Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Broken Vessels
GA 318

Lecture XI

Dornach, 18th September, 1924

Pastoral medicine as we think of it here will only be recognized as something from spiritual research that has meaning when humankind once more possesses a common consciousness of a spiritual realm containing positive, active forces. For naturally in an age that has developed materialism, it is inconceivable to the ordinary human being that anyone could have seen something worthy of notice in the spiritual world. But this really happened in the old mysteries. Individuals saw into spiritual realms and found knowledge there that led to valuable cures. And what we still have to say today to round off our studies may perhaps provide a connection to that old mystery wisdom for the medical stream that should now emanate from the Goetheanum.

Indeed this impulse is understood most correctly in its historical connection if what is intended here is thought of as having developed out of the research methods (although, of course, quite different in form) and the artistic healing practices of the old mysteries. Obviously you will have to regard what has been offered in this short course as just a stimulus, as in a certain sense just the first chapter, the beginning of a pastoral medicine that will develop further through the work that is still to be done here by Dr. Wegman and me.

So first I would like to point out how the initiates in the old mysteries described their path of initiation, particularly that path that was pursued at the place where the mysteries were most involved in the secrets of healing. Actually all the mysteries were connected with secrets of healing, but some more than others. They were all connected with them because healing was regarded as related to the entire evolution of human civilization. There were deep reasons for this. People of those ancient times said: When the human being comes down out of spiritual worlds into the physical-earth world through conception and birth, the soul-spiritual entity undergoes a transformation by which it is able to form a physical human body. We have described how this achievement takes place for the first time through the activity of the individual during the first seven years of life. The first body had been given through heredity, the body that in the course of the first seven or eight years is entirely stripped off.

Thus it was conceived very exactly in the ancient mysteries how one came out of spiritual worlds into the world of the physical senses. But there was a universal recognition that a person does not in the first place unite with the physical body in the way that was originally intended by the spiritual powers who direct humanity. It was always believed that through some anomaly of the general evolution the forces that a human being inherits overpower in a certain sense the forces that are brought through the individuality from former earth-lives. This seemed to show a lack of harmony. It was said: If there were complete harmony between soul-and-spirit and physical body in earthly humans, death would not have the form it now has; nor would illness come in the way it now comes. Illness and death were regarded as the symptoms that show that human beings indeed have more to do with the physical-earth world than they were originally meant to. Although today this can no longer be completely understood, still it is an extremely profound idea in which there is very much truth. For the moment one reaches a higher level of consciousness even to a slight degree, one sees at once that death is quite different in character. It appears as a metamorphosis rather than the end of a phase of life.

Therefore for the entire ancient consciousness the education of the human being was related to healing. The entire educational process in very ancient times of human evolution was thought of primarily from a medical point of view. Connected with this was the recognition that the mysteries united the professions of physician and priest, both of whom should be concerned with the healing of human beings on earth. Usually in olden times physician and priest were united in one person. This could only happen out of the old instinctive consciousness; today it would not be possible, at least not as an accepted custom. This recognition of the importance of healing, which was strong even in normally healthy persons, was related for every human being to their knowledge that after the metamorphosis they would undergo through death, they would be guided through their life between death and rebirth on their path to the sun by souls who on earth had been physicians or priests. The first need of every human being after death was to find the sun path — because there they would work out part of what they had to experience between death and rebirth. And these first steps had to be shown to them by a physician or a priest. So it was thought in ancient times. This was included in the deepest mystery wisdom. For us today this wisdom must be regarded differently because the old methods are no longer suitable for us. However, at this present time they can be renewed. Indeed that renewal is to be attempted right here.

