Saturday, February 4, 2012

The spiritual foundation of diet and nutrition. A land flowing with milk and honey

Man as Symphony of the Creative Word. Lecture 11 of 12.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, November 10, 1923:

You will have gathered from the foregoing descriptions that man's relation to his environment is very different from what modern ideas often conceive. It is so easy to think that what exists in man's surroundings, what belongs to the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms and is then taken into the body, that these external material processes which are investigated by the physicist, the chemist, and so on, simply continue on in the same way within man himself. There can, however, be no question of this, for one must be clear that within the human skin-processes everything is different from outside it, that the world within differs entirely from the world without. As long as one is not aware of this one will ever and again reach the conclusion that what is examined in a retort, or investigated in some other way, is continued on inside the human organism, and the human organism itself will simply be regarded as a more complicated system of retorts.
You need only recall what I said in yesterday's lecture, that everything mineral within man must be transformed until it reaches the condition of warmth-ether. This means that everything of a mineral nature which enters into the human organism must be so far metamorphosed, so far changed, that at least for a certain period of time it becomes pure warmth, becomes one with the warmth which man develops as his own individual temperature independent of the warmth of his environment. No matter whether it is salt or something else that we absorb, in one way or another it must assume the form of warmth-ether, and it must do this before it is made use of in the upbuilding of the living organism.
But something quite different is also connected with this: solid substance loses its solid form when it is changed in the mouth into fluid and is further transformed into the condition of warmth-ether. It loses weight when it gradually passes over into the fluid form, becomes more and more estranged from the earthly, but only when it has ascended to the warmth-etheric form is it fully prepared to absorb into itself the spiritual which comes from above, which comes from world-spaces.
Thus if you would gain an idea of how a mineral substance functions in man, you must say the following: There is the mineral substance; this mineral substance enters into man. Within man, passing through the fluid conditions, and so on, it is transformed into warmth-ether. Now it is warmth-ether. This warmth-ether has a strong disposition to absorb into itself what radiates inwards, what streams inwards, as forces from world-spaces. Thus it takes into itself the forces of the universe. And these forces of the universe now form themselves as the spiritual forces which here imbue the warmth-etherized earth-matter with spirit. And only then, with the help of the warmth-etherized earth-substance, does there enter into the body what the body needs for its formation.
So you see — if in the old sense we designate warmth as fire — we can say: What man absorbs in the way of mineral substance is carried upwards within him until it becomes of the nature of fire. And what is of the nature of fire has the disposition to take up into itself the influences of the higher hierarchies; and then this fire streams back again into all man's internal regions, and builds up, in that it re-solidifies, the material basis of the separate organs. Nothing that man takes into himself remains as it is; nothing remains earthly. Everything, for example, that comes from the mineral kingdom is so far transformed that it can take into itself the spiritual-cosmic, and only then, with the help of what comes from the spiritual cosmos, does it become re-solidified into the earthly condition.
Take from a bone, for instance, a fragment of calcium phosphate. This is in no way the calcium phosphate which you find outside in nature, or which, let us say, you introduce into the laboratory. It is the calcium phosphate which, while it arose from what was absorbed from outside, could only take part in building the human physical form with the help of the forces which penetrated it during the time when it was changed into the warmth-ether condition.
This, you see, is why man needs substances of the most diverse kinds during the course of his life in order to be able, in accordance with the way he is organized at his particular age, to transform what is lifeless into the condition of warmth-ether. A child is as yet quite unable to change what is lifeless into the warmth-etheric condition; he has not enough strength in his organism. He must drink the milk which is still so nearly akin to the human organism in order to bring it into the condition of warmth-ether, and apply its forces to carrying out the full diffusion of plastic activity which is necessary during the years of childhood for the processes of bodily formation. One only gains insight into the nature of man when one knows that everything which is taken in from outside must be worked upon and basically transformed. Thus if you take some external substance and wish to test its value for human life you simply cannot do this by means of ordinary chemistry. You must know how much force the human organism must exert in order to bring some external mineral substance, for example, to the fleeting condition of warmth-ether. If it is unable to do this, the external mineral substance is deposited, becoming heavy earth-matter before it has passed over into warmth, and penetrates into the human organism as inorganic matter which remains alien to human tissues.
