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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Discussions with Teachers
GA 295

Discussion Eleven

2 September 1919, Stuttgart

Translated by Helen Fox

RUDOLF STEINER: In the speech exercises that we will take now, the principal purpose is to make the speech organs more flexible.

Curtsey Betsy jets cleric
lastly light sceptic

One should acquire the habit of letting the tongue say it on its own, so to speak.

Tu-whit twinkle ‘twas
twice twigged tweaker
to twenty twangy twirlings
the zinnia crisper
zither zooming shambles
this smartened smacking
smuggler sneezing
snoring snatching.

Both these exercises are really perfect only when they are said from memory.

From “We Found a Path” (by Christian Morgenstern):

Those who don’t know the goal
can’t find the way,
they will trot the same circle
all their lives long,
and return in the end
whence they began,
their piece of mind
more disturbed than before.

RUDOLF STEINER: Now we will proceed to the task that we have been gnawing at for so long.

Someone presented a list of the human soul moods and the soul moods of plants that could be said to correspond to them.

RUDOLF STEINER: All these things that have been presented are reminiscent of when phrenology was in vogue, when people classified human soul qualities according to their fantasies, and then searched the head for all kinds of bumps that were then associated with these qualities. But things are not like that, although the human head can certainly be said to express human soul nature. It is true that if a person has a very prominent forehead, it may indicate a philosopher. If a person has a very receding forehead and is at the same time talented, such a person may become an artist. You cannot say that the artist is located in a particular part of the head, but through your feelings you can differentiate between one or another form. You should consider the soul in this way. The more intellectual element drives into the forehead, and the more artistic element allows the forehead to recede. The same thing is also true in the study of plants. I mean your research should not be so external, but rather you should enter more deeply into the inner nature of plants and describe conditions as they actually are.

Some remarks were added.

RUDOLF STEINER: When you confine yourself too much to the senses, your viewpoint will not be quite correct. The senses come into consideration insofar as each sense contributes to the inner life of human beings, whatever can be perceived by a particular sense. For example, we owe several soul experiences to the sense of sight. We owe different soul experiences to other senses. Thus we can retrace our soul experiences to these various senses. In this way the senses are associated with our soul nature. But we should not assert unconditionally that plants express the senses of the Earth, because that is not true.

Someone cited samples from the writings of Emil Schlegel, a homeopathic doctor from Tübingen.

RUDOLF STEINER: Schlegel’s comparisons are also too external. He returns to what can be found in the mystics—Jacob Boehme and others—to the so-called “signatures.” Mystics in the Middle Ages were aware of certain relationships to the soul world that led them into deeper aspects of medicine. You find, for example, that a definite group of plants is associated with a quality of soul; mushrooms and fungi are associated with the quality that enables a person to reflect, to ponder something, the kind of inner life that lies so deeply in the soul that it does not demand much of the outer world for its experience, but “pumps,” as it were, everything out of itself. You will also find that this soul quality, most characteristic of mushrooms, is very intimately associated with illnesses of a headache nature; in this way you discover the connection between mushrooms and illnesses that cause headaches. Please note that you cannot make such comparisons when teaching about animals.

There are, as yet, no proper classifications of plants, but by means of these relationships between human soul qualities and groups of plants you must try to bring some kind of classification into the life of plants. We will now attempt to classify the plant kingdom.

You must first distinguish what are properly seen as the different parts of the plant—that is, root, stem (which may develop into a trunk), leaves, blossoms, and fruits. All the plants in the world can be divided into groups or families. In one family the root is more developed; the rest of the plant is stunted. In another the leaves are more developed, and in others the blossoms; indeed, these last are almost entirely blossom. Such things must be considered in relation to each other. Thus we can classify plants by seeing which system of organs predominates, root, trunk, leaves, and so on, since this is one way that plants vary. Now, when you recognize that everything with the nature of a blossom belongs to a certain soul quality, you must also assign other organic parts of the plant to other soul qualities. Thus, whether you associate single parts of the plant with qualities of soul or think of the whole plant kingdom together in this sense, it is the same thing. The whole plant kingdom is really a single plant.

Now what are the actual facts about the sleeping and waking of the Earth? At the present time [September] the Earth is asleep for us, but it is awake on the opposite side of the Earth. The Earth carries sleep from one side to the other. The plant world, of course, takes part in this change, and in this way you get another classification according to the spatial distribution of sleeping and waking on the earth—that is, according to summer and winter. Our vegetation is not the same as that on the opposite side of the Earth.

For plant life, everything is related with the leaves, for every part of a plant is a transformed leaf.

Someone compared groups of plants with temperaments.

RUDOLF STEINER: No, you are on the wrong track when you relate the plant world directly to the temperaments.

We might say to the children, “Look children, you were not always as big as you are now.1According to the Waldorf curriculum, the children are around eleven years old when they are taught about the plant kingdom. You have learned to do a great many things that you couldn’t do before. When your life began you were small and awkward, and you couldn’t take care of yourselves. When you were very small you couldn’t even talk. You could not walk either. There were many things you could not do that you can do now. Let’s all think back and remember the qualities you had when you were very young children. Can you remember what you were like then and what kinds of things you did? Can you remember this?” Continue to ask until they all see what you mean and say “No.” “So none of you know anything about what you did when you were toddlers?