When ancient initiates described their initiation they would say that after they had crossed the threshold they were first made acquainted with the activity of the elements. In olden times, “elements” was the name given to what today would be called physical conditions. That is, the solid, which was called “earth”; all fluids, which were called “water”; everything gaseous, which was called “air”; and everything to do with “warmth,” which was ascribed to the warmth ether and which was called an element. Modern physicists deny all this. For them these four elements do not exist. For them there are from sixty to eighty elements, which have qualities. Under certain conditions one is fluid, another solid or gaseous. The condition of warmth belongs to all. What was described as an element in olden times does not exist today. There are now only qualities of things; the qualities have no existence of their own. What today are called elements are actually only “real” in the coarse, tangible physical world. And what in olden times were called elements were understood not as reaching down into tangible matter itself, but only to the intangible, living activity of matter.

It was of no particular importance to an ancient physician whether something was this or that substance with this or that name. Naturally this is important, but it only becomes so after one has first obtained full view of something else, of the living, weaving activity of the substance. Thus one can study a substance in a place where it is exposed to weather conditions. The ancient physicians laid great value on studying a substance while it was being exposed to the weather, to the whole earth process. Also they took care that they did not simply take some substance out of the mineral kingdom if it could be obtained from the plant kingdom. In other words, they looked at the position the substance had in the world process by virtue of its living activity. But to understand that, one needs to accept the concept of the four elements. For then it is of prime importance in what temperature a substance becomes earth, for instance; in what temperature it becomes solid, or fluid, or air. That was the important thing in olden times, to observe what world process must happen so that some substance or other would take on a particular form. That was the first requirement. After that, the substance was examined without restriction. Today one starts out from the substance; formerly one started out from the process. And in fact any substance is only a process suspended at a certain stage. Formerly people were above all concerned with the whole weaving life within the material substance. And so initiates described how they were led to a vision of the weaving life of matter and of how it appeared to them as a fabric woven of the four elements. That was the first experience.

The second description everyone gave, which presented the second step for them, was this: they were led to a place where they could learn to know the “upper and lower gods.” What does that mean? We have already described that, but in a modern way. I told you that if the soul-spiritual entity enters too deeply into the physical and etheric bodies, these bodies overpower the soul-spiritual entity, creating a pathological condition — an aberration of the soul-spiritual entity in the physical-etheric organism. There is, then, this pathological situation, that such people have descended more deeply into the physical organism than they should in ordinary waking life, and down below encounter nonhuman, subnatural activity. For only when we have a normal relation between our soul and spirit and our physical-etheric organism do we live in the natural world. The moment we descend too deeply, too intensely into physical corporeality, we come into relation with the subnatural. We fall to a level at which elemental beings, beings of higher hierarchies at various stages of their development, are all active. We come into relation with those gods who are unfolding their activity below the level of nature.

How would ancient initiates have spoken if they had wanted to use a more neutral expression, veiling the facts so that no one would understand them except other initiates? How could they have implied that they had been led to the lower gods? An ancient initiate would have said: I have learned to know the nature of human illnesses. For that leads to the lower gods.

Now look in the other direction, at the life of the saint: this also, as I have shown you, can be at the borderline between normal and pathological. It can happen that the soul-spiritual entity goes out farther than it should, enhancing the sleep condition. The ancient initiates described their introduction to this state as meeting with the upper gods. Put schematically (see drawing), this corresponds to the facts: nature, subnature, supernature. Visionary life, through the clairvoyant faculty that leads an individual into the spiritual world: the initiate called this “meeting with the upper gods.”

Diagram 1

Now when we speak of upper and lower gods someone can very easily entertain the false idea that it concerns rank. You must think of it in this way: if I simply say nature, subnature, supernature, illness, visionary life, then I am tempted to think of the lower gods as being of a lower order. But that is not true. In reality it is like the drawing below.

Imagine we have nature; then above, it leads to a circle; below, it leads to a circle; and what is above joins what is below. If we draw the circle larger and larger, and continue to draw it larger, we finally get a straight line. A piece of circle that continues on, after it has gone into infinity, comes back from the other side. This shows that the terms “upper” and “lower” are not to be understood as signs of rank, but simply as different ways that the gods come to human beings. They have been thought of as working in equal rank with one another, of striving to unite at a point in infinity. Therefore everything in olden times that was either illness or clairvoyance was thought to show that those who gained an understanding of those two human conditions, would then see into the spiritual world. One way to know about the spiritual world was to become well acquainted with illness and with clairvoyance.

