The Ethers express due to them being influenced by the Astrality
Below is an extract of the second lecture of the second medical course given on April 12 1921
It is available in full at
In this lecture Dr Steiner talks of the way the ethers work into the human body, and then goes on to describe how the energetic bodies work together. He then discusses Sulphur, Phosphorus and Arsenic as influences of these processes.
While talking of the energetic bodies, and specifically about the astrality being the cause of illness, he says “What has to do with the processes of illness is located in the astral body. What the astral body commits is impressed into the etheric body, and hence illness appears in its imprint in the etheric body, though it is not the etheric body that has to do directly with illness. I have just described to you the imprint of the irregular inter penetration and interworking of the two kinds of ethers. Nevertheless, such irregular action is itself merely an effect of the astral body stamping itself into the etheric body. When the etheric body is perceived more closely, one is led to the astral body.”
For the context in which this is said –
“We must understand that when something super-sensible has made an imprint in the physical, sense-perceptible world, what appears there as imprint becomes permeable to the super-sensible element concerned. Thus you see the ether, the universal ether, creates its imprint in the watery element of the human head. This watery content of the brain must not be regarded as undifferentiated water, because inwardly it is just as thoroughly organized as solid bodies are. To regard the human in the same way as we draw him is really a most peculiar way of studying the human being. If we draw him with the liver and stomach, this drawing reveals only a silhouette of what is woven into the fluid and gaseous elements as solid element; we are actually drawing only what is in there as little granules and that is not quite ten percent of the whole human body. In reality, of course, the human being is just as much a water-, air- and warmth-organization, if we are studying him physically. The water — and by this I mean the fluid element — is just as organized in the human being as the solid. But we never draw this aspect when we make anatomical or physiological sketches. This watery content of the human being is, as substance, in a constant state of dissolution and renewal. It can be grasped in its form, so to speak, only in a moment, but it does nevertheless have a form.
In this watery part of the human head we find the imprint of the etheric. Thus, if I draw it schematically, I have to represent the physical activity that is specially developed at the back of the head like this (see drawing, light hatching). Of course, this element streams through the whole organism. The remaining portion would represent what is watery (yellow). This is thoroughly oranized so that it is an imprint of the etheric nature.
The imprint is always permeable in this way. The eye is permeable to light because, studied in its essential nature, it is a creation of the light in Goethe’s sense. That the eye was born from the light is not only a picture but a deep wisdom. Indeed, we can study embryologically how the eyes are organized within from outside, and it is because they are organized by the light that they are permeable to it. It is due to its watery organization that the human head is, in its entirety, permeable to the etheric, because it is an imprint from out of the ether.
Thus we can say that here the etheric can pass through the head (see drawing, red arrow) without being stopped or disturbed in its passage in any way and can penetrate into the rest of the human
This can certainly be observed by the methods of spiritual science, but we must modify it a little. That is to say, this part of the human head is permeable only to warmth and light ether. Thus only the warmth ether and the light ether can work on the human head from outside. The warmth ether acts on the human head not through direct radiation of heat but because we are in a region with a particular climate. We cannot determine the effect of the warmth ether on the human head by asking whether a person sweats or not. Its effect depends on whether an individual lives in the equatorial zone, the temperate zone, or the frigid zone. The connection between the warmth ether and the human head thus goes much deeper than the outer connections due merely to exposure to outside warmth radiations.
The influence of the light ether on the human organism must be regarded in a similar way, in so far as we confine ourselves to physiology (considered from the psychological viewpoint it would be different, but we won’t go into that now). The influence of the light ether, however, is much more penetrating than that of mere light, so that its effect penetrates through the etheric imprint in the human head and organizes the entire human being.
As I have said, then, the organization of the human head is permeable only to warmth and light ether. This is only approximately true, however. The human head is somewhat permeable to chemical ether and life ether also, but we can ignore that here because the result is nevertheless that both ethers are repelled by the human head organization. They are repelled; but as a result, they permeate the human organism. Simply because the human being lives on the earth as a human being, he is is inwardly filled with life and chemical ether.