An example of this kind can appear when the human being is not in a position to bring a substance, in its origin organic but appearing in him mineralized, namely sugar, to the tenuous condition of warmth-ether. Then arises the condition which must result when the whole organism has to share in the assimilation of what is thus present within it, the very serious condition of sugar diabetes. In the case of every substance one must therefore bear in mind to what degree the human organism can be in a position to transmute lifeless substance — whether its nature is already lifeless as when we eat cooking salt, or whether it becomes so as with sugar — into warmth-substance, whereby the organism which is rooted in the earth finds its union with the spiritual cosmos.
Every such deposit in man which remains untransmuted — as in diabetes — signifies that the human being does not find a union of the matter present within him and the spiritual of the cosmos. This is only a specific application of the general axiom that whatever approaches man from outside must be entirely worked over and transformed within him. And if we wish to look after a person's health it is of paramount importance to see to it that nothing enters into him which remains as it was, nothing which cannot be dealt with by the human organism until the least of its particles is transformed. This is not only the case in regard to substances; it is also the case, for instance, in regard to forces.
External warmth — the warmth we feel when we grasp things, the external warmth in the air — this, when taken up by the human organism, must become so transformed that the inner warmth is on a different level from the warmth outside. The external warmth must be transformed within us, so that this external warmth, in which we are not present, is laid hold of by the human organism even down to the very smallest quantity.
Now, imagine that I go somewhere where it is cold, and because the cold is too intense or because of moving air or draught, the temperature fluctuates, I am not in a position to change the world warmth into my own individual warmth quickly enough. Through this I run the danger of being warmed by the world-warmth from outside like a piece of wood, or a stone. This should not be. I should not be exposed to the danger of external warmth flowing into me as though I were merely some object. At every moment, from the boundary of my skin inwards, I must be able to lay hold of the warmth and make it my own. If I am not in a position to do this I catch cold.
This is the inner process of catching cold. To catch cold is a poisoning by external warmth which is not taken possession of by the organism.
You see, everything in the external world is poison for man, actual poison, and it only becomes of service to him when, through his individual forces, he lays hold of it and makes it his own. For only from man himself do forces go up to the higher hierarchies in a human way; whereas outside man they remain with the elemental nature-beings, with the elemental spirits. In the case of man this wonderful transformation must happen so that within the human organism the elemental spirits may give over their work to the higher hierarchies. For the mineral in man this can only occur when it is absolutely and entirely transformed into warmth-ether.
Let us look at the plant world. Truly this plant world possesses something which bewitches man in the most varied ways when he begins to contemplate the plant covering of the earth with the eye of the spirit. We go out into a meadow or a wood. We dig up, let us say, a plant with its root. If we regard what we have dug up with the eye of the spirit we find a wonderfully magical complex. The root shows itself as something of which we can say that it came into existence entirely in the sphere of the earthly. Yes, a plant root — the more so, the coarser it appears — is really something terribly earthly. It always reminds one — especially a root like a turnip, for instance — of a particularly well-fed alderman. O, yes, it is so; the root of a plant is extremely smug, and self-satisfied. It has absorbed the salts of the earth into itself, and feels a deep sense of gratification at having soaked up the earth. In the whole sphere of the earthly there exists no more absolute expression of satisfaction than such a turnip-root; it is the representative of root-nature.
On the other hand let us look at the blossom. When we observe the blossom with the eye of the spirit we only experience it as our own soul when it cherishes the tenderest desires.
Only look at a spring flower: it is a sigh of longing, the embodiment of a wish. And something wonderful streams forth over the flower world which surrounds us if only our soul-perception is delicate enough to be open to it. In spring we see the violet, maybe the daffodil, the lily-of-the-valley, or many little plants with yellow flowers, and we are seized by the feeling that these blossoming plants of spring would say to us: O Man, how pure and innocent can be the desires which you direct towards the spiritual! Spiritual desire-nature, desire-nature bathed, as it were, in piety, breathes from every blossom of spring.
And when the later flowers appear — let us at once take the other extreme, let us take the autumn crocus — can one behold the autumn crocus with soul-perception without having a slight feeling of shame? Does it not warn us that our desires can tend downwards, that our desires can be imbued with every kind of impurity? It is as though the autumn crocuses spoke to us from all sides, as if they would continually whisper to its: Consider the world of thy desires, O Man; how easily you can become a sinner!
Looked at thus, the plant-world is the mirror of human conscience in external nature. Nothing more poetical can be imagined than the thought of this voice of conscience coming forth from some point within us and being distributed over the myriad forms of the blossoming plants which speak to the soul, during the season of the year, in the most manifold ways. The plant-world reveals itself as the wide-spread mirror of conscience if we know how to look at it aright.
