The Human Being’s Relation to the Surrounding World – Silica Carbon Nitrogen Lime – Reading 1


“I have lately been describing to you man’s relationships to the surrounding world, as they appear when we turn our attention away from the earth and more to the starry world, especially to the world of the planets. Today I should like to add, aphoristically at least, some of the observations and experiences gained by spiritual vision concerning man’s relationship to his immediate earthly environment.

In the ordinary way man looks at things in his environment without discrimination and arrives at fallacious conceptions of being and reality. Let me remind you of what on various occasions I have already given as an illustration. When we look at a rock-crystal, we can say, from an earthly point of view: “This crystal is a self-contained entity.” In its finished form we can always see something complete in itself.

This is not so, if, for instance, we pick a rose and take it into our room. As a rose with its stem, just by itself, it is altogether unthinkable within the compass of earthly existence. It is thinkable only while it is growing on its stem on the rose-bush with its branches and roots. In other words, to speak in accordance with reality, we must not call the rose an entity in the same sense as a rock-crystal. For in terms of reality we must speak in that way only of something which, relatively at least, can exist in itself. Certainly, from a different aspect, the rock-crystal cannot be regarded as something that has an independent existence either, but then it is seen from a different point of view. For simple observation, the rock-crystal as a conceptual entity is quite different from the rose.

Unfortunately, far too little attention is paid to such things, and this is why human thinking is so far from grasping reality and men find it so difficult to bring clear concepts to bear upon what spiritual observation has to say. Clear concepts could be attained easily enough if only people would pay the necessary attention to such simple matters.

When we reflect upon our immediate earthly environment, we find, to begin with, various kinds of soil on the surface. If you look round in our own neighbourhood, you find limy soil. Further south you find slaty kinds of soil. I will confine myself, first, to these two main kinds of earth: the limy kind, the lime-formation which, especially as Jura-limestone, you can observe here in our immediate surroundings, and the slate-formation, where the rock, the mineral, is not in such a compact form as in the limestone-formation, but where it is schistous. Just think of shale, even of gneiss, of mica-schist and the like, which you find in the central Alps. Here are two great and important opposites: slate-formation and lime-formation.

Judged by present-day conceptions, these mineral deposits represent something that can be explained only in terms of mineral-physical laws. No account is taken of the fact that the earth is one whole. Let us consider the science of geology as it is today.

The different kinds of earth, the deposits of ore, of metals, of minerals in general in the various earth-layers are observed. But the earth is not regarded as if it were also a dwelling-place for the living world of plants and human beings. To have such a conception of the earth is rather like regarding the human skeleton as having an independent existence. Taking a human skeleton by itself, you must, to be correct, say: that is not a self-contained entity. Nowhere in the world can such a thing as a human skeleton originate by itself. It exists as the remains of a whole human body, but it could never materialize without the supplementary action of muscles, nerves, blood and so on. Therefore we must not look upon the human skeleton as an independent entity or attempt to explain it as such.

Nor is it possible for anyone who thinks in actualities, and not in abstractions, to apprehend the earth with its various rock-formations without reflecting that the earth is a totality; that the plant, animal and human kingdoms belong to it, just as muscles, blood and so on belong to the human skeleton.

We must therefore be clear in our mind what it means to study the earth in terms of geology. It means forgoing at once any chance of reaching realities. We do not arrive at anything real. We arrive at something that can be found within a planetary being only when this contains the plant-world, the animal world and the human world.

If, first of all, we observe what, as part of the earth-skeleton, pervades the earth as slate-formation, we see that its external appearance differs very considerably from that of the concentrated compactness of the lime-formation. And indeed, if we make use of the methods which have been applied to the broad outlines of earth-evolution in my book Occult Science, we have to trace the difference between the slate and lime formations to the relation between one or other of these to man, to animal existence, to plant-existence. We must see how what belongs to the earth as soul-and-spirit is related to these rock-materials.

