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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Elephants to Einstein
GA 352

VIII. Connection between higher aspects of the human being and the physical body. Actions of opium and alcohol

20 February 1924, Dornach

Good morning, gentlemen. Perhaps you have a question again for today?

Mr Müller asked what might cause changes to occur in the pupils.

Rudolf Steiner: That is a very personal question. You'd have to come down to the Institute of Clinical Medicine; I'll tell you when I go there again, so that you may then go there. It is a medical matter.

Another question: What do the long stripes down the sides of fishes mean?

Another question: A man drank a terrible lot of alcohol. He died eight weeks ago. In the last days before he died he ate chocolate and sugar, which he'd never done in his life. How did that happen?

Rudolf Steiner: Well, with regard to the stripes down the sides of fishes you have to be clear about the following. If one looks at any life form, be it from the plant or the animal world, one has to ask oneself how they relate to the outside world. You see, plants have their green colour first of all in the leaves. This green colour of the leaves comes from a specific relationship which the plant has to light and heat. On one hand a plant takes in what comes from the light and gives other things back, does not take them in. And that is where the green colour comes from.

In the same way you may ask yourself: where does one thing or another come from in fishes? Let me just draw your attention to the fact that fish living in more murky water have a much darker colouring than those that live in light-filled water. Fish that seek out the dark more are bluish, even black. Fish that go more into light-filled water are also lighter in colour. So we can see how external light and warmth influence the fish.

And now consider other animals that live in areas where there is a lot of snow, polar bears, for instance. They take on the white colour themselves. Everything that lives is exposed to the environment in one way or another.

With fish, we see a quite definite relationship between their own essential nature and their environment. The stripes down the side exist to make them subtly sensitive to the light and warmth in their environment. Fish are thus made particularly sensitive. It is not much use for the way they move through the water, but rather for the way they process light and warmth inside. It is therefore a kind of nerve organ.

As to your question concerning the man who drank alcohol all his life and began to be utterly sensible as his end approached, eating sensible chocolate and sugar—you say the last days before his death—this is something we can easily understand if we compare it with countless other such phenomena in life. I have known many people who grew old. As they grew old their handwriting, for instance, became more and more shaky. The writing grew shaky; they were no longer able to write so well, and one could see especially from their handwriting that they had grown old. Earlier they had a handwriting that made them write, let us say, Lehfeld like this [clearly], and then they would write Lehfeld [shakily]. But for the last days before their death it was found that they could write very well again. I have known many people who regained their clear handwriting before their death. It has also been noted in countless cases (this is not in fact my own observation, but these are observations that have been well substantiated) that people who learned a particular language as children—they may have been in a foreign country as children, perhaps, learning a language which they then forgot again (this does happen), let us assume a man of 40 or 50 had had no opportunity to communicate with anyone in this language—would suddenly begin to talk quite comprehensively in this language a few days before their death. It came out again! Now, you see, these are highly significant phenomena. What was really going on? What went on was that a human being leaves his physical body, one aspect of his essential nature, behind for the earth when he dies; it dissolves in the soil, is destroyed in the soil. I have told you that the next aspect, the ether body, gradually dissolves in the general cosmic ether a few days after death. And the human astral body and I are the aspects that remain and go through the world of the spirit. They then go through the world of the spirit.

There, of course, the individual aspects of the human being go through complete separation. And someone with an eye for such things can observe how the different aspects—physical body, ether body, astral body—separate even as death approaches. So what is it when someone changes his handwriting a few days before his death? Well, gentlemen, we do not write with the physical body. What do we actually write with? We write with the I. We only use the physical body as a tool for the I when we write. And our I does not grow old. In your I you are as young today as the day you were born. The astral body also does not grow old to the extent the physical body does. But it is the physical body we have to use as a tool if we want to write. The physical body therefore must take hold of the pen with its hand. When a person gets old, he grows weaker and weaker and is no longer able to get at his physical body properly. What is more, all kinds of things get deposited in the physical body. And the result is that a person can no longer use his fingers so well. He gets clumsy, shaky, instead of making firm strokes in his writing. When the person is close to death, the ether body is beginning to loosen from the physical body. A loosening happens. This may sometimes happen a few days before death; sometimes it happens at the last moment. It would be wrong to say that one should not try to cure a person when days before his death one can see that he may indeed die. Things that have loosened can be put together again. For as long as a person lives we must under all circumstances try to cure them. But it is true, nevertheless, that in many people the ether body loosens days before death comes.

