Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Anthroposophical Spiritual Science and Medical Therapy
GA 313

Lecture VII

Dornach, April 17, 1921

In turning our attention now to the study of remedies, we will also discuss the remedies we have already introduced. I have no interest, of course, in describing how the idea forms in me that this or that can be a remedy. Instead I want you to come to an insight into why this or that substance can be used as a remedy. I would like the perception of the remedial value of a substance to be formed, as it were, in your own souls. Therefore I would like to direct the discussion today in such a way that we undertake a theoretical investigation of how one arrives at the view that something can be used as a remedy.

Of course it must be stated at the outset that an acquaintance with the main principles of an anthroposophical knowledge of the human being provides the basis for this. A correct interpretation of remedies can arise only if one is impelled from the ground up to conduct the whole investigation in an anthroposophical sense. Thus you will also see that what I have said in the last few days will flow into the theoretical investigations presented today.

Let us proceed from the fact that the interaction between the human being and his environment can be studied by investigating the plants. By first comprehending the processes in the plant world, one acquires a correct insight into the continuation of mineralizing processes into the inner aspects of the human being. In presenting this type of investigation, however, we must realize that something shaped out of the whole cosmos is at work in the entire process of plant formation—in the formation of roots, leaves, blossoms, seeds, and so on. This follows from everything we have studied in the last few days. This process that tends particularly to shaping the plants, even to shaping them inwardly, cannot be replaced by an artificial synthesis, by a chemical synthesis. At most, it can only be replaced in this way in very few cases. For example one must be clear about the following: In the roots of a plant we have to do with the part of the plant-forming process that is bound to the more-or-less inner forces of the earth's surface. Soul-spiritually, the human being is a being growing in a plant-like fashion from above downward. His head harbors many of the forces that interact with the forces of the earth itself. There is a deep kinship between that which shapes the root in plants and all the forces of the human head. Thus, when clear ideas need to be gained about the process that takes place in root formation in plants, it must always be realized that this process has a reciprocal relation to the human head.

Let us examine the root of gentian (gentiana lutea) as an example of how to explore such matters. Gentian is a plant in which the blossoming forces come to strong outward expression. Therefore in the root we will find forces that tend very strongly toward the blossoming element. In other words, the root's forces are somewhat weak, a great deal is expended in the direction of blossoming and leaf formation. Nevertheless, the whole form of the blossom shows that the root nature is still present very strongly. Thus we cannot count on gentian, as a matter of course, strongly affecting the activities in the human organization proceeding directly from the head, i.e., as outer physical effects. Rather we should expect gentian to act on what supports breathing from out of the head. Since effects in the organism always are polaric, we must imagine that especially the digestive organs begin to breathe very strongly in the way I explained yesterday if we administer gentian roots. This stimulates an active breathing activity in the stomach and intestines, but we must keep in mind what we have learned in these lectures regarding the necessity of first treating the plant substances if these are to stimulate this breathing activity. We must boil the roots, and administer the decoction.

Let us now turn to some external aspects of the plant. We notice that the gentian root has a bitter taste and a strong smell; thus it acts very strongly on the astral. We therefore have an effect on the astral nature in the digestive realm of the human being. Moreover, gentian root contains sugar. You will recall that I have frequently pointed out how the process of working through sugar in the human organization involves a strong stimulation of ego activity. I have said that you can study this even in external statistics. For example, Eastern Europeans and Russians, in whom the ego activity is somewhat withdrawn, use a very small quantity of sugar each year, whereas the statistics show a greater consumption of sugar the further West we go, i.e., among the English, in whom the ego develops an extraordinarily vigorous activity. Such things must certainly be taken into account if one wishes to gain knowledge in the world.

