Postponing death as long as possible, is our motto, even if it sometimes takes a lot of effort. After all, death is the end of our existence. Or at least we’re not sure if there’s anything left after death. No matter how you look at death, at least you don’t have a physical corps anymore. And what is life without a body? It must be an illusion, many believe, no more than a chimera. That’s why we keep death at a distance for as long as possible.
Now, the Apocalypse has a curious passage about dying. I am not referring to the rider on the fourth horse, who appears at the opening of the fourth seal, which is called Death and which is followed by Hades, the underworld. But I am thinking of the consequences at the blowing of the fifth trumpet (Rev. 9:1-12, text fragment 27): ‘ And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die and death shall flee from them’.
For once, if we don’t let our fear of death get the better of us, we should listen to mysticism and spiritual science and begin to hear what these traditions say about what follows death. What will come to us then? Can death also be seen as a gift? Here are some considerations around the threshold crossing at death. We will discuss:
- The gatekeepers on the threshold to death;
- Death as liberation from bodily suffering;
- Fear as the cause of death;
- Death as part of settling karma;
- Death as the gateway to spiritual existence; and
- Eternal life as ideal.
The considerations below are certainly not intended to present an exhaustive treatise on a subject as important and comprehensive as dying. They are incitements to further opinion-forming.
The gatekeepers on the threshold to death
Dying on Earth is, according to the mystical schools, being born at the same time in another, spiritual, dimension. And vice versa, for those who are born on Earth, the consciousness of the spiritual world usually dies.
Normally, human beings always have access to dying. We can end our lives by stopping eating, although that is not easy. And in case of unbearable suffering, we can, if national laws permit, seek help with euthanasia. In extreme despair, we can commit suicide. This allows us to take matters into our own hands, even if we don’t know what effect this will have on our post-mortem life, if such a post-mortem life exists.
In antiquity there was no doubt about that. There was the realization that the entrance to the world of the dead was guarded by threshold guards, the Scorpio Centaurs, as mentioned in the text explanation of fragment 27: ‘… in the Aeneas of Virgilio, Centaurs are mentioned as gatekeepers at the entrance to the underworld. In Egypt, the god with the dog’s head, Anubis, is the death judge and threshold guard of the underworld. The Scorpio Centaurs at the gate of Hades deny the godless people access to the underworld. These threshold guardians torment the people for five months because the underworld region in the zodiac includes five-month constellations from Scorpio to Pisces’. This text suggests that although we may take our own lives, we have not yet passed the guardians on the threshold into the realm of the dead. The ‘godless’ human being is denied access to the world of the dead for a time. Such a soul could neither live in a material body, nor begin its journey into the world of the dead. What exactly is meant by these Centaur threshold guardians?
A surprising light is shed on this issue by Rudolf Steiner in a series of lectures in Dornach in December 1917 (GA 179, p.71 and following). In this series, he indicates that every human being carries a Centaur (half human-half horse) inside him.
Centaur, painting on the north side of the small dome of the first Goetheanum. Source: Urs Schwendener (ed.): Anthroposophy – an encyclopedia in 14 volumes, volume 5, p. 251.
On an etheric level every human being carries the head of a second person, and to this head belongs also the body of an animal. This is an etheric truth. This head is much wiser than our physical head, but at the same time this Centaur is equipped with a body full of animal wild instincts’. The fact that this Centaur appears as the guardian on the threshold to death, indicates that it must be passed in order to enter the world of the dead, i.e. the etheric body must first be dissolved, must be released. ‘And in the world between death and new birth, this wild etheric body is then tamed and transformed into the physical head with the senses in the next life,’ adds Steiner.
This explanation places the Centaur as a guardian in a completely different light than one would expect.
The Centaur as an etheric being in each of us can only be passed over at the time of dying, if this etheric second person can dissolve. Apparently, without this dissolution, the deceased cannot travel further into the spiritual world. And the desire to die, the suffering, is a way to still be able to let go of the etheric body. That this is a function of suffering is indicated in the next paragraph.
Death as liberation from bodily suffering
The transition from life to death is often difficult. Long before blowing the last breath, life can become difficult due to pain or due to a diminishing ability to let one’s own personality shine through the increasingly malfunctioning body. Doctors try to soften this suffering or dehumanization with medication. For the dying, and for next of kin, it can be a big relieve when the suffering and decay is stopped by death. In this case, it must be taken for granted that dying is a definitive end of physical life, that only the memory remains. The balance of personal life no longer changes, and the end result can be drawn up.