“Yes, dear children, and isn’t there something else that happens in your lives that you can’t remember, and things that you do that you can’t remember afterward?” The children think it over. Perhaps someone among them will find the answer, otherwise you must help them with it. One of them might answer, “While I was asleep.” “Yes, the very same thing happens when you are very young that happens when you go to bed and sleep. You are ‘asleep’ when you are a tiny baby, and you are asleep when you are in bed.

“Now we will go out into nature and look for something there that is asleep just like you were when you were very young. Naturally you could not think of this yourselves, but there are those who know, and they can tell you that all the fungi and mushrooms that you find in the woods are fast asleep, just as you were when you were babies. Fungi and mushrooms are the sleeping souls of childhood.

“Then came the time when you learned to walk and to speak. You know from watching your little brothers and sisters that little children first have to learn to speak and walk, or you can say walk and then speak. That was something new for you, and you could not do that when you began your life; you learned something fresh, and you could do many more things after you learned to walk and speak.

“Now we will go out into nature again and search for something that can do more than mushrooms and fungi. These are the algae,” and I now show the children some examples of algae, “and the mosses,” and I show them some mosses. “There is something in algae and mosses that can do much more than what is in the fungi.”

Then I show the children a fern and say, “Look, the fern can do even more than the mosses. The fern can do so much that you have to say it looks as if it already had leaves. There is something of the nature of a leaf.

“Now you do not remember what you did when you learned to speak and walk. You were still half asleep then. But if you watch your brothers and sisters or other little children you know that, when they grow a little older, they do not sleep as long as when they were first born. Then came the time when your mind woke up, and you can return to that time as your earliest memory. Just think! That time in your mind compares with the ferns. But ever since then you can remember more and more of what happened in your mind. Now let’s get a clear picture of how you came to say ‘I.’ That was about the time to which your memory is able to return. But the I came gradually. At first you always said ‘Jack wants.. .’ when you meant yourself.”

Now have a child speak about a memory from childhood. Then you say to the child, “You see, when you were little it was really as though everything in your mind was asleep; it was really night then, but now your mind is awake. It is much more awake now, otherwise you would be no wiser than you used to be. But you are still partly asleep; not everything in you is awake yet; much is still sleeping. Only a part of you has awakened. What went on in your mind when you were four or five years old was something like the plants I am going to show you now.”

We should now show the children some plants from the family of the gymnospernms—that is, conifers, which are more perfectly formed than the ferns—and then you will say to the children, “A little later in your life, when you were six or seven years old, you were able to go to school, and all the joys that school brought blossomed in your heart.” When you show a plant from the family of the ferns, the gymnosperms, you go on to explain, “You see there are still no flowers. That was how your mind was before you came to school.

“Then, when you came to school, something entered your mind that could be compared to a flowering plant. But you had only learned a little when you were eight or nine years old. Now you are very smart; you are already eleven years old and have learned a great many things.

“Now look; here is a plant that has leaves with simple parallel veins

Enclosing a cross

and here is another with more complicated leaves with a network of veins. When you look at the blossoms that belong to the simple leaves, they are not the same as those on the plants with the other kind of leaf, where the blossoms and everything else are more complicated than in those with the simpler leaves.”

Now you show the children, for example, an autumn crocus, a monocotyledon; in these plants everything is simple, and you can compare them to children between seven and nine. Then you can continue by showing the children plants with simple blossoms, ones that do not yet have real petals. You can then say, “You have plants here in which the green sepals and the colored petals are indistinguishable, in which the little leaves under the blossom cannot be distinguished from those above. This is you! This is what you are like now.

“But soon you will be even older, and when you are twelve, thirteen, or fourteen you will be able to compare yourselves with plants that have calyx and corolla; your mind will grow so much that you’ll be able to distinguish between the green leaves we call the calyx and the colored leaves called petals. But first you must reach that stage!” And so you can divide the plants into those with a simple perianth—compared to the elevenyear- old children—and plants with a double perianth—those of thirteen to fourteen years.2The perianth is the envelope of a flower, particularly one in which the calyx and corolla are combined so that they are indistinguishable from one another; these include such flowers as tulips, orchids, and so on. The perianth is single when it has one verticil, and double when it has both calyx and corolla. “So children, this is another stage you have to reach.”

Now you can show the children two or three examples of mosses, ferns, gymnosperms, monocotyledons, and dicotyledons, and it would be a fine thing at this point to awaken their memory of earlier years. Have one of them speak of something remembered about little four-year-old Billy, and then show your ferns; have another child recall a memory of seven-year-old Fred, and then show the corresponding plant for that age; and yet another one could tell a story about eleven-year-old Ernie, and here you must show the other kind of plant. You must awaken the faculty of recalling the various qualities of a growing child and then carry over to the plant world these thoughts about the whole development of the growing soul. Make use of what I said yesterday about a tree, and in this way you will get a parallel between soul qualities and the corresponding plants.

