An Outline of Anthroposophical Medical Research
28-29 August 1924, London
Whatever may arise in course of time from anthroposophy, in regard to the sphere of medical knowledge, it will not be found to be in any disagreement whatsoever with that which is understood to-day as the orthodox scientific study of medicine. It is easy, in looking at the question from the scientific standpoint, to be deceived about this, because from the outset it is supposed that any study which is not founded upon so-called exact proof, must be of the nature of sectarianism, and cannot therefore be taken seriously by the scientific observer.
For this reason it is necessary to remark that it is just that point of view which seeks to support medicine upon an anthroposophical basis, which is the most appreciative of, and the most sympathetic towards all that is best and greatest in modern medical achievements.
There cannot therefore be any question that the following statements are merely the polemics of dilettantism, or unprofessionalism, leveled against recognised methods of healing. The whole question turns solely upon the fact that during the last few centuries our entire world-conception has assumed a form which is limited by investigation only into those things which can be confirmed by the senses — either by means of experiment, or by direct observation — and which are then brought into relation with one another through those powers of human reasoning which rely upon the testimony of the senses alone.
This method of research was nevertheless entirely justifiable during several hundred years, because if it had been otherwise, mankind would have become immersed in a world of dreams and fantasies, would have been forced to a capricious acceptance of things, and to a barren weaving of hypotheses.
That is connected with the fact that man, as he lives in the world between birth and death, is a being who cannot truly know himself by means of his physical senses and his reason alone — because he is just as much a spiritual as a physical being.
So that when we come to speak of man in health and in disease we can do no less than ask ourselves: Is it possible to gain a knowledge of health and disease only by those methods of research which concern the physical body; purely with the assistance of the senses and the reason, or by the use of instruments which extend the faculties of the senses and enable us to carry out experiments?
We shall find that a real, unprejudiced, historical retrospect shows us that the knowledge which mankind has gained originated from something totally different from these mere sense-observations. There lies behind us an immense development of our spiritual life, no less than of our physical.
Some three thousand years ago, during the flowering of the most ancient Greek culture, there existed schools that were very different from those of to-day. The basis of these ancient schools consisted in the belief that man had first of all to develop new faculties in his soul before he could become capable of attaining to true knowledge concerning mankind.
Now it was just because, in these ancient times, the more primitive soul-faculties did not incline towards the fantastic, that it was possible to experience, in the so-called mysteries, the spiritual foundations from which all forms of learning arose.
This state of things came to an end more or less contemporaneously with the founding of our Universities — during the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries. Since that time we learn only in a rationalistic way. Rationalism leads on the one hand to keen logic, and on the other hand to pure materialism.
During the course of centuries a vast store of external knowledge has been accumulated in the domain of biology, physiology, and other branches of research which are introductory to the study of medicine; indeed an amazing mass of observations, out of which an almost immeasurable amount may yet be obtained!
But during these centuries all knowledge connected with man which could not be gained without spiritual vision, sank completely out of sight.
It has therefore become actually impossible to investigate the true nature of health and disease.
In order to emphasise this remark, I may mention that even at the present time, according to the descriptions given in my books Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and An Outline Of Occult Science, it is possible so to raise the faculties of the soul that the spiritual nature of man may be clearly distinguished from the physical, This spiritual part of man is, for the spiritual observer, just as visible as the physical part is for the man who observes with his outer senses; with this difference, however, that our ordinary senses have been and are incorporated into our bodily organism without our co-operation, whereas we must ourselves develop the organs of spiritual sight.
This can be brought about if one unfolds within oneself an earnest life of thought. Such a state of living, of resting in quietude — in thought — must, however, be carried out so as to bring about a methodical education and transformation of the soul. If one can, so to say, experiment for a time with one's own soul, allowing it to rest within an easily grasped thought, at the same time permitting neither any traces of auto-suggestion nor any diminution of consciousness to arise, and if one in this way exercises the soul as one would exercise a muscle, then the soul grows strong. Methodically, one pursues the exercises further and further; the soul grows stronger, grows powerful, and becomes capable of sight.
