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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Being of Man and His Future Evolution
GA 107

II. Different Types of Illness

Berlin, 10th November 1908

Those of you who have been attending these group lectures for years will perhaps have noticed that the themes have not been haphazardly chosen but have a certain continuity. In the course of each winter, too, the lectures have always had a certain inner connection, even if, on the surface, this has not been immediately apparent. Therefore it will obviously be of the utmost importance to follow up the various courses that are being held here alongside the actual group evenings, and which are intended for the purpose of bringing newer members up to the level, as it were, of these group lectures; for various things said here cannot be immediately understood by every newcomer. But there is something else we should note as well, which will gradually have to be taken into consideration in the various groups of our German section. As there is a certain inner thread in the lectures, it is incumbent upon men to form each lecture so that it is part of a whole. Therefore it is not possible to say the things that can be presented to advanced participants in that kind of single lecture in such a way that they are equally suitable for newcomers. We could speak about the same theme in a very elementary way, of course, but that would not do in face of the progressive path we are planning to take in the anthroposophical life of this particular group. This again is connected with the fact that the further we progress the more we can anticipate in the way of wide-spread lecture publications and reporting of lectures from one group to another. For with regard to these lectures I give in the groups it is becoming less and less immaterial whether you hear the one on one Monday and the next the following Monday. It may not be immediately apparent to the audience why the one lecture succeeds the other, yet it is important nevertheless; and when you lend lectures to one another you cannot take this into account at all. One lecture might get read before the other, and then it unavoidably gets misunderstood and causes confusion. I want to make a special point of this, as it is an essential part of our anthroposophical life. Even the inserting of a phrase here or there, or the over or under emphasising of a word depends on the whole development of the life of the group. Only when the publication of the lectures can be strictly supervised so that nothing is published unless it has been submitted to me, can any good come of this duplicating and publishing of lectures.

This is also a kind of introduction to the lectures about to be held in this group. There will be a certain inner connection in the course of this winter's lectures and all the preparatory material will eventually be directed towards a definite culmination with which the course will then close. Last week's lecture was a small beginning, and today's lecture will be a kind of continuation. But it will not continue like a newspaper serial, where the thirty-eighth installment follows on after the thirty-seventh. There will be an inner connection, even though the subject matter will appear to differ, and the connection will consist in the fact that the whole series will culminate in the final lectures. So, with these concluding lectures in view, we will start today by sketching the nature of illnesses, and next Monday we will talk about the origin, historic importance and meaning of the “Ten Commandments”. These could well appear to have nothing in common; however, you will eventually see that it all has an inner connection, and that these lectures should not be taken as separate ones, as is often the case with those given for a wider public.

We would like to speak today about the nature of illness from the point of view of spiritual science. As a rule people are not concerned about illness, or one or another type of illness at least, until they themselves fall sick with it, and even then their interest does not go much beyond the cure. That is, they are only concerned about their recovery. How this cure is effected is sometimes a matter of complete indifference, and the pleasantest thing is not to have any further responsibility for the “how”. Most of our contemporaries content themselves with the thought that the people who carry out the job have been appointed to do so by the authorities. In our time there exists in this sphere a much more rabid belief in authority than has ever existed in the religious sphere. The papacy of medicine, irrespective of its various forms, still makes itself felt with great intensity and will do so to an even greater extent in the future. Laymen are in no way to blame for the fact that this can and will be like this. For they do not think about these matters or care in the least about them unless it affects them personally and they suffer from an acute case that requires treatment. Thus a large section of the population calmly looks on whilst the papacy of medicine assumes greater and greater dimensions and insinuates itself into things in all manner of ways, like the way it is now speaking out and interfering so horribly in the education of children and the life of the schools, and claiming its right to a particular therapy. People do not care about the deeper significance that is actually behind all this. They look on whilst one or another law is instituted. People do not want to have any insight into these matters. On the other hand there will always be people who are personally affected and cannot manage with ordinary materialistic medicine, the basis of which does not concern them, but only the fact of whether they can be cured or not, and then they will apply to the people who work out of occultism—and there again they only care about whether they can be cured or not. But they do not care whether public life as a whole, with its methods and its way of understanding things, completely undermines a deeper method arising out of the spirit. Who cares whether the public prevents any cures being effected in the method based on occultism, or cares whether the one who applies the method is put in prison? These things are not taken seriously enough except when people are personally affected. However it is just the task of a really spiritual movement to awaken a consciousness of the fact that there has to be more than an egoistic desire for recovery; in fact there has to be knowledge of the deeper foundations in these matters, and this knowledge has to be made known.