There is an underlying principle here. You will not find parallels accidentally according to whatever plants you happen to pick. There is principle and form in this method, which is necessary. You can cover the whole plant kingdom in this way, with the exception of what happens in the plant when the blossom produces fruit. You point out to the child that the higher plants produce fruits from their blossoms. “This, dear children, can only be compared to what happens in your own soul life after you leave school.” Everything in the growth of the plant, up to the blossom, can be compared only with what happens in the child until puberty. The process of fertilization must be omitted for children. You cannot include it.

Then I continue, “You see, dear children, when you were very small you really only had something like a sleeping soul within you.” In some way remind the children, “Now try to remember, what was your main pleasure when you were a little child? You have forgotten now because, in a way, you were really asleep at that time, but you can see it in little Anne or Mary, in your little baby sister. What is her greatest joy? Certainly her milk bottle! A tiny child’s greatest joy is the milk bottle. And then came the time when your brothers and sisters were a little older, and the bottle was no longer their only joy, but instead they loved to be allowed to play. Now remember, first I showed you fungi, algae, mosses; almost everything they have, they get from the soil. We must go into the woods if we want to get to know them. They grow where it is damp and shady, they do not venture out into the sunlight. That’s what you were like before you ‘ventured out’ to play; you were content with sucking milk from a bottle. In the rest of the plant world you find leaves and flowers that develop when the plants no longer have only what they get from the soil and from the shady woods, but instead come out into the sun, to the air and light. These are the qualities of soul that thrive in light and air.” In this way you show the child the difference between what lives under the Earth’s surface on the one hand (as mushrooms and roots do, which need the watery element, soil, and shade), and on the other hand, what needs air and light (as blossoms and leaves do). “That is why plants that bear flowers and leaves (because they love air and light) are the so-called higher plants, just as you, when you are five or six years old, have reached a higher stage than when you were a baby.”

By directing the children’s thoughts more and more—at one time toward qualities of mind and soul that develop in childhood, and then toward the plants—you will be able to classify them all, based on this comparison. You can put it this way:

Pleasures of infancy (babies): Mushrooms and Fungi
Pleasures of early childhood (the awakening life of feeling, both sorrows and joys): Algae, Mosses
Experiences at the awakening of consciousness of self: Ferns
Experiences of fifth and sixth year, up to school age: Gymnosperms, Conifers
First school experiences, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh year: Parallel-veined plants, Monocotyledons; Plants with simple perianth
Experiences of the eleven-year-old: Simple dicotyledons
School experiences from twelfth to fifteenth year: Net-veined plants, Dicotyledons; Plants with green calyx and colored petals

“You are not smart enough yet for these last experiences (the plants with a green calyx and colored blossoms), and you won’t know anything about them until you are thirteen or fourteen years old.

“Just think; how lovely! One day you will have such rich thoughts and feelings, you will be like the rose with colored petals and green sepals. This will all come later, and you can look forward to it with great pleasure. It is lovely to be able to rejoice over what is coming in the future.” The important thing is that you arouse within children’s hearts a joyful anticipation of what the future will bring them.

Thus, all the successive soul qualities before puberty can be compared with the plant kingdom. After that the comparison goes no further because at this point the children develop the astral body, which plants do not possess. But when the plant forces itself into fertilization beyond its nature, it can be compared with soul qualities of the sixteenth to seventeenth year. There is no need to call attention to the process of fertilization, but you should speak of the process of growth, because that agrees with reality. The children would not understand the process of fertilization, but they would understand the process of growth, because it can be compared with the process of growth in the mind and soul. Just as a child’s soul is different at various ages, so also the plants are different because they progress from the mushroom to the buttercup, which is usually included among the most highly developed plants, the Ranunculuses. It is indeed true that, when the golden buttercups appear during spring in lush meadows, we are reminded of the soul life and soul mood of fourteen-and fifteen-year-old boys and girls.

If at some time a botanist should go to work along these lines in a thoroughly systematic way, a plant system would be found that corresponds to fact, but you can actually show the children the whole external plant world as a picture of a developing child’s soul. Much can be done in this way. You should not differentiate in the individualized way practised by the old phrenologists, but you should have one clear viewpoint that can be carried right through your teaching. Then you will find that it is not quite correct to merely take everything with a root nature and relate it to thought. Spirit in the head is still asleep in a child. Thus, thinking in general should not be related to what has root nature, but a child’s way of thinking, which is still asleep. In the mushroom, therefore, as well as in the child, you get a picture of childlike thinking, still asleep, that points us toward the root element in plants.

Rudolf Steiner then gave the following assignments:

1. To comprehensively work out the natural history of plants as discussed up to this point;

2. The geographical treatment of the region of the lower Rhine, from the Lahn onward, “in the way I showed you today when speaking of lessons in geography”: mountains, rivers, towns, civilization, and economics.3See Practical Advice to Teachers, lecture 11.

3. Do the same for the basin of the Mississippi.

4. What is the best way to teach the measurement of areas and perimeters?