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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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From Mammoths to Mediums
GA 350

XII. Human and cosmic breathing. The earth breathes light. Fertilization in plants and humans; fertilization of water through lightning

20 July 1923, Dornach

If we take the things we considered the last time a bit further, we come to the following. In the days when I was young, very young still, there would be a lot of excitement when a travelling hypnotist would give performances with people. Now we need not give special praise to people who make a public show of extremely serious things, and I certainly would not want to sing great praises of Hansen,42 Karl Hansen, b. 1833, Danish hypnotist, emigrated to Australia in 1853, where he gave performances as a mesmerist. Later he made hypnotism widely known with performances in the Scandinavian countries, Germany and so on, though he did not contribute to the scientific investigation of hypnotism. a man who in the 1870s and 1880s, especially in the 1880s, gave public performances on a subject which scientists had not at all been considering in those days and about which nothing was known in science at that time. But scientists have since taken up the subject, particularly as a result of Hansen's public performances.

Let me first of all tell you of an experiment that had long been forgotten when Hansen started to do it over and over again, to the amazement of his audiences. He would take two chairs, place them at some distance from each other [drawing on the board], and then hypnotize someone simply by the power of his own personality, as people put it, that is, get him to enter into a sleep-like state to begin with. It was a sleep-like state, however, that was much deeper than ordinary sleep. He would then take this person and position him in such a way that his head would be on one chair and his feet on the other. Now you know that if this happens to someone when they are in their ordinary state of consciousness, they'll simply fall between the chairs. This person did not fall between the two chairs to begin with. He lay where he was put, as stiff as a broomstick. But that was not enough. Hansen, quite a hefty fellow, then went and boldly stood upright on the person's stomach. So there he would stand, this man Hansen. The person did not stir, but lay there like a plank of wood, in spite of the fact that Hansen stood on him.

So this is certainly something that can be done, has been frequently done since then, and scientists cannot doubt it, having known nothing about it earlier on and having to be shown it by Hansen, who was not a particularly pleasant person. You see, someone in this state is said to be cataleptic.

When something like this happens, that someone may lie there like a plank of wood, and someone else may even stand on him, and it is a temporary state, brought about under the influence of that other person, it is just an experiment and not a very serious matter. But we can certainly say that this condition also exists in everyday life, though on a much smaller scale. You'll sometimes come across it. It will then, of course, only be apparent to someone able to observe it as a physician. It occurs when people develop a particular condition which is called a mental illness.

There are people, for example, who have been resolute and effective in their work and then suddenly begin to think in a way that is as if all their thoughts were frozen. It may happen that someone went to work regularly at 8 o'clock in the morning, let us say. Suddenly he finds it is very nice to stay in bed. He wants to get up but cannot find the will to do so. And if fear finally takes over—he's got his watch lying there, it shows a particular time—and he has got up at last, he cannot find the will to eat his breakfast, and then again to leave the house. He finally comes to say to himself all the time: 'I can't do it; I can't do it,' finally behaving like a stick, unable to decide on anything. And it will go so far that he gets into a state where one can also see it in his body; he's rigid. Before he'd have moved his arms quickly, now he moves them slowly; he'd walk at a lively pace before, now he finds it difficult to take one step and then the next. The whole person grows rigid and heavy. This is a condition which sometimes develops in people when they are still quite young.

It is the selfsame condition, only not so marked and now not occurring all at once but very gradually. When someone begins to be cataleptic, you won't be able to put him across two chairs in the same way and stand on him, or to sit on him. But the condition is such that he can no longer manage his body in the right way.

This is the one state. But Hansen also showed people other experiments. These would be copied a great deal in those days, and scientists have now also taken note of them. They did not take them up until Hansen, amateur and showman, drew their attention to the matter. These other states were like this. Hansen would ask a member of the audience to come up. Some fools would say he'd arranged this beforehand, but that's nonsense, of course. He would spot the people who'd be suitable for this among the members of the audience. It can't be done equally well with everyone; but he'd developed an eye for those who would be right. He'd let a member of the audience come up and again bring his personal influence to bear. He would stand there, his own thick legs firmly placed on the floor. His eyes were such that people would think they'd enter into and go right through you, a penetrating gaze as one says. And he'd always have the eye like this, you see [drawing on the board]. When he looked at someone, the eye would be such that the white of the eye was visible both above and below; the eye would be open in that way. Now usually the lid covers the white, so that one does not see the white above and below the pupil. But he had developed a fixed look, as one says.