Gentian root is also rich in fatty oils. Fatty oils, when passing through digestion, have a strong effect on the lower breathing, since fatty oil intensifies the mobility, the inner mobility, of the stomach and intestinal organs. Therefore you can see how it is possible really to describe what is taking place in the human organism. One notices at once that the astral activity is stimulated and therefore that the breathing mobility of the stomach and intestinal tract is stimulated. One can therefore say that the intestines develop a greater activity and the stomach is strengthened. This whole effect is the result when the astral body is strengthened generally. The whole effect calls forth mineralizing processes, but only to the extent that these solidify the organs and make them stronger. This is the slight influence of the ego acting through the sugar. Thus if we use a decoction of gentian roots, we stimulate the activity of the astral body and, acting through the sugar content of the root, allow the ego to assist.

There is a danger, however, of the ego going too far. If the ego continues to work below like a whip, a reaction is set up polarically in the head, and one can observe that such patients suffer from headaches as a side-effect. Nevertheless, the effects I have mentioned are produced. We observe an intestinal activity that is essentially of an enhancing, stimulating character, and we will use such a remedy, either alone or in some combination, if we notice that an illness manifests in connection with loss of appetite or dyspepsia, and especially if there is a generally sluggish digestive activity. In this way the metabolism is inwardly stimulated and becomes more active. By this means we can therefore work against tendencies toward gout and rheumatic conditions. In addition, in applying gentian root we will have made appropriate use of something that has a mildly antipyretic effect. This is because the deficient intestinal activity induces a reaction in the upper human being, and the febrile activity proceeds from this. Thus if we strengthen the lower human being, creating a counterweight to the upper human being, we have introduced an antipyretic activity.

This is the approach we must take if we wish to come to concrete relationships of the outer world to what is within the human being. It is quite correct to draw attention to currents acting on the human being from outside. In this respect, a man like Rosenbach has made remarkably good preliminary studies. However, if we only speak about these currents in abstractions, we do not at first realize that what acts from outside emerges from concrete things. It emerges from the fact that such relationships prevail between the root-nature of the plant world, the forces that are active in the root nature, and these forces once they have entered the human being. In this way we grasp things that otherwise are only characterized abstractly as currents. Spiritual science is concerned with working out of concrete processes.

Let us study a most instructive plant from this standpoint—the clove [clove root] (geum urbanum). We will again take the root and prepare a decoction from it. It is extraordinarily interesting if you investigate the clove root and recall something of what was said about the gentian root. Of course we must again assume an interaction with the head forces, because we are dealing with the root. Now clove root has a tart taste, exceptionally tart. In clove root we have etheric oils, i.e., oils that we must assume act on those parts of the organism not situated close to or within the intestinal tract, like those we spoke of in discussing the root of the gentian. Rather we have more to do with what should take place in the stomach, or perhaps only in the esophagus. We must also take into account another most essential fact here, namely the starch present in the clove root. Therefore we must appeal to forces that work in a more intensive way than the forces that are necessary to digest sugar. To digest starch, the process has to begin earlier. The sugar has first to be produced. You see, one must really pursue the processes in detail.

The clove root also contains tannin, and this too we must take into consideration if we wish to investigate the remedial effect of anything. Tannin points to the fact that the starch is working more toward the physical, becoming something that cultivates that which opposes even tannin. In the case of the clove root, then, the whole effect must be ascribed more to the ego than to the astral body. We have here an intensification of the ego's activity. Because of this, we have to do with what takes place in the lower human organism. This effect is a complete polar opposite to the stimulation of the head that takes place through the ego. We have to do with what I would like to call the outer digestion, laying hold of substances while still in the stomach, before they have gone over into the intestinal activity. Every system extends through the entire human organism, and the part of the nerve-sense apparatus still present in the intestines and digestive organs is stimulated; we therefore have to do with a predominance of the ego's influence.

What is the consequence of this? First, we have in clove root a strong antipyretic force; second, by working on the earlier digestive processes we can affect those later on, i.e., the actual intestinal activity. We give the intestinal activity less to do. In this way we can combat diarrhea in particular, and also mucous discharges from the intestines, for these things are due to overburdening the inner digestive activity. Thus you see that these investigations lead to a perception of the way outer forces penetrate what is within the human being.

