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From Beetroot to Buddhism
GA 353

I. Effect of cemetery atmosphere on people. How the ancient Indians, Egyptians, Babylonians and Jews saw life

1 March 1924, Dornach

Good morning, gentlemen! Has something come to mind for today?

Mr Dollinger: I would like to ask why people living near a cemetery are often less lively and look so pale. (He gave an example that seemed to bear this out.) I'd like to know how the rhythm is in the bodies, and if it cannot also do something good.

Rudolf Steiner: Well, I reckon I can answer this question quite well, because I lived right next to a cemetery from the age of 7 until I was 17. So I must have looked terribly pale in those days. It was a little bit true. Considering what you have said, this should have been the case, particularly for me.

The cemetery was that of a small place1Neudörfl near Wiener Neustadt, at that time in Hungary. with a population of about 600, and so the cemetery was moderate in size. But it was right next to the house and the railway station where we lived. And people lived right next to it all around, as was usual in such places. You had the church, with the cemetery around it, and then the houses [drawing on the board]. It was always possible to see the state of health of the people who lived around the cemetery. Well, it is fair to say that there were considerable differences between the people, and that the priest, for instance, who lived not far from the cemetery, was neither pale nor frail; he was quite corpulent and also looked pretty good. So that is what I saw at the time.

But one comes to see that, providing healthy conditions are created in other ways, and this was often done in places where you had cemeteries around the churches, you cannot assume that this is so terribly harmful. Many walnut trees would grow in those villages. The scent of walnut trees spreads, and it is extraordinarily good in strengthening health. You have to assume that people had pretty good instincts in villages where this was the general custom, and so they would plant chestnut or walnut trees, and above all also lime trees in places where the cemetery was right in the village. Limes and walnut trees counteract the harmful effects of a cemetery, balancing them out.

Something else to be considered is this. You see, if you go into more detail with the things Mr Dollinger wants to know, that is, the effect on the higher bodies, we have to be clear that only the physical body and the ether body have a vitalizing effect, whilst the astral body and the I* do not have a vitalizing but essentially a paralysing effect; they are active in soul and spirit. And you will know from many other things I have said that the physical body and the ether body are like a plant; they grow, and organs develop. If we had only these two, we would be in a continual faint. We would have a sleep life, like the plants, if destructive processes were not continually at work in us; it is only because of these that we do not have the sleep life of plants. The astral body and the I destroy, they atomize. There is continuous production and destruction in the human being. And the astral body is the most destructive in our human nature. All the products we eliminate—I have spoken of these—have really been broken down by the astral body and I. The ether body is only involved a little in this, as I have told you.

Now you see, gentlemen, the atmosphere that rises in a cemetery is related to the principle that is destructive in the human astral body, and it encourages the destructive processes. People are more subject to destruction if they live near a cemetery than if they live out in the woods somewhere. If they live in the woods, the productive forces are stronger; if they live near a cemetery the destructive forces are. But, as I said,2Lecture given to the workmen on 23 February 1924, vol. 6 in the German edition of these lectures (GA 352). if we did not have those powers of destruction we would be stupid all our life. We need those powers of destruction.

Then there is something else. I have told you that I can speak on the subject because I know it from personal experience, having known it especially in my young days, a time when so many things develop. I have always had a tendency to think clearly. And I am convinced that I owe this to the fact that destiny made me live close to a cemetery. So that is the good thing about it, gentlemen, and it has to be taken into account as well.

You'll agree that it is the dead bodies which are harmful in a cemetery. Those dead bodies merely continue in the process of destruction. When we die, the productive process stops. And because of this the astral body is really encouraged to think clearly when close to a cemetery. This, too, cannot be denied.

In the area where I grew up, called the Burgenland today, villages everywhere had their cemeteries at the centre. The Burgenland is an area that was much fought over. There are a few larger towns, Eisenstadt and others, but these lie far apart, and villages are to be found everywhere, always with the cemetery in the middle. And it is true to say that people there had a certain rustic cunning. Nor can we deny that this cunning really developed under the influence of the cemetery atmosphere. They kept the harmful influences away by planting walnut trees and limes everywhere.

