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The Temptation of St. Anthony, detail, Isenheim Altarpiece, Mathias Grünewald, 1515, hallucinations caused by ergot

Hallucination (from Latin(h)alūcinātio "thoughtless talk, reverie"; from Greekἀλύειν halýein "to be out of one's mind") is a perception of a sensory area without a stimulus basis. This means, for example, that non-existent objects are seen, or voices are heard without anyone speaking. Hallucinations can affect all sensory areas. In an illusion, on the other hand, a real object is perceived in a different way: An actually existing fixed object appears to move or faces appear to be recognisable in irregular patterns.

By definition, a hallucination has the character of reality for the hallucinating person or cannot be distinguished from reality. In contrast, in a pseudohallucination, the person realises that it is not a real perception. Pseudohallucinations can also occur during overtiredness and half-sleep.


Causes of true hallucinations can be:

  • Neurologically caused perceptual disorders
  • Mental disorders such as psychoses, for example caused by
    • Withdrawal from intoxicants, e.g. delirium tremens caused by alcohol or mostly by withdrawal from it
    • Pathological changes in the brain, but according to Rudolf Steiner especially in the liver or kidneys
  • Chemical compounds (hallucinogens such as diphenhydramine)

Causes of pseudohallucinations can be:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Chemical compounds (hallucinogens such as LSD or DMT)

Rudolf Steiner pointed out the connection of hallucinations with a disturbance of the liver function. This is especially the case with calm, pictorial hallucinations. Very agitated, emotional hallucinations are connected with the renal system.

„By imagining, my pre-natal being lives after, resonates after, and my body is an after-image of this pre-natal being. - If it now itself begins to develop such an activity, as it should actually only be developed through the resonance of the pre-natal existence, what then? Then the body in this physical existence, because it is once an after-image, unjustifiably develops out of itself something that is similar to the imaginative activity. And this can indeed occur. When we stand in normal life and think and imagine, our pre-natal life resonates in us, and as the human being is threefold, the nervous-sensory life can be switched off and every other part can begin to ape that activity out of the purely physical which should actually resonate out of the pre-natal existence. When the rhythmic man or the metabolic man of the limbs unjustifiably develops such an activity out of himself, which is similar to the justified imagination that resonates from the prenatal life, then hallucination arises. And if you look at the matter from a spiritual-scientific point of view, you can make a clear distinction between the justified imagination, which at the same time, by being recognised as a justified imagination, is a living proof of pre-existent life. You can distinguish it from hallucination, which, because it can be there, because it is the imitation out of the body of the power of imagination coming out of the eternal, is a living proof, because it is an imitation, that the original which it imitates is also there, but which is absolutely cooked out of the body and which therefore stands there as unjustified. For in physical life the body has no right to ape out of itself that mode of imagination which is to be born out of the spiritual life of the pre-natal human being.“ (Lit.:GA 205, p. 17f)

„Let us now dispense with any such judgement of hallucinations. Let us take it as it appears in the hallucinating person. It occurs as an image that is connected in a more intensive way with the whole subjectivity, with its own life, than the usual outer perception that is mediated by the senses. Hallucination is experienced more intensely inwardly than sense perception. Sense perception, moreover, tolerates being interspersed with sharp critical thoughts; in the case of hallucination, the hallucinator avoids interspersing it with sharp critical thoughts. He lives in the floating, weaving imagery.

What is that in which the human being lives? Yes, one cannot know this if one only knows that which enters into the ordinary human consciousness between birth and death. For under all circumstances the content of the hallucination enters into this consciousness as something unauthorised. Hallucination must be seen from a quite different point of view; then one can come close to its essence. And this point of view arises when, in the course of development towards higher vision, man comes to know his own life and weaving between death and a new birth, namely the life and weaving of his own being, when this life comes decades nearer to birth, towards conception. So when one acquires the ability to live into that in which man lives in a quite normal way when he approaches birth or conception, then one lives into the true form of that which occurs abnormally, as a hallucination in the life between birth and death.