This study of roots is of special significance, so let us take another root, for example the the root of iris germanica. Here we will also prepare a decoction from the root. The iris shows us even by its outer manifestation that it works strongly on the ego. The repulsive smell and bitter taste of the root reveal at once that the ego here interacts strongly and physically with the outer world. In the iris root there is something that stimulates this physical activity very much, that is, tannic acid. We also find something else that works upon the ego activity: starches. Finally, we find something that, through its physical effect, has an influence wherever it is stimulated to do so; we have resins in the iris root. Through all this the ego is brought into an especially lively activity. This lively activity of the ego—this driving force of the ego—can be noticed first in the urine activity, where a purgative, diuretic effect appears. These are outward expressions of ego activity.

We can find the conditions treatable by this remedy if we simply ask, “What is the human organism suffering from when these things are not in order?” The answer is dropsy and similar conditions. In decoctions of iris root we therefore have something with which we should try to combat dropsy and similar edematous conditions.

In taking a step upward in our study of the plants, let us consider the green leafy parts of the plant. We will take a characteristic plant like marjoram (majorana origanum). We must realize, when we come to the leaf, that nature herself completes certain processes that we must first carry to completion in the roots. When we take the leaf therefore, it is not good to prepare a decoction directly. We need the finer forces of the leaf and can obtain these by preparing an infusion. The forces that we really need are made available through preparing the leaf in an infusion. Here again you can grasp what we are dealing with by means of the senses. The infusion of marjoram has the peculiar flavor that might be called the “warming” flavor. At the same time, it has a certain bitterness. Then you have the aromatic smell, the ethereal oil, that proves so clearly that here something is working outward. In addition, you have something that need only be added to intensify all this, but whose physical effect does not manifest as early as other products. This aspect does not appear in its physical effect until it has passed through the stomach and has reached the intestines. These are the various kinds of salts present in the leaf, especially in marjoram. You may therefore say that this leaf-infusion has a particularly strong effect on the breathing activity of the inner organs: it calls forth a certain breathing activity in the inner organs. This finds expression in the sweat-provoking effect of this infusion, i.e., the inner organic activity in the form of breathing is stimulated. It has a diaphoretic effect, and the reaction therefore strengthens the activity of the inner organs. With infusions of marjoram leaves, one can work on the one hand against upper respiratory congestions, rhinitis, etc. and on the other hand against uterine weaknesses.

All this will become clearer when we move on to the effect of blossoms. Let us look at this effect in an instance where the plant shows it with special clearness, for example, where many small blossoms are clustered together in an inflorescence, as in the elder (sambucus nigra) or lilac. Let us be quite clear that here the plant is penetrated by precisely those forces that have a great deal to do with the environment of the earth, that contain cosmic influences, cosmic radiations. From this we note that elder flowers also contain ethereal oils. We notice it particularly from the fact that these flowers contain sulfur. In these flowers we therefore have something from the mineral kingdom that proves especially effective if we wish to stimulate breathing, but now from the other side: to stimulate the actual breathing organization, whereas earlier we spoke of stimulating breathing in the digestive organs and organs near them, before the breathing of the actual respiratory organs intervened. When we use elder flowers in the form of an infusion we stimulate particularly the etheric activity of the human organism, and only by way of this etheric activity do we stimulate the activity of the astral body. It is especially the breathing in the upper, posterior organs that is stimulated, not so much the head organs as those belonging to the actual respiration. Of course, reactions such as purging and sweating naturally appear everywhere. Now, however, the organs of breathing are stimulated. The normal breathing activity is intensified and—because this has to have an effect on the blood—the blood circulation is stimulated from inside the human being.

