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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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From Limestone to Lucifer
GA 349

VIII. A symptomatic view of the astral body

14 April 1923, Dornach

I'd like to start today by telling you a story that is quite interesting. There were witnesses, so it cannot be said to be untrue. A gentlemen was fishing, using a rod, and after some time got annoyed because he had not had a bite. Then suddenly there was a tremendous jolt. Something really heavy had taken the bait. He pulled up his rod and was really pleased to have caught a big fish. But what did he land? A very large turtle.

This large turtle had swallowed the hook. It was in its stomach and the angler could not get it out. The turtle pulled in its head a bit more. First he tried to persuade the creature with kind words to let go of the hook. But it would not budge. So he had no other choice but this: he held the turtle by the tail, cut off its head with a sharp knife and let it drop.

Now you'll all admit that if this had happened to a person—let us say during the French Revolution or with any other instance of beheading—well, that person would have been dead. What did the turtle do? It got up on its legs, calmly marched back into the water and disappeared. It did not bother it in the least to have had its head cut off. You see from this that for a time at least, the turtle did not need its head to go on living. The question as to how long it continued to live was not considered at the time, but you can certainly see that the turtle simply did not need its head for such things as walking, for instance. It is able to walk without having a head.

I have told you many stories of animals doing all kinds of things, terribly sensible things, and you can conclude from this story of the turtle that the creatures certainly do not do this with their heads. You can cut off a turtle's head and it will go on performing its movements and everything else quite properly. The turtle also did not run away blindly but straight back into the water from which it had come. It could not have done better if it still had a head. Now you might say that this was an isolated case. But it was not an isolated case, for experiments of this kind have been done. Someone able to see these things in the spirit will not need such experiments. But they are being done all the time, in order to prove the matter wrong. They do not prove it wrong, however, but actually confirm it. The experiments about which I am going to tell you have been done countless times. You take a frog and cut off its head using a cut-throat razor. The frog is now without its head. You put it back on the table. It will first of all behave in an extraordinarily impertinent way without its head. It will go down a little bit in front and then most impertinently raise his hind part and hop away. If you now take an acid that burns and put a little on the frog's side here [drawing on the board]—this is the headless frog, these are its legs, only it does not have a head—so if you wet it a little with a corrosive acid, which normally hurts, the frog will first of all scratch itself using a hind leg, the headless frog. You can repeat this over and over again—the frog will scratch itself there, though it has no head. And if you use a bit more acid it will use its foreleg as well. This will make it go down on that side, of course. It'll topple over. So you see, a frog without a head does everything it would normally do and it makes no difference if it has a head or not.

Now of course you realize from this that when we go below the level of the mammals, to the lower animals, these lower animals will properly do without a head what human beings and higher mammals do with their heads on.

Now we need to see the situation very clearly. It proves something. It proves that we do not need a head for things like these where we have a pain somewhere and lift a hand to rub the place. This is something a frog can do without a head. And so it is proven that this can be done without a head. So we certainly do not have a head in order to scratch ourselves. We do not have heads so that we may walk or run. A turtle or frog will walk without a head. So we do not need a head at all in order to walk. We can't quite do what it says in the fable of lazy Francis who was too lazy to walk but very keen on eating. You know the story. Then someone suggested he should walk with his gob and eat with his feet, so that he'd acquire a new habit. That's impossible, of course, but the situation is that we simply do not need a head in order to walk. Nor do we need it to move our hands.

So why do human beings and the higher animals need a head? What is the difference—now with regard to the head—between humans and higher animals on the one hand and lower animals on the other? The difference is that higher animals and humans die if they do not have their heads, but frogs, turtles and all lower animals live on. If you take even lower animals, worms for example—you can cut them in half and each half will walk by itself. So you see we simply do not need a head for the things which the body is really doing. The bad thing is, of course, that as a higher animal or human being one does need a head in order to live. And because we need it in order to live, we'll die when we no longer have it. It is not that we'll no longer rub away acid put on us if we don't have a head, but that we die without a head. A human being will no longer rub away the acid when his head is cut off. A human being would have behaved differently if he had swallowed the hook and his head had been cut off. Things would have been different even before that, of course, than they were with the turtle. So we are able to say that in higher animals and humans, everything connected with the head has nothing at all to do with the movements we make. All we owe to the head is that we live. When we no longer have it, we simply no longer live. Life is therefore in the head for the higher animals. In the lower animals life is in all the individual members of the body.

