Observing the animal form – Reading 3


“Let us take two examples of observing nature from an anthroposophical perspective. Imagine that you have before you, a fish and a bird. At first you look at the fish and likewise the bird with your physical senses. Those who are egotistical in their perception might not bother to go beyond these first sense impressions. But you shall want to overcome and go beyond an egotistical awareness of nature. You may begin by going beyond simply watching the fish in water and the bird in the air. You can consider carefully the form of the fish and the form of the bird; and then try to understand how the form of the fish reflects its life and movement in the water, and how the form of the bird corresponds to its life and movement in the air. We can consider flowing water not just with the understanding of a chemist who looks at the water and says this is a chemical union, two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen; rather, we gaze at water as it actually is in reality. Then we can look carefully at a fish in the water and observe that it has a soft body with remarkable breathing forms toward the front portion of the body. Within the body there is a soft bone structure and a delicate jaw that is produced by the fish’s life and movement in the water. The bodily substance takes its form as a result of the movement of the fish through water, which is also penetrated by the rays of the sun. If you perceive the rays of the sun entering the water, emanating light and warmth, you can then visualize the fish swimming against streams of light-filled and sun-warmed water. This will give you a feeling of what the fish experiences swimming against the current of the water that has been softened by the sun’s warmth and illuminated by the sun’s light.

If I imagine that the fish is swimming towards me, I can see that its teeth carry the light and warmth-filled streams of water into its bodily substance and connect it to its breathing organs. In a unique way the form of the head provides an ideal covering for the jaw as the fish swims into the sunlit and light-warmed water.

Next I feel that something else is active in the tail of the fish. I experience that he flow of water along the tail of the fish contains a much weaker level of light than the water flowing up against the head of the fish. The light-filled flow of water around the head of the fish encourages the fish’s bodily substance to remain soft. The water around the tail, which flows under subdued light, produces a tendency toward hardness. Observing both these phenomena, I learn that the head of the fish encounters what is sun-like, and the more rigid tail of the fish has been affected by the moon as it reflects light. Thus I am able to place the fish in the fullness of its connection to water.

Next I gaze at the bird, which has not had the opportunity of forming its head by moving through and swimming through sunlit and sun-warmed water, but instead is dependent upon the air. I discover the exertion that is required for the bird to breathe. Unlike the fish, the bird’s breathing process is not supported by being surrounded by water. The warming and illuminating powers of the sun work in a different way in the air than they do in water. I notice that the jaw of the bird is forced back into its bodily substance. I become aware that it is as if all of the flesh that would have surrounded and supported the teeth was forced backward, and the jaw pressed forward and became hardened in its form. I discover why the bird thrusts its beak forward, whereas the fish in a softer way supports its jaw within the bodily substance. The head of the bird is a creation of the air; and yet the air, too, is affected by the inwardly glowing, illuminating presence of the sun. I recognise what a great difference there is between the sunlit and the sun-warmed water that creates the form of the fish, and the sunlit and sun-warmed air that shapes the form of the bird. I begin to understand that because of the specific configuration of the elements in which the bird lives, it receives its unique form. Just as the fins of the fish receive their ray-like form through the element of water, so, too, the bird’s feathers look a certain way, depending on how they are ruffled by the air and are affected by the light and warmth of the sun.

In this way I can go beyond a simple, naïve act of looking at something; and instead I can strive for a living comprehension of a creature within nature. I can exert myself rather than being lazy. If I see a fish lying on a table, I can, at the same time, picture it moving within water; if I see a bird in its cage, I can immediately visualize the air surrounding the air surrounding it in flight. I do not have to watch a bird flying in the air in order to feel and perceive the powerful, formative force of the air upon the very form of the bird itself. In this way what lives in the form of the bird is enlivened and spiritualizes within me. That is, I can experience and perceive the forms of the fish and the bird inwardly; they become enlivened and spiritualized within me. Likewise, I can perceive in a living way the difference between a thick-skinned animal like the hippopotamus and a thinner-skinned animal such as a pig. I can see that the thick-skinned hippopotamus is attracted to direct contact with sunlight, whereas the thin-skinned pig prefers to withdraw from sunlight. To put it briefly. I learn to behold the many ways in which nature rules and manifests in each individual created being.

I would like to move now from examples in the animal kingdom and speak about what we call the elements in our physical world. I shall not take the path of the chemist who says that water consists of two atoms of oxygen and one of hydrogen. I shall put aside the scientist’s observation that the air contains oxygen and nitrogen. I prefer to go directly to the concrete observation. I see a body of water filled with fish and the relationship between the water and the fish. It is merely an abstraction to say that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, for that ignores a great deal. The reality is that water together with the sun and the moon create a fish; and furthermore, the fish speaks to my soul about the elemental nature of water. It is just an abstraction when I describe air as a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen, for the sun-lit and sun-warmed air presses the flesh back over the bird’s beak, and shapes the breathing organisms of both fish and bird into very different forms. The elements speak to me through the fish and the bird as they reveal to me their unique characteristics. Think about how natural phenomena become inwardly richer with this approach, and how everything is inwardly impoverished when we speak about nature from only a materialistic point of view.”

R. Steiner, Awake! For the Sake of the Future, January 20, 1923, CW220