How do we live together?

How do we live together?

07 April 2020 | Georg Soldner

The coronavirus pandemic challenges us as a community, demands our wakefulness and prudence, determination and patience. For anthroposophical medicine, this crisis means celebrating the 100th anniversary of this medicine worldwide in a different way than planned and placing ourselves at the service of the collective effort to meet this unprecedented challenge.

In the worldwide field of the Medical Section, work began early on to develop an international framework for prevention and therapy – in addition to the general hygienic recommendations and medical guidelines – based on decades of experience in the treatment of virus-related infections and pneumonia. In the meantime, there has been a lively exchange of information with initial reports on experiences and supplementary suggestions for external applications, medicines, and eurythmy therapy exercises for the preventive strengthening of the body's defences. A network of anthroposophical clinics has been created, some of which also run intensive care units, and first steps at scientific documentation of therapies. It concerns all stages of the disease, in both outpatient and inpatient care up to the ventilated patient. While integrative treatment concepts are being established here, doctors and nurses in particular have to learn what is difficult for them: If they themselves have become contagious and sick, they must withdraw for an appropriate period of time. Prudence, caution, patience and the willingness to make sacrifices are a characteristic that is required in dealing with and experiencing this illness. In the centres of the crisis, in Northern Italy, Spain, and Alsace, emergency services, intensive care, and nursing staff are working beyond the limits of their capacity and risking their lives.

It has been shown that communication, the language we give to this situation, is crucial for many people in dealing with Covid-19. The fact that a short article in the weekly journal “Das Goetheanum” was quickly shared on the web more than 100,000 times and rapidly translated into several languages demonstrates the need to confront this experience of the still unknown using language itself. In the meantime, several papers have already been published that make a more in-depth effort to understand this crisis and find appropriate terminology. The following paragraphs will add only a few aspects that can make us even more aware of qualities that now need to be perceived, contemplated and perhaps newly defined in the future.

Where it all began

Wuhan is one of China's largest cities at the confluence of the Yangtze and Han rivers.(1) The fact that the Chinese call themselves the Han people is due to the name of this river, which is over 1,500 kilometres long. The city has grown together from several cities that were separated by these rivers, and there are still many lakes in the metropolitan area. The climate of this ‘City of Rivers' is humid, moist, and sub tropically hot in summer. Both the climate and air pollution are comparable to the Po Valley in northern Italy. Economically, the focus is on iron production (from local ores and coal) and the steel industry. For example, a cold rolling mill was built there with the help of German experts from the twin city of Duisburg. In the meantime, there is also a rail connection for regular container transports between Duisburg and Wuhan. Wuhan is the largest inland port in China and still accessible to ocean-going vessels. The port of Duisburg is considered the largest inland port in the world, in any case the largest in Europe. Wuhan lies almost exactly in the middle of China, between the large areas of Beijing in the north and Guangzhou (Canton), Shenzhen and Hong Kong in the south, Shanghai in the east and Chongqing in the west of the vast country. There are motorways in all these directions, which meet in Wuhan. It is a decidedly mercurial place, the starting point of a worldwide pandemic, and raises the question of how we should manage globalisation.

Wuhan also has wet markets(2), where everything from crocodiles to bats are traded – not always legally. At the market, which is said to have been the starting point of the pandemic, there were probably over 100 different species of wild animals. A market where animal and beast, bat and pangolin anteater (whose importance for the sars-CoV-2 virus apparently was confirmed(3)), and humans come way too close to one another, much closer than would ever be the case in nature. With regard to the transfer of animal viruses to humans and their epidemic spread, it should be noted that, for example, the measles virus mutated in ancient times from a pathogen of bovine plague to the pathogen of highly infectious measles – as a result of the close coexistence of humans and cattle, but also of a far-reaching new form of globalisation in the age of the Persian Empire and Alexander the Great.(4) Because measles viruses are so infectious that they would quickly “die out” as infected people are then immunised, they also require large human cities in order to survive (and that means infecting new healthy people) despite the rapid immunisation of many people.

