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John Everett Millais, The Somnambulist (1871)

Somnambulism (from Latinsomnus sleep and ambulare "to wander"), also called noctambulism, lunatism, sleepwalking or nightwalking, is a phenomenon in which the sleeper leaves the bed in deep sleep consciousness without waking up, wanders around and sometimes also performs activities.

„Man also performs other actions in which his consciousness is not present. You only have to think of where the ordinary daytime consciousness is extinguished and the human being performs all kinds of actions as a night-walker. There is not no consciousness at all, but such a consciousness is involved that man cannot experience, because he can only experience the two highest forms of consciousness: the astral consciousness as pleasure and suffering and the like, and the I-consciousness as judgement and as ordinary daytime-consciousness. But this does not mean that man cannot act out of this sleep-consciousness.“ (Lit.:GA 120, p. 128)

In somnambulism, the lunar forces which are active in the etheric body overcome the gravitational forces of the Earth which act on the physical body.

Mediums also act in the somnambulic state:

„Further, to the borderlands of the soul life belongs that which leads through states of catalepsy, of lethargy, to somnambulism, which is related to the mediumistic phenomena. Just as the organism of the human imagination - I expressly say "organism of the imagination" and not "mechanism of the imagination" - must be constituted in a certain way, so that the disturbance which I have just characterised as hallucinatory and visionary life cannot come to light, so the mechanism of the will - I say mechanism of the will - must be constituted in a certain way for life to proceed normally in the world of the senses. Just as the organism of the imagination can bring about hallucinations and visions as a morbid life of the soul in the way I have described, so, when the mechanism of the will is disturbed, suspended, paralysed, in catalepsy, in lethargy, in mediumism, the will can thereby be undermined. The body is not indeed capable of directly calling forth the will when the spirit does not act upon it, but the body is capable, when certain organs are shut down, when the mechanism of the will is stopped, of weakening the will, whereas the spiritual researcher - I said this today in the introduction - can remain in the reality of the spiritual world by his will acting with full consciousness upon his body. If the body is lamed in relation to the will, then the body becomes a suppressor, an uplifter of this will, then the human being is lifted out of that world to which he belongs as a spiritual-soul, as an eternal being, and is switched on into the physical environment, which is also everywhere interspersed with spiritual forces and entities. The human being is then thrown out of the real world and is switched on into that spiritual which constantly weaves through and permeates the physical. This is the case with somnambulism and mediumism.

Now, those who are comfortable with spiritual science, as I mentioned at the beginning of today's lecture, would like to explore the spiritual world in this way. They cannot, however, investigate the really spiritual world which guarantees the soul its eternal, its immortal life, but can only bring man together with that which penetrates the physical environment. That which works in the somnambulist, that which works in the medium, also works in the normal human being, only it works in a different way. It sounds strange, but this is the result of spiritual science. What actually works in the medium? What actually works in the somnambulist? When we are in ordinary life, we are in a certain moral connection with other people. We act out of moral impulses. I said that these moral impulses are generated precisely with the outer physical body. We act in the outer cultural life, learn to write, read, learn that which the human will otherwise inserts into the outer physical world as spiritual. Now, with that which we take up in the soul for our activity, by learning to read, by acquiring other cultural attainments, by entering into moral relations with the world, with all this the soul of the somnambulist, the medium, lives together in an abnormal way. This activity, which otherwise comes out only in the moral field, in the field of cultural life, expresses itself directly in the corporeality of the medium or the somnambulist through the lowering of consciousness, through the elimination of the soul. Whereas in normal life man is in contact with the environment only through his senses, in the case of the somnambulist and the medium the whole man comes into contact with the environment through his mechanism of will. Through this, distant effects can occur, the thought can have an effect in the distance, spatial and temporal distant visions can occur and so on. But only that which is contained as spiritual in the physical world to which we belong as physical human beings, mostly only that which belongs to cultural and moral life, can enter into the human organism. But it enters in such a way that this human organism has eliminated the spiritual. Thus that which appears through the medium, through the somnambulist, does not lead to the spiritual-mental in man, but to an imitation of the effects of the spiritual on the physical in man. Whereas in normal life the soul must be the mediator between the really spiritual and the physical, there the spiritual has a direct effect on the body - but only in the way I have described. The result is that the human being, with the elimination of consciousness, becomes as if an automaton, and that actually only that which outwardly belongs to cultural life or moral life expresses itself in this human being who becomes automatic. You will see that, though concealed in various ways, masked by mediumism and somnambulism, apparently spiritual things are also expressed, but only through very certain combinations and connections which cannot be discussed here now, because that would lead too far. The main thing that is expressed in this way comes from the physical environment. It is precisely those who are fully grounded in natural science, but who cannot get beyond the natural scientific prejudices characterised here, who would like to penetrate in this way, by using somnambulism and mediumism, into that spiritual world to which man belongs with his eternal and soul essence. The most manifold errors can then arise.“ (Lit.:GA 67, p. 243ff)

