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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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From Beetroot to Buddhism
GA 353

IX. How scars develop. The mummy

26 April 1924, Dornach

Questions. The first question was why a wound, a cut, for example, heals up completely, but when you cut away a piece of flesh a scar remains. The questioner has had no sensation in such a skin area for 30 or 40 years. He wanted to know why that is so, because it is said that the body renews itself every seven years.

The second question was about archaeological finds in Egypt. It had been reported that a mummy, a grave, had been found and that two engineers, the leaders of the group, had died from poisoning on opening the grave or on working their way into the passage. The first one was thought to have died of a heart attack or the like, and then the other one also died. The papers said poisons might have been used to embalm the mummy to prevent people reaching the burial places. The speaker said he could not believe that poisons would persist for so long. Or was it perhaps that gases evolved in the inner chambers, causing death within a short time? Or was it possible that the poisons they had in Egypt would keep for so long?

Clothing found in the burial chambers had fallen to dust as soon as they were brought outside. Chemicals were used to treat the clothing so that it might be preserved for posterity. Cereal grains had also been found in the tombs of the Pharaohs. They had been there for thousands of years but still germinated when put in the soil.

The questioner wanted to know if any of this would have been possible under normal conditions.

It said in the papers that it took 80 days to cope with the main stone. But it was as if the mountain had collapsed, and the gravestone, a large stone, had been rolled on top. Or as if everything had later collapsed by being blown up, and it had been difficult to reach the burial chamber. How had this been possible?

Rudolf Steiner: First of all, as far as the healing of wounds is concerned—if we answer the questions in sequence. Cuts made during operations heal more or less well. This is important to remember. You can see that these cuts sometimes heal extraordinarily well, so that one has to look carefully later on to discover the scar. Other cuts—and you are not only thinking of surgical wounds but of when one cuts oneself, is that right?—do not heal at all well. The scar is thick and it may often also be hard.

As a boy I often carved wood. It was a foible of mine that I always had to have a pocket-knife—it was a long way to school, and one has to have such things, you know. But I would always lose my pocket-knife and therefore needed many new ones. I was doing a great deal of whittling and would cut myself quite badly every now and then, which is the way these things go. You'd have to look very carefully, however, to see the traces of this; it has healed over almost completely. If you look closely you can see this cut, which had been a gaping wound and bled a great deal. But it is hardly visible now. With some cuts, however, the edges, the thick scars, can be seen for a long time. The question is, how do thick scars develop? You see, the human body is entirely developed from inside; you'll remember how I described the development of the human body. I also told you that everything the human body produces has to be produced from inside, all the way to the skin surface.

Now, how do colds develop? This is something else we spoke of. Colds develop when external heat or cold act on us, so that we are more or less treated by the environment as if we were a log of wood. We are soon cold and get chilled, and we experience the coldness as a stimulus that goes against something coming from inside us. All this is foreign to the human body, which will fight it.

When you cut yourself, be it because you're clumsy, in an accident, or in an operation, you have a foreign instrument in a place where only the human body should be active. The knife enters into the space where really blood, nerve, muscle and so on should be active. A lively struggle develops in that place between the powers you have inside the body and the forces that enter from outside. These are invaders. To fend them off, the inner physical matter of the human body gathers itself together and creates a scar. It comes together to prevent those forces getting in. A scar is therefore in the first place a protective covering created to stop the foreign forces getting in. Initially you always get a scar.

Now let us assume you are young, very young, for example, as I was when I did my whittling; I was 10, 11 or 12 at the time. When you are as young as that the ether body is extraordinarily active. And when it is as strong as it is in early youth, the scar will gradually heal completely once the physical matter has dropped away, with the physical tissues appropriately organized. Then let us assume you are older; the ether body is less powerful then, especially in the place where the scar is; it is not strong enough to overcome it. It tries again, being unable to overcome the material that has collected in the scar. It always depends on the strength or weakness of the ether body if a scar develops or is gradually got rid of. Injuries suffered in childhood will always leave less severe scarring than injuries one sustains later. But people differ. Some have an extraordinarily powerful ether body all their lives and in that case scars will be more easily overcome than in others whose ether bodies may be weaker.