Eleven million people live in the Wuhan region. The corralling of humans into small areas, the proximity of humans and animals, and the destruction of animal habitats facilitate such momentous virus mutations. This may also apply to the suffering of the animals themselves, which today are often forced to live in conditions that are alien to the species, such as factory farming or cages. This is a kind of suffering that animals, unlike humans, cannot transform into inner development, but can only endure. It should be mentioned in passing that a few years ago a bio-laboratory was established in Wuhan for research on particularly dangerous pathogens (bsl-4), such as the Ebola virus.(5)

Injured Sheaths

When Rudolf Steiner gave the first lecture founding anthroposophical medicine on March 21, 1920, he concluded it by pointing out that one must first examine the "normality of illness" as a natural process and then ask oneself whether this can be understood from a "certain world, which is connected with ours and which only pushes itself into our world as if through unauthorised openings", and whether one can thus arrive at a better understanding of the symptoms of illness.(6) The question of a world bordering on our world, and our relationship to it, is posed here on the one hand to the animal world and on the other hand to the world of the living. Viruses themselves are not living things from a scientific point of view. They are descended from living organisms, with a strong connection to the structures that carry the genetic information for the protein formation of the cell, but after leaving their “mother cell” they are dead “border crossers” of the living, whose special feature is that they can pass on to other living organisms, infect them and thus reproduce. They likely also have useful functions, for example the countless viruses in our intestinal flora, or very harmful ones, if they penetrate the human organism with their foreign content from other life environments, e.g. from bats, and cause a self-alienation in the affected tissues, to which the organism responds with inflammation, as the author has already described in an earlier article.(7)

Rudolf Steiner, especially before the First World War, clearly pointed out the relationship between animal suffering and epidemic diseases. The so-called Spanish flu from 1918 to 1920 caused 25 to 50 million deaths worldwide in two waves. The lethality rate was 1.5 to 3 percent, max. 6 percent,(8) as is now the case with Covid-19. The pandemic was exacerbated by increased mobility of the war, and at that time the people who died were predominantly in their 20 to 40's. The pathogen was derived from avian influenza, an animal disease which was first observed in Italy in 1878 and spread from there across the ocean. Some variants of the avian influenza virus have been transmitted in isolated cases to humans, zoo animals such as leopards and to domestic cats. The origin of the mutated virus that created the pathogen of the Spanish flu(9) was in the USA, which had entered the world war in 1917 ("The increased mobility caused by the war favoured its worldwide spread", Wikipedia(10)), with its already widely developed modern form of agriculture.(11) If you look at the Wikipedia entry on the Spanish flu,(12) the first thing you come across are policemen wearing face masks in Seattle in 1918, an image that, except for the style of the uniforms, could be from today. Again, we encounter the effects of globalisation.

There is no doubt, then, that we are dealing with a form of mass epidemic disease "coming in through the holes". The time of forced societal change and globalisation, is accompanied by the transformation of the ever-changing viruses. In this pandemic, which originates from animals, we experience a pathogenic interaction "as if through holes" of the soulful animal world with humans, but also of the living and non-living world, in that viruses are crossovers between the two.

The fundamental question must be asked: What is the most healthy, orderly, protected coexistence possible between humans, animals, living, breathing plant life and mineral elements? A reductionist understanding of nature and the world proves to be insufficient and destructive with respect to the living. Especially in the world of bacteria and viruses we are experiencing the global unity and interplay of the realm of life: The behaviour of every human being on this earth can change the reality of life for everyone else. If you give animals mass quantities of antibiotics, which are actually intended for serious human diseases, you create multi-resistant bacteria that will soon appear on all continents. Anyone who punctures healthy boundaries and habitats promotes the improper interrelation of life spheres that need to be appropriately understood and treated: human and animal, living and non-living.