We can immediately conclude from these observations that it is possible to work against catarrhs by such means, and also inhibited sweat-formation, hoarseness, and coughing. And, because the effect that before appeared directly, now appears polarically, we can also use this remedy in rheumatic conditions. It is always a question of determining what curative forces a remedy may contain from the way it acts.

Let us now consider situations in which it may be necessary to act especially upon the head organization. What is it that really depends on the head organization? Digestion, its polar opposite, depends on it. Indeed, the cruder digestive processes, the cause of so many serious illnesses, depend on the head organization. Hence we must realize that we can influence the head through the cruder digestive processes. If we want to support what takes place within the human being—thus having an effect on digestion—so that the substances stream up into the head and are therefore able to unfold their effect from there, we must naturally do everything we can to bring this about. Therefore, although we want first of all to introduce the plant substance to the inner part of the body, we must form it in such a way that it works into the head. We can observe such an effect especially when we make use of seeds. Seeds by their very nature are especially suitable to influence the cruder digestive processes. And by acting directly on the cruder digestive processes, they act on the head in calling forth reactions. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to promote the effect from the digestion to the head. Therefore it will be useful to make a very concentrated decoction of the seeds, if this agrees with the patient. We can study this especially well if we consider the effects of decoctions of caraway seeds. These contain ethereal oils, which act essentially upon the ego; wax, which has a very strong physical effect; and also resins, which also unfold strong effects in the physical. The powerful effect is also shown by the aromatic smell. In addition, this decoction contains levulose.

If we consider all this in connection with what we have studied in the last few days, we will see that it strengthens the activity of the ego to an extraordinary degree. It affects the nerve-sense activity concealed in the digestive organs. It works especially on this weak nerve-sense activity in the digestive organs—this activity extends throughout the digestive organs in a very faintly formed metamorphosis. The effect of such a decoction on the lower human being resembles what one might call a subconscious metamorphosis of our outer sense perception. We are stimulated to perceive with the digestive system what is developing as process there. Hence this remedy is very valuable when administered through an enema. When given by enema, it calls forth a process that must act on the nerve-sense activity. This is an outer administration of the finer forces of the caraway seeds, and in this way a kind of subconscious perception is evoked in the digestive organs. The lethargic tissue fluid is especially stimulated by this means. By thus introducing a process strengthening the nerve-sense activity, perception is driven much further into the human being. The patient becomes a perceiver in his digestive organs, and this works against the opposite pole that we find when an inner activity begins that can also be perceived—consisting, indeed, of inner perception—when our organism begins to express itself in eruption-like states. By our strong perception of our organism when it develops such an organic activity, so that we are actually perceiving ourselves, we dampen down such activity and therefore have a curative effect on it. Such an activity represents a perception from within outward, a nerve-sense activity similar to, though a metamorphosis of, outer perception. Thus we can work beneficially with this remedy in cases of stomach cramps, colicky conditions, and flatulence.

Figure 1

Yet another process is extremely interesting to observe. Picture vividly to yourselves the subconscious process developed in such a case. This subconscious activity is extraordinarily similar to the activity of outer sense perception, but it takes place within. Consider that the outer activity of perception and the reflex activity are connected in a certain way. Perceptions that appear subconsciously can call forth defensive movements immediately. Study this cooperation of perceptive activity and the reflex reaction against it, and carry this over to the inner activity of the tissue fluid. You carry out this outer perceptive activity in floating in the air, in a sense. Sketching this schematically, let this be the air in which we carry ourselves (see drawing, bright). It is permeated with light, etc. Outer perception (red) unfolds in this direction; the inner reaction (blue) unfolds in this direction. In every sense organ there is a cooperation between external action and inner reaction. If you want an outer, abstract picture of this process, you should not choose the one chosen by the modern materialistic view, namely, that of a centrifugal and a centripetal nerve activity. Such a view is no more intelligent than saying: when a rubber ball is pressed it recovers its former shape by means of another force, i.e., by the counterpart of the pressure itself. It is no more intelligent to speak of motor-nerves than to explain the elasticity of a rubber ball by ascribing to it some center within that pushes out what has been pushed in. What happens in both cases is really no more than the restitution of the original form; it is the reaction that sets in, requiring no special nerves, because the whole phenomenon—action and reaction—is embedded in the astrality and ego nature.

