Biodynamic Agriculture Course
Lecture 3 – GA 327
The Working of the Spirit in Nature
by Rudolf Steiner
Original translator unknown; extensively revised here.
Koberwitz, June 11th, 1924.
The earthly and cosmic forces of which I have spoken work in the processes of agriculture through the substances of the earth. And we shall only be able to move on to the different practical applications during the next few days if we occupy ourselves today more closely with the question of how these forces work through the earth's substances. But first we must make a digression and inquire into the activity of nature in general.
One of the most important questions that can be raised in discussing agricultural production is that concerning the significance and influence of nitrogen on agriculture as a whole. But this question concerning the fundamental nature of the action of nitrogen is at present in a state of great confusion. When we observe nitrogen nowadays, we perceive only the final effects, as it were, of its activity, its most superficial manifestations. We overlook the natural interconnections within which nitrogen is at work; this is unavoidable if we circumscribe ourselves to a restricted section of nature. To gain a proper insight into these connections we must bring within our survey the whole realm of nature, and concern ourselves with the activity of nitrogen in the cosmos. In fact, it could even be said — and this will emerge clearly from my exposition — that nitrogen as such does not play a primary role in plant life; it is still, however, of the utmost importance that we know what that role is in order to understand plant life.
In its activity in nature nitrogen has, one might say, four siblings, which we must also know if we wish to understand the functions and significance of nitrogen in the so-called economy of nature. They are substances which combine with nitrogen in animal and plant protein in a way that is still a mystery for present day science. These four siblings are carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and sulphur. If we wish to understand the full significance of protein, it is not enough to mention the ingredients hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon; we must also include sulphur, a substance whose activity is of profound importance for protein. For it is sulphur which acts within protein as the mediator between the physical element and the spiritual formative force diffused throughout the universe. Indeed, if we want to follow the trail of the spirit in the material world, we shall have to look for the activity of sulphur. Even if this activity is not so visible as those of other substances, it is still of the utmost importance because spirit works its way into physical nature by means of sulphur; sulphur is actually the bearer of spirit. The ancient name “sulphur” is related to the word “phosphor” (which means bearer of light), because in the old days men saw spirit spreading out through space in the out-streaming light of the sun. Hence these substances that are linked with the working of light into matter were called sulphur and phosphorus, the “light bearers.”
Once we have realised how delicate is the activity of sulphur in the economy of nature, we shall more easily understand its fundamental nature when we consider the four siblings — carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, and the part they play in the workings of the universe. The modern chemist knows very little about these substances. He knows what they look like in the laboratory, but is ignorant of their significance for cosmic activities as a whole. The knowledge which modern chemistry has of these substances is not much greater than the knowledge we could have of a man whose external appearance we noticed as he passed us in the street, and who we may perhaps remember with the help of a photograph. For what science does with these substances is little more than take photographs of them, and today’s books and lectures on the subject contain little more than this.
Let us therefore start with carbon – the bearing of these things upon plants will soon be made clear. In recent times, carbon has come down in the world from a very aristocratic position, and God knows the same has happened with many other cosmic entities that fell to a very plebeian position. All that people see in carbon nowadays is something to heat their stoves with, coal, or something to write with, graphite. Its aristocratic nature still survives in one of its modifications, the diamond. But we hardly appreciate it today in this form because we cannot buy it. Thus what we know of carbon is extremely little in comparison with the enormous importance that this substance has in the universe. And yet, until a relatively recent date, a few hundred years ago, this black guy was regarded as worthy to bear the noble name of philosopher's stone or stone of the wise.
A great deal of nonsense has been spoken about what was really meant by this name, and to little account. When the old alchemists and their kind spoke of the philosopher's stone, they meant carbon in whatever form it occurs. And they only kept its name secret because if they had not done so, all and sundry would have found themselves in possession of the philosopher's stone. For it was simply carbon. But why carbon?