Let me now tell you something else from which you'll be able to see that there is also a big difference between higher animals and human beings when it comes to everything belonging to this head and this whole organization. I am sure you have had experience of a children's disease that is a bit unpleasant. It is called whooping cough. It is not really all that bad for the child at the time when it happens, for he will normally get well again. The bad thing is that something remains if people don't do the right things—meaning doctors or whoever is responsible at the time—when a child has whooping cough. For then the following may happen. What does whooping cough involve? Whooping cough means that breathing in will always be as it should be—you may have a child with really severe whooping cough, it will breathe in properly. This can be seen if one studies the situation. But when the air wants to come out as the child breathes out it gets stuck, it will not come out the way it should, and then a bout of coughing develops. And with the air not getting out properly, fresh air cannot get in, and this causes the whooping cough. That is what it is.

But what lies behind it, when a child gets whooping cough? You see, what lies behind it is that the inner mucous membrane of the breathing system, of these tubes that go down to the lung and then out again, grows terribly sensitive. When the air goes in it passes over those sensitive places, for the chest is empty, and you can always pour air into something that is empty. Just think of a vacuum pump. A vacuum pump is a bell jar like this [drawing on the board]; you pump out the air and it is empty. You can have an opening to help you to begin with. If you take out the stopper, the air rushes in with a whistle. So there need be nothing but a vacuum under the bell jar. When we have breathed out our air, we have a vacuum in our lungs, and the air will rush in all by itself. You don't have to do anything special to get the air in. It is not surprising then that air will also rush in through a sensitive windpipe and sensitive tubes, for the air does not feel it. But when you want to get the air out of your vacuum pump again you have to do something, you have to pump it out. In the same way you have to push the air out from the lungs. But the child's breathing tubes have grown sensitive. They are just as sensitive as any other place where you may have got a scratch. The inside of the breathing tubes has grown a bit scratchy, and they are sensitive. The will impulse that pushes the air out will not do this but instead scratch away at the windpipe or tubes, getting involved with the scratchiness in the pipe rather than with pushing out the air. You see, wanting to scratch the child forgets to push out the air, and the air stays put in there. You then get these bouts of whooping cough. The body wants to push out the air by force, whilst in life it is the part of us which I called the astral body the other day that pushes out the air. Looking at a child with whooping cough you can see exactly where the physical body is and where the astral body is. When the child is not coughing, the astral body pushes out the air; the body does not have any problems at all. When the child has whooping cough, you have a sensitive spot there. The astral body wants to scratch away; then the physical body has to come in and push the air out forcibly, in spasms. This may even cause spasms, and then another disease may develop in consequence.

So you see it is simply not the case that we can say the physical body does everything. Otherwise we'll never understand whooping cough. When someone has got whooping cough, you have to develop a strange idea. You have to ask yourself: 'What has actually happened to his astral body?' His astral body has grown headless, just like the other part of the astral body in the frog! Just as the frog rubs away with its leg, so does the astral body inwardly rub away on the windpipe or tubes, and the physical body then has to come in to get rid of the air. So we can make a very clear distinction.

Now you may well ask me to prove it to you that the astral body, which is the soul principle, is actually involved in this case. Well, let me tell you what can happen when a child has whooping cough, with those sensitive areas in its air pipes, and the astral body wants to brush it away all the time, so that the child gets these spasms. Now imagine the parents bought a cat whilst the child had whooping cough, or maybe a cat had adopted the family—I am telling you something that is quite common. Whilst the child had whooping cough the parents bought a cat or a dog. This has made the child sensitive to the air the dog or cat had been breathing out. He would not have grown sensitive to this if he had not happened to have this sensitive spot at the time. Now, during the whooping cough, he has become sensitive. The child then recovers from his whooping cough, but sometimes a strange thing remains behind. If the child has not been used to having a cat around before, and a cat has come to live in the house whilst the child had whooping cough—this will not happen when he has just recovered, but later on the condition will develop which people call asthma, a breathing difficulty that repeats itself over and over again.