The first thing that it sees is that the human being actually does not consist merely of physical body, which can be investigated either with the naked eye or with a microscope, and so forth, but that he also bears an etheric body. This is not to be confused with that which, in earlier scientific times, was somewhat amateurishly described as “vital forces.” It is something that can really be perceived and observed; and if I were to distinguish qualitatively between the physical body and the etheric body, I should choose, out of all the innumerable qualitative distinctions that exist, the following: — The physical body of man is subject to the laws of gravity; it tends to be drawn earthward. The etheric body tends to be drawn towards the periphery of the universe; that is to say, outwards, in all directions. As a rule, our investigations are concerned with the relative weight of things, but that part of the human organism which possesses weight is the direct opposite of that which not only has no weight but which strives to escape from the laws of gravitation. We have in us these two opposing forces.
This is the first of our super-physical bodies. We may say, then, that we have within us first of all the physical man, whose orientation is centripetal and tends earthwards, and another man, whose orientation is centrifugal and tends to leave the earth. It will be seen that a balance must be maintained between these two configurations of the human being — between the heavy physical body, which is subject to the laws of gravity, and the other, the etheric body, which strives outwards towards the farthest limits of the universe.
The etheric body seeks, as it were, to imitate, to be an image of the whole Cosmos; but the physical body rounds it off, and keeps it within its own limits.
Therefore, by contemplating the state of balance between the physical body and the etheric body, our perception of the nature of the human being becomes real and penetrating. Once we have succeeded in recognising these outward-streaming centrifugal forces in man, we shall be able to perceive them also in the vegetable kingdom. The mineral kingdom alone appears purely physical to us. In it we can trace no centrifugal forces. Minerals are subject to the laws of gravity. But in the case of plants we recognise their outer form as being the result of the two forces. At the same time it becomes apparent to us that we cannot remain at this point in our investigations if we wish to observe anything that is higher in the scale of organic life than the plants. The plant has its etheric body; the animal, when we observe it, possesses life, and also sensation. It creates, inwardly, a world; this fact arrests our attention, and we see that we must make yet deeper researches. Hence we realise that we must develop our ordinary state of consciousness still further.
Already, as I have shown, a certain stage will have been reached when we are able to see not merely the physical body of man, but the physical body embedded within the etheric body, as though in a kind of cloud. But that is not all; the more we strengthen our souls, the more we find greater and greater reality in our thoughts, and it then becomes possible to arrive at a further stage, which consists in suppressing these strong thoughts which have been made so powerful by our own efforts.
In ordinary life if we blot out by degrees our faculties of sight, of hearing, of sensation, and of thinking — we fall asleep. That is an experiment which may easily be carried out. But if one has strengthened the soul in the manner described by the training of thought, of the whole of one's life of concept and feeling, then one can actually learn to suppress the life of the senses. One then arrives at a condition where, above all things, one is not asleep but is very much awake. Indeed, it may even be that one has to guard against losing the power to sleep, while one is striving to reach this condition. If, however, one sets to work in the way I have indicated in my books, every precaution is taken to prevent any disturbances in the ordinary life.
One succeeds then in being completely awake, though one cannot hear as one hears with the ears. The ordinary memory, too, and ordinary thinking cease. One confronts the world with a perfectly empty but perfectly waking consciousness. And then one sees the third human organism — the astral.
Animals also possess this astral organism. In man it bestows the possibility of unfolding a real inner life of experience. Now this is something which is connected neither with the innermost depths of the earth nor with the wide expanse of the universe, but rather it is connected with a state of being inwardly penetrated by forces which are “seen” as the astral body. So now we have the third member of the human organisation.
If one learns to perceive this third member in the manner indicated above, one finds that from the scientific point of view it is indescribably illuminating. One says to oneself — the child grows up and becomes the man; his vital forces are active. But he is not only growing physically, his consciousness is developing at the same time; he is unfolding within himself an image of the outer world.
Can this be the result of physical growth? Can this be accomplished by the same forces that underlie nutrition and growth?
When the organic forces that underlie the latter gain the upper hand, the consciousness becomes dimmed. We need, therefore, something which is connected with these forces, and which is actually opposed to them. The human being is always growing and always being nourished. But he has within his astral body, as I have described it, something which is perpetually suppressing, inhibiting the forces of growth and nutrition.
So we have in man a process of construction through the physical body in conjunction with the earth; another process of construction through the etheric body in conjunction with the Cosmos, and through the astral body a continuous destruction of the organic processes in the cell-life and the glandular life.
That is the secret of the human organism.
