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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Nine Lectures on Bees
GA 351

Lecture VIII

15 December 1923, Dornach

Good morning, Gentlemen!

Today I shall continue the subject dealt with last time in answer to Herr Dollinger's question. Should anything else arise, we can consider this also.

In my answer to this question of Herr Dollinger, I spoke of the ants, and how these creatures, bees, wasps and ants are related to one another, though their modes of life are totally different. Taking our starting point from this fact, we can really learn a very great deal about the whole household of Nature, for the more one learns to understand these small creatures and their ways, the more one realises how wisely regulated their work is, and all they are able to accomplish in the realm of Nature.

Last time, I told you how the ants make their nests, how they either build up mounds of the soil itself, or gather together minute particles of decaying wood, or of wood which has become quite hard, and is no longer living; also from various other substances which they mix together. Within these ant-hills are innumerable passages, along which the ants move in procession, whole hosts of them. One sees them coming out at the entrances, searching their surroundings, and collecting what they need. Sometimes however, it happens that these creatures do nct first build up a mound, but make use of something suitable they find there already. Perhaps, for instance, a tree has been cut down and the stump has been left standing; an ant colony comes along and makes a little chamber inside it, hollows it out, and makes all kind of passages with their exits. Then perhaps, they heap up a little earth, make one passage, then another, then a third and so on, and within these passages are all inter-connected.

You see, to say of all this that it is due to the instinct of the creatures may be all very well, but nothing very much has then been said, for when the creature cannot make use of a tree stump, it builds up a sand heap; when it finds a suitable tree stump, then it so arranges the matter that it saves the labour that would be needed to heap up a hillock. The small creature adjusts itself to the individual situation, and it becomes very difficult to state that this is due to instinct. This would only enable the creature to do everything in accordance with instinct; but it actually adjusts itself to the external circumstances. That is the important point.

Here, in our country, it does not frequently happen, but the further one goes south the greater nuisance do the ants become. Imagine a house, and in one corner of it, without the owner having noticed anything, the ants have gathered; they have carried in all sorts of things, particles of earth, minute fragments of wood, and in some corner that has been overlooked in cleaning, have made a small dwelling place which no one notices. From here they make passages into the kitchen, into the pantry, following the most complicated ways, and bring back all they require for food or other purposes, from the kitchen or pantry. This can happen in southern countries, and the house may be quite pervaded by a colony of ants without anyone living there knowing they are mere fellow inhabitants of the ants, until they discover by chance, or by sight, that something in the store cupboard has been nibbled, and the real source only comes to light when the passages are traced. Here again, one cannot get very far by speaking of mere instinct, for you would then have to say that Nature has given these creatures an instinct to take up their abode precisely in this very house; what they build there must be so constructed that it is adapted to this particular house.

But you see, these creatures do not work out of mere instinct; there is wisdom in what they do. If you test some individual ant, you would certainly not arrive at the conclusion that it was especially wise, for what it does when separated from the colony, or what it may be forced to do, does not reveal any special wisdom. One then begins to realise that it is not the individual ant that can reason, but the entire colony of ants as a unity; the colony of bees, for example, is wise in this sense. The separate ants of the colony have no individual intelligence, and for this reason the work is carried on by the whole colony in an extremely interesting way. There are, moreover, many other more interesting happenings within these ant-hills. There is, for instance, a kind of ant which does as follows: somewhere or other it builds on the ground a kind of wall (drawing on the board); here it is raised; here, it forms a circle on the surrounding earth, there, digs a hole. Within are the ants. Sometimes the hole is at the top, like the crater of a volcano; within are the many passages with their outlets.

Now these ants do something very peculiar. They destroy all the grasses and plants which grow round about, with the exception of one particular kind of grass. All other grasses are destroyed, even at times, all other plants. Thus, in the centre we have a kind of hillock, and all round it looks as though the ground had been very finely paved. Through the ants biting away everything, the soil has become very compact, and is very firm. There is the ant-hill, and all round it a smooth pavement, almost like asphalt, but rather lighter in colour.

