Nine Lectures on Bees
22 December 1923, Dornach
We should perhaps say something further on the subject of Herr Dollinger's question. He asked, on your behalf, for it is probably of interest to you all, what the spiritual relationship is between the hosts of insects which, fluttering about, approaches the plants and what is to be found in the plants. I told you yesterday, for we began to answer this question last time, that all around us there is not only oxygen and nitrogen, but that throughout Nature there is intelligence, truly intelligence. No one is surprised if one says that we breathe in the air, for air is everywhere, and science today is so widely included in all the school books that everyone knows that air is everywhere, and that we breathe it in. All the same I have known country people who thought this a fantastic idea, because they did not know the air is everywhere; in the same way there are people today who do not know that intelligence is everywhere. They consider it fantastic if one says that just as we breathe in the air with our lungs, so do we breathe in intelligence, for example, through our nose, or through our ear. I. have already given instances in which you could see that there is intelligence everywhere.
We have been speaking of an especially interesting chapter of natural science, of the bees, wasps and ants. There is, may be, little in Nature which permits us to look so deeply into Nature herself, as the activities of the insects; the insects are strange creatures, and they have still many a secret to disclose.
It is interesting that we should be discussing the insects just at the time of the centenary of the famous observer of insects, Jean Henri Fabre, who was born on December 23, one hundred years ago, and whose life time coincides with the age of materialism. Fabre therefore interpreted everything materialistically, but he also brought to light an enormous number of facts. It is therefore quite natural that we should remember him today when we speak of the insects.
I should like to begin with, to give you an example of a species of insect which will interest you in connection with the bees. The work of the bees is perfected to a very high degree, but the most remarkable thing about the bee is really not that it produces honey but, that it produces the marvellous structure of the honey-comb entirely out of its own being. The material it makes use of, it must itself bring into the hive, but the bee actually works in such a way that it does not use this material directly, but completely transforms it, completely transforms what it brings into the hive. The bee works from out of its own being.
Now there is a kind of bee which does not work in this way, but shows, precisely in its work, what immense intelligence there is in the whole of Nature. Let us consider this bee; it is commonly called the wood-bee, and is not so valued as the domestic bee, because it is mostly rather a nuisance. We will consider this wood-bee at its work.
It is a tremendously industrious little creature, a creature which in order to live — not the individual bee, but the whole species — must do a terrific amount of work. This bee searches out such wood as is no longer on a living tree, but has been made into something. One finds the wood-bee which I shall presently describe, with its nest in a place where wooden rails, or posts have been driven in and the wood is therefore apparently dead. The nests can usually be found in wooden rails or posts, in garden benches, or garden doors, in fact wherever one has made use of wood. Here the wood-bee makes its nest, but it does so in a very singular way.
Imagine to yourselves a post (Diagram 16.) The wood is no longer part of a tree. The wood-bee comes along and first of all bores a sloping passage from outside. When it has got inside, when it has bored out a kind of passage, it starts boring in quite a new direction. It makes a little ring-like hollow, then flies off and collects all manner of things from round about, and lines out the hollow with these. Having finished the lining, it deposits an egg which will develop into a larva. This is now inside the hollow. When the egg has been placed there, the little bee makes a covering over it, in the centre of which there is a hole. Now it begins to bore again above the cover, and makes a second little hollow for the second bee that is to creep out, and having lined it and left a hole it lays another egg. The wood-bee continues in this way till it has constructed ten or twelve of these superimposed dwellings; in each one there is an egg.
You see, gentlemen, the larva can now mature in this piece of wood. The bee puts some food next to the larva which first eats what has been prepared for it, and grows till it is ready to creep out. First we have the time when the grub becomes a cocoon, then it is transformed into a winged bee which is to fly out. Inside there it is so arranged (see Diagram 16), that the larva now developed can fly out at the right moment. When the time comes that the larva has developed, has turned into a cocoon, and then into a complete insect, then it is so arranged that it is able to fly out through the passage. The skill employed has enabled the fully formed insect to fly out through the passage that was first bored.
Well and good, but the second insect that is a little younger, now emerges, and the third that is still younger; because the mother insect had first to make these dwelling-places, the creatures would not find any outlet, the situation would be fatal to the larvae in the upper chambers, they would slowly die. But the mother insect prevents this by laying the eggs so that when the young larva creeps out, it finds this other hole which I described, and lets itself down there, and flies out. The third creature comes down through the two holes and so on. Because each insect that comes out later is matured later, it does not hinder the one below it which had emerged earlier. The times are never the same, for the earlier has always already flown out.
You see, gentlemen, the whole nest is so wisely planned that one can only wonder at it.