A view held in former days will supply us with the answer. If we disregard the form in which carbon is found in nature –as coal or graphite –as a result of the processes it has undergone, and consider it instead in its vital activity in the course of serving the bodies of men and animals, and in building up the body of plants from its own inherent possibilities, the amorphous and formless substance which we generally associate with coal will appear as the final outcome, the mere corpse of what carbon really is in the economy of nature. Carbon is namely the bearer of all formative processes in nature. It is the great sculptor of form, be it the ephemeral form of a plant, or the ever changing form of the animal organism. It bears within it not only its black substantiality, but, when in full activity and inner mobility, it also bears within it the formative cosmic prototypes, the great cosmic imaginations from which all living form in nature must proceed.
A hidden sculptor is at work in carbon, and this hidden sculptor makes use of sulphur for building up the most diverse forms in nature. Therefore if we wish to regard the existence of carbon in nature in the right way, we should observe how the cosmic spirit soaks itself, as it were, with sulphur, becomes a sculptor and builds up the plant forms, which are relatively fixed with the help of carbon, but also the human form, which starts dissolving the moment it is created. For what differentiates a human being from a plant is precisely the fact that he keeps destroying his form as it emerges, through the elimination of carbon, which united to oxygen is exhaled as carbon dioxide. Since carbon would make the human body too firm and stiff like a palm tree, the breathing process wrenches carbon out of that stiffness, combines it with oxygen and drives it outwards. Thus we gain the flexibility we need as human beings. In plants, on the other hand, carbon is held fast within a fixed form, which can even be seen in annuals.
There is an old saying that blood is a very special fluid. It is right to say that the human I pulsates in the blood and so manifests itself physically in it; or speaking more accurately, it is along the tracks provided by carbon, in its shaping and unshaping of itself, that the spiritual in man, which we call the I, moves within the blood, moistened with sulphur. And just as the human I, the essential spirit of man, lives in carbon, so also does the world-I live, through the mediation of sulphur, in that substance that is ever shaping and unshaping itself: carbon.
The fact is that in the early stages of the Earth's development carbon was the first element to be separated. It was not until later that the calcareous element came into existence, supplying man with the means for the creation of a more solid structure. In order that the organism which lives in carbon might be mobile, man and the higher animals created a supporting structure in the form of a calcareous bony skeleton. In this way, by making his carbon form mobile, man raised himself from the merely mineral calcareous formation which the earth possesses and which he too had to incorporate in order to have solid matter within his body. In the calcium of his bone structure he has the solid earth within himself.
Let me put it this way: underlying every living being there is a structure of carbon, either relatively permanent or fluctuating, in whose tracks the spiritual moves through the world. Let me make a schematic drawing of this so that you can see the matter quite clearly before you.
Blau = blue, grün = green, gelb = yellow
(Unfortunately, this image with its original colors is not available. Ed.)
Here which sulphur moves in highly diluted form, or else we have a more or less solidified carbon structure, as in plants, in which carbon is united with other substances and ingredients.
Now as I have often pointed out, a human or any other living being must be permeated by an etheric element, which is the actual bearer of life. The carbon structure of a living being must therefore be permeated by an etheric element, which will either remain stationary around the timbers of this scaffolding or retain a certain mobility. But the main thing is that the etheric element is in both cases distributed along the scaffolding (green).
This etheric element could not abide in our physical earthly world if it remained alone. It would slip through as something inconsequential; it would not be able to grip what it has to grip in the physical earthly world if it did not have a vehicle, a physical bearer. For it is a peculiarity of earth conditions that the spiritual must always have a physical bearer. Materialists regard the physical bearer only, and overlook the spiritual. They are always right, because it is indeed the physical bearer which is first encountered. But they overlook the fact that everywhere the spiritual must have a physical bearer.
The physical bearer of the spiritual which works in the etheric element (we may say that the lowest level of the spiritual works in the etheric), this physical bearer which is permeated by the etheric element, and “moistened” with sulphur, introduces into physical existence not the form, not the structure, but a continuous mobility and vitality. This physical carrier, which with the help of sulphur brings the vital activities out of the universal ether into the body, is oxygen.
Thus the part which I have colored green in my sketch can be regarded, from the physical point of view, as representing oxygen, and also as the vibrating living etheric element which permeates it.