If we bear this in mind it becomes of special significance for us to look at the flowering plants and picture how the blossom is really a longing for the light-being of the universe, and how the form of the blossom grows upwards in order to enable the desires of the earth to stream towards this light-being of the universe, and how on the other hand the substantial root fetters the plant to the earth, how it is the root which continually wrests the plant away from its celestial desires, wishing to reestablish it in the substantiality of the earth.
And we learn to understand why this is so when, in the evolutionary history of the earth, we meet the fact that what is present in the root of a plant has invariably been laid down in the time when the moon was still together with the earth.
In the time when the moon was still together with the earth the forces anchored in the moon within the body of the earth worked so strongly that they hardly allowed the plant to become anything but root. When the moon was still with the earth and the earth still had quite another substance, the root element spread itself out and worked downwards with great power. This can be pictured in such a way that one says: The downward thrust of the plant's root-nature spread out powerfully, while up above the plant only peeped out into the cosmos. We could say that the plants sent their shoots out into the cosmos like delicate little hairs. We feel that, while the moon was still with the earth, this moon element, these moon-forces, contained in the earth-body itself, fettered plant-nature to the earthly. And what was then transmitted to the being of the plant remains on as predisposition in the nature of the root.
After the moon left the earth, however, there unfolded in what had previously existed only as tiny little shoots peeping out into the world a longing for the wide light-filled spaces of the cosmos; and now the blossom-nature arose. So that the departure of the moon was a kind of liberation, a real liberation for the plants.
But here we must also bear in mind that everything earthly was grounded in the spiritual. During the Old Saturn period — you need only take the description which I gave in my Occult Science — the earth was entirely spiritual; it existed only in the warmth-etheric element, it was entirely spiritual. It was out of the spiritual that the earthly was first formed.
And now let us contemplate the plant. In its form it bears the living memory of evolution. It bears in its root-nature the process of becoming earthly, of assuming the physical-material. If we look at the root of a plant we discern that it says something further to us, namely that its existence only became possible because the earthly-material evolved out of the spiritual. Scarcely, however, was the earth relieved of its moon-element than the plant again strove back to the spaces of the light.
And when we consume the plant as nourishment we give it the opportunity of carrying further in the right way what it began outside in nature: the striving back not only to the light-spaces, but to the spirit-spaces of the cosmos. This is why, as I have already said, we must deal with the plant-substance within us until it becomes aeriform, or gaseous, so that the plant may follow its longing for the wide spaces of light and spirit.
I go out into a meadow. I see how the flowers, the blossoms of the plants, strive towards the light. Man consumes the plant, but within him he has a world entirely different from the one outside. Within him he can bring to fulfillment the longing which, outside, the plant expresses in its blossoms. Spread abroad in nature we see the desire-world of the plants. We eat the plants. Within ourselves we drive this longing towards the spiritual world. We must therefore raise the plants into the sphere of the air so that in this lighter realm they may be enabled to strive towards the spiritual.
The plant here undergoes a remarkable process. When man eats plant food the following occurs: If we depict the root below, and above what strives through the leaf to the blossom, then, in this inner transference to the airy condition, we have to experience a total reversal of the plant. The root, which is fettered to the earth, just for the very reason that it is so rooted, strives upwards; it strives upwards towards the spiritual with such power that it leaves the striving of the blossom behind it. It is actually as if you were to picture the plant unfolding in such a way that the upper is pushed down below and the lower up above. The plant reverses itself completely. The part which has already won its way to the blossom has had enjoyment in its material striving towards the light, has brought the material up into the sphere of the light. For this it must now suffer the punishment of remaining below. The root has been the slave of the earthly; but, as you can see from Goethe's theory of the metamorphosis of plants, it bears the whole plant-nature within it. It now strives upwards.
If a man is a really stiff-necked sinner, he is likely to remain so. But the root of a plant, which as long as it is earth-bound makes the impression of a well-fed alderman, immediately it has been eaten by man becomes transformed and strives upwards; whereas that which has brought the material into the sphere of the light, the blossom, must remain down below. Hence in what belongs to the root-element of the plant we have something which, when it is eaten, strives upwards towards man's head out of its inherent nature, while what lies in the direction of the blossom remains in the lower regions, and, in the general process of digestion, does not reach up to forming the head.
Thus we have the remarkable, the wonderful, drama that when man consumes something of plant-nature — he need not eat the whole plant, because in each single part the whole plant is inherent (I refer you again to Goethe's theory of metamorphosis) — when man consumes a plant, it transforms itself within him into air, into air which develops plant-wise from above downwards, which grows and blossoms in a downward direction.