We cannot understand a human skeleton if we do not connect it ultimately with man’s will-nature; and we cannot understand the slate-formation, or the lime-formation, unless we connect them with the tasks which these formations have to perform for what is also present in earth-existence as spirit-and-soul. And then we find an intimate connection between all that is slate-formation and plant-life; between all that is lime-formation and animal-life.

Certainly, as the earth is today, the mineral element contained in slaty matter can naturally be found also in the plants. The mineral substance to be found in animal matter has its origin in very diverse formations. But that is of less importance just now; the important thing is that to spiritual observation and to spiritual experience the particular way in which plant-life, the whole plant-world, belongs to the earth, reveals itself as having a certain special relationship to the slate-formation.

If I am to sketch it diagrammatically, it will be somewhat like this (a drawing is made on the blackboard): Here is the earth, with some accumulation of slate-formation on it, and then the plants growing out of the earth towards the outer universe. Spatially, the plants need by no means coincide with the slate-formation, just as, for instance, a thought, which is based on the instrument of the brain, need not coincide with a movement of the big toe. We are not concerned here with spatial coincidence, but with apprehending the nature of the slate-formation when we try to do so not only through chemical and physical examination, but also through penetrating to the essence of this slaty formation by means of spiritual investigation. Then we shall come to the conclusion: If the forces inherent in slaty matter were to act upon the earth only by themselves, they would have to be connected with a condition of life which develops in precisely the same way as the plant-world.

The plant-world develops in such a way that it represents only physical corporeality, etheric corporeality; that is, in the actual plants themselves. But when we come to the astral element of the plant-world, we must imagine this astral element of the plant-world as an astral atmosphere which encompasses the earth. The plants themselves have no astral bodies, but the earth is enveloped in an astral atmosphere, and this astrality plays an important part, for instance, in the process of the unfolding of blossom and fruit. The terrestrial plant-world as a whole, therefore, has one uniform, common astral body which nowhere interpenetrates the plant itself, except at most in a very slight degree when fructification begins in the blossom. Generally speaking, it floats cloud-like over the vegetation and stimulates blossom and fruit formation.

What unfolds here would fall into decay but for the astral forces which emanate from the rock-material of the slate-formation. Thus we have in the slate-formation all that which tends to turn the whole earth into one organism. Indeed, we must see the relation of the plants to the earth as being similar to that of our hair to ourselves, as being of one and the same order. And what holds this whole organisation of the world together are the forces that radiate from the rock-material of the slate-formation.

In due course these things will also be substantiated by natural science. It will, for instance, be said: Man has his physical body and his etheric body. His organisation as a whole is based on a plant-existence. Man can in fact be regarded as a plant-being on which has been superimposed what is animalistic and human.

When the human being in health or illness is treated with mineral substances deriving from slate-formations, it will be possible to perceive, even externally, the action of these particular minerals; and it will be of special importance to know which types of disease in the human organism are due, for example, to over-exuberance of the plant-element.

Over-exuberance of the plant-element must always be combated by treating the affected person with schistous mineral substance. For everything that belongs to this slate-substance keeps the plant-element in man — if I may put it that way — in a normal condition, in the same way as it perpetually normalizes plant-existence on earth. The plant-life of the earth would tend to spread with over-exuberance into outer cosmic space were it not kept in check by the radiations from the mineral-forces of the slate-formation. One day, people will have to study from this point of view a living geography and geology of the earth; it will be realised that a study of what constitutes the skeleton of the earth, as it were, must be pursued not only from the geological angle, but in relation to the being of the earth as a whole; in relation, also, to its organic life and its nature of soul-and-spirit.

