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Broken Vessels
GA 318

Lecture V

Dornach, 12th September, 1924

WE HAVE NOW GAINED KNOWLEDGE in one direction, of individuals who, although not exactly having intuition, do develop a perception of the spiritual world and who show certain aspects of behavior that to a physician may seem to be pathological but are in fact something quite different, something more. For as you have seen, the pathological condition remains with them in statu nascendi and there is continuous healing coming from the spirit. This is the case with such personalities as St. Teresa and Mechthild of Magdeburg, 5Mechthild von Magdeburg (1210–1286?). Cistercian nun. Her chief work was The Flowing Light of the Godhead. as well as with male visionaries.

When we study these individuals, we find that as a first stage the ego organization separates from the rest of the human organism. It then draws the astral body closely to it, in a certain sense away from the physical-etheric organism. This is in the waking state. What is the consequence of this? You can easily see that this puts the individual into a kind of dream condition. From a spiritual-scientific point of view the ego, by drawing the astral body to itself, is not allowing it to enter the physical and etheric bodies completely, and this brings about a kind of dream condition. But because of the special karmic density, both ego and astral body are strong, and they bring into the dream condition receptivity for the perception of the spiritual world. Dream is transformed into a state in which the individual is really able to see into the spiritual world and to feel the presence of spiritual beings.

Now let us look at the extreme opposite condition. Here the ego is weak, and the astral body draws it down too strongly into the rest of the organism — again in the waking state. Then there is not illumination, as with visionaries like St. Teresa, but the opposite: a darkening, a clouding, a lowering of consciousness — in the waking state — to a dream condition.

One cannot learn to know this second type of person in the way I have indicated for the first type. Individuals who feel the presence of spiritual beings, who come to such final stages as St. Teresa or Mechthild of Magdeburg, are much more numerous than one would think. One learns to know them if one has some particular opportunity or if one has cultivated the corresponding faculties. One learns to know them best by letting them tell about their conditions. They talk more interestingly than our ordinary contemporaries. Their narratives are much more interesting; above all, they speak of things one does not encounter in everyday life. So they are already interesting in the first stage.

The opposite individuals, those whose astral body is drawing the ego down, are also interesting if one lets them talk about themselves. To understand the first type of person requires the soul depth of the priest. To understand this second type of person — who often is even more interesting than the usual visionaries, who do not develop very far — really requires the sensitivity of a physician who comprehends the world with a good intelligence and a fair amount of intuition. For it is a matter of understanding what they do not tell one: what they do tell one is of little value. It is a matter of grasping what they say or do in such a way that one can think of it in relation to the human organism. Such persons, if one asks them a question, show a certain amount of stupidity, also unwillingness to answer a question. They begin to talk about something quite foreign to what one is asking. But if one catches hold of what they say about themselves — and some of them talk endlessly — one sometimes has the feeling that they possess an inner source of speech that gives them a special association of ideas such as the ordinary person does not have. They'll tell you if you let them ramble on — you mustn't ask questions, you must just snap up what they tell as it were by chance — For example a man might say: “Sure, ten years ago I was in a farmer's house and the wife gave me some coffee. The cup had red roses painted on it. She couldn't give me the coffee right away because she'd forgotten the sugar was in the kitchen and she had to go and get it. And she forgot the milk. She had to get the milk from down in the cellar. And then she poured almost half a cup of milk into the coffee. And she said, ‘My coffee is very good.’ And I said, ‘Yes, I think so too, farmer lady.’” And so he goes on and on. He tells incidents from far in his past, and goes into the most unbelievable details. You think, “If I only had a memory as good as his!” — forgetting that if you did have as good a memory you would be just like him! Now of course I'm telling it this way to portray a type, and to show a typical outcome. You must then think of the corresponding lighter variations that you meet in life, which the physician especially meets. I'm picturing an extreme case so that you can see the chief characteristics.