When the ether body loosens the person grows stronger. You can also see this from something else. There are some mad people who develop extraordinary physical strength, tremendous strength. You will often be amazed about the strength such a mad person can develop. Not only is the beating he gives someone much more powerful than that given by someone else, but a mad person may lift pieces of furniture which no one else would dream of lifting with the greatest of ease. So you see, something strange occurs that distinguishes such a person from a normal person. What happens in a mad person? Well, the ether body is always slightly loose in a mad person, or the astral body has loosened. People are not exactly strong in their physical bodies; they are weak. They have to make the ether or the astral body serve the physical body. The popular phrase 'He's got a screw loose' is quite right; something has loosened. Ordinary people often say things that are exactly right, because they have an instinct for the supersensible, and such old saws should not be taken as derogatory but as something that is perfectly true. When a mad person has loosened his ether or astral body and grown strong because of this, he is, as a mad person, in the same situation as someone whose ether body has loosened because he will be dying in a few days' time. And if such a person gets stronger in the ether body he'll be able to write better again. If he gets stronger in the astral body—everything we have forgotten is inside it—he extracts forgotten things from the astral body and is able to speak a language again that he used to know.

But let us take the case you have given. You see, I did not know the man and therefore do not know how he lived. Perhaps you knew him? In that case you'll be able to answer certain questions. Did you know him well? Now you see with such a person it matters a great deal if there was perhaps a woman or someone else about, it may even have been yourself, who was always telling him how bad it is to drink such a lot. (Affirmative.) Well, that will put us on the right track. He has had people around him who always told him not to drink so much, because it was not a good thing and he would do harm to himself. This went in one ear and out the other, as one says. Another popular phrase that has some foundation in fact. It is indeed the case that people's attitude to some things is such that they go in one ear and out the other. Why? Because the astral body does not hear them. The ear is only the instrument of hearing. The astral body fails to hear it.

It may also happen that the astral body hears the thing, but the physical body does not get involved, being too weak. Now consider this. The man has heard Mr Erbsmehl himself say, perhaps: 'You're mad'—I am putting it very strongly, all right?—'getting drunk all the time. It will not do. It is not the proper thing to do,' and so on. And the man has swallowed it all. That is how it went, for it happens in life that people swallow things and then carry on. But his astral body has held on to some of it. You may have put it so strongly and so often that the astral body and the ether body could not fail to take it in. For as long as they were in the physical body with nothing to hinder them they did not hear. The moment the physical body changed so that the ether body and the astral body became loosened, well, then the idea suddenly came to the person, through the ether body and the astral body: Mr Erbsmehl may have been right after all! Perhaps it is a crazy thing to have done, to drink so much all my life. So now I'll make amends—you can imagine this might happen when things have loosened up. And then the astral body and the ether body say: Ah, now he is no longer drinking alcohol; now he drinks chocolate and sugar water! Of course he might also have had lemonade if there had been any.

The fact that such things may happen proves to someone who takes a sensible view that there may be all kinds of things in a person that do not emerge. I have also told you about the opposite situation before. The opposite case was this. It happened one day to a gentleman of my acquaintance—he was a very learned gentleman—that he lost his awareness and memory. He no longer knew who he was, what he had been doing; he no longer knew any of the learned things he had known. He had forgotten it all. He even did not know that he himself existed. But his intellect was clear. It functioned perfectly. He went to the station, bought a ticket and went far away. He had also taken money with him, money he happened to have on him. He was able to go a long way. When he had arrived at the destination on his ticket he would buy another one, and he did this several times, not knowing what he was doing. The intellect is so much apart from the actual human being that everything was done perfectly sensibly—animals act sensibly, I have given you many examples of this, though they do not have an intellect. One day he found himself again, his memory returned. He knew who he was. His learned knowledge also came back to his head, but he was in Berlin in a hostel for the homeless. That was where he had ended up. He had set out from Stuttgart. It was later possible to establish that he had started from there. In his unconscious state he had been in Budapest and so on. He was able to go back from Berlin to Stuttgart where he was met by a member of his family who had been extremely worried. He was able to function again. He did, however, kill himself later on. One time he got out of it by being unconscious, the other time by committing suicide.