In our age of materialism it appears to anyone who can see to the bottom of these matters as only too obvious why just the theory of illness in particular comes under the strongest influence of materialistic thinking. However, if we follow this or that slogan, or give special credit to this or that method, merely criticising what is trimmed with materialistic theories, despite the fact that it arises out of a scientific basis and is useful in many respects, we shall be making just as much of a mistake as if we were to go to the other extreme and put everything under the heading of psychological cures and suchlike, and fall victim in this way to all manner of one-sidedness. Present-day mankind must, above all, realise more and more that man is a complicated being and that everything to do with man is connected with this complexity of his being. If there is a kind of science holding the opinion that man consists merely of a physical body, it cannot possibly work beneficially with the healthy or the sick human being. For health and sickness, have a relationship to man as a whole and not to one part of him only, namely the physical body.

Nor must the matter be taken superficially. You can find plenty of doctors nowadays, properly recognised members of the medical profession, who would never admit to being sworn materialists; they profess to one or another religious faith, and they would staunchly deny the accusation of being materialistic. But this is not the point. Life does not depend on what a man says or believes. That is his personal concern. To be effective it is necessary to know how to apply and make valuable use in life of those facts that are not limited to the sense world but have an existence in the spiritual world. So that however pious a doctor is and however many ideas he has regarding this or the other spiritual world, if he nevertheless works according to the rules that arise entirely out of our materialistic world conception, that is, he treats people as though they only had a body, then however spiritually minded he believes himself to be, he is nevertheless a materialist. For it does not depend on what a person says or believes but on his ability to set in living motion the forces behind the external world of the senses. Nor is it sufficient for anthroposophy to spread the knowledge of man's fourfold nature and for everybody to go repeating that man consists of a physical body, etheric body, astral body and ego, even if people can define and describe them in a certain way. The essential thing is not just to know this, but to understand more and more clearly the living interplay of these members of man's being and the part the physical body, etheric body, astral body and ego play in the healthy and in the sick human being and what their interrelationship implies. Unless you make it your business to know what spiritual science can tell you about the nature of the fourth member of man's being, the ego, then however much you study anatomy and physiology you would not know anything about the nature of blood. That would be quite impossible. And you would never be able to say anything of any value about the illnesses connected with the nature of the blood. For the blood is the expression of the ego nature of man. And if Goethe's words in Faust: “Blood is a very special fluid” [see the lecture: Occult Significance of the Blood, e.Ed] are still quoted today, they do in fact say a very great deal. Present-day science has no inkling of the fact that scientists ought to treat blood, even physical blood, in an entirely different manner from any other organ of man's physical body, because these other organs are the expression of entirely different things. If the glands are the expression, the physical counterpart, of the etheric body, then even physically we have to look for something quite different in the composition of a gland, be it liver or spleen, than we have to look for in the blood that is the expression of a much higher member of man's being, namely the ego. And scientific methods must be guided by this if they are to show us how to work with these things. Now I want to say something which will really only be understood by advanced anthroposophists, yet it is important that it is said.

A materialistically-minded scholar of today takes it as a matter of course that when he makes a prick in the body blood will flow out that can be examined in all the known ways. And blood is described according to the method of investigating its chemical composition in exactly the same way as is done with any other substance, such as an acid. One thing, however, is left out of account, although, needless to say, it is not only bound to be unknown to materialistic science, but it is sure to be considered sheer folly and madness, and yet it is true: the blood flowing in the arteries, and sustaining the living body, is not what flows out when I make the prick and take out a drop. For the moment blood comes out of the body it changes to such an extent that we have to admit it is something quite different; and what flows out as coagulating blood, however fresh it is, is no proof of the living essence within the organism. Blood is the expression of the ego, a member of the human being that is at a high level. Even as physical substance blood is something that you cannot examine physically in its totality at all, because when you are able to see it, it is no longer the blood it was when it flowed in the body. It cannot be looked at physically, for the moment it is exposed to view and can be examined by some method similar to X-ray, you are no longer examining blood but something that is the external image of blood on the physical plane. These things will only gradually be understood. There have always been scientists in the world working out of occultism who have said this, but they have been called things like madmen or philosophers.