Now when this breathing difficulty comes—asthma always comes periodically, it comes and it goes—you may investigate it and you will sometimes find something strange. So a man develops asthma, for instance, and to begin with no one knows where it comes from. If you observe carefully you find that he gets a further asthma attack if there is a cat near him or in the room. If the cat is removed the asthma stops. There, you see, he is given a reminder, and he does not need his head for this. He need not even know that the cat is in the room. The cat may be in the room, he may not know it, but he'll still have an asthma attack.

And I can tell you about an even more magnificent case that is most peculiar. There was a child once who got this kind of whooping cough and, during the time when he had this, a lot a buckwheat was eaten in that family. This made the child particularly sensitive to buckwheat and he got a tendency, a talent you might say, to have asthma every time there was buckwheat in the room, or even just in the house. And then something very strange happened on one occasion when he was already a grown-up boy, a medical student. He lived on the top floor. The kitchen was down below, on the lowest floor, two floors lower down. On one occasion the boy upstairs got asthma, terrible asthma. He had only had it like this before if there was buckwheat in the house. They were very unhappy about this. Their cooks had always been told never to cook anything with buckwheat in it. It should never come into the house at all. What had happened? A new cook had come who did not know this. She had had some buckwheat down below on the ground floor, and the young student up on the second floor developed asthma. These things seem like fables. But they are completely true.

You will now also understand that human health and sickness is altogether connected with the whole environment. Thus it is not immaterial for our health if there are rats somewhere near or not. You see, the story of the cats I told you is so well known—human air organs having a particular sensitivity to cats—that it is actually called 'cat asthma' by the medical profession. You can find the term in their medical books. This is the kind of asthma people get if there are cats around. There are, of course, many kinds of asthma.

But the situation really is such that one has to say: having a dog or a cat or even buckwheat around is quite a commonplace thing for people. It merely makes an impression on the soul principle. But if the soul principle is not in order somewhere, the impression made on the soul principle remains quite unconscious. What has actually happened to someone who gets cat asthma or buckwheat asthma?

Well, whooping cough can be cured as follows. Let us assume a child has a sensitive windpipe or tubes; coal dust may have irritated them in some way. This may immediately cause whooping cough to develop. Such things can come from the tiniest little things. So the child's air pipes are irritated. What happens when such an injury exists in some place in the body? Well, you can see it if you cut yourself. If your body were just physical it would not hurt. Imagine you put on some really thick mittens. You can shape the mitten to be just like a skin. You can cut into it and it won't hurt. But why does your hand hurt if you cut it? You see, your hand will hurt because apart from a physical body there is also an astral body in there. The astral body is used to being in there. If you make a cut in the physical body, the astral body, which you can't cut, suddenly notices: 'Wow, there's no physical body there! That does not fit! It hurts.' You see, only the part which is astral body can hurt. It will hurt until the cut has healed up again.

And so the situation is that when there is an injury somewhere the astral body is left to itself. It gets out of the physical body.

Now imagine you get this fissure, this crack, in there in the windpipe or tubes; the astral body then comes a little bit free there. And the condition can be healed like this, if one does it very carefully. Let us say we have a child with whooping cough. We first of all put him to bed and let him get into a sweat—you can observe the whole thing step by step—he'll get really hot. The astral body easily joins with heat; it does not easily join with cold. If you let the child run around out of doors or even just indoors, the astral body can't get at the physical body because the warmth it needs is not there. But if you wrap up the child really warm—people often do this instinctively; they'll often tie a woollen sock or stocking around the throat to keep the warmth in—the astral body will start to be attracted to the warmth. It is not attracted to other things such as water or air, but it is attracted to warmth. So if you have had the child in bed for a time like this and the astral body has been drawn there all the time, it will again and again have been attracted to this part here [drawing on the board]. You should then take a piece of cloth and put a bit of warm water on it that contains a few drops of lemon juice and put the cloth around the part. This will draw the irritated part together, so that it will again be open to the astral body, and you can cure the whooping cough very nicely. You just have to do it all the right way, one thing after the other.