Now we understand why it is that man possesses a soul. If he were to grow continuously like the plant, he could not have a soul. The process of growing must first be destroyed, for it expels the soul. If we had nothing in our brain but the process of building up, and no processes of breaking down and destruction, we could not contain the soul.
Evolution does not proceed in a straight line. It must retreat in one direction; it must give way. Herein lies the secret of humanity — of the ensouled being.
If we go no further than the consideration of the organisation of the animal, we find ourselves concerned only with its three principles — the physical, etheric, and astral. But if we proceed to the observation of man, we find, when we have progressed yet further with the training of our souls, that we spiritually perceive yet another principle.
Our spiritual perception of the animal discloses that its thinking, feeling, and willing are, in a certain sense, neutral in regard to one another; they are not clearly distinct. One cannot speak of a separate thinking, a separate feeling, and a separate willing, but only of a neutral blending of these three elements. But in the case of man, his inner life depends just upon the fact that he lays hold of his intentions by quiet thought, and that he can remain with his intentions; he can either carry them out in deeds, or not carry them out. The animal obeys its impulses. Man separates thinking, feeling, and willing from one another.
How this is so, can only be understood when one has carried one's power of spiritual perception far enough to observe the fourth principle of man's organisation — the “I am I” — or the Ego.
As we have just seen, the astral body breaks down the processes of growth and nutrition; in a sense, it introduces a gradual dying into the whole organism. The Ego redeems, out of this destructive process, certain elements which are continually falling away from the combination of the physical and etheric bodies, and rebuilds them.
That is actually the secret of human nature.
If one looks at the human brain, one sees — in those lighter parts which lie more below the superficial structures, and which proceed as nerve fibres to the sense organs — a most complicated organisation which, for those who can perceive it in its reality, is in a continual state of deterioration, although so slowly does this take place that it cannot be observed by ordinary physiological means. But, out of all this destruction, that which differentiates man from the animals, namely, the peripheral brain, is built up. This is the foundation of the human organisation. With regard to man, naturally, the central brain (the continuation of the sensory nerves and their connections) is more perfect than the peripheral brain, which is, as a matter of fact, more akin to the metabolic processes than the deeper portions of the brain are.
This peripheral brain, which is peculiarly characteristic of man, is organised for these metabolic functions by the Ego-organisation — organised out of what otherwise is in a state of deterioration. 1The “Ego-organisation” denotes the whole of those attributes of the human being by means of which he attains his “sense of I am”. As hearing, sight, taste, etc. each have their “organs” of expression, so also has the Ego. In this case the “organ” is the entire physical body in its self-conscious contact with the outer world. And so the activity of the Ego permeates the entire organism.
The Ego redeems certain elements out of the ruin worked by the astral body, and builds out of them that which underlies an harmonious co-ordination of thinking, feeling, and willing.
I can of course only mention these things, but I wish to point out that one can proceed with the same exactitude when making observations spiritually as one can in any branch of external experimental science and with a full sense of responsibility; so that in every case one seeks for the agreement between what is spiritually observed and what is discovered by empirical physical methods of research. It is exactly the formation of the physical brain which leads one on to apprehend the super-physical, and to attain knowledge by spiritual investigation.
Thus we have these four members of the human organisation. These, in order to maintain health, must be in quite special relation to one another.
We only get water when we mix hydrogen and oxygen in accordance with their specific gravity. In the same way there is a determinative which brings about a normal relationship — if I may say so — between the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body, and the Ego.
We not only have four, but 4x4 relative states. All these can be disturbed. An abnormal relation may arise between the etheric and the physical bodies, or between the astral and etheric, or between the Ego and one or another of these. All are deeply connected with one another and are in a special relation to one another. The moment this is disturbed, illness arises.
But this relationship is not uniform throughout the human being; it differs in the different individual organs. If we observe, for instance, a human lung, the physical, etheric, astral, and Ego constituents of this lung are not the same as those of the brain or of the liver. Thus, the entire human organisation is so complicated that the spiritual and the material are differently related in every organ. Therefore, it will be understood that, just as one studies physical anatomy and physical physiology in accordance with external symptoms, so — when one admits the existence of this spiritual investigation, and practises it — one must study with the greatest exactitude the health and disease of every separate organ. In this way one always arrives at a complete and comprehensive knowledge of the human organism. It cannot be so understood if it is observed solely from the physical standpoint. It can only be known through a knowledge of its four principles. One is only clear about any illness when one is able to say which of these four principles either predominates too strongly or is too much suppressed. It is because one is able to observe these things in a spiritual manner that one actually places a spiritual diagnosis alongside the material diagnosis. Therefore what is gained by anthroposophical methods in seeing through the fourfold constitution of man, is gained in addition to all that it is possible to observe of health and disease by ordinary methods.