Diagram 2

When we understand this, we are able to bring into our own modern age what was present in human consciousness in olden times. If we ask what can be identified in modern consciousness with the realm of the lower gods, the answer must be — the Being whom we call the Father when we think of the divine Trinity. The Father belongs in the most eminent sense to subnature. How are we to think about the Father God with truly spiritual comprehension?

Let us consider human beings, first in day-waking consciousness, then in night-sleeping consciousness, and let us compare the two states. We know that in full waking consciousness individuals are living as they have been placed to live within the order of this physical world. Just as the earth has had earlier stages of evolution — Saturn, Sun, Moon — and will undergo further evolution, so must humans themselves be recognized as the result of those earlier evolutionary periods. In this sense they belong in their waking state to the earth; by their nature they stand within the sphere of the earth. In waking condition they stand on a level with nature.

It is not the same when human beings sleep. When we are asleep our physical and etheric bodies lie on the bed, and our astral body and ego are outside them. Let us look at the physical and etheric bodies. Of what do we consist, lying there in our physical and etheric bodies? We have — of course, at a more advanced stage — what we received in the old Saturn evolution and the old Sun evolution. That is now further evolved; we have the further development of our Saturn and Sun existence now during sleep. We do not have our Moon existence in what lies there on the bed. Nature has progressed from Moon existence to Earth existence. And the fact that the sleep condition is essential to us means that nature preserves in the sleeping human being a nature that is now below, a nature that only existed during the Saturn and Sun periods. That is subnature. That lies at the foundation of all beings through the fact that there is a human race. Humans fall during sleep into subnature, and from this fall illnesses appear. That is the realm of the Father God. When we sleep we enter the realm of the Father God, we enter subnature, the realm of the Father.

Human clairvoyance helps illuminate the members of the human being that during sleep are outside the physical and etheric bodies: that is, the ego and astral body. When we become conscious in them, we are in the opposite condition, the opposite pole to illness and have entered the realm of the Spirit with the astral body and ego.

So we can see that the human being is organized on earth in such a way that one is able to go out from nature in two directions, in the direction of subnature to the Father, and in the direction of supernature to the Spirit. Since the Mystery of Golgotha, Christ has been the mediator for both worlds. He is the one who permeates the world of nature, the one who permeates normal human existence. He has always to create harmony between subnature and supernature. Subnature is always kept in balance by the normal course of sleeping and waking. Supernature is kept in balance by those seers who are able to return to their ordinary human life at will. If someone is unable upon waking from sleep to balance what is experienced in subnature, then there is illness in the physical and etheric bodies. If someone is unable to bring back into the full waking state, into the natural course of earth-life, what is experienced clairvoyantly in the realm of the spirit, then there are soul illnesses or spiritual illnesses. This is the other pole.

Let us now consider physical illness. What happens when the healing process starts? The human being is led from the experience of subnature to the experience of nature, from the Father to Christ. For Christ is the spiritual life in nature. That is in reality what the physician does. It is the physician's task to know how a person fallen to subnature is brought back to Christ, after the Father has given the leadership over to Christ the Son. That puts into modern speech what mystery wisdom would express. After initiates have attained a Christ-consciousness here on earth, they are led on the one side to the Father, on the other side to the Spirit. If then they are aware how their path leads from the Father to Christ, they will find all the healing processes on this path.

Here the modern mystery begins, the mystery that creates a great test for real medical science. It is this to which I must point at the conclusion of this pastoral medicine course, so that there shall flow from it what should first of all bestow healing upon physicians. We can assume that they will gradually learn the separate healing measures that we have shown in this course by learning which are the defective organs and then what in outer nature corresponds to them and will work with spiritual power. Thus we introduce spirit as the healing agent into the human body. The physicians will learn how it is done in a given case. This will all build up for them into a complete knowledge. This living knowledge that they attain will be different from the current conventional knowledge. If today you open your pathology text or a medical textbook and study it thoroughly, at the end you are no further along than you were at the beginning. Granted, you have digested the entire contents, but even while you worked at it chapter after chapter, still you were making no progress in your general human attitude. It is the nature of real knowledge that it impels one to grow in one's entire human attitude.