But what is going on in such a case? Well, you see, the man I have told you of stands so clearly before me that I could actually paint him any time I wanted to. He had eyes that made one think they wanted to get more and more deeply back into the head. Here in front he had something that was as if his nose had dug itself in in his physical body—just a hint of all this, of course. He would speak to people in a very strange way. The way he would talk was as if he was convinced in a very different way by his words than anyone else. One had the feeling that he always tasted his words on his tongue and would then swallow them, for he liked them so much. It would please him so much when he spoke that he would swallow it all down. And if anyone contradicted him he'd get really angry. But he would not show much of his anger on the surface, he'd just make a face. He'd startle terribly if a car made a sharp noise in the street, also if you told him anything new. He'd startle irrespective of whether it was good or bad news.

You see, this person had listened too much, and everything immediately left its mark on his physical body. Because of this he had the habit that the astral body would always dig itself in very deeply in the physical body. He did not keep things to himself, the way your alcoholic did, but everything dug itself in deeply in the physical body, until the physical body reached the point where for a time he also shifted his own I out of place.

So there you have the opposite case. In this alcoholic the admonishments remained in the astral body and came out when he loosened up. In this other person, of whom I've told you, the astral body entered so deeply into the physical body, that the physical body then also went away on its own.

You see, the signs are there, everywhere in the human being, that these higher aspects, the supersensible aspects, are closely bound up with his physical body and with his ether body. All this shows, however, that one can really only know life if one looks at life situations that actually tell us: there is a physical body in the human being; there is an ether body in the human being; there is an astral body; there is an I.

You can also see other situations where the person concerned suddenly gets completely new appetites under the moral pressure of what he has left in the astral body during life. There is the following interesting story, for instance, which I'll tell you. A woman was selling vegetables and such things. This was quite some time ago. She would go from door to door with her basket of vegetables. Now she always was the way people would take her to be, looking at life the way a vegetable seller does. She would laugh when someone said something funny; otherwise she was indifferent in life. She brought her vegetables to the door, took her money, and that was how her life went. One day she came to someone's home wanting to sell her vegetables. No one was in except the master of the house, who opened the door. This gentlemen had rather a strange way of looking at people. He would look at them severely and had noted on a number of occasions that when he looked at people in this special way they would get quite talkative about something they did not normally speak of. Now the following happened. It is well documented. The vegetable seller came to the man; he looked at her. She got a shock. He did not say anything, but merely looked at her. He saw she'd been taken aback, but did not say a word and went on looking at her. Then she was not just taken aback but said: 'Don't look at me like that. Please don't look at me like that. I'll tell you everything!' He said nothing and went on looking at her. Then the woman said: 'Yes, but I only did it because I was afraid.' Again he said nothing, but went on looking at her. 'Don't look at me like that! Honest, I would not have done it except that I was afraid.' Again he said nothing, just went on looking. 'I'll tell you everything, but don't look at me like that!' He looked at her. 'I'll tell you everything! You see I would not have murdered it; I only did it because I was scared.' He went on looking. 'You see, I was so afraid of the people; the child would have said something really bad about me, and so I did it out of fear. I didn't really know what I was doing!' And you see, the woman told him the whole story of the murder she had committed on a child. So what had happened there?

The thing is like this. The man had quite a piercing look. When people have the usual kind of eyes, they talk to people but do not really impinge on them that much. When someone's gaze grows fixed and penetrating, then this magnetizes the ether body of a person, as we might put it. And in the ether body is our conscience. When the ether body is properly integrated in the physical body, well, you know, a person will immediately suppress any such things as soon as it rears its head. But if the ether body is magnetized by such a look, it becomes loosened. And when someone has something on his conscience, this also comes loose, rises up and worries the astral body and the I. The result is that people make confessions they would not otherwise make if their ether body has been loosened.

