It is important to understand what we are as human beings. The present state of knowledge of the human being is one which has been informed by the materialistic reductionist thinking of modern technological science. It is commonplace for people generally to think of the human body as being merely an elaborate machine, with all the non-material aspects of the human being- thinking, feeling, attitudes, emotions, mores, imagination, etc., etc, as being merely the result of the physico-chemical activities which take place in the physical body. However, the human organism is not a machine and does not operate under the aegis of chemical and physical laws. An important statement made by Rudolf Steiner in this context, given in a lecture series published as “Man as Symphony of the Creative Word”, (Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1970, pp. 188-189) in 1923, eloquently illustrates the problem:
” Wouldst thou heal man, look into the world on every side, see on every side how the world evolves processes of healing. Wouldst thou know the secrets of the world in the processes of illness and healing, look into the depths of human nature. You can apply this to every aspect of man’s being, but you must direct your gaze outwards to the great world of nature and see man in a living relationship to this great world.
People today have become accustomed to something different. They depart from nature as far as possible. They do something which shuts their own sight off from nature, for what they wish to examine they lay beneath a glass on a little stand – the eye does not look out into nature, but looks into the glass. Sight itself is cut off from nature. They call this the microscope. In certain connections it might as well be called a nulloscope, for it shuts one off from the great world of nature. People do not know, when something under a glass is magnified, that for spiritual knowledge it is exactly as though the same process were to take place in nature herself. For only think, when you take some minute particle from the human being for the purpose of observation under a microscope, what you then do with this minute fragment is the same as if were to stretch the man himself and tear him apart. You would be an even worse monster than Procrustes if you were to wrench man and tear him asunder in order to enlarge him as that minute particle is enlarged under the microscope. But do you believe that you would still have the person before you? This would naturally be out of the question. Just as little do you have the reality there under the microscope. The truth which has been magnified is no longer the truth; it is an illusory image. We must not depart from nature and imprison our own sight. For other purposes, this can of course be useful; but for a true knowledge of man it is immensely misleading.
Knowledge of man in the true sense must be sought in the way we have indicated. Starting from the processes of nutrition, it must be followed through the processes of healing to the processes of human and world education in the widest sense. Or we can put it thus: from nutrition, through healing, to civilization and culture.”
This line of thinking leads to the logical conclusion that it is not possible to understand the human being by means of the scientific methodology employed today. Anytime we open up the human being by means of tissue samples, doing blood analysis, etc., we simply do not have any reality before us; what we have is an artifact abstracted from the context in which it naturally exists, and so whatever we find out about the artifact has no reality with regard to the living tissue itself in the context of its functioning within the human organism. This has necessarily lead to tremendous confusion and chaos in the world because it is based on ignorance about what we are as human beings. The following is a greatly simplified description of the constitution of the human being; for a more detailed description of the complexities of the human being I refer you to the book “Theosophy” by Rudolf Steiner, (Anthroposophic Press).
The human being is a microcosm of the macrocosm. If we take this statement as our starting point, we can build up a picture of the human being by observing nature, and in nature we find there are three major kingdoms:
The Mineral Kingdom.
The Plant Kingdom.
The Animal Kingdom.
The human being’s relationship to the mineral kingdom is that the substances which are used by the human organism for the maintenance of its physical body are mineral/chemical substances. From the perspective of the human observer, the mineral kingdom is inanimate, it is dead. Therefore, if we were constituted of nothing but mineral/chemical substances we would be dead, we could not exist as human beings. So:
Mineral Kingdom / Physical Body / Unconscious.
Plants are alive; they germinate in the soil, grow, develop, mature, produce flowers, fruits and seeds and die. They thus have a ‘body’ which is invisible to physical sight which takes up the mineral substances of the soil, along with water and light, which gives form to the plant and is responsible for its growth, development etc. This is called the etheric, life or formative body in the Western Tradition and I think the concept of ‘chi’ , ‘ki’ and ‘prana’ in the Eastern Tradition is the Eastern equivalent of etheric. The consciousness of the plant is more of a dream-like consciousness. The plant is therefore constituted of both mineral body and etheric body. So:
Plant Kingdom / Etheric Body / Dream-like consciousness.
Animals are distinguished from plants by being able to move around, they show patterns of behavior which indicate they respond to whatever is going on around them; they fight, run away from danger, look for food and water, mate, take care of their young, mark out territory and guard it etc., etc. They thus have an additional ‘body’ to the physical and etheric body, and this is called the astral body or soul, which, like the etheric body, is also invisible to physical sight. So:
Animal Kingdom /Astral Body / Instinctive consciousness.
