Change of place

November 2012

Dear Reader,

Four-year-old Vanessa tells me precisely what it’s like when one has died. “Grandma looks down from heaven and waves to us. And then she returns as a baby. And then Daddy goes to heaven and then Mummy.” And so it goes on in sequence with her older siblings. Finally: “And then I go and also wave.” Everyone returns, life is not interrupted: “And everyone comes back!” Death only takes all of them to another place, like going on an excursion. “Don’t we fall down from there?” I listen curiously and while I am still thinking about an answer Vanessa laughs: “The clouds are soft, and so is Mummy’s tummy.” Vanessa has cancer and is a survivor. The musician Viktor Ullmann was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942. There he wrote his opera The Emperor of Atlantis or The Refusal of Death. Emperor Overall announces the “great beneficent” war of all against all. Death opposes this mad scheme, which would lead to the destruction of all human life: “I am the only one who can take souls!” With his refusal he thwarts the emperor’s order to kill: people are no longer dying and the most important instrument of the emperor’s rule has failed. People recognise the senselessness of their actions in their unsuccessful attempts to kill each other, they initially feel compassion for one another and then love, and long for the release of death. Viktor Ullmann did not survive Auschwitz.

Most people fear death. They experience their impotence with regard to of its occurrence, it may happen sooner or later, but it is always inevitable. At this point the power of human knowledge and technical doability ends. Birth and death and what happened to us before and will happen to us afterwards evades our consciousness, our direct ability to control and govern events. We receive life as a gift at birth – death takes it away again. We are born but we are not died, we die – an indication that we can participate in this process consciously and actively. The great fear of death consists of losing such consciousness.

Rudolf Steiner gives detailed descriptions of what the life of human beings before birth and after death looks like and what they experience at the threshold as they enter into their physical existence and when they leave it. That these are not the crazy ideas of an initiate is shown by the studies of the Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel who has reached the conclusion as a result of the near-death experiences of his patients that there must be a continuing non-physical consciousness which is not restricted to brain function but remains capable of perception beyond the threshold of our physical existence and ordinary consciousness. In that case Vanessa’s child-like pictorial depiction is not far removed from reading birth and death as the transition to another level of consciousness.

Mathias Maurer


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