The ants then search all round about and collect a certain kind of grass which they then begin to cultivate. As soon as the wind brings other seeds, they bite off the new plants the moment they begin to grow; they will not have them in the place they have made so smooth, and in all the surrounding area nothing else is permitted to grow but just this one special kind of grass. The ants have established a little property of their own, as it were, and regularly cultivate the kind of grass that best suits them; nothing else is allowed to grow there; all other plants are bitten away. The grass which is allowed to grow becomes quite different in character from the same grass where it grows further away, where, for instance, it is growing in loose soil. In the hardened soil made by the ants, the cultivated grass has quite hard seeds, as hard as stone. One can find these ant-hills. Round about them there is a regular little farm, 'and the ants are engaged in agriculture. Darwin, who especially observed these things, calls it so. One finds in the soil very hard seeds somewhat like small grains of maize, and when all is ready, the ants come out, bite off the tops, and carry them into their dwelling. For a while they stay inside; one does not see them, but they are very busy inside there. Whatever they have no use for, like the little stalks that were still attached to the hard seeds, they bite off, and after a time they come out again and run all about, and throw away all they do not want, keeping in their ant-hill only the hard silica-like seeds. These they partly use as food, biting them with their very hard teeth, or they use them for their building. Everything they cannot make use of they throw out. After all, we men do very much the same. These farming ants manage to provide themselves with all they need in a very fine way!

One has really to ask oneself: what is actually happening here? Actually, an entirely new kind of grass is brought into existence. These silica-hard seeds cannot be found anywhere else. They are only produced by the ants, and the ants work further upon them. What then is really happening here?

Before considering this, we will approach the question from another side. Let us go back to the wasps, among which I told you, we find creatures that deposit their eggs on the leaves, and in the bark of trees; gall-nuts are then formed out of which the young wasps emerge. But quite other things can also happen. There are certain caterpillars which look like this (drawing on the blackboard). You all know them; these caterpillars are covered with woolly hairs, with quite prickly-woolly hairs. The following can happen to these caterpillars. One or more wasps of a special kind simply insert their eggs into the caterpillar, and when the eggs mature the grubs creep out of them. Bees, and other insects of this kind, all make their first appearance as grubs, also the ants. You know how, when one clears away an ant-heap, one finds the white, so-called ants' eggs, which are given to caged birds. They are however, not eggs, but the larvae that have crept out of the eggs. It is not correct to call them eggs.

Now when the wasp lays its eggs into the caterpillar, it is really very remarkable. As I have already told you, these grubs when they first emerge are very hungry, and there are a great number of them in the caterpillar. It is really remarkable, for if one of these grubs were to begin to eat the caterpillar's stomach, the whole affair of the wasp's development would come to an end, for the caterpillar could not live if any organ, an eye, or to do with the heart or with the digestion, were eaten into. The thing would then come to an end. But these minute wasp grubs show their intelligence by not biting into, or feeding upon any vital organ, but by eating only those organs which can be injured for quite a long time. The caterpillar does not die, it is ill; but the wasp grubs can still go on devouring it. It is most wisely arranged that the wasp grubs do not bite into anything that would fatally injure the caterpillar. Possibly, you may have seen how these larvæ emerge from inside the caterpillar when they are mature? The caterpillar has been their foster-mother, nourishing the whole brood with her own body. Now they creep out, develop further, and seek their food from the plants. When they are fully developed, the eggs are once more deposited in a similar caterpillar,

You might well say that there is something extremely clever in all this, and indeed, as I have already said, the more one observes such things, the more do they arouse one's deepest admiration. It cannot be otherwise; wonder is kindled, and one asks oneself the meaning of such things.

If one would discover their meaning, one must first say; we have the plants growing out of the earth; we have the caterpillars. Then these insects appear, and eat their fill from the flowers, and caterpillars, and then reproduce themselves. So it goes on, over and over again. To us men it seems as though the whole insect world might just as well not exist at all. Naturally, as human beings, when we see the bee, we say; the bees give us honey, therefore bee-keeping is of use to us. Very good; but this is from the point of view of man. If the bees are robbers, and merely take away the nectar from the flowers, and we men then use the honey for our food, or as a remedy, then this is all to our advantage. But from the point of view of the flowers, it looks like a mere robbery in which we, as men, take part. The question therefore, is whether from the point of view of the flowers they would say, as it were; out there are those robbers, the bees, wasps and ants who rob us of our saps; we should thrive much better if they did not take away our saps.

You see, gentlemen, this is a point of view that a man usually takes as regards the flowers. But it is not so; it is absolutely not so. The matter is entirely different. When one is looking at some flower, and an insect, let us say a bee, is sucking the juices of the flower, or from the willow blossom, one must say to oneself: how would it be for the plant if the bee, or the wasp or some other insect, did not come to suck out this nectar? Now would it be then?

This is naturally a question far more difficult to answer than that of a mere robbery, for one must look deeply into the whole household of Nature. It is not possible to reach the right conclusion unless one is able to look back into the earlier stages of the earth's evolution. You see, the earth was not always the same as it is today. If the earth had always been as it is today, when we find the dead lime-stone, the dead quartz or gneiss, or mica-schist, and so on; when we find growing out of the present-day seeds, the plants, when we find the animals. If the earth had always been like this, the whole of what we see today could not exist, could not be there at all! Those who begin their science only at the point of what exists today, give themselves up to complete illusion.