Effective treatment depends on one's ability to see through the whole human being and on doing things properly and in the right order. You must also take care in following this procedure that the child does not take fright. For when the child takes fright, the astral body will always come out a little, and this will undo the whole thing. If we truly cure the child, the whooping cough will run its course and he'll not have asthma later on. If we do it wrongly, the 'fissures' in the wind pipe or tubes will heal up, and the child will seem to have recovered, but the astral body will not have gone in completely, always remaining a little bit outside. Now if a person is very weak, if the child is a weakling, he'll get asthma right away, because the breathing-out process is never quite right. The astral body is not completely involved. An astral body that is outside cannot be properly involved in the breathing-out process. But if the child is a bit stronger, he'll use the other part of the astral body, with the result that the rest of the astral body will only show its weakness at a later time in life, when another illness comes, for instance if the child later gets influenza or something of that kind. And he'll then develop asthma.

You can penetrate the human being very well in this way. You'll find out when the soul principle gets involved and when it does not.

But just look at someone with asthma. The astral body is active. It is scratching away inside all the time, just as the frog scratched its side when you put acid on it. So there you have it, gentlemen, there you have the astral body behaving like a frog, like a turtle. We can actually study the way our astral body behaves by looking at the lower animals. Things would go very differently if the head could be involved in this activity of the astral body. It is something we cannot get at with the head. That is the situation. We are not yet human in the astral body. We are human in our physical bodies on earth, but we are not human in our astral bodies here on earth.

What is the result of this? The result is that this astral body also behaves like an incomplete being. It behaves in an animal way. Imagine therefore you are bringing someone up by beating him all the time. It is really strange how common this method of education by beating still is. There is someone today—he does not interest me in other respects, I find him boring—but here he is most interesting. He has been all over Europe, he's also been in Basel—Rabindranath Tagore,30Tagore, Sir Rabindranath (1861-1941), Indian poet and philosopher, bom in Calcutta. His Reminiscences had just appeared in German translation at the time. a gentleman who is casting his spell on people today. You know how it is—someone from Asia, that's something new and different, that's what draws the crowds. A European might do so much more, but an Asian, that interests them—a rare animal! You see, he has now written his biography. This biography is really quite boring as well; but it is really important to read the first chapters of this biography. There he writes of how he was always beaten by everyone. Someone who is now one of the scholarly Asians, scholarly Indians, travelling all over Europe, tells that the whole of education really consisted in beating the children all the time. So it is not just a European characteristic. We see from this biography that people in Asia have also been beaten a terrible lot.

Now, as you know, Tagore then became a writer, became all kinds of things, and so it does not show so much any more. But when someone is beaten all the time as a child this will not only have an effect on the physical body but also on the astral body, especially because in children the head is not involved all the time. And the result is that the astral body is then like a cringing dog that has been beaten all the time. You can clearly tell a dog that's been beaten from one that has been raised in a loving way. And it's the same for people. When they are beaten as children—later life may give them a bit more courage, but the astral body continues to cringe for the whole of life, because it is still at the animal level.

So you see, gentlemen, here you can see that it is not just physical beatings that go into the astral body. They will at most cause weals. We carry the moral impressions gained in life on earth in our astral bodies. And it is indeed so that someone who has been beaten a lot in his childhood will later have an astral body that is like a cringing dog. Someone else has hit his teachers—you also get people like that—and his astral body is like a lion. One looks like that inwardly—we might also say in our souls, or let's say astrally, because 'soul' has become quite an abstract word already, with people no longer thinking anything of it—inwardly, astrally, one assumes a different form of one kind or another, depending on the moral impressions gained in life.

But that is how it is for the whole of life. A slavish person will take things differently from someone who is free and independent. The slave will accept anything. His astral body then bends down and does have something of a cringing dog. An independent character will not accept anything. His astral body then becomes a little bit more human. Here we get some insight into what happens with human beings during their life on earth.