If you take up medicine in this sense and as it was meant in this pastoral medicine course, you will advance step by step. And the result will be nothing less than that you can say to yourselves: Now that I have my medical training behind me, I understand all that transpired at the Mystery of Golgotha, up to the moment when Christ went through the gate of death. You will understand the passage of Christ from the Father to the death on Golgotha. That is the mystery. One may not believe at first that medicine is related to this mystery, but it is. It is so truly related that through your understanding of the processes of healing, you will grasp what happened in the cosmos when the Father sent the Son to undergo the death on Golgotha. You will see in the death on Golgotha not death but the working together of all that happened at the death. That was not a death but the overcoming of death and the healing of all mankind. That is the path of the physician, from Father to Son until the Son dies on Golgotha. All separate pieces of medical knowledge bring one a step further toward the final comprehension of this Mystery.

Pastoral medicine is not only what the pastor and the physician are to practice together, it is what is to be brought together so that first through the physician one part of the Mystery of Golgotha can be really understood. That is the high point, the ultimate achievement of medicine: to comprehend all human illness in such a way that one sees the Mystery of Golgotha up to the death as a tremendous healing process. The pathology of evolving humanity and the therapy, the dying on the cross — these will be seen in their true connection when we have real medicine.

The priest has to follow all that is experienced by human beings when they leave their body and enter the other world, the world of the spirit. Thereby priests become more and more aware of the relation of a human being to the Spirit, to the spiritus sanctus, the Holy Spirit. And their path is that of mediation between the Spirit and the Son, the Christ, of developing theology so it will find the way from Christ to the Spirit, from the Spirit to Christ. A great sum of knowledge and life experience can be acquired on this path along which one has to lead one's fellow humans from the Spirit to Christ, from Christ to the Spirit. Its highest service must be that the successive stages of theology are able to clarify the meaning of Christ's path after the death on Golgotha. For his going through the death on Golgotha was the great healing event. Then the question arises: what faculty does this healing event create in human beings that will help them to enter the spiritual world? Theology must have for its crowning endeavor the comprehension of what is happening to the Christ individuality since He went through the death on Golgotha.

Christ's path to Golgotha: the peak of the physician's path.
Christ's path after Golgotha: the peak of the priest's path.

For many contemporary theologians, the two paths seem to have no connection whatever. There are theologians today who do not want to know anything about the risen Spirit and the further activity of the Christ. But if we speak in the sense of a renewal of the mysteries, then the event of Golgotha, the Mystery of Golgotha belongs to it. And then we can say that the path by which the ancient initiate came to initiation could be described in this way: I was led through the elements to the lower and higher gods. The modern initiate would describe it as follows: I have been led through what dissolves the elements into their active processes — the elements are now the chemical elements, eighty of them, that dissolve when they enter into any process — and I am led further, to the Father below and the Spirit above. I perceive the activity of Christ on both paths.

If you would like to take a summary of this course with you for your esoteric study, then take these words:

I will follow the path
That dissolves the elements into activity,
And leads me down to the Father
Who sends illness to work out karma,
And leads me up to the Spirit
Who guides the erring soul toward freedom.
The Christ leads downward and upward,
Creating Spirit-Man in earth humanity
In harmonious union.

Ich werde gehen den Weg,
Der die Elemente in Geschehen löst
Und mich führt nach unten zum Vater
Der die Krankheit schickt zum Ausgleich des Karma
Und mich führt nach oben zum Geiste
Der die Seele in Irrtum zum Erwerb der Freiheit leitet
Christus führt nach unten und nach oben
Harmonisch Geistesmensch in Erdenmenschen zeugend.

When you have become completely permeated by the content of this brief meditation, you will have taken livingly into your spirit what I wanted to give in this course.