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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Original Impulses for the Science of the Spirit
GA 96

XI. Matters of Nutrition and Methods of Healing

22 October 1906 morning, Berlin

Today we are going to consider something from the point of view of spiritual science that may be said to be of eminent value if it is taken the right way. We are going to talk about some aspects of nutrition and healing. More than with any other kind of subject you’ll have to remember, however, that all we can do is aphoristically take individual details from an infinitely vast field and that it is extremely difficult to speak about these things at this time in a language that everyone can understand. We can therefore only consider these things in an approximate way, for in this kind of wider group I am speaking not only to the initiate who would be in a position to sense the true value of every word that is spoken.

In occult schools whose members are already at a higher level one can agree to use a specific way of saying things, so that a particular word will express a specific feeling impulse. All such things—and today we can only touch on them lightly—often have different meanings in ordinary life. But an attempt will nevertheless be made to speak about these matters, seeing that they are also of practical value. People who do not believe that effects arising from causes that lie in the world of spirit are much more powerful than the effects you get in the outer physical world will not gain much from it, however. Many will admit, in theory, that something we must call spirit, something that has a powerful influence in the world, has powers similar to those of electricity, magnetism, and so on. The science of the spirit finds itself in all kinds of positions in modern cultural life. Above all it is misunderstood by people who conservatively want to have life continue along old-established lines and also by the many people who want to bring about reforms in all kinds of areas. All these different groups of people come to the science of the spirit and consider it only natural that the science of the spirit should come to them and not they to the science of the spirit. It will of course be easy to see that someone who is a radical protector of animals will not make his energies and experience available to the spiritual scientific movement but will get really angry if all theosophists do not immediately join the animal protection movement. This is something you’ll see in all kinds of specific areas. And it is, of course, perfectly natural. But the theosophical movement is something that is universal. It relates to the different individual movements the way an architect’s plans relate to the work of the carpenters, masons, skilled craftsmen of all kinds who are working on the house. The latter are individual workers. But the person who is in charge of the building project must ask the workers to come to him to be given their particular instructions. This is also why it is not acceptable for other movements—homoeopaths, teetotallers and others—to ask that the science of the spirit should come to them. Instead, all the specialist areas must be part of the spiritual scientific movement which must aim for basic reform in a
spheres of life, but from within.

The position of theosophy in relation to science in particular is readily misunderstood. Not only do scientists believe theosophists to be against them, not wanting to have anything to do with them. Even friends of theosophy have this opinion. Above all physicians who have had a scientific training and are working to meet official requirements will easily develop the prejudice that theosophy does not involve scientific methods and therefore does not go with science. That is not the case, however.

Today you keep hearing slogans, nothing but slogans, from people. There is some justification for having specialists. But it is not the representatives of specialist fields but mainly their followers who use such slogans. One of them is one I'd particularly like to mention. You often hear that the public practically freeze with horror if you use the term ‘poison’. It seems perfectly sensible to say that no poison should ever get into the body. And people like to talk about ‘natural medicine’ in that case. But what do we really mean by ‘natural’? and by ‘poison’? The effect which the belladonna poison has on the human organism is natural, a purely natural effect. Nature does, of course, include all actions that come under the laws of nature. And what is a poison? Water is a powerful poison if someone consumes it by the bucketful, for it will then prove most destructive. And arsenic is a very good thing if you use it in particular combinations. What we need, therefore, is a truly thorough study of the human organism and the things to be found in the natural world outside.

