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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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From Mammoths to Mediums
GA 350

II. How the etheric and astral principles work in man and earth

2 June 1923, Dornach

Good morning! I'd really like to add something today to what I said last time. I believe we shall have better and better knowledge of what man really is within the whole scheme of things if we study exactly this kind of thing. So I'd like to add to what we discussed the last time by considering how things really are when people develop conditions such as grey or black cataract. The eye becomes useless in that case. At first it seems to a person as if something was flickering before his eyes, and then he will no longer be able to see the things which he was able to see before.

The question is, what causes this eye condition? It develops because something which should be as transparent as glass in the eye becomes non-transparent. If you have some kind of non-transparent paper or cardboard in your window instead of transparent glass, you'll no longer be able to see through the window. And that is how it is when an eye develops cataract. Something that should be transparent has become non-transparent.

Let us be really clear about this. I have drawn the eye for you on several occasions. It grows out from the brain like this [Fig. 2], from the skull; this is looking at it from the side. It projects a little in front, and inside the eye you have blood vessels spreading and the optic nerve. Blood vessels and optic nerve thus come together there.

Then there is something else in the eye, a kind of muscular attachment. It holds the part we call the lens in position. The muscle in the eye thus holds a very small, transparent, lentil-shaped body in position. Think of a small lentil, but transparent—this is suspended in the eye. And we have to look straight across and through this lens. Seen from in front, the lens looks like this [drawing on the board], and we must be able to see through it. This alone will show you that we have to have a transparent eye if we are to be able to see. The eye must be transparent. And of course if you think about it you have to say: 'It cannot be the eye itself which sees, for the eye must actually get itself out of the way, make itself transparent, so that it may see.' If you smear something on these window panes, for instance, so that you cannot see through them, then you'll no longer be able to look out. Yes, it is you who looks through the panes. The panes cannot see; it is you yourself who sees. In the same way it is not the eye which sees but there is something in the human being that sees through the transparent eye.

eye growing from the brain
Figure 2

What, then, happens when someone develops a cataract? When someone develops a cataract, the lens in the eye loses its transparency. It is very small, this lens, but if you take it out of the eye and look through it, it is transparent. A lens taken from someone with cataract, however, is white, milky, non-transparent. I would then have to draw the lens, which is so beautifully transparent in a healthy eye, like this [drawing on the board]. It has become milky and is no longer transparent.

You see, we always have the benefit of the human body being elastic in its individual parts, elastic in many respects. So if you have an eye affected by cataract and cut into it in a particular direction, this muscle here brings its elasticity into play, and the lens, which is normally held by the muscle, will pop out if you make a hole here. The operations are relatively simple, because the body always comes to your aid. The lens pops out. You hold it in your hand and put it in a glass dish, this lens which has grown opaque. The individual will of course be quite unable to see clearly once the lens has been removed, for he needs the lens to be able to see. I'll show you in a minute why he needs a lens to be able to see.

When one has done this operation on someone, having removed the lens, the world around him will light up again where before he saw nothing at all. He will now be able to look out, but, having had the operation to remove the lens, he'll only be able to see objects that are far away. His power of vision will not be adequate. We then have a useless eye. The power of vision is not enough to be able to see things which we might have been able to see, still have been able to see, with the lens that has been taken out. The eye has become useless.

You then give the person who has had the operation a pair of glasses. You see, they are actually artificial lenses. Before he had the lens in his eye, and now he has an artificial one. The artificial lens now makes the visual rays—which went like this before the lens was removed [Fig. 2], so that he would only have been able to see things a long way off—go in such a way that he can see nearby things again. This is the effect of the glass put in front of his eye. The lens he had inside his eye can therefore be replaced with a transparent glass lens. It will of course be less perfect, because there's no life in it. The lens in the eye has life; it can be moved, and that does have its advantages. But at least one will be able to see if need be, if the lens which has grown opaque is simply taken out and replaced with glasses, cataract glasses. The individual will then be able to see again.