It was also a wine growing area. The atmosphere created by the vine also helps to balance out bad effects. As you know, lime blossom is quite powerful, and walnut trees also have a powerful scent; this has more of a vitalizing effect on the astral body. And the atmosphere created by the vine has more of a vitalizing effect on the I. So there you get a powerful effect also on the higher bodies.

Of course, we cannot deny that things change as civilization progresses. The moment the villages grow bigger, with many houses built, which reduces the effect of the trees, a cemetery begins to be harmful, and then you do, of course, see those pale faces around a cemetery. It can no longer be balanced out and the result is that people suffer from the cemetery influence. This has in turn led to a natural instinct, which is to put the cemetery outside when villages have grown into towns.

Something else also has to be considered. It is something that happens when the effect goes further, affecting the ether body. You see, everything that rises as a subtle vapour in the atmosphere influences the astral body and the I. Both the subtle smell of bodily decay that is always present in and around a cemetery and the scent of walnut, lime and chestnut, which is particularly vitalizing, can really only influence the higher bodies; they do not reach the ether body to any marked degree.

But the situation is that the water in a region acts particularly on the ether body. And the water in the area surrounding a cemetery contains slight seepage from the dead bodies. This water is drunk by people, it is used in cooking. And if the water in a village where the cemetery lies close to the dwellings is contaminated, trees do not help! Nature helps very little in that case. And the consequence is that people will easily get tuberculosis and suffer very severely from that disease.

You see, this is something I was well able to establish. There was a village some hours away from the one where I lived—a small village. Almost everybody lived around the cemetery. These people were naturally slow to act. They had weak muscles, weak nerves, everything was flaccid; they were pale. And then I did wonder why. And, you see, this is most interesting.

In our village of Neudorfl the people living close to the cemetery were relatively healthy. So that is a big question for someone who looks at the country and considers the conditions under which people live. You had a village where people lived around the cemetery, and all they did was to plant walnut trees; they did plant them, that was a very healthy instinct—but apart from this they would very often take the water they used in cooking from the village stream! Here would be the row of houses [blackboard drawing], between them the village stream; here the cemetery, here the church; this was where we lived, here the priest, this was the school house; then there was a row of houses here, with a stream in between, and walnut trees everywhere. People would simply take their water from the stream; that stream did of course contain residues and bacteria, bacilli, from the seepage coming from the cemetery. People, and especially the people who lived there, were not outstanding when it came to cleanliness; there were houses with thatched roofs and everywhere the dunghill right at the front door, with the pigsty also right there—you got a wonderful combination of pigsty and dung heap—again draining into the village stream, so that when you stepped into it you were wading in a brownish sauce. So you see, it was not exactly hygienic, as we would say today. And in spite of this the people were healthy. One has to say they were healthy.

In the first place, if the people are healthy, the dead bodies, too, are not so bad, to begin with, compared to a place where people are sick. But this still left a big question. Why were these people healthy when those others were feeble and not fit to live? The explanation is as follows. Near this village was another place—very small but a health resort with a mineral water spring.3The resort was called Sauerbrunn. The whole village went and got its drinking water from that place. And the drinking water from there, being carbonated, also helped to counteract the contaminated water from the cemetery. The people in the other place, which was far away from the spring, did not have this water. So it was possible to see directly that carbonated water—as I once told you, it acts strongly on the I and on thinking—influences the I and the ether body, and in the ether body balances out the destructive effects of the cemetery seepage.

Of course, if there is still a cemetery once the village has become a town, there is basically nothing there to help transform the cemetery atmosphere, at least not unless spring water is brought in from a long distance away. If a town is situated in such a way that the cemetery is still at the centre, and if water is still drawn from wells, you do, of course, have the worst possible conditions for health, for in that case the ether body is under attack; and the ether body is a principle that cannot be coerced any further by anything coming from the astral body and the I.