So when the astral body draws the ego organization in, there comes about a kind of power for reproducing details of memory as though automatically. It is always ready to repeat them; it is indifferent to logical connections and just tells things one after another. As a result one can't help wondering why the person hits upon one thing at one moment and another thing at the next. His tale can go on like this, for instance: “The farmer lady went to get the milk and while she was gone I looked in the corner of the room and there was a Madonna picture and it was the same one I'd seen thirty years earlier in another place but there I didn't have coffee but a very good soup.” It can happen that he comes entirely away from the first part of his narrative, but it can also happen that he returns to it again. One sees that this is not a logical memory but a space-and-time memory, extraordinarily exact, with a compulsive desire to tell everything. It is a memory in which, when one studies it more closely, one sees something very remarkable — one sees its deeper foundation. One notices that the person enjoys the sound of certain words he had associated with certain events while he was experiencing the events themselves, and now he takes pleasure in sounding these words again. He is in fact going back to speech that was kept in his memory while thoughts were pushed out — not completely, but almost so.

One also notices changes in the sphere of the will. To these one must pay attention, for now the beginning of real pathological conditions can be found. One will encounter the following — again, one must pay attention, for nothing much can be acclomplished if, for instance, one approaches such people to do this or that in order to observe them. For they become amazingly stubborn, they don't want to cooperate, won't answer questions, won't do anything. But if one can obtain an earlier case history and put those things together with what can be learned from the person's neighbors or a similar source, then one discovers, for instance, that such a person feels a terrific impulse at a definite time of the year to go wandering off somewhere. Often it is to the same region each year. And this inner impulse of will works so strongly that if one tries at such a moment to counteract it, just to discover what state the person is in, one can, for instance, notice the following.

Take a gourmand (there are gourmands even among such people as these!). Catch up with him while he is wandering and sit him down to a wonderful meal or two — to what gives him his greatest joy in life. You'll find that he will only stay put the first day, possibly a second day if he is still a good distance from the place he is heading for. He becomes restless, for he would love another fine meal, and he knows that the next place he'll reach has frightful food. He knows that, for his memory is unusually well developed. He becomes anxious. He wants to go on, for he cannot adapt his will to sudden external suggestions. Just as on the one hand he cannot adapt himself to immediate sense impressions but brings out every possible gem from his speech coffers, so on the other hand he cannot adapt himself to the necessity of surrendering his will-limb system to life's external circumstances. He wants just to follow his own will-impulses, which drive him from within in a very definite manner. One sees that he has almost completely lost the faculty of the ego organization that unites a human being with the outer world. His senses are dulled; his will-impulses prevent him from having a normal relation to the world, and he wants only to follow these will-impulses. This is the consequence of the ego being drawn down into the astral body.

So you see, such people could be helped very much if our medical understanding and the loving devotion of the theologians would work together — not, however, by some instant therapy, but in the following way. With these people one can observe a very definite situation. First we have to consider their life between the change of teeth and puberty. In that period, from a superficial point of view usually nothing abnormal is to be noticed. Everyone loves to see how clever these children are, how frightfully clever, what clever answers they can give, “just like an adult!” But one should be alert to this clever answering between the seventh and the fourteenth year. The children who are so excessively clever at this age are receiving something in this period before puberty that they should only have for their development after puberty. That is how the condition that I have just been describing comes about. The astral body should only be drawing the ego down after puberty, so that then the ego can completely unfold by the beginning of the twenties. With these children the astral body has already drawn the ego down after the change of teeth or in the ninth, tenth, eleventh year. We observe the abnormal cleverness and are delighted by it. By the time the late teens come, the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth years, the ego is stuck too deeply in the astral body. Then the condition is present that I have described, along with the symptoms that I indicated. So now if a child worries us in those early years by premature cleverness, it is a matter of giving certain kinds of treatment. First of all, there will be situations where physician and priest will have to confer with the teacher, so that the teacher will realize what should be done for that early life period. When we have finished this general characterization, we will make several detailed suggestions of what can actually be done. But first I'd like to carry this further, to indicate certain clear connections between the various themes we've been discussing.