How do we live together? Respiration and shortness of breath

This is a key issue in this crisis. It is as much about distance as about relationship. It is a question about what is exchanged between us, invisibly and yet relevant for all of our lives. The true realisation of our global connectedness in “one” sphere of life. This is where this crisis challenges us, in the determination of every individual, in keeping our distance as well as in providing the necessary care, in the committed contribution to our fellow human beings and all those living with us in our area of responsibility. We can speak of an ''iron stance'', which we need, but at the same time we can speak of a breathing and resonating posture. This crisis is a deep pause for reflection, after years of an increasingly breathless and destructive dynamic for life on earth. It is a call for a new capacity to breathe in the social sphere. What does this have to do with iron?

Wuhan is a center of the steel industry. Around half of the world's steel production (1,691 million tons), 832 million tons of steel was produced in China in 2017. The air above the city is permeated by it. The current fear of fellow human beings exhaling corresponds to the pollution that the inhabitants of cities like Wuhan, but also of many other smog-ridden regions such as the Italian Po Valley, experience from the air exhaled by industry and traffic. An exhalation that also weakens the lungs and immune systems of the inhabitants.

We breathe in iron and have about 500 milligrams in every litre of our blood. Two thirds of our body's iron, 4 to 5 grams, is active in our blood. We absorb this iron into our body by means of a copper enzyme. As a natural substance alone it is toxic, we incorporate it into our living organism with the transport protein transferrin. Transferrin turns reddish and strengthens our body's defences, which are dependent on iron in many ways. Very fine iron-sulphur compounds enable our inner breathing, our life. Ensouled movement is made possible by means of myoglobin, where the iron is then further “potentised”(13) and a free iron atom is bonded via four nitrogen atoms in such a way that it can both capture and release oxygen. Then it is raised to the highest level in red blood. The precursors of our blood cells, which are capable of division, expel their cell nucleus, going through a stage of potential cellular death and in the process absorb an iron nucleus, in which four such iron-nitrogen compounds, “globins”, are connected to each other in a four-unit “tetramer”(14) to form a differentiated compound capable of respiration, with which we absorb oxygen from the air. These mature erythrocytes are extremely stable, make breathing possible and also form the basis for the warmth-carrying organ blood.(15) The iron is now extremely finely dispersed and exhibits properties that are not possible in the purely mineral outside world, where iron simply rusts in the open-air. Our own physiology, however, is based on the most minute dilutions of iron. "Meditating on the metal processes can be a medical approach to the etheric world"(16), writes Broder von Laue, to whom the author owes much in this study. The "etheric world", is the world of the living, to which the physiological processes outlined here also belong.

The earth is the most iron-rich planet in our solar system. The core of the earth probably consists of semi-liquid iron, which is why magnetism protects our earth's surface from excessive solar radiation thus making life on earth possible. Likewise, the core of our flowing red blood cells carries finely distributed, “potentised” iron. As the basis of our respiration, our life, iron is essential for our ability to delimit our bodies, our immune system. If we want to learn how to connect to the world and at the same time to distance ourselves from it, and to assert ourselves in it, then we can try to understand the iron in us more deeply, as Rudolf Steiner advised the doctors in his first course.(17)

Now it is necessary to develop a completely different consciousness of iron, not only an industrial one, shaped “according to its material values”, but a consciousness of the living structured iron in its essential meaning for our life, our breath, our consciousness and our actions. The warmth flowing within us, the power of initiative, courage, spiritual resolve and willingness to make sacrifices is essentially due to the physiological potentisation of this metal. In anthroposophical medicine, iron, meteoritic iron, iron minerals such as natural iron phosphate (Vivianite) and pharmaceutically produced iron compounds are used in a materially and moderately potentised form to strengthen the body's own warmth and immune system, but also for anxiety and panic disorders and in the treatment of pneumonia.(18)

People seriously ill with Covid-19 are in danger of dying from respiratory distress and lack of oxygen. But shortness of breath, lack of oxygen, and dangerous contamination of the exhaled air also appear as precise symptoms of the global ecological crisis of our planet. For the earth there is neither a sickbed nor a respirator. To develop a responsible and breathable form of cohabitation, restraint and willingness to help in every community of life, all over the world, seem to be essential feature of this pandemic.