Just as we are surrounded here in life between birth and death by the world of colours, by the world which we feel in every breath of air and so on, in short, by the world which we just imagine as experienced by us between birth and death, so our own soul-spiritual being lives between death and a new birth in an element which is quite identical with that which appears in us in hallucination. We are born, as it were, precisely according to our corporeality, out of the element of hallucination. What appears in hallucination, I would like to say, floats and blows through the world that underlies ours, and we emerge by being born from this element, which can appear abnormally before our soul in the hallucinatory world.

What then is hallucination in ordinary consciousness? Well, when man has lived through life between death and a new birth, has entered into physical-sensuous existence through conception and birth, then certain spiritual beings of those higher hierarchies with which we have become acquainted have had an intuition, and the result of this intuition, that is the physical body. So that we can say: Certain beings have intuitions; the result of these intuitions is the human physical body, which can only come into being through the soul penetrating it by emerging from the element of hallucinations. What happens when hallucinations appear in a pathological way before the ordinary consciousness? I can only illustrate this to you pictorially, but it is natural that I can only illustrate it to you pictorially, for hallucinations are pictures; so it is natural that one cannot make much out of them with abstract concepts, that one must illustrate them pictorially.

Drawing from GA 205, p. 84
Drawing from GA 205, p. 84

Now think of the following: This human physical body, as I explained to you the other day, is only in the smallest part actually such that one has it in solid contours; it is for the most part watery, it is also air-shaped and so on. This human physical body has a certain consistency, it has a certain natural density. Now, if this natural density is made unnatural, if it is interrupted - imagine symbolically that this physical body is somewhat contracted in its elasticity - then the original hallucinatory element out of which it is born is squeezed out, just as water is squeezed out of a sponge. Nothing else is the emergence of the hallucinatory being than that out of the physical body its own element, out of which it is born, out of which it is formed, is pressed out of it. And the becoming ill which expresses itself in the hallucinatory life of consciousness always points to an unhealthiness of the physical body, which in a certain sense presses itself out of itself spiritually.“ (Lit.:GA 205, p. 82ff)

„If you now study the liver in the same way as I have now explained for the lungs, you will find that there is also concentrated within the liver all the forces which in the next incarnation will pass over into the inner dispositions of the brain. So again, in the diversions of the metabolic organism of the present life, the inner forces of the liver pass over, but now not into the form of the head like the lungs, but into the inner disposition of the brain. Whether a person is a sharp thinker in the next incarnation depends on how he behaves in the present incarnation. So that on the diversions through the metabolism in the liver certain forces appear; but if these forces are squeezed out in the present incarnation, then they lead to hallucinations or strong visions. So you see now in the concrete what I hinted at yesterday more in the abstract, how by being squeezed out of the organs these things come out, which then penetrate into the consciousness and from the general hallucinatory life, which is supposed to play over from incarnation to incarnation, assert themselves in the one incarnation and thereby come to light in just this way.“ (S. 103)

„Now you can imagine what a tremendous importance these things will gain one day when they are studied and made part of general education. What does present-day medicine know of the possibility of liver disease, of the possibility of heart disease, since it does not know the most important thing: what these organs are for! It doesn't know that after all. It does not even find a correct connection between excitation hallucinations and, let us say, the renal system, whereas the calm hallucinations, the hallucinations that merely occur and are there, as I have just explained, are, so to speak, liver hallucinations. Such hallucinations, which occur in such a way that they creep around the human being, I would like to say, which lead to the person concerned wanting to get rid of things in this way, come from the kidney system. These are the excitation hallucinations which have to do with the emotional system, with the temperament system. One can diagnose much more reliably from these things, from such symptoms, than from the diagnostic means that are often used today. And very uncertain are purely external diagnostic means compared to what such diagnoses would yield if one were to study these things.“ (S. 110)

