Life between death and new birth

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Gustave Doré, Illustration to Dante's Paradiso

In the life between death and new birth, which man experiences repeatedly in the course of reincarnation, he connects himself step by step with the spiritual-cosmic conditions until the so-called "world midnight", in order to then descend again step by step to a new earthly existence. The fruits that the human being has acquired spiritually in the last earthly life are thereby woven into the body shells in the next earthly life as effective forces.


The basic prerequisite for being able to describe life between death and a new birth is that one has overcome to a certain degree the ahrimanic influence that is omnipresent today.

„At present, within spiritual science, one can describe life between death and a new birth as it is when the ahrimanic influence has been overcome to a certain degree. And this is how it has been described by the writer of this book in other writings and in the first chapters of this one. And so it must be described if it is to become clear what can be experienced by man in this form of existence when he has conquered pure spiritual vision for what is really there To what extent the individual experiences it more or less depends on his conquest of the ahrimanic influence.“ (Lit.:GA 13, p. 287f)

The meaning of the experience of death

Main article: Death experience

From a spiritual point of view, death is the most beautiful and wonderful experience that man can have. A bright light of consciousness radiates from here, which the dead person can always look back on later and which guarantees him or her I-consciousness even in the life between death and a new birth. In dying, when the silver cord breaks, the connection between the physical body and the higher members of man, which rise above the head, is severed with a bright illumination in the heart.

„Death is terrible, or at least can be terrible, for man as long as he remains in the body. But when man has passed through the gate of death and looks back on death, death is the most beautiful experience possible in the human cosmos. For this looking back on this entering into the spiritual world through death is, between death and a new birth, the most wonderful, the most beautiful, the most magnificent, the most glorious event that the dead can ever look back on. As little as of our birth ever really stands in our physical experience - after all, no man with the ordinary, untrained faculties remembers his physical birth - surely death always stands there for the soul that has passed through the gate of death, from the emergence of consciousness. It is always there, but it stands there as the most beautiful thing, as the resurrector into the spiritual world. And he is a teacher of the most wonderful kind, a teacher who can really prove to the receptive soul that there is a spiritual world, because he destroys the physical through his own being and from this destruction only that which is spiritual can emerge. And this resurrection of the spiritual, with the complete stripping away of the physical, is an event that always stands between death and new birth. It is a sustaining, a wonderfully great event, and into its understanding the soul grows little by little ...“ (Lit.:GA 157, p. 188)

The experience of death, as it occurs immediately at the moment of death, is not immediately conscious to the human being. At first it is covered by the life panorama (see below). But even after that, it does not immediately enter consciousness. As a rule, the three-day experience of the life panorama is followed by a phase of lowered consciousness. This is because the spiritual light, the radiant wisdom that now surrounds the human being, floods his consciousness and thereby blinds it. Only when we succeed in dimming this wisdom light that floods around us do we become aware of the actual experience of death (Lit.:GA 161, p. 128f).

The life panorama immediately after death

Main article: Life panorama

The life panorama or life tableau appears to man at the moment of death or at moments of great nearness to death, when the etheric body detaches from the physical body or at least loosens very much. This panoramic view of life contains the whole fruit the past earthly life. Unclouded by the physical body, the etheric body, which is the actual carrier of memory, then releases its treasure of memories. In the first moments it can seem as if the whole past life is running like a film in fast motion before the inner eye, as is also known from many near-death experiences, until finally the earthly experience of time is completely cancelled. Everything we thought in the past earthly life, even if we have long since forgotten it or never really became aware of it, is then simultaneously before our consciousness as in a great majestic tableau. Just as otherwise in space things stand side by side, so now all early and all later experiences stand before us simultaneously, so that one can rightly say: "Space becomes time here". In contrast to our everyday memory, which is pale and incomplete, here we become aware of all past experiences completely, vividly and unclouded. The panorama of life is thereby experienced completely objectively and peacefully, without all the joys and pains that were connected with the experiences of life on earth. This memory tableau remains for about two to three days after death; this is somewhat different for individual people. As a rule, it lasts about as long as the person concerned was able to endure in life without sleeping (Lit.:GA 102, p. 140). At the same time, this corresponds approximately to the time during which the day's experiences stimulate the formation of dreams; what one experiences in a dream is stimulated by the day's experiences of the last two to three days.

The problem of contemporary materialism for the dead person

The previous study of spiritual science is eminently important also for a dead person. If the dead man enters the afterlife with exclusively materialistic conceptions, he becomes a problem in the spiritual world:

„But when man enters the spiritual world with merely physical conceptions, he becomes a centre of destruction.“ (Lit.:GA 178, p. 38)

Earthbound dead

Main article: Earthbound dead

Earthbound dead are people who, after death, remain bound to the earth sphere, namely to the mineral and plant kingdoms, for much longer than usual. These realms, however, are no longer appropriate to their being. Often these experiences, which are difficult for the dead to bear, are caused by the fact that the human being has neglected during earthly life to form concepts and ideas that reach beyond earthly existence. But it can also be worries for friends, relatives and children left behind, or unfulfilled tasks and duties, which still tie the dead person to earthly existence for a long time. One can then help the dead by taking over their tasks and duties. For the earth itself and the people left behind here, the earth-bound dead pose a great problem, for "much of the destructive forces at work within the earth sphere come from such dead people banished to this earth sphere." (Lit.:GA 182, p. 20)

Kamaloka - Purgatory

Main article: Kamaloka

The Kamaloka (Sanskritकाम kama "desire" and लोक loka "place"; literally the "place of desire") is called purgatory in Christian terminology. After the dead person has experienced the life panorama, he enters the state of Kamaloka, which comprises the 3 or 4 lower parts of the soul world (astral world), in which man must give up those desires which could only be satisfied by means of the physical body which is given up with death and which still bind him to the past life on earth. A large part of the astral body is discarded here and merges into the general astral world. In the Kamaloka, man encounters the spiritual-cosmic forces of the lunar sphere.


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.