An Introduction to Anthroposophical Medicine
The following essay on a new medical method was written by Rudolf Steiner in 1923 for the then director of the Weleda, Mr. van Leer.
Van Leer was on his way to America to promote the Weleda preparations. He asked Rudolf Steiner for some suitable material and received the following essay handwritten. We see from its content how he envisaged the basis for such promotion. Upon closer study the seeds for the subsequent book Fundamentals of Therapy, written by Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman, are revealed in concentrated thought sequences.
M. Kirchner-Bockholt, MD
Translated by L. Monger from Rundbrief Nr. 1, Medical Section, Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland.
I. What are the intentions of our new medical method?
The new medical method here imparted to the world distinguishes itself from the old one through a different understanding of man. With the old method, based on the natural-scientific conceptions of the modern age, we gain knowledge of man by dissecting the physical organization and building it up again in thought.
But man is not merely a physical organization. He is also a supra-physical one. The latter reveals itself in the experiences and activities of his soul and spirit. As the physical organization is the basis of the organization of soul and spirit, so the soul and spirit, in turn, fashion and vitalize the physical organization. Without insight into this interrelationship, we cannot attain a real comprehension of the healthy or the ill human organism.
Therefore, this new medical method adds to the knowledge of the physical nature of man that of the supra-physical. The essential nature of the method consists in the fact that it attains the insight that spiritual processes—developing in the human organism in relative separation from the physical ones—present the true nature of man, but become at once detrimental if they enter into a wrong connection with the physical processes of the human organism.
The physical organization of man, in the course of his growth and development, arrives at a state that makes it capable of bearing the soul and spirit. It must not, however, enter into a connection with these soul and spirit elements which exceed a certain measure. If this happens, man becomes ill.
That man is subject to illness is attributable to the fact that he is a being of spirit and soul. Only through observation of the spiritual in the physical do we attain knowledge of the nature of illness. In the physical organization abnormal processes are recognized only as changes that are subject to natural laws in the same way normal processes are. (That is, both normal and abnormal processes are natural processes. Ed.) We recognize abnormal processes in their particular nature as processes of illness only if we can pass over from the observation of the physical to the supra-physical. It may sound paradoxical, but a human being becomes ill if something in his physical organization develops too strongly toward the spiritual.
Only out of such a knowledge of illness can real therapy arise. All extra-human substances and processes are in a distinct relationship to man. If one introduces such an extra-human substance or an extra-human process into man, then that which acts physically outside of man acts supra-physically within man. This is in contrast to the fact that everything acting physically within man acts supra-physically outside of him.
On the basis of a real knowledge of man's relationship to the outer world, one can always find a substance or a process in the extra-human world that transforms a wrong relationship of the supra-physical and physical within man into a right relationship. But such a knowledge can be attained only through insight into the supra-physical aspects of man.
Therapy without a knowledge of the supra-physical in human nature is not true therapy. This is the reason for the unsatisfactory character of customary medical practices which want to base everything upon the physical human being.
Physical science is beneficial only as the basis of lifeless technology; therapy needs a science aiming for the spiritual. The medical method recommended here provides such a science. Its essential nature lies in the fact that it offers remedies that are based on a physical and a spiritual knowledge of man. And only through the latter is it possible to recognize the curative forces of substances and processes.
By testing these remedies, one will be come aware of how the ill human organism changes under their influence, and thereby one will gain faith in them.
II. Pathology and Therapy According to the New (Anthroposophical) Method.
The Nature of the New Remedies
Processes in the human organism are not the same as those in extra-human nature.* We cannot, therefore, learn to know them in the same Away we learn to know the latter. Only when the human being becomes a corpse do the processes take place in him that can be known through sense observation and the intellectual operations based on it. As long as man lives, senses, and thinks, he continually wrests his organism from mere nature processes. Processes take place in him that cannot be comprehended by knowledge of external nature.
To consider knowledge of external nature as the only possible means of cognition is equivalent to renouncing insight into man's essential being.
This knowledge of external nature may be contrasted to another one. It is based upon spiritual perception, which needs to be developed in the human soul. The capacities for this perception are slumbering in everyday human nature in the same way that the soul forces appearing in later life are slumbering in the young child.