This would of course make a tremendous impression on the individual he had picked to be his victim, who'd immediately start to be a little bit unconscious, as one says. He lost consciousness, but something very strange would happen. Hansen would then say: 'You can't move from the spot. Your feet are fixed to the floor.' The man would try—he couldn't move, could not take a single step. He simply could not do it and stood where he was. Hansen would also say to suitable victims: 'Now kneel down!' The person would kneel down. 'Look, an angel is appearing up there.' The person would put his hands together in prayer, and be transported as he looked up to the angel. Hansen would do all these things with people he picked for his victims. He would of course pick people whose conscious minds were not very strong, and with them he could do all these things right before the audience's eyes. There would be no deception—many people said he cheated—but these things have since then been done at scientific institutes and so they are valid.

Then he'd also do the following, for instance. He'd take a chair and put it there for someone who no longer had no thoughts of his own but only the thoughts Hansen gave him. Hansen would stand there and say: 'Here's an apple.' You know apples are good, they taste good. But he'd take a potato and give it to the man who'd bite into it with the greatest pleasure, eating the potato as if it were an apple. Hansen therefore was not only able to persuade people that they were seeing an angel, but also that a potato was an apple and could be eaten as an apple. Then he'd take some water, for instance, and say: 'I am now giving you some very special sweet wine.' And one could see the man delighting in the sweetness. Those were the kinds of experiments Hansen made. It was the other kind of experiment he did.

What did he do when he stood on someone? He had killed the person's will, so that he no longer had any will at all. With the people he treated the way I have told you just now he only influenced their thoughts. They just had to think the way Hansen said; if he said, 'That's an apple,' and so on, they had to accept his taste, and if he said, 'That's an angel,' they would follow his thoughts and see the angel. And you see, Hansen was able to do many other things as well. He'd do the following, for example. He'd ask someone from the audience to come up who he thought would make a good victim, and he'd first of all hypnotize him, that is, make him such that he had no conscious mind of his own, that he'd take up any ideas Hansen would present to him. He'd then say: 'There'll be an interval of ten minutes. After those ten minutes I'll wake you up. You'll then go to the man who is sitting in that corner over there and take his watch from his pocket like a pickpocket.' He'd wake the man first—in the meantime Hansen had done all kinds of other things with other people—and the man would grow restless, get up, go to the man sitting over yonder in the comer and take his watch from his pocket.

People will use Latin names, of course. As I told you, Latin can always be used if one wants to use logic. And the first kind of experiments I described are called hypnotic experiments, whilst those where the man has been woken up and then does the thing afterwards are called post—post meaning 'after'—they are called post-hypnotic experiments. People now speak of hypnosis and post-hypnosis and it is known that people can be in such states.

These things give deep insight into human nature, however, for at a later stage the post-hypnotic element in particular was taken much further. If you put someone into a deep hypnotic state and tell him to do something or other three days later he will do it—if he has the right kind of personal make-up. These experiments have been done. Now you know that these things are never as acute as that in ordinary life. But they do occur in a milder form, as I have shown you in the case of someone unable to move. The other state also occurs in ordinary life. You'll have known not only people who are completely paralysed and no longer know what to do with themselves, so that in a sense they are cataleptic, but also people who suddenly begin—before that they were really perfectly sensible people—to be extremely talkative. You can't keep up with them; their thoughts pour forth, they talk, talk, talk, like a running wheel. With them, the situation is just as it is with someone who'd eat a potato thinking it to be an apple, except that in this case Hansen was in control, whilst the people who keep pouring forth their thoughts depend on their own bellies. For this is what is so interesting, that the belly—I have told you a great deal about the way the liver and so on goes on thinking in the belly—thinks much faster than the head. And when someone gets so weak in the head that he can no longer put up the necessary resistance to the thoughts that come from the belly, cannot slow them down sufficiently, the thoughts will just pour forth. These people are therefore hypnotized by their own bellies.