"The one who truly understands the full scope of breathing, will also understand the healing powers from within the human being." Rudolf Steiner, October 13, 1923.(19)

Source: Das Goetheanum 14/2020, Pages.10-13

Artwork: Philipp Tok, “Raumformen” Ink and metal on paper, Dornach 2019

Translation: Bettina Hindes


1 Wuhan, Wikipedia page

2 Chinese 街市 markets, where mostly live or freshly slaughtered animals are sold.

3 See the article in 'Nature' from March 26, 2020, which shows that the pangolin scaly anteater was probably a significant intermediate host for the Sars-CoV-2 virus – which only humans are responsible: T. Tsan-Yuk Lam et al., Identifying sars-CoV-2 related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins. “The discovery of multiple lineages of pangolin corona-virus and their similarity to sars-CoV-2 suggests that pangolins should be considered as possible hosts in the emergence of novel coronaviruses and should be removed from wet markets to prevent zoonotic transmission.”

4 Ärzteblatt (2020).

5 Nature News, “Inside the Chinese lab poised to study world’s most dangerous pathogens” Nature 542, 399–400 (February 23, 2017) doi:10.1038/nature.2017.21487.

6 R. Steiner, Spiritual Science and Medicine. CW 312, 8. Ed., Dornach 2020, Lecture from March 21, 1920.

7 G. Soldner, Das Coronavirus. Goetheanum, March 12, 2020.

8 Niall P. A. S. Johnson, Juergen D. Mueller, Updating the Accounts: Global Mortality of the 1918–1920 ‘Spanish’ Influenza Pandemic. In: Bulletin of the History of Medicine. Band 76, Nr. 1, 2002, S. 105–115.

9 S. J. Gamblin et al., The structure and receptor binding properties of the 1918 influenza hemagglutinin. In: Science. Band 303, Nr. 5665, 2004, S. 1838–1842, doi:10.1126/science.1093155.

10 Spanische Grippe, Wikipedia.

11 “As a result of mechanisation, labour productivity in US agriculture was 70 to 90 percent higher than in German and English agriculture around 1910.” p. 31.

12 Spanische Grippe, Wikipedia.

13 Vgl. zu dieser Betrachtung: Hans Broder von Laue, Meditatives Üben an Metallprozessen als ärztliche Aufgabe: (M)ein Umgehen mit der Eisen- und Kupferphysiologie. [English: Compare to this observation: Hans Broder von Laue, Meditative practice of metal processes as a medical task: (My)a handling of iron and copper physiology.] Der Merkurstab. Zeitschrift für Anthroposophische Medizin 2016; 69(2) Pages 117–126. doi:ht- tps:// Also: M. Sommer, Metalle und Mineralien als Heilmittel [English: Metals and Minerals as Medicine]. 1st Edition 2017, aethera at Urachhaus Press, Stuttgart.

14 The hallmark of the 1:4 is thus evident throughout the human form from head and limbs, through the architecture of the four-chambered heart, to the individual red blood cell and the individual breathing iron-nitrogen complex.

15 Vgl. R. Steiner, Spiritual Science and Medicine, a. a. o., 3. Lecture held March 23,1920.

16 Hans Broder von Laue, op. cit., p. 125.

17 See R. Steiner, Spiritual Science and Medicine, op. cit., 12th lecture held on April 1, 1920, and: Hans Broder von Laue, op. cit.

18 Cf. Vademecum anthroposophische Arzneimittel. [English: Vademecum anthroposophical medicines] Der Merkurstab 70, Supplement, 4th Edition 2017.

19 R. Steiner, Das Miterleben des Jahreslaufes in vier kosmischen Imaginationen [English: Experience of the Course of the Year in Four Cosmic Imaginations], 8th Edition, Dornach 1999.