Paracelsus72Paracelsus (see note 62). 'From the external put together the whole human being: thus you find in the same the evident corpora of all materia, and find in these all species of the parts, of health and sickness, and also all their essences ... It arises from this that you should not say: that is cholera, that is melancholia, but: that is an arsenicus, that is an aluminosum. And also: he is of Saturn, he of Mars: not: he is of melancholy, he is of cholera. For one part belongs to heaven, one part to earth, and are mingled as fire and wood are, where each may lose its name, then they are two things in one.' From Das Buch Paragranum, edited and introduced by Dr Franz Strunz, Leipzig 1903, S 29 f. On Paracelsus, see the lecture given in Berlin on 26 April 1906 (in GA 54): Paracelsus, Anthroposophical News Sheet 1941; 9:37-40. was very specific about the way particular processes in the human body relate to those in the natural world outside, for instance cholera to arsenic. He called someone with cholera an ‘arsenicus’, for he knew that the same factors played a role in arsenic and cholera and he also perceived how things harmonize. We thus have a natural process which must first be understood.

Something else that proves an obstacle in the matter of entering into dialogue with scientists is the materialistic way of thinking. This has distorted people’s views on all the matters we are concerned with here. Remember what has been said about the effects of some metals on the human organism.73See preceding lecture in this volume (21 October 1906). Someone may say the science of the spirit is pure materialism when it is said that the powers inherent in minerals and metals have material effects on the human organism. But in the science of the spirit we also know that material things have a particular relationship to the spirit. Someone who truly speaks for a spiritual view of the world will have realized that substances like these are not just matter and that spirit and soul dwell in them just like in a creature that lives in a skin. That is the sense in which a theosophist will speak of the spirit embodied in gold, in quartz or in belladonna poison. To the occultist, the world is full of spiritual entities. The spirit embodied in lead has the relationship to the human organism you heard me speak of yesterday. For theosophists it is not a matter of looking for some kinds of peculiar spiritual entities that have nothing at all to do with our world, but rather for entities that are present in every piece of metal and indeed in everything there is in the world around us. That is how one sees the spirit in matter from the point of view taken in the science of the spirit. Spiritual analogies are something based on genuine spiritual research.

We are not therefore in opposition to expert knowledge. There have to be specialist fields, and we must not ignore the outer facts. But it is impossible to gain a comprehensive point of view concerning the world on the basis of specialist knowledge. A medical practitioner is also a person and as such needs to know something of the higher worlds. He will then arrange his work in a very different way from someone who knows nothing of the great scheme of things, for he will then also rate symptoms differently. A single observation or experience may well be taken to be something quite minor if one has an overview of the whole. Just as everyone working in the sphere of culture has to meet certain preconditions, so the future will demand physicians who know the science of the spirit. An example would be Hahnemann, the founder of homoeopathy. The difference between Paracelsus and Hahnemann is enormous. The 16th-century physician was still clairvoyant to some extent. Hahnemann was no longer clairvoyant. He was only able to assess the actions of medicines by what his senses told him.74'The appropriateness of a medicine... depends not only on being the right homoeopathic choice, but also on the dose being of the right degree of magnitude, or rather smallness... Here the question arises as to what this appropriate degree of smallness may be ... Pure experiment, careful observation and experience alone will determine it.' Hahnemann, Samuel, Organon der rationalen Heilkunde, Dresden 1810, paragraphs 300 ff.

An analogy may be found for the relationship we are speaking of between the human being and the creatures and objects of the natural world. It is the relationship between the sexes, which is largely governed by sympathy. It is a mysterious attraction that brings the sexes together, a power at work in the sphere of life. It should not be taken to be something mystical in the bad sense of the word that one particular man feels drawn to one particular woman. Someone who trains himself to be an occult observer of the world has a similar relationship to all living things around him, one that may be called universal. Just as there is a specific relationship between the one man and the one woman, so there is a specific relationship between one person of the kind I am speaking of and the phenomena in the world around him. People who have developed these powers gain knowledge that lets them perceive the connection that exists between a particular thing and the human being. And this then also leads to insight into the actions of medicinal powers.

Paracelsus did not have to try things out first, no more than a magnet which attracts iron needs to try it out. He was able to say that a particular healing power lay in the red foxglove. Such knowledge will only be regained when a physician realizes that it is a matter not only of intellectual understanding but of one’s inner attitude to life; when he knows that he himself must become a completely different person. When he has transformed his temperament, his character, the whole tenor of his soul, then and only then can he develop the power of vision and understanding for the powers in the world that harmonize the human being. This will be possible in a future that it not too far off. The view of the world held in the science of the spirit must above all offer particular principles, some of which will be mentioned now, after this more general view. Anyone who is willing can gain much from this.