The effect of the warmth and light ethers radiates in from all sides (see drawing, downward arrows). The effect of the chemical and life ethers radiates up through the metabolic-limb system toward the instreaming warmth and light ethers (upward arrows). Just as man’s head is scrupulously organized so that as far as possible only traces of the chemical and life ethers are allowed to enter, so the metabolic-limb organism sucks in the life ether and chemical ether from the earth element.
These two kinds of ethers meet in the human being, and he is organized in such a way that his organization is a regulated process of keeping them apart: on the one hand life ether and chemical ether, streaming from below upward, and on the other hand warmth ether and light ether, streaming from above downward.
It is an aspect of the human organism that light and warmth ether may not enter organically into the lower organization except by streaming in from above. In the same way the other element may stream in only from below. Thus light and warmth ether must stream in from outside, life and chemical ether from below. These two streams are brought into cooperation in the human being by means of his organization, and their cooperation must be absolutely maintained if he is to remain in a normal condition.
We can reach an understanding of this cooperation if we try to observe clearly undernourished individuals. If we study such individuals carefully, we receive an impression, an imaginative impression. We can easily rise to this once our attention has been drawn, ever so slightly, to the fact that there is such a thing as imaginative knowledge. Nothing calls forth imaginations so easily as the contemplation of pathological conditions in human beings.
On looking at an undernourished individual, we see that his metabolic organization — and therefore what takes place in metabolism — binds the ether. It does not release the ether. Let us say you are observing the stomach or liver of an undernourished person. You will find that they retain the life and chemical ethers; they bind them rather than releasing them. Thus there is a deficient upward current of life and chemical ether in the undernourished individual. Hence the light and warmth ethers press down from above, and, in consequence, the organism takes on a character similar to that previously produced by the light and warmth ether in the head. These transform the entire organism, causing it to resemble the head organization too strongly. The human being becomes almost entirely head through being undernourished. He metamorphoses into a head man, and this is what is especially significant in the study of undernourishment.
Let us now study a person suffering from the opposite condition. We only encounter these conditions under special circumstances, and one must be able to observe them in the right way. You will naturally ask, “What is the opposite of undernourishment?” For the spiritual investigator, the opposite of undernourishment is in one case what is called softening of the brain. Just as undernourishment is due to the human being becoming permeated by what should properly be only in the head, by what should remain only in the upper organism, so, in softening of the brain, the head is permeated by forces that should only be in the abdomen, by something that does not belong in the brain but only in the abdomen, exercising its organizing activity only there. What the organism receives in the process of digestion is worked through too quickly, so that it is not sufficiently restrained before it passes through the gate by which it enters the head. Moreover, because too much is poured into the head, too much is eaten. We can also study these processes in their later stages. This is what is significant, to be able to make a mental picture of the consequences in those realms about which we are now speaking.
What happens when these processes, which are quite normal in origin — processes like eating, digesting, working through the food in the abdomen, passing it on to the head, etc. — continue beyond the limit normally set by man’s organization. In the undernourished person, because of the irregularity arising below, and in the over-nourished person, because of the irregularity above, there results an abnormal cooperation between the two kinds of ether. The ethers do not cooperate as they are supposed to in the human organism. And we get the following results when the ether acting from outside cooperates in the wrong way with the ether streaming upward from within. Every ether that works from outside and does not stop at the right place but permeates the human more strongly than it should is poison for the organism; it has a poisonous effect. Thus we can say that if the ether is not held up at the right place, it is poisonous for the human organization. It must encounter the ether streaming up from within in the right way.
Again, if we look at the other kind of ether that works from within, we find that its excessive action has an overall softening effect on the human being. While in the opposite case the poisonous effect makes the human being etherically rigid, this other effect makes him dissolve. Too much life is poured out over him, and too much of the chemical pole. He cannot subsist, and he grows soft. These are two polar effects: the poisonous effect and the softening effect.