Everything to do with man's health or sickness really is bound up with man's manifold nature, with the complicity of his being; hence it is only through a knowledge of man arising out of spiritual science that we can arrive at a conception of man in health and in sickness. There are certain ailments in man's organism which can only be understood when we realise their connection with the nature of the ego, and these ailments also appear in a way—but in a limited way—in the expression of the ego, the blood. Then there are certain ailments in man's organism that point to an illness of the astral body and which therefore affect the external expression of the astral body, the nervous system. Now whilst mentioning this second case I shall have to ask you to be somewhat aware of the subtlety of thought necessary here. When man's astral body has an irregularity that comes to expression in the nervous system, the external image of the astral body, the first thing we notice physically is a certain disability in the functioning of the nervous system. Now when the nervous system cannot do its job in a certain area all kind of symptoms can result, affecting the stomach, head or heart. However, an illness that shows symptoms in the stomach does not necessarily point to a disability of the nervous system in a certain area and originate therefore in the astral body, it can come from something entirely different.

Those types of illnesses connected with the ego itself and therefore also connected with its external expression, the blood, appear as a rule—but only as a rule, for things are not so clear cut in the world, even though you can draw clear lines when you want to make observations—these illnesses appear as chronic illnesses. Various other disturbances appearing to begin with are usually symptoms. One or another symptom may appear, which nevertheless originates in a disturbance in the blood, and that has its origin in an irregularity of that part of the human being that we call the bearer of the ego. I could speak to you for hours about the types of illness that are chronic and which originate from the physical point of view in the blood and from the spiritual point of view in the ego. Those are chiefly the illnesses that are in the proper sense hereditary, and these are the illnesses that can only be understood by those people who look at the being of man from a spiritual point of view. Here and there are people who are chronically ill, who are, in other words, never really fit; they always have one or another thing the matter with them. To get to the bottom of this, we must ask ourselves what the actual basic character of the ego is like. What kind of a person is he? If you understand what life really is, then you will know that definite forms of chronic illnesses are connected with one or another basic soul character of the ego. Certain chronic illnesses will never occur in people who have a serious and dignified attitude to life but only in those of a frivolous nature. This can merely be an indication, to show the way these lectures are leading.

As you see, the first thing you have to ask yourself when somebody comes and says he has been suffering from this or that for years, is what kind of person is he fundamentally? You have to know what basic character type his ego is, otherwise you are bound to go wrong with ordinary medicine, unless you are lucky. The important thing in curing people of these, illnesses which are mainly the really hereditary ones, is to consider their whole surroundings, in so far as they can have a direct or indirect influence on the ego. When you have really got to know this aspect of a person, you may have to advise that he is sent to another natural surrounding, perhaps for the winter, if possible; or, if he has a certain job, to change it and encounter a different aspect of life. The essential thing will be to try to find the setting that will have just the right effect on the character of the ego. To find the right cure, you need, in particular, a wide experience of life, so that you can enter into the person's character and can say: For this person to recover, he must change his job. It is a matter of pinpointing what is necessary from the point of view of his soul nature. Sometimes, perhaps, just in this sphere, no recovery can be achieved at all, because it is impossible to effect a change; in many instances it can be effected, however, if people only know of it. A lot can be done for some people, for example, if they simply live in the mountains instead of the lowlands. These are the things that apply to the kind of illnesses that appear externally as chronic illnesses, and that are connected physically with the blood and spiritually with the ego.

Now we come to those illnesses that have their spiritual origin mainly in irregularities of the astral body and that appear in certain disabilities of the nervous system in one or another direction. Now a large part of the common acute illnesses are connected with what we have just mentioned, in fact most of them. For it is sheer superstition to believe that when someone has a stomach or heart complaint or even a clearly perceptible irregularity somewhere, the right treatment is to deal directly with the symptom. The essential thing could be that the symptom is there because the nervous system is incapable of functioning. Thus the heart can be affected simply because the nervous system has become incapable of functioning in the area where it ought to support the movement of the heart. It is quite unnecessary to maltreat the heart or, as the case may be, the stomach, for they may, in principle, have nothing directly the matter with them, for it is only the nerves that provide for them which are incapable of carrying out their job. If in a case like this the stomach complaint is treated with hydrochloric acid, it would be a mistake comparable to tinkering with an engine that is always running late because you think something is the matter with it—yet it still runs late. For you would find, on closer examination, that the engine-driver always gets drunk before driving; so you would do better to deal with the engine-driver, for the train would be punctual otherwise. So it could well be that with stomach complaints we have to treat the nerves that provide for the stomach instead of the stomach itself. In the domain of materialistic medicine, too, you may perhaps hear various remarks to this effect. But it is not just a matter of saying that with stomach symptoms you have to deal with the nerves first. This achieves nothing. You only achieve something when you know that the nerve is the expression of the astral body and seek for the causes in the irregularities to be found there. The question is, what is the main thing?