And further, it is not only possible to behold man spiritually but also the whole of Nature. One is now, for the first time, in a position to find man's relation to the various kingdoms of Nature, and, in medicine, his relation to the healing properties which these kingdoms contain.
Let us take an example. There is a substance which is most widely distributed over the whole earth, and not only over the whole earth, but also, in its finest form, throughout the air. This is silicic acid. It is an enormously important constituent part of the earth. But for those who are able to see these things with higher faculties, all this silicious substance is revealed as the external manifestation of something spiritual; and an immense and almost overpowering difference is seen to exist between that which ordinary physical methods of observation disclose with regard to silicic acid, or, for example, carbonic acid gas, and that which spiritual investigation discloses.
By the latter method we see that quartz, or rock-crystal, such as we find in the mountains — in fact, all forms of silicious substance — provides a free path for something spiritual. Just as any transparent substance allows light to stream through it, so all silicious substance allows what is spiritually active in the entire world to stream through it.
But we find quite a different relationship towards the spiritual when we come to carbonic acid. Carbonic acid has this peculiarity (for there is something spiritual in every physical substance), that the spiritual that is in contact with carbonic acid becomes individualised. Carbonic acid retains the spiritual in itself with all its force. The spiritual “selects” carbonic acid as a dwelling-place. In silica it has a transcending tendency — a consuming tendency — but it inheres in carbonic acid as though it felt itself “at home” there.
Carbonic acid processes are present in the breathing and circulation of animals. The former are especially connected with the astral body. The carbonic acid processes are related to the external physical of the animal, while the astral body is that which is inwardly spiritually active. The astral is therefore the spiritual element, and the carbonic acid process is its physical counterpart and underlies the animal's expirations.
The Ego-organisation is the spiritual inner element in man of that which takes place in man as silicic acid processes. We have silicic acid in our hair, our bones, our organs of sense, in all the extremities and periphery of our bodies — in fact, everywhere where we come into contact with the outer world — and all these silicic acid processes are the external counterpart, the expression from within outwards, of the Ego-organisation.
Now it must be borne in mind that the Ego must, in a certain sense, be strong enough to manipulate, to control, the whole of this silicic acid activity. If the Ego is too weak, the silicic acid is separated out — that is a pathological condition. On the other hand, the astral body must be strong enough to control the carbonic acid process; if it cannot, carbonic acid or its waste products are separated out, and illness results.
It is possible, therefore, in observing the strength or weakness of the astral body to find the cause of an illness rooted in the spiritual. And in observing the Ego-organisation one discovers the cause of those disturbances which either bring about a morbid decomposition of the silicic acid processes in. the body, or which one must deal with therapeutically by the administration of silicic acid. What happens then is that the spiritual, which is never retained in the material substance itself, passes through it and affects the silicic acid deposited in the body. It takes the place of the Ego itself. In the administration of carbonic acid as a healing agent, it must be so prepared that the spiritual is present in it in the right manner; in using it as a remedy one must be aware that the astral body works in it.
Therefore: One can conceive of a form of therapy which does not only make use of chemical agents, but which is quite consciously administering a cure, in the knowledge that, if a certain quantity of physical substance is given, or a particular solution is prepared as a bath, or if an injection is given, at the same time something of a spiritual nature is quite definitely introduced into the human organism.
So it is perfectly possible to make a bridge from a knowledge of purely physical means of healing to a knowledge which works with spiritual means.
That was the characteristic of the medicine of ancient times; some tradition of it still lingers; it lingers even in some of the recognised cures to-day. And we have to get back to this. We can do so if, without in any way neglecting physical medicine, we add to it what we can gain in spiritual knowledge, not only of man, but of Nature also. Everything can be carried out with the same exactitude as is the case with regard to physical natural science.