The etheric element moves along the track of oxygen with the help of sulphur. It is this that gives meaning to the breathing process. When we breathe we take in oxygen. When the present day materialist talks of oxygen, all he means is the stuff in his test-tube when he has decomposed water through electrolysis. But in oxygen there lives the etheric element, the lowest order of the supersensible, unless it has been killed, as it must be in the air we breathe. In the atmosphere around us, the living principle in oxygen has been killed in order that it may not cause us to faint. For if something living of a higher order enters into us, we faint. Even an ordinary increase of oxygenation will cause us to faint or worse. If therefore we were surrounded by an atmosphere which contained live oxygen, we would reel about as though completely stunned. The oxygen around us has to be killed. And yet oxygen is the bearer of life, of the etheric element. It becomes the bearer of life as soon as it leaves the sphere in which it has the task of providing a surrounding for our human external senses. Once it has entered into us through breathing, it comes alive again. The oxygen which circulates inside us is not the same as that which surrounds us externally. In us it is living oxygen, just as it also becomes living oxygen immediately it penetrates into the soil, although in this case the life in it is lower in degree than it is in our bodies or in the bodies of animals. The oxygen under the earth is not the same as the oxygen above the earth.
It is very difficult to come to any understanding with physicists and chemists on this subject, for owing to the methods they employ, oxygen is always obtained by extracting it from earthly materials. The oxygen they are dealing with is dead, nor can it be anything else. But every science which limits itself to the physical is liable to this error. It can only understand corpses. In reality oxygen is the bearer of the living ether and this living ether takes hold of the oxygen through the mediation of sulphur.
We now have pointed out two separate elements: On the one hand, the structure of carbon within which the highest form of the spiritual given to the human I here on earth displays its forces or, in the case of plants, the cosmic spirit which is active in them. On the other hand, we have the process of breathing, the living oxygen which flows into man carrying the ether. And beneath it we have the structure of carbon, which in man is mobile. These two polarities must be brought together. The oxygen must be able to move along the paths marked by the carbon structure, by the spirit in carbon. And throughout nature, the ether-bearing oxygen must be able to find its way to the spirit-bearing carbon. How does it do this? What here acts as the mediator?
The mediator here is nitrogen. Nitrogen directs life into the form which is embodied in the carbon. Wherever nitrogen occurs its function is to mediate between life and the spiritual element which has first been incorporated into the carbon substance. It supplies the bridge between oxygen and carbon — whether it be in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, or in the soil. And the spirituality that, with the help of sulphur, acts within the nitrogen, we usually refer to as the astral element. This astral spirituality, which forms the human astral body, is active in the earth's surroundings, from which it works in plants, animals and so on. Thus, spiritually speaking, we find the astral element or principle in between oxygen and carbon; and the astral element uses nitrogen for the purpose of revealing itself and working in the physical world. Wherever there is nitrogen the astral spreads forth in activity. The etheric life-element would spread about in every direction like a cloud, disregarding the the carbon structure, were it not for the powerful attraction that this structure exerts on nitrogen. Everywhere nitrogen draws oxygen along the lines and paths marked by carbon; the astral in the nitrogen draws the etheric element along these paths (yellow). Nitrogen is the great drawer of the living principle towards the spiritual. Nitrogen is therefore essential to the soul life of man, for it mediates between mere life and the spirit.
There is, indeed, something very wonderful about nitrogen. If we trace its path as it goes through the human organism, there emerges the image of a complete human being. Such a nitrogen man actually exists. If we could separate it from the physical, we would have the most beautiful ghost imaginable, for it copies in exact detail the solid shape of man. And, on the other hand, nitrogen flows straight back into life.
Now we have an insight into the breathing process. When he breathes, man takes in oxygen, i.e. etheric life. Then comes the internal nitrogen, and draws the oxygen along to wherever there is carbon, i.e. to wherever there is weaving and changing shape. The nitrogen brings the oxygen along in order that it may seek the carbon and carry it out. Nitrogen is thus the mediator in the process whereby carbon becomes carbon-dioxide, which is breathed out.
