Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Rhythms in Human Nature
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, December 21, 1908:
The fact that we have the possibility of progressing to more and more advanced studies in this group is solely due to the arrangements we have made concerning the courses running parallel with the group lectures. Therefore I would like to ask you to give these courses all your support. It is necessary to have somewhere where we can progress with the lectures. Otherwise we would have to start from the beginning every year.
We will concern ourselves today with something that will again appear to be far removed from the previous lectures but which will nevertheless fit into our present train of thought. We want to take as our starting-point an observation made in one of the last public lectures; the one on ‘Superstition from the Spiritual Scientific Point of View’. An observation was made there that cannot be carried further in a public lecture because, for a deeper understanding of it, certain preliminary concepts would have to be presupposed that are less related to an intellectual understanding than to an understanding that lies in our whole soul constitution, and that we can only acquire after years of group work. Patient work of this kind brings us ultimately to the point where things that would have seemed absurd appear possible and probable, and we can see that life bears them out. The observation we want to start from is that it is an ordinary fact and no superstition that in the case of certain illnesses like, for instance, pneumonia, there is a crisis on the seventh day when the patient can easily die, and the doctor has to do everything in his power to bring the patient through this crisis which occurs without fail on the seventh day. This is recognised today by every sensible doctor, though doctors cannot investigate the causes because they have no idea of the spiritual foundation of things. First of all I will simply present you with the fact that pneumonia shows something quite remarkable that is connected with the mysterious number seven.
We must look at the human being in a way that makes it possible to understand this fact and many others besides. You know from the innumerable times we have referred to it that man can only be understood when we know that he has a fourfold structure of physical body, etheric body, astral body and ego. These four members of man's being are connected with and dependent on one another in the most manifold ways. Each member influences the other, and therefore they are in constant connection one with another. But this cooperation is very complicated. It takes a very long time for man to get to know these connections as well as the relationship of these members to certain forces, processes and beings in the cosmos as a whole. For man has a connection with the cosmos through each of his members; a connection which is continuous — and this again is very important — but which is also variable. What we know as the physical body, etheric body and so on are connected with one another but also with the cosmos, the whole world about us. For what we have within us is also to a certain extent outside us, and so we could say that we can best get to know these inner and outer connections if we observe man both in a waking and sleeping state.
When a man lies asleep, the physical and etheric bodies lie in bed and the astral body and the ego are to a certain extent outside these. But this is only roughly speaking. A rough idea is sufficient for a number of things, but we want to understand this situation a little more accurately today. The astral body and the ego are not active in the physical body now. But the physical body with its nerves and blood system and the etheric body cannot exist unless they are interpenetrated by an astral body and something resembling an ego. Nor could the etheric body exist without being interpenetrated by higher entities. When the human being's own astral body and ego depart, the activities of these two members have to be replaced. The human body cannot remain without there being an ego and an astral body active within it, so there also has to be an ego and an astral body active when the human being is asleep. To be exact, we would have to say that the ego and the astral body that are active in the human being's sleeping physical body are also within the human being during the day, but their activity is completely overpowered by the activity of the human being's own astral body and ego. If we want to imagine the ego as it is nowadays, in the waking state, we have to tell ourselves that this human ego is within the human body when man is awake, and because of its activity during this time it deprives a larger ego of its sphere of influence. What does our own limited ego actually do during sleep? We can in truth say fairly accurately that this ego that has freed itself in the daytime from the large cosmic ego and that has a free hand in the human body, descends into the cosmic ego during the night and foregoes its own activity. And because the day ego descends into the cosmic ego, the cosmic ego can work unhindered and get rid of all the exhaustion that has accumulated during the day. Because the day ego sinks down into the cosmic ego it is possible for the night ego to be active in an all-embracing way. If you want to imagine it pictorially, you can visualise the relationship of the day ego to the night ego as though the day ego described a circle, passing through the greater part of this circle outside the realm of the great ego and descending into the great ego at night. For sixteen hours on average it is outside the night ego and for eight hours it is within it.
You will only understand this correctly if you take what I have said quite literally, namely that your ego never stays the same for the whole sixteen hours — assuming that to be the normal time for being awake — and that the ego is changing all this while. It describes part of a circle and then sinks down, passing through more changes during the night, about which the ordinary human being knows nothing. These changes become more and more unconscious until a climax is reached, and then the ego becomes slowly more conscious again. We must say, then, that in the course of twenty-four hours the human being is continuously undergoing certain changes, the outer symbol of which we can imagine as a circle, as a hand of a clock describing a circle and disappearing from time to time into the large cosmic ego.