But, gentlemen, we also die. We have been considering this. Only the physical body drops away, goes away. But the figure I have just described remains. You take this through death with you. And someone who has gained higher knowledge by the means I have described, especially in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, can clearly see the character a person takes through death. The moral impression of life is in there. You then have to go into the world out of which you create your next life on earth.

Now, gentlemen, if you went into the world out of which you create your next life on earth with an astral body that has come to be as it is because of beatings received in life, you might perhaps become a dog. But a human being cannot become a dog; that is the situation. A human being comes through death out of the moral impressions gained in life in such a way that he might become something or other that comes from the moral impression gained. Someone who has shown courage might become a lion. Maybe some people would be pleased to be a lion in a future life. But a human being cannot actually be a lion because he is not made that way by the world, the cosmos. Someone else may feel a bit like a cat; he'd like to be a cat.

You know, people who lack understanding will raise the objection that anthroposophists say the soul goes into animals later on. The transmigration of souls is said to make the soul go into the animals later on. This is nonsense, of course. What is true is that the soul keeps an impression—you are lion-like, cat-like, tiger-like, crocodile-like when you have died. And because one has to be a human being again, this has to be put aside. This is done during that one-third-the-length-of-life period of which I have spoken before. Someone who lived to the age of 60 will need 20 years for this. This is not mere invention. We know it to be such, for oddly enough the human being becomes like that when he enters into sleep at night. This is merely in preparation. And sleep takes up altogether a third of life. Such a third of life, a period, therefore, that takes up a third of one's lifetime, is needed to free oneself from the moral impression.

But, gentlemen, you don't know anything about the whole business you go through between going to sleep and waking up. And that is a good thing. For it means the moral impression gained only comes through a little bit as our conscience. When one is obliged to look at it all, it comes through much more strongly.

And why is it that only a little bit of what we have experienced in sleep comes through, as conscience, after we wake up? It is because we go down into the physical body This covers it up. Otherwise one would remember where one wakes up in the morning what sleep has been telling one, and what a dreadful fellow one really is. For one has learned this during sleep. It sometimes haunts us a little in our sleep. And dreams which are a bit haunted by knowing what a dreadful fellow one really is are particularly interesting to study. Generally, however, we know nothing about it. But when we do not have a physical body after death, everything we have in the astral body comes into the I, and so we then have it in the I. We then have to go through the whole period. When we have laid the astral body aside, the things we have laid aside are then only in the I. But we are then able to prepare cleanly for the right physical body in our next life. This takes as long as I have told you before.

So you see, we only need to take a good look at the human being as he is now in his life on earth to get absolutely the right idea of how these four principles in man—physical body, ether body, astral body, I—are related. You see, gentlemen, let me tell you something else. Imagine this is the human heart [Fig. 22]. So there it sits. Two nerve strands go to the heart. They come from back there, go down there and then to the heart. There goes one, which then spreads out in the heart. And then there is another, and this also spreads out in the heart. Imagine I now let an electric current pass through the nerve. I'll then see something strange. The heart will start to beat faster and faster. Why? The electric current stimulates the nerve and this makes the heart beat faster and faster. The electric current stimulates the nerve.

But now imagine I do not galvanize this nerve but the other one, the second one. Now you might think a nerve is a nerve. I apply the electric current. And you would think, wouldn't you, that the heart will start to beat faster and faster again. But that is not the way it is. When I galvanize this nerve here [the first one], the heart beats faster and faster. When I galvanize this one [the second one], the heart beats more and more slowly. And if I put a really strong current through it, the heart will stop beating altogether. I have to stop immediately, or the individual will die of heart failure. Now the fact is that there is absolutely no difference between these two nerves as far as their construction goes. They are both made the same way. What, then, is happening here?

human heart
Figure 22

You see, it is like this. When this part here is galvanized the astral body goes in there, stimulates the heart, so that it beats faster because something it normally has to do itself has been taken over by the electric current. It can therefore work faster in the heart. But let us assume the current is applied here [the other nerve]. Now the astral body wants to make the heart move faster, but an obstacle is put in its way from the other side. As soon as it wants to make the heart move faster, it cannot get through on the other side. This stimulus [first nerve] helps the heart by taking over some of the work. This stimulation [second nerve] hinders it because it comes from the opposite direction. If I were able to get inside the heart and apply the electric stimulus fron there, this, too, would make the heart beat faster. But when 1 galvanize this nerve from outside, the astral body cannot move the heart because it meets more and more of an obstacle.