This makes it possible for us to see exactly how things are with our seeing—that in the eye we have an apparatus, a tool that allows us to see, for it is actually possible to replace a small part of the eye with an external tool, the cataract glasses. You will realize that the living tool, that is the lens, has an advantage over the cataract glasses used to replace it, for if one wants to see something that is a long way off one has to make the lens, which looks like this [drawing on the board], a bit thinner. You'll then see something that is further away. So when a hunter takes aim and wants to shoot something that is further away, he has to make his lens thin. This is done by the muscle here [pointing to the drawing]; this makes it thinner. If one wants to see something close by, reading small print from close-up, one has to make the lens thicker. Again it is the muscle which does it. This is something you can't do with cataract glasses, of course; all one could do would be to use a different pair. People sometimes do this. There certainly are people today who have to have two kinds of glasses, one for things nearby and one for distant things. But the lens in the eye is a living thing and can be changed inside so that one sees both near and far. You'll now also realize why someone will only see distant objects when I've taken out the lens, for that is as if I'd made the lens quite flat, having taken it out. I then see things again that are a long way off. But the ability to see is not adequate.

Behind the lens is a body that is quite slimy, the 'vitreous body'. This can also grow opaque. In that case no operation is possible, for it cannot be replaced in some way or other.

The eye is black if you look into it from outside. The lens lies behind this black pupil, which looks black because you are looking at the background of the eye, looking through the whole of the lens and through all this.

Now we have to ask ourselves what actually happens when the lens grows opaque. Think of glass once more. When glass is transparent the light goes through it. If you have something that is not transparent, this means that the light does not go through; it is stopped. Now the situation with the eye is that light must go in and out through the lens. You see, the light belongs to the ether. It does not belong to matter, to the stuff of gravity, which is outside. Light belongs to the ether.

Now I've told you that apart from his physical body man also has an ether body. And what does it mean that the lens is transparent? The fact that the lens is transparent means that the human ether body, which goes through everything—I'll make it red here—can simply pass through the lens. If the lens is nice and transparent, the ether body is able to pass through it. This means that the human being has a little piece of ether body in the place where the lens is. When the lens grows opaque, this is because the lens gets all stuffed up with matter. If salt or something like it settles in the lens it grows opaque. It is just like having salt dissolved in a glass of water. For as long as the salt is in solution you have an almost transparent salt solution. If the salt settles down at the bottom [drawing on the board], the glass of water is not transparent down here. The matter will not let the light through. And the lens grows opaque when salty matter settles in it. Salty matter will settle like that in old age, and the transparent parts of the human being then lose their transparency.

With a cataract, therefore, a transparent lens grows opaque. What is the result of this? It is that the human ether body is no longer able to get into the opaque lens. So then there's a small hole here. The human being has his ether body everywhere, and when he's in good health the ether body fills the whole of him. If the lens gets sick, grows opaque, the ether body cannot get into the place where the lens is. So then you don't have ether body in the place where the lens is. We therefore have to say: What kind of condition is this cataract? Cataract means that the person has no ether body in the place where the lens has grown opaque.

You can't, of course, see with just the ether body. If we were able to see with the ether body, we would also see all night, for we have our ether body when we lie in bed at night; only the astral body is outside. We therefore do not see with the ether body. We see with the soul. But we need the ether body to be able to see. The astral body is there as well—it is the third thing a human being has, and it also fills up everything. When the astral body wants to see here in the place where there is no ether body, it cannot do it, for the ether body is missing there. And so we are able to say: What makes it possible for us to see? The fact that our astral body is inside our ether body. But if the ether body has been eliminated somewhere, pushed aside because the lens, the eye, is opaque, we are unable to see. Then the astral body cannot see. Can you understand this?

Agreement - yes!

Our astral body is therefore able to see because the ether body is able to get in everywhere where we have the lens, where it is most needed. So if one really knows what a cataract is, one can truly see that the human being has an ether body and an astral body.

When someone is just beginning to have such a cataract, we can say that the cataract is developing because the salts which settle in the eye, in the lens, do not let the ether body into the eye. And one would have to do something to make the lens transparent. When matters have gone a long way and the lens has salts in it everywhere, one cannot do anything but remove it and replace it with cataract glasses. But the situation is that one can still do something if the cataract is only beginning to develop. And on this occasion I think I can show you how human beings are completely bound up with the world around them.

