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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Discussions with Teachers
GA 295

Discussion Ten

1 September 1919, Stuttgart

Translated by Helen Fox

Speech Exercises:

Children chiding
Chaffinch chirping
Choking chimneys
Cheerfully chattering

Children chiding and fetching
Chaffinch chirping switching
Choking chimneys hitching
Cheerfully chattering twitching

Beach children chiding and fetching
Reach chaffinch chirping switching
Birches choking chimneys hitching
Perches cheerfully chattering twitching

RUDOLF STEINER: The “ch” should be sounded in a thoroughly active way, like a gymnastic exercise. 1The original German exercise (which appears in the appendix) uses the “pf ” sound; the “ch” sound has been substituted in the English version.

The following is a piece in which you have to pay attention both to the form and the content.

From “Galgenlieder” by Christian Morgenstern:

The Does’ Prayer

The does, as the hour grows late,
The does, as the hour grows late,
They fold their little toesies,
the doesies. 2Max Knight, trans., University of California Press, Berkeley, 1964.

RUDOLF STEINER: Now we will continue our talk about the plant world.

Various contributions were offered by those present.

RUDOLF STEINER: Later there will be students in the school who will study the plant kingdom on a more scientific basis, in which case they would learn to distinguish mosses, lichens, algae, monocotyledons, dicotyledons, and so on. All children, who in their youth learn to know plants according to scientific principles, should first learn about them as we have described — that is, by comparing them with soul qualities. Later they can study the plant system more scientifically. It makes a difference whether we try first to describe the plants and then later study them scientifically, or vice versa. You can do much harm by teaching scientific botany first, instead of first presenting ideas that relate to the feeling life, as I have tried to show you. In the latter case the children can tackle the study of scientific botanical systems with a truly human understanding.

The plant realm is the soul world of the Earth made visible. The carnation is a flirt. The sunflower an old peasant. The sunflower’s shining face is like a jolly old country rustic. Plants with very big leaves would express, in terms of soul life, lack of success in a job, taking a long time with everything, clumsiness, and especially an inability to finish anything; we think that someone has finished, but the person is still at it. Look for the soul element in the plant forms!

When summer approaches, or even earlier, sleep spreads over the Earth; this sleep becomes heavier and heavier, but it only spreads out spatially, and in autumn passes away again. The plants are no longer there, and sleep no longer spreads over the Earth. The feelings, passions, and emotions of people pass with them into sleep, but once they are there, those feelings have the appearance of plants. What we have invisible within the soul, our hidden qualities — flirtatiousness, for example — become visible in plants. We don’t see this in a person who is awake, but it can be observed clairvoyantly in people who are sleeping. Flirtation, for example, looks like a carnation. A flirt continually produces carnations from the nose! A tedious, boring person produces gigantic leaves from the whole body, if you could see them.

When we express the thought that the Earth sleeps, we must go further: the plant world grows in the summer. Earth sleeps in the summer and is awake during winter. The plant world is the Earth’s soul. Human soul life ceases during sleep, but when the Earth goes to sleep its soul life actually begins. But the human soul does not express itself in a sleeping person. How are we going to get over this difficulty with children?

One of the teachers suggested that plants could be considered the Earth’s dreams.

RUDOLF STEINER: But plants during high summer are not the Earth’s dreams, because the Earth is in a deep sleep in the summer. It is only how the plant world appears during spring and autumn that you can call dreams. Only when the flowers are first beginning to sprout — when the March violet, for example, is still green, before flowers appear, and again when leaves are falling — that the plant world can be compared to dreams. With this in mind, try to make the transition to a real understanding of the plant.

