Review of Man or Matter: Ernst Lehrs, the Einstein of astral-etheric forces

bk-man-or-matterReview of Man or Matter: Ernst Lehrs, the Einstein of astral-etheric forces

Review of Man or Matter, Understanding of Nature on the Basis of Goethe’s Method of Training Observation and Thought.

This reviews only the most accessible edition of Man or Matter, the one most readers here will have or can get immediately for free. Because of a copy right oversight, the entire first edition of Man of Matter is free online at Gutenberg Project and Books.Google with illustrations here:

The 1957 edition revised by Lehrs is of unknown additional value. Please comment below if you own a copy.
The 1985 edition revised and expanded by two other authors is of unknown additional value to this author. Please comment below if you own a copy.  The book image is third edition.

Editions with other years are “fictitious,” mere reprints of the original free 1951 edition.  Don’t pay more than $8.00 for a paper version of the first edition.

I can find no other useful review of Man or Matter. If you have read or have a copy of Owen Barfield’s Review of Man or Matter in Anthroposophy Today 1 (Summer 1986): 86-87, please comment below.

In 25 words or less, Man or Matter is a history of science revised in light of and incorporating astral and etheric forces.

Because it stands alone in revising the history of science in light of the activity of astral and etheric forces, Man or Matter remains one of the deepest books written in the sciences, ever.

Man or Matter is also one of most forgotten of seminal books. Undoubtedly the unfortunately title contributes to this. We focus here on the benefits reading this may have for you. I believe these can be considerable.

Man or Matter stands almost alone for those wishing an operational understand of astral-etheric forces within and external to mankind. The only other works capable of standing next to Man or Matter are his other books and Gunther Wachmuth’s Etheric Formative Forces, which is also free on Both books are still read and highly regarded by virtually all “fringe” science enthusiasts of every stripe.

Lehrs was a radical holistic thinker whose only easy comparisons are Rudolf Steiner and Goethe. Wikipedia informs us, “Lehrs was a senior teacher at the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart. In 1935, he emigrated to the Netherlands where he participated in a Waldorf school and then later to Britain. In 1952, he returned to Germany and worked as a lecturer at the newly established course in anthroposophical curative education in Eckwälden, where he remained until his death in 1979.”

Lehrs is very aware of how the history of science follows and reflects the evolution of human thinking. For this reason, Man or Matter is largely organized around his responses to the history of science in roughly historical order. Lehrs’ language is geared to junior high and high school students. We are spared useless technical jargon and academic hoo-hahing but we are not spared the immense vista and critical challenge Lehrs offered his students.

Lehrs is acutely aware of the errors, detours and dead ends human thinking has taken on its slow progress a more light-filled and humanistic stance.

In his critique of science history, Lehrs provides a more pointed and imaginative critique than any other history of science I can think of.

Lehrs has nothing less in mind than a reconfiguration of how we view nature, the Cosmos and our own internal process of thinking, feeling and willing.

He takes readers on a journey similar to Lewis Carroll in Alice into Wonderland and to the protagonist in Flatland. In little steps, a wondrous unforeseen landscape is gradually uncovered.

The big picture is how Nature, the external world, and all the forces within it, are created out of gravity and levity. For Lehrs all the other polarities arise out of the primary polarity of gravity~levity. In the world Lehrs describes, gravity~levity are constantly at play and in play. Their meeting is the motive energy behind heat, friction, electricity, magnetism, radiation, you name it. Lehrs does not emphasize how all forces he mention devolve from gravity~levity in the first edition. It may help to keep it in mind if you attempt a read.

Also worth mentioning is the modern idea, perhaps coined after Lehrs’ death, of “strong and weak forces.” I think Lehrs might agree that on Earth, gravity is the stronger force, levity is the naturally weaker force. This is worth bearing in mind as Lehrs allows readers to imagine both gravity and levity as a 50-50 proposition, in the sphere of the Earth. This is clearly not the case in the earthly human experience.

I don’t pretend to understand all of Lehrs’ insights and vision. It’s taken me 25 years to educate myself to the point where I am attempting a second reading.