This nitrogen is everywhere around us. There is only a small amount of oxygen (i.e., of life bearer) around us, and a large amount of nitrogen, i.e., of the spirit-bearing astral. The oxygen around us is of immense importance to us both during the day and the night. We assign less importance to the nitrogen in the air we breathe because we think we have less need of it. And yet, nitrogen stands in a spiritual relation to us.
We could make the following experiment: we could enclose a person in a chamber containing a given volume of air and then remove a small quantity of nitrogen, so that the air would be slightly poorer in nitrogen than it normally is. If the experiment is carefully carried out, we shall see that the amount of nitrogen in the air is at once restored, not from outside, but from inside the person's body. Man has to give up some of his own supply of nitrogen in order to restore the quantitative proportion to which he is accustomed. As human beings we need to maintain the right quantitative relation between our inner being and the nitrogen around us; the right quantity of nitrogen outside us is never allowed to become less. For the merely vegetative life of man, a lesser quantity than normal will do, because he does not need nitrogen for the purpose of breathing. But the role it plays spiritually demands the normal amount of nitrogen in the air.
You have seen then that nitrogen has a strong relation to the spiritual, and now you can imagine that it must also be necessary to the life of plants. The plant growing on the ground has only a physical body and an etheric body; it has no astral body as animals do, but the astral element must surround it on all sides. The plant would not flower if it were not touched from outside by the astral element. It does not take in the astral element as man and animals do, but it needs to be touched by it from without. The astral element is everywhere and nitrogen, its bearer, is everywhere; it permeates the air as a dead element, and comes to life again the moment it enters into the soil. Just as oxygen comes to life when drawn into the soil, so does nitrogen. The nitrogen that gets into the earth not only comes to life, but it also acquires something that should be taken into account especially in agriculture: paradoxical as it may seem to a mind shackled by materialism, it acquires not only life but also sensitivity. It literally becomes the carrier of a mysterious sensitivity which is poured out over all life on earth. Nitrogen is what senses whether the right quantity of water is present in any given soil and experiences sympathy; when water is deficient, it experiences antipathy. It experiences sympathy when the right sort of plants are present in a given soil, and so on. Thus nitrogen pours out a kind of sensitive life over everything.
Above all, nitrogen knows those things we normally know nothing about –how Saturn, the Sun, the Moon, and other planets have an influence on the form and life of plants, which we discussed yesterday. Nitrogen, which is everywhere, knows these secrets very well. It is not at all unconscious of what emanates from the stars and becomes active in the life of plants and of the earth. Nitrogen is the sensitive mediator, just as it is in the human nervous system, where it acts as a transmitter of sensation. Nitrogen is indeed the bearer of sensitivity. Thus if we observe nitrogen moving about everywhere like fluctuating sensations, we shall be able to see the intimate life of nature. And we shall come to the conclusion that in the handling of nitrogen something is done which is of enormous importance for the life of plants. We shall study this further in subsequent lectures.
In the meantime, however, there is one more thing to be considered. There is a living cooperation between the spiritual principle that has taken shape in the carbon structure and the astral principle that works in nitrogen and permeates that structure with life and sensitivity, thanks to the life that works within oxygen. But in the earthly sphere this cooperation is brought about by something else, something which enables the physical world to link up with the expanses of the cosmos. For the earth cannot wander about in the universe as a solidified entity cut off from the rest of the universe. If the earth did this, it would be in the same position as a man who lived on a farm, but wished to remain independent of everything that grew in the fields around him. He would not reasonably do that. What today is growing in the fields around him, tomorrow will be digested in his stomach, and later will return to the soil in some form or another. We human beings cannot isolate ourselves from our environment. We are bound up with it and belong to it as much as my pinky belongs to me. There must be a continuous interchange of substances. And this also applies to the relation between the earth, with all its creatures, and the surrounding cosmos. All that lives on earth in physical form must be able to find its way back into the cosmos, must be able to be purified and elevated. This leads us to the drawing I have made (above).