Four elements are involved in this. The first is that there is a connection between the process we call digestion and the process we call thinking activity, in other words, what digestion is at a lower level, thinking activity is in a higher sphere. In the human organism, as it lives on the physical plane, the two are intimately connected. Let me give you a piece of real evidence of this. It is part of thinking activity that one must be able to draw logical conclusions, seeing how one concept evolves from another. This is a quite specific part of thinking activity. You can do exercises to make this thinking activity follow a particular course. The process such exercises bring about at soul level, in your thinking activity, is brought about by a particular substance in the digestive process, and that is coffee. This is no wild assumption, it is a fact that can be proved. What you do to your stomach with coffee is the same as you do to your thinking with practical exercises in logic. If you take coffee, you encourage logical consistency in your thinking. And if it is said that taking coffee enhances the activity which is needed to strengthen one’s thinking, this may well be true. But coffee only encourages consistency in one’s thinking in a way that shows dependence; it is acting as if under compulsion. You feel a certain lack of independence in you, something like an influence coming from outside. Someone who wants to be consistent in his thinking but also to remain dependent, may drink a lot of coffee. But if he wants to be independent in his thinking, he must free himself from the very things that act on his lower nature; he must develop powers in himself that come from the soul. He will then also find that his stomach functions properly again, or continues to function properly, after the exercises in question.

Something else. The opposite of well-ordered thinking activity is the kind of thinking that cannot stay with a thought, a thinking that lacks a sound basis. This, too, has its correlate in the action which a particular substance has on the digestion, a substance contained in tea. Tea does indeed act on our lower functions as something which causes all flightiness in one’s thinking in the upper human being. You may conclude from this that some of the harmful effects of tea can be quite disastrous on occasion. But do not think that someone who takes tea all his life will finally have to be quite scatty inwardly. If tea does not have that kind of harmful effect on him this merely proves that his organism has sufficient powers of resistance.

Just as digestive functions correspond to active thinking, so do the functions of the heart and blood relate to the life of the will and of appetites; every influence brought to bear on the blood by certain substances such as certain foods will have its correspondence in an active will. This can be observed especially by considering the reverse. You often hear today that the notion of it being possible to heal someone with thoughts is something that has long since been overcome; that it is not possible, for instance, to cure someone suffering from religious mania or also persecution mania by means of correspondingly opposite thoughts. What one sees on the outside is only a symptom, and if one were able to remove this symptom the disease would shift to another organ and take a different form. Occultists have known this fact established in materialistic medicine for a long time. An occultist would never dream of trying to cure a delusion by an idea that is its opposite. But it is a different story if one intervenes much more deeply, using occult means to influence the original cause. Let us assume someone has become sick in the sphere of the will and appetites; this would be due to disorders affecting particular organs. Not only the heart comes into this, but some other things that are also connected. A materialistic physician will say: ‘I cannot cure the situation which shows itself here by teaching the patient the right ideas.’ But you have to consider that there are not just two things to be considered in the organism, not only the material basis and the life based on it; there is a third element, and the occultist knows this. Yes, an organic function lies behind immediate soul activity on the physical plane, that is, behind the things that come to expression in will impulses. But behind this organic activity lies the third element, which is that the organ has been created by the spirit, it has developed out of something that is spiritual. And it is this spiritual principle behind the organ, having created it, which we must consider. To try and give someone suffering from religious mania the right ideas will serve no purpose. But if your influence on this person is such that you address the creator of the organ function—which is the ether body—you can achieve something, not with ideas but by doing something which on the surface seems to have no connection at all with the life of ideas.