A first faculty that may be developed is the capacity of thinking and the force of memory. Thinking and memory may, purely spiritually, be enhanced through exercise, as muscular strength can be enhanced through exercise. This enhancement may be achieved by inwardly concentrating, again and again, upon very clear thoughts. In so doing, one imparts strength to thinking itself, out of the depths of the human being. One must, however, direct all attention to the inner thought faculty itself. One must have thoughts not in order to picture a thing or process of the external world, but in order to live in a thought with all one's inner strength. One then experiences that thought allows a force to stream into itself from one's inner nature. Previously, thought permitted this force to sink down into the depths of the subconscious in order to contain nothing in itself, and thereby to be able to receive the impressions of outer nature into itself.
This submerged force can be rediscovered in inner experience. Thinking becomes something that fills man like the muscular force. One senses a second human being within oneself.
Once one has inwardly experienced this "second man," one has also experienced a "second world" within the entire world. Let us here call it the etheric world.
Man stands within this etheric world with his etheric organization as he stands with his physical organization within the physical world. The etheric, however, has laws entirely different from those of the physical world.
The substances that man takes in by way of nutrition are on the path to passing over into purely physical nature. They may be, from the outset purely physical substances such as, for instance, table salt. But also what man consumes from the plant or animal kingdom is on the way to becoming purely physical. As a matter of fact, it is subjected to purely physical processes by dissolving, cooking, and so forth. This purely physical element must then, in man, enter on the path to revitalization. This happens as it is taken up into the working of the etheric organization.
In the etheric organization purely physical effects cease. Growth, nutrition, and so on, are supra-physical processes, taken care of by the etheric organization.
If the etheric part of the organism is strong enough to carry out the transformation of the physical forces to a sufficient degree, then it is healthy. If the etheric organization is too weak, the organism becomes ill. It then contains substances and processes that are appropriate to extra-human nature, but within the physical organism they represent a foreign element. The study of pathology consists in the recognition of these foreign elements in man.
If the organism is unable to bring about, through itself, the transformation described, it must be supported through external means. An example will demonstrate how this can work. Let us suppose that the etheric organization is too weak to give to certain substances the constitution they must have in order to incorporate themselves into bone formation in a way that enables the bones to stand in a right relationship to the entire life process. The bones then withdraw too strongly into their own being. They withdraw their life from the organism. If this is correctly observed and if one introduces lead in very small amounts into the organism, the effect will be that the forces of the etheric organism are strengthened in the very direction in which they were deficient.
The therapeutic aspect of medicine consists in the knowledge of the extent to which the foreign element in man can be overcome, so that the transformation of the physical can take place in the proper way. One does not yet know man completely, however, if one has grasped only the etheric organization besides the physical one.
Beyond thinking, we can develop other soul forces for spiritual perception. If one has experienced strengthened thinking leading to the ether world, one may then suppress it by the inner force of the soul. In normal life, such an inner happening will produce sleep. But through exercise one may succeed in preventing the soul from falling asleep when it suppresses strengthened thinking. Consciousness then persists despite the cessation of impressions from the outer world. To this consciousness a real spiritual world reveals itself. Perception of a spiritual world is added to that of the ordinary world. In this spiritual world one recognizes a third human organization, a "third human being," as it were. We call this the astral organization.
In conscious or semiconscious life, the sensations emanating from the organs, the dim feeling of life, the indefinite sense of the organism in general, proceed from this astral organization. Hunger and thirst, the feelings of satisfaction, fatigue, and so forth, also proceed from this astral organization.
Furthermore, one recognizes not only that this astral organism is the bearer of these conscious or semiconscious conditions, but also that this is only one side of its activity, namely, that which is inclined toward the consciousness of the soul. The other side reaches down into the subconscious organic processes. The same astral body that, for instance, makes man conscious of fatigue, lives in the organs producing fatigue.
Now, however, the proper relationship must be established between these two sides of astral activity. This can occur only if the etheric organization places itself properly between the activity of the astral and that of the physical organization. If the etheric organization is too weak, then it is incapable of keeping the astral sufficiently away from the physical; the astral then interferes too strongly with the physical.
