Illnesses in Man are deviations from a normal balanced or perfect functioning, caused unbalances in our bodily constitution across Man's bodily principles. Even if the illness manifests in the physical body, the origin may lie at a higher bodily principles such as the astral or etheric body, or the unbalance between the different principles.
Therefore - with the span of one human lifetime - one can distinguish illnesses ..
-  arising out of the Human 'I', and which have their physical manifestation in irregularities in the functioning of the blood
- eg definite forms of chronic illnesses are connected with one or another basic soul character of the I (1908-11-10-GA107)
-  that originate in irregularities in the Human astral body, and manifesting in irregularities in the nervous system
-  that originate in the Human etheric body manifests in the glandular system
-  in the Human physical body, that primarily have external causes.
Furthermore there are illnesses that are the emanation of causes from previous lifetimes:
-  karmic illnesses
The evolutionary origin of illness has to do with the individualization of Man through the Fall or the Luciferic infection in the Lemurian epoch, the start of physical incarnation and gender, and is coined by the term 'original sin' (see 1908-12-08-GA107 on the page of Model for hereditary physical body).
- what is illness, its evolutionary origin, and what are the main different types of illnesses
- cause of illness by the human double (1917-11-16-GA178), and the need for geographical medicine
- organic physical illnesses that emerge spontaneously from within are all created by the ahrimanic double of Man
- nervous illnesses (neurasthenic, neurotic) are caused by the luciferic double of Man
- healing: principles of treatment
- different types of medical treatment
Lecture coverage and references
- GA107 of 1908-1909: Disease, Karma and Healing: Spiritual-Scientific Enquiries Into the Nature of the Human Being
- GA348 of 1922-1923: Health and illness
1903-10-02-GA069C describes the origin of suffering and inheritable diseases. It is described that inheritance of diseases is a recent phenomenum that did not always exist, these have a link with the current materialistic times. The comparison is made with an animal that has to breathe bad air, and cannot fight this condition but can only become ill. Similarly spiritual Man is weakened and cannot develop enough or be strong enough to fight the circumstances, things have developed such that the physical relations have given such a tremendous burden for the soul and
.. a soul in our days is fully powerless against the physical constitution of the body
1908-11-10-GA107 describes four categories of illness
1908-12-08-GA107 talks about the effect of mineral medicines
1909-01-26-GA107 discusses illness and karma
A person does not need to know about all this, yet he will be aware of its effect. This effect appears in the form of some illness, and here lies the karmic connection between what happened in a previous life and the illness. The spiritual cause of the illness will guide the whole process in such a way that the person thereby becomes capable of carrying out the deed of compensation the next time he has the opportunity. To put it another way, in our twentieth year we are not capable of doing a particular deed. The urge is there, nevertheless, and the soul wants to do it. What does the soul do instead? It struggles, as it were, with its unusable organ, attacks it and destroys it. When the organ that should have been instrumental in carrying out the deed externally has been destroyed by these soul forces, then comes the inevitable reaction, which we call the process of healing, and the forces of the organism have to be called up to restore the organ. This organ, which was destroyed because it was unfit to perform the task, is rebuilt through the illness so as to be capable of performing it, although by the time the illness is over it might well be too late. But then the soul has now gained the strength to mould the growth and development of this organ in the course of life in such a way that in the next incarnation the deed can be carried out. Thus illness can be the very thing that makes us fit to carry out our karmic obligations in another life.
Here we have a secret karmic connection between illness and further development, for in reality illness is a process of further development. In order that the soul develops the power to form an organ in the way it needs, the unsuitable organ has to be destroyed and rebuilt again by the soul forces.
Here we come upon a law in human life that has to be described somewhat as follows: Man has to acquire his strength by overcoming obstacles in the world, one after another. Strictly speaking all our strength was acquired by the overcoming of obstacles in previous incarnations. Our present capacities are the result of our illnesses in earlier lives.