For example, you can begin by saying, “Look at this buttercup,” or any plant we can dig out of the soil, showing the root below, the stalk, leaves, blossoms, and then the stamens and pistil, from which the fruit will develop. Let the child look at a plant like this. Then show a tree and say, “Imagine this tree next to the plant. What can you tell me about the tree? Yes, it also has roots below of course; but instead of a stalk, it has a trunk. Then it spreads its branches, and it’s as if the real plants grew on these branches, because many leaves and flowers can be found there; it’s as if little plants were growing on the branches above. So, we could actually look at a meadow this way: We see yellow buttercups growing all over the meadow; it is covered with individual plants with their roots in the Earth, and they cover the whole meadow. But when we look at the tree, it’s as if someone had taken the meadow, lifted it up, and rounded it into an arch; only then do we find many flowers growing very high all over it. The trunk is a bit of the Earth itself. So we may say that the tree is the same as the meadow where the flowers grow.

“Now we go from the tree to the dandelion or daisy. Here there is a root-like form in the soil, and from it grows something like a stalk and leaves, but at the top there is a little basket of flowers, tiny little blossoms close together. It’s as though the dandelion made a little basket up there with nothing in it but little flowers, perfect flowers that can be found in the dandelion-head. So we have the tree, the little ‘basket-bloomers,’ and the ordinary plant, a plant with a stalk. In the tree it’s as though the plants were only high up on the branches; in the compound flowers the blossom is at the top of the plant, except that these are not petals, but countless fully-developed flowers.

“Now imagine that the plant kept everything down in the Earth; suppose it wanted to develop roots, but that it was unsuccessful — or perhaps leaves, but could not do this either; imagine that the only thing to unfold above ground were what one usually finds in the blossom; you would then have a mushroom. At least, if the roots down below fail and only leaves come up, you would then have ferns. So you find all kinds of different forms, but they are all plants.”

Show the children the buttercup, how it spreads its little roots, how it has its five yellow-fringed petals, then show them the tree, where the “plant” only grows on it, then the composite flowers, the mushroom, and the fern; do not do this in a very scientific way, but so that the children get to know the form in general.

Then you can say, “Why do you think the mushroom remained a mushroom, and why did the tree become a tree? Let’s compare the mushroom with the tree. What is the difference between them? Take the tree. Isn’t it as though the Earth had pushed itself out with all its might — as though the inner being of the tree had forced its way up into the outside world in order to develop its blossoms and fruits away from the Earth? But in the mushroom the Earth has kept within itself what usually grows up out of it, and only the uppermost parts of the plant appear in the form of mushrooms. In the mushroom the ‘tree’ is below the soil and only exists as forces. In the mushroom itself we find something similar to the tree’s outermost part. When lots and lots of mushrooms are spread over the Earth, it is as though you had a tree growing down below them, inside the Earth. And when we look at a tree it is as though the Earth had forced itself up, turning itself inside out, as it were, bringing its inner self into the outer world.”

Now you are coming nearer to the reality: “When you see mushrooms growing you know that the Earth is holding something within itself that, in the case of a growing tree, it pushes up outside itself. So in producing mushrooms the Earth keeps the force of the growing tree within itself. But when the Earth lets the trees grow it turns the growing-force of the tree outward.” Now here you have something not found within the Earth during summer, because it rises out of the Earth then and when winter comes it goes down into the Earth again. “During summer the Earth, through the force of the tree, sends its own force up into the blossoms, causing them to unfold, and in winter it draws this force back again into itself. Now let us think of this force, which during the summer circles up in the trees — a force so small and delicate in the violet but so powerful in the tree. Where can it be found in winter? It is under the surface of the Earth. What happens during the depth of winter to all these plants — the trees, the composite flowers, and all the others? They unfold right under the Earth’s surface; they are there within the Earth and develop the Earth’s soul life. This was known to the people of ancient times, and that was why they placed Christmas — the time when we look for soul life — not in the summer, but during winter.

“Just as a person’s soul life passes out of the body when falling asleep, and again turns inward when a person wakens, so it is also for the Earth. During summer while asleep it sends its sap-bearing force out, and during winter takes it back again when it awakens — that is, it gathers all its various forces into itself. Just think, children, our Earth feels and experiences everything that happens within it; what you see all the summer long in flowers and leaves, the abundance of growth and blossom, in the daisies, the roses, or the carnations — this all dwells under the Earth during winter, and there it has feelings like you have, and can be angry or happy like you.”