Figure 2

Now picture this whole process working by way of the etheric activity in the tissue fluid (see drawing, yellow). Of course, a sense process does not take place in the tissue fluid under normal conditions, but it can be evoked in the way I have just indicated. A kind of contracting tendency arises, a tendency to work in toward the organism, and I will sketch that in this way, just as I indicate here the action of perception. But this (see drawing, red) is a process that in a sense assaults the outwardly directed forces in the tissue fluid (violet). Here is the action, and this is the reaction. Thus one is inserting a sense process, a metamorphosis of the sense process, into the tissue fluid. It is extraordinarily interesting to observe this insertion of a metamorphosis of the outer sense process into the tissue fluid. Now we must search for something similar that takes place in normal life, that is, some condition in which a kind of metamorphosis of these sense processes within the human being, a densified sense process, arises in the tissue fluid. This takes place when a woman secretes milk. Here, in fact, we have a densified metamorphosis of the outer sense process transferred inward. Now, if this milk secretion is deficient when it is supposed to be there, we have every cause to intensify this densified internal sense process in the tissue fluid. We can evoke this process with a decoction of caraway seeds, thus supporting the secretion of milk.

I have presented these things as examples of the way the whole working and weaving of the human organism and its connection with the outer world can be considered. Consider precisely what I have said: that a decoction of caraway seeds contains resin and wax, i.e., something whose consistency evokes very strong physical effects. Resin and wax are thereby very similar to what makes an impression on me from outside, only inwardly densified. This seed also contains etheric oils and levulose. This is something that stimulates the reaction of the ego. Taking all this together, you have everything contained in the sense process: action from outside, and the reaction extending to the ego from within. If you now metamorphose this sense process by not creating a sense impression but transferring this interaction inward into the tissue fluid's system of forces, you then have what evokes an inner sense process in you. The secretion of milk is such a process. You will see how the entire organization can be understood in this way.

These are the matters you must study if you wish to consider the effects of the substances of the outer world within the body. For example, if you study the effect of metal-mineral remedies, you will readily understand what you have learned from the influence of the plant element, but you will also realize something else: that the mineral element has undergone a change in passing into the plant process and continuing its activity there. In this mineralizing and “vegetabilizing” process, a transformation of the mineral forces has taken place. Part of the healing process thus depends on the transformation of the mineral forces. Imagine we were to build a sanatorium in the country. Then we could surround it with fields and manure these fields with various mineral substances, creating a soil whose content is known to us. We can sow there various plants from which we will use the root, leaf, fruit, and so on. Thus we will have control of the process by which the plant transforms the mineral into a remedy. We can strengthen this process by growing the plants we have just discussed and treating them in the way I just mentioned. We want to do this at our Research Institute in Stuttgart, but this must still be arranged. One can go still further, however. One can take what has been obtained from the plant itself as a remedy and can use it as a kind of manure, thereby intensifying its force. In this way ordinary triturated preparations will be made much more effective, for nature herself, and the forces active in nature, are allowed to do some of the work of preparation.

Of course we have to be clear about the following: for example, how should a mineral-metallic remedy act in order to have an effect? Salts, which are really mineral remedies, produce effects more toward the inside of the human being. The most peripheral activities, however, are influenced by just those mineral-metallic substances that are most firm. Here we have a direction for research, but always on the basis of spiritual scientific knowledge, for otherwise our thoughts will split up and run in every possible wrong direction. The thoughts of spiritual science guide our thinking in the right direction. When we look at a metal, we know it can only be weakly taken hold of by the inner human organism. There the activity of the ego must be highly stimulated, for it is the ego that, in a sense, undermines and penetrates into the interior of the substance, shaping this for its own purposes and summoning it to ego activity in the organism. The ego can be strengthened in this activity by the astral body. Thus when we make use of metals or minerals, we must always see whether we are stimulating the ego activity or the astral activity that then works back on the ego, or whether we are stimulating the interaction between the astral and ego activity.