The human astral body goes through changes in a very similar way. This changes too in such a way that we can imagine it symbolically as describing a circle. With the astral body too the changes are such that we really have to speak of a kind of sinking down into a cosmic astral body. Only present-day man does not notice this descent into the cosmic astral body any more, whilst in earlier times man was very aware of it. Then man felt his own innate astral feelings that he had at one particular time alternating as it were with quite different feelings at another time. At one time he felt more alive in the world around him and at another time he was more aware of his own inner feelings. You could perceive quite different shades of feeling in the astral body because it underwent rhythmic changes in the course of seven days, that is seven times twenty-four hours, that can again be compared to a circle. The ego undergoes rhythmic changes over a period of twenty-four hours, still expressed today in the alternation between waking and sleeping, and the astral body in seven times twenty-four hours. In primeval man these rhythmic changes occurred very vividly. Thus in the astral body rhythmic changes run their course for seven days, and on the eighth day the rhythm begins again. The astral body actually does sink down into a universal cosmic astral body for part of the time that man undergoes this rhythm. For the remainder of the time it is more outside this cosmic astral body. This can give you a picture of how significant for man's life the universal astral body and ego are that are present in man when he is asleep. This I into which he plunges when he falls asleep and which keeps his blood flowing at night, is the same ego that works in his body during sleep. If he sleeps in the daytime he also goes into this universal ego, and this brings a certain irregularity into his rhythm which would have worked destructively in earlier times but which is not so destructive these days because in our times human life has changed considerably in this respect. During the course of the seven days, man's astral body actually goes into the same part of the universal cosmic astral body which interpenetrates the physical and etheric bodies during sleep. This brings about changes in man's inner feelings. This is hardly noticed today, though in earlier times it could not be ignored.
It is not only the ego and astral body that go through certain particular rhythmic changes but the etheric body does so too. These take place in such a way that in four times seven days the human etheric body, symbolically speaking, revolves on its own axis, and after four times seven days it comes back to the beginning again. A quite definite rhythm takes place in the course of the four times seven days. But now we are approaching a sphere about which we would have to speak in great detail if you are to understand it all. You will remember my saying that a man's etheric body is female and a woman's male. The two have a different rhythm, but we do not want to go into that today. We just want to emphasise that this rhythm occurs and, because of the difference in man and woman, we will just say it is approximately four times seven days.
This, however, does not bring us to the end of the matter. Quite definite processes are rhythmically repeated in the physical body too, however improbable this sounds to people today. Nowadays they have almost become obliterated, because man has had to become independent of certain processes, but they are still noticeable to occult observation. If the physical body were entirely left to itself this rhythm would take place over a period of ten times seven times four days in the woman and twelve times seven times four days in the man. That is how it would be if the human being were entirely left to the laws inherent in the rhythms. At one time it was really like this, but man has become more free of the cosmic influences around him. Thus we have a flow of rhythmic processes in the four members of man's being. If you like, you can imagine each of the four rhythms as a circling. The rhythms man would carry out in his physical body, for instance, if he were left entirely to himself, only approximate, of course, with the external physical, purely spatial processes that correspond to these rhythms. This is because man has been driven back upon himself in the cause of freedom, and his relationship to the cosmos has changed accordingly.
You will have noticed from the number ten times seven times four or twelve times seven times four that the rhythm of the physical body corresponds roughly to the course of the year. You can imagine an external symbol for these changes in the physical body if you think that in the course of a year the human being turns around as it were; at one time he is on one side of the sun and at another on the other. If we imagine that he always turns his face to the sun, then in the course of a year he has to revolve once on his own axis and once round the sun. Anyone who only looks at it superficially will think that it is of no consequence, but it happens to be very important. These rhythms occurring in the four bodies were implanted into man over long periods of time, and the hierarchies — entities we have often spoken about — have brought it about that the various bodies influence one another. We know that we are embedded in higher beings. It is due to the action of these spiritual beings, who fill both physical and spiritual space with their deeds, that these particular connections come about. If you consider what I have just said, however, you will find a new way of looking at a thought I often mentioned here last winter. The establishing of the rhythm of the physical body already began on ancient Saturn. The incorporating of the etheric body into the physical body, in such a way that the rhythm of the two bodies harmonise, is the work of other spirits, the spirits of the Sun. Through the working together of the various rhythms a relationship is brought about in the same way as the relationship of the two hands of a clock is determined by their rhythm. On ancient Moon another rhythm was incorporated, that of the astral body.