If illnesses are the karmic results of spiritual or other events called forth or experienced by the soul, if they are the metamorphosis of such causes, might we not then also suppose that the result of the metamorphosis, namely, the illness, might be avoided — or do we learn nothing of this from spiritual facts? Might it not be avoided if we could replace, for the good of our education, the healing processes which are drawn from the organism to combat the disease. Could we not replace these by their spiritual counterpart, their spiritual equivalent? Should we not thus, if we were sufficiently wise, transform illness into a spiritual process and accomplish through our soul forces the self-education that would otherwise be accomplished through illness?
The feasibility of this may be demonstrated by an example. Here again we must insist that only those examples are given which have been investigated by Spiritual Science. They are not hypothetical assertions but actual ‘cases.’ A certain person contracts measles in later life, and we seek for the karmic connection in this case. We find that this case of measles appeared as the karmic effect of occurrences in a preceding life — occurrences that may be thus described: In a preceding life the individuality in question disliked concerning himself with the external world but occupied himself a great deal with himself, though not in the ordinary egotistical sense. He investigated much, meditated much, though not with regard to the facts of the external world, but confined himself to the inner soul life. We meet many people to-day who believe that through self-concentration and through brooding within themselves, they will arrive at the solution of world riddles. The person in question thought he could order his life through inner meditation how to act in one instance or another without accepting any teaching from others. The weakness of the soul resulting from this led to the formation of forces during existence between death and re-birth which exposed the organism comparatively late in life to an attack of measles.
We might now ask: if on the one hand we have the attack of measles which is the physical karmic effect of an earlier life, how is it then with the soul? For the earlier life will also result through karmic action in a certain condition of the soul.
This soul condition will prove itself to be such that the personality in question, during the life in which the attack of measles took place, was again and again subject to self-deception. Thus in the self-deception we must see the psychic karmic result of this earlier life, and in the attack of measles the physical karmic result.
Let us now assume that this personality before developing measles had succeeded in gaining such soul forces that he was no longer exposed to all kinds of self-deception, having completely corrected this failing. In this case the acquired soul force would render the attack of measles quite unnecessary, since the tendencies brought forth in this organism during its formation had been effaced through the stronger soul forces acquired by self-education. If we contemplate life as a whole and examine in detail our experiences, considering them always from this standpoint, we should invariably find that external knowledge will bear out in every detail what has here been stated. And what I have said about a case of measles can lead to an explanation why measles is one of the illnesses of child-hood. For the failings I have mentioned are present in a great many lives and especially in certain periods did they prevail in many lives. When such a personality enters existence he will be anxious to make the corresponding correction as soon as possible. In the period between birth and the general appearance of children's complaints which effect an organic self-education, there can as a rule be no question of any education of the soul.
From this we see that in a certain respect we can really speak of a disease being transformed back into a spiritual process. And it is most significant that when this process has entered the soul as a life principle, it will evoke a viewpoint that has a healing effect upon the soul. We need not be surprised that in our time we are able to influence the soul so little. Anyone regarding our present period from the standpoint of Spiritual Science will understand why so many medical men, so many doctors become materialists. For most people never occupy themselves with anything which has vital force. All the stuff produced today is devoid of vital force for the soul. That is why anyone wishing to work for Spiritual Science feels in this anthroposophical activity something extremely wholesome, for Spiritual Science can again bring to men something which enters the soul so that it is drawn away from what is acting in the physical organism. But we must not confuse what appears at the beginning of such a movement as Anthroposophy with what this movement can be in reality. Things may be brought into the Anthroposophical Movement which prevail in the physical world, for people on becoming Anthroposophists often bring to Anthroposophy exactly the same interests and also all the bad habits which they had outside. There is thus brought in much of the degeneracy of our age, and when some such degeneracy appears in the persons in question, the world says that this is the result of Anthroposophy. That is of course a cheap statement.
