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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Curative Education
GA 317

Lecture VIII

3 July 1924, Dornach

To begin with, dear friends, I want to show you the drawings done by this boy here, of whom we shall be speaking later on. He makes very good pictures. He has a feeling for detail; the drawings give evidence of a clear grasp of detail. Notice in this one, for instance, how accurately he has perceived everything. Here is another, where you can see how he plans and arranges his picture. Evidently he likes to do things in the way he learns to do them at school. And this is how it is done in our school here; and then each child is left free to fill in the picture in his own way. As you will see, we are economical and always use both sides of the paper. (Turning to the boy) Allow me now to draw you on the blackboard. There, that is what I wanted you for!

(Another child is brought in.) Bring the little one over here; that will be best—so.

Just look how tremendously large the head can become in a hydrocephalic child! We will discuss presently how that happens. The head actually measures 64 cm. When we first admitted the child, the measurement was 44 cm.1If accurately reported, this must refer to the earlier time when the child was first brought to the Clinic for advice. On the 25th February it was nearly 54 cm, by the 7th April it had increased to 56 cm, and between the 7th and 11th it grew still bigger. On the 19th April the measurement was more than 58 cm, on the 28th May it had risen to nearly 61 cm and on the 1st July to 64 cm. Otherwise, the child's bodily development has not been at all abnormal; he is just like any other child. He takes hold of things, he has a very good appetite, and with the exception of one crisis he has been cheerful and happy.

You can get an idea of the size of the head by looking at the little ears which are of course of ordinary size; you will at the same time notice just where the enlargement begins. It begins, you see, here, and then continues in this direction. The face is not affected; it is a little swollen and puffy, but not enlarged. As you look at the child, you will very likely think that he is perceiving things with his eyes. As a matter of fact, he has no more than a general impression of light—no precise impressions at all.

And now we have to take note of the tragic fact that just before I came here to give these lectures I received a telegram to say that the father of the child has died of a heart attack.

If you look at the child as a whole, and compare it with the form and proportions of an embryo, you will find that you have in this child nothing else than a giant embryo! You can see quite plainly that he has remained at the embryo stage, his growth in the post-embryo stage continuing to accord with the laws of growth of the embryo stage. That we have not up to now succeeded in achieving any reduction in the size of the head must be attributed to the extraordinary strength with which the internal tendencies that make for enlargement are working. I am however quite hopeful that after a certain point has been reached, we shall be able definitely to bring the head more nearly into harmony with the rest of the body. The child is in all other respects quite a jolly little fellow.

A striking fact that comes home to us when studying the riddles of human nature is that abnormalities of this kind throw great light upon the life of man as a whole—not only upon the life of man, but upon the life of the entire universe.

(Some extracts from the history of the case are read out.) The child was six months old when he came to us. He was born in August last year, and received from me his name; it was just in the time when I was away in England. The birth was normal. The mother was strong and healthy throughout the time of pregnancy. Please note these facts carefully; later on we shall have to find their interpretation. And let me ask for your special attention to what I said last—that the mother felt particularly well during the pregnancy. In this time she did a great deal of typing. There was nothing strange or unusual to be seen in the child at birth. Mark that well: at birth—that is to say, immediately on his being let go, as it were, from the embryo condition—the child showed nothing unusual. The embryo condition had, you see, been normal throughout; not until after the child started breathing with the lungs did abnormality begin. The umbilical cord was wound round the neck; the amniotic fluid contained meconium. The baby weighed 5 ¾ lb. Two weeks after birth he had convulsions—a solitary attack; an important fact to note, for it provides the first clear evidence that the ego organisation and the astral body are finding it impossible to make their way into the physical and the ether body. The child hit out around him with his arms and got blue in the face. Blueness is always a sign of inability to dive down into the physical body. If it is very marked, it has a more individual significance. It may mean nothing else than that the astral body had at birth a strong and pronounced configuration. For this, you know, can happen; as it did with Goethe, who was born quite blue and could only after some time be induced to receive into him the astral body and ego organisation. In the child now before us, the convulsions (and blueness) occurred of course later. Development is said to have been entirely normal during the first half year. It was not entirely normal; but the lack of right relationship between head and limbs escaped observation in the earliest months, and was noticed only later on. The child was breast-fed. The head was at birth noticeably small, which goes to show that the causes of the trouble are not to be sought in any weakness of the nerves-and-senses organisation. From September onwards, we are told, the size of the head began very gradually to increase. It began of course earlier than this. The mother did not yet consider the head abnormal at a time when it must already have grown to a considerable size. The enlargement of the head was noticed only when the discovery was made that in one week the child had put on weight to the extent of nearly 1 lb. In the middle of December the head measured 19 inches. The child was quiet, and did not cry much; he was apathetic. The fontanels were taut. Appetite was good. Blisters filled with pus began to form on the skin of the head. Appetite and evacuation of the bowels were good. And then the child was brought to us.

