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Spiritual Science and Medicine
GA 312

Lecture VI

26 March 1920, Dornach

I am somewhat anxious about what I have to say today, for if I could spare three months in which to develop the aspects of my subject, it could not easily be dismissed as fantasy. But I must offer you a mere cursory introduction, within the limits of an hour, in order to make the following special problems of healing quite clear. Therefore much will seem without foundation. Nevertheless I will try to show in the presentation of the subject, that these matters are indeed well-founded—even better-founded than those on which the natural science of today has been built.

Let us first consider the formative process of plants as such, in its relationship to the cosmos. We have already pointed out that in man the opposite process to that of plant formation is active in a functional sense. Therefore, in order to find the direct correspondence in man, we must at least indicate in outline the formative process of plants As is apparent, there are two distinct and quite opposite tendencies in this process. One tendency is earthwards, and I have already suggested that in trees the main stem forms a sort of excrescence of the earth, so that the flowers and leaves are rooted in the trunk, just as herbs and plants of lower types are rooted in the earth. There is this tendency of the plant towards the earth; but on the other hand, the plant has an impulse upwards, away from the earth. The plant strives to escape from the earth, not merely mechanically by virtue of a force opposed to the pull of gravity but also in its whole formative process, internal as well. The processes in the flower become different from those in the root; they become far more dependent on extra-terrestrial or extra-telluric forces than the root. This dependence of the flower formation upon forces originating outside the earth must first be considered and we shall find that the same forces utilised by the plant to initiate the formation of flower and seed are also necessary to the human hypogastrium, because of the functional reversal of the plant process in man. They are utilised through the abdomen as well as in all functions of evacuation secretion and the physical base of sex. So if we examine the complementary relationship of man and the plant, we find special correspondences to the extra-telluric as well as to the telluric.

Please notice here that what I maintain has not been derived from the medical works of the past, but is based entirely on contemporary spiritual-scientific research. I only try to use sometimes the terms of the old literature of medicine, as modern literature contains no suitable vocabulary. But it would be a complete mistake to suppose that any item of my course here is simply derived from archaic sources.

Observe the growth of the plant as it rises upwards out of the earth. You must take note of the spiral sequence in the actual formation of the leaves and of the flower. You might say that the formative forces follow a spiral course around the central stalk. This spiral course cannot be explained by internal forces of tension in the plant. No; its origin is to be sought in the influence that works from the extra-telluric sphere, and chiefly in the influence of the sun's apparent path through the heavens. (Let us say “apparent,” for the respective motions of earth and sun can only be taken relatively.) There are indeed points of view better than the mathematics of Galileo, from which to study the paths of the heavenly bodies; they trace themselves in the sequence of formative processes in the plant. For what the stars do is faithfully copied by the plant.

Diagram 9

It would be quite mistaken, however, to reckon only with the vertical upward impulse in plants, that depends upon the sun. The stars co-operate in a resultant with movements caused by the sun. If the sun's action were the sole operating force, it would take complete possession, so to speak, and the plant would be drawn upwards into the infinite. (See Diagram 9). The solar force is, however, counteracted to some degree by that of the outer planets, in their spiral courses. For planets as a matter of fact, do not move in an ellipse; their orbits are spiral. It is time today that the whole Copernican system was re-examined and superseded by another. The so-called outer planets are Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. (Uranus and Neptune are only members of the solar system in an astronomical sense; they do not really belong to it by origin; they are foreign bodies that have become attracted and attached to our system. They are guests, invited to our planetary system, and we are right to omit them.) The forces of the superior planets deflect the plant's upward tendency, so as to bank up the formative forces which cause the formation of flower and seed. So if you consider the plant's upward development, from the region of formation of the foliage, you must ascribe it to the combined action of of the Sun's influence and that of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

There are not only these two elements in co-operation. Marshalled against them are the influences from the Moon and the so-called inferior planets, Mercury, and Venus. The Moon, Mercury and Venus cause the earthward, downward tendency in the plant, which manifests itself most characteristically in the formation of the root. Thus all that seems essentially earthy is really a joint product of the action of the Moon, and that of the inferior planets. So I would say that the plant expresses and bears the imprint of our whole planetary system. Until we know this, and learn also how to recognise the planetary manifestations in man as well we cannot thoroughly understand the relationship between the plant structure and the human structure.