Such stimulation can be achieved, for example, in the following way: We prepare a metallic ointment and apply it, let us say, to a skin eruption; we thereby stimulate the peripheral ego activity. This ego activity is similarly stimulated by a reaction within the human being. This arises within the human being first in an intensified nerve-sense activity in some organ. This leads from there to an intensified breathing activity, passing over to the astral. The effect is that those forces within the body then work against the skin eruption. We appeal to the whole body to work against the skin eruption.

On this basis the various metallic and mineral substances can be studied in a similar way. In lead, for instance, you have a substance that acts with extraordinary strength on nerve-sense activity, and then, dependent on this, on the inner breathing activity, including the inner breathing activity that takes place in the outer, peripheral organs, for example. If we use lead, either as an ointment or internally, we can achieve a good deal when it is necessary to evoke what I have just described. When we give it internally, however, we must realize that we are evoking the reaction of the upper human being by means of the activity stimulated in the digestive organs. If we apply carefully prepared lead ointment to the upper human being, we act directly on this upper system. In patients suffering from weaknesses in the head region—i.e., in which the upper human being develops neither a proper nerve-sense activity nor a proper breathing activity—we will be able to achieve a great deal with such lead cures, provided we do not go too far and cause lead-poisoning.

We must take into account something else with everything we may gather from the presentations in the last few days and in the previous course. It is most important to be aware of a great contrast here. Those substances tending more toward silver have a polar relationship to those tending more toward lead. In regard to these matters our classifications of minerals are most deficient. These defects are fundamental, for a reasonable classification of minerals would have to take into account these family relationships of the metals. We should see lead and its compounds at one pole, and at the other pole silver, while gold, for example, would be in the middle, and the other metals arrayed appropriately. I call silver and lead opposites because silver acts directly on the metabolic- limb system, especially on its periphery, on the part of the metabolic-limb organism that lies nearer the surface. Lead acts, likewise, on the part of the head organism lying closer to the surface. Thus silver stimulates the nerve-sense activity in the metabolic-limb system and from there calls forth the activity that permeates the whole body and that stimulates the breathing in everything that yesterday I called a metamorphosis of the central heart organ.

On the other hand, what proceeds from lead works on the nerve-sense activity of the head and on the breathing activity stimulated from there. Hence it stimulates the head formation, lung formation, and liver formation, that is, the organs belonging to the other path of metamorphosis. These organs in a sense surround the other organization of the human being, just as the lungs surround the heart, showing us the archetypal form of that which, as the “circulatory human being,” is in a certain respect the whole human being. We have the lungs surrounding the heart, the lungs embracing, as it were, the circulatory being with the respiratory being. Likewise, when we study the human being in regard to his brain formation, lung formation, and liver formation, that is, the whole upper posterior human being, we have a more all-encompassing breathing embracing all the blood vessels together with the heart. The digestive organization and also the sexual organization are surrounded in this way by the upper posterior human being. The human organization is such that the upper posterior human being surrounds the lower anterior human being. We must thoroughly understand the mutual relationships and differentiations of the upper posterior human being and the lower anterior human being, which comes to expression primarily in the interrelationship of heart and lungs; we must study this properly, the rhythmic interplay involved in this, the nerve-sense activity lying above and to the back, and the opposite pole in the metabolic-limb processes lying below and to the front. We must study the other manifestations of the upper and lower human being, and only then will we have the whole human being before us. Only in this way can we then master his other processes as well.

From this starting point, we will move on tomorrow to a special discussion of our individual remedies. In doing so, we will naturally be led to deal with some of the questions that have been posed here.