„What is it that actually takes place in the human being when he imagines? An etheric process which only interacts with an outer etheric process. In order for the human being to have a healthy spiritual and physical life in this direction, it is necessary for him to become aware of the boundary between the inner and outer ether. This happens mostly unconsciously. It becomes conscious when man rises to imaginative knowledge, when he inwardly experiences the activity and movement of the ether, and its coming together with the outer ether, which dies away in the sense organ. In this interaction between the inner and outer ether we have, as it were, the outermost limit of the effectiveness of the ether in general on the human organism. For that which is in our etheric body has an effect on the organism, for example, chiefly in growth. There it is still effective from within, forming the organism. It gradually organises our organism so that it adapts itself to the outer world in the way we see when the child grows up. But this inwardly forming seizure of the physical body by the ether must reach a certain limit. If it goes beyond this limit through some morbid process, then that which lives and weaves in the ether, but which is to remain in the etheric, encroaches upon the physical organism, so that the latter receives interwoven into itself, as it were, that which is to remain as an etheric movement. What then occurs? That which should actually only be experienced inwardly as a conception, appears as a process in the physical body. Then it is what is called a hallucination. When the etheric process oversteps its bounds towards the physical, because the body, through its pathology, does not offer the right resistance to it, then what is called a hallucination arises. Many people who want to penetrate the spiritual world wish above all for hallucinations. Of course, the spiritual researcher cannot offer them this, for the hallucination is nothing other than the reproduction of a purely material process, a process which, in relation to the soul, takes place beyond the boundaries of the body, that is, in the body. On the other hand, that which leads into the spiritual world consists in theomes to imagination, and imagination is a purely soul experience. And becau fact that one goes back from this boundary into the soul and instead of hallucinations, cse it is a purely spiritual experience, the soul lives in the spiritual world in the imagination. Through this, however, the soul also lives in fully conscious penetration of the imagination. And it is important to realise that imagination, i.e. the legitimate way to attain spiritual knowledge, and hallucination, are the opposite and also destroy each other. He who comes to hallucination through a diseased organism misplaces the way to real imagination; and he who comes to real imagination preserves himself most securely from all hallucination. Hallucination and imagination are mutually exclusive, mutually destructive.“ (Lit.:GA 66, p. 172ff)

„As a rule, such hallucinations are also caused by the fact that the human being, with his I and his astral body, which are then inside the physical body, can nevertheless see, as it were, a torn-out piece of his etheric body. This comes about in the following way. Imagine that something in your physical body is ill, for example, something in the nervous system or the like. Then the etheric body cannot intervene in the place where the nervous system is ill; it is, as it were, thrown out. The etheric body itself is not ill at all, but it is stretched out of the physical body in a certain place. If it were to be clamped in, then everything would happen as it does in normal consciousness. We would not become aware that the physical body is ill. If the etheric body cannot intervene at this point, and if that which is there and in which the etheric body cannot intervene shines out towards the etheric body, then this comes to consciousness as a hallucination.

Exactly the same substance from which the dream or hallucination appears to us surrounds us everywhere in the world. It is the ether substance. And from the etheric substance that surrounds us, our own etheric body is, as it were, cut out like a piece. When we have passed through the gate of death, when we have laid aside the physical body, we pass through the etheric substance. Basically, we cannot get out of the etheric substance all the way between death and the new birth. For this etheric substance is everywhere and we have to pass through it, we are in it. Some time after death we have also laid aside our own etheric body. It dissolves into this outer etheric substance. In ordinary life man does not at first have the ability to perceive in this outer etheric substance. Therefore that which would be perception does not occur - now not in the physical world, but in the etheric world.“ (Lit.:GA 154, p. 11f)

Difference between hallucinations and imaginations

Hallucinations are fundamentally different from imaginations, which can be experienced through conscious spiritual training.

„This imaginative cognition does not live in the abstract concepts to which we are accustomed in ordinary logical thinking, but neither does one have to think that this cognition is something perhaps merely fantastic. If we want to characterise what is present more externally, we must think of that form of experience which the human being has when he brings out ideas of memory from the subsoil of his organisation, or also when these ideas of memory, stimulated by this or that, emerge from this subsoil as if of their own accord. If, then, we take into the soul's eye that which is a memory-imagination, we shall have given the way in which imaginations also live in the soul. They live with the same intensity, indeed with an often far greater intensity than the ideas of memory. But just as the ideas of memory show by their own appearance, by their own content, what the experience was which the human being had perhaps years ago and of which they are an image, so these imaginations, by being called into the soul, show that they are not at first connected with a personal experience, when they appear as real cognitive imaginations, but that they refer, although they appear precisely with the character of memory imaginings, to a world which is not sensuous, but nevertheless quite objective, which lives and weaves within the world of the senses, but does not reveal itself through the organs of perception of the senses.