Now consider the fact that plants with a prevailing tendency towards root-formation leave much more ash when they are burnt than is left by plants that tend towards the formation of blossoms or even by mistletoe and, tree-plants. This difference is caused by the greater influence of the inner heavenly bodies, Moon, Mercury and Venus, on plants with great root development. And if you search in their ashes, iron, manganese, and silicon will be found, all of them substances with direct remedial qualities, as is shown when any portion of the plant is used.

But if plants of the opposite type are exposed to the action of fire, there is but little ash. And in these different results of the same process of incineration, we have something I would describe as an external document of the plant's relation to the whole cosmic order, and not to forces ruling on earth alone.

Now consider the plant world more closely. In the case of annual plants, growth stops abruptly at a certain season of the year with the formation of seed. As we have seen, seed formation is mainly governed by extra-terrestrial forces. But its course is interrupted and it is given over to the earth again. It must, as it were, continue at a lower stage in the new year, what had reached a higher stage in the old year The course of plant life and growth is a remarkable one. Take the earth's surface; the plant emerges from the soil, reaching out to its fullest extent towards the extra-terrestrial spheres. But then what has developed extra-terrestrially is sown again in the soil, and the cycle begins anew. (See Diagram 10). Thus every year the heavenly forces sink into the ground, mingle with the forces of the earth, and again complete their course. Year by year the seed of the flower is returned again to the root region, to complete the rhythmic cycle to which all plant life is subject.

Diagram 10

This rhythmic cycle is proof that what we term the flora of earth is in truth a manifestation of the whole earth's interaction with the extra-terrestrial cosmos. This interaction, therefore, is not restricted to the form of our planet, but extends to its internal chemistry and its whole system of organic life. Just as what is earthly in the mechanism in the form is overcome by the cosmic forces, so also is the terrestrial chemistry in plants overcome by the forces outside the earth; and when this overcoming has reached a certain point, the process must return again to earth and display earthly chemistry. From these facts it is not a farfetched conclusion that the specific chemistry of the earth is revealed in the ashes; it is represented in the refuse, the dross of the living sphere. This dross and ash is subject to gravity, whereas the upward urge and growth of the plant is a continual conquest of gravity, and of other earth-bound forces, so that we may properly speak of a polar opposition between gravity and light. Light is that which continually overcomes gravity. And the plant is so to speak set into the tension of this combat between light and weight, between that which strives towards ashes and that which strives towards fire. And this polar contrast between what becomes ashes and what is revealed in flame, is the opposition of ponderable and imponderable elements. There we have revealed the cosmic place and role of plant life.

What of man? We have already maintained that we shall not understand him aright, unless we recognise his polar orientation also. I have pointed out that the part that grows upwards from below, in man grows downwards from above; the sexual and excretory processes in man correspond to the flowers and seed vessels, whereas his root formation points upwards. In man, however, it remains in the realm of functions; in plants it becomes a material process.

So man presents us with manifestations that are the direct opposite of those of the plant. In him we have not only the manifestations, but the bearer of them. So you must distinguish in man the functions sending their roots upwards, and the functions tending downward; and as surrounding sheath of both, his material body, which in its turn has an upward tendency. That which happens artificially and externally in respect of plants—the removal from the upper sphere and implanting into the lower level—in man becomes a continuous process. In him there is a constant double current in every process from above downwards and from below upwards, and the relationship of these currents is the core of health and disease. We cannot begin to understand the complex processes in man, if we do not consider the facts I have just described. On the one hand is a material carrier working upwards from the earth, and on the other, something else, working from above downwards, is inserted into the carrier.

It is easy to see that the interaction of these forces determines health or disease in man, especially when, half in despair, so to say, one meets the most important fact, that the human organism has to be treated quite differently according to whether the upper region or the “sub-cardiac” regions are affected. They must be viewed according to quite different principles.