Today when men imitate mechanically, the things they copy are often of this kind, but as a rule they are far less cleverly constructed. Things that exist in Nature are extremely wisely made, and one must really say that there is intelligence in them, real intelligence. One could give hundreds and thousands of examples of the way the insects build, of the way they set about their tasks, and how intelligence lives within these things. Think how much intelligence there is in all I have already told you about the farming ants which establish their own farm, and plan everything with wonderful intelligence.
But in considering these insects, the bees, wasps and ants, we were at the same time dealing with another matter. I told you that these creatures all have a poisonous substance within them, and that this poisonous substance is also, if given in the right dose, an excellent remedy. Bee-poison is an excellent remedy; wasp-poison is the same, and the formic acid secreted by the ants is a most especially good remedy. But as I have already pointed out, this formic acid which we find when we go to an ant-heap and take out a few ants and crush them, these ants have the formic acid inside them; by crushing them we get the formic acid. It is found more especially in the ants.
But gentlemen, if you knew how much, (of course, comparatively speaking,) how much formic acid there is in this hall, you would be greatly astonished. You might say, surely we are not to look for an ant-heap in some corner! But all of you, as many as are sitting here, are really yourselves a kind of ant-heap, for every where in your limbs, muscles and other tissues, in the heart and lung and liver tissues, above all in the tissues of the spleen, everywhere there is formic acid; certainly, it is not so concentrated as in the ant-heap, nevertheless, you are quite filled with formic acid. It is a highly remarkable fact.
Why do we have formic acid in our bodies? One must be able to recognise when a man has too little of it. If someone seems ill, and people are mostly a little ill, he might have one or another of a hundred different illnesses which externally, would seem similar. One must know what is really the matter with him; if he is pale or has no appetite, these are only external symptoms. One must find out what exactly is wrong with him. In many cases, the trouble might well be that he is not enough of an ant-heap in himself, that he is producing too little formic acid. Just as formic acid is produced in the ant-heap, so in the human body, in all its organs, especially in the spleen, formic acid must be vigourously produced. When a man produces too little formic acid, one must give him a preparation, a remedy with which one can help him to produce sufficient formic acid. One must learn to observe what happens to a man who has too little formic acid in him. Such observations can only be made by those who have a true knowledge of human nature. One must make a picture of what is happening in the soul of a man who, to begin with, had enough formic acid, and later, has too little. It is a singular thing, but a man will tell you the correct thing about his illness, if you ask him in the right way. Suppose, for instance, you had a man who tells you: “Why, good gracious, a few months ago I had ever so many good ideas, and I could think them out well. Now I cannot do so any longer; if I want to remember anything, I cannot do so.” This is often a much more important symptom than any external examination can give. What is done today is of course justifiable, one must do these things. Today one can test the urine for albumen, or sugar and so on; one gets quite interesting results. But in certain circumstances, it can be far more important when a man tells you something of the kind I have just told you. When a man tells you something of this kind, one must of course, learn other things about him also, but one can discover that the formic acid in his body has recently become insufficient.
Well, anyone who still thinks only of externals, might say: “This man has too little formic acid, I will squeeze out some formic acid, or get it in some other way, and give him the right dose.” This could be done for a certain time, but the patient would come to you and say it has done him no good at all. What then is the matter? It really has not helped him at all. It was quite correct; the man had too little formic acid, and he has been given formic acid, but it did him no good. What is the reason? You see, when you examine further, you come to this point. In the one case formic acid has done no good, in another case, it has continued to do good. Well presently one learns to see the difference. Those who are helped by formic acid, will usually show mucus in the lungs. Those who got no help from it, will show mucus in the liver, kidneys, or in the spleen.
It is very interesting. It is therefore a very different matter if the lung, for example, lacks formic acid, or the liver. The difference is that the formic acid which is in the ant-heap, can immediately take effect upon the lung. The liver cannot do anything with the formic acid, it can make no use of it at all.
Something further now comes in question. When you discover that a man's liver, or more especially his intestines are not quite in good order, and if one gives him formic acid it does not help him, though he actually has not enough of it, then one must give him oxalic acid. One must take wood-sorrel, or the common-clover that grows in the fields, extract the acid, and give him this.