What we have to do, when such a case is brought to us, is to take the facts as they lie there before us—and among them the most important of all are of course whatever we can observe for ourselves by simply looking at the child—and then, working from these, win our way through to where we can “behold” also the spiritual in the child. Following this line of investigation we were able to see that the child carries in him an astral body which bears clearly and unmistakably the characteristic features of the astral body of the mother. The mother was of course present at the time. Seldom indeed does one come upon such a striking resemblance as here stood revealed! The same cannot be said of the ego organisation. The ego is still no more than rudimentary; it reminds one of an ego organisation such as children have in the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. The child has in fact remained at that stage. Owing to the astral body being so extraordinarily strongly developed, the ego organisation seems to have missed sharing in the life and development of the last months of pregnancy. And now, after birth, the child retains within him, thanks to this powerful astral body, all the forces he had in the embryo time.

Let me at this point remind you that in the first few months after birth, the orientation of the embryo time virtually continues, with the result that in these first months the development of a child outside the body of the mother still bears a strong resemblance to its development in the embryo time. How are we to account for this? The radical change which the bodily nature of the child undergoes at birth is concerned, first or all, with the breathing system. The child comes into connection with the outside air. But now this connection with the air does not establish itself all at once, but only slowly; a considerable time has to go by before it is extended over the whole organism. The connection with the air has its influence upon the organism from the beginning, as we very well know. Nevertheless, the complete establishment of the connection throughout the organism is a gradual process. Consequently, in the earliest months, since the embryonic forces continue to work as before, there may frequently be no sign of any such devastation as can show itself in the organism later on, if infantilism goes so far as it does in the child before us; for we have in him an extreme instance of infantilism, where the embryo organisation is simply retained and continued.

Now, the characteristic feature of the embryo organisation is, as you know, that we have there to do with an immense head organisation and a small body. The head organisation owes its origin entirely to the co-operation of cosmic forces. Almost everything that takes place with the head organisation in the embryo condition is to be regarded as a work of cosmic forces. The mother's womb provides the place where the work that is going on can be protected from the intrusion of earthly forces. You must think of the mother's womb as a bodily organ that encloses a space, shutting away this space from earthly influences, so that it can be reserved for cosmic influences alone. Thus we have in the womb of the mother a space that stands in immediate connection with the cosmos, a space within which cosmic influences have free play. And there, in that enclosed space, the development of the head organisation goes forward.

When the time comes for the human forces of the mother's womb, in so far as these do receive the child at all—when the time comes for these human forces of the womb to work upon the child, then the metabolism-and-limbs organisation begins to let itself be orientated into these forces. In this child, the cosmic forces have simply continued their working into the post-embryo condition. The cosmic forces have had here the ascendancy over what should have been provided for by the strength and forces that normally a child receives in addition for his earthly development, notably for the development of the system of metabolism and limbs. What follows from this is obvious. For suppose the child had remained longer in the womb of the mother. It is of course an absurd hypothesis, but suppose the child had remained there beyond the ten months, what would have happened? The head would have gone on growing, and the limbs would not have been able to develop. For there, in the mother's womb, it is the extra-earthly, the cosmic, in the human being, that alone is given opportunity to grow.

And now we have to ask ourselves the question: What has led to this condition? And here I must say, it is most significant, it is indeed quite startling, that in the very moment when we are going to speak together about this whole strange case, a telegram is handed in, telling that the father has died of a heart attack. The following became clear to me and I confirmed it afterwards from the mother's memory. For I felt it necessary to ask her: “Did you not have a rather special feeling in your soul during pregnancy?” I even worded the question as follows: “Were you not sorry that the child did not remain within you instead of coming into the world?” The mother assented to this. She had founded her whole connection with the child upon the close association of the embryo period; as far as her feeling was concerned, the situation was that she was sorry she could not keep the child with her in the womb, she was sorry when it was torn away from her by the event of birth. This feeling on the part of the mother points on the one hand to an extraordinarily strong karmic connection between her and the child; on the other hand it has provided the conditions under which the forces that are active in the embryo time have been able to remain in the child. The abnormality of soul begins, you see, in the mother, and as one would naturally expect with such a deep karmic connection, transfers itself to the child.

