About heredity and ancestors

Science believes that a person takes on the characteristics of his ancestors. Actually he influences the characteristics of his ancestors from the super-sensible world. In a certain sense we ourselves are responsible for the way our great-great-great-grandparents were. Obviously, we cannot influence all their characteristics and yet, among others, those must be present that we ourselves later require. What one inherits from one’s ancestors one first has oneself instilled into them.

First the time and place of birth are determined; then the ancestry is chosen. Fundamentally, what is called a child’s love for his parents is the emergence of a union with a stream in which he has worked for centuries from the super-sensible world.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA Unknown – Intercourse With the Dead: XV – Düsseldorf, April 27, 1913

Previously posted on December 8, 2019



Mental Illnesses / Heredity

People are surprised that mental illnesses are hereditary. In fact, mental illnesses are always based on physical ailments; they arise from a malfunctioning of the body. Neither the spirit nor the soul can fall ill. Though mental illnesses are always rooted in physical problems, people wonder how they can occur through heredity, which indeed they can do. If a parent, particularly the mother, suffers from tuberculosis or another disease like arteriosclerosis, which admittedly occurs rarely in younger persons, the children do not necessarily become afflicted with these illnesses but instead can suffer from mental deficiencies. 

People are surprised about this, but need it puzzle us, gentlemen? Whatever the child can inherit must be inherited first of all from its head. Therefore, if the mother is consumptive, one need not be surprised that her condition is not passed on to the lungs of the unborn child, which, after all, are not even functioning yet. The condition is rather carried over into the head and comes to expression in the brain. 

Thus, nobody should be surprised that the disease inherited is quite different from that of the parent. Venereal disease, for example, can appear in children as an eye disease. It is no wonder, for when the child’s head is developing, its eyes are exposed to what afflicts the parents; its eyes are in an environment that’s venereally diseased! So it is not at all surprising.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 348 – Health and Illness I: Lecture II: Illnesses Occurring in the Different Periods of Life – Dornach, October 24, 1922



To eat meat or not to eat meat?

Certainly it is not for anthroposophy ever to assume a fanatical or a sectarian attitude. Its task is only to tell how things are. One simply cannot say that people should eat only plants, or that they should also eat animals, and so on. One can only say that some people with the forces they have from heredity are simply not strong enough to perform within their bodies all the work necessary to destroy plant fats, to destroy them so completely that then forces will develop in their bodies for producing their own fat. You see, a person who eats only plant fats — well, either he’s renounced the idea of becoming an imposing, portly fellow, or else he must have an awfully good digestive system, so healthy that it is easy for him to destroy the plant fats and in this way get forces to build his own fat. Most people are really unable to produce their own fat if they have only plant fats to destroy. When one eats animal fat in meat, that is not entirely destroyed. Plant fats don’t go out beyond the intestines, they are destroyed in the intestines. But the fat contained in meat does go beyond, it goes over into the human being. And the person may be weaker than if he were on a diet of just plant fats. [….]

But it is no use being fanatic about these things. There are people who simply cannot live if they don’t have meat. A person must consider carefully whether he really will be able to get on without it. If he does decide he can do without it and changes over from a meat to a vegetarian diet, he will feel stronger than he was before. That’s sometimes a difficulty, obviously: some people can’t bear the thought of living without meat. If, however, one does become a vegetarian, he feels stronger — because he is no longer obliged to deposit alien fat in his body; he makes his own fat, and this makes him feel stronger.

I know this from my own experience. I could not otherwise have endured the strenuous exertion of these last twenty-four years! I never could have traveled entire nights, for instance, and then given a lecture the next morning. For it is a fact, that if one is a vegetarian one carries out a certain activity within one that is spared the non-vegetarian, who has it done first by an animal. That’s the important difference.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 354 – Nutrition and Health – Dornach, 31st July 1924

Translated by Gladys Hahn


Spiritual individuality / Physical heredity

It is a foolish hypothesis, but we may make use of it, to make things clear: let us think for once what might have arisen if you all were merely born of your parents. Let us leave Karma out of consideration, and leave out of account the fact that we are, of course, born into definite families; and let us only regard physical heredity. Then you would all be alike as human beings. You would only have the general human physical character. That you are quite definite individuals, that so many individual beings sit here before us, rests on the fact that the general human form, even in its finest principles, is fashioned by the spiritual individuality which descends from the spiritual world and enters into that which is given by father and mother.

To that end, just as we must have fingers to grip an object in the physical world, just as we must perceive an object in order to grasp it — even as we must have the necessary organs and also must have learnt to grasp a thing — so must we have learnt to attach ourselves to all the different organs which form our body physically. We have all got ears, but we each hear in our own way. We all have eyes, but we see individually. For the external organs this is least perceptible; in the inner behaviour of man it is more striking. 

Thus we must insert our psychic-spiritual essence into all these quite general organs, and fashion them individually. We must learn to know the forces, the inner psychic-spiritual formations, so that what we receive through inheritance as ears, nose, eyes, brain, etc., we can fashion individually. That means that when at birth we enter the physical world we must have knowledge, and not only knowledge but practical possibilities of using it. This wonderful structure of man, how little do we really know of it through external science? 

We must inwardly learn the whole subtle structure of the brain, because we have to organise it inwardly. And all these spiritual-psychic processes, everything which makes it at all possible for us to be men in a human body between birth and death, all this we have to acquire for ourselves. Just as we have to acquire abilities for ourselves in life, so we must also acquire between death and rebirth the power of being men in physical life. We must keep this in view.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 157a – The Forming of Destiny and Life after Death – LECTURE 1: SPIRITUAL LIFE IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD AND LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH – Berlin, 16th November, 1915

Authorised Translation Edited by H. Collison


The greatest virtuoso can do nothing unless he has an instrument

People are apt to say of a gifted man that he must be the offspring of a gifted family, that he must have inherited his talents from his forefathers. When we observe the physical processes from the occult standpoint we know that it is not like this. We can, however, in a certain sense speak of processes of physical heredity, and we will take an example.

Within a period of 250 years, twenty-nine musicians were born in the Bach family, among them the great Bach. A good musician needs not only the inner musical faculty but also a well-formed physical ear, a special form of ear. Laymen cannot perceive the differences here; it is necessary to look very deeply, with occult powers. Although the differences are very slight, a particular inner form of the organ of hearing is necessary if a man is to become a musician, and these forms are transmitted by heredity they resemble those which have been present in the father, grandfather and so on.

Suppose that on the astral plane there is an individual who acquired great musical faculties hundreds or thousands of years ago; he is ready for reincarnation and is seeking a physical body. If he cannot find a physical body possessing suitable ears, he cannot be a musician. He must look around for a family which will provide the musical ear; without it his musical talents could not manifest, for the greatest virtuoso can do nothing unless he has an instrument.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 99 – Theosophy of the Rosicrucian: VII: The Technique of Karma – Munich, 31st May, 1907

Translated by M. Cotterell & D.S. Osmond