In ancient times, one arrived at the healing knowledge through somnambulistic experiences:

„There are certain persons who are not psychopathic or insane in the sense in which one is justified in using those terms, but who nevertheless illustrate what I have been talking about during the last few days. They descend into their physical and etheric bodies in such a way that they acquire a certain perceptible connection to their sick condition, to sick processes. These are sleepwalkers, whose peculiar state is not make-believe; it has often been described to the general public, and every initiate knows it well. While they are in their somnambulistic condition, they describe their illnesses. They go down into their physical and etheric body. Now the normal human being in waking life has the physical and etheric bodies completely saturated by the astral body and the I. In the case of these sick individuals, the I and astral body do not combine with the etheric and physical body in accordance (figuratively speaking) with their exact atomic weight. Some of the I and astral body is left out; it has not entirely sunk down. But then it is this element that is able to perceive. Only that part of the I and astral body perceives that has not sunk down into the etheric and physical body. When some of the astral body and I is superfluous in such a person, then there is this inner perception, and the person can describe his or her own illness.

But now there is another condition — a condition of the opposite kind, in which the normal sleep condition is disturbed. In this case, when the I and astral body are outside the physical and etheric body and things happen in the I and astral body that do not belong in this soul-spiritual entity (as the things I was just describing did not belong in that physical-etheric body), when too much spirit is experienced by the I and astral body during sleep (as too much nature was experienced in the opposite condition by the physical-etheric body), then a clairvoyance comes about that borders on a pathological state. The individual carries into sleep a certain power to perceive spiritual things, then afterward carries back memories of spiritual perception into waking consciousness. In particular, these abnormal spiritual perceptions appear in lively dreams. And then, as every initiate knows, we observe that the dreams have the following content.

Suppose the sick person, the physically sick person, is in the former condition I was describing and dips down with the spirit and soul into the physical-etheric body and then experiences the illness in a somnambulistic condition. The sick person experiences a strong catabolic process going on in the physical-etheric body, a kind of reverse process of nature. But now suppose the person is outside the physical body with the astral body and I. Then the person has experiences of the spiritual aspect of external nature. Suppose the person experiences a sick organ inwardly — sick because it allows some outer process to occur in an unhealthy way. This is experienced in the somnambulistic state, and the inner process is described. If the person is in the opposite condition, the somnambulism works into the I and astral body when these are farther out of the physical and etheric body. If the spiritual, elemental life of nature comes into dreams, the person experiences what is spiritual in the minerals. And what does the person dream about? The person dreams of the medicinal remedy. Here you have the connection between many aspects of somnambulistic life. The somnambulist alternates between two conditions, as I have described. In one condition dreaming of the illness, in the other condition dreaming of the remedy. And generally speaking, that is the way pathology and therapy were explored in the old mysteries.

In those times there was not so much experimenting as there is today. The sick person was brought into the temple and put into a kind of somnambulistic condition by trained temple priests. This condition was increased to the level at which the sick person could describe the process of the illness. Then the opposite somnambulistic condition was brought about, and the temple priest was told the dream that contained the therapy. This was the manner of inquiry in the oldest mysteries; it led from disease to cure. And so it was that medical science was cultivated in olden times, by seeking knowledge of humanity through the human being itself.“ (Lit.:GA 318, p. 124ff)

Somnambulic trance states are based on the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. The lower invertebrates also have a similar type of consciousness.

„The whole animal kingdom is divided into the main divisions of vertebrates and invertebrates. In the case of the invertebrates, the question may now be put to us: Where do these animals have their nerves? - For the main nerve cord otherwise passes through the spinal column. But the invertebrates also have a nervous system, and it is found in humans as well as in vertebrates. In vertebrates it runs along the outside of the spinal column until it extends into the body cavity. This is called the sympathetic nervous system with the solar plexus. It is the same system that invertebrates have, except that it is less important in vertebrates and humans. This system is much more closely connected with the rest of the world than the nervous system in the human head and spinal cord. One can extinguish the activity of the latter in the trance state, then the sympathetic nervous system comes into activity. This is what happens, for example, with the somnambulists. The somnambulic consciousness extends to the whole life of the surroundings and passes over into the other beings around us. The somnambulists feel things within themselves. The life ether is the element that flows around us everywhere. It has its mediation in the solar plexus. If we could only perceive with the solar plexus, we would live in an intimate communion with the whole world. This intimate communion is present in invertebrates. Such an animal, for example, feels a flower within it. The invertebrate animal is something similar in the earth system to the human eye and ear. It is a part of the organism. There is indeed a communal spiritual organism which perceives, sees, hears and so on through the invertebrate animals. The earth spirit is such a communal organism. Everything we have around us is a body for this common spirit. Just as our soul creates eyes and ears for itself in order to perceive the world, so this communal earth-soul creates the invertebrate animals for itself as eyes and ears in order to see and hear into the world.“ (Lit.:GA 93a, p. 17f)


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