He who would seek all the mysteries, all the laws of the earth in that alone wherein modern science seeks them, is as if a dweller in Mars should come down to the earth, who had no idea of living men, who only went to a mortuary and saw there the dead men. The dead could not be there at all if they had not first been living men. The inhabitant of Mars who had never seen living men, and saw only the dead, would first have to be guided to living men; then he would be able to say—“Yes, now I understand why the dead have these forms; before I did not understand this, because I did not know the living form that preceded the dead one.” Thus, one must go back to earlier conditions if one would know the laws of the earth evolution. The earth had long ago a very different form; I have spoken of it as the Moon-condition, and in my book, “An Outline of Occult Science,” it is also called the Moon-condition, because the present Moon is a remnant of this ancient earth. Other stages of evolution in their turn preceded this one of the Moon. The earth has transformed itself; it was originally altogether different.

Now the earth was once at such a stage that plants and insects such as we have today, did not exist at all. The matter, gentlemen, was thus; there was, let us say, something that can be compared with the earth of today. Out of this grew plant-like forms, but plant-like forms that were continually changing, that continually assumed different forms, as the clouds do, for instance. There were then such clouds in the environment of the earth, but they were not clouds like the clouds we see today, which are dead, or at least seem to be dead; they were living clouds, as living as the flowers of today. If you can imagine to yourselves that our clouds could become alive and turn a greenish colour, then you would have a picture of the plant kingdom of that time.

The scientific gentlemen of today have very strange ideas on such matters. There was recently a most ludicrous article in the newspaper. Once more a new scientific discovery had been made, quite in the modern way. It was really absurd! It was stated that if prepared in a certain way, milk was a good remedy for scurvy, a very ugly disease. Well, gentlemen, what does the scientist of today do? I have already referred to this. He analyses the milk. Then he finds that milk contains such and such chemical components. But I have also told you that one can feed mice with the chemical substances in the milk, but if one gives them these only, the mice die within a few days. Bunge's pupils confirmed this, (see previously mentioned article in the “Schweizerische Bienenzeitung”) and merely said; “Well, yes, there is a life-substance in the milk, as also in honey, Vitamin.” You remember, as I said before, one might just as well say “poverty comes from being poor,” as say what is said here, “there is Vitamin in it.”

Well gentlemen, an important discovery has been made, there are various substances in milk, that have very complicated names and milk when prepared in a special way, is a remedy for scurvy. Then in a truly learned way investigations were made to see whether the scurvy could be cured if one gave the scurvy patients only all the things with the learned names that were contained in the milk. They were not in the least cured by any of the component substances. But when all of these were present (in the specially prepared milk) then the scurvy was cured. No single component by itself cured, only the whole together. Well says the scientist to himself; what remains over when one subtracts all the components? What then remains over? For now he eliminates them all. He does not admit that these components have an etheric body, he reckons them all out, and what remains?

The “Vitamin!” The vitamin which must be what cures the scurvy is not to be found among the component parts. Where then is it? So now they make this fine tale—it must be in the water of the milk! Therefore, the remedy for scurvy is the water! This is really absurd, but it is a learned affair today. For if water is to contain vitamin, then with our learning we should arrive up there in the clouds. We should have to look around us and say: “Water is everywhere and vitamin is in the water.” But then we would be at the stage at which the earth once was. Only today, it is no longer so. Plant-life was there, a living plant covering, and this living covering of plants was fertilised from all directions from the environment. There were then no separate animals, no wasps for instance, but from the surrounding regions there came a substance which had an animal-like nature. Our earth was once in a condition of which one could say that it was surrounded by clouds that had plant-life within them; from the periphery, other clouds approached and fertilised them; these clouds had an animal nature. From cosmic spaces came the animal nature; from the earth the essence of plant-being rose upwards.

All this has changed. The plants have become our clearly outlined flowers which grow out of the earth, no longer forming great clouds. But within the plants there remains a longing to receive an influence from without. Here we have a rose growing out of the earth; here a rose petal, here another, then a third and so on. Now comes a wasp. This wasp immediately bites a piece out of the rose petal, carries it off to its nest, and uses it for building, or gives it as food to its young. A piece of the rose petal is simply bitten out by the wasp, and carried there, Well, as I said before, our rose bushes are no longer clouds: they have become sharply defined things. But what once lived within them, what was once united with all that entered in as the essence of animal life, this has remained behind within the rose leaves and blossoms. It is there within them. In every rose leaf is something which must of necessity be in some way fertilised from without, from the whole environment.

