The occult significance of milk

The excerpts below are from a collection of lectures by Rudolf Steiner titled “The Effects of Esoteric Development“. Unfortunately this volume, which is one of the few places Steiner discusses questions of nutrition and diet, is currently out of print. I got my copy from abebooks.com (which is a great way to access the holdings of lots of small used booksellers around the globe).

For those of you who don’t know him, Steiner opens a whole new perspective on the world through what he calls “spiritual science”, a modern iteration of the mystery traditions of antiquity, and a path through which modern folk can open their spiritual eyes and ears to direct experience of, for instance, the angelic and elemental realms of existence. Yup, this is heady stuff, and there’s lots of it.

Sure, spiritual teachers are everywhere nowadays, but Steiner stands out, if only for the way he was able to bring his spiritual insights right down into the practical sphere of everyday life though, for example, Waldorf education and Biodynamic agriculture. Of course, there’s more than that; there are also anthroposophical (Steiner’s concatenation of anthropos (man) and sophia (wisdom)) approaches to realms as diverse as medicine, architecture, mathematics, sciences and organizational development.

But for now, this is just about milk, in comparison to other food groups. And of course, since this was from 1913 and pasteurization hadn’t been invented yet, he was talking about what we now call “raw milk”.

“…You will gather from what I have said that it is extremely important for occult, esoteric development not to bind oneself, as it were, to the Earth by taking into oneself earthly “heaviness” by consuming animal food. Those on the path of esoteric development, then, should avoid animal food to the extent that individual and hereditary circumstances permit. The ultimate decision, however, must depend on the personal circumstances of the individual. It will certainly be of real assistance to the whole development of a person’s life if meat consumption can be avoided. On the other hand, certain difficulties might arise if one were to become a fanatical vegetarian, rejecting milk and milk products. In this case, the soul’s spiritual development could incur certain dangers because, by rejecting milk and milk products, we easily develop a love solely for what detaches us from the Earth and thus we would lose the threads that unite us with earthly human activities.

I should stress that, in a certain sense, it is a good thing if anthroposophical seekers do not move toward fanatic spiritual enthusiasm and thus create an obstacle in their physical bodies that would separate them from any relationship to what is earthly and human. In order not to become too eccentric in the pursuit of soul development — in order not to be alienated from human feeling and human impulses on Earth — it is good, as pilgrims on Earth, to allow ourselves, to a certain extent, to take on “ballast,” as it were, by consuming milk and milk products. In a way, it can be a kind of training not just to live in the spiritual world and so become estranged from Earth, but also to have tasks to fulfill on Earth. It can be a systematic training not to be a strict vegetarian, but to take milk and milk products as well. Our organism, the physical body, will then be related to humankind and the Earth without being bound to it or burdened with the earthbound nature that occurs in the case of meat consumption….”

(from lecture 2, The Question of Food, pages 48 and 49)

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