These things show that the ether body, when it is artificially loosened from the physical body, acts independently, and that the physical body really hides a great deal of what people have in them. And when the ether body gets loosened at one's death, the secret may come out—not always, but in a given situation.

Much abuse has been practised with these things. If you were something of an observer of life before the war, you would always see the same if staying at an hotel, or some other place where people collect their letters: some item with the imprint of an American company. It was always the same item. What had happened? Well, an American company had been established and this had branches. One branch was in Berlin, another in Frankfurt; there were such branches in most of the larger cities. Business must have been good, therefore. It was stated that someone wanting to gain power over other people would receive booklets from this American company. He only had to send in so and so much money, and he'd get booklets, and in those booklets he would find directions as to how to gain power over people. Now all the travellers, the representatives, thought to themselves: 'That's a great thing, to gain power over people. By Jove, we'll sell a lot then, for no one will be able to resist us.' The booklets said right away that the person should focus his eyes not on the eyes of another person, but on the point between the eyes; he should stare fixedly at that point. This would magnetize the other person who would then be under his influence and do what he wanted. Now you know, the travellers in wine and other things all sent for this. And one could see that masses of these letters and things were sent to hotels where such travellers would stay. Most of them did not do better in their business in spite of this; it was the American company that did well. Most did not benefit from it. But it may have served some of them, and they did something a person should never under any circumstances do to someone else, for it is a sin against human freedom. No one should seek to gain that kind of power over others! It may be bad enough if it is a natural gift, as in the case of the man I have told you of, but in that case nature had given him that special look. And it is much less abused in such a case than when someone seeks to learn it. Well, such foolishness came to be much less during the war, and today it has largely gone. But we may well say that we can learn from this how people make use even of spiritual things and the worst of materialists—for most of the people who sent for such things were materialists—will actually turn to the spirit if it is a question of making a profit through the spirit. They do not believe in it, but they turn to the spirit if it is a question of making a profit out of it. I wanted to make you aware of the terrible abuse practised with these things.

Much else also has to be considered. Many people have actually practised the kind of thing these people and such booklets were aiming at, though not to such an extent, and have also got somewhere with it. Maybe you have been at meetings where speakers were speaking. Now, you'll admit that the conviction shown by the speaker's words is not always the only thing, but there is a great deal else that comes from the speaker by way of influence. It is a fact that the most popular speakers are often people who gain an influence over the masses by the wrong means. One sees these things happen in the present time.

It is the case, for instance, that I am writing essays on my own life in Das Goetheanum.17A weekly paper (in German) started by Rudolf Steiner that is still being published today. The essays have since been published in Steiner, R., Rudolf Steiner, an Autobiography (GA 28). Tr. R. Stebbing. New York: Rudolf Steiner Publications 1977. These essays—some of you may have read them—are intentionally written to tell things in the simplest possible way, in plain words, never making too much of things. Now a critic has already appeared who especially finds fault with this. He says I do not write poetry and truth, like Goethe, but truth of a most sober kind. But yes, that is exactly what I am aiming at! And I do not aim to achieve what such a critic demands. Such a critic has exactly the style which compared to a sober style is a 'sozzled' or intoxicated one. And, you see, this intoxicated style is to be found everywhere today. People are no longer concerned to make an effect with what they say, but use words that will overwhelm others. Here we see the beginnings of the wrong kind of influence. For when someone writes the way I am endeavouring to write, this influences the I, which has its own free will. When one writes in an intoxicated style this influences the astral body, which does not have such freedom but is unfree. It is possible to influence the astral body especially by saying things one knows people want to hear.

People who do not want to convince but persuade others mostly use phrases and words other people like, while someone who wants to say the truth cannot always say things other people will like. At the present time it is actually the case that the truth does not generally please people. You only have to look how someone shapes his sentences and you can see that when the person writes his sentences in such a way that they are logical, one following out of another, he will influence the other person's I, which is free. When he writes his sentences so that he is not being logical, but is above all concerned to write things the other person will like, exciting the other person's desires, drives, instincts and passions, he influences the other person's astral body, which is not free. And it is a characteristic of our time that people talk so much about freedom, and that the greatest sin against freedom comes from public pronouncements in the spoken or written word. It really is the case that the spoken and the written word, the written and the spoken word is generally abused in public pronouncements.

