It may sound an extraordinary statement, but it is nevertheless true, that for some seven, eight or ten years now a real student of human life can observe quite a different expression on the faces of new-born babies. Many people, it is true, do not notice this, for the most important things of life pass unheeded to-day. But one who has acquired an eye for such things knows that very many children born during the last seven to ten years wear a melancholy expression. It is as if they ‘held back’ from the world. One might say that even from the first days of life, from the first week onwards, something different can be seen in the physiognomy of these children. And if we investigate this remarkable fact that seems so strange to the man of to-day, we find that the souls entering the world through birth bear within them from before conception and birth that which gives their faces this melancholy expression. Hidden though it often be behind all their smiles, it is nevertheless there in the faces of these children, almost from birth. It was not there formerly. In these souls there lives — though it is quite unconscious, of course — a “reluctance” to enter life. Souls entering through birth to-day feel a kind of hindrance, a difficulty, in entering the physical world.
Now it is a fact that man undergoes an important experience in the spiritual world before entering the physical world through conception and birth, and the effects of this experience are active in his coming life. Here on the earth men die; they pass through the gate of death, laying aside their physical bodies and taking their souls into the spiritual world. These souls still bear within them the effects of all they have experienced in the physical world. After passing through the gates of death human souls appear, on the whole, as the after-effects of what they have immediately experienced in earthly life. Now such souls meet those who are about to descend into a physical body. (This is actually the case. I can only tell you of it, for these things can only be brought from the spiritual world through actual experience of them.) This meeting between those souls who have just passed through the gate of death and those who are just about to enter the physical world through the gate of birth is an important event. Its effect is decisive in many respects. In a certain sense, its function is to give the descending souls some idea of what they will encounter here. It is from this meeting that the “impulse” is derived that stamps the peculiar expression of melancholy on the faces of children entering the world to-day. They do not want to enter the world of which they have learnt through this meeting. For they know how, in a sense, their “spiritual plumage” will be ruffled by what mankind, immersed in materialistic thoughts and feelings, views and deeds, is experiencing on the earth to-day.
This fact (which, naturally, can only be established spiritually) and other things beside throw a strong light on our whole age. The present times can only be understood on such a basis, and we ought to strive for such an understanding.
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 193 – SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF TO-DAY – Heidenheim, June 12, 1919
Translated by H. Collison and M.A. (Oxon)