Thus, one could first characterise in a positive sense the more external nature of the cognitive imaginings. In a negative sense, it is to be said what these cognitive imaginings are not. They are not somehow something similar to a vision, a hallucination or the like. On the contrary, they lead man's soul condition in the opposite direction from that in which it moves when it falls into visions, hallucinations and the like. Cognitive imaginations are healthy soul-experiences in the same sense that visions, hallucinations and so on are sick soul-experiences. What is the actual characteristic of the visionary, hallucinatory life in relation to the human being himself? One of the characteristics is the dampened I-feeling, the dampened contemplation of oneself. By giving ourselves over to our healthy sensory constitution and our healthy experience of outer sensual reality, we have precisely that which we can call prudence towards our own I. We have to be prudent in every moment of the visionary life, in every moment of the hallucinatory life. In every moment in which we look healthily at the outer world, in which we place ourselves healthily in the outer world, we must be able to distinguish ourselves to a certain extent from that which is the content of our self. If that which is the content of our consciousness, of our self, so overpowers us that the necessary prudence towards ourselves is paralysed, then unhealthy conditions arise, and such are also those of the visionary, the hallucinatory life. He who acquires an unbiased judgement in these matters knows that a certain degree of the prudence thus described is present when we live in the healthy experience of the senses, and he knows that beneath this healthy experience of the senses is the visionary, the hallucinatory life. He will not be tempted at all to accept these degradations of consciousness somehow as revelations of a world more valuable than the sense world.“ (Lit.:GA 78, p. 89ff)

„I would like to make a radical difference between the visionary, the hallucinatory and what the spiritual researcher sees. Why is it that so many people believe they are already in the spiritual world when they only have hallucinations and visions? Yes, people are so reluctant to get to know something really new! They like to hold on to the old, in which they are already inside. Basically, in hallucinations and visions, the morbid soul-forms confront us in the same way as the outer sensual reality confronts us. They are there; they present themselves before us. To a certain extent, we do nothing when they present themselves before us. The spiritual researcher is not in this position in relation to his new spiritual element. I have spoken of the fact that the spiritual researcher must concentrate and work up all the powers of his soul which lie dormant in ordinary life. But this requires him to use a spiritual energy, a spiritual strength, which is not present in outer life. But he must always hold on to this strength when he enters the spiritual world. Man remains passive, he need not exert himself: that is the characteristic of hallucinations, of visions. The moment we become passive towards the spiritual world, even for a moment, everything immediately disappears. We must be constantly active, actively present. That is why we cannot deceive ourselves, because nothing can appear before our eyes from the spiritual world in the same way as a vision or hallucination appears before our eyes. We must be present everywhere with our activity, with every atom of that which confronts us from the spiritual world. We must know what it is like. This activity, this continuous activity, is necessary for real spiritual research. But then we enter a world that is radically different from the physical-sensual world. One enters a world where spiritual beings, spiritual facts are around us.“ (Lit.:GA 155, p. 224f)

„When this inner experience has come, when one really feels that you need not now merely stand still with the sense world, you experience something through your pictorial thinking, through your living thinking, when you pierce the carpet of sense, when you try to look into your inner being, you experience something that ordinary natural science cannot experience, that ordinary mysticism can only bring before the soul in an illusionary way, if you honestly experience this as a result of an inner development, then you can be sure that you are on a path that can now really lead to higher worlds.

At first one has nothing external before one. One has only strengthened the old forces, made them more intense. But one very soon notices that something essential, something important, is going on in the consciousness of man. You gradually get something like an introspection that extends over the whole of your life since birth. Yes, this is the first supersensible reality that one experiences: one's own inner life since birth in a clear tableau. And this clear tableau is expressed by the fact that one's thinking is in a different relationship to what one now perceives outwardly than one used to be with one's thinking to what was given outwardly and experienced inwardly.