First the carbon structure (which I have colored blue); then the etheric being of oxygen (green); and then, proceeding from the oxygen and enabled by nitrogen to follow the various lines and paths within the structure, we have the astral element (yellow) which forms the bridge between carbon and oxygen. I could indicate everywhere here how the oxygen drags towards the blue lines what I have indicated schematically with the green lines. But everything that is structured in the living being as a delicate drawing must in turn be able to disappear. It is not the spirit which disappears, but what the spirit has built up in the carbon and into which it has drawn the life borne by the oxygen. It must disappear not only on earth, but in the cosmos, in the whole universe. This is done by a substance that is related as closely as possible both to the physical and to the spiritual; this substance is hydrogen. Although hydrogen is itself the most attenuated form of physical substance, the physical disintegrates completely in hydrogen and, borne by sulphur, disappears in the undifferentiated universe.
We may say then that spirit has become physical in these structures: it lives in the body in its astral form and reflects itself as I. There it lives physically, as spirit transformed into something physical. After a time, the spirit begins to feel ill at ease. It wishes to get rid of its physical form. Soaking itself once again with sulphur, it has the need of another element within which it can rid itself of any definition, of any structure, to submerge into the formless cosmic chaos, where there is no longer any definite organization. This element, which is so closely related to both the physical and the spiritual, is hydrogen. Hydrogen carries away all that the astral principle has taken up as form and life, carries it out into the expanses of the cosmos, so that it can be taken up again from there as I have already described. Hydrogen in fact dissolves everything.
Thus we have these five substances which are the immediate representatives of all that works and weaves in the realm of the living and also in the realm of the seemingly dead, which in fact is only transiently so: sulphur, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Each of these substances is inwardly related to a specific spiritual order. They are therefore something quite different from what our chemistry describes them to be. Our chemistry speaks only of the corpses of these substances, not of the substances themselves. These we must learn to know as something living and sentient. Curiously enough, hydrogen, which seems the least dense of the five and has the smallest atomic weight, is the least spiritual.
To show you that these things are not apprehended in a kind of grey spiritual haze, let me make a digression. What are we actually doing when we meditate? The Orientals meditated in their own way. We in Central Europe meditate in ours. Meditation as we ought to practice it only slightly touches the breathing process; our soul is living and weaving in concentration and meditation. But all these spiritual exercises have also a bodily counterpart, however subtle and intimate. In meditation, the regular rhythm of breathing, which is so closely connected with man's life, undergoes a definite if subtle change. When we meditate we always retain a little more carbon-dioxide in us than in ordinary everyday consciousness. We do not, as in ordinary life, expel immediately and completely the whole bulk of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere, where nitrogen is everywhere around us. We hold some of it back.
Now consider: If you knock your head against something hard, like a table, you become conscious only of your own pain. But if you gently stroke the surface of the table, you will become conscious of the table. The same thing happens in meditation. We gradually develop an awareness of the nitrogen around us. That is the real process that takes place in meditation. Everything becomes knowledge, even what lives in nitrogen. For nitrogen is a very smart guy. He teaches us about the doings of Mercury, Venus and so forth because he knows, or rather senses them. All these things rest upon perfectly real processes. And it is at this point that the spiritual working in soul activity begins to have a bearing upon agriculture. I shall go into this in greater detail later on. This interaction between the soul-spiritual element and what is around us is what has particularly interested our dear friend Stegemann. For if a person has to do with agriculture, it is a good thing if he is able to meditate; in this way he will make himself receptive to the manifestations of nitrogen. And if one does become receptive in this way, one begins to practice agriculture in quite a different way and spirit. One suddenly gets all kinds of new insights; they simply come. One then gets to know some of the secrets of agriculture in large and small farms.
I do not wish to repeat what I said an hour ago, but I can describe it in another way. Take the case of a peasant who walks through his fields. An educated person would regard him as stupid. But this is not so, simply because instinctively a peasant is a meditant. He deeply meditates in the winter nights, very much so. He gradually acquires a kind of sudden spiritual knowledge, only he cannot express it. It just happens. He walks through his fields and suddenly he knows something; later he tries it out. At any rate this is what I found over and over again in my youth, when I lived among peasant folk. We should think over these things. The mere intellect is not enough, it does not lead us deep enough. For after all nature's life and breath are so subtle that they cannot be caught by the coarse net of intellectual concepts. And recent science has erred in this respect. It tries to grasp things through intellectual concepts, when in fact they are more subtly woven.
