What does Rudolf Steiner's statement mentioned in the Introduction imply for the many good-hearted souls who are atheists or very materialistic, who have not succeeded in ripening their soul to the spiritual. All of us have such people around us, and these can very kind and loving people. So what happens to these beloved souls when they cross the threshold?

Answer 1: It implies that they will not be able to consciously participate in the reincarnation process and communion with other souls and the spiritual hierarchies. Instead of a wonderous journey through the solar system and back again, and joyously communing with those others dearly departed who love him - instead of "the life between death and rebirth", this merely good-hearted soul will simply die in stark terror, and wake up seemingly moments later, with quite that same displaced feeling awaiting his return - take heart though, "can't come back as anything less" is the longstanding axiom.

In all fairness it is a bit more of a complicated question ... but key to this is an understanding the development of the I, and the Lesser Guardian's role in developing ones conscious life through moral adjustment. Something that we find in all cultures but in the native cultures we are also contending with a greater urge to remain of the folk soul whereas "My Father Abraham and I are one" was the group soul. Now we have become trees of our own, and not merely branches of our tribe as it were, but again that just scratches this surface and each individual case should be presented as such ... Some of these souls may only make it as far out as the moon sphere, whereas we should in all due course .. make it to Saturn sphere and back.

Such views and statements sting, as they should, and as should addressing atheism as an illness should - an illness which leads to an even greater death.

Answer 2: Still God sees the good in the heart of the soul, more than just or alone the thougts.

What happens to all the love, empathy, good deeds, charity .. that an atheist has done in life - when he dies? After death we experience in the kamaloka part of the astral world everything we have done - but based on those we have done it to - i.e. that we experience the feelings they had, then what we did to them. Would this not be the case if one is an atheist? Or what about the difference between a hard-hearted and selfish anthroposophist who has studied esoterics all his life, but never performed a good deed towards others - and an atheist who has spent his whole life helping other people - what does their life look like after death?

If a person's deeds are not taken into account after life - if you are an atheist - aren't we back in a punitive system where the whole is not looked at, but only the thoughts? I think we need to be careful about condemning atheists to torment and solitude after death .. being wrong on one point cannot define the whole human being.

Answer 3:

Many people are not especially spiritually interested as such, ie. are not reading books about it, but are spiritual in their core, as they have incarnated again and again and have developed a spiritual lifestyle. They are not materialistic, they are the creative people. They are the people who go through initiation without doing [much or] any esoteric training, it has become part of their lifestyle, they don't need to follow a book.


A few reflections to start with:

  • First of all, the saying 'don't judge a book by its cover' may be appropriate to also mean that we should not judge an Individuality by its current incarnate Personality, in other words there is more in the 'book of lives' (see causal body) than the life that one is currently living. This means that one's astral body and bodily structures may be quite evolved, however each incarnation context is different and other aspects of karma may play out.
  • Secondly, one needs to open up one's frame of reference a bit when coming from a contemporary spiritual scientific context such as theosophy and anthroposophy. Today we live in the age of the consciousness soul, but the spiritual pathway of development of the true, beautiful and good is so much older and this guidance has known many forms over the millenia, cultural ages, and epochs. In earlier times there were many paths to the spiritual which were not as intellectual, for example gnosticism, alchemy. In the middle ages the troubadours were a medium for dissiminating rosecrucian insights in a popular way to a broad audience, just as through the ages this was done with what we know as myths and sagas today.
  • Furthermore, it is also the case that souls descend with some more pre-programmed wisdom in the astral body as humanity progresses, see Descent towards incarnation#1921-01-22-GA203. In other words some people may come with a better innate starting position, for the combined reasons above.

The question asked here is about pious good souls that do not have the intellectual knowledge and don't go through any conscious study thinking about the spiritual. The question is about positioning people who can live selfless love and have an affinity for feeling, knowing and living the good, the true and the beautiful .. versus those who claim a conscious awareness of the spiritual is required in contemporary thinking. A potential illustration could be followers of manicheism (eg Cathars) and other souls doing good but not aware of spiritual science.

Related pages

References and further reading