Now the entire plant-world is intimately bound up with the sun-forces, with solar action. The effects produced by the sun are not confined to the emanations of warmth and light radiating from the etheric-physical rays of the sun, for the warmth and light are permeated through and through by spirit-and-soul. These forces of spirit-and-soul are allied with those pertaining to the slate-formation. That in a certain way everything of a slate-nature is spread all over the earth is connected with the fact that plant-life on the earth exists in manifold forms. The spatial aspect is — as I said — of no immediate importance; it must not be imagined, for example, that the slate-formation has to be here or there in order that plants may grow out of it. The radiations of the slate-formation stream out; they are carried all over the earth by all kinds of currents, especially magnetic currents, and on these earth-encircling radiations of the slate-formation, the plants live. Where, on the contrary, the slate-formation is in itself developed to the highest degree, plant-life cannot thrive today because there the life-forces of the plants are drawn too forcibly into the earthly element and therefore cannot unfold. There, the forces which fetter the plant to the earthly element are so overpowering that the unfolding of plant-life — in which the cosmic forces must also play their part — is prevented.

To account for the nature of the slaty element in the earth is possible, therefore, only if one can go back, in the sense in which it is described in my Occult Science, to the time when the earth itself had a Sun-existence. It was then that the slaty element within the earth was being prepared. At that time, when the earth had a Sun-existence, the physical part of the earth had advanced only to a state of sprouting plant-life. The Sun-existence was such that no definite plants or animal beings could develop there. Plants as they are today were non-existent, but the earth itself had a kind of plant-existence, and out of this plant-existence there emerged on one hand the plant-world, while on the other hand a hardening took place of what in the plant-world are also formative forces, a hardening into slate-formation.

When, however, we look at the lime-formation, it reveals itself to supersensible vision as intimately connected with all that permeates animal existence on the earth with — shall I say — independence. The plant is tied to the ground, is connected with it, as our hair is connected with the skin on which it grows. The animal moves about. But the radiations of the lime-formation are connected less with this movement as such, which is a local movement, than with the independent build of the animal-form.

When you look at a plant you can see that with its root it turns earthwards; it grows into the earth — is, as it were, drawn towards the centre of the earth — and then unfolds outwards. The plant’s structure gives a clear indication of its complete adaptation to earth-existence. Naturally, a more complicated plant form calls for a more complicated description, but on the whole it remains essentially the same. The plant is not independent. Where it enters the soil it contracts, unites itself with the earth; where it rises up it spreads out and turns towards the light that radiates in all directions. This structure of the plant is best understood if studied in connection with its intimate relation to the plant’s position in respect of the earth.

It is true that in their basic design some features of the animal form — for instance the horizontal position of the spine, the functioning of the limbs in a downward direction — point to an adaptation to earth-existence. All the same, by its natural form the animal has detached itself and has become independent of the earthly. You can discern in every animal-shape not only its adaptation to the earthly element, like that of the plant, but something entirely independent, a form set in itself. The fact is that even in respect of its structure the animal has been released from the grip of the earth.

Now supersensible observation has revealed that everything that radiates from the light of the moon, everything that streams as reflected sunlight from the moon on to the earth, and also streams into our thought-life as formative force — all this works, too, in the shaping of the animal forms. Essentially, all that is indeterminate, formless will-force in the animal is to be found within the sphere of the direct light from the sun. But all that gives the animal its independent form, which is not adapted to the earthly element, is, in the true sense of the word, woven out of the gleaming moonlight.

All forms on the earth are shaped by the moon-forces. That the animals have different forms is due to the fact that the moon passes through the signs of the Zodiac. According to whether the moon stands in the sign of the Ram or the Bull or the Twins, the lunar formative forces act in their different ways on the animal world. This also establishes an interesting connection between the Zodiac and the animal form itself, of which the ancient dream-like wisdom was dimly aware. What draws these forms down on to the earth — forms which would otherwise dissipate into a kind of fog enveloping the earth — are the forces streaming from the lime-formation. The mineral element on earth does not radiate from radium only. Thus on the one side we have in the slate-formation that which binds the plant to the earth, and in the lime-formation that which draws from the moon-forces all that lives in the specific build of animal-forms. And so spiritual perception tells us how the slate-formation on the earth is connected with the structural nature of the plant-world, how the lime-formation is connected with the structural nature of the animal-world.