A farmer who is always working in the open air and not so much in an atmosphere full of carbon dioxide has a stronger ether body. He may be in that atmosphere in winter, when he is not working, so that he alternates between open air in summer and bad air in winter. We thus cannot say that he is always in the open air. There is a saying. Why is the air so good in the country? Because the farmers do not open their windows! The air would not be so good if they did open their windows. But that is by the way. People who live in the country experience marked alternation between air with high oxygen levels and air with much carbon dioxide in it. These are much healthier conditions. The effect can be seen not only in the way scars form but also in other ways. Out in the country people walk barefoot, without their boots, in the summer. It is quite common for someone to get a rusty nail in their foot, but it does not signify much. They pull out the nail, wipe off the blood with a dirty finger—everything is dirty; the nail is dirty and so is the blood they wipe off—there'll be a bit of pus developing but it all heals up in a short time. It is not much of a problem.

Townspeople have much more sensitive ether bodies. Someone may have a small pimple; he shaves, cuts himself—and dies! I am telling you something that is really true. Someone with a small pimple hurt himself shaving and died of that small pimple because he immediately developed blood poisoning. This happened because the ether body was weak. It was no longer strong enough to remove the poisons, the foreign matter that got in, quickly enough. This needs a robust, vital ether body. Farmers have such ether bodies. Nowadays they are getting weaker, but if you went out into the country in my young days it was a great pleasure to see the farmers' brimming ether bodies. When they reach the appropriate age, of course, farmers in particular tend to collapse, for the ether body goes down fast and the astral body is not so strong in farmers. But their ether bodies are very strong and that is why everything heals much more quickly than in city people. Working on the soil is tremendously healthy.

It is possible to know these things but under present-day social conditions we cannot change them. They must first be made more widely known. I think it is not difficult to understand that scars develop more or less strongly depending on whether the ether body acts more strongly or more weakly, and this also affects the body coping with things that do not belong in it. A knife is an external substance, for instance, and so is dirt getting in; the body must immediately defend itself. Knowing this, one is not surprised to learn that some wounds do not heal at all because the people concerned have emaciated, eaten-up ether bodies. This is the case particularly where the work people do is no longer in harmony with nature. It is not so much due to the carbon dioxide in the air but simply to the fact that people are no longer connected so much with nature. When people are in an office or on a shop floor all day long, the work they do has nothing to do with nature any more. Our unbelievable civilization which has gradually evolved cuts people off completely from the natural world, creating substances that are increasingly more harmful, increasingly more foreign to the natural state.

This has brought a sudden great change in recent times. People do not usually consider these things from the spiritual point of view, but they need to consider them from that point of view. Just consider this. In the past people would write. Today they work for the typewriter. What is important for health when we write, apart from movement and so on? I would say one of the less obvious things to affect our health when we are writing is the smell of the ink. With the kind of ink manufactured in the past, the smell was not harmful but in a sense acted as a corrective. When people had worn themselves down by being in an unnatural position, putting strain on their writing hand, the old-style ink made from oak apples would restore the balance. The smell of the substances obtained from oak apples was such that it actually strengthened the ether body—not much, but a little. When aniline dyes came to be used, so that one no longer drew on nature but made synthetic ink, as chemists call it, the human being was completely closed off. Aniline ink has a smell that is literally the opposite of the effect the smell of ink used to have. Today many people have changed to using a typewriter. The movements that are required for this and the rattle of the keys—there are typewriters now that write quietly, but that is a very new design—are not the worst part of it. The worst thing is the dirt used to make the ink for the letters. This completely ruins the human ether body, going so far that people develop heart disease from typing, for the heart is mainly activated by the ether body. Civilization is, of course, making progress in this area, but this is never balanced out by the knowledge which people should have about what is really involved. It is a fact that people today are increasingly resisting progress. That should not be so, but there is a certain instinct that makes people notice, though they don't know exactly why, that things are getting increasingly more harmful as advances are made into the future. These things go together. It is how things are.

Concerning your other question, why such highly dangerous things occur when access is gained to burial chambers, we must note that this applies not only to the ancient burial chambers where mummies lie but for example also where you do not have mummies, as in Egypt, but where the burial places are well secured and are rock tombs. On entering these for the first time one has air coming towards one, if I may put it like this, that is extraordinarily poisonous and harmful. Why should this be so?