Thus you see, anyone with lung trouble must be given formic acid, whereas if the trouble is in the liver, or the intestines, he must be given oxalic acid. The remarkable thing is that the man to whom one has given oxalic acid, will before long himself change the oxalic acid into formic acid. The main point therefore is, that one does not simply introduce such things into a man's body, but that one knows what the organism can bring about by means of its own resources. When you introduce formic acid into the organism, it says; — “This is not for me; I want to be active, I cannot work with ready-made formic acid, I cannot take it up into my lungs.” Naturally, the formic acid has gone into the stomach; from there it finally passes into the intestines. Then the human body wants to be active, and say, as it were: “What am I supposed to do now? I am not to make formic acid myself, for formic acid is given me; have I to send this from here up into my lungs? This I shall not do.” The body wants oxalic acid, and from this it produces formic acid.
Yes, gentlemen, life consists of activity, not of substances, and it is most important to recognise that life does not merely consist of eating cabbages and turnips, but of what the human body must do when cabbages and turnips are put into it.
You can see from this what strange relationships exist in Nature. Outside there, are the plants, The clover is merely especially characteristic, for oxalic acid is to be found in all the plants; in clover it is present in greater quantities, that is why it is mentioned. But just as formic acid is everywhere in Nature and everywhere in the human body, so also is there oxalic acid everywhere in Nature and in the human body.
There is something further that is very interesting. Suppose you take a retort, such as are used in chemical laboratories. You make a flame under it, and put into the retort some oxalic acid — it is like salty, crumbly ashes. You then add the same quantity of glycerine, mix the two together, and heat it. The mixture will then distil here, (Diagram 17) and I can condense what I get here (Diagram 17). At the same time I notice air is escaping at this point. Here it escapes. When I now examine this escaping air, I find it is carbonic acid. Thus carbonic acid is escaping here, and here, where I condense (Diagram 17) I get formic acid. In here, I had oxalic acid and glycerine. The glycerine remains, the rest goes over there, the fluid formic acid dropping down and the carbonic acid giving out the air.
Well, gentlemen, when you consider this whole matter thoroughly, you will be able to say: suppose, that instead of the retort we had here the human liver or let us say some human or animal tissue, some animal abdominal organ, liver, spleen or something of this nature. By way of the stomach I introduce oxalic acid. The body already possesses something of the nature of glycerine. I have then in the intestines oxalic acid and glycerine. What happens?
Now look at the human mouth, for there the carbonic acid comes out, and downwards from the lungs formic acid everywhere drops in the human body in the direction of the organs. Thus everything I have drawn here we have also in our own bodies. Within our own bodies we unceasingly transform oxalic acid into formic acid.
And now imagine to yourself the plants spread out over the surface of the earth. Everywhere in the plants is oxalic acid. And now think of the insects; with the insects all this occurs in the strangest way. First think of the ants; they go to the plants, to all that decays in the plants, and everywhere there is oxalic acid, and these creatures make formic acid from it in the same way that a man does. Formic acid is everywhere present.
The materialist looks out into the air and says: — Yes, in the air there is nitrogen and oxygen. But gentlemen, in very, very minute quantities there is also always some formic acid present, because the insects flutter through the air. On the-one hand we have man. Man is a little world; he produces formic acid in himself, and continually fills his breath with formic acid. But in the great world without, in the place of what happens in man, there is the host of insects. The great breath of air that surrounds the whole earth is always permeated with formic acid which is the transformed oxalic acid of the plants. Thus it is.
If one rightly observes and studies the lower part of the human body with its inner organs, the stomach, liver, kidneys and the spleen, and further within, the intestines, it is actually the case that oxalic acid is perpetually being changed into formic acid, this formic acid passes with the inbreathed air into all parts of the body. So it is within man.
On the earth the plants are everywhere, and everywhere the innumerable hosts of insects hover above them. Below is the oxalic acid; the insects flutter towards it, and from their biting into the plants formic acid arises and fills the air. Thus we perpetually inhale this formic acid out of the air. What the wasps have is a poison similar to formic acid, but somewhat different; what the bees have in the poison of their sting, though actually it pervades their whole body, is likewise a transformed, a sublimated formic acid.
Looking at the whole, one has this picture. One says to oneself: we look at the insects, ants, wasps and bees. Externally, they are doing something extremely clever. Why are they doing this? If the ant had no formic acid it would do quite stupidly all that I have described as so beautiful. Only because the ants are so constituted that they can produce formic acid, only because of this, does all that they accomplish appear so intelligent and wise. This also applies to the wasps and the bees.
Have we not every reason to say (for we produce this formic acid in ourselves): In Nature there is intelligence everywhere; it comes through the formic acid. In ourselves also there is intelligence everywhere because we have formic acid within us. This formic acid could not be in existence had not the oxalic acid first been there. The little creatures hovering over the plants see to it that the oxalic acid is changed into formic acid, that it is metamorphosed.