You will therefore understand ordinary situations in life better if you are able to distinguish between I and astral body, seeing that one is influencing the one or the other, and you will also be able to understand such things better where a person begins to get his handwriting back before he dies, or will eat something he has never eaten before because of some moral influence. There you can see how the I is integrated in the physical body and becomes loosened.

Another question. The last time Dr Steiner spoke of arsenic. Now the opium question has become acute in Switzerland. A while ago an article by Dr Usteri on the poppy plant and its connection with opium was published in Das Goetheanum.18Usteri, A., Der Mohn, Das Goetheanum, 2. Jahrg., Nr. 39 vom 6 Mai 1923. Could something be said about opium?

A further question. About two years ago, Einstein's19Einstein, Albert (1879-1955). theory became generally known. Today one hears very little of it. Has it proved correct, or has it also gone down the river?

Rudolf Steiner. Well now, I'd have to talk a very long time about Einstein's theory, for it is difficult to present it briefly. To understand it properly one has to know mathematics. But the strange thing about Einstein's theory was that everyone was talking of it though they did not understand it, merely quoting the experts, for, as I said, it does need some knowledge of mathematics. But in so far as some of it can be understood without mathematics—we won't have time for this today—I'll tell you something of it, so that you can see how on the one hand it is based on truth and on the other is very much in error. People still talk about it. The situation with the public at large is that they will rise to the bait when something is spread about by the papers, but they don't hold on to it. The general public have forgotten it by now, but the university professors whose subject it is are all followers of Einstein now. Einstein's theory is thus much more widespread among scientists than it was years ago. I'll present some of it the next time, in so far as can be done in popular terms. It'll need more time than we have left today. Has anyone got another question?

Question. I would really like to know the difference between alcohol and opium. According to Dr Usteri's article one would assume that poppy juice pulls people upwards, and alcohol downwards.

Rudolf Steiner. You see, gentlemen, there we must ask ourselves: when someone drinks alcohol, which aspect of his nature is affected by this? The I. And this has the blood circulation as its physical tool. People are therefore most strongly influenced by alcohol in something that really is their life, in the blood circulation.

With opium, the situation is that it acts particularly on the astral body, and does so in such a way that the person draws it out of the physical body. And you see, he feels particularly well when he thus withdraws the astral body from the physical body. He gets rid of his physical body for a time, and this feels good to him.

People will easily say, and you'll have heard this: sleep is sweet. But the point is that people cannot really enjoy this sweetness, exactly because they are asleep! They cannot sense this sweetness; they can only have an aftertaste of it. And it is because it is an aftertaste that people will say sleep is sweet. When someone takes poppy juice, opium, he becomes aware of this sweetness, for he is then in his body as though he were asleep; yet he is also awake. This enables him to enjoy the sweetness, and this feels tremendously good to him. It is as if his whole body were full of sugar, a very special sugar—filled all the way with sweetness. But his astral body is also free of the physical body, and because of this he perceives all kinds of things, though not clearly. He does not have the usual kind of dreams but perceives the world of the spirit. He likes this. He is lifted up, as you said, into the world of the spirit. Drinking alcohol on the other hand is to have one's physical body taken hold of completely, right down to the blood. Then the astral body does not get free. Everything is laid claim to even more by the physical body. When people drink alcohol, therefore, they are made wholly subject to the physical body, much more so than normally. And that is the difference. With opium, the element of soul and spirit is liberated, on the one hand enjoying the sweetness in the physical body and on the other going on trips, entering into the world of the spirit in a somewhat chaotic way, but entering into it nevertheless. And the Orientals gain much of what they say of the world of the spirit—not in the right way, but they do speak of it—from taking opium, hashish and the like.

These are things that can show you once again that such things cannot be understood unless one takes account of the higher aspects of the human being.

We'll continue with this at 9 o'clock next Saturday.