Let us assume this is the earth [Fig. 3]. Plants grow in the soil. You see, such a plant does of course have a physical body. We can touch it, look at it. But the plant also has an ether body, for it lives, and everything that lives has an ether body. The plant is not able to feel, however, to respond to things inwardly. It does not have an astral body. But there is astral substance everywhere around the earth. Let me tell you how one can discover the fact that the astral is everywhere. To do this we'll need to bring in something that seems rather remote and does not appear to belong here.

plant in the Earth
Figure 3

You know that volcanoes will now and then—well, they'll start spewing, as we may put it, so that red hot masses fly out from them. Let me describe such a mountain a little bit for you. First of all there is the ground, filled up with ordinary rock material. And if we look at Vesuvius, for example, which is in Italy, the ground, the basic ground, is Apennine rock, as it is called. So we have ordinary rock down there, which you also have everywhere else in that region. But then somewhat different layers pile up here [Fig. 4], The layers go like this. And in the place where Vesuvius erupts there is a cleft. When there is an eruption, particles of ash will first of all come up from the cleft, mixed with water; then come rocks like bombs. All this is flung to the surface. It is sometimes liquid, sometimes like bombs. It then runs down, runs further down. And the rocks which are thrown out like bombs are everywhere. They flow down. In between comes a rain mixed with mud. All this will really pile up to make such a mountain, create such a mountain. So the first thing thrown out from the inner earth is hot water mixed with ash. It makes a very sticky sludge as it runs down. Then, a bit later, these bomb-like lumps come, rushing upwards and flung all over the place. So that is how such fiery mountains are made.

plant in the Earth
Figure 4

Now let me tell you, gentlemen, how a phenomenon like fire-spewing mountains is usually considered in science. It is said that all kinds of things that are under the earth rush up and out. Fire-spewing mountains are normally near water, it is said. And that is, of course, true. You have few volcanoes in the middle of a land mass; they are usually close to the shore, to water. As there is a cleft in the ground, the water can get in, they say, and the heat inside the earth brings the water to the boil. And this boiling water then pushes out all the matter which is down below. This is what a learned person will say, writing a book about it, and people will then say he has explained how volcanoes develop.

Then someone else comes along and says: 'Yes, but we have reason to believe that these clefts are not big enough for water to get in. We cannot assume that the water gets in through those clefts in the earth, even if the volcanoes are close to water.' It therefore does not appear to be quite right what the first expert said, and the matter will have to be explained in another way.

The next person will say: 'Well, in the inner earth, things are not the way they are on the outside; metals are liquid in the inner earth. As iron is liquid when you work it in a smelter, so are the metals liquid in the inner earth. You have liquid metals in there.' Well—and it is easy to put a name to things—these liquid metals are called magma. So you have magma in there, well and good, liquid metals. And when this liquid metal, this magma, gets to a place where it can escape more easily—everywhere here it is too hard for it to escape, or it would spew forth everywhere—when it gets a place where it can escape more easily, then it will get out just there, and that is how it comes out.' That is what this person has to say. He is saying, therefore, that it happens because of irregularities in the density of the earth; the magma then shoots out in one direction or another. Then a third person comes along, or a fourth, and he'll say: 'Yes, but the magma cannot have the enormous energy needed to throw out those bombs! So this cannot be the explanation either.' Other people will say something else again. And this then ends up in the ordinary books produced for the general population.

So that is more or less the situation as it is today. You will usually find that one person says one thing and another says something else, but people do not really know where the cause lies. These things are enormously important, but they do not know where the cause lies.