The first thing to consider in the treatment of this sort of complaint is diet and finding the right balance between what a person enjoys and what is good for him. What matters is his way of life, not with regard to externalities but regarding what has to be digested and worked through by him, and in this respect nobody can possibly know anything on the basis of purely materialistic science. We need to realise that everything around us in the wide world of the macrocosm has a relationship with our complicated inner world of the microcosm, and every kind of food there is has a definite connection with what is within our organism. We have heard often enough that man has passed through a long evolution, and how the whole of outside nature has been built up out of what has been thrust forth from man. Time and again in our studies we have gone back to the ancient Saturn period, where we found that there was nothing in existence apart from man, who, as it were, thrust forth the other kingdoms of nature: the plants, the animals, and so on. In that evolution man built up his organs in accordance with what they thrust forth. Even when the mineral kingdom was pushed out, certain specific inner organs arose. The heart could not have arisen if certain plants, minerals and mineral possibilities had not arisen externally in the course of time. Now what arose externally has a certain connection with what arose within. And only the person who knows of this connection can prescribe in individual cases how the macrocosmic element outside can be used in the microcosm, otherwise man will experience in a certain way that he is taking in something that is not right for him. So we have to turn to spiritual science for the actual basis of our judgment. It is always superficial to follow purely external laws taken from statistics or chemistry when prescribing dietary treatment. We need quite a different basis, for spiritual knowledge has to be active when we deal with man in health or sickness.

Then there are those types of illness, partly chronic and partly acute, which are connected with the human etheric body, and which therefore come to expression in man's glands. As a rule these illnesses have nothing to do with heredity, but a great deal to do with nationality and race. So that in the case of the illnesses originating in the etheric body and appearing as glandular complaints, we must always ask whether the illness is occurring in a Russian, an Italian, a Norwegian or a Frenchman. For these illnesses are connected with the national character and therefore take quite different forms. Thus for example a great mistake is being made in the field of medicine, for over the whole of Western Europe they have a completely wrong view of spinal consumption. Although they have the right judgment of it for the West [Europeans, they are quite wrong about it where the East European population is concerned, because it has quite a different origin there, as even these things still vary considerably nowadays. Now you will realise that the mixture of peoples affords us a certain survey. Only the person who can distinguish differences in human nature can make any judgment at all. These illnesses are simply treated externally today and lumped together with acute illnesses, whilst they really belong to quite a different field. Above all we must know that the human organs that come under the influence of the etheric body, and which can fall sick as a result of irregularities of the etheric body, have quite definite relationships with one another. There is for instance a certain relationship between a man's heart and his brain which can be described in a somewhat pictorial way by saying that this mutual relationship of the heart and the brain corresponds to the relationship of the sun and the moon—the heart being the sun and the brain the moon. So we have to know, if a disturbance occurs in the heart for instance, that in so far as this is rooted in the etheric body it is bound to have an effect on the brain. Just as when something happens on the sun, an eclipse for instance, the moon is bound to be affected. It is no different, for these things have a direct connection.

In occult medicine these things are also described by applying the images of the planets to the constellation of man's organs. Thus the heart is the sun, the brain the moon, the spleen saturn, the liver jupiter, the gall mars, the kidneys venus and the lungs mercury. If you study the mutual relationships of the planets you have an image of the mutual relationships of man's organs in so far as they are in the etheric body. The gall could not possibly ail—and this would show spiritually in the etheric body—without the illness having its effect on the other organs mentioned, in fact if the gall is described as mars, its effect would be similar to the effect of mars in our planetary system. You have to know the interconnections of the organs when there is an etheric illness, and yet these are principally those illnesses—and from this you will see that any form of one-sidedness must be avoided in the field of occultism—for which specific remedies are to be used. This is the place to use the remedies you find in the plants and minerals. For everything belonging to the plants and minerals has a profound importance for everything to do with the human etheric body. So when we know an illness has arisen in the etheric body, and it appears in a certain way in the glandular system, we must find the remedy that can correctly repair the complex of interconnections. Particularly with those illnesses where the first thing you have to look for is obviously whether they originate in the etheric body, and secondly whether they are connected with the national character, and all the organs are interconnected in a regular way, these illnesses are the first ones for which specific remedies can be used.