We also need to keep historical perspective here. What Steiner and Lehrs considered “spiritual” stems from thinking around the year 1900. What was “spiritual” in 1900 was correctly observing, without abstractions, and understanding the workings of astral-etheric forces. This is why Einstein was a big public deal between 1900-1930.

Einstein was a leap forward of insight into invisible forces shaping our world. Lehrs is the Einstein of astral-etheric forces.

Contrast this with what we think is “spiritual” in 2014, addressing and resolving blocks and obstacles to health wealth and happiness; and ultimately, to loving and soul transcendence. Evolution keeps evolving.

A closer view of what Lehrs hopes to convey to readers follows:

Original meaning and value of the earliest alchemy, Original Alchemy

Revised and paraphrased for clarity from CHAPTER XI, “Matter as Part of Nature’s Alphabet” (first edition).

Lehrs clearly sketches the original meaning and value of the earliest alchemy. Earlier humanity received genuine Original Alchemy as a gift. It was intended to preview and provide a way of working with what was coming in human evolution: the development of what we now call the “intellect.”

“Intellect”? The fictional Sherlock Holmes is the epitome of our intellectual capacity complete with its treasures and new vulnerability to loneliness and to multiple addictions.

If you can, try to imagine humanity before the advent of Sherlock Holmes intellect.

At the least you will be able imagine living, life and Nature were much more of one whole.

The precise and rigorous distinctions about the workings of Nature, afforded us by second-order Cartesian-Newtonian science, were absent. For example, it was believed houseflies were born wholly from rotting meat. Superstition was also widespread.

Human evolution on Earth was always destined to progress from this fuzzy thinking to the rigor and precision afforded us by our Sherlock Holmes intellect.

Rudolf Steiner points out over and over again how when a new human capacity becomes publicly operational, other capacities have to fade into the background and fall behind us into history.

Original Alchemy was meant as a means to stay connected with the whole of Nature and not slip one-sidedly into the clutches of only-intellectual-thinking.

The value many students find in Goethe’s scientific ideas lies this direction. Goethe is perhaps the last alchemist, the last thinker of an era to actively attempt to reunite his intellect with the whole of Nature and Her operating principles. Steiner did us the service to preserve and expand upon this impulse.

Lehrs states the gift of the Sherlock Holmes intellect this way: a division was set up in our soul-life which was to give us:

On the one hand, an abstract experience of our own self, divorced from the outer world, the possibility of thinking for our self alone, independent thought.

On the other hand, this “gift” was to give us a mere onlooker’s experience of Nature inside us, and outside us externally. Hence all the difficulty and excuses people have for ignoring their own “child within.”

Original Alchemy was meant to “reign in the modern horses,” a means, method and language to prevent humanity from falling headlong into the clutches of a merely intellectual view of mankind and Nature (man as external matter only, hence the title of Lehrs’ book).

At the least, Original Alchemy was intended to slow humanity’s descent into only thinking based on external matter, based only on second-order-science, divorced from first- and third-order science.

Fans of “even evolution itself is evolving” will grasp how likely it was from the start how overuse and abuse of second-order science was predictable; and, how its excesses pave the way for those few souls who wish to go forward into self-mastery, whole-brainedness and using all three forms of science daily—which we do daily–if unconsciously.

Q: What would have happened if Original Alchemy had become more widespread?

A: The onlooker-consciousness would have been moderated; leading to, the development of an intuitive relationship of the soul with the world of the senses. Natural science experiments and observations would have been recorded IN TANDEM with how the experimenter was growing in self-mastery.

This would have led to appreciation of Nature as both within and without the human being, not just Nature observed at arm’s length and thru instrumentations, observing as an end in itself, apart from personal responsibility, apart from moral and ethical matters.

Original Alchemy intended to inform human beings of astral-etheric functions in two fields, in two frequency levels of Creation:

– the archetypes of astral-etheric substance operating inside us, in individual thinking; and,
– the archetypes of astral-etheric substance operating OUTSIDE us, in Nature, gravity, levity and the lesser archetypal polarities.

Q: When in history was Original Alchemy practiced?

A: I believe Hermes Trismegistus in ancient Egypt was the first on Earth. Language itself was too undeveloped for us today to make sense of these teachings, even with excellent and accurate translations. Hopefully the teachings made more sense back then, to initiates.