The relationships of life are very complicated, and it is not at all easy always to see everything in its right connection. Many a time, however, the facts themselves will place the things together for our perception; and they do so here. Look at what has happened! Not a year has gone by since the child was born, and the father dies of a heart attack. There is always some connection to be found in such events; they don't just “happen”. The father had for a long time been suffering from a diseased heart. Now, you know what a strong connection there is between heart disease and the condition of the limbs. Under the influence of certain kinds of heart disease, the organisation of the legs will grow weak at once; for just the most important and essential part of the limbs, namely the tissues of the joints and the synovial fluid, suffer in consequence of heart disease. And then you must remember that, in the relationships of heredity, it is the limb organisation that is more strongly influenced by the father, and the head organisation by the mother. Now imagine, conception takes place. In certain circumstances it can happen that an incapacity on the part of the father to bring the forces of his organisation into the limbs is transferred to the child; in which case the head organisation, which is under the influence of the mother, is bound to undergo an inordinate development. And now you have the explanation of the fact that the mother loved to have the child in her womb. It was because the child received but little of heredity forces from the father, and the mother was accordingly able to make the main contribution.

There you have then a description of the case that is before us. And you must know that such a case is typical of a great number of children suffering from abnormality. For what you have observed in this child is an extreme instance of infantilism—an infantilism, namely, that goes back to the embryo condition; and you will find infantilism in all possible forms throughout the stages of child development. Here it is the embryo condition which, like an overgrown plant, spreads itself out over the later development; but the first epoch of life may do the same, extending its working beyond the change of teeth. Or again, just as there can be this failure to grow and develop rightly into the post-embryo condition, so can it also happen that a boy or girl does not grow into the third epoch of life in the right way. There are children who attain puberty in the outward sense, but do not with their full and entire constitution grow into the epoch that lies between puberty and the beginning of the twenties; such children retain instead during that epoch the orientation of the forces that work between the seventh and fourteenth year. Actually a whole succession of infantilisms can be met with. We have here the absolutely radical example; and it is fortunate from a medical and educational point of view that you should have opportunity to observe in this extreme case what you will be able to detect, to a lesser extent and in less pronounced form, in a vast number of backward children.

Our purpose in today's lecture is to make adequate preparation for passing on tomorrow to the therapy and pathology of the cases in question; I will accordingly confine myself to giving descriptions of the cases, and then tomorrow we will carry our consideration of the same to a conclusion and speak also of their pedagogical aspect.

You saw, at the beginning of the lecture, the boy of whom you may well be inclined to ask: Why ever is he brought forward for demonstration? A sensible question, for when you make his acquaintance in an ordinary superficial way, you can hardly do otherwise than find him a kindly disposed and friendly little boy, who learns painting just as other children do, who answers you quite properly and with perfect friendliness when you speak to him, a little boy, in fact, with whom you could quite happily converse by the hour. Is it not so? Those who have to do with him will tell you that it is as I have said. You would not be able to notice anything abnormal about the child, and would perhaps say to yourself: “Strange people these Anthroposophists! They put their children in a clinic for treatment, when all the time they are children who might well be held up as an example to other children!” The fact is, the boy is a kleptomaniac. You would never think it! But that is due to a characteristic feature of kleptomania—namely, its almost complete isolation from the rest of the soul life. And in this boy you will find that consciousness—which should, generally speaking, send its light into all the events and doings that occur in the life of man—is simply shut out from his kleptomaniac actions. You will have the distinct feeling that he himself has very little knowledge of what he is doing, in spite of the fact that he carries it out—and please note this!—in a most clever and crafty manner. He had to be expelled when he went to school in Berne, and again also when he attended a school in another town; and he had arranged everything so slyly, that the authorities had to go to no end of trouble before they could establish grounds for his expulsion.