One only fully understands these things when one asks: How is it then with the oxalic acid? Oxalic acid is essential for all that has life. Wherever there is life, there is oxalic acid, an etheric body. The etheric body brings it about that the oxalic acid is renewed. But the oxalic acid never becomes a formic acid that can be used by the human or animal organism unless it is first transformed by an astral body from oxalic into formic acid. The formic acid which I here extracted from the oxalic acid, is of no use at all to the human or animal organism. It is an illusion to think it can be of use; it is dead. The oxalic acid which is produced in man, and through the insects is living, and arises everywhere where sensation, or something of the nature of the soul is present.
Man must produce formic acid in himself if he wishes to bring forth something of the nature of the soul out of the mere life-processes of the lower body where the oxalic acid prevails. Then, in the formic acid of the breath there lives the soul quality that rises up to, and can be active in the head. The soul needs this transformation in man of the oxalic into formic acid.
What then is actually happening when oxalic acid is changed into formic acid? You see, the first thing that I told you can show us this. The wood-bee which I described, is especially interesting for it works in wood that is no longer living. If this wood-bee could not make use of the wood in the right way, it would seek a dwelling place elsewhere. It does not make its nest in a tree, but in decaying wood, and where rails and posts begin to rot away; there it makes a nest and lays its eggs.
If you study the connection of the decaying wood and the wood-bee, wasps, etc., then you find that similar processes of decay constantly take place in the human body. If this process of decay goes too far, the body dies. Man must constantly carry on in himself what happens externally; he must build up cells, and this he can only do by transforming all that is plant-like within him and permeated with oxalic acid; he must change all this into formic acid so that all is permeated with formic acid.
You will say: What significance has all this for Nature?
Let us imagine one of these decaying posts or rails. Should one of these wood bees never discover it, a man would certainly not regret it, for these bees increase quickly, and the post they have hollowed out would fall down the following year. Men may not appreciate this, but Nature finds it good, for if there were none of these creatures all woody substances would gradually crumble into dust, and would become entirely useless. The wood in which the wood-bees have worked does not perish in dust, it is given new life. From all this decaying wood that is quickened a little by the wood-bee, or by other insects, much arises which rescues our earth from complete decay, from being scattered as dust in cosmic space; our earth can live on it because it has been quickened by the insects. As men we breathe in formic acid; in Nature the formic acid is prepared by the insects from the oxalic acid of the plants, and so works that the earth renews its life.
Consider the connection. We have man, and we have the earth. Let us take first a young child, for a young child readily transforms the oxalic acid of the lower organism into formic acid. The organs of a young child are sufficiently supplied with formic acid; the human soul develops in the child. We have the formic acid as the basis for the soul and spirit. But when a man grows old and is unable to develop sufficient formic acid, then the soul and spirit must take leave of the body. Formic acid draws the soul and spirit to the body; otherwise the soul and spirit must leave it. It is deeply interesting.
If for instance you observe a man who has developed a number of independent inner processes, you will find that it Is formic acid that helps him to master these independent inner processes. The right relationship is then brought about between the astral body and the physical body which were hindered by these independent processes in the body. Formic acid is always needed as the right basis for the soul and spirit. When the body has too little it decays, and can no longer retain the soul; the body ages and the soul must leave it.
We have then, man on the one side and Nature on the other side. In Nature formic acid is continually being prepared from oxalic acid, so that the earth may always be surrounded not only by oxygen and nitrogen, but by formic acid also. It is formic acid that prevents the earth from dying every year, gives it each year renewed life. What is beneath the earth longs as seed for the formic acid above, for renewal of its life. Every winter the spirit of the earth actually strives to take leave of the earth. The spirit of the earth benumbs the earth in winter, to quicken it again in spring. This happens because what waits as seed beneath the earth draws near-to the formic acid which has arisen through the whole intercourse of the insect world and the plant world throughout the preceding year. The seeds do not merely grow in oxygen, nitrogen and carbon, but in formic acid; this formic acid stimulates them in their turn to develop oxalic acid, so that once more the formic acid of the succeeding year may come into existence.
Just as in man formic acid can be the basis for his soul and spirit, so the formic acid which is spread out in the cosmos can be the basis for the soul and spirit of the earth. Thus we can say that for the earth also, formic acid is the basis for earth-soul and earth-spirit (see Diagram 18).
You see, it is actually much more difficult to telegraph in a district where there are no ant-heaps, for the electricity and magnetism necessary for telegraphing depend on formic acid. When the telegraph wires go through towns where there are no ant-heaps, it is from the fields outside the town that power must be collected to enable the electric streams to pass through the towns. Naturally, the formic acid is present in the air of the towns also.