In times when such things were known through instinctive clairvoyance, people looked at the external constitution of plants in order to see whether they were such as could be beneficial to man's head, whether they showed a strong root-development, and in consequence a longing for the spiritual. For, when digestion is completed, what we have eaten of such a plant will seek out the head and penetrate it, so that it may there strive upwards towards the spiritual cosmos and enter into the necessary connection with it.
In the case of plants which are strongly imbued with astrality — for example, in the pod-bearing plants — their products remain in man's lower organism, and are unwilling to rise up to the head, with the result that they produce a heavy sleep, and dull the brain on waking. The Pythagoreans wished to be clear thinkers and not introduce digestion into the functions of the head. This is why they forbade the eating of beans.
You see, therefore, that from what happens in nature we can divine something of nature's relation to man, and to what happens in man. If one possesses spiritual initiation-science, one simply cannot imagine how materialistic science comes to grips with human digestion. (Certainly matters are different in regard to a cow's digestion; about this, too, we shall have something further to say later.) Materialistic science states that plants are assimilated just as they are. They are not assimilated just as they are, but are completely spiritualized. The plant is so constituted in itself that in digestion the lower turns into the upper and the upper into the lower. No greater transposition can be imagined. And man immediately becomes ill if he eats even the smallest quantity of a plant where the lowest is not changed into the uppermost, and the uppermost into the lowest.
From this you will realize that man bears nothing in himself which is not produced by the spirit; he must first give to what he assimilates as substance a form which will enable the spirit to influence it.
Turning now to the animal world, we must be clear that the animal has a digestion, and mostly consumes plants. Let us take the herbivorous animal. The animal world takes the plant world into itself. This again is a very complicated process, for when the animal eats the plant it does not possess human processes to set against the plant. Within the animal the plant cannot turn the above into the below and the below into the above. The animal has its vertebral column parallel with the surface of the earth. This means that in the case of the animal what should happen in digestion is brought into complete disorder. What is below strives upwards, and what is above strives downwards, but the whole process gets dammed up in itself, so that animal digestion is something essentially different from human digestion. In animal digestion, what lives in the plant dams itself up. And the result of this is that with the animal the being of the plant is given the promise: “Thou mayest indulge thy longing for world-spaces” — but the promise is not kept. The plant is thrown back again to earth.
Through the fact, however, that in the animal organism the plant is thrown back to earth, there immediately penetrate into the plant — not, as with man in whom the reversal takes place, cosmic spirits with their forces, but certain elemental spirits in their place. And these elemental spirits are fear-spirits, bearers of fear. Thus spiritual perception can follow this remarkable process: The animal itself enjoys its nourishment, enjoys it with inner satisfaction; and while the stream of nourishment goes in one direction, a stream of fear from elemental spirits of fear goes in the other. Through the animal's digestive tract there continually flows along the path of digestion the satisfaction felt in the assimilation of nourishment, and in opposition to this there flows a terrible stream of elemental spirits of fear.
This is what animals leave behind them when they die. When animals die — not those species, perhaps, which I have already described in another way, but including such as belong, for instance, to the four-footed mammals — when these animals die there also dies, or rather comes to life in their dying, a being which is entirely composed of the element of fear. With the animal's death, fear comes to life. In the case of beasts of prey this fear is actually assimilated with their food. The beast of prey, which tears its booty to pieces, devours the flesh with satisfaction. And towards this satisfaction in the consumption of flesh there streams fear, the fear which the plant-eating animal only gives off from itself when it dies, but which already streams out from the beast of prey during its lifetime. Through this the astral bodies of such animals as lions and tigers are riddled with fear which they do not as yet detect during their lifetime, but which after death these animals drive back because it goes in opposition to their feeling of satisfaction. Thus carnivorous animals really have an afterlife in their group soul, an afterlife which must be said to present a much more terrible Kamaloka than anything which can be experienced by man, and this simply on account of their essential nature.
Naturally you must regard these things as being experienced in quite a different consciousness. If you were suddenly to become materialistic, and began to imagine what the beast of prey must experience by putting yourself in its place, thinking: What would such a Kamaloka be like for me? and were then to judge the beast of prey according to what such a Kamaloka might be for you, then certainly you are materialistic, indeed animalistic, for you transpose yourself into animal nature. These things must of course be understood if one is to comprehend the world; but we must not put ourselves into their category, as when the materialist puts the whole world into the category of lifeless matter.