To understand this, let us consider the concept of a religious truth. You can approach the idea of the religious truth in such a way that you grasp it. This is all that is needed for the rational mind. But you can understand as many ideas as you like, this will have no effect at all in your organic life—life in the ether body as well as the physical body. It is also of no avail to try and teach a patient right ideas from conviction, for this will have no effect at all on his will activity. But if you don’t think of this truth as something that works only in terms of the rational mind, but say to the person: ‘You need to grasp this not just once, but you must let these ideas influence you again every day; they have to be repeated rhythmically day after day, and this needs to go hand in hand with quite specific feelings and images.’ To do something once has no effect. But if it happens regularly for quite some time, then it will have an effect that also reaches the organic constitution. This is what we call concentration and meditation. So you don’t influence people with just teaching them something. But if you give instructions and they follow them daily for many weeks you will influence them a little bit, for you will reach the principle that is behind the organ, its creator. Occultism does not have a different basis from the scientific approach to medicine, but there is greater knowledge. It is of course not yet possible to make these ideas publicly known.

Our breathing function is connected with the life of feeling and of the senses in the widest possible sense. You can discover many things if you get a clear picture of everything connected with the breathing function and how this can influence the life of feeling and of the senses. Breathing depends on sufficient oxygen getting into the blood and organic matter being maintained by this. People who take pleasure in things of the mind, who have a life of the spirit that puts them in a cheerful frame of mind and influences them all the time—such people influence their organs out of the spirit in a way that brings health.

Going back again to digestion and thinking activity, we shall find that this is a field where much needs to be done. It has to be understood that humanity must change more and more to a deliberate way of feeding itself. People seeking to gain knowledge in this field do, however, often fall into a particular error. They want to learn too much of what they call ‘nature’; they want to follow ‘nature’ and ‘nature’ only. Paracelsus said: 'We should not be subservient to nature. A physician has to pass nature’s examination, it is true, but he must be an artist, he must take nature further',75'How can the medicine be reconciled with such things, that the physician might reasonably call himself a physician? He is therefore subordinate to nature, and God is the lord of nature.'
'Now the physician comes from the medicine, and not from himself, and he must therefore pass nature's examination, nature being the world and all it encompasses. And what nature teaches him he must entrust to his wisdom; yet he should not seek anything in his wisdom, but solely in the light of nature, and then keep safe what he has learned in the cell of that same vessel.'
Theophrastus Paracelsus, Volumen Paramirum und Opus Paramirum, published by Dr Franz Strunz, Jena 1904, S. 74, 85.
'Then nature is so subtle and accurate in its things, that it cannot be used without great skill. For it will not reveal anything that is in a perfect state; man has to perfect it. This perfection is called Alchimia.'
'Thus the physician must furthermore be skilful. One who wishes to be skilful must have experience in everything, for the foundation of your skills goes beyond the realm of the arts; it is not the foundation of teaching but of your understanding in the skills needed for medicines.'
Das Buch Paragranum (see note 72), S. 70, 105.
And he did not think the right medicines were things taken straight from nature but new products created in the spirit of nature. He believed a time would come in medicine when such new products would be the truly effective medicines. It is solely and entirely a matter of taking nature further in this field.

People wanting to give reasons today why a mixed diet is best in their view tend to say that herbivores are ruminants and have a special stomach and digestive tools for this. Carnivores, they’ll say, are predators with digestive tools and teeth made for meat-eating. In their view, human teeth and digestive tools are half-way between those of ruminants and predators, so that nature herself destined humanity to have a mixed diet. But everything in the world is in a state of flux, changing and growing. What matters is not the way human beings look today but how they may change. If people change to a vegetable diet, the organs more designed for meat eating will gradually disappear and the organs needed for a vegetable diet will develop. You have to consider how things were in the past and how they can be in future. We are therefore not giving human beings the right diet if we consider their present state but only if we take account of their inner development and change. Statistics and external facts will only give you the existing condition, they do not show the direction in which humanity must go. One must look at the world on a larger scale to some extent.