If you regard the human being in this way, you are led to ask, “What is a human being really?” In so far as he is physical, he is an organic being who keeps apart, in the proper way, the two kinds of ether and lets them cooperate in the right way. The entire human organization is constituted so as to allow the two kinds of ether to cooperate in the right way.
We are now able to understand better my statement that the human being is thoroughly organized. Indeed, it is obvious that he is inwardly differentiated — which is to say, organized — with respect to water, to air, and to warmth. He is also differentiated with regard to the ethers, but this differentiation is a fluctuating one. It is a continual occurrence, a continual interplay between light and warmth ethers on the one hand, pressing centripetally from above downward, and life and chemical ethers on the other hand, pressing centrifugally from below upward. By this means the etheric configuration of the human being is formed. It is actually a transformation of the vortex formed by the mutual impact of these two kinds of ether. The shape that you encounter must be understood then, as a cooperation between these two kinds of ether.
In order to form mental pictures of the human being in health and illness, it is quite important to begin from the less noticeable processes such as under- and over-nourishment. I am referring to organic over-nourishment, because a person does not become over-nourished merely because he stuffs himself daily. An individual who has an unusually good digestion requires much less in order to be over-nourished than if he had ruined his digestive process and were unable to work through things. Thus we must try to proceed from what is presented to us when we can observe these incipient processes that are still entirely in the range of normal.
Indeed, it must also be said that if we were not able to become ill, we could not be human beings. The state of illness is only a continuation beyond the appropriate degree of processes that we need, that we must certainly have in us. In the state of health, the processes leading to illness and the healing processes are properly balanced. We are endangered not only when the processes tending to illness assert themselves, but also when the healing processes overstep the mark. Hence, in initiating a healing process, we must be careful not to proceed too intensely or we may overshoot the mark. We may drive out the illness, but it may, on reaching its null-point, swing over in the other direction.
The point is that the processes producing illness are only further stages of those that must be present in the healthy human being. If we could not become ill, we could neither think nor feel. Everything that lives in the soul in feeling and thinking is organically a system of forces that produces illness when it exceeds its proper measure. The other important thing to bear in mind is that an actual physical process occurs only in one part of the human head. This physical process that takes place in the human head is a necessary concomitant of human ego-experience. If this process is disturbed, that is, if a vital process overpowers this purely physical process in the human being, the ego is weakened in consciousness in a certain way. And all circumstances when a person gets outside of himself, e.g., becomes feeble-minded, or something similar, is partly due to, and must be recognized from, what takes place in the human being as purely physical process in the head. Of course, other organic causes may be present in addition.
This purely physical process, which originates in the human head and radiates from there through the whole organism, overcomes the organism at the moment of death. This moment is always present, at least in the human head, proceeding from the head as center. It is inhibited, however, by the vitalizing process from the rest of the organism. In fact, the human being bears these death-bringing forces continually within himself and he could not be an ego without them. The human being as a physical being on earth could only hope to be immortal if he were to renounce his ego-consciousness. I may mention that certain very delicate powers of observation are required to verify this statement outwardly. Nevertheless, it will be very fruitful if dissertations can be written about the rejuvenating treatments that rely for their influence on working against the soul-spiritual constitution of the human being. Of course nothing should be said against such rejuvenating treatments; they may be regarded satisfactorily as the human being’s longing to extend his later life by a few years, though the cost may be that in exchange he becomes a bit feebleminded.
However, these processes that really exist are simply overlooked — like the excess of exhaled nitrogen compared with what is inhaled, for example. These things must be fully taken into account in order to study the processes of illness and healing adequately. The more one enters into these finer elements of the human organization, the more one comes to know the processes that manifest as processes of illness but that are nothing other than a cruder form of these more delicate processes. As I said, this is merely a transformation of these more delicate processes into cruder ones. It must be added, however, that the ego opposes for as long as possible what works in the human being as physical process, what permeates him as physical process. The ego is bound to this work of opposition, to this reacting effect. The ego works against this as long as this physical process does not become too strong. This physical process is the process of dying always going on in the human organism and that finally manifests as death. When this physical process hypertrophies so that it can no longer be controlled by the ego, the ego must separate from the physical body. Then, of course, something else may occur, which is that an excessive physical activity emerges somewhere in the body, dragging the other aspect with it into an earlier stage of life. Thus we can say that the human ego is intimately related to death.
