Destiny in the Body

At the core of anthroposophic medicine is the view that we human beings carry the destiny of humanity in our consciousness, even though we do not fully comprehend it. How can we learn to see this destiny at work in the body? At the recent medical conference, the new Co-Leader of the Medical Section, Marion Debus, spoke on this theme.

We know that human beings come from somewhere and are going somewhere. This influences the conversations we have with our patients. Experiencing those with illness within the flow of time is something deeply connected with anthroposophic medicine. In anthroposophic nursing, a study has shown how time is experienced by cancer patients and people suffering from depression. How does a sick person experience the past and the future in relationship to each other? Can they develop a perspective for the future out of such a relationship? This study was carried out by the nurses themselves. Nurses experience patients over time much more intensively than doctors, who are usually only able to pop in occasionally. The study showed that the moment our time-body, i.e., the etheric body, begins to bear some kind of suffering, we experience our past as split off from the present—we are not able to establish a connection with the way we are now—and the future is indefinite, with no way of knowing how to get there. The goal of therapy is always to integrate the experience of time, although this is only successful with five to ten percent of patients.

Destiny in the Etheric Body

So, how do the effects of destiny manifest in the unfolding of a biography? How is destiny connected to the physical body? We experience one aspect of destiny coming from outside, from the body, which affects us psychologically. We experience this due to the fact that we have a body.

The etheric body is the part of us that is connected with the hierarchies’ preparations for our incarnation. They have been working in the extra-temporal and extra-spatial sphere, and we experienced this as a collaboration with the hierarchies prior to our earthly birth. All this goes into the etheric body, which can establish a connection to the physical body while also absorbing the impulses from the cosmic realm. After we have separated from our purely spiritual kernel, and immediately before we dive into the body, we experience a preview of our coming earthly life; a rough outline appears of what our life will be like. Then, we plunge into the body.

In CW 212,1 Rudolf Steiner describes the etheric body as a wonderful cosmic construction. It bears within itself the stars, the sun, and the moon, as well as a part of the earth. During our first seven years, these cosmic forces work their way into the body. Around the change of teeth, a new quality enters the etheric body; there is a change of direction. The forces of the etheric body begin to stream inwards towards a center. As we approach puberty, this wonderful cosmic construction draws itself together into this center in the region of the heart—a wonderful source of life, concentrated out of cosmic sources. We, ourselves, create our etheric heart. From puberty onwards, all our deeds are inscribed upon this etheric heart. What we do in life, what we bring about as forces of destiny, will be preserved in the heart. From the moment this happens, it also becomes possible to begin to consciously take hold of our destiny. We become empowered to take up our own destiny once we have developed these etheric forces in our hearts. There, our life’s destiny will be inscribed. We enter into a relationship of choice with the outside world. Judgement and discernment become involved in the relationship between us and the world. Rudolf Steiner speaks of how, from this point on, the etheric heart has become the organ of karmic development within us.

A Free Part

So, we have the cosmic part of the etheric body, where the stars, moon, and sun have inscribed themselves. We share this with the plants. But, we are also given a free part of the etheric that is not pre-assigned—it has no designated use, so to speak. It is a blank page that we are free to shape ourselves. We live in the duality of these two parts of our etheric body. What is shaped in the first years of life through our upbringing is still completely connected to the body-bound etheric. This part comes from the past as an inherited stream that is initially involved with forming the body. Then, there is a part that does not yet have a use—a divine substance for the human being to shape themselves. This part is brought into connection with our thinking. Over time, it emancipates itself more and more. As small children, we imprint our bodies through imitating our surroundings. As we get older, we let ourselves be imprinted by those we consider authorities. And with the birth of the etheric heart, we begin to shape this body ourselves. The etheric heart grows by way of our interest in the world. We fill the etheric heart with content by turning to the world and taking hold of our destiny. The further development of the human being rests upon this free part. The etheric substance provided by the gods, which is not used up by nature, is transformed by human beings into spiritual substance throughout the course of our lives.