You see, sanitary conditions are most interesting, especially from this point of view. Of course, we also have to take into account that the people who live around a cemetery, if they are still believers and have not yet become unbelievers, continually see the funeral ceremonies. These again provide a counterbalance. They influence the I. They have a strengthening effect. This, too, must be considered from the health point of view. It does balance things out.

I suppose this is more or less what you wanted to know? Perhaps someone else has thought of something?

Well, gentlemen, in that case I'll go on with this question, taking it from quite a different angle. You see, we have considered many things so far. Today let us take the insights we have gained and consider the following.

If you look at a map, your interest may go in a direction where you say: Here one nation lives, and here another. We take an interest in the different nations living next to one another. But you may also say: Today I'll look at the map to see how humanity has evolved. And then the map really gets very interesting.

Let us look at a bit of a map. I'll just make a rough drawing of it [blackboard drawing]. Going over to Asia, for instance, we have India here, Peninsular India—I have drawn this before when we were studying the races4Lecture given on 3 March 1923. In vol. 3 of the series of workmen's lectures in German (GA 349).—and here Arabia; this is Asia Minor. There Asia merges into Europe, and we are practically in Europe, the islands that look across to Europe. There we have Greece. Then we come to Africa here. And there we have a river; that is the Nile; here is Egypt—completely under British control today, as you know—it was a free country once. Now you see, different nations live in all these areas. In India the Indians, who are now struggling to their feet. They were ruled by the British for a long time, still are today, but they are getting on to their feet, and people with some insight in Britain are terribly afraid that the Indians may one day become independent. There is a major Indian movement today. Mahatma Gandhi5Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948), Indian reformer and statesman. has stirred up such a movement in India. He was locked up, but has been released again now, for health reasons. Here in the Arab countries live people who have also been more or less under British rule; that is still a fairly impassable terrain in the Arab countries. As you know, one of the things that caused the Great War was that a railway was to be built through Turkey, going this way, and a route established to India in one direction and Arabia on the other. This German plan aroused the envy and jealousy of many other countries, the intention being to build the Berlin-Baghdad Railway through Turkey and down into Asia. And this is where Syria used to be.6Syria historically included all of modern Syria and Lebanon, and parts of Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. It was a province of the Ottoman Empire (1516-1918), becoming a French territory in 1920. The country gained its independence in 1944.

You see, there are all kinds of aspects where it is interesting to ask ourselves: People have been living everywhere from time immemorial; they lived very different lives. We need only mention a few things to realize how different their lives were. In India for example there was strict segregation in castes, compared to which anything by way of classes in Europe is a mere shadow image. In India you would be bom into a caste. The highest caste were the Brahmins, priests and scholars. The children of the Brahmins all went to school in those early times. They were the ones who were able to write, the uppermost caste. Priests came from this caste, but not rulers. They came from the second caste, the military and the rulers. But it would never be possible for someone to rise from the second to the first caste; it was all strictly segregated. The third caste were peasants, country people, and the fourth caste were the people who did menial work. These castes were kept strictly apart. If it would ever have happened that someone moved from one caste to another in ancient India, it would have been as if a lion were to turn into a lamb. The castes were considered to be separate just as individual animal species are separate. And people had nothing against this. It would have seemed as crazy to them to see someone move from the third caste to the first, as if a lion had turned into an ox. The situation was entirely natural to them in ancient India.

Let us move on to Egypt; they had castes, too. What I am telling you now, gentlemen, you can consider to have been at a time that was about 3000 or 3500 years, perhaps even 4000 years before the coming of Christianity. We thus have to go back five or six millennia to look at the time of which I am speaking. In Egypt, they also had castes, but not so strictly adhered to; there it was possible for someone to move from one caste to another. But the situation in Egypt was that the whole organization of the state came from the priesthood. The priesthood arranged everything. It was the same in India, but there the division into castes determined everything, while it was less strict in Egypt. But they made sure that everything by way of law came from the priests.