The major difference between animals and human beings is that in the case of animals, if we know the behavioral patterns of a single individual of a species, we know the behavioral patterns of all the individuals of the same species. This is because each species of animal has a ‘group soul’. This is not the case with the human being, because no two human individuals behave in an identical manner in the same set of circumstances. The major distinction between human beings and animals is the ability of the human being to think as an individual. This ability is due to an additional spiritual constituent of the human being, called the Ego, which can simply be stated as that aspect of the human being which gives each one of us our identity. When we say, I , we can only be referring to ourselves as individuals, not to anyone else.
Thus the human being is constituted of:
Now, the physical body as we observe it with our physical eyes, has its actions and shape because of the etheric body. The etheric body is the spiritual body which takes up the mineral/chemical substances provided for by nourishment and molds them, (and is responsible for the activity of each organ and tissue and co-ordinating them), into the form of the tissues and organs of the physical body. In essence, the physical body is the ‘mineral apparition’ of the etheric body, which permeates throughout the physical body, and is responsible for its growth and development as a whole, and for the minutiae of activity and form of the various organs and tissues of the body.
Now, of course it stands to reason, based on what has been written so far, that when any substance or tissue is extracted from the body in order to observe it under the microscope that it is no longer is under the influence of the etheric body. Rather, once it is removed from the physical body, it then becomes subject to the same laws of physics and chemistry that operate in the mineral kingdom. This is fine as long as it is clearly understood that whatever knowledge we gain from so doing will be utterly misleading if we assume that what we discover will give us any insight into the workings of the physical organism, be it plant, animal or human physical organism.
The astral body is ‘attached’ to the etheric body which permeates the physical body. It is the astral body or soul which is the locus of our feelings, perceptions, memory, emotions, thoughts, imagination, attitudes, world-view, ideals, visions etc. Since this is the way we are constituted it cannot be the case that thinking, for example, takes place in the brain. It is more accurate to say the brain is the ‘sense-organ’ of thinking. Nor can it be said that our emotions or feelings are located in the physical body, rather the body expresses the emotions and feelings going on in our soul.
However, in the case of health and disease, the relationship of the astral body being linked to the physical body via the etheric body means that disturbances and imbalances in any one of the three will manifest and permeate into the other two. Thus, as Rudolf Steiner stated it, “all disturbances in the physical body have their origin in the astral body, and all disturbances of the soul have their origin in the physical”.
Thus, in order for us to heal ourselves, we have to deal with our condition from the perspective of our ego, our psyche (the Greek word meaning soul), our etheric body and our physical organism.
All these aspects will be explored and discussed throuhout the Alchemycal Pages and I begin by talking about the material of our physical body, which is our daily nourishment. As it states in the Taittiriya of the ‘Upanishads’, a sacred text of India:
” Out of Brahman, who is Self, came ether; out of ether, air; out of air, fire; out of fire, water; out of water, earth; out of earth, vegetation; out of vegetation, food; out of food, the body of man. The body of man, composed of the essence of food, is the physical sheath of the Self. From food are born all creatures which live upon food and after death return to food. Food is the chief of all things. It is therefore said to be medicine for all diseases of the body.”
Many centuries later, Hippocrates, the Greek philosopher/physician, widely considered to be the father of Western Medicine, said:
“Let food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be thy food.”
FOOD DOES NOT HEAL NOR DOES IT CAUSE DISEASE.
The point I want to emphasise here is the idea food has any healing qualities is absurd. In other words the idea as food as medicine, in the sense we speak of medicine today is entirely misleading if we think that eating the right diet is what heals us. We have to entirely change our ideas of what medicine is, for today it has become so degenerate that we think of it as taking a pill or having surgery, chemotherapy or radiation or, the worst error of all, thinking that diseases lie in our genes. So we are now having the great gene search where the genes attributed to be the cause of everything from alcoholism and asthma to cancer and heart disease are found, altered and then patented for the treatment of the disease for which the original gene is blamed. No amount of gene therapy is going to have any effect in the long run on the problem of disease.
Medicine means(Oxford English Dictionary): “the art of restoring and preserving the health of human beings by the administration of remedial substances and the regulation of diet, habits and the conditions of life.”
Now, we need a new concept of medicine because it is clear the present concepts are completely inadequate as is clearly indicated by the vast numbers of people with degenerative and infectious diseases occurring in the context of tremendous resources of time, effort and money being poured into researching these diseases. There have probably been more people working on studying disease in the 20th Century than in all the previous 1900 years combined. The current concepts are bereft of any understanding of health or disease and I could cite all manner of data to demonstrate the paucity of understanding but one will suffice for now – in 1982 the disease-treatment costs (erroneously called health-care costs) in the United States was $185 Billion; in 1996 this figure had climbed to over $1 Trillion.