Ego = Death
You can study the ego best by studying death — not, however, in that general and nebulous way in which people conceive of death, as happens with so many things. People conceive of death today as one might picture the destruction of a machine. They conceive of death simply as something coming to an end; they do not picture the real process. Therefore they conceive of the death of a human being as the destruction of a machine. We must arrive at concrete facts. Death is not the cessation of life, but for the human being it is as I have explained it here. For animals, death is something totally different. People who regard death in animals the same as in humans are like the people who, finding that a razor blade and a knife are both knives, begin to cut their meat with a razor blade, because after all a knife is a knife. With these people, death is death. But death is a totally different matter in human beings, as I have shown. With animals, not having to take into account an ego but only an astral body, death is something totally different, arising from an effect in the astral body that is constituted totally differently.
Illness is when the death-bringing forces are weakened, are, in a sense, suppressed in the normal organism. Just as death is connected with the ego, so illness is incorporated into the astral body of the human being.
Astral body = Illness
What has to do with the processes of illness is located in the astral body. What the astral body commits is impressed into the etheric body, and hence illness appears in its imprint in the etheric body, though it is not the etheric body that has to do directly with illness. I have just described to you the imprint of the irregular inter penetration and interworking of the two kinds of ethers. Nevertheless, such irregular action is itself merely an effect of the astral body stamping itself into the etheric body. When the etheric body is perceived more closely, one is led to the astral body. Let us carry this further.
Next we have that which works against disease as its polar opposite — namely, health.
Etheric body = Health
We will not stop to define health now, but you can even see by analogy that health is related to the etheric body as illness is to the astral body and death to the ego. This becomes ever clearer and clearer on spiritual investigation. To heal, to restore health, means to be able to create in the etheric body counterreactions to the processes that produce illness and that proceed from the astral body. One must work from the etheric body in order to paralyze the forces of the astral body, which are the processes producing illness.
Then there is a fourth factor. This is, in a certain way, the polar opposite of death. I must point out first that we can perceive death entering the human being concretely when his whole inner organization has become so physical that no nutritive process, no really effective nutritive process, can be introduced anymore. This is death from old age. Death from old age is actually the inability of the organism to absorb substance. Usually this phenomenon cannot be fully observed because ordinarily the human being dies of other causes before it sets in, rather than of this bodily demise in its pure form. But it is really a failure of nutrition. Thus the polar opposite of death is nutrition, and we can relate the nutrition in the human being to the physical body.
Physical body = Nutrition
These things work back again: the process of nutrition taking place in the physical body works back again on the etheric body and as a result also has something to do with the healing processes. This action on the etheric body then works back as a reaction on what proceeds from the astral body.
What I have just described can be observed in life directly, but we can verify it from the other side. If we take what is known to us already from spiritual science, we have to draw a line here:
Ego = Death
Astral body = Illness
Etheric body = Health
Physical body = Nutrition
for the separation in sleep of the ego and astral body from the physical and etheric bodies is only complete for the head and breathing organizations. The ego and astral body remain in the metabolic and circulatory man. It is not quite accurate to say that the ego and astral body depart. It is expressed correctly only if one says that in sleep the ego and astral body leave the physical and etheric bodies of the head organization, but penetrate them even more in the metabolic and circulatory organizations. I have often referred to this before. It is in fact a transposition. This phenomenon is parallel to the alternation of day and night on the earth. For the entire earth does not pass through day and then night at the same time. Rather, day and night transpose themselves according to the conditions. It is just the same with human sleeping and waking. In the waking state the physical and etheric bodies of the head and respiratory organism are intimately bound to the ego and astral body, and in sleep the physical and etheric bodies of the metabolic and circulatory organizations are much more intimately bound to ego and astral body than in waking. This is a transposition, an actual rhythmic process that takes place in sleeping and waking.