Anthroposophy does not seek to correct modern medicine, but to add its own knowledge to it, because ordinary medicine makes demands upon itself only.
What I have just briefly indicated is merely the commencement of an exceedingly wide spiritual knowledge, in which, at present, people have very little faith. One can quite well understand that. But some results have already been attained in the sphere of medicine, and these can be studied in practice at Dr. Ita Wegman's Clinical Institute in Arlesheim, Switzerland. And I am convinced that if any person would investigate this advancement and enlargement of the medical field with the same goodwill with which, as a rule, they investigate physical medicine, they would find it not at all difficult to accept the idea of the spiritual in man, and the spiritual in methods of healing him.
Quite briefly, I will give two examples that illustrate what I have said. Let us suppose that by means of this kind of spiritual diagnosis (if I may use such an expression) it is seen that in a patient the etheric body is working too strongly in some particular organ. The astral body and the Ego-organisation are not in a position to control this super-activity of the etheric body, so that we are faced with an astral body that has become too weak, and possibly also with an Ego which is too weak, and the etheric body therefore predominates. The latter thereby brings about in some particular organ such a condition of the growing and nourishing processes that the whole organism cannot be properly held together, owing to the lack of control by the other two principles.
At this point, then, where the etheric body predominates, the human organism appears as though too much exposed to the centrifugal forces of the Cosmos. They are not in equipoise with the centripetal forces of the physical body. The astral body cannot control them. In such a case we are confronted on the one hand by a preponderance of the silicic acid processes, and on the other by an impotence of the Ego to control them.
This fact underlies the formation of tumours, and it is here that the way is indicated for the true understanding of the nature of carcinomatous processes (cancer). Researches into this matter have had very good results and have been carried out in practice. But one cannot understand carcinoma unless one realises that it is due to the predominance of the etheric body, which is not suppressed by a corresponding activity of the astral and the Ego,
The question then arises, what is to be done in order to strengthen the elements of the astral body and the Ego which correspond to the diseased organ, so that the superabundant energy of the etheric organisation can be reduced? This brings us to the question of the therapy of carcinoma, which shall be dealt with in due course.
Thus, through an understanding of the etheric body we are enabled gradually to become acquainted with the nature of that most terrible of all human diseases, and at the same time, by investigating the spiritual nature of the action of the remedies, we shall discover the means to combat it. This is just one example of how illnesses can be understood through the etheric body.
But supposing that it is the astral body whose forces predominate — supposing that they are so strong that they predominate practically throughout the entire organism, so that there arises a kind of universal stiffening of the whole astral body due to its excessive inner forces; what does such a state of things bring about? When the astral body is not under the control of the Ego — which is to say, when its disintegrating forces are not cancelled by the integrating forces of the Ego — then symptoms appear which are connected with a weakened Ego-organisation.
This results, primarily, in an abnormal activity of the heart. Further, another occurrence due to a weakened Ego-activity, as described above, is that the glandular functions are disturbed. Since the organisation of the Ego is not sufficiently prominent and cannot exercise enough control, in greater or less degree the peripheral glandular organs begin to secrete too actively. Swollen glands appear — goitre appears.
And we see further how, through this stiffening of the astral body, the silicic acid processes, which should have a reaction inwards, are being pressed outwards, because the Ego is not able work strongly enough in the sense-organs, where it ought to work strongly. So, for instance, the eyes become prominent; the astral body drives them outwards.
It is the task of the Ego to overcome this tendency. Our eyes are actually retained in their right place in our organism by the equipoise that should exist between the astral body and the Ego. So they become prominent because the Ego element in them is too weak to maintain the balance properly. Also, one observes in such cases a general condition of restlessness. One sees, in a word, because the Ego cannot drive back those organic processes which are worked upon by the astral body, that the activity of the whole astral body predominates. In short, the symptoms are those of exophthalmic goitre.
Knowing, therefore, that a disturbance of the balance between astral body and Ego-organisation produces exophthalmic goitre, one can apply the same principles in effecting a cure.
Hence it can be seen with what exactness one can pursue these methods as regards both pathological conditions and therapeutical agencies, when one investigates the human being in a spiritual way.
Before we pass on from the pathological to the therapeutical — and particularly in connection with the two examples mentioned — it would be well to touch upon some of the principles underlying the assimilation of various substances by the human organism.