For normal human life it is necessary that the astral be kept forcefully enough away from the physical and that it act only as a soul element. For if the soul element joins with the physical too strongly, then processes in the physical will approximate the extra-human processes. The human organs themselves will become foreign bodies that will then act like something foreign that penetrates into man and cannot be transformed by the weak etheric organization.
Man owes to the astral organization the lower part of his soul capacities; however, he is also exposed to illnesses through it because, in certain cases, this organization is not separated strongly enough from the physical organization and thereby, in a wrong way, implants something foreign into the physical organization.
One has to know the extra-human substance or the extra-human process that drives the astral out of the physical. This substance or process constitutes a remedy.
Accordingly, a healing rests upon the ability to see into the connections of the physical and the supra-physical in the human organization and, if these connections take on an abnormal character, to find in extra-human nature the means to counteract the abnormal.
There is a polar contrast between the purely physical and the etherically oriented processes in the organism, and those processes upon which consciousness depends. The stronger the former, the more the latter have to retreat. The physical-organic element, through its own forces and laws, suppresses consciousness.
The bodily processes that underlie consciousness cannot continue to be active in their way and according to their laws if consciousness is to arise. They must be held back, somewhat paralyzed in themselves, indeed, their intrinsic character must be destroyed. What in spiritual terms is known as astral organization paralyzes the etheric organization. In order to shape the indefinite semiconscious and subconscious experiences, the life processes dependent upon the etheric organization must be subdued.
These elements still do not encompass the whole human organization. Spiritual perception that takes hold of the astral organization can proceed further. Then a fourth organization, a "fourth man"—the ego-organization arises before spiritual vision. This ego-organization acts (a word is missing here . . . kw) the physical organization in the same way that the astral acts against the organization dependent upon the ether-organism.
In man, physical substance must continuously take on a living shape. Thus springs forth the activity of the physical and etheric organisms. The etheric carries on its processes by dissolving in the fluid element that which wants to take on solid forms.
The astral organization paralyzes the life-producing activity. This takes place by transformation of the fluidic into the aeriform. An example of this activity is the breathing process. It carries the living fluid of the organism over into the inhaled air and thereby subdues it to such a degree that it may become the bearer of the semiconscious or subconscious soul processes.
The ego-organization participates in these processes. But it carries everything that happens here still further. It immerses all the processes taking place in the solid, fluid and aeriform states into the differentiations of warmth in the organism. In the warmth processes taking place in diverse ways in the organism, the ego-organization is constantly transforming all the substances and all the processes of the organism in such a way that the organism can become the carrier of a soul life conscious of itself. If the force bringing about this transformation becomes too strong or too weak, illness occurs. It is then a question of recognizing through diagnosis how and where the action of the ego-organization is deficient. For example, the deficiency may lie in a general weakness of the ego-organization, preventing it from providing sufficient warmth to the body. Or it may lie in the fact that one organ system, at the expense of another, receives too much or too little influence from the ego-organization, and so forth.
In all these cases it is possible to bring the ego-organization to its proper activity. If one is familiar with the annihilating processes in extra-human nature, one can always find a substance or a process that, introduced into the body, can aid the ego-organization. One may, for example, establish through diagnosis that a certain organ is provided with too little warmth. One can then introduce into the organism a substance that will act upon this organ. This substance delivers oxygen because it has previously been subjected to a process that gives it this capacity. Thereby the damage may be balanced out.
A truly rational therapy is founded on a knowledge of the supra-physical in human nature.
In this way one arrives at an exact insight into the working of remedies in the entire human organism. Such medical thinking overcomes mere experimenting with remedies. The remedies that are recommended by the pharmaceutical laboratory at the Goetheanum came into existence in this way. They are the result of a rationally exact medical mode of thinking. Some remedies resemble those that are already in use. In this case, the new mode of thinking provides the necessary insight into the reason for the remedy's effectiveness. But most of the remedies are new, because their health-giving effects derive from the new medical knowledge of the being of man described here.
*Here we shall speak only of man. To be sure, one can learn much about the human organism by observing the animal organism. To begin with, however, here we shall not take such observations into consideration.