In ordinary life, you develop thinking. One thinks about something. The thoughts are in the soul, they are subjective. The other is objective, the other is outside. One feels one's thought activity separate from that which is outside. Now you have the tableau of your own soul life before you since birth. But I would like to say that the thoughts go into this fabric. One feels inside this tissue. One says to oneself: now you are really beginning to grasp yourself. You have to give up your thoughts to that which objectively comes before your consciousness. - This even gives rise to a certain, I would say, painful experience at first for the anthroposophical spiritual researcher. The anthroposophical spiritual researcher must go through such painful experiences with his experiences in various directions. He must not be afraid to go through inwardly difficult, often painful things in a certain way. I will also have to speak about this today in another direction. But now, in relation to this tableau of life, one experiences first of all that one feels one's own being in a kind of inner oppression. One does not feel it with the ease with which one usually cherishes thoughts and ideas, with which feelings, impulses of will, desires and the like are usually in us, one feels it like something that oppresses one. In short, one feels reality in this oppression. If one does not have this oppression, then one only has a thought-formation, then one does not have reality. But by carrying into this oppression everything that one used to have in the way of freely unfolding thought tissues, one is thereby protected from developing something like illusions, visions, hallucinations with one's imaginative knowledge.

This is something that is so often thrown in the way of anthroposophical spiritual science. It is said that its exercises develop nothing but vision and hallucination. It brings to the surface of consciousness, as it were, suppressed nervous forces, and no one can prove the reality of what anthroposophical spiritual science speaks of as higher worlds. Whoever pays attention to what I have already said today will feel that the path taken by anthroposophical spiritual science is the opposite of all those paths which lead to visions, hallucinations or even to mediumism. Everything that leads to mediumism, to hallucinations, to visions, ultimately emerges only from the organs of the body that have become diseased and which, as it were, exhale their spiritual-soul in a pathological way up into consciousness. All this lies beneath the senses. On the other hand, that which is formed as imaginative cognition lies above ordinary sense perception, is formed precisely on objectivity, not on the morbid interior.“ (Lit.:GA 79, p. 19ff)

„It can only be a question of researching physiologically the nature of hallucination, the nature of vision, the nature of illusion, the nature of ordinary sensory perceptions, the nature of memories, the nature of thought, and also of trying to understand physiologically from the human organisation what lies at the basis of imagining, of being inspired, of the activity of intuition. It must be said that one could just as well speak in more physiological terms, but I want to take a more popular approach here: Anyone who looks at hallucination, for example, knows that it is a pictorial imagination, a pictorial conception, in relation to which the faculty of will is so strongly suppressed that man does not know himself in what he hallucinates, and therefore believes the hallucinated to be objective, whereas it is not at all connected with anything objective. Anthroposophical spiritual science is about man being oriented in himself. If he is oriented in himself, he will suppress that which wants to appear as a hallucination at the same moment by opposing it with inner activity. It is this inner activity that is important. This inner activity is developed precisely in the spiritual research method of Anthroposophy. But he who has an unbiased view of the life of the soul also knows that there is always a residue of hallucination. This residue of hallucination comes to light precisely in memory; in memory only the imagery of hallucination is expressed. In memory there are still remnants of hallucination, only they are permeated with activity. We would have no memory if we did not, as it were, have in the disposition the capacity to hallucinate and were able to stop this hallucination in the right way. If, without what is to remain a subordinate human organic soul faculty, this faculty for hallucinating predominates, then it becomes pathological, then the human being dives out of that sphere where he has a certain balance between body and soul - in the ordinary imagination which becomes memory - he dives down into the corporeal; he becomes more material than he otherwise is. He dives down into the corporeal and thus becomes hallucinatory. In the same way, the illusion arises through a submergence into the corporeal.

Everything that leads to imagination, to inspiration, to intuition, does not submerge itself in the corporeal, it rises up out of the corporeal. Therefore, one cannot use any kind of damming up of imaginative images, any kind of inhibition of imaginative images, but one must push the imaginative images up into the light consciousness in the same way as one otherwise pushes the idea of mathematics up into the light consciousness. There can be no more talk of hallucinating than there can be of hallucinating when one imagines mathematically. One learns to distinguish between submerging oneself as a human being into corporeality, as is the case with hallucination, and ascending from corporeality, as occurs with imagining, being initiated and so on. These things arise from spiritual research with just as much scientific insight as only any laboratory experiment arises from outer sensual perception.“ (Lit.:GA 255b, p. 176ff)

See also



References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.