The other peoples in Syria, in Asia Minor, correspondingly had their own particular ways; they differed.

To show you the role things we have been learning play in human history, let me tell you something else about these particular nations. Let us take four of them—the Indians, then the Egyptians, and then the peoples who were in this area. Here Euphrates and Tigris enter the Persian Gulf, and the people who lived there were later called the Babylonians. They will be the third group we look at.

And then, as you know, a nation emerged here that was later to play a great role in history—the Semites, the Hebrews, the Jews. They went across to Egypt, later moved back again to live here in Palestine, a relatively small nation but one that played a great role in history. We may thus consider the Indians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Jews.

You see, a special characteristic of the Indians was that they really looked at the people who lived there as distinct groups, like animal species, and divided them into four castes. Then there was the particular religion the Indians had in earlier times. They saw no difference between the world of spirit and the world of physical bodies; at the time when this Indian population first evolved in India, no difference was made between spirit and body. A tree would not be differentiated the way many other peoples did—this is the physical tree, and a spirit lives in it. No such distinction was made. The tree was at the same time a spirit, only a somewhat coarser spirit than a human being or animal. An animal was also not divided into body and soul; it was soul to the ancient Indians, as was the human being.

And when an Indian of earliest times asked after the soul—and he knew that we inhale, inhale air—then to him the air that is inhaled was the spirit. And he would know: The air is out there; that is the spirit that is all around the earth. And when this spirit, which is around the whole earth, began to flow, to waft, he would call the spirit that moved everywhere on earth Varuna. But the spirit in him was also Varuna. When there were gales outside, it was Varuna; and inside—also Varuna.

People often say today that those Indians had nature worship, venerating wind and weather, and so on. But it would be equally right to say they worshipped the spirit, for they saw the spirit in everything. The Indians had no notion of a physical body, and this being the case, every part of the human being was also a spirit: the liver was spirit, the kidney was spirit, everything was spirit. They did not distinguish between body and spirit. The secret of ancient Indian wisdom is that no distinction was made between body and spirit. Liver was liver spirit, stomach was stomach spirit.

You see, if we consider the stomach today we find that there has to be something in the stomach if it is to digest things properly. We call this substance pepsin. If it is lacking, digestion does not take its proper course; we have to put in some hydrochloric acid in that case. The ancient Indian would say to himself—he did not yet have a name for it, but he knew that there was a spirit there—the stomach is like this: that is the stomach spirit. Today we still know the term 'stomachic spirits or elixir7Lecture given to the workmen on 21 February 1924, vol. 6 in the German edition of these lectures. for some medicines. They are of course called by their inventors' names now, Hoffmann's tincture (spirits of ether) or the like; but you will still find words used that refer to the spirit. The Indians thus saw the spirit everywhere. They therefore also took no offence at the caste spirit, seeing it as a spiritual principle, just as the different orders of animals were seen as a spiritual principle.

If one goes more deeply into those Indian views, it is interesting to see that the Indians had accurate knowledge of all human organs. It was merely that they saw them as spirit. The human being was made up of many different spirits: lung spirit, stomach spirit, kidney spirit, and so on; they would only consider the physical body. With regard to the ancient Indians, therefore, we may say their whole thinking was in terms of the physical body. They saw it as something spiritual.

1. Indians—physical body—spiritual

This is very interesting, for we have now discovered a people who in the first place had accurate knowledge of the physical body.