You may find it strange, gentlemen, that I have to go a long way round to explain the matter, but this will be necessary if you are to understand it. You see, human beings do not only live once on this earth but have repeated lives on earth; they return over and over again. I have briefly spoken of this before. But when they come back they are different from the way they were before. You would probably be utterly amazed if a painter were to come along who knew the science of the spirit so well that he could paint a picture of the whole group of people sitting here the way they were in an earlier life on earth. You would be amazed to see each of you looking very different indeed from the way you look now. It would certainly be interesting! You see, you will return. When your present life is at an end and you have gone through death and the world of the spirit, you will return to earth. The power in us out of which the next body will be created—our bodies come not only from our mothers and fathers but also by the principle that now lives in us and is taken through death into the world of the spirit—continues to act. The principle that was active in earlier bodies on earth is preserved.

Now you may well ask if human beings really have the power to transform something that is in them today and is wholly connected with their present bodies in such a way that it will be a completely different body. No one would be able today to transform the spiritual powers in his body to such effect that another body can be created. But you also cannot die and be born again right away. There has to be an interval of time, quite a long interval of time. This has to exist between lives. And there all the powers are transformed. Under normal conditions, unless one has been a criminal or something similar, the time between death and a new birth is quite long. Now when do we return to earth? We return to earth when the conditions under which we have lived have changed completely. Yes, some people return to previous conditions, and that is very painful. Normally, however, we only return to earth when conditions have changed completely. So we are not born into the same situation again.

The question is, what makes conditions change so completely? You see we must never merely fantasize but stick to reality. The powers we have when we are not living on earth but between death and a new birth are such that they also have an influence here on earth. They come to us from all the stars and from everywhere out there. They are in fact our own powers. It is just that we are not on earth during that time. When we are on earth, these powers we have act from the earth; when we are not on earth they act from cosmic space. These are powers of destruction. They destroy the conditions under which we have been living.

It is easy to understand this when it comes to external circumstances. But it goes further, gentlemen, right into the natural world that is around us!

Think of someone being cremated or buried under present-day conditions. After a time you have an awareness that hardly anything remains of this person. And if you go to the cemeteries 50 or 60 years later and see what you can find in the place where you know one of your forebears was buried in the past, the most you will find are a few bits of bone; but these, too, gradually dissolve. Nothing remains, therefore, of the things that need to be destroyed. Our whole body must have been destroyed by the time we are born again. Yet although nothing remains to be seen of the body, much is still there, a great deal of us. Someone who is able to perceive more subtle forms of matter will find that something remains for a long time of a person in the place where they were buried, or even if they were cremated. All this must first be destroyed.

The ancient Egyptians had a particular purpose when they bound up mummies. Basically they wanted to prevent human beings having to return to earth again.56The editors are aware that what Rudolf Steiner is saying in the given context seems to contradict the statements he made on 1 and 5 March in this course of lectures. They did not want this to happen, and if you embalm a body you prevent it coming down again. They wanted the individuals concerned to have the convenience of remaining in the world of the spirit. They therefore not only preserved the mummies but used materials—they had great skill and knowledge in this field—so that the dead bodies retained their physical conformation so well that we can still have them in our museums today. They are an exact copy of what the person has once been.

Now, gentlemen, in the first place it is inevitably true that anything that has survived through thousands of years is like poison, for it is destructive. It really belongs to the powers of destruction. A mummy holds tremendous powers of destruction. It is truly the case that if you look at a mummy and dust comes from it, those are powers of destruction coming out. These powers of destruction exist because, as 1 have said, the human being who is beyond this earth really wants to destroy everything that has been, including the form. So there it is, and the individual has sent powers of destruction into it. So it really does have powers of destruction in it.

Secondly, the Egyptians used special materials to preserve the mummies. These materials are extremely hostile to destruction. And they will within a short time create a poison atmosphere. You always have a poison atmosphere around a mummy. This arose from the religious views held by the ancient Egyptians.

There is something else as well. How did the Egyptians get hold of substances that they themselves were able to work with quite easily but which turned to poison within a relatively short time? You see, today people have no idea of the power of speech. The power of speech was enormous in earlier times, and also in Egyptian times. Imagine you have a fire that produces a lot of smoke. If you blow into it you change the shape of the smoke cloud [drawing]. Blowing lightly you can make it rotate. So you are able to change the shape. Just blowing will not do much. But if you start to whistle a tune, which means continuous blowing, you shape the smoke and flames according to the content of the tune. The ancients knew that matter changes if you speak into it in some way, and especially if you use particular words They had spices with which to embalm their mummies and they did not work with them the way we would today. They would always be saying something as they did their embalming. It was something like: 'Whoever approaches my body shall suffer death.' They would use an intonation and a choice of words that made matter obey, and this power therefore entered into the material of the spices they used in embalming. This lives in there. People cannot believe this today, but it is true. If you have a mummy and come close to its substance, the words 'Whoever approaches my body shall suffer death' are still in it. Another reason is that the material has since absorbed the power of those words.