Now those spirits that regulated our whole cosmos — for everything of a physical nature is an expression of those beings — had to create the outer physical movement in accordance with their own inner relationships. That the sun is encircled by the earth in a year arises out of the rhythm that was implanted into the physical body long ages before the physical constellation existed. Thus the spatial relationships between these heavenly bodies were regulated from out of the spirit. The moon had to go round the earth because its rotation had to correspond to the rotation of the human etheric body in four times seven days because this rhythm was to find its expression in the movement of the moon. The changing illumination of the moon by the sun — the moon's four quarters — correspond to the different rhythms of the astral body, and the revolution of the earth in the course of a day corresponds to the ego rhythm. In connection with this ego rhythm in particular we can point out something that occultism has always taught, but which will appear to people nowadays as mere fantasy, although it is nevertheless true. In very ancient times the earth did not revolve around its axis; this axial rotation arose in the course of time. Whilst earth man was still in a different condition, this movement did not as yet exist. The first stimulus to movement did not occur in the earth but in man. The human ego was given this stimulus to turn by the spirits to whom it is subject, and the human ego actually took the earth with it and made it revolve round it. The revolution of the earth is the result of the ego rhythm. And this is true, however astonishing it sounds. The spiritual members of man that were developing their ego-hood had to receive the stimulus to turn first, and then they took the earth with them. Later on this was different. Man became free on the earth; conditions changed so that man was freed from the surrounding cosmic powers. But this is really what it was like originally. Thus you can see how everything that is physical around us is actually an outcome of the spiritual. Spirit is always there first. And it is the spirit that sets everything going.
And now think of the astral body that accomplishes its round in the course of seven days. Imagine how illnesses are connected with certain irregularities of the astral body because these irregularities are passed on through the etheric body to the physical body. Now we will suppose that the astral body has a certain defect. Through this defect it affects the etheric body and the defect is then passed on to the physical body. This also becomes defective. Then the organism starts revolting against the defect and applies protective measures. This revolt is usually in the form of a temperature, which summons man's forces of recovery. A temperature is not an illness; it is the human being calling together all the forces in his organism to put this defect right again. This revolt of the whole organism against the defect expresses itself as a rule in a feverish temperature. A temperature is the most beneficial, restorative part of an illness. The particular area that is defective cannot heal by itself, and it has to receive the forces from other places, and this is expressed in the temperature.
Now imagine this temperature occurring with pneumonia. The lungs have become defective through one or other cause. When it is the human lungs in particular that have suffered some damage, the astral body becomes defective first and then it passes through the etheric body to the physical body. With pneumonia the cause is always in the astral body; pneumonia can occur in no other way. Now think of the astral body's rhythm. The day pneumonia appears the astral body affects the physical body. Now the body begins to revolt with a temperature. Seven days later the astral and etheric bodies are in the same mutual relationship; parts of them meet again. But it is not the same part of the etheric body, because the etheric body has been going through its own rhythm. It meets the next part. This is also affected by the astral body, but this time in the opposite way. The fever is now suppressed. Through the fact that the particular part of the astral body that coincided with the previous quarter of the etheric body seven days earlier coincides with its next quarter, the opposite process from a week ago is produced, namely a reaction to the fever. The opposing rhythm of the body now suppresses the temperature. For the human body is meant to be healthy, and that is the purpose of the rhythm. Certain influences increase in the first seven days, and in the next seven days they have to decline. In a healthy person this increasing and decreasing alternates. When a person is ill, however, his life is endangered when the fever is suppressed. Whilst in a healthy person an ascending process is reversed on the seventh day, in an ill person the ascending process ought to continue. But a rapid ascent causes a rapid fall. This is the reason for the pneumonia crisis on the seventh day.
We can understand this if we consider that the lungs were developed at a time when the moon had already split off and was preparing to develop its own rhythm, and the rhythm of the days was also beginning to develop. This is why even today the lungs are still connected with the astral body and the rhythm of the etheric body.