You see, all these substances of which I have spoken, sulphur, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, are united in proteins. This will enable us to see more clearly into the nature of seed formation. Carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen are present in leaf, blossom, calyx and root, and there they are always united to other substances in some form or another. They are dependent upon these other substances. There are only two ways in which they can become independent. One is when hydrogen carries all individual substances out into the expanses of the cosmos and dissolves them into the general chaos; and the other is when hydrogen drives the essential proteins into the seed formation, and there makes them independent of each other so that they become receptive to the influences of the cosmos. In the tiny seed there is chaos, and in the distant periphery of the cosmos there is again chaos, and whenever the chaos at the periphery works upon the chaos within the seed, new life comes into being.
Now consider how these so-called substances, which are really bearers of spirit, work in the realm of nature. We may say that oxygen and nitrogen inside man's body behave in an orderly way, for within man's body they manifest their normal qualities. Ordinary science ignores this because the process is hidden. But the behavior of carbon and hydrogen is not so orderly. Let us take carbon first. When carbon passes from the plant realm into the animal and human realm, first it must become transiently mobile, flexible. And in order to build up the fixed form of the organism, it must rely on an underlying structure, our calcareous bone skeleton, and also on the siliceous element that we always carry in our bodies. So, both in man and in animals, carbon to a certain extent masks its own formative force. It hitches itself to the formative forces of calcium and silicon. Calcium endows it with the earthly formative force; silicon, with the cosmic formative force. In man, or in animals, carbon does not manifest itself as the sole determining element, but it attaches itself to what is formed by calcium and silicon.
But calcium and silicon are also the basis for the growth of plants. So we must get to know what carbon does in the breathing, digestive and circulatory processes of man in relation to his bone and siliceous structure; we must get to know what goes on in there, what we would see if we could somehow get inside ourselves, how the formative force of carbon radiates into what is calcareous and siliceous through the circulatory process. We have to develop this kind of insight when we look upon a piece of land covered by plants on the surface and containing calcium and silicon beneath. We cannot get inside man, but we can develop this kind of knowledge about plants if we learn to observe how oxygen is caught by nitrogen and carried down into carbon, but only insofar as the latter attaches to the calcium and silicon structure. We can also say that it is necessary to carry into the earth what lives in its environment, what becomes alive as oxygen. This should be carried deep into the earth with the aid of nitrogen, so that there it can support itself on the siliceous element and form itself in the calcareous element.
With just a little receptivity and sensitivity to these things, you can observe this process at work most wonderfully in all papilionaceous plants, leguminous plants, in all the plants that in agriculture can be called nitrogen fixing plants, whose special function is, in fact, to attract nitrogen and convey it to the soil beneath them. If we observe the leguminous plants, we can say that beneath them in the earth there is something that thirsts for nitrogen just like the human lungs thirst for oxygen, and that is the calcareous element. Down there in the earth, the calcareous element needs to inhale nitrogen, as it were, in the same way that human lungs need to inhale oxygen. And papilionaceous plants serve a function similar to that of the epithelial cells. Nitrogen is drawn down as in a kind of inhalation. These are the only plants that do this. All other plants are closer to exhalation. Thus, when we consider the nitrogen-breathing, we can see that the organism of the plant world taken as a whole is divided into two. For wherever we find papilionaceous plants, we are, in a way, before respiratory organs. Other plants represent other organs, in which breathing takes place in a more hidden way and which fulfill other functions.
This is our aim: to be able to look upon the plant world in such a way that we see each species as playing a specific part within the whole organism of that world, just as each human organ does within the whole of the human organism. We must come to regard the different plants as part of a totality. Then we shall see the immense importance of the Papilionaceae. True, these things are known already, but it is necessary that we should know them from their spiritual foundations; otherwise, there is a danger that in the near future, when traditions have further disappear, we shall stray along the wrong path in applying new developments.