This is altogether a remarkable thing in life. Man has these two opposite organs, his head and his belly. Both of them think. But it is certainly true that the head thinks slowly and the belly thinks fast. The head thinks much too slowly, and the belly much too fast, but as you know very well, if you pour together a thick liquid and a thin one you get a medium thick liquid. And that is how it is with the human being. The conditions in the head slow down those in the belly, and conditions in the belly make those in the head go faster, and a balance is created.

You see, the things that go on in the world all depend on the interaction of opposite states or conditions. Much still has to be learned about this in modern science today. Let me tell you something about this. Imagine you have someone who is reasonably normal. If he lives to an age of about 72 years he will have lived 25,920 days—you can work this out, I have spoken of it before. That's 72 years. People normally live that many days. And if you count the number of breaths people take, you'll find that they take exactly that number of breaths in a day. Someone who lives a normal life and whose organism is not destroyed too early—in which case he can't reach the age of 72; someone who does not live to 72 has been destroyed in some way—has as many days in his life as the number of breaths he takes in a day. That is how human beings live. Every day, from one sunrise to the next, they take 25,920 breaths, and all things being equal, they reach patriarchal age, living for 25,920 days.

Now what does it mean that we live for 25,920 days normally, reaching patriarchal age? It means that we go 25,920 times through day and night here on earth. We go through days and nights, an experience we may have 25,920 times. What does the earth do when it goes through day and night? Now you see, gentlemen, the important thing—Goethe already had some idea of it, and today we can be definite about it—is that when dawn comes, the earth draws the powers of light, powers of the cosmos, to itself in the place where we happen to be. It is different in the other hemisphere; there it is the other way round, but it is the same process. The earth and everything that is in the earth thus breathes in light. It breathes out again when it is night. The earth does within a day what we do with the air in the short time needed for breathing in and breathing out.

You can see therefore that the earth is very much slower than we are, terribly much so. We take as many breaths in a day as the earth does in the whole of our life. This is what you can see. Now if we consider this more fully we discover something special in relation to man. Human beings breathe in such a way that the blood needs the breath. The blood is produced in the intestines, that is, in the belly, and the abdomen therefore wants to breathe that quickly. We are therefore able to say that human breathing has to do with the abdomen, the belly.

You see, if we consider the head in a truly scientific way, as scientifically as only the belly is studied in modern science today, the situation in the head is that the head is really always trying to hold the breathing back a little. The breathing also goes up into the head. The head wants to breathe in such a way that it only takes one breath each day, breathing in and out only once in a day, though we actually breathe in and out every four seconds. The head really wants to slow the breath down, make it much slower. We are therefore able to say that the head is really doing cosmic breathing; only the breathing from the body is all the time rushing up to the head, fast, and the breathing then goes slowly from the head to the body.

Now if you have someone whose will is inhibited, someone who grows rigid, what happens in his case? The breathing in his belly is not functioning properly, and the slow head breathing wants to spread to the whole body. So the fellow lies there and Hansen stands on him. The head breathing wants to control the whole body and he grows rigid. But when someone is talking and talking and talking, the head breathing no longer tends to function properly, and the fast body breathing comes up, and he talks. In that case we have not hypnosis but flight of ideas, as it is called.

Now you may say—yes, you may truly say this: 'But the world is really not at all well organized, for with our head-breathing not in tune with our body-breathing we are all the time in danger of becoming imbeciles, with either the body-breathing or the head-breathing not getting its due.' So that's a serious problem. We are always in danger of becoming imbeciles because of this. You may say: 'Well, really, the world is not at all well organized!' But let me tell you something else, gentlemen.