Now the following can happen: the etheric body on its part can draw the astral body and ego in too strongly, so that they snap to an excessive degree into the physical and etheric bodies — again in the waking state. Then we have the situation that, seen from within, there is too much astrality in the organs; it cannot unite properly with them. This condition is the pathological mirror-picture of a visionary state such as, for instance, that of St. Teresa, such as her “first stage” as I described it, when she felt the presence of spiritual beings. We had there the bringing of waking-sleep into clear consciousness. And now in such persons as I am describing we have the opposite: dreams are carried over into waking life, with the accompanying symptoms I have mentioned. For it really happens in waking life: dreams do not appear, but an active “dream” life that discloses itself in the kind of speech I described, and in that extreme turning inward of the will impulses. That is the pathological mirror-picture of ordinary dreaming. Activity is there instead of the passivity that is the normal condition of dreaming.

Then we have the second stage, the drawing down of the ego and astral organization by the etheric body. The individual snaps too strongly with the ego, astral body, and etheric body into the physical organism, and the physical organism is not able to receive them into its single organs. Every possible organ has excess astrality that could not unite properly with the organ. Now we have the pathological mirror-picture of what we learned was the second stage for the individuals in whom sense impressions were in a certain sense stimulated from within. The direction was from within out to the senses. Now in this mirror-picture the direction is the opposite: it goes inward to the organs, it takes hold of the physical organism. And conditions appear that always appear when a physical or etheric organ is flooded by the astral body and ego organization and they cannot unite so that it could be called a proper saturation of the physical body by the etheric and astral bodies. Something is left over in the physical organs from the higher members of the organism. What in the other type of individuals poured into visions similar to a sense perception, with colors like a sense perception, visions that revealed the spiritual world, is in this case pouring itself inward, wanting to seize a physical organ. In the former situation there was a reaching out more externally, to the spiritual world beyond the sense world. In this case there is a reaching inward to a physical organ, manifesting in so-called “seizures,” all the different forms of real epilepsy or epileptoid symptoms (“temporal lobe seizures”). It can be explained as the snapping down of the ego and astral organization too strongly into the physical organism, which then succeeds in drawing the etheric body to itself. We see how the first condition advances to this second condition.

Hereby we see something in modern life that could be prevented if a real pastoral medicine would come about. People do not realize that the first condition is pathological; they simply find it interesting. And they only become aware of the second condition when seizures or other epileptic symptoms appear. The memory is now no longer expanding into detail, and the inner will-impulses are no longer increasing: now, since the astral and ego organizations are being pulled inward, and therefore the astral organization is failing to relate properly to certain organs, we find the memory is extinguished. Instead of the memory clinging to details as in the previous condition (details with no logical relation, that were just a running stream of unassociated pictures), now we find the memory disrupted, collapsed, a memory with gaps in it. This can become so extreme that the person lives in a kind of double consciousness. For instance, the memory clings to the upper organs — for the whole human being participates in memory — it takes hold of the upper organs, deserting the lower organs. Then this is reversed: the upper organs lose the memory activity and the lower organs receive it again. There is a rhythmic alternation. Such things can happen. And so these people have two streams of consciousness flowing parallel to each other. In one stream they remember everything that occurs when they are in the one condition; in the other stream they remember all the other things. And they never know in one condition of consciousness any of the content of the other condition of consciousness. Thus the memory deteriorates to a pathological level.

There we have the pathological mirror-picture of what we found in the second stage of the saint. Let us use that term, for modern medicine has no word for such a thing. Saints have a world around them that is visionary but that has a spiritual content. They reach into the spiritual world and receive inner impressions of it. People with pathological conditions — because their karma has given them a weak personality — are drawn down into the physical body. Instead of receiving visions of spiritual things they have epileptic conditions, empty gaps in consciousness, a lack of coherence in daily waking life, and so forth.

But now there can be still a third stage. This is the stage at which for karmic reasons the physical body has become even weaker, along with all the other members, so that earlier karmic forces no longer operate sufficiently in the physical body. With such a person it now comes about, not that ego, astral, and etheric body are pulled in by the physical body, but that something quite different happens. I shall have to describe it in the following way.