You see, gentlemen, what the flowers need, what they actually need, is a substance that also plays an important part in the human body. When you study the human body the most diverse substances are found in it. But everywhere within the human body these substances are transformed into something which, in certain quantities, is always present within the human body which has need of it. This substance is formic acid.

If you go to an ant-hillock, and collect some ants and squeeze them, you get a juice. This juice contains formic acid and a little alcohol. It is inside the ants. But this juice is also very finely distributed over your body. Whatever you eat during your life time is always transformed into formic acid, not of course, exclusively, for there are other substances also, but in small quantities. This formic acid permeates your whole body. When you are ill, and have not sufficient formic acid within you, it is a serious matter for your body, for it then has a tendency, just because you have not enough formic acid within you, (and here I come once more to Herr Müller's question, in answer to it) your body has a tendency to become gouty, or rheumatic. It develops too much uric acid, and too little formic acid. The ants also have in their bodies this substance that the human body needs. This formic acid, gentlemen, is indeed something that is made use of throughout nature, You actually cannot find any bark of any tree that does not contain some formic acid. Formic acid is everywhere in the tree, just as it is in the human body. In every leaf, everywhere there must be formic acid.

But not only formic acid must be there, but also what is closely akin to it, and later becomes the bee poison. All these insects contain a certain substance within them which is poisonous. If one is stung by a bee, one gets inflammation; if one is stung by a wasp, it is sometimes even worse. This business of wasp stings can be pretty bad. Brehm describes how these insects can play bad tricks on men and animals.

It happened that a young cow-herd had taken a large number of cows out to graze, and the pasture was full of wasp nests. The cow-herd's dog ran about; suddenly the cow-herd's dog goes mad, rushes round like a mad dog, and no one knows what has happened. As fast into it can the dog rushes to a neighbouring stream, flings itself into the water, and shakes and shakes itself. The lad was much disturbed by this, and goes to the rescue of the dog. He does not jump into the water, but tries to help it from the bank. Most unluckily he steps on a nest, as the dog had probably done before, and the wasps sting him too, and he begins to rush about like a madman, and finally jumps into the water. And now, because the dog has vanished, and the cow-herd has vanished, confusion arises in the herd of cows. The cows which tread on nests also get stung, and behave as though mad. Finally, most of the herd are in the stream also—as if they were all mad.

You see, insect stings can do one a very bad turn. All these creatures have poisons in them; even an ant stings one, and causes a little inflammation because it injects some formic acid into the wound. This formic acid, moreover, is present in all living things in a right dilution. If there were no ants, bees and wasps, which are the preparers of these poisons, what would happen?

Truly, gentleman, the same thing would happen that would also come to pass in the propagation of the human race if all the men were beheaded, and only women were left on the earth. Humanity could not then continue to exist, for the male semen would no longer be there. Well, these creatures all have the semen in addition, but they none-the-less need what comes from these poisons for their existence, for these poisons have remained over from what was once in the whole environment. In the finest state of dilution, bee poison, wasp poison, ant poison, once descended upon the plants from cosmic spaces, and the remnants are still present today. So when you see a bee sitting on some willow-tree or on some flower, you must not say: the insect only wants to rob the flower of something; rather must you say: when the little bee sits there and sucks, the flower is so content that it lets its sap flow to the spot where the bee sucks. While the bee is taking something from the flower, bee or wasp poison flows from the bee to the flower. From the wasp, the wasp poison flows, and more especially when the ant attacks the tree stump which no longer has life, formic acid flows in. If the ant visits a flower, then the sap of the flower unites with the formic acid. This is necessary.

If these things did not happen, if bees, wasps and ants did not exist and continually attack the plants and bite into them, then the necessary formic acid, the necessary poisons, would not flow into the flowers, and the plants would in time die out.

You see, substances such as are usually called life-substances, are highly valued by man; yet it is precisely only these substances that are truly life-substances. If one has deadly nightshade, within it is a poison, a very powerful one. But what is the deadly nightshade? It collects spirituality from the world's environment. Poisons are gatherers of what is spiritual; for this reason they are healing remedies. Fundamentally speaking, the flowers sicken through the life-substances, and the little bees, and wasps and ants, work continually as small physicians bringing to the flowers the formic acid they need, and at the same moment, healing their sickness. Thus all is once more healed.

The bees, wasps and ants are not mere robbers, for in the same moment they bring life to the plants.