Let us move on to the Egyptians. Here it is a strange story. The Egyptians had the Nile which we may say is really the father who feeds the country. Every July the river rises above its banks, returning to them in October. All an ancient Egyptian would know, therefore, was that the Nile held water; the waters would recede during the cold part of the year and then rise to flood the land again for the benefit of humanity. When the waters receded in October, fertile mud was left behind—the Egyptians do not need to use fertilizer. They would sow their cereal grains and so on in the mud; these would germinate and grow and be harvested before the Nile flooded again. And so the Nile really prepared their fields for them year after year. And the Egyptians were deeply conscious of the beneficial nature of water. They gave much thought to water in the world of nature. You see, today we admire the skill of engineers who are able to channel the waters. Well, the Egyptians were very good at this thousands of years ago! When the Nile rose above its banks and flooded everything, it would of course sometimes also go to places where it should not go. They therefore created a lake, one of the earliest man-made lakes, to control the flooding. Any excess water would collect in the lake. The Egyptians thus controlled nature. With all this, their attention focused on water to an extraordinary degree.

Now I already told you when answering Mr Dollinger's question that water has a tremendous influence on the human ether body. The Egyptians still had the instinct that enabled them to say: The human being has not only a physical but also an ether body. This is interesting. You see, over yonder in India were some of the oldest nations; many of them had later migrated via Arabia to Egypt. A kind of old civilization existed in Egypt that had come from India. When the Indians came to Egypt they appreciated the beneficial qualities of water. And they said to themselves: This does not act on the physical body, which we got to know in India, but on a higher body in the human being. And so the Egyptians—and with them the Indians—really discovered the ether body through their experience of water.

Having discovered the ether body the Egyptians developed the whole of their religion as a religion of the ether body. The most important aspect of ancient Egyptian religion is presented in the following legend. The Egyptians would tell this story everywhere, just as the Gospel stories were told all over Europe at a particular time. There is a sublime god—they called him Osiris. This sublime god is the benefactor of humanity. He is the source and origin of everything that comes to humanity through the element of water. But he has an enemy. He works for the good of humanity, but he has an enemy. This enemy lives in the hot wind coming from the desert. The desert was there [pointing to the blackboard]. The Egyptians thus had two gods: Osiris and Typhon, his enemy. To them, everything they saw in the natural world could also be seen in human life. But unlike the Indians they ascribed it not to the physical body but to the ether body.

The legend continues. One day Typhon killed Osiris and carried him away. Then Isis, wife of Osiris, brought the body back again, burying different parts of it in different places. Monuments were built over them. From then on Osiris was the ruler of the dead. Before, he had been ruler of the living, now he was the ruler of the dead. The Egyptians did already consider death.

As you know, for I have told you, the human ether body departs a few days after death; after this the human being gradually gains consciousness again. In the legend we hear that Osiris went away and was brought back again by Isis. The human being regains consciousness after death.

We may say, therefore, that the Egyptians discovered that the human being has an ether body. This is most interesting. The Indians still took the physical body to be a spiritual principle. The Egyptians discovered the ether body and saw it as spirit:

2. Egyptians—ether body spiritual—Osiris Typhon Isis

Everything the Egyptians believed, everything they worked for, was really for the ether body. This determined their view of things.

Something Egyptian you have certainly seen already are the mummies. I spoke of them recently, when I said that when medieval physicians spoke of mummies this was something spiritual; I explained this to you. Today people only think of Egyptian mummies when they use the word. The bodies were skilfully embalmed and preserved. Why was this done? The Egyptians knew only of the ether body and would preserve the physical body so that the individual would find it again when he returned to life. If they had already known about the astral body and the I they would not have thought it necessary to preserve the physical body. They knew only the ether body, and this in a highly spiritual way. If they had known of the I and the astral body they would have said: They create their own physical body. But they only knew the subtle ether body and therefore believed they had to preserve the physical body so that the individual would find it again on his return. The Egyptians thus discovered the ether body.

We now come to the third group, the Babylonians. They developed the ability to think to such a high level that much of their thinking still exists today; and above all they developed astronomy. They built great towers from which to observe the stars. And they realized that human beings depend not only on the things that exist on earth but also on the things to be found in the stars. They made special efforts to perceive the influence of the stars on human beings, and noted how the year is divided. The year in turn has great influence on humans through the stars. The Babylonians were thus the first to go beyond the earth in looking at life, creating astronomy and astrology, knowledge of how the stars influence human beings. This also made them aware of having to divide everything by 60 and 12 and so on.

