Two Streams of Nutrition – Reading 1


“If now we turn to the human head, we find its substance derived entirely from the physical world. During the formation of the human embryo the substance of the head comes from the parents; and the subsequent development of the head, and of the whole head and nerve-senses system, depends for its substance entirely on the earthly-material world. On the other hand, all the activity that has to do with the plastic forming of a man’s head, the activity by means of which its substance is given shape, comes entirely from the spiritual world. So that in respect of activity, the head is entirely a spiritual formation. Therefore the head has to be left open — in a spiritual sense — so that activity can play into it.

At any time of life you can thus say: The substance of my head comes entirely from the Earth, but it is put together and plastically formed in such a way that it cannot be the work of earthly forces. The forms of this human head are shaped entirely from the spiritual world; they might be called a heavenly creation. Anyone who contemplates spiritually the human head, in relation to the world, has to go far and deep.

Now in the same way he turns his gaze to a plant. He says to himself: The plant has a definite form. Its substance is drawn from the earth, but its form comes from the etheric world — hence still from the spatial world. Then he looks at an animal. The animal — he will say to himself — derives the substance of its head entirely from the world of space, but something spiritual certainly flows into its activity.

When we come to the human head, however, we find for the first time that something of the highest spirituality, something that can be called heavenly, is playing in. We see that the human head could never arise from earthly forces, though its substance is taken from earthly materials. So in the human head, which is itself a kind of miniature Cosmos, the spiritual world builds up a form out of earthly substance.

It is precisely the reverse with the metabolic-limb system, which embraces the organs for external movement — legs, arms — and the extension of these within the body — the digestive system.

For the present I am leaving out the middle system — the rhythmical system which embraces breathing and the circulation of the blood. I will deal now with the system which brings together the processes of digestion and nourishment, and the inner combustion which enables a man to move.

Now the substance of this metabolic-limb system is not derived from the Earth. Improbable as it may sound, you bear within your metabolic-limb man something which is not of earthly origin but consists wholly of substance from the third world, the world of the spirit. You may say: But I can see my legs; they are physically perceptible, which they would not be if they consisted of spiritual substance. This objection is quite justified, but there is something more to be considered.

Your real legs are indeed spiritual throughout; your real arms too; but the material for them is provided by your head. The head is the organ which fills spirit arms, spirit hands, spirit legs, spirit feet, with substance; and this substance penetrates into the spirituality of the limbs and of the digestive organs. So that something which in reality belongs entirely to the spiritual world is permeated, flooded, with physical matter by the head. That is why it is so difficult to grasp with the ideas of physical science that a man consists of head-breast-limbs-digestive organs. People think of the head as being there at the top, and they assume that when a man is decapitated he has no head left. It is not so, however; a man is substantially head all over. Even right to the end of his big toe he is head, for his head sends down its substance there. It is only the substance of the head that is earthly in origin, and the head gives its earthly-material character to the other substances; while the substance of the metabolic-limb organs comes from the spiritual world.

If through vigorous auto-suggestion of a negative kind we can suggest away the head of a man, so that in appearance he is headless, and if we can do this not only in thought but so that we really see the man as headless, then the rest of his organism also disappears; with the head goes the whole of the man as a being perceptible to the senses. And if the head is then to be there for us at all, the rest of the man has to be perceived spiritually. For in reality we go about under the imprint of higher worlds, with spirit legs, spirit arms, and it is only the head that fills them with physical matter.

On the other hand the forces, the activity, for all that makes up the metabolic-limb man are drawn from the physical world. If you make a step forward or lift an arm, the mechanism involved, and even the chemical processes that take place in moving an arm or leg, or the chemical processes in the digestive organs — all this activity is earthly. So that in your limbs you bear invisible substance, but forces drawn from earthly life. Hence we are built up as regards our head and its substance out of the Earth, but this same head is permeated with heavenly forces. In our limbs we are built up entirely from heavenly substance; but the forces playing into this heavenly substance during our life on Earth are earthly forces — gravitation and other physical and chemical forces all belonging to the Earth.

You see, therefore, that head and limbs are opposites. The head consists of earthly matter and is given plastic form by heavenly activity. The limbs and the digestive system are formed wholly of heavenly substance, and would not be visible were they not saturated with earthly substance by the head. But when anyone walks, or grasps something, or digests food, the heavenly substance makes use of earthly forces in order that life on Earth, from birth to death, may be carried on.

In this complicated way does a man stand in relation to the three worlds. The spiritual world participates with its activity in the head; with its substance it participates in a man’s third organisation, his metabolic-limb system. The lowest world, the world most dominated by the senses, participates through its activity in the metabolism and the movement of the limbs, and through its substance in the head; whereas the substance in a man’s third system is wholly spiritual.

In the middle system, which embraces the breathing and the circulation of the blood, spiritual activity and material substance work into each other. The spiritual activity, flowing through the movement of our breathing and the beating of our heart, is always accompanied to some extent by substantiality. And, in the same way, the substantiality of earthly existence, inasmuch as oxygen streams into the breathing, is to some extent accompanied by earthly activity. So you see that in the middle man, in man’s second system, everything flows together — heavenly substance and activity flow in here; earthly activity and substance flow in there. By this means we are made receptive both to the activity of the middle world and to its substantiality.

So in this middle man there is a great deal of intermingling and for this reason we need our wonderfully perfect rhythmical system — the rhythm of the heart, the rhythm of the lungs in breathing. All the intermingling of activity and substance is balanced, harmonised, melodised, through these rhythms, and this can happen because man is organised for it.

In the head system and the limb system, activity and substantiality come from quite different sources, but in the middle system they come from all three worlds and in a variety of ways — at one place activity accompanied by substance, in another place substance accompanied by activity; here pure activity, there pure substance — all these variations flow through the middle man. If as a doctor you take a man’s pulse, you can really feel there the balancing of the heavenly nature of the soul against earthly activity and substantiality. Again, if you observe the breathing, you can feel a man’s inner striving for balance between the various agencies which relate him to the middle world.”

R. Steiner, The Evolution of Consciousness, Lecture 5, 23 August 1923, CW227