It is even the same with the caterpillars which would also die out, and none would remain after a time. You will probably say no great harm would be done if all the caterpillars were to disappear; but in their turn the birds feed on them. Throughout the whole of Nature there are these inner relationships. When we see, for example, how the ants permeate everything with their formic acid, we look into the whole household of Nature and its splendour. Everywhere things happen that are essential for the maintenance of life, and of the world.

You see, here is a tree, and the tree has bark. The bark decays when I cut down the tree; then it moulders. People say: “Well, let it rot away.” Just try to imagine all that moulders away in the forests, fallen leaves and so on, within the course of the year! Men are willing to let it all rot away, but Nature orders it otherwise. Everywhere there are ant-heaps, and from these ant-heaps formic acid enters into the soil of the forest. When you have both forest soil and an ant-heap, it is the same as if you take a glass of water and add a drop of something else to it; the whole contents are at once affected. If you put in salt, all the water is at once made salty. If you have an ant-heap then the formic acid goes in the same moment into the forest soil, and all the soil which is already decaying is saturated with this formic acid.

It is not only into the inner parts of the living plants, and into the still living caterpillars that formic acid penetrates when the bee sits on the flower, and the flower absorbs what it receives from the bee. All these things can only be learned by means of spiritual science; the other kind of science is only concerned with what the bee takes away from the flowers. But the bees would never have been able to sit for thousands of years on the flowers had they not fostered them in the act of biting into them.

So it is also with the lifeless substances of the woods. Even physical science as it is today, concludes that the earth will one day be quite dead. It would indeed be so, for a state of things would eventually come about when decay would prevail, when the earth would be dead. That this will not be so, is because wherever the earth decays it is in the same moment penetrated by all that is yielded up by the bees, wasps and ants. The bees, it is true, give it only to the living flowers, the wasps for the most part also to the living plants. But the ants give what they hand over in the formic acid directly to what is mouldering and dead; in a certain degree they rouse it to life, in this way doing their part that the earth in its decaying substances shall still retain life. Well may one say that wonder is awakened at the activity of the spirit in all things, but when one can approach it more nearly, then one realises it has immense significance.

Let us look once more at those farming ants which cultivate their little field, and change the character of the plants they grow there. Truly, gentlemen, a man could not nourish himself with what grows there, for if a man were to eat those little rice grains that are as hard as silica, he would first get strange illnesses because he would have too much formic acid inside him, and in addition to this, so injure his teeth that for a time the dentists would be kept busy. At last, he would die wretchedly, because of these silica-hard rice-grains which had been thus developed.

But the ant-heap would say: when we ants go out into nature and suck that out of the plants which is everywhere there, then we get far too little formic acid, and can give far too little formic acid to the earth. Let us therefore, select the plants which we can cultivate so that they get quite hard, stony hard, and then we can get plenty of formic acid from this hardness. So these farming ants do this that they may get the greatest possible amount of formic acid. It is these ants again that give back so much formic acid to the earth. That is the connection. From this you can see that poisons when they cause inflammation, or the like, are also perpetual remedies for the holding back of the processes of death. One can say, it is precisely the bee that is of great importance in this regard, that all may be preserved within the flowers; there is a great affinity between the bees and the flowers.

This preservation actually shows that every time the insects are developing their activities on the earth, the earth is, as it were, quickened by their poison. This is the spiritual relationship. If anyone asks what are the spiritual relationships, I never like merely to say they are so and so; I give the facts, and from the facts you can judge for yourselves whether they have significance or no. The facts are such that one sees significance everywhere. But the people who call themselves scientists today, do not tell one so. In life this has certain effects. In our country this is perhaps less taken into account, but when you go further south, the simple folk, the peasants, will often say out of a kind of instinctive knowledge; one must not destroy these ant-heaps, for they prevent the mould from becoming harmful. Those who are still wiser, will say something quite different if you walk with them through the forest, and especially where trees have been cut down and young trees are growing up. Then these people who are wise in their noses, not in their top-story (one can be wise also in one's nose) when these people go where the trees have been felled and young trees are being cared for, they will say: “Here, it will all go well; it does not smell so mouldy as it often does; there must be an ant-heap near, and it is proving its usefulness.” These people smell this; they are clever with their noses. Much homely and useful knowledge is derived from a clever nose! Unfortunately, modern civilisation only regards the cultivation of the brain, and rejects all that is instinctive; instinct has become merely a word.

Creatures like the bees know all this collectively, as a colony, as an ant-heap; it comes about by a kind of sense of smell. As I said before, much that is instinctive knowledge may come from a cleverness of the nose.

Well, gentlemen, we shall continue the subject next week Today, I wished to say that the bees, wasps and ants do not only rob Nature, but help to make it possible for Nature to live and thrive.