We must realise that such attributes as we find, for instance, in the lime-formation are also to be found in every detail of organic life. It can be observed quite exactly, if one is properly equipped for such investigations, that there are, for example, people who show a marked tendency to skeleton-formation. I do not mean that they have a strong skeleton, but that they have many lime deposits in the rest of their organism as well. There are, if I may say so, people who are richer or poorer in lime content.

But you must not think of this in a grossly material sense; it should naturally be conceived as being present in a homeopathic form, but it is of great significance. People with a greater lime content are as a rule cleverer, capable of forming a combination of subtle ideas and of resolving them again under the scrutiny of searching analysis. You must not think that by saying this I am giving a materialistic explanation of the human being. I should naturally never dream of doing any such thing; for the fact that one person deposits more lime than another is connected with his karma. So it is that in both past and future everything has its connection with the spiritual. And a truly penetrating knowledge of the world is not based on any vague talk about the “spiritual” and the “material,” but on a mental outlook which recognises how the spiritual works creatively by shaping out of itself the material world. A man who, as the result of his former earthly lives, has acquired a predisposition for becoming a particularly clever person in his next incarnation, for example a particularly good mathematician, develops between death and a new birth those forces of spirit-and-soul which later deposit the lime-substance in him.

We have to be dependent on lime deposits within us if we want to become clever. We have to rely more on deposits of clay-substance — which exists for instance in slate-formations — if it is primarily a matter of developing the will.

There can be no true conception of the material unless it is understood in its constant interrelation with the spiritual. We can say, therefore, that the lime-formation carries those radiations and currents which are concerned not only with building up animal life in all its forms on the earth, but also with providing the material foundation we need for the shaping of our thoughts outside in space are the manifold animal forms; within us, in our intellect, are the thought-forms. These are, in fact, the animal forms projected into the spiritual. The entire animal kingdom is at the same time intellect. And this whole animal kingdom projected into man’s inner life, so that it appears there in mobile thought-forms, is the intellect. But as the animal kingdom needs the lime-formation to build up its forms in the outer world, so we need, as it were, a fine inner lime deposit, a lime formation, in order to become clever.

This must, of course, not be carried too far. If a man were to deposit lime in excess, he would forfeit his cleverness; it would not remain his own. He would, as it were, bring about an objective cleverness in which his own personality would have no part. Everything has its limits. And as we follow up these things further, we come to interesting discoveries about the extent to which the mineral element plays its part in the life of man, animal and plant. When we consider all that works in us as lime-forces we are led — as I have said — to what struggles for expression in the formative forces and helps us to develop inner firmness.

Man’s connection with the forces of clay, of the clay-slaty element, on the other hand, leads him to fight against this inner firmness; to dissolve it, liquefy it and make it plant-like. Man is always in a sense the embodiment of a kind of interaction between the lime element and slate element — by which, of course, I mean the inner forces they contain.

Now we can look more closely at the slate element. In much of it we find flint and silicious substances, especially those to be found in the rock-crystal, in quartz. In their radiations and currents the forces of quartz are also fully active in man himself; and if he possessed only these quartz-like forces which he takes in with the harder slaty element, he would be in constant danger of his spirit and soul striving to return to what he was in his pre-earthly life. The quartz element always wants to draw man away from himself, to take him back again to his still unembodied being. To counteract this force, another force is needed, and this is the force of carbon.

Man has carbon working in his organism in manifold ways. Carbon is observed by natural science today only in its outer aspect, merely by physical and chemical means. In reality, carbon is the element which makes us always remain with ourselves. Carbon, in a sense, is our house; we dwell in it; while silica always wants to take us back in time to where we were before we took possession of our carbon-house.