Today only remnants remain of all this. If you go to a Roman Catholic Church the priest no longer has the power to bend embalming spices to his will with words, but he uses a lesser power, which is to create smoke from incense. The whole procedure would be completely harmless if he would first do what is necessary, then light the incense and speak certain prayers or send particular thoughts into the incense. This does not happen, however, but they burn incense and say specific words into the smoke. These are then in the smoke and affect the people who are in the incense atmosphere. The smell of incense is thus an important medium for getting sinners to repent, and this is a last remnant of all the things that were done in the past.

Embalming was a religious ceremony in which matter was changed. I know a man who went to Asian tombs—the Egyptian tombs are most characteristic of these things, but Asian tombs have them as well. He found that one cannot approach those tombs beyond a certain point, realizing that if one goes any further one will lose consciousness or die. The poison atmosphere keeps people at a distance and this is because the destructive word that will cause harm has been implanted in the materials used to treat the dead bodies.

Something else is the following. You see, if a person has been on earth ten centuries, that is a thousand years ago, his powers change. He passes through the period between death and a new birth and returns. He then has the powers to build himself a new body. He only has these powers because he is able, in the spirit, to overcome all powers of destruction. The power acting out of the seed is thus increased. Otherwise people would not be able to shape a human seed into the body they want; it would merely become the body again that existed centuries ago. The power in any seed must also be old; it must come from earlier times. The power we have now does not allow us to influence any kind of seed. For a plant seed to be active and produce a plant the following year it must be withdrawn from the forces that come from outside and be given up to the inner forces of the earth for a whole winter. These forces are destructive for anything that is by nature external.

The cereal grains in the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs were really buried together with those powers of destruction. Whereas everything that is body at the moment when the human being takes his body towards the powers of destruction is destroyed, the situation is the opposite for the principle that lies in the seed, for its vitality is strengthened. It may happen, therefore—not with all seeds but with many—that the process occurs which normally occurs in winter. The plant seeds come together with the powers of destruction that exist in the dead body and their powers are actually preserved. They will then be as active as fresh grain, even after a very long time.

It is particularly when we consider things like these, therefore, that we have to understand that things happen in life that cannot be explained in terms of materialistic science, because spiritual forces are involved. These spiritual forces immediately become actively involved once a certain time has passed in earth evolution.

Let us assume the following. I can only tell you this, of course, but it is possible for a person to look back on earlier lives on earth, both for himself and for other people who shared those lives. Those people will have become spirit, however. Nothing remains of what they once were. So if someone has lived in ancient Greece, let us say, is born again and has great wisdom today, and then looks back at the form he had when he walked about in ancient Greece, he sees that form in the spirit, truly in the spirit. If for some reason—I do not know how, let us say through a devil—the form he sees in the spirit were to be transformed into an actual person, so that he would meet himself in the flesh, he would die. You cannot meet the past in the flesh. If you did you would die. Anyone seeing a past incarnation the way it really was would also come face to face with the powers that seek to make the future element die, really make it die. That is how it is. This would of course produce completely unnatural conditions. You see, the people whose bodies lie mummified in Egypt, so that their form still lies there, have long since returned to earth. So they have been living or are still living, and their earlier forms lie over there. These preserved forms act not only on the people who have returned; when such an individual has returned they also have a destructive effect on other people who come close to such a preserved form. Every mummy is thus hostile to human life. It cannot be any other way. Enmity comes from them for human life. People take no note of this. And so it may, of course, also happen that mummies that once belonged to particularly ambitious people who held great power, and into which much has been secretly put, so that they may be preserved for a long time and have a harmful effect, may indeed have such a bad effect on occasion that someone coming close to them will fall ill or perhaps even die. This is why these inexplicable things happen that we hear of.