Many expect that dying will be less difficult to accept if someone believes in an afterlife. After all, in mysticism the continuity of existence is the starting point. Whether this easier handling of dying also occurs, however, will depend on the state of purification of the soul who is going to die.
The transition from the physical to the spiritual world comprises a refined series of processes of which little to nothing is known about in regular health care. This despite an extensive literature on spiritual experiences during dying. An example. Marieke de Vrij, a clairvoyant woman, reports on her (Dutch) website https://devrijemare.nl in several articles about her observations on dying. She indicates that the pain during dying also has a cleansing function. Through the pain that the body suffers, the traumatic energies, unprocessed experiences, grief, that which has not been expelled, are always knocked loose and discharged… as a result of which the soul constitution becomes thinner and lighter and comes into a higher light frequency… If this process may have a natural course and the person dies naturally, he or she has cleansed the soul energy of superfluous luggage, and the transition to the immaterial world takes place in a high light frequency of the soul… At the moment of early intervention by euthanasia … when you die and you have not yet let go all unprocessed things, one travels to the immaterial world and brings it there where it has to be brought to insight in a different way. …’ (https://devrijemare.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/07_artikel__euthanasie_en_de_ziel_2009.pdf).
According to Marieke de Vrij, the suffering at dying still has a meaning, is part of leaving the earth as a ‘clean’ soul, passing the gatekeepers at the entrance of the realm of the dead and starting the journey in the spiritual world with as clean a slate as possible.
Fear of death
Fear of death has a cramping effect on us as individuals and as society. Fear is a tool of the apocalyptic Apollyon and Goethe’s Mephistopheles. Fear is the result of the absence of love. With fear, free people can be oppressed and social life can be frozen. Fear paralyses the self’s judgement and brings large numbers of people back to group behavior that the government or some other authority enforces. Fear does not so much kill the body as it kills the independence of self in man. Out of fear one isolates oneself and turns away from the stranger. What remains is survival instinct and saving of the body. If we can let go of the fear of dying, we are more likely to live longer. For example, because our immune system remains more vital, because we react more flexibly to changes, and because, we also see opportunities in addition to risks.
Death as part of settling karma
In India, it is widely believed that we are on Earth to solve our karma from past lives. Karma occurs when emotions attach themselves to a thought, a word or an action (for example: Mohanji, 2011, The Power of Purity, GuruLight, www.gurulight.com, p. 167). Karma is created by injustice or suffering that we have brought upon someone else. As a result of our insights gained after death, the desire arises in ourselves to neutralize these deeds. Rudolf Steiner gives a more abstract description: karma is the return of an effect to the being from which it originated (Revelation of karma, lecture May 16, 1910, Hamburg, GA 120). Mohanji states: ‘The soul automatically navigates to the platform where it can discard the forms of karma it carries’ (p.35). Life is an ongoing pursuit by humans to resolve their accumulated karma, because this is only possible during life on Earth and because it is necessary to continue our evolution.
Suffering, illness and dying are possibilities to settle karma. Steiner points to two different forms of illness in this context. On the one hand there are the temptations of a dissolute way of life, following our desires. This temptation comes to us from within. It is the action of Lucifer in our soul, which transforms itself after death into a predisposition in the next life in the astral body to inflammatory and infectious diseases, such as pneumonia. These are painful diseases in which the astral body is extra awake and active. Experiencing such a ‘luciferic’ disease then brings about a settlement of sensitivity to certain desires resulting in a higher moral quality. The pain that accompanies the disease is the effect that can help neutralize the too great luciferic influence.
Other causes of karmic illness may lie in following or using lies and untruths. This temptation comes to us from the outside world. It is the action of Ahriman that infects the etheric body. Such ‘ahrimanic’ causes of disease become in a next life a predisposition for diseases in which the ability of independent judgment (the self) in man is strengthened with which the causes of such diseases can be overcome. In these diseases the etheric body penetrates too deeply into an organ, causing it to malfunction. The higher purpose of this is to find the way back to the spiritual world from a world that has become too materialistic and illusionary. Liver diseases are an example of these ahrimanic causes.
According to Steiner, illness and death are therefore gifts to man to overcome the influences of Lucifer and Ahriman which are harmful to his spiritual development. Of course, this perspective can only apply if the insight of the continuity of consciousness through different lives is shared.