I’m no alchemy historian. Readers will be most familiar with alchemy from the period 1200-1500 AD. Lehrs cautions us not to confuse Original Alchemy with pagan-wiccan activities which later paraded under the name of Alchemy. Steiner also point to elements of Rosicrucian thinking as compatible with what we call Original Alchemy here. Lehrs does this with clarity amplified one hundred-fold.

Q: What did a practitioner of Original Alchemy experience?

A: The alchemist who used the concepts sketched in Man or Matter, thought of them first as illuminating the processes of his own inner life, Original Alchemy as a path of healthy self-awareness and healthy self-mastery.

Second he thought of the interaction of these polarities and qualities as illuminating the workings of external organic and weather processes.

Thirdly, as Goethe expresses so well on occasion, he thought of the phenomena of nature in plants, clouds, geology as a “book of Nature” that could be read to illuminate processes that must be occurring in his own inner life because the astral-etheric forces active external and internally were identical.

In this way the Original Alchemist came to gratitude and appreciation for how the external world of Nature reflected and informed him of the internal world of astral-etheric formative forces.

In 2014 we no longer care much for astral-etheric phenomena. The high drama of mental-emotional activity entrances us today: TV, movies, technology.

However prior to WW I, the natural world and its “book” of how astral-etheric forces play out externally in Nature and internally in our thinking, was the subject of poetry, painting and writing for several hundred years.

In other words, prior to 1860, prior to being hypnotized by technology, humanity’s imagination was still learning from and taken with Nature.

The later phases of this, the passing of Nature as a mother to humanity’s imagination into history, is summarized in the art history topic, “the beauty of ruins and the ruins of beauty.” This still interests many today.

Lehrs points to both Goethe and Ruskin as two of the last carriers before the closing of the European mind around the intellect, of some awareness of the union of inner and outer development.

Q: What was the original meaning of the famous substances of alchemy?

A: Lehrs: “When speaking of Salt, he meant the regulated formative activity of his thinking, based on the salt-forming process in his nervous system.

When he spoke of Mercury, he meant the quickly changing emotional life of the soul, the corresponding activities of the rhythmic processes of the body.

Lastly with Sulphur, he meant the will activities of his soul and the corresponding metabolic processes of the body.”

The Original Alchemist wished to increase awareness of these functions within himself. He understood re-establishing harmony between them inside himself was a highway to greater self-mastery of soul-as-choice in the human experience.

He understood harmony had been theirs in the beginning, before human choice erred and disrupted the balance of the three elements. He felt, mankind had deviated from harmony between these elements, over the course of civilizations.

Externally the alchemist hoped to come to an understanding of the counterparts of these elements in Nature, stars and Creation; and, what balance-harmony might be like and what could be done to restore more balance-harmony; or at least, not make things worse.

In older alchemical writings we find written prescriptions for chemical manipulations. Because they resemble chemical formulas, we mistake them for such—then criticize them for their obvious real-world impossibility.

We only read the prescriptions of Original Alchemy correctly when we grasp they are partly or wholly to be read as instructions for certain exercises of the soul, or as advice for the redirection of out-of-balance conditions in the body.

“For instance, if an alchemist gave directions for a certain treatment of Sulphur, Mercury and Salt, with the assertion that by carrying out these directions properly, one would obtain Aurum (gold), he really spoke of a method to direct the thinking, feeling and willing activities of the soul in such a way as to gain true Wisdom.”

Lehrs does not represent basic alchemical concepts primarily for their historical significance. Original Alchemy is meant to remind us a functional conception of nature did once exist. If the language of Original Alchemy is not to the liking of a Sherlock Holmes, that’s just how things go.

The intent of Original Alchemy assumes new significance in a science Rudolf Steiner and some Rosicrucians hoped for, which seeks to develop, from different starting-points, a similar conception. The kind of thinking today which warms up to an evolved Original Alchemy is a forward-looking, not backward-looking, Goethean Science. Also the natural complement in thinking to this radical holistic world-conception is whole-brained thinking.

Health Intuitive Bruce Dickson supports people with Health Intuitive sessions by phone-Skype. Initial gift sessions on request. He writes on Best Practices in Holistic Self-Healing (15 books) available

Written by Bruce Dickson