Now we come to a subject about which I can only speak on a soul level; for anthroposophy should never come forward to agitate for anything, should never advocate either one thing or another, but should only put forward the truth. The consequences which a person attracts to himself by his manner of living, this is his personal affair. Anthroposophy presents no dogmas, but puts forward truths. For this reason I shall never, even for fanatics, lay down any kind of law as to the consequences of what an animal makes of its plant nourishment. No dogmatic rulings shall be given in regard to vegetarianism, meat-eating, and so on, for these things must be relegated to the sphere of individual judgment and it is really only in the sphere of individual experience that they have value. I mention this in order to avoid giving rise to the opinion that anthroposophy entails standing for this or that kind of diet, whereas what it actually does is to make every diet comprehensible.
What I really wished to say was that we must work upon the mineral until it becomes warmth-ether in order that it may absorb the spiritual; then, after the mineral has absorbed the spiritual, man can be built up by it. I mentioned that when the human being is still quite young he has not as yet the strength to work upon what is entirely mineral until it becomes warmth-ether. It has already been worked upon for him in that he drinks milk. Milk has already undergone a preliminary change, whereby the process of transformation to warmth-ether has become easier. Hence in a child the milk with its forces flows up quickly into the head, and can there develop the form-building forces in the way in which the child needs them. For the whole organization of the child proceeds from the head.
If at a later age man wishes to receive these form-building forces, it is not good to promote them by the drinking of milk. In the case of the child what ascends into the head, and is able by means of the forces of the head, which are present until the change of teeth, to ray out formatively into the whole body — this is no longer present in an older person. In later age the whole of the rest of the organism must ray out the formative forces. And these formative forces for the whole organism are particularly strengthened in their impulses when one eats something which works in quite another way than is the case with the head.
You see, the head is entirely enclosed. Within this head are the impulses used in childhood for the formation of the body. In the rest of the body we have bones within, and the formative forces outside. Here, then, the form-building forces must be stimulated from outside. While we are children these form-building forces are stimulated when we bring milk into the head. When we are no longer children these forces are no longer there. What should we now do in order that these formative forces may be stimulated more from outside?
It would obviously be a good thing to be able to have in outer form what is accomplished within by the head, enclosed as it is inside skull. It would be good if what the head does inside itself could somehow be accomplished in outer form from outside. The forces which are there within the head are suited to the consumption of milk; when the milk is there in its etheric transformation it provides a good basis for the development of these head forces. We must, therefore, have something which acts like milk, which, however, is not fabricated within the human being, but is fabricated in outer nature.
Well, there is something existing outside in nature which is a head without an enclosing skull, and which therefore activates from outside those very forces which work inside the head in children who need the milk, and must indeed create it anew; for the child must first bring the milk into the warmth-etheric condition and so create it anew.
Now, a stock of bees is really a head which is open on all sides. What the bees carry out is actually the same as what the head carries out within itself. The hive we give them is at most a support. The bees' activity, however, is not enclosed, but produced from outside. In a stock of bees, under external spiritual influence, we have the same thing as we have under spiritual influence inside the head. The stock of bees produces its honey, and when we eat and enjoy honey it gives us the upbuilding forces, which must now be provided more from outside, with the same strength and power which milk gives us for our head during the years of childhood.
Thus, while we are still children we strengthen through the consumption of milk the formative forces working from the head outwards; if at a later age we still need formative forces, we must eat honey. Nor do we need to eat it in tremendous quantities — it is only a question of absorbing its forces.
Thus one learns from external nature how strengthening forces must be brought into human life, if only this external nature is fully understood. And if we would conceive a land where there are beautiful children and beautiful old people, what kind of a land would this be? It would be “a land flowing with milk and honey”. So you see ancient instinctive vision was in no way wrong when it said about lands of promise that they are such as flow with milk and honey.
Many such simple sayings contain the profoundest wisdom, and there is really no more beautiful experience than first to make every possible effort to experience the truth, and then to find some ancient holy saying abounding in deep wisdom such as “a land flowing with milk and honey”. That is indeed a rare land, for in it there are only beautiful children and beautiful old people.
You see, to understand man presupposes the understanding of nature. To understand nature provides the basis for the understanding of man. And here the lowest spheres of the material always lead up to the highest spheres of the spiritual: the kingdoms of nature — mineral, animal, vegetable — at the one, the lowest pole; above, at the other pole, the hierarchies themselves.

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