The boy is not at all egoistic in the matter. He is quite capable of making presents to his friends of the things that he steals in this wily manner, or of spending it all on some jollification in order to give them pleasure. The whole situation leads to the development of a special form of not altogether conscious lying; for he does not himself know exactly what has happened, the details of the event not being shone upon by the light of consciousness. He will relate the most incredible stories to explain how he has come by some object, which he has of course simply stolen. He will show you, with real shyness, just how he found the things and just where they all were, making a long story of how it all came about. There is really something impish about the way these thefts take place. If I understood Frau Dr. Wegman aright, quite a long time can elapse during which it seems as though the boy has become a perfectly well-behaved little fellow, and then suddenly one day, without our knowing that he has taken anything it will transpire that something is missing out of someone's pocket. In a curious way different people will begin to make the discovery that things of theirs are simply disappearing. So then we would be confronted with these two facts side by side. On the one hand, the strange report of the dematerialisation of things in the Clinic, and on the other hand the knowledge that the boy had been compelled to leave one school after another. For that was known to us from his past history. These two facts stood there together, side by side.

It is, moreover, you will agree, an unpleasant situation suddenly to be placed under the necessity of supposing that it might also be some adult who had taken the things! We have in the Clinic at present fifty-two persons, and it might be this one or that one, one simply did not know. What one did know was that a spiritualist would have had here a grand opportunity to make a full and thorough explanation of how things dematerialise! A whole theory of the dematerialisation of objects could have been built up.

We have the child here with us in the Clinic, and I would like you to observe him and notice how firmly the head organisation is compressed here (at the temples) and how it goes apart here (towards the back of the head). As to the spiritual findings, they are to the effect that the parts of the astral body belonging to the several organs are extraordinarily strongly developed, particularly here on the left side. Externally, you will not find much else to note about the boy.

And now be so good as to bring in the other child. We will speak about methods of treatment tomorrow.

(The next child is brought in.) Look at her! A dear little girl! Charming, is she not? Look at her lovely fair hair. An interesting incident has taken place with this little girl. One day the children were left alone together for a short time. They were on very friendly terms with one another; and presently the boy whom you saw the day before yesterday got the idea that he must go and find some scissors. It was this little girl of course who made him fetch the scissors. Being a polite and obedient little gentleman, he brought them to her. What did she do, but cut off all her hair! As you see, not at all a conventional young lady! And now I would especially draw your attention to her lovely blue eyes, and then to her fair hair with its beautiful lustre. You can see at once, the child is very sulphurous. And she is so in her behaviour too—extraordinarily sulphurous. A dear child, but with this strongly marked sulphurous quality. She is always on the go and full of vigour. (The girl bites at Dr. Steiner's arm.) She is only biting my sleeve. She weighed at birth a little under 4 ¼ lb., but had been carried in the womb for the full nine months. Thus the embryo period had been gone through in the regular manner. The child was breast-fed for seven months, and when a year old learned to walk. That is a comparatively early age to learn to walk, but not abnormal. She learned also to talk at the right time. Development continued to give the appearance of being normal. By the time she was a year and a half the child had ceased to wet the bed, although she still wet herself during the day, but never any more at night. Here, you see, is already an abnormality, in the fact that this weakness in the child's organisation makes itself evident only when the astral body is present, and not when the astral body has been removed.

A year and a half ago, when she was three and a half years old—note that this is exactly half-way through the epoch of the first seven years and is a moment of great importance, as is also the corresponding moment in the second epoch, half-way between the seventh and fourteenth years—when three and a half years old, the child had headaches with high fever, and immediately afterwards measles. She was a child who readily caught illnesses. Since that time, she has been particularly restless and excitable. The mother too was ill at the same time with influenza and has also been restless since, and easily upset. You see the parallelism between mother and child. The child's appetite is always poor. And yet she is a fine, sturdy little girl, with powerful limbs. As you know, however, the organisation of the limbs is not built up, so far as substance is concerned, from food, but from the cosmos via the breathing and the activity of the senses. It is in the head that you will find the results of this poorness of appetite. A poor appetite, which means then of course impaired nutrition, affects the activity of the child's head. The little girl is lively and imaginative; she is restless, not merely in her body, but in her thoughts too. It can plainly be seen in her that her imagination and fantasy come not from the head but from the limbs. Her head organisation is very weak, her limb organisation particularly strong. Clearly, her life of fantasy comes from her limbs.

The child often has restless dreams. Now, it is important to take careful note of how she dreams—in particular, whether the dreams occur just after falling asleep or before waking up. Up to now, according to this report of her case, it is the former alone that have been observed. But the waking-up dreams must also come under observation. If we can bring her now and then to relate these, they will be found to reveal much that is of very great interest for us when they are in this way recalled to memory. We must get her to tell them to us.

These then are the three cases I wanted to put before you. Tomorrow we will meet again at 8:30 and speak about methods of treatment.