Think how it is with those who are extremely sensitive in the other direction, in the direction of the senses, that is, in the direction of the ego organization. How painfully sensitive they can be to all that flows in through the senses, to strong colors, lively sounds. Now precisely the opposite is the case with those whose physical body is weak from karmic causes. Such people are not hypersensitive from within outward, but are insensitive to their physical body and yield to an excessive degree to everything from the other side, the side of the will, that is, from the outer physical world. They succumb to heaviness, warmth, cold. All of this affects them not as it normally affects organic beings, but as it affects inorganic things. This then stifles the expression of the astral body and ego. They are hemmed in by the world and because of a weak physical body they cannot confront it with the necessary intensity; they are like a piece of the outer world although they are still inside their physical body. This is clearly the exact opposite of what we described as the third stage for the saint. The saint goes through pain that is then transformed into bliss, and then further to an experience of the spiritual world in its pure spirituality. This is called “rest in God” or “rest in the Spirit.”

But people who develop in the way I am now describing do not come to “rest in God” or “rest in the Spirit.” They come, although they are not conscious of it, to rest in the hidden occult forces of the physical world, forces against which they, as human beings, should actually be maintaining their independence. They develop the pathological mirror-picture of the third stage of the saint: the condition called idiocy, in which the human personality is lost, in which a person rests in outer nature, that is, in the hidden forces of nature. They can no longer manifest as a human being. They live only in the natural processes that go on within them, in what is a continuation of external natural processes, vegetable processes — eating food, digesting food, moving about in whatever way digestion and the food substances give an impulse to move. It is a complete waking sleep given over to the bodily functions, which are not under the control of the weak physical body but are active as processes in the outer world are active. Naturally, since these processes are working in a human being they do give human-like impulses. But these people are isolated from the normal human world because they are pushed into the physical world to too great a degree. Here we have to do with everything that is a pathological mirror-picture of the “rest in God.” We can call it “rest in Nature.” It has to do with the various paranoid states, with what in everyday life is called idiocy, while the previous conditions would be called mental retardation.

So we have seen the progression in the case of the saint from feeling the presence of spiritual beings to a third stage, being present in the spiritual world. And we have seen the opposite pathological states: first, psychopathological impairment as the first stage. We can be particularly aware of this stage when we encounter an abnormal wanderlust, as I described, connected with a memory that lacks logic. We see this progress to states of insanity, of which the early stage will still allow a person to pursue certain activities in external life. Then we see this progress to the third stage — which could also have been present in early childhood in statu nascendi.

The second stage can be due to the fact that no one has been able to recognize and counteract certain conditions in the first life period, between birth and change of teeth. Occasionally young children show, not exactly an excessive cleverness, but rather an unusual desire to learn things — something that should only appear after the change of teeth. This characteristic is normal between change of teeth and puberty. When it appears in the first life period, however, we should be concerned and we should find the means — physical, soul, and spiritual means — to cure what is already pathological. It is of utmost importance to investigate how certain capacities can be prevented from shining down into the first seven years of life that should really only emerge during the second seven years.

The third stage can reveal itself in two ways. In most cases a person brings it along as his or her karma — as you have seen from my descriptions. Already at birth, the person is in an abnormal condition because of some unusual stress in putting together the etheric body before entering the physical body. An etheric body was formed that does not want to penetrate the physical body completely, does not want to enter heart and stomach in the proper way but wants to flood them: in other words, an etheric body that carries the astral body and ego organization too strongly into the various organs. Already at birth or very soon after, we see facial or bodily deformities that can give us deep concern. This is called congenital mental retardation — but there is no such thing! There is only karmic mental retardation, related to the child's entire destiny. We will also speak about this more fully, so that you will see how an incarnation spent in such mental dullness can, under certain conditions, even have a beneficial place in a human being's karma, although it may mean misery in that one incarnation. There is need, after all, to regard things not merely from the point of view of finite life, but sub specie aeterni from the point of view of the immortal life of a human being. Then we would have a compassionate charity (caritas) and a wise one as well.