One only recognises the entire connection that exists between so-called “Nature” and the human being when one perceives not only that the latter is a physico-psychic-spiritual being consisting of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and Ego, but also when one further perceives that the basis of all natural substances and processes is a concrete and comprehensible spiritual one. But one must first be able to penetrate into this concrete spiritual existence.
Just as, in the natural world, one must distinguish between minerals and plants, so one must distinguish quite definitely between the spiritual elements and beings that express themselves through them.
Suppose we take first the mineral kingdom.
A considerable part of our healing agents are taken from this kingdom, and therefore what can be made use of in medicine out of spiritual bases emanates from minerals to a very large extent. We find that the spiritual element is connected in such a way with minerals that it establishes a particular relation between them and the Ego-organisation. It is credible that if a mineral substance is administered, either by mouth or by injection, it works principally upon the human organism itself, and makes for either health or ill-health. But what really takes place is that the physical mineral, as such, as it is regarded and handled by the chemist or the physicist, actually does not work upon the organism, but remains as it is. The physical substance itself, when seen by spiritual observation, shows scarcely any metamorphosis when it is absorbed. On the contrary, what is spiritual in the substance works with extraordinary strength upon the Ego.
So one can say that the spirit, for instance of a rock crystal, affects the Ego. The Ego controls the human being when it contains something silicious — that is, the spiritual element of silicic acid. That is what is so remarkable.
Again, if we take the vegetable kingdom, plants do not only possess a physical form, they possess also what I have characterised as an etheric body. Suppose we administer some plant substance, either by mouth or by injection, what is in the plant works as a rule solely upon the astral body. (These things are described in a general sense; there are always exceptions, which may also be studied.)
Everything derived from the animal kingdom, in whatever way it may be manufactured — out of fluids or solids — when it is administered, works upon the etheric body. This is most particularly interesting, because in this spiritual-medical work results have been attained by using for instance, in certain cases, animal products derived from the secretions of the hypophysis cerebri. These have been used successfully on rickety children or in cases of child-deformity, and so on.
There are also other animal products that work upon the human etheric body, either strengthening it or weakening it. In short, this is their principal function.
Anything injected out of one human being into another affects only the physical body; here there is solely a working of the physical upon the physical. For example, if human blood is transfused, nothing comes into consideration save what can take place as a purely physical phenomenon by means of the blood. A remarkable example of this could be observed when, in vaccinations against smallpox, a change was made from using human lymph to using calf-lymph. It was possible to observe then how the human lymph worked only upon the physical body, and how the effect went, so to speak, a stage higher when calf-lymph was introduced, by its becoming transferred to the etheric body.
Thus it becomes possible to see, by developing spiritual powers of observation, how Nature works, as it were, in degrees, or steps, upon human beings — the mineral being made use of in a certain sense by the Ego, the plant by the astral body, the animal by the etheric body, and the human physical body by the human physical body. In the latter case there is no longer anything spiritual to be described. Indeed, even as regards the animal kingdom, we can no longer speak of the “spiritual” in the animal product, but only of the “etheric.”
It is only through all these various connections that one can gain a true conception of how man — in both health and disease — is really immersed in the whole natural order. But one attains also to an inner perception of a still further continuation of the workings of nature in the human organism.
One may now ask, what is to be one's attitude towards cancer! We have seen how the etheric body is able to develop over-strong forces from itself in some particular organ. The centrifugal forces — that is, the forces that tend outwards into the Cosmos — become too powerful; the astral body and the Ego are too weak to counteract them. Spiritual knowledge now comes to one's aid. One can now try either to make the astral body stronger, in which case one administers something from the plant kingdom, or one must restrain the etheric body, and in that case one makes use of the animal kingdom.
Spiritual investigation has led to the adoption of the former course — that which relates to the astral body. In order to cure cancer, the forces of the astral body must be made stronger. And it may now be admitted that the remedy has really been discovered in the plant kingdom.
We have been accused of dilettantism and so forth, because we make use of a parasitic plant — the mistletoe (which has been used in medicine mainly for epilepsy and similar conditions) — and because we prepare it in a very special manner, in order to discover the way which will lead to the healing of cancer.
