Anthroposophy, derived from the Greek words meaning man and wisdom, is the spiritual and mystical teachings of the Austrian philosopher and scientist Dr Rudolf Steiner . His ideas have been particularly influential in education, but they also inspired a new approach to healing. Anthroposophical medicine is practised mainly in continental Europe, although there are doctors and clinics in other parts of the world.

Steiner realized that the human being was not just a physical or biochemical organism but contained ‘etheric’ and ‘astral’ bodies. These were non-measurable energies that made up our emotions and ‘vital force’. Steiner used the term ‘ego’ to define our spiritual core. Steiner’s concepts harmonize with Eastern philosophy: he believed that the body is made up of earth, water, fire and air which are connected through the digestive and movement structures, the sensory system and the rhythmic system. The physical and etheric energies control digestion and movement; the ego and the astral body control senses; and the rhythmic system controls the circulation and breathing.

Steiner believed that health was governed by a balance of all of these. He had a holistic view of healing, and warned of the limitations of scientific medicine. He saw healing primarily as an art, and the patient as a human spirit finding its way amid its relationships with the body, with other people and with nature, and not simply as an object separated from everything else in the universe. Steiner simplified illness into inflammatory and degenerative conditions, but wished to stress the meaningfulness of each illness by putting it into the context of the individual’s biography and surroundings.

Treatment is by altering spiritual and emotional consciousness, through diet, exercise and remedies. Healing possibilities are enriched by artistic and other therapies such as painting, eury-thmy, sculpture and music. Anthroposophical medicine uses a mixture of herbal, mineral and homeopathic remedies.