But now let me tell you something. The matter is this. When you come to a region where Vesuvius is not far away, into the neighbourhood of a volcano,7The text here refers to the solfatara (volatiles) at Pozzuoli, a half extinct volcano by the Bay of Naples, with a crater that is 770 metres in diameter. The hot sulphurous vapours continually rising from countless cracks (fumaroli) there increase greatly in volume if a burning piece of paper or torch is brought to the fumaroli vents. you'll see something that is rather nice. If you take a piece of paper and set it alight, the ground will suddenly begin to smoke. You see, if this is the ground [Fig. 5], and you light a piece of paper here, so that it burns (red), the ground will start to smoke, quite by itself, everywhere here beneath the burning paper, and if you burn a large piece of paper you may gradually be completely enveloped in the smoke. This is really a most interesting phenomenon. Guides will show visitors to Italy how the smoke comes up from the ground if one just burns a piece of paper.

plant in the Earth
Figure 5

Now what does this really mean? Well you see, gentlemen, some water vapour has collected in there, in that place. It has collected in there in the soil, where this vapour will then rise. It cannot get out if the air that is above has a certain density. The air keeps the vapour in. Now you all know that air gets thinner if you warm it up. The air in a room also gets thinner if you heat it. The thinner air can then no longer keep the vapour in and it will stream out. It has to be there in the first place, of course. There has to be something down there which can stream out. Yes, but think, gentlemen, what you have been doing there! You have not been down below to blow the vapour up and out. No, you did not do that. You have coaxed the vapour out by lighting a piece of paper. You can coax the vapour out by setting something on fire up here, above ground. You do so by making the air thinner.

You see the learned gentlemen are always looking for the reasons why water vapour rises from a volcano and even bombs fly out; they look for the reasons—yes, they look for them below ground. But that is not where they are, just as the reasons for water vapour coming out when you light a piece of paper are not below ground but outside, outside and not in it.

You really must be able to understand the facts rightly, and then you find out how things are. But just as you are not in here [pointing to the drawing], blowing vapour out of the ground, but coax it out with the help of thin, hot air, so something there is coaxing out something from down below. And you see, you won't get solid rocks coming out if you just light a piece of paper, otherwise the curious English tourists would not just be enveloped in vapour but also get all kinds of rocks hitting them in the face when they light the paper. No, you don't get that; it is only that the air is thinned and vapour rises. But here above Vesuvius, when it begins to spew, to erupt, everything that is astral above it is thinned down. And this astral element is thinned down by forces that come from the stars, the planets, forces that are a long way off. So if the stars above Vesuvius are in a particular position relative to each other, which happens often—it does not happen elsewhere but just in that place—then it is just as it is with the paper here, in this case through the position of the stars, with the astral element above thinning out, and things are forcibly pulled up from below.

You thus produce a small volcanic eruption by making the sulphurous vapours—it is not only water vapour but also a sulphurous vapour—come out. These places are called solfatara, volatiles. So wherever you have these tremendous volcanic eruptions, the activity lies not in the matter which is below ground, but in something which is outside, coming from the relative position of the stars.

Now you'll sometimes also get—what shall I call it?—busybody activity, officiousness. Someone did once realize that some such things come from the positions of the stars, the relative positions of sun and moon, for instance. His name was Rudolf Falb.8 Rudolf Falb (1838-1903), Austrian writer. His theories are set out in two of his publications: Grundzüge einer Theorie der Erdbeben und Vulkanausbrüche (1870) and Das Wetter und der Mond (2. Aufl. 1892). Some of the older ones among you may have heard something about his famous theory. Mr Falb said that not only earthquakes but volcanic eruptions, too, were due to the positions of the stars. And that was quite right. But he was also an extremely vain man who liked to show off.

He discovered something else as well, which is equally important. You know about the firedamp explosions which are a terrible problem in mines. Something happens down the mines because gases ignite, rushing through the mines with great vehemence. Mr Falb said that this particular quality of the gases also did not come from below ground but from the positions of sun and moon, for example. Having thought this up, he actually forecast earthquakes and firedamp explosions in mines. Well, his forecasts would sometimes come true and often they would not. The thing is that unexpected elements often play into natural events, and then the matter won't be as expected. Mr Falb would however publish forecasts every year that gave you the critical days. When the stars were in particular relative positions, when sun and moon were in particular relative positions, he would say that firedamp explosions would occur on such days or that there would be an earthquake.