Let us cite an example; the relationship of common rickets to cranio-tabes, which to many people is quite mysterious. These two afflictions seem so closely related if the human individual is viewed as a unity, whereas in truth they should be considered in the in the light of perfectly different principles, as they originate in regions of man that are polar to one another. This has an important bearing upon the healing process. Medical men who obtain certain favourable results in cases of rickets, through some form of phosphoric application, will probably fail completely in cases of cranio-tabes, which require an opposite therapeutic method, probably an application of some form of carbonate of lime. But this is a mere illustration of a truth that is quite general; though its statement is apt to be unwelcome. Where the treatment of human beings is in question in the domain of medicine, it is a fact that whatever remedy is prescribed, and whatever rule is laid down, their exact opposites may also be true and efficacious in certain cases. A very annoying circumstance! It is perfectly possible to prescribe a thoroughly sound and effective method of treatment for such and such a case; and then if it is applied to what appear to be the very same symptoms, to find that it proves no remedy, and that the exact opposite must be applied. Thus it is always possible to meet, and even beat, one theory of treatment with another on the medical field; for most people are not aware that only one part of man can be treated remedially according to any one method, and that another region requires a different method, this is the point we must grasp here.

Now let us carefully examine the sphere that in plants appears visibly separated in two, whereas in man it forms one aspect of his whole constitution. I referred to the three formative impulses which are in some degree inherent in external nature; the impulse to saline formation the impulse to mercurial formation and the tendency peculiar to certain substances such as phosphorus and sulphur to conserve within themselves the imponderable forces to become their carriers.

What is the difference between these formative impulses of external nature, in so far as our present subject is concerned? All that is saline in its process tends to saline formation, leading our internal processes in to the realm of gravity. Those who study the medical works of the past would do well to keep in mind, wherever they find references to the “salification” of substances, that by this process the substance in question is subjected to the force of gravity, and by the opposite process, the light process, it is liberated from gravity; that is, the imponderables are so liberated. Accordingly if we accept light as the representative of all other imponderable forces, we must conceive the whole of external nature as involved in the struggle between light and gravity, between the force that strives towards the extra-terrestrial and the force that makes earth's substances tend towards the centre. We have here the polarity between light and gravity; and in between, that which perpetually seeks the balance between the two and manifests mercurially For the mercurial element is simply something that continually seeks to maintain a state of equilibrium between light and gravity.

We have to visualise the place and office of the imponderables working between the saline, the phosphoric, and the mercurial elements in the whole cosmic scheme, i.e., in gravity, in the light forces, and in that which ever seeks an equilibrium midway between them. Now into the very centre of these mighty forces and tensions is placed in a remarkable way the whole activity of our human heart. It is an appalling feature of the current natural scientific view, that quite apart from the pump-theory, which is untenable, as I have already demonstrated, all heart functions are thought to be enclosed within the limits of the individual being's skin. It is assumed that the heart is somehow connected with the substances that pulsate rhythmically within the limits of the body. But in truth, man with his organic system is inserted into the whole process of the universe, and the human heart is not merely an organ pertaining to his organism, but belongs to the whole world process. That tension of opposite forces which we have traced in the plant, that alternation and interplay of super-solar and infra-solar forces, is also manifest in man in the movements of the heart. The heart movements are not only an imprint of what takes place in man, they are also an imprint of extra-human conditions. For in the human heart you may see reflected as in a mirror, the whole process of the universe. Man is individualised merely as a being of soul and spirit. In other aspects of being, he is inserted into the universal process, so that, for instance, the beats of his heart are not only an expression of what takes place within man, but also of that contest between light and gravity that fills the whole cosmic stage.