You can see, then, that spiritual science helps us to form a judgment of just these abnormal conditions in human life, and that the whole nature of man can be understood only when we see these conditions. It will only become possible again for the sciences to achieve fruitful results when man is permeated with the great truths of spiritual science. In earlier times, up to about the middle of the earth evolution, all the rhythms in man were much more in harmony with the rhythms of outer nature. Since that time, that is, since the middle of Atlantean times, however, things have shifted. Man's inner life has emancipated itself from outer rhythm, but he has kept his inner rhythm. It is just because the rhythms do not harmonise that man has acquired his independence and freedom, otherwise the evolution of freedom in the history of mankind would not have been possible. Man's rhythm compared with the sun, or the earth's compared with the sun has shot ahead. A similar thing has happened with the other rhythms, for instance that of the astral body. In earlier times man experienced quite different shades of mood in the course of seven days. At one time everything outside him made a great impression on him, and at another time he lived more in his inner life. It is because the rhythms are no longer in harmony that the condition of inner experience remains, even when man has more joy from the outer world, and vice versa. They combine and balance one another and this makes the astral body even-tempered, as it were. By means of careful observation you can still notice these alternations of mood in people who live more in their astral body. The variations in the condition of the astral body can be established in the case of people who are psychologically or mentally ill.
The ego rhythm was the last to arise, but there too, things have already become displaced. Man can also sleep in the daytime, and stay awake at night. In earlier times this rhythm always coincided with the outer one. In Atlantis something very serious would have happened if man had wished to sleep in the daytime and stay awake at night. He would have brought his whole life into disorder. The rhythm is still there today to a certain extent, but it has become independent of outer circumstances. This is the same thing as setting a reliable clock exactly in time with the sun. You can then tell the exact solar time. But you could also turn the clock to midnight when it is seven o'clock in the evening. Then the rhythm of the clock will still remain correct but it would be displaced compared with that of the sun. This is what it is like with man. Man has kept the old rhythm that he used to share with the whole cosmos, but it has become displaced. If the clock were a living being it would be justified in dissociating its rhythm from the surrounding rhythms. In the far distant future man is to reach the point of projecting his rhythms out into the world again out of the strength of his own inner development. Just as there were once beings who, out of their own rhythms, made the sun, moon and earth move, man will at some future time transfer his rhythms to the world, when he has reached the stage of divinity. This is the meaning behind rhythm becoming independent. We can glimpse from this the deeper foundations of astrology. But we will not go into that just now. Today we only wanted to show that spiritual science is not a collection of abstract ideas for those egoistic people who take an interest in it, but something that can bring light into the most everyday things of life. One must have the will, however, to pass from external phenomena to the causes behind them. Rhythm has been implanted into matter by the spirit, and man, today, has these rhythms within him as a heritage of this spiritual origin. Nevertheless we can only understand what this rhythm signifies for man's being and also for the rest of natural creation if we go back to the original relationships. In the case of animals the various bodies — physical body, etheric body, astral body and group ego — have a quite different relationship to one another. There is a different rhythm for each animal species. It is roughly the same for the physical body, but the different animals have quite different rhythms in their etheric and astral bodies. In the same way as the animal world is classified nowadays according to external form, it can be classified in species according to the rhythms of the astral and etheric bodies.
Do not imagine that these rhythms have never been clearly recognised. We will be able to show that it is not so very long since people were at least dimly conscious of these rhythms. Whoever goes through the world with a consciousness for these things, will find in some calendars in use in country districts certain rules referring to definite relationships between the animals and the land. Farmers used to manage all their agriculture by observing the rules in such calendars. In the farmer's lore a consciousness of these rhythms lay hidden. These are things that can show us that since the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries an age of abstraction, of external science, has arisen, a science that is no longer in a position to go back to the causes. This is particularly the case in medicine. People only grope today, and the solid basis of pathology and of therapy goes back to ancient times. It was a torture for my intellect and my feelings when phenacetin was tested. This kind of testing, without any kind of guide, shows that at the same time as it lost the spirit science also lost its depth. Through spiritual knowledge this depth will be acquired again. It is absolutely necessary to distinguish between caricatures of science and real knowledge based on the spirit. If you take this to heart you will see how necessary it is to have spiritual scientific knowledge, and that it has to find its way into every realm of knowledge and life.