Consider women, for instance. Since a woman is a human being, her body-breathing is faster and her head-breathing is slower. The slower breathing is the cosmic way of breathing. But the woman only does this in the head. In the rest of her body she has the fast body-breathing. The two merely influence one another. But let us assume the woman conceives. What happens then? You see, head-breathing is brought into a small area in the body-breathing area, in the womb, by the matter with which she is inseminated. During her pregnancy the woman therefore has the slow breathing in the head, but she also has slow breathing in her pelvic region. Slow head-breathing is brought into the body-breathing, and she then has head-breathing twice over. And what develops? First of all the head. So what has come into the body when she conceived? You see, the cosmic breathing which we otherwise have only in the head has come in there. The human being takes in the whole world in the breathing process. What happens when a woman conceives is really that where the human body normally only has the human body-breathing, cosmic breathing is implanted in the body for a period of nine months, the kind of breathing human beings only have in the head otherwise.

There you see the relationship between the human being and the whole universe. At the place where the human being develops in the womb the mother wants to breathe in such a way that a single breath takes a whole day. In this way she slows down the processes in that area and so is able not only to live but also to produce a new human being. With those slow processes in the head we have a life span of 72 years. When we say that human beings normally live for 72 years, and when we see that it takes nine months for a new human being to develop, it is not at all surprising that a new human being develops in nine months, for human beings live for 72 years and we merely compress the 72 years in the breathing process, and then a new human being develops. This is something that lets you gain deep insight into the whole of nature and may also give you a foundation for the other kind of thinking.

Consider the earth and the plants in the earth. Let us say this is the root of the plant, this the stem with the leaves, and up above the flower [Fig. 24]. When you look at the root, it has salts everywhere around it in the soil. You have salts everywhere down there. These salts are heavy. The root is therefore wholly within gravity. But it is a strange thing with gravity. For it is overcome. If you were to take human heads that had been cut off, they would have quite a weight. The human head is heavy. Or take a pig's head—it is heavy. You don't feel the weight of the head as it sits on your shoulders, because gravity is overcome. In plants, too, gravity is overcome. For if the plant were to feel heaviness in its leaves it would not grow upwards but more and more downwards. But a plant grows upwards, overcoming gravity. In overcoming gravity the plant opens up to the light. The light becomes active in it, and the light comes down from above, which is the opposite direction to gravity. The light is active in it, and the light comes down from above, in the opposite direction to gravity. The plant thus goes more and more up into the light, grows more and more. As a root it was implanted into the salts of the earth; now it is exposed to the sun and its light. As it is exposed to the sun and its light, fertilization occurs here. The ovary develops and the seed, and a new plant develops under the influence of the light. The cosmic breathing of which I spoke in human beings, implanted at conception, is brought to the plant year by year through the light. The plant thus grows from gravity to light and thus also fertilization.

Figure 24

We shall say, therefore, that something which we can only discover in human beings by using our mind, so that we know that cosmic breathing comes in there, and a little bit of head develops then in a particular place inside the human body, we can also see with our eyes when we look at slants. This is extraordinarily interesting. Looking at a flower, one is able to say: 'There the universe—the cosmos is also the universe—fertilizes the flower.' The rest of it, with the pollen grain coming in and so on, is merely by the way; it has to be there because in the physical world everything has to happen physically. But in reality it is the light which comes from the universe and fertilizes the flower, and this creates the seed for the new plant.

But, gentlemen, surely you can see what is really happening? We cannot really see what happens because it is so small. But we can see it after all! Let us consider what is happening with the plant in a completely different way. Let us assume this is the earth [Fig. 25], Don't look at a plant now, but at the earth, how mists rise at a distance—maybe looking at it from a mountain, there it is easiest to see. There the mists are rising. They consist of water. If you were to look at a plant, the situation would not be all that dissimilar, it would be similar. Looking at such a plant—you'd have to sit there for a long time, however, observing all the time—you'd see that to begin with it is low, then it rises, opening out into leaves. But the mists also open out as they rise. So look at the earth here. It is only water which rises, not the solid parts you get when a plant is growing. But the water is rising. When the plant reaches a certain point up there it is fertilized out of the cosmos. When the water, here rising as mist, reaches a certain point, it is also fertilized out of the cosmos. And what happens then? Lightning develops, gentlemen! It does not happen all the time, of course, but when fertilization occurs and things are as clearly apparent as they are in summer—the lightning also comes at other times, but then it is invisible—the water is fertilized with light and heat by the universe. The same process which occurs in the plant also happens up there, and lightning makes it visible. And when the mist has been fertilized up above it comes down again as fruitful rain. So when you see a cloud of mist rising it is really a gigantic but extremely thinly spread plant. This opens up its flower up there in the cosmos, it is fertilized, contracts, and the fertilized droplets come down again in the form of rain.