Now perhaps what you are imagining is that if it is necessary to send a person to another place, you will not be able to help him as a rule if he is tied to a job and cannot move. The psychological method is indeed always effective. What is called the psychological method works best of all when the Illness is actually in a person's ego being. Thus when a chronic illness of this type occurs, one that is in the blood, psychological remedies are justified. And if they are carried out in the right way, their effect on the ego will entirely compensate for what impinges on him from outside. Wherever you look you will be able to see the subtle connection between what a man experiences in his soul when he is habitually working behind a work bench and when he gets the chance to enjoy country air for a short while. The joy that lends wings to his soul can be called a psychological method in the widest sense. Then, if the therapist is carrying out his method properly, he can gradually exercise his own influence in place of this, and psychological methods have their strongest justification for this form of illness and should not be overlooked, because most of the illnesses came from an irregularity of the ego being of man.

Then we come to the illnesses arising out of irregularities of the astral body. Although purely psychological methods can be used, they certainly lose their greatest value, therefore they are seldom used for these. Dietary remedies apply here. The type of illness we described in third place are actually the first in which we are justified in using external medicines to assist the course of recovery. If we see man as the complicated being he is, the treatment of illnesses will also be a broad-minded one, and one-sidedness will be avoided.

The only illnesses left now are those that actually originate in the physical body itself, having to do with the physical body, and these are the actual infectious diseases. This is an important chapter and will be considered in greater detail in one of the coming lectures, after we have first of all dealt with the real origin of “Ten Commandments”. For you will see that this really has a connection. Today, therefore, I can only just mention that there is this fourth type of illness, and that a deeper understanding of these involves knowing the nature of everything connected with the human physical body. The basis of these illnesses is not physical but very much of a spiritual nature. When we have looked at the fourth type we shall still not have finished with all the important illnesses, for we shall see that human karma also plays in. That is a fifth category to be considered.

Let us say, then, that we shall gradually attain an understanding of the five different forms of human illness, that stem from the ego, the astral body, the etheric body and the physical body, and also from karmic causes. The sphere of medicine will not improve until this whole sphere includes a knowledge of the higher members of man's being. Up to now we have not had a medical practice that has really come to grips with what is at stake. Although, as with many another occult insight, these things have to be brought up to date and put in a modern form, you must realise that this wisdom is, in some respects, not new.

Medicine arose from spiritual knowledge and has become more and more materialistic. And perhaps in no other science can we see so clearly how materialism has overtaken mankind. In earlier times people were at least conscious of the fact that they had to have a knowledge of man's fourfold being in order to understand it. There have been instances of materialism before, of course, and even earlier than four hundred years ago clairvoyants observed materialistic thinking arising all around them in this sphere. Paracelsus, for instance, who is taken for a madman or dreamer and not understood at all today, drew full attention to the increasing materialism of medical science centred in Salerno, Montpellier, Paris and also certain parts of Germany. And just because of his responsible position in the world, Paracelsus felt compelled—as we do today—to draw attention to the difference between medicine based on spiritual knowledge or on materialism. Perhaps it is even more difficult nowadays to achieve anything with paracelsian thinking. For in those days the materialistic approach to medicine was not so rigidly opposed to the paracelsian approach as materialistic science is today to any insight into the real, spiritual nature of man. What Paracelsus said about this, therefore, still applies today, though its significance would be less readily recognised. If we look at the opinions held today by the people working at the dissecting benches and in laboratories, and at the way research is applied to the understanding of man in health and in sickness, we could, to a certain extent, react similarly to the way Paracelsus did. It might not be appropriate, though, to add a plea for understanding and forgiveness, too, perhaps, as Paracelsus did to his local contemporaries in the medical sphere—that is, with any real hope of forgiveness. For Paracelsus himself said he was not a man of good breeding, nor had he moved in high circles; he lacked grace and refinement, therefore he would be forgiven if what he said was not always couched in the best language. Whilst discoursing on the nature of the different illnesses Paracelsus said the following about the foreign and also the German medical doctors: “It is a bad business, all those foreign doctors, to name those in Montpellier, Salerno and Paris, who want to have all the credit and pour scorn on everybody else, yet they themselves know nothing and can do nothing, and it is common knowledge that it is nothing but talk and show. They are not ashamed of their enemas and purgatives, and rely on them even if the patient is dying. They boast about all the anatomy they know, and they cannot even see the tartar on people's teeth, let alone anything else. Fine doctors they are, even without spectacles on their noses. What kind of eyesight and anatomy have you got? You can do no earthly good with them, and see no further than your own noses. They work so hard, too, those German swindlers and thieves of doctors and newly-hatched fools, that when they have seen everything, they know less than they did before. So they choke in filth and corpses and afterwards put on holy airs—they ought to be thrown to the rabble!”