If you have observed trees which bear a remarkable outgrowth upon the trunk, resembling swellings, especially if you have seen them in section, you will notice that the whole tendency of growth, which usually has a vertical direction, has at these places a deflection at right angles, becoming therefore horizontal. It presses outwards as though another trunk were beginning to grow; and you find something that is as though drawn out of the tree itself — something parasitic. More closely studied, one discovers that any tree which has such an outgrowth is somewhere or other suppressed, restrained, in its physical development. Sufficient physical material has not been available everywhere, in order to keep pace with the growth forces of the etheric body. The physical body remains behind. The etheric body, which otherwise strives centrifugally to project the physical substance out into the Cosmos, is, as it were, left alone in this portion of the tree. Too little physical substance passes through it, or, rather, matter that has too little physical force. The result is, that the etheric body takes a downward direction to the lower part of the tree, which is connected with stronger physical forces.
Now let us imagine that this does not happen, but, instead, the mistletoe appears; and now there occurs through this plant, which has also its own etheric body, what otherwise takes place through the etheric body of the tree.
From this there results a very special relationship between the mistletoe and the tree. The tree, which is rooted directly in the earth, makes use of the forces which it absorbs from the earth. The mistletoe, growing on the tree, uses what the tree gives it; the tree is, in a sense, the earth for the mistletoe. The mistletoe, therefore, brings about artificially that which, when it is not present, results in the “swellings” which are due to a hypertrophy of the tree's etheric organisation. The mistletoe takes away what the tree only gives up when it has too little physical substance, so that its etheric element is excessive. The excess of the etheric passes out of the tree into the mistletoe.
When the mistletoe is prepared in such a way that this superabundant etheric quality which it has taken from the tree is administered to a person under certain conditions, by injection (and, since we are observing all these facts in a spiritual manner), we gain the following information: that the mistletoe, as an external substance, absorbs what is manifest in the human body as the rampant etheric forces in cancer. [i.e. it becomes a vehicle for the excessive etheric forces. —TRANS.] Through the fact that it represses the physical substance, it strengthens the working of the astral body, which causes the tumour, or cancer, to disintegrate and break up. [The astral body being the destructive principle. —TRANS.]
Therefore we actually introduce the etheric substance of the tree into the human being by means of the mistletoe, and the etheric substance of the tree, carried over by means of the mistletoe, works as a fortifier of the human astral body.
That is one method which can only be known to us when we gain an insight into the way in which the etheric body of the plant acts upon the astral body of the human being — an insight into the fact that the spiritual element in the plant, which in this case is drawn out of it by the parasitic growth, works upon the human astral body.
Thus it can be seen how concretely what I have said may be verified — namely, that it is a question of not merely administering remedies in the manner of the chemist — in the sense in which the chemist speaks and thinks of remedies — but it is a question of administering the spiritual, the super-physical, which the various substances contain.
I have also referred above to the fact that in exophthalmic goitre (Graves' disease) the astral body becomes stiffer, and that the Ego-organisation is unable to deal with this condition. The symptoms are as I have described. This is a case in which it is necessary to strengthen the forces of the Ego. We must consider for a moment something which plays quite an unimportant part in our ordinary associations with the external world; but it is just such apparently unimportant substances which, as regards their spiritual element, have the greatest effect upon the spiritual in the human being. For example, one finds
that oxide of copper has the greatest imaginable effect upon the Ego-organisation of man; it really strengthens it. So, if one gives oxide of copper to a person suffering from Graves' disease, the effect is that one creates a strong Ego-organisation that dominates the stiffened astral body; the oxide of copper comes, as it were, to the rescue of the Ego, and the correct balance is thus restored.
I have quoted these two examples especially in order to show how every product in all the expanse of Nature may be studied, and the question asked: “How does this or that product work upon the physical body of man? how does it work upon the etheric body? and how upon the astral body and the Ego-organisation?”
It all rests, therefore, upon our penetration into the profound secrets of Nature. This search into Nature's secrets — into the mysteries of Nature — is the only possible way to combine the observation of human disease with the observation of the healing agencies. If I know how, let us say, a magnet will affect iron filings, then I know what is taking place. Similarly, if I know in what respect oxide of copper is “spiritual,” and on the other hand what is lacking in the human being when he has the symptoms of exophthalmic goitre, that is to permeate what is called medicine with spiritual knowledge.