I once went to a lecture by Falb—it's a long time ago now, much more than 30 years ago. He was a tall, slender man and very convincing as he presented his theories. So he said—he knew nothing about the astral but thought it all just came from this dilution of heat—that heat was diluted and this would coax up gases from below in the mines—just as in the solfataras—which would then result in firedamp explosions or the like. It was a large hall. Mr Falb was standing up high. He explained it, explained it well. Much of what he said was correct. Suddenly, as he was in the middle of his explanation, saying: 'So a particular relative position of sun and moon causes a change in the air, firedamp must develop, and the gases are coaxed up'—bang! a knock on the door. A boy from the Neue Freie Presse came in and brought a telegram, putting it on the desk. Mr Falb was not exactly subtle. Saying, 'Must be something important,' he opened the telegram in the middle of his lecture and read: 'Major firedamp explosions have just occurred in such and such a mine.' Now he'd just forecast those firedamp explosions in his lecture. He had previously contacted the paper and asked them to send any news of this kind to the lecture hall as soon as it came in. He did such things on several occasions; he was a bit vain. But it did happen, gentlemen. Just when Mr Falb had said that something like in the telegram. And he actually said: 'You see, ladies and gentlemen, that is how proof is put straight on the table!'

Well, that was a case of showing off, of course. But there was something behind it all that was extraordinarily true, especially in the case of Mr Falb. The situation is such that one has to say that even the dense, heavy masses thrown up into the air are not pushed up from below but coaxed up from above, by the relative positions of the stars. Only I'd say that the air has thinned down a little if you get vapour rising with a burning piece of paper and you are quite enveloped in the vapour. When solid masses are thrown up into the air, this cannot be just due to the air thinning down; the ether must be thinned down in that case and also the astral. So in finding the right explanation for our volcanic eruptions we also discover that the earth is enveloped all around not only in earthly matter but also in the astral. In modern science, people do not have the courage to explain these things exactly as they are. There is a lack of courage there.

So if we imagine this is the earth [drawing on the board], we have to think of it being surrounded everywhere firstly by the ether, and then also by the astral. But the astral also penetrates into everything. Plants, however, do not generally take in the astral. They only have an ether body. But some plants do take in the astral and these are poisonous plants. The difference between non-poisonous plants and poisonous plants is that non-poisonous plants do not have anything astral in them and poisonous plants do. What does this mean, however? You see, deadly nightshade is one of the most poisonous plants. If you have a deadly nightshade berry, it is as black as it is because the astral has been taken up into it. Deadly nightshade thus takes in the astral. And because deadly nightshade takes in the astral—it does not really destroy itself completely—it has the power to destroy physical matter all the time. A deadly nightshade berry is quite acrid inside; it wants to destroy physical matter. And if we eat one, the juice begins to destroy our inner substance as soon as it is inside us. We then have to perish under the deadly nightshade influence. Deadly nightshade has the power inside it to destroy physical matter.

Just imagine we now bring deadly nightshade extract into a person's blood in the right way by inoculating it in a highly diluted form. If the lens begins to have salts in it, to get dark, we can fight this cataract exactly by using deadly nightshade extract, if properly diluted, having been made so thin that it is no longer poisonous but destroys the deposits that have formed. I have drawn the sediment on the board for you. And if we have done the right kind of inoculation to bring the destructive deadly nightshade extract, which always makes everything else go apart, to the lens here, it will also drive apart the salts that have settled there, and it may be possible to cure the lens.

Of course, you won't be able to depend too much on this if the cataract has already developed too far. But if you have someone whose cataract has not yet gone far and this is noticed in good time, it will still be possible to fight the cataract and not have to remove the lens later on.

This is why it usually does not get one very far to do it the way homoeopathic physicians do it. They give diluted deadly nightshade by mouth. It will have an effect, but not a very powerful one, and the problem will keep coming back. So it is not usually possible to achieve anything in this way. But you can do a great deal if you inoculate it into the blood. The blood goes everywhere, also into the eye.