If we now see the karmic thread passing from one incarnation to another, we grasp only the one aspect of truth. For anyone beginning to understand this, many questions will arise which will be touched upon in the course of these lectures. First of all we must deal with the question: What difference is there between an illness due to external causes and an illness where the cause lies exclusively in the human organism itself. We are tempted to dispose of the latter illnesses by saying that they come of their own accord without any external provocation. But this is not so. In a certain sense we are justified in saying that illnesses come to us if we have a special disposition for the illness within us. A great many forms of illness, however, we shall be able to trace to external causes; not indeed everything that happens to us, but much that befalls us from outside. If we break a leg for instance, we are obliged to account for it by external causes. We must also include within external causes the effects of the weather, and numerous cases of disease which come to people living in slum dwellings. Here again we envisage a wide field. An experienced person looking on the world will find it easy to explain why the modern trend of the medical faculty is to seek the causes of illness in external influences, and especially in microbes. Of these a witty gentleman (Tröhls-Lund) said not without justice: ‘Today it is said that illnesses are provoked by microbes, just as it was formerly said that they came from God, the devil, and so forth.’ In the thirteenth century it was said that illnesses came from God; in the fifteenth it was said that they came from the devil; later it was said that illnesses came from the humours, today we say that illnesses come from microbes! Such are the views that in the course of time give place to one another.
1917-11-16-GA178 is about geographical medicine
And here something is disclosed that in the future must really be followed up if the human race is not to experience endless hindrances, really endless horrors.
- This double about which I have spoken is nothing more or less than the creator of all physical illnesses that emerge spontaneously from within; and to know him fully is organic medicine, illnesses that appear spontaneously from within the human being come not through outer injuries, not from the human soul, they come from this being. He is the creator of all illnesses that emerge spontaneously from within; he is the creator of all organic illnesses.
- And a brother of his, who is not composed Ahrimanically but Luciferically, is the creator of all neurasthenic and neurotic illnesses, all the illnesses that are not really illnesses but only nervous illnesses, hysterical illnesses as they are described.
Thus medicine must become spiritual in two directions. The demand for this is shown by the intrusion of views such as those of psychoanalysis and the like, where one keeps house with spiritual entities, as it were, but with inadequate means of knowledge so that one can do nothing at all with the phenomena that will intrude more and more into human life. For certain things need to happen, things that may even be harmful in a certain direction, because the human being must be exposed to what is harmful in order to overcome it and thereby gain strength.
.. this double is really the creator of all illnesses that have an organic foundation that are not merely functional. In order to understand this fully, however, one must know a great deal more .. for example, that our entire earth is not the dead product that mineralogy or geology thinks it to be, but it is a living being.
From this you will see further that one of the most important tasks of the future will be to foster again something that has been interrupted: geographic medicine, medical geography. With Paracelsus it was torn away from the ancient atavistic wisdom. Since then it has hardly been nurtured because of materialistic views. It must take its place again, and many things must become known again if we are to come to know the connection of the illness-producing being in man with earthly geography, with all the fusions, with all the outward radiations that emerge from the earth in the various regions. It is very important for the human being to become acquainted with these things, for his life depends on it. In a very definite way he is inserted into this earthly existence by this double, and this double has his dwelling place within, within the human being himself.
This has become so infinitely important only in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch and will become especially important to human beings in the very near future.
1923-08-28-GA319: Polarities in Health, Illness and Therapy
1922-10-19-GA348 and 1922-10-24-GA348 discusses illnessess also at different periods of life
1922-12-27-GA348 influence, hay fever, mental illness
1923-01-20-GA348 diphteria and influenza
1923-01-27-GA348 jaundice, smallpox, rabies
The inner always comes later to outer expression. An illness is the karmic result of earlier wrongdoing, for instance, lying. When something of this kind becomes outer reality, it manifests as illness. Epidemics can be traced far back to the misdeeds of a people. They are something imperfect which from being inward has been exteriorised.
References and further reading
- Leendert F.C. Mees: 'Krankheit als Segen. Heilung als Aufgabe.' (1984)
- Boris Krause: 'Das Ich und sein Spiegel - Seelische Erkrankungen aus anthroposophischer Sicht' (2021)