On the other hand, the second stage I have described can progress to the third stage in the following way. If in the first life period, between birth and change of teeth, not only the second life period shines in but also the third — the period between puberty and the twenties, when our organization should work into our organism — then we see a child in their fourth or fifth year with capacities that often delight the people. They say, “This child talks or acts like a twenty-year-old!” But this is what is happening: the ego organization is developing too early and is overpowering the physical body and making it weak. Idiocy will then appear in the latter part of the person's life. In this case it is not brought on by karma but has been acquired in this very life, and can only be balanced out karmically in later lives. If we observe life intelligently and have a good pastoral medicine to support us, we will be able to prevent it simply by providing the proper education for such a person's early childhood.

Whoever is vocationally drawn to observe such things should do so not only as individual symptoms — where, naturally, they should be studied with special love — but should also cultivate an understanding for them as a general phenomenon. Such a person should also develop an understanding for how these things are brought about.

We have seen how much of the pedagogy of former decades that a healthy pedagogy, such as the Waldorf school pedagogy wants to be, must definitely oppose. Yet these things have become extraordinarily precious to people. Sometimes our Waldorf school education must address certain things with tremendous severity, for instance, the Froebel kindergarten work, which is taken not from life but out of the intellect. Before the change of teeth it occupies children with activities that are not an imitation of life but are invented out of people's heads. This is putting into the child's first years of life something that should not be there until the next period, between change of teeth and puberty. This brings on the first stage of a pathological condition, a mild state of illness that often is not yet regarded as pathological. Also it were better, perhaps, not to label it pathological, otherwise so much else would have to be labeled pathological, which must in any case be recognized as “cultural phenomena.” These things cannot merely be criticized, they must be understood, so that one relates to them in the right way.

What we should see in front of us is wrong education in early childhood. The second life period has been carried into the first. This is the underlying cause creating a person's automatic speech and stirring the will from within outwards without adjusting in any degree to the surrounding world. Think of a situation such as I described as the first pathological stage: a slight tendency, caused by bad education, education going the wrong way. Then what happens? Wanderlust. This impulse is not entirely pathological, but it is characterized by the desire at a certain age to follow none but one's own ideas, not to bother about the world, to get free and away from one's surroundings, to wander at will! It is connected with other contemporary phenomena that also have their origin in a pathological education, or at least an education with a pathological tinge. You can observe this right now. Look at some of these youth groups. Their very existence belongs to the lifestyle of the last decades of the Kali Yuga. 6Kali Yuga, “the Dark Age,” reckoned from 3101 B.C. to A.D. 1899 in Steiner's esoteric chronology. There is an affinity between this slightly pathological condition and the kind of life that the Kali Yuga brought about. These things all belong together. But they must be examined from these two aspects. If you look, you will easily see tinges of what I have been describing. They reveal themselves clearly in wanderlust, but that is an extreme symptom. Listen once in a while to their conversations! One despairs at their indifference to what one says to them. They repeat details eternally, details they describe as their “experience”; they come back again and again to the same thing.

Please don't misunderstand me! I'm certainly not pointing to any of these things in a trivial sense. My intention is to show you that such phenomena can only be really understood if one grasps clearly the connection I've been pointing to during these few days: that there is always a step into spiritual life and its extreme opposite — a step into the physical body. A further step into the spiritual world for the saint; a further step into the body, into seizures, for instance, for the psychopath. And so on. That is the relationship. If you consider how in the external world, in electricity and magnetism, one pole is always dependent upon the other, you will realize that in life too there can be such a relation between two poles of human development.

This, of course, cannot be seized upon clumsily, as happens today so often with the materialistic worldview. This fact, that there are polar opposites here and that there is a connection between the two poles, must be approached with delicacy. Then one will begin to see what can develop in the one and the other direction. One will finally learn in this way to see into the nature of the human being.