The third point was that we are told it is extraordinarily difficult to reach these tombs today. That is indeed the case. When we hear of the ancient mysteries today—one often hears about them—we may also ask: Where were those mysteries? We would have to dig deep down into rocks and there we would find caves and in them all kinds of signs written which would be most interesting if we could decipher them. Basically all of it lies deep down under rocks that have joined so closely that anyone taking a superficial view will not notice that those rocks did not get there in a natural way but were worked by human hands. The Egyptians wanted the tombs to be protected. They therefore put them deep down in the rocks and put artificial constructions on top. These have gradually changed over thousands of years and now look like natural rock formations.

Only one question remains, but this will help you to understand many aspects of history that otherwise cannot be understood. You see, I'd like to know how it would be possible for people today, however great their number, to find the strength that must have been needed to build those things. Even just to destroy them needs a lot of time, as you said. The Pharaohs—that's what Egyptian kings were called—had great spiritual powers that enabled them to influence people. If you are able to influence matter you will certainly also be able to influence people by using the power of the word. Those ancient Pharaohs had enormous powers that enabled them to have enormous influence on people's energies, the energy they needed for work. You also need to consider another phenomenon. You see, normal people can lift things, move them, and so on. But perhaps you have also seen someone who was off his head and the enormous strength such a person would have. It is amazing to see the energy a person gains to lift things which he would not normally be able to lift, to carry things which he would not normally be able to carry. And think of the strength he develops when he fights you! You may have been able to beat him easily when he was not yet off his head; but when he is, he'll have you on your back in no time. People's strength grows enormously when they go mad.

The Egyptians were not mad. Yet they also were not as rational as we are today. They lived as in a dream and had the strength of giants. People are quite unable to grasp today how few people it took to move a huge rock, taking it to a place that might be very high up, in ancient Egypt. It is impossible for us to understand that there have been times when five people would take an enormous rock and transport it over a long distance and raise it to a great height. People had tremendous powers in ancient Egypt. The only way of achieving this was to develop such strength in them by practically making them slaves. That was not the only purpose why slavery existed. This became clear when humanity had grown weak and the intellect had woken in them. In the period which followed the Egyptian period, strength grew less as the intellect developed. Slavery was then such that people merely wanted to keep it going and demanded the right to keep it going. It was different before that, for in earlier times the whole of human nature was made to remain dull, dumb and dreamlike, as this would increase people's physical strength. This artificially produced physical strength was used to create such things as the royal tombs where it takes such tremendous effort today just to destroy them.

You see, completely wrong ideas are presented about all this today because it is usually the most materialistically inclined people who go there. They cannot understand what these things really are. Someone opens up a royal tomb—and he must die. People are amazed for they do not know that this was really intended by the ancient Egyptians. They had the means to make things happen at a much later time.

Think of this. Imagine you are in Basel and have a wireless telegraph. Someone in Berlin records the telegram; he hears what you say by wireless telegraphy. That is a long way away. Why is it possible? Because we overcome distances with our wireless telegraphy and are able to have an effect through space. The telegram is sent, it passes through space, and comes alive in another place. Now imagine you sent a telegram that says 'Whoever hears these words will die!' And perhaps the person in Berlin is an anxious individual, someone who is easily influenced. He hears the message—he'd have to be an extremely anxious individual, of course—and he dies from the shock, especially if the person who sent the message is a madman. The forces that live in the speech of a mad person are much more powerful than those of a sensible individual. So if you have a madman speaking in one place and someone else hearing his words elsewhere, he may die.

The Egyptians had the facilities to preserve such things in their tombs, to put such words in there. These act through time rather than space. And if an Englishman sticks his nose in, he does not know that the words put into the embalming spices are still active in the odour that reaches his nose.

The anxious individual who hears the madman's wireless message would at least die of shock. The other individual dies without hearing anything, because of an odour. The 'wireless message' has been magicked into it, and in the things done by the ancient Egyptians one is dealing with a kind of time telegraphy. They intended to kill anyone who stuck in his nose. And it actually happens because they had the skill that enabled them to speak words into the spices that would have an effect.

You see, if you consider the things that may be known in the spirit you will no longer be amazed at such things. The strange thing is that when people go to all sorts of places today and make their investigations, they sometimes have their noses rubbed in the way the spirit works in a highly unpleasant way. Those who are most affected by the spirit, in that it kills them, would certainly tell the truth if they were able to share their wisdom after death. This is not possible, and so we ourselves must speak out about the decrees made in the world of the spirit.