Now this also shows you something else. It is this. If we have a poison like that of deadly nightshade, if we eat a lot of deadly nightshade berries—a little would be a lot, of course, in this case—but if we eat relatively much of the deadly nightshade, it will destroy our physical substance, starting from the stomach and even the gullet. We'd no longer be able to live. If we dilute this deadly nightshade extract more and more, it will no longer attack the physical parts but will be digested and still attack the head very strongly. You can thus use deadly nightshade extract when people have grown nervy, when they are all at sixes and sevens; you can put them to rights again by giving them highly diluted deadly nightshade extract to eat. It will drive out the stuff that has become deposited. But if you take it so highly diluted that it will no longer attack the head, it will still act on the eye. The eye is the organ which is sensitive to the most dilute quantities of deadly nightshade. It is called belladonna, 'beautiful lady', because of its lustrous black eyes. The eye is therefore able to react even to very small amounts of deadly nightshade extract. And it is strange that our human nature is sensitive to different substances from the world around us in so very different ways. As I said, too much deadly nightshade extract destroys the whole eye, but the eye is sensitive to deadly nightshade extract in high dilution. Other organs are sensitive to other extracts. So there is always something in our body that is particularly sensitive to a particular substance and one gets different effects.

Take the human liver, for instance. Now the situation is that the human liver really has an awful lot to do. I have told you before that it is an internal observer.9See lectures given on 9 and 13 September 1922 in The Human Being in Body, Soul and Spirit. Our Relationship to the Earth. Tr. J. Reuter, rev. S. Seiler. Hudson and London: Anthroposophic Press and Rudolf Steiner Press 1989. It has an awful lot of things to do in our digestion. Above all the liver has to perform a major function in processing fats in the human organism. If the liver is unable to function properly, all the fat in a human being gathers itself up and wanders about in the body in all kinds of different ways. Fat migrations happen instead of the fat being processed in the liver. The fat we eat therefore has a special relationship to the liver. And just as good substances have a relationship to different parts of the body, so poisons, too, have a particular relationship to all parts of the human being.

And so we can say that it is possible, in a way, to lighten the lens in the eye again when it has darkened, thus sending the astral body back into this small part of the human being by inoculating the individual with something from the outside world that will specifically attack the eye. And that is deadly nightshade extract in suitable dilution. So you see, deadly nightshade extract is something which will draw the astral back into the eye, so that the person is able to see again, thanks to the astral principle. It draws in the astral, and the astral in turn will draw in the ether principle.

I'd therefore also like to say that deadly nightshade also attracts the astral when it grows out there. The etheric is in it already, it does not need to be attracted. But if we are able to do a proper study of the subtle process involved in curing eyes affected by cataract with deadly nightshade, we shall also understand what happens in the plant outside. The extract attracts the astral principle which has been excluded. And the sap of the plant therefore also attracts the astral principle from the world. Deadly nightshade sap is something that attracts the astral. And when we are poisoned by the plant, with too much of the astral drawn to us, this astral element comes to a boil and this boiling process destroys our physical substance.

And when too much of the physical has been destroyed—in an eye affected with cataract it is destroyed because deposits form in it—we must get rid of those deposits. Get rid of them! One might thus also hope, gentlemen, to cure situations where salts or similar substances have settled elsewhere in the body with belladonna, deadly nightshade. When someone develops gallstones, for example, or stones in the bladder, something solid is deposited that should not be there. One would hope, therefore, that if we can cure the problem in the lens of an eye affected by cataract with belladonna we might also cure gallstones and stones in the bladder with belladonna. And one can do this, if things are done the right way. One can do it!

We can see, therefore, that it all goes together, and if we gain the right understanding of nature we can also gain a right understanding of the human being. Once again we have arrived at the ether and the astral body, just as we did the last time when we talked about people going round and round. If one finds the right way of looking at things, one always comes to these higher bodies of the human being. This is not something thought up but something that has been discovered in a science that goes further than ordinary science does in every respect.

Next Wednesday we'll talk more about these things, unless you'll have some other questions you have prepared.