Thus we can say: What is within man as production of formic acid, is also outside in external Nature. Man is a little world, and between birth and death he is able to produce formic acid from oxalic acid. When he can no longer do so, his body dies. He must once more take a body which in childhood can develop formic acid from oxalic acid in the right way. In Nature the process is unbroken, winter-summer, winter-summer; ever the oxalic acid is undergoing transformation into formic acid.
If one watches beside a dying man one really has the feeling that in dying, he first tries whether his body is still able to develop formic acid. When he can no longer accomplish this, death takes place. Man passes into the spiritual world, for he can no longer inhabit his body. Hence, we say that a man dies at a given moment. Along time then passes, and he returns to take another body; between whiles, he is in the spiritual worlds.
Well, gentlemen, as I told you, when a young Queen slips out in the hive, something disturbs the bees. Previously they had lived in their twilight world; now they see the young Queen begin to shine. What is connected with this shining? It is connected with the fact that the young Queen robs the old Queen bee of the power of the bee poison. The whole departing swarm feels this fear, this fear that they will no longer possess a sufficiency of poison, will no longer be able to protect, or save themselves. They go away just as the human soul goes away at death when it can no longer find the formic acid it needs: so too, the older bees go away when there is not sufficient formic acid, bee poison, in the hive.
So now, if one watches the swarm, still indeed visible to us, yet it is like the human soul when it must desert the body. It is a majestic picture, this departing swarm. Just as the human soul takes leave of the body, so when the young Queen is there, the old Queen with her company leaves the hive; one can truly see in the flying swarm an image of the departing human soul.
How truly magnificent all this is! But the human soul has not carried the process so far as to develop its forces into actual small creatures; the tendency to do this is nevertheless there. We have something within us that we wish to transform into tiny creatures, into bacilli and bacteria — into minute bees. But we suppress this tendency that we may be wholly men. The swarm of bees is not a whole man. The bees cannot find their way into a spiritual world, it is we who must bring them into a new incarnation as a new colony.
This is, gentlemen, directly an image of re-incarnating man. Anyone who is able to observe this, has an immense respect for these swarming bees with their Queen, for this swarm which behaves as it does because it desires to go into the spiritual world; but for this it has become too physical. Therefore these bees gather themselves together, and become like one body; they wish to be together, they wish to leave the world. Whereas they otherwise fly about, now they settle on some branch or bush, clustering together quietly as though they wish to vanish away, to go into the spiritual world.
If we now bring them back, if we help them by placing them in a new hive, then they can once more become a complete colony.
We must say that the insects teach us the very highest things of Nature. This is why in bygone times men were always enlightened when they looked at the plants; they possessed an instinctive knowledge of these things of which I have been speaking to you, a knowledge completely lost to modern science. These men observed the plants in their own way. When people today bring into their houses a branch of a fir-tree for a Christmas tree, they remind themselves that all that is outside in Nature can also work in our human and social life. This fir branch from which the Christmas tree is made should become for us a symbol of love. It is commonly thought that the Christmas tree is a very old custom, but the fir-tree has only been so used for 150 to 200 years. In earlier times this custom did not exist, but another plant was made use of at Christmas time. When the Christmas plays, for example, were performed in the villages, even in the 15th and 16th Centuries, there was always a man who went round to announce them who carried a kind of Christmas tree in his hand. This was a branch of the juniper that has such wonderful berries; the juniper was the Christmas tree. This was because these juniper berries, so greatly loved by the birds, contain something of that poison which must pervade all that is earthly, so that this earthly may rise again in the spirit. Just as the ants give to the wood, or the wood-bee to the decaying posts, so when the birds eat the juniper berries every morning, a certain acid, though a weaker one, is developed. People in olden days knew this instinctively, and said to themselves: “In winter when the birds come to eat the juniper berries the earth is quickened through the juniper tree.” It was for them a symbol of the quickening of the earth through Christ.
Thus we can say: When we observe things in the right way, we see how the processes of Nature are actually images and symbols of what happens in human life. These men of olden times watched the birds on the juniper trees with the same love with which we look at the little cakes and gifts on the Christmas tree. To them the juniper tree was a kind of Christmas tree which they carried into their houses; the juniper became a kind of Christmas tree.
As you are now all of you especially hard at work, we must close. I did not want today's lecture to end without touching on a subject of real importance. I have therefore spoken of the juniper tree which can truly be regarded as a kind of Christmas tree, and which is the same for the birds as the blossoms for the bees, the wood for the ants, and for the wood-bees and insects in general.
In conclusion, I should like to wish you a happy, cheerful Christmas Festival, and one which may uplift your hearts.