We can see how the papilionaceae actually function. They all tend to retain the fruiting process more in the region of the leaves, while in other plants it takes place higher up. They all want to bear fruit before they have flowered. The reason is that in these plants what takes place in the nitrogen process is kept closer to the ground; they carry into the soil everything related to nitrogen. This process tends to occur in these plants lower than in other plants, in which it takes place farther away from the soil. These plants also show a tendency to have leaves of a darker green than usual, fruit that undergoes a kind of atrophy, and seeds with a very brief viability period, after which they lose their germination ability. All this is due to the fact that these plants are so formed as to specially develop that which the plant world receives from the winter, not from the summer. So they have a tendency to wait for the winter. They want to wait for the winter in order to develop. Their growth is delayed when they have a sufficient supply of what they need, namely, enough nitrogen in the air, which they then carry downwards in their own manner.
In this way, one can get an insight into the life and development of everything that goes on in and above the soil. If in addition you take into account the fact that the calcareous element has a wonderful relationship with the world of human desires, you will see how the whole thing becomes alive and organic. In its elemental form as calcium, the calcareous substance is never at rest; it seeks to experience itself, to combine with oxygen. But even then it is not satisfied; it craves all kinds of things, inorganic acids, even bituminous substances, which are not really inorganic; it wants to assimilate everything. Inside the soil, it wants to draw everything to itself; it develops a desire nature. If you are sensitive in these matters, you will be able to see the difference between calcium and other substances. Calcium does really absorb everything. One has a definite sensation that all that characterizes the world of desire is spread wherever the calcareous element is found; and the calcareous element in fact also attracts plants. For indeed everything that calcium wants lives in plants, but this must continually be wrested from it. What is it that does the wresting? It is that which is completely dignified and craves nothing. There is something that is so dignified that it doesn’t crave anything, that is complete in itself. It is silicon. The siliceous element has achieved perfection that precludes change; it is absolutely at rest in itself. Those who think that the siliceous element can only be observed in what has a definite mineral outline are mistaken. The siliceous element is everywhere around us in homeopathic doses, and is at rest in itself, it doesn’t want anything. The calcareous element wants everything, the siliceous element no longer wants anything. Silicon thus resembles our sense-organs, which do not perceive themselves but the external world. Silicon is the external sense-organ of the earth, the calcareous element is that which desires in the earth and clay mediates between the two. Clay is slightly closer to silicon, and yet it acts as a mediator with calcium.
One should understand these things in such a way that knowledge is supported by feeling. One should feel calcium as a fellow who is full of desires, who wants to grab everything for himself; and silicon, as the dignified gentleman that in turn takes away from calcium what it has grabbed, and carries it up into the atmosphere to develop the forms of the plants. The siliceous element dwells either entrenched as if in a fort, like in the horse-tail (equisetum), or spread out everywhere in a subtle way, in very low quantities, in homeopathic doses of high potency, taking away from calcium what needs to be taken away. Here again we are in the presence of an extremely intimate process of nature.
Carbon is the real formative element in all plants, that which builds up the structures. But in the course of the earth's evolution, its task has been rendered more difficult. Carbon could give shape to all plants if it had only water beneath it; then everything would have grown. But now there is calcium down there. And calcium disturbs the activity of carbon. So carbon unites with silicon; and carbon and silicon together, in combination with clay, once again give shape, precisely because they have to overcome the resistance of calcium.
How does a particular plant live in this context? Below, the calcareous element tries to seize it with its tentacles; above, the silicon tries to pull it upwards, making it slim and filamentous like an aquatic plant. But, between them, is carbon, creating the actual form of the plant, bringing order into everything. And just as our astral body brings about order between our I and our etheric body, so does nitrogen work in between, as the astral element. It is important that we understand how nitrogen mediates in all this, between calcium, clay and silicon; and in everything in which calcium constantly wants to pull downwards and silicon constantly wants to pull upwards.
The question thus arises: What is the correct way of introducing nitrogen into the plant world? We shall deal with this question tomorrow when we discuss the different ways of fertilizing the soil.