I have often had occasion to put this cosmic-human interaction before laymen, in a rough and obvious way, by means of the following calculation. Let us assume that the human being draws breath eighteen times in the course of one minute. In one day of twenty-four hours, this will amount to 25,920 breaths. Now take one day of human life and note further that there are 360 or 365 days in the year assume that the human individual attains average old age, that of seventy-one years (one may, of course, become much older). In that case we shall find as many days in the course of life, as there are breaths in one day of twenty-four hours: namely 25,915. Now take the path of the sun through the constellations of the Zodiac, the platonic year, namely, the time necessary for the point of sunrise to return to Aries at the Vernal Equinox; this amounts to 25,920 of our terrestrial years. Here you have a remarkable example in numbers of the human relation to the whole universe. The course of the sun through the heavens in the platonic year is expressed by the same number as the days of a human life. This is easily reckoned, but it points the way into profound depths of the foundations of the world. Bear in mind—as we have had occasion to stress in Anthroposophy—that in sleep the ego and the astral body of man leave the physical and etheric bodies, and that on awakening, they return to them again. Visualise these exits and re-entries as exhalations and inhalations of the soul and spiritual element by the physical body; you will find that there are 25,915 or 25,920 of such “breaths” in the course of a normal life (the difference of five is due to leap-year days), which obviously must represent a “day” in relation to some other rhythm. And again there must be something in the cosmos which is inserted according to the same numerical terms into the solar revolution. Here is a rhythm in world occurrences that manifests on a large scale; it manifests also in an individual human life, and in the function of respiration during the day. You will no longer find it unaccountably strange that the ancient world, out of their old clairvoyance, spoke of the days and nights of Brahma, the in-breathing and out-breathing of the world; for these ancients had found the breathing of heaven reflected in the mirror of the everyday life-process of man.

Because of these concrete facts, and not because of any sympathies or antipathies, we arrive at a true reverence for primeval wisdom. I can assure you that I should not reverence the ancient wisdom, had I not had the proof in countless cases, that we can re-discover today things already contained in it, things that had been lost and forgotten between the knowledge accumulated of old and that which we are now able to attain. The reverence for ancient wisdom that grows on the seeker after real knowledge is not the result of any vague general inclination, but springs from the comprehension of certain quite concrete conditions and facts.

If we are in quest of the forces akin to light, we must turn to the outer planets of our system, to Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. And as all that happens on earth is in some degree the effect of extra-terrestrial agents, we must look here for the effects of what happens in the cosmos. This leads us to examine the various substances in the earth, but not to look for the causes of their configuration or general consistency in the abstract and fantastic manner of the molecular physics and molecular atomic chemistry of today. This atomic chemistry which looks, as it were, into what is impenetrable to our vision, into the inmost recesses of the constitution of matter. devises all kinds of fine guesswork about atoms and molecules. It then proudly talks of “astronomical recognition” of what goes on in the interior of material structure: or rather, it did so twenty years ago, and does so perhaps less often today. That was a subject of discussion some time ago; today these processes are photographed, as I mentioned in a recent public lecture, and in spiritualistic circles photography is also called in to depict spirits!

Just as scientific investigators are disinclined to believe in “spirit” photography, so must they permit us, who see through these things from another angle, to reject their atomic photography as well. For the same delusion is at work here also.

In plants, it is not forces bound to atoms and molecules that we have to consider, but those that affect the earth by their impact from without, and permeate its substances. Not those tiny demons, the molecules and atoms, but the cosmic forces, shape the internal and external structure of matter. Let us take an example. Suppose that a planet in extra-terrestrial space is in an especially favourable position for working on a certain portion of our sphere. Assume Saturn to be the planet in question and that Saturn can best exercise its full influence when the direction of other planetary influences strike the earth as far away as possible from its own, and do not mingle with nor deflect them; (See Diagram 11) i.e., when the Sun, Mars, and other bodies are not in or near a line from Saturn to the earth. Then the Saturnian force impinges directly on our planet. And if conditions are favourable in the portion of earth directly under Saturn's influence, that Unmixed and undeflected Saturnian influence causes a structure to he formed there differing from that due to the action of Mars under similar conditions.

Diagram 11

Earth's substances are the combined result of forces from the stars In the case cited as illustration, the effect of such action is shown in the production of lead. This is why we must associate certain substances in the earth—especially metals—with certain planetary positions in the extra-telluric universe. What the ancient wisdom of mankind offers us, can only be truly understood when it is discovered afresh. It is impossible for anyone accustomed to think in modern chemical and physical terms to read the ancient writings. This is shown by the following example. In a history of alchemy an extremely clever Norwegian scholar described a process, which, as he quite truly remarks, is mere nonsense according to modern chemical concepts, for it gives no result. It is a process concerned with lead. But he failed to see that this process explained the process of seed formation! He referred the statements to a laboratory experiment, which, of course, made nonsense. He did not realise that the terminology of archaic alchemy must be transferred, so to speak, to another plane, and that many of its expressions must be read in a wholly different sense. Therefore he made nonsense of the passage. His opinion was, of course, both right and wrong. Thus we cannot but assume a relationship between terrestrial substances and the forces impinging on the earth from the surrounding world.