This means that a constant struggle is waged in us between the forces of carbon and those of silica. And our life is woven into this battle. If we consisted only of carbon — for instance the physical plant-world has its foundation in carbon — we should be completely earth-bound. We could not have the slightest inkling of our extra-terrestrial existence. The fact that we can know about it we owe to the silica element in us.

If one has insight into all this, one also discovers the healing forces contained, for instance, in silica, in quartz or flint. Where an excessive inclination towards carbon causes a man to become ill — this applies, for example, to all cases of illness due to certain deposits of metabolic products — then silicious substances provide the remedy. Especially when the deposits are peripheral or in the head, the healing properties of the silica element are a strong antidote.

You can see that if one gets to the heart of these matters, with a comprehensive knowledge that combines nature-knowledge and spiritual knowledge, seeking the spiritual in all purely material things, and finding the material again in all that is spiritual, the spiritual being conceived as creative power — you can see that only such knowledge can furnish a clue not only to an understanding of human existence but also to the methods which must be applied when human existence suffers from functional disturbances.

A point of special importance is that attention should be paid to what lives as the nitrogen element in man, to nitrogen as such and to its combinations. The fact that man has nitrogen in his system enables him, as it were, to remain always open to cosmic influences. This again I can best illustrate by a diagram. — Let us assume that this represents the human organism. (A sketch is made on the blackboard.) The fact that man has nitrogen, or bodies containing nitrogen, in his organism, ensures that the laws governing the organism keep, as it were, within their confines everywhere; along these lines (in the diagram) indicating the nitrogen in the body, the latter ceases to impose its own laws. This allows the cosmic laws to enter freely everywhere. Along the nitrogen-line in the human body the cosmic element asserts itself in the body. You can say: As far as nitrogen is active in me, the cosmos, right to the most distant star, works in me. What there is of nitrogen-forces in me draws the forces of the whole cosmos into me. If my organism had no nitrogen-content, I should be shut off from everything that comes in from the cosmos.” And when it is important that the cosmic forces should unfold in a special way, for example in human propagation when in the body of the mother the embryo develops — the embryo which as you know, is moulded from the cosmos — this is made possible only because the nitrogen-containing substances open the human being to the influences of the cosmos. But everything in the universe and in human existence is so ordered as not to go to extremes. Indeed, if one-sided action were allowed to prevail, everything would lead to extremes. If nitrogen, which impels man always to expand, spiritually, into cosmic space, could exert its full force on the human organism, it would work together with the silica element — which induces man, I might say, to lose himself in the spiritual past — and the effect would be that man would constantly lapse into unconsciousness.

Now it is always interesting when observing anything in nature or in man to find that important things play a double role. Thus the lime element, which gives man the physical stamp for cleverness, also counteracts the effect of nitrogen. So that we can say: On the one hand, silica and carbon form polaric opposites in man; on the other hand, nitrogen and lime do the same:

Silica — Carbon.
Nitrogen — Lime.

The lime substances in man so regulate him that he always re-asserts his own organisation in face of the force which, through the medium of nitrogen, seeks to work into him from the cosmos. Through nitrogen, the cosmic forces enter; through lime-action, that which issues from the human organism opposes and balances it. So that in many different places in the human body an influx of cosmic forces and likewise an expulsion of cosmic influences takes place. It is a ceaseless pendulum-movement: nitrogen effect — lime effect, lime effect — nitrogen effect. Thus we can not only relate man to the starry world, but also give him his place in his immediate earthly environment.