You see from this that it is possible to know exactly how this really happens in the human body, with the astral body on its part taking action just as I would if I wanted to turn a wheel. There I push, and I continue turning the wheel; but when I want to turn it the other way, it won't do it. That is how it is with the heart, that is how it is with the lung, with every organ. Every organ is supplied with nerves from two sides; but it is the astral body which is actually taking action.

Now you might say: 'Well, perhaps it is the head after all which is active in the case of the astral body?' No, gentlemen, if it were the head you would have to apply your electric current up at the head. But that would not get you anywhere; you have to galvanize from that point. If you cut off the head as far as the astral body is concerned, it will still find the spot, just as with the frog, or the turtle. You have to galvanize where the nerve is, for even the frog still has it. This spot is called the medulla oblongata, a continuation of the spinal marrow. This is where you have to apply the electric current, and the head need not be involved at all. Other things also show quite clearly that the head need not be involved. First of all, just think, if you would have to let the beating of the heart be done from the head, that would be a pretty kettle of fish! The heart needs to beat 72 times a minute, and you would therefore have to think of your heart 72 times a minute. And your heart would have to stop whilst you were asleep. The head thus cannot help when it comes to these movements which take place inside the human being. They are done the way it is done in a frog or a turtle.

If we have asthma, these internal movements are done in an abnormal way; in health they are done in a healthy way. You see from this that everything that happens by way of movements and so on inside the human being happens unconsciously, governed by the astral body.

And it is this astral body which after death must first hand over to the I, as it were, the moral impression it has gained of the world. The I will then be able to create a further human life on earth. Because of this the years after death, when we live in such a way that we are able to lay aside the inner astral configuration we have gained in life, are such that we can prepare again for a new life on earth in which we can be truly human.

And how do we bring the fruits of our previous life into the new human life? Well you see, gentlemen, it is like this. The child sleeps in the early part of his life. If he had conscious awareness, he would not be able to bring the things the I has brought with it to realization. They have merely been learned from the astral body. The I is still in the astral body; only it does not need to be involved in the work before conception. It is the astral body which has to work, the astral world has to work from the stars, the way I showed you the other day. The child must come into life asleep; he learns to walk, learns to talk, learns to think. Into his walking, talking and thinking he pours the moral impulse from the previous life and selects. That is our destiny.

It does not limit our freedom. I think I have told you this before. We have our destiny in us; we prepare our own destiny. But this does not limit our freedom, just as it is not limited by the fact that we have black or blond hair, brown or blue eyes, or are unable to reach out and touch the moon. Our freedom is not limited by the fact that we bring things with us from our previous life so that we may be one think or another as human beings. People differ because they bring different things with them from their previous life on earth.

Now you might well say: 'This takes us back to a point where we think that we return for ever and ever to live new lives on earth.' No, gentlemen, there was a time on earth when human beings got no further than infants do today. With the earth still thick, not surrounded by air but by a thick sauce—you'll remember the things I have told you about the earth—human beings did not need to learn to walk. The thick sauce would support them. Today they have become human in their physical bodies. In their astral bodies they are still at the animal level at which they have been in the past. There they have not brought anything with them, and it has all come about gradually. When human beings learned to walk, talk and think, their destinies also began to evolve. And if human beings are now again learning to take in things of the spirit in their lifetime, they will also get out of the animal habit again and get used to a world in which they will no longer live in a way that involved walking, talking and thinking, but in yet another way.

So there is a space between these two states. And in this in-between space we come back again and again in a particular life.

And now, gentlemen, there is one more question. We'll have to consider this the next time, at 9 o'clock next Wednesday. It is this important question which comes up again and again, where someone says: 'It's all right for you to talk about the previous life on earth. But I don't remember it. I won't believe anything that I cannot remember.' I'll explain to you about this remembering the next time we meet, what it is about. This will have taken us a bit further again, and we shall more or less have covered the question for which we have been preparing.