Healing Power

A remarkable turnabout takes place in the second half of life. The more this free part has been imprinted and molded with vibrant, living activity, the more healthy it can be in moments of illness. The body is now taken hold of from within. A new embodiment takes place through this very part that we have in the etheric body. Jorge Seprun reported that survival in a concentration camp is, actually, mainly due to curiosity, to the interest I have in the world, which has a healthy effect on the body, that one might survive a concentration camp. In the second half of life, the etheric body becomes more and more filled with spiritual content; it becomes “chubby,” as Steiner described. It becomes young and receives all the forces arising from our achievements in life. When we cross the threshold of death, our life panorama is made up of what the etheric body has held onto. This becomes the foundation for a new life. In middle age, the salutogenic forces come from a different direction. We have mentioned how the etheric body is the carrier of the forces of destiny, but it remains a question how these forces will be related to the physical world. We bring our physical forces with us from the past. The future flows into us through our free etheric part. We have the destiny stream of the past, which regenerates and shapes the body from the future.

Etheric World and Etheric Body

We often have the feeling that what happens to us comes from outside and has nothing to do with our inner conditions, but it still seems to be closely connected with us. What does this have to do with our etheric body? Steiner described how there is nothing in the outside world that is not permeated with etheric substance, not even a barren desert. In our encounter with the outside world, we are always having encounters with the etheric world, which also carries the forces of our destiny. In Vienna in 1918, Rudolf Steiner spoke briefly about himself. “Allow me to refer to matters I am personally connected with . . . since spiritual research is bound up with the person. I want to mention to you how I look back with complete clarity on that moment in my life—it was many years ago—when I was able to see for the first time how, in looking at the clouds, the sky, in short, at the outer world, there were forces at play that do not stem from this life or from what we have inherited from our father and mother, but rather there are forces that can be said to come from a life in a spiritual world that preceded our earthly life, before we connected with the forces generated by our father and mother. In this soul life, forces can be perceived that come from previous lives.” 2

So, we have developmental conditions within us that place us in a relationship with the future. In the etheric body, everything is present in time simultaneously. How does this all coalesce in the garment of the sensible world, in the etheric active within it, in which we ourselves, in part, actually are? Where does our etheric body end? What is our relationship to the outside world? We have the feeling that many events in life are not coincidences, but rather, to a large extent, they appear as if shaped by destiny. As Steiner described it, during sensory perception, when we perceive a ray of sunlight, an etheric stream that has to do with our past destiny enters down into the formation of our etheric body. Then, it flows out again on the other side. An etheric stream passes through us. There, our past and future destiny is formed.

When I want to help bring patients with serious illnesses into connection with this future stream, I ask them, for example: look at the people with whom you have come into contact through your illness and whom you would never have met otherwise. Usually, we intervene in the etheric streams in the body via medicaments. But what can the patient immerse themselves in that will bring something new into their stream of destiny and, thereby, bring the forces into equilibrium? Prompting these questions is also the task of anthroposophic medicine.

The “I” has its own unique path in the body. It lives entirely in the blood. The connection with the blood is completed during puberty. With all its intentions and ideas, the “I” unites itself with the bloodstream in the human being. At the moment when the future and past streams meet, moral development and the physical body come together. Around the age of 14, our immunity has reached the level of competence we need for adulthood. So the moment we become empowered for destiny, through our etheric heart, we also achieve the immunocompetence we need for adulthood.

Translation Joshua Kelberman
Image During the workshop: Creating Bridges between Osteopathy and Art as Prevention and Treatment of Autoimmune Diseases through a Fourfold View of the Human Being (ES/ES); Photo: Xue Li

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  1. Rudolf Steiner, Life of the Human Soul and Its Relation to World Evolution, CW 212 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2017).
  2. Rudolf Steiner, Der Mensch als Geist- und Seelenwesen: Öffentliche Vorträge während des Weltkriegs, 1918 [The Human Being as a Being of Spirit and Soul: Public lectures during the World War, 1918], CW 71b (Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 2023), lecture in Vienna on May 27, 1918.

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