It can be said that in sleep, at least in man’s upper organization, the astral body and the ego depart. Observation may reveal, however, that the astral body and ego are grasping the head and breathing organisms too firmly. They seize hold too strongly, the astral body doing so because of its illness-producing forces. Then one may have to work on the person so that this astral body is driven out of the head and breathing organizations again, separating them in a certain way so that the normal relationship returns. We can observe this happening when we administer very small quantities of phosphorus and sulfur. Small doses of phosphorus and sulfur have the effect of throwing out the astral body, which has stablished itself too strongly in the physical and etheric bodies. Sulfur works more on the astral body, phosphorus more on the ego. The ego, however, because it organizes the astral body throughout, actually acts in concert with it. Here you can see directly what happens to the human being when a pathological condition appears that is characterized outwardly by an additional symptom — too strong a tendency to sleep. Thus if one has to deal with an illness-complex including, among other symptoms, a tendency to fall into states of dulled consciousness, one must work with phosphorus and sulfur in the way I have described.
The other condition may also arise, in which the seat of the trouble is in the metabolic and circulatory organisms. This consists of the astral body and ego acting too little on the physical body. Then one has to say to these members, “Please, gentlemen, get moving a bit more. You need to become more active in this person.” In such a case you will have to use preparations of arsenic that are not too strongly diluted. They help the astral body enter into the physical organism.
I am now pointing you to a way in which we are forced to acquire a concrete perception of the human being. If the astral body is too active inwardly, having too strong an effect on the physical body, we must use sulfur and phosphorus; if its effect is too weak, having become too lazy and thus allowing the etheric body to prevail since there are insufficient forces of resistance against what works from below, then we must resort to arsenic as a remedy. The effect of arsenic and that of phosphorus and sulfur are polar opposites. One may now be in a position to realize that it is not sufficient merely to regulate one pole or the other, because an irregularity in one part of the human being immediately induces a counterreaction, and this continues as an irregularity of an opposite kind in another part. An irregularity in the upper part of the human being will manifest very soon in his lower part. This harmony of two irregularities is one of the most fascinating studies of clinical observation. It is an irregular interplay in which the two activities do not work together: when the lower force is too strong the upper is too weak, and when the upper is too weak it calls forth too strong an activity below. These things are not only polar opposites in regard to position and direction but also, of course, in regard to intensity. This interplay is most complicated in the human being. When this is understood, we come to realize the necessity to restore the balance between the two by the use of the forces at man’s disposal. One can assist these forces by the effect of antimony. I believe antimony is almost entirely neglected today by ordinary medicine, but it acts in a way that was known in earlier times. This is no longer quite intelligible to people today. The very strong effects of antimony are essentially transferred directly into the inner aspect of the human being. There they produce a kind of balancing point.
It is extraordinarily interesting to observe the opposite effects in the human being of phosphorus, arsenic, and antimony. What in the outer world comes to a certain state of rest in a substance manifests its true nature when it unfolds its activity in the human being. Only then can one see what is still living in it. Regarding it from outside, one sees only what has condensed out of a process of becoming. Looking at arsenic outwardly, one really sees the end of a process in the outer world whose beginning is seen within the human being. Therefore one never really knows something as substance when it is observed in the outer world without knowing at the same time what it does within the human organism.
There is a chemistry, but there is also an “anti-chemistry.” Chemistry itself is like looking at a being that has a front and a back merely from one side, from behind. If a being has two sides, we must look at the front too: only by considering both aspects together do we gain an impression of the entire being. If we have only deduced what lives in a substance by looking at it from behind, then we must approach it also from in front, from the point of view of its effect in the human organism.
One must study “anti-chemistry” as well as chemistry. Only when these two work together will a knowledge emerge of what underlies all substances.”