One can look back upon the evolution of humanity, that is to say upon the evolution of the spirit of humanity which has given birth to the various civilisations, and which brought forth knowledge also and science; and if, in such a retrospect, one looks into a past so remote that it is only possible to reach it by means of the spiritual vision which I have described, one comes upon centres of knowledge quite unlike our present-day schools, wherein men were led to penetrate into a knowledge of Nature and of humanity, after their souls were first prepared in such a way that they could perceive the spiritual in all the external world.
These centres of knowledge, which we have become accustomed to speak of as the “mysteries,” were not just merely “schools,” but fundamentally they were representative of certain things which are regarded quite separately from one another in the life of to-day. They were centres of religion and of art, as well as of knowledge concerning all the various departments of human culture.
They were so organised that those who were set apart as teachers did not instruct their pupils by means of mere abstract concepts, but by means of pictures — of imagery. These pictures, by reason of their inner characteristics, represented the living relationships and connections between all things in the world. Therefore this imagery was able to produce its effects through ceremonial, as we should call it to-day. In its further development this imagery became permeated with beauty. Religious ceremony became artistic. And later, when what had been gained — not from arbitrary fantasies, but from out of these images or pictures, which had been extracted from out of the world-secrets themselves — was expressed in ideas, it became, at that time, science. The same pictures when presented in such a way that they called forth an essential quality of the human will that could be expressed as goodness — that was religion. And again, presented so that they ravished and exalted the senses, touched the emotions, and lifted the soul to the contemplation of beauty — that was art.
The centres of art were indissolubly linked with the centres of religion and of science. There was no one-sided appreciation of anything through the human reason alone, or through sense-perception alone, or through external physical experiment alone, but the whole human being was involved — body, soul, and spirit.
There was penetration into the profoundest nature of all things — to those depths where reality revealed itself; on the one hand stimulating to goodness, on the other hand to the true expression of ideas. To follow this path, which leads to truth, to beauty, and to goodness, was spoken of, and is still spoken of, as the way of initiation — to the knowledge of the “beginnings” of things. For men were aware that they indeed lived in these beginnings when they conjured them forth in religious ceremonial, in the revelations of beauty, and in the rightly created world of ideas; and so called this attitude which they bore towards the things of the world, “initiation-knowledge” — the knowledge of the beginnings from out of which alone man is able to grasp the true nature of things, and so use them according to his will.
So men sought for an initiation-science which could penetrate into the mysteries of the world — to the “beginnings.”
A time had to. come in the course of human development when this initiation-science withdrew; for it became necessary for men to direct their spiritual energies inwards in order to attain to greater self-consciousness. Initiation-science became as though dreamlike — instinctive. It was not at that time a matter of developing human freedom, for such a development towards freedom has only come about because mankind has been for a time driven away from the beginnings; he has lost the initiation-vision, and turning away from the beginnings, contemplates what is related more to the endings of things — to the external revelations of the senses, and to all that, through the senses, may be discovered by experiment concerning the ultimate, concerning the endings.
The time has now come when, having achieved an immeasurably extensive science of the superficial — if I may call it so — which can have only quite an external connection with art or religion, we must once again seek an initiation-science; but we must seek it with the consciousness which we have evolved in ourselves by means of exact science; a consciousness which, in respect of the new form of initiation-knowledge, will function no less perfectly than it does in connection with the exact sciences.
A bridge will then be built between that world-conception which links the human soul with its origins by means of inwardly conceived ideas, and the practical manipulation of the realities contained in those ideas.
In the ancient mysteries, initiation-knowledge was especially bound up with all that was connected with the healing of humanity. There was a real art of healing. For indeed, the mystery-healing was an art, in that it aroused in man the perception that the process of healing was at the same time a sacrificial process.
In order to satisfy the inner needs of the human soul, there must once again be a closer bond between healing and our philosophical conception of the world. And it is this which a knowledge of the needs of the age seeks to find in the Anthroposophical Movement.
The Anthroposophical Movement, whose headquarters are in Dornach, Switzerland, does not interpose anything arbitrary into life; neither does it stand for any sort of abstract mysticism. It desires rather to enter in a wholly practical way into every sphere of human activity. It seeks to attain with complete self-consciousness what was striven for in ancient times instinctively.
Even though we are only making a beginning, at any rate we are creating the possibility of a return to what, in the ancient mysteries, was a natural, a self-evident thing — medicine existing in closest communion with spiritual vision.