The study of metals in particular, on the lines indicated, leads to concrete relationships, so that we must ascribe their formations as follows. Lead results from the unimpeded action of Saturn, tin from that of Jupiter, iron from Mars, copper from Venus, and what is now termed quicksilver from Mercury. Similarly we must recognise a relationship between everything of the nature of silver, all that is silvery—I use this term with intention—and the unimpeded action of the Moon. It is pleasantly amusing to read in contemporary books that the reason why the ancient world associated silver with the Moon, was because of the Moon's silvery radiance—merely because of this external appearance! Anyone who is aware how careful and minute were the studies made of old as to the properties of the various metals—along their own lines, naturally—will not fall into such error. Moreover, the conception I have given leaves, as you will perceive, ample room for other substances than the six most distinctive metals (lead, tin, iron, copper, quicksilver and silver) to come into being through the combination of planetary forces. This joint action of planetary forces means that various other planetary influences combine with the typical ones which we indicated. In this manner, the less representative metals originate. And in any case, earth's wealth of metals is the result of forces acting on the earth from without. Here is the link between the workings of metals and the formation of plants. If you summarise the agencies contained in lead, tin and iron, you have there everything connected with flower and seed formation in plants; inasmuch as these processes take place extra-terrestrially above the surface of the earth. And all that is of the nature of copper, silver or mercury, must be related to everything connected with the formation of plant roots.

As on the one side, the mercurial element acts as an equalising agent, you will certainly look for a corresponding equilibrium on the other side. The mercury element is the balancing factor between the telluric and that which is to some degree supra-telluric. But our whole universe is permeated with spirit. Thus another polarity arises. The terrestrial and extra-terrestrial poles represent the polar opposite of gravity and light. This offers only one possibility—the existence of a state of balance between the terrestrial and the extra-terrestrial elements. But there is another state of equilibrium between that which permeates all matter equally, whether it be terrestrial or extra-terrestrial, and matter itself; an equilibrium between the spiritual and the material, whether the latter be ponderable or imponderable. At every point of the material world, the balance must be held between it and the spiritual, and equally so in the universe. For us, the first and nearest agency that holds the balance in the universe, is the Sun itself. The Sun holds the balance between the spiritual in the universe and the material in the universe. Thus the Sun has a twofold aspect; as a heavenly body it establishes order in the planetary system, but at the same time it maintains order among the forces that permeate the material system. Just as we are able to link the individual planets with the metals as I have already described, so can we also establish the relationship of the Sun to gold. The ancients actually prized gold, not for its material value, but on account of its relationship with the Sun, and with the balance between spirit and matter.

We should recognise that all that we divide and separate on earth, both in our thoughts and in our actions, in nature is actually united in some way or another. In our thoughts we separate what is subject to gravity, and therefore tends to salt formation, from that which bears the light and is therefore akin to the workings of light; and we separate both these categories from what is contained in the state of equilibrium between the two. But in nature there are no such absolute divisions. All these ways of working are connected one with another, adjusted to one another, so that they form highly intricate constructions, and one of these intricate structural systems is shown in the lustre of the metal gold; for it is through gold that the spiritual realm looks, as it were, right into the external world. This directs your attention to possibilities with which I will deal parenthetically—for you may be able to do fruitful work, by utilising in contemporary literature suggestions obtainable from ancient literature. In doing the scientific papers suggested yesterday, you will be able to make use of indications in the ancient literature, if you can understand it aright. Thus it is most important to notice how in old writings all these primary principles, salt, mercury and phosphorus, were seen to be in every substance in different combinations, and to note the diligence with which it was sought to liberate and extract these three principles from a given substance. The ancients believed that lead was formed in the manner described above, but lead—like gold or copper—contains all three principles, salt, mercury and phosphorus. So, in order that we may be able to treat man with one or all of these, we must be able to extract or separate it in some way, from the substances with which it is united. In the chemistry of ancient times, the most meticulous care was devoted to this process. It was found to be particularly difficult in the case of gold, hence the Roman proverb which may well lead us to reverence the ancients: “Facilius est aurum facere quam destruere” (It is easier to make gold than to destroy it). For they held that in this metal, the three primary natural constituents, salt, mercury and phosphorous, were so firmly united that to extract them from gold was hardest of all.