In the last number of the periodical Das Goetheanum, I used an aphorism to emphasise that in reality materialism as a world-conception does not arise from the fact matter is too well known; on the contrary, too little is known about it. What is really known about carbon? That it is to be found in nature as coal, as graphite, as diamond. These bodies are then described according to their physical characteristics. But it is not known that carbon is the element which holds us firmly within ourselves, so that we are a self-contained human organism, and that this is constantly challenged by the silica element, which seeks to draw us away from ourselves.
We learn to understand matter only when we learn to know it also from its spiritual aspect there is matter it is penetrated by spirit. You get nowhere if you are content with a vague, nebulous play of fancy and declare: where there is matter there is spirit. It is not sufficient to know: lime, silica, carbon, nitrogen, contain spirit — that goes without saying, but it is not enough. One must also know how the different substances are, as it were, embodiments, “substantiations” of spiritual processes. One must also be able to see how the lime element acts on the inner organisation of man; how the nitrogen element always aims at permeating him with cosmic impulses.

The plants, which must always maintain a relationship to the cosmic element as they grow up from the earth out into the cosmos, need nitrogen-combinations for their growth; and it will be possible to study plant-growth, too, in the right way if proper attention is paid to the relevant connections just mentioned. These matters have, in the first place, their scientific side; we learn to know the world only when we understand the true nature of things; but they also have their practical side. And one really never gets beyond the most primitive aspects if one cannot assess things in their wider connections. One will then have to go into details and find out how the required nitrogen-combinations enter into plant-growth. As you know, this alone is a very important subject of study; but in agriculture, too, this study can be complete only if pursued by the methods of spiritual science. Spiritual science alone is the true science of reality.

You see, everything I have been describing has to be re-established through the methods of spiritual science as they are available today and as they will be more and more developed in the future. For an older science received these things through a kind of dreamlike clairvoyance. We must attain a fully conscious clairvoyance. This, as you know, is a subject I have dealt with on very many occasions.

Today we cannot simply imbibe again the things that once became known to men with the aid of a quite different human make-up. It is, of course, folly for people to devote all their studies to ancient science, for that will not help them to understand things. The ancient things themselves cannot be understood either, unless they are illumined spiritually in the right way. And yet it is remarkable how practically everywhere today the scientific mind, through a kind of instinct, turns to what was once found through dreamlike clairvoyance.

Take a specific case. The old Initiates took for granted the presence of lead everywhere in earthly existence — because to the radiation of lead they attributed what works in the human form from the extreme top, from above downwards. In the widely distributed lead on earth they saw something that is connected with the inner structure of man, especially also with human self-consciousness. Naturally, the modern materialist would say: But lead has nothing to do with the human organism. In answer to that the old Initiate would have told him: It is certainly not, as you imagine, the gross lead-substance that we have in mind, but the forces emanating from exceedingly fine lead-constituents; and such lead is very widely distributed. That is what the ancient Initiate would have said.

What does the modern student of natural science say? He says: There are minerals which give off radiations, among them the so-called radioactive ones. The radiations of uranium are, of course, known; it is known that certain rays — alpha rays they are called — stream out; then, the remaining part, in the course of further radiation, undergoes certain changes, even comes to possess — as the chemists say — a different atomic weight. Briefly, in radioactive matter, transmutations take place. In fact there are people today who are already talking about a kind of revival of the old mystical metamorphoses of matter. But now, those who have investigated such matters say: These radiations give rise to something which appears as a terminal product, no longer radioactive, and this has the properties of lead. Thus you can learn strictly from the investigations of modern science that there are radioactive substances; within the source of these radioactive radiations there is something which, in accordance with its inherent forces, is in course of formation. There is always a lead-content at the bottom.

You see, the researches of modern natural science are getting critically near to ancient initiation-Science. And just as today modern scientists cannot help discovering the presence of lead right under their noses, as it were — or at least under the noses of their physical instruments — so they will also find out things about the other metals. Then it will gradually dawn upon them what was meant when it was said that lead is to be found everywhere in nature. You see, it is only through spiritual science that one can discern what is implicit in the discoveries of natural science — discoveries with which, in the context of ordinary general knowledge, one hardly knows what to do.”

R. Steiner, Human Questions and Cosmic Answers, Lecture 4, 2 July 1922, CW213