In this way you gradually form a view of life lived under the Earth during winter. That is the truth. And it is good to tell the children these things. This is something that even materialists could not argue with or consider an extravagant flight of fancy. But now you can continue from this and consider the whole plant. The children are led away from a subjective attitude toward plants, and they are shown what drives the sap over the Earth during summer heat and draws it back again into itself in winter; they come to see the ebb and flow in plant life. In this way you find the Earth’s real soul life mirrored in plants. Beneath the Earth ferns, mosses, and fungi unfold all that they fail to develop as growing plants, but this all remains etheric substance and does not become physical. When this etheric plant appears above the Earth’s surface, the external forces work on it and transform it into the rudiments of leaves we find in fungi, mosses, and ferns. But under a patch of moss or mushrooms there is something like a gigantic tree, and if the Earth cannot absorb it, cannot keep it within itself, then it pushes up into the outer world.

The tree is a little piece of the Earth itself. But what remains underground in mushrooms and ferns is now raised out of the Earth, so that if the tree were slowly pushed down into the Earth everything would be different, and if it were to be thus submerged then ferns, mosses, and mushrooms would appear; for the tree it would be a kind of winter. But the tree withdraws from this experience of winter. It is the nature of a tree to avoid the experience of winter to some extent, but if I could take hold of a fern or a mushroom by the head and draw it further and further out of the Earth so that the etheric element in it reached the air, then I would draw out a whole tree, and what would otherwise become a mushroom would now turn into a tree. Annual plants are midway between these two. A composite flower is merely another form of what happens in a tree. If I could press a composite flower down into the Earth it would bear only single blossoms. A composite flower could almost be called a tree that has shot up too quickly.

And so we can also find a wish, a desire, living in the Earth. The Earth feels compelled to let this wish sink into sleep. The Earth puts it to sleep in summer, and then the wish rises as a plant. It is not visible above the Earth until it appears as a water-lily. Down below it lives as a wish in the Earth, and then up above it becomes a plant.

The plant world is the Earth’s soul world made visible, and this is why we can compare it with human beings. But you should not merely make comparisons; you must also teach the children about the actual forms of the plants. Starting with a general comparison you can then lead to the single plant species.

Light sleep can be compared with ordinary plants, a kind of waking during sleep with mushrooms (where there are very many mushrooms, the Earth is awake during the summer), and you can compare really sound deep sleep with the trees.

From this you see that the Earth does not sleep as people do, but in one part it is more asleep and in another more awake; here more asleep, there more awake. People, in their eyes and other sense organs, also have sleeping, waking, and, dreaming side by side, all at the same time.

Now here is your task for tomorrow. Please make out a table; on the left place a list of the human soul characteristics, from thoughts down through all the emotions of the soul — feelings of pleasure and displeasure, actively violent emotions, anger, grief, and so on, right down to the will; certain specific plant forms can be compared with the human soul realm. On the right you can then fill in the corresponding plant species, so that in the table you have the thought plants above, the will plants below, and all the others in between.

Rudolf Steiner then gave a graphic explanation of the Pythagorean theorem and referred to an article by Dr. Ernst Müller in Ostwald’s magazine for natural philosophy, Annalen der Naturphilosophie, entitled “Some Observations on a Theory of Knowledge underlying the Pythagorean theorem.”

Enclosing a cross

In the drawing, the red parts of the two smaller squares already lie within the square on the hypotenuse. By moving the blue and the green triangles in the direction of the arrows, the remaining parts of the two smaller squares will cover those parts of the square on the hypotenuse still uncovered.

You should cut out the whole thing in cardboard and then you can see it clearly. 3The Pythagorean theorem states that the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. For another brief discussion of the Pythagorean theorem in teaching see Rudolf Steiner, The Kingdom of Childhood: Introductory Talks on Waldorf Education, Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY, 1995, pp. 85–90.