mist rising off the Earth
Figure 25

This explains lightning for you. People imagine huge Leiden flasks up there or giant electricity generators; but that is not so. In reality the waters of the earth are fertilized out there, so that they can fulfil their function on earth again. And the process which happens in the plant only happens much lower down because the plant is more solid. You always get these tiny flashes of lightning up here in the region of the flower when it is the right time of the year; it is just that we do not see them. But these tiny flashes of lightning cause fertilization to occur. The rain and mists show you the same phenomenon which also occurs when a plant is fertilized. And this then also goes as far as the human being, where cosmic breathing, the breathing of the universe, which normally is only in the head, occurs in the human abdomen.

Now take a cataleptic person. What has happened in his case? Well, gentlemen, if one were to examine the cataleptic body one would find that it has grown particularly rich in salts. It has grown similar to a plant root, particularly in the head. If our head gets as rich in salts as a plant root, we grow imbecile, with the rigidity of the head spreading to everything else. So if you see people who cannot decide to go, or even to lift a hand, or get out of bed in the morning—they've got too much salt in their heads, have grown too much like the root of a plant. If you see people who are always talking and talking, they have grown too much like a flower. For when we talk we really only say part of what we know. But the people who keep talking all the time really always want to tell us everything they can. They would really always want to create a complete human being, because it is really their belly which is talking. And in drawing the world to itself, taking it into itself, the belly then becomes a head. But it is going too fast then, the way it does in the belly and in human breathing.

We are therefore able to say that Hansen made the people he placed across two chairs before he stood on them too much like a plant root in their heads. There you see the relationship between the human head and the plant root. One can actually make the whole head similar to a plant root. And he made the people whom he persuaded to eat a potato as if it were an apple similar to a flower. There you see the similarity between the belly human being, that is, the abdominal human being, and the flower. The things Hansen showed to the scientists are still being done today, but people have not yet found the explanation, an explanation which bit by bit takes one into the whole universe. So, now we can also answer the question if nature is really so badly organized that we may grow imbecile by breathing wrongly either in the head or the belly, on the one hand cataleptic with head-breathing, on the other hand talkative because we suffer from flight of ideas and cannot use the will. Now if someone considers this extremely stupid and says that if he had had the task of creating the world he'd have made it a bit differently, so we would not face the danger of growing imbecile in one of two possible directions, we can say to him: 'If this were not the case, if we were not able to have head-breathing also in the human abdomen, the head-breathing that develops when we grow rigid, the human being could never develop and there could be no fertilization. So then there would be no human beings on earth.'

You see therefore that the risk of growing imbecile is connected with the fact that we are actually able to come into existence. So if there had been the intention anywhere in the natural world that there should be no human beings, then, you see, there would also be no problem about people growing imbecile. But as there had to be human beings there also has to be the risk of growing imbecile. We have no reason to rail at nature because we can see how things are connected. After all, someone might also come and say: 'Really, how silly it is that 2 times 2 makes 4. I wish it would make 6, for then I'd have more.' But this cannot be. And in the same way it cannot be that the human being exists on earth without there being a risk of growing imbecile. We simply have to understand these things properly. We shall then also be able to see things in the right way everywhere.

Looking at lightning, one would then say: 'Is the lightning only up there?' Oh no, the lesser lightning is there all summer as the plants are fertilized—passing over the pastures, over the woodlands. And finally there is a lightning that always happens in us. Everywhere within us we have the same phenomena which we see occasionally when there's lightning, for our thoughts flash up like lightning in us. But compared to the tremendous flash of lightning outside, the process in our thinking is only a faint one. But now you'll also be able to say to yourselves: 'It does mean something to say, as I look at the lightning, that I am seeing cosmic thoughts. For this is the same process which is also inside me.' You need to look at things scientifically and not in a superstitious way.