Take the national character of Russian country people, as they are today, and that of English people. Russian country people will put as little emphasis as possible on the I. The opposite is the case with English people. You can even see this from the way they write the word. English people use a capital I. Further investigation will show that sugar consumption is five times as high in England as it is in Russia. Once again we have mutual correspondence between digestive activity and thinking activity. The process brought about in the digestion by taking in relatively large amounts of sugar has its correlate in greater independence of thinking in the upper human being.

Now as you can imagine, it is also possible to take corrective measures in this sphere. Some people may make their diet such that they need only a short time to digest it, while others may well spend a long time on the process. This again allows us to see deeply into the human organism. For if someone eats rice and has soon finished digesting it, energies are left over that will then be available for thinking activity. Someone else who may be eating wild duck, for example, and needs a correspondingly longer time to digest it may well be intelligent; but when he produces thoughts it is in reality his stomach which is thinking. One person may not be a great thinker but may think independently, another a great thinker but dependent in his thinking. You can also learn something from this.

To mention something else. Great care must be taken to give the body neither too much nor too little protein. It is most important to find the right measure, for proteins in our digestion correspond to the generation of ideas in our thinking. The same activity which makes our thinking fruitful is evoked by proteins in the lower organism. If the body does not receive a balanced amount of protein, the proteins will cause an excess of energies in the lower bodily functions that correspond to the functions which in the upper organization create ideas. Human beings should, however, be more and more in control of their ideas. Protein intake should therefore be kept within limits; otherwise people are overcome by idea-creating activities from which they should really be free. Pythagoras was thinking of this when he told his students not to eat beans.

Now people will of course come and say: ‘Look at the rice eater. He’s a poor thinker.’ Well that person eating his rice has not yet developed. The point is not one of knowing the rules, thinking that everyone merely has to follow them. If the lower and the upper do not agree, this, too, may create havoc. Think of someone who has recently taken up vegetarianism. Activity in the lower man then is of a quite specific kind. Certain energies change from material powers into those of mind and spirit, but they can grow harmful if left unused and may even limit brain activity. If you then do not occupy yourself in any other way than a banker, for example, or with ordinary book learning, you can cause yourself a lot of damage unless you take up spiritual ideas with the powers saved by a vegetarian lifestyle. A vegetarian must therefore also take up life in mind and spirit, otherwise he’d do better to remain a meat eater, for his memory might suffer, certain parts of the brain may be damaged, and so on. It is not enough to feed on fruits to have the most sublime realms of life in the spirit open up to you.

Another correspondence in the organism is the following. The function in the upper organism which corresponds to reproductive capacities is the visionary element, as it is called, and thus in a way also inner imaginative activity. This is why some religious orders used to demand a degree of asceticism, which, however, was also a source of great dangers. These can only be avoided by purity in the inner life, trust in one’s own individual nature, and the ability to maintain composure in all life situations. If one does not give oneself up to affects and external influences, one is secure in this area and will be able to avert harmful influences.

White magic demands not only a pure life, but also one that is strong and certain, with the inner life firmly in control and the ability to maintain composure in all situations. If on the one hand you have so much self-control that nothing can take you aback, then you will also be secure inwardly, and be able to cope more easily with falls from grace.

A new era can come if people resolve to make theosophical wisdom their guide in all these things. In future it will be necessary, for instance, to see how one can transform certain powers that become available in the organism into powers that can be used to gain spiritual insight. One day a substance will be produced in laboratories that will be of greater value than milk. Even now it would be perfectly possible to establish a food laboratory and thus gain influence on the feeding of the nations. But a time will come when those who study the science of the spirit will be doing chemical work that is in harmony with evolving nature and not with nature as it has come to be. Goethe thus said:

Gaze on them as they grow, see how the plant
Burgeons by stages into flower and fruition.76Metamorphosis of Plants, 17/18 June 1798.

Please accept these few aspects taken from a vast field and consider that they need to be developed. You will then see that you can gain nourishment for mind and spirit from these things and discover the practical significance they may have for you.