Death as gateway to a spiritual existence
From the examples given, man emerges as a spiritual being who rhythmically plunges into a physical existence in order to perfect himself or herself until incarnation is no longer necessary and man as a spirit reunites with man’s primal image as God created him. Much is known about this spiritual existence in the mystical schools. The processes of dying and being born involves too much to mention here systematically. Developments from live to live, help the human soul to perfect itself by transforming experiences of a past life in such a way that they can lead to appropriate experiences and opportunities for growth in a subsequent life, without affecting man’s free will. In the spiritual world, man can learn to look at himself and his experiences without the influence of Lucifer and Ahriman, without being over-powered by lusts and falsehood. And from these insights come the impulses to develop further in the next life. If man did not die and gain access to the spirit world, his spiritual development would stagnate. And here we touch on the essence of our present time: the increasingly sophisticated prevention of man’s evolution into a divine spiritual being, into what the Apocalypse calls becoming ‘kings in the new Jerusalem’. If we can no longer die and be born naturally, then our spiritual evolution is at stake.
Eternal life as ideal
No matter how noble the pursuit of health science is to prevent and cure our illnesses, the ideal of ‘eternal life’ should not be pursued as a materialistic ideal. Eternal life is a spiritual ideal. If eternal life is translated into a materialistic sense, we all start to believe we are entitled to a government guaranteed healthy life of 100, 200, yes perhaps 1000 years. But then, life will become from a blessing to a curse. The doctor may not allow a patient to die because this is seen as a failure of his or her abilities and leads to lawsuits with huge claims for damages. Even now, this pressure is already noticeable in the way governments deal with the risk of dying from the corona virus. The last thing a government wants to do, for example the Dutch government in a year before the elections, is being sloppy with the health of the elderly. For that, even the sacred cow of economic growth is sacrificed. Great economic sacrifices are made to extend the healthy years of life. There seems to be no alternative to striving for long life years.
The question of why someone should be able to live longer is not asked in politics. The longer the better, is the simple truth. Nowadays, there is a discussion in the Netherlands about being allowed to end a life if the person in question considers his or her life to be complete, even if he or she is not suffering of a fatal disease. From a spiritual point of view this is a peculiar issue, because life will end by itself if there is nothing more to learn for the human soul. In the light of the foregoing, deciding for oneself about the completion of one’s life can be seen as sabotaging one’s life’s mission.
Many discussions around dying in this day and age are judged purely from a materialistic point of view. Whether it is about a completed life or about organ donation, -where the dying process is seriously disrupted by the removal of vital organs and speeding up death-, or about euthanasia, the consequences for the spiritual processes at the threshold crossing of dying remain out of the picture. This is becoming an increasingly gruesome reality.
Another example is the use of certain medicines. The aforementioned Marieke de Vrij (https://devrijemare.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Ongewone-depressie.pdf), in conversation with medical doctors, indicates that certain medicines literally have the effect that was already discussed in the Apocalypse: not being able to die and enter the world of the deceased. She calls this the occurrence of ‘an unusual depression’. Such an unusual depression is ‘a depression that is linked to the person who should have died, but cannot die, because there are preservative side effects of medication. Normally, the soul knows the meaning of life. The mind is revitalized to do what it is meant to do on Earth. Every human being goes through his personal development in this. People who still feel a challenge, although the body is sick and weak, have an incentive to continue living, because the soul sees potential for learning. However, when the soul’s task is finished, the meaning of life has ceased to exist and the soul no longer receives a stimulus for further survival. The person no longer has any raising power. If the soul is then still forced to inhabit the body for a longer time, then this soul feels trapped in the body. In that case, the psyche of the personality changes greatly. This causes an unusual depression. This is very different in nature from a depression during the rest of life. In people with an unusual depression there is hopelessness right down to the deepest fibers of the personality. It is the ultimate nothing, from which nothing can be born. … Life is hopeless because it no longer has a spiritual purpose. Such a form of depression is darker in nature than forms of depression that need to reawaken individuality at a deeper level. Normally a depression arrives in order to experience meaning in yourself again. You hope that the weather will be sunny or more pleasant or that something else will happen. These people don’t know that anymore. It’s done. It’s a kind of continuous depression. It distorts the perception of reality. One is going to see everything from this coloring of one’s existence.’
In such situations man may live longer, but physical life without living spiritually has no eternal value. Everything needs to be considered from the spiritual perspective that life does not end with death. Our health actions around the process of dying must be judged from the question of whether they really serve the evolution of the dying person. Then dying becomes a gift again.