Now we must readily admit that we should not get much further in the matter today, if we took the very same measures as the men of old times. But let us leave them, for we are dealing with the methods and medicine of today, and only occasionally referring to the light thrown by the past. Consider what we are now in a position to investigate. In order to extract the requisite amount of the three primary principles characterised yesterday and today, from the raw materials of nature, it will be necessary to subject these to combustion, in order first, to isolate the fire-bearing, light-bearing parts, then to try to extract the mercurial portions so that the portions with a saline tendency remain. These can be treated with some acid substance, which extracts them and produces an effective saline therapeutic remedy, whether of vegetable or mineral derivation. I shall give further details later on. Thus we shall either have to seek for the light-bearing substances in nature, in order to get extra-terrestrial factors, or try to remove the extra-terrestrial from earthly substances, and to retain the telluric; then we shall have a genuinely saline residue. Or finally we can try to attain something midway between the two poles.

Here we have a choice of two paths, each different in kind, and each taking us part of the way to our goal. We can take the standpoint of the ancient physicians, who always began by extracting the essentially phosphoric, saline or mercurial from various substances, and then made use of the result. In the opinion of these physicians, the specific action of the remedies they obtained depended on the matrix from which they had been extracted. What was obtained from lead acted differently from what was obtained from copper, for example. They laid most stress on origin: salt derived from lead was essentially different from salt derived from copper. So that when they spoke of salt, they knew that in it they had something common to all salts. Because it was salt, it was of the earth, yet because salt derived from the various metals is something extra-telluric, it has relationships to the most diverse parts of man. This we can consider in more detail in the next lecture.

This method is a possible choice, for instance, for the production of saline material in therapeutics. But there is the other way, chosen after the ancient method had ceased to work, and chosen in definite awareness of the fact that man is something more than a chemical apparatus. This way simply tries to take the substances as found in nature and to make available through “potentising” the forces hidden in them. This is the way chosen by Hahnemann's school, representing a new departure in the whole of man's medical researches. It left the archaic way, now blocked because of the ignorance concerning the extra-telluric and other relationships.

This is what causes—I would almost say—the despair of modern medicine; that people have ceased to pay attention to the extra-terrestrial that is really the basis of the earthly elements. The extra-terrestrial sphere is ignored and the earthly sphere is treated as all-sufficient. The homeopathic system strives to get beyond this; so does the “open-air treatment,” which uses light and air directly, because it has lost the secret of how to make right use of the light-bearer, phosphorus, and the air-carrier mercury. That of course is a third possibility. But a genuinely favourable and hopeful way will only be found when mankind has learnt, through spiritual science, the respective inter-relationships of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms to extra-telluric forces. And as I indicated yesterday, the animal sphere is near—dangerously near to mankind. The ancients, knowing this, set a boundary which we will investigate anew in the light of our later knowledge. They thought as follows: plants remain within the realm of the planetary system; minerals are also within that sphere: but with the animal kingdom we leave the planetary system, and deal with something much more serious. We may not deal here with things as though we were still within the planetary extra-telluric domain. Those forces that lead to the formation of animals, and further to that of mankind, lie scattered farther and wider in the universe than do those that shaped minerals and plants. And so the ancients, knowing this, set a boundary which we will investigate anew in the light of our later knowledge. They thought as follows: plants remain within the realm of the planetary system; minerals are also within that sphere: but with the animal kingdom we leave the planetary system, and deal with something much more serious. We may not deal here with things as though we were still within the planetary extra-telluric domain. Those forces that lead to the formation of animals, and further to that of mankind, lie scattered farther and wider in the universe than do those that shaped minerals and plants. And so the ancients traced the Zodiac in the heavens as a warning not to seek remedial forces beyond the boundary of minerals and plants; or at least to be aware that beyond is perilous ground.

But this perilous ground has been entered upon, as I have already begun to tell you in outline. This must be elaborated when we come to deal with pathology and serotherapy. The methods in question often bring startling results in individual cases, and arouse illusory hopes, completely masking the danger in the background.