They divided their money into units of 60 and 12, for instance. The decimal system only came later. You still have this Babylonian system of 12 in the English shilling. This system was brought down from the heavens by the Babylonians. The question is, which part of the human being is specially influenced by the stars? It is the astral body, gentlemen. This is wholly and completely under the influence of the stars. But modern astronomers do not want to know about the astral body and therefore do not set out to observe the way the stars influence human beings. The things they calculate really have no particular influence on human beings. But the Babylonians had a fine science of the stars. And this led them to discover the human astral body. This is truly marvellous. We are able to say that the Babylonians discovered the astral body, spiritually.

3. Babylonians—astral body—spiritual

The astral body actually owes its name to this. It was first discovered by the Babylonians. And it was called 'astral body' because they discovered it from the science of the stars—astrology, astronomy. So you see that successive nations made their discoveries out of the spirit—the Indians discovering the physical body, the Egyptians the ether body and the Babylonians the astral body.

If we look to see what lies behind all Babylonian legends we find it is the stars. Don't let modern scholars and their books confuse you. There is one expert who says all religions had their origins in star worship, which must therefore be regarded as the original religion. Another will say: No indeed, religions evolved from the veneration of nature. Wind and weather were venerated. A third will say that all religions developed from the elements, from water and its effects. Well, gentlemen, why is it that people say such things? The one who says religion comes from star worship has only studied the Babylonian age and thinks it was the same everywhere as it was in Babylon. The one who says religion is based on the elements has only studied the Egyptians. He therefore 'Egyptianizes' everything. And he'll say: all religions derive from veneration of wind and weather. So the reason is that people are rather limited, studying only individual aspects. Religions have a wide range of sources.

Now there is also, as I have told you, a small nation over there in Palestine—the Hebrews, the Jews. You see, they lived among those other nations and were not satisfied with anything they found there. You can read it in the Bible, in the Old Testament, how the Jews were never satisfied and came to a spirit who is completely invisible. The physical body is, of course, completely visible. The ether body came to expression in the floods, in the watery activities of the Nile; these were tangible. The astral body of the Babylonians would not be visible on earth, but could be found by studying the stars. The Jews wanted none of that, they wanted an invisible god. This invisible god influences the human I. Therefore,

4. Jews—I—spiritual (Yahveh)

The Jews found the I as a spiritual principle and called it Yahveh.

So we now have history. You can read as much as you like in history books. You will not understand how the peoples of antiquity developed. You'll read about all kinds of things, wars and kings, and have chaos and confusion in your minds; for you'll have no idea what it is all about. Religions may also be mentioned, but no one knows where they come from. If you know, however, that the human body consists of physical body, ether body, astral body and I, and that these were discovered one after the other, depending on the way people looked at life, you find that the Indians discovered the physical body, the Egyptians the ether body, the Babylonians the astral body and the Jews the I. It gradually emerged that the human being has these different bodies. This did not come suddenly, out of the blue, but was discovered in relation to the way people lived.

Indians physical body spiritual
Egyptians ether body spiritual Osiris Typhon Isis
Babylonians astral body spiritual
Jews I spiritual (Yahveh)

The Indians—and many people migrated through there, so that they differ in race—discovered the physical body. The Egyptians, who had to concern themselves a great deal with water, discovered the ether, and therefore the ether human being. Among the Babylonians, who took everything they needed for the astral body from other peoples, the priests got the idea of building high towers; they gained knowledge of the stars. And the Jews, who were always on the move—read the stories of Abraham, Moses and so on—were not inclined to venerate anything visible, be it above or below; they found Yahveh, the invisible god who created the human I and influenced it.

Now the whole has meaning! You can see how humanity gradually found itself. The story continues, and we'll look at the rest of it. Well, gentlemen, today is Saturday, so we'll meet again next Wednesday.