You see, it is certainly interesting that by the end of the nineteenth century scientists had reached a point where such important things were not taken note of, and it needed a charlatan, a mountebank like Hansen to come along and show them. It was only after this that attention was paid to these things. You can see, therefore, that science was not as good in the last third of the nineteenth century as people like to say it was. Yes, major discoveries were made in outer ways, X-rays and so on were discovered, but people actually had no desire to know anything decent about the inner life of human beings, and still do not have the desire to this day. Because of this our modern science does not apply to human beings and does not help at all when it comes to humanity. You may build as many universities as you like, the processes that are active in the human being will not be explained to you if you go to them. At the same time they also won't tell you what really happens when plants are fertilized. And when mists rise and rain falls the explanation is that it is not much different from when you cook something on a stove—the vapours rise and then come down again. But that's not how it is, for when the vapours rise they reach a sphere up above where they are fertilized by the universe. And lightning is proof that they are fertilized. And there we actually see fertilization take place, a process that also happens elsewhere.

The situation is that this has great significance. Take a year. You have winter and summer in a year, just as you have day and night within 24 hours. And a human life has 25,920 days. If you take 25,920 years you get the time when the earth did not yet exist and when it will no longer be. We are now more or less a little bit beyond the mid-point, with the earth in existence for something above 13,000 years. After another 11,000 years or so it will perish again. Just as man lives 25,920 days, so does the earth live 25,920 years, the way it is now. It changes. It was young once, is now getting old. And it is extremely important for us to know that the waters need to be exposed to the universe year after year. At some point, in some place on this earth, the water must be exposed to the universe every year, otherwise the earth would not be able to live. The earth lives with the universe as we live with the air. If someone were to take away the air that is around us on earth, we would not be able to take our 25,920 breaths each day. If someone were to take away the sun, that is the light, the earth would not be able to live. Thus the earth lives with the help of the whole universe, just as we live with the help of the air that surrounds us. It would thus be right to say that we go for walks on the earth, and the earth goes for walks in the universe. We breathe on earth; the earth breathes in the universe.

You see, we could develop a peculiar science. The human head is round, as you know [drawing on the board] and has hairs on it here, unless a person is very old. Now there are creatures in these woods—this may not be desirable, but it happens. Let us assume they take the dandruff here and create a place where the cleverest of them always get together to teach the ignorant ones. That would be a louse university on the human head itself. Well, we can imagine such a thing. What would the clever lice teach the ignorant ones? They would teach: 'The head is lifeless, for we walk about on it. Lifeless dandruff develops. Digging down a bit we come to lifeless bone.' The clever lice would explain all this to the ignorant lice at their louse university up there. They would explain the human head more or less the way we explain the earth at our human universities. The louse professors—forgive me, I do of course mean the ones up there on the head—would therefore have no idea that the head is alive. They would develop a geology of the head and declare the head to be dead. But gentlemen, this is what people do in our universities! The earth is declared to be dead. They know nothing about its breathing. For one would never discover anything about human breathing at the louse university and therefore nothing about it would be explained. They would say: 'Man is dead; the human head is a dead sphere.' And unless the head lice were to make contact in some way with the body lice, the head lice would never know that there is a body.

And that is how it is. Unless human beings on earth make contact with other entities of a higher kind they'll never discover that the earth sends its waters out into the universe and is fertilized, that it breathes and is fertilized. Yes, taking the idea of the kind of science taught at the university on our head, we can really get an idea of what science on our earth is like. For that is truly how it is. And you can see from this that it will indeed be necessary for us to go beyond the things we can easily understand. We have to go beyond.

And a true science of the spirit that proceeds in an equally scientific way will be able to take us beyond and therefore also explain the things which Hansen first presented in his day.

Well, gentlemen, we've not yet finished with this question of hypnosis and with the rest of it. I'll say a few things about them the next time we meet, for they need to be compared with the situation in natural sleep. At 9 o'clock next Wednesday I want to talk to you about what happens when people sleep, what happens when someone develops catalepsy—for in ordinary sleep you can't lie on two chairs and be trodden on—the difference between sleep and hypnosis, the difference between catalepsy and flight of ideas.