1889 - 1976
Lilly Kolisko (September 1, 1889 – November 20, 1976) was one of the most significant students of Rudolf Steiner. Her first meeting with anthroposophy occurred in 1914. She was working at the time as a volunteer helper in a hospital where she met her later husband Eugene Kolisko. (During this time she learned practical laboratory methods, among others including: growing bacterial cultures; doing blood smears and learned the basics of microscopy – essential skills for her later research activities.)
At one point Eugene Kolisko asked her: “May I give you a book?”, and when she agreed he gave her Rudolf Steiner’s book “Knowledge of the higher worlds and its attainment”. It made a powerful and immediate impression on her. Apparently she read this through in one night and in the next several months read every single book of Rudolf Steiner’s that Eugene Kolisko had in his possession.
She personally met Rudolf Steiner in 1915. When she was introduced to him he told her “Oh yes, we know each other already.” In her own independent and forward manner she decisively answered “No”, and she insisted on this “no” even though Rudolf Steiner persisted several times in affirming that they already knew each other, until he helpfully added “Nevertheless, nevertheless, from before”.
In her first longer conversation with Rudolf Steiner, in May 1915, she reminded Rudolf Steiner that she had written him a letter (this one?) and she would’ve liked an answer to her letter. She had probably mentioned in that letter details about her very difficult youth (her father had been a heavy drinker, accompanied by a violent nature) and asked for advice related to her sleep. He answered her that that she should envision an abyss into which she would let rose petals float to the ground and then gather them again. He also added that she had had a question in the letter about occult chemistry and advised her first to fill some gaps that she had in that direction and only then tackle the specific problem. Then suddenly he said to her “You are seeing the Ether”.
Lilly Kolisko became one of the most important anthroposophic researchers. Her first contribution consisted in following up on an indication of Rudolf Steiner’s and researching the activity of the spleen – Google translation. Rudolf Steiner had made the comment in lectures given in 1920 that one of the occult roles of the spleen is to regulate the intake of nutrition and its distribution to the various organs. (The lecture cycle: Spiritual Science and Medicine, 1920) He explained that the spleen has the function to give us the ability to eat at times of our choosing and yet enabling the body to receive its nutrition on a regular basis. Rudolf Steiner felt that one could demonstrate physiologically this function in the laboratory.
Lilly Kolisko studied microscopically the platelets that were generated by the spleen in subjects who had been eating regularly vs. people that had meals at irregular times. She discovered that under the appropriate circumstances a new type of speckled platelets would be seen under the microscope which she and Rudolf Steiner later called “regulator cells.” Rudolf Steiner mentioned this work very often afterwards. He attributed to it an enormous significance and made the statement several times that if this type of research had occurred at a normal University it would’ve received international acclaim.
Two years later, this research became the object of a scandal when the book about the spleen function written by Lilly Kolisko was removed by an anthroposophic doctor from an exhibit table and hidden underneath it even though Rudolf Steiner had expressly praised the work effusively. This was not going to be the last time that Lilly Kolisko’s work was going to be met with resistance out of her own anthroposophic circles.
Her second major contribution, originally requested and suggested by Dr Steiner and later undertaken as an ‘honorary member’ of the experimental circle, was to develop a so-called germination test to show the influence of potentized substances on living organisms. This work grew out of a question that she posed to Rudolf Steiner essentially asking how one could determine which potency of a specific substance would be most beneficial to be used in the treatment of an epidemic of hoof and mouth epidemic that was occurring at that time. Rudolf Steiner gave her the advice to grow wheat seeds and sequentially water them with various potencies of the substance in question. The resulting curves would give them the desired answer. Lilly Kolisko continued this work throughout her lifetime generating literally thousands of these curves and contributing greatly to our anthroposophic understanding of the work with potentized substances. It must have been a lifetime disappointment for her that the envisioned cooperation between her and medical doctors never came to fruition. (It is in particular this aspect of the work that our Institute which carries her name is attempting to continue and further develop. More details can be found on this in the Kolisko paper on this website.)
Rudolf Steiner valued Lilly Kolisko also as an esoteric student. She was one of less than a handful of people that he personally allowed to read and hold the First Class lessons.
Lilly Kolisko’s life continued to be both tragic and difficult.
Due to extreme disagreements between her and her husband on the one side and certain influential members of the Anthroposophic Society on the other side both her and her husband Eugene (who was a much respected anthroposophic doctor and school physician to the Stuttgart Waldorf School) decided to leave Germany and resettled in England in the 1930s. Soon thereafter Eugene died of a heart attack. Lilly lived in extreme poverty. At one point apparently she was earning a living by sewing purses. It is amazing that nevertheless during this whole time she continued her germination potency work as well as very significant research experiments on anthroposophic paper chromatography. In these last mentioned experiments she repeatedly showed that one was able to demonstrate the effect of star constellations on metals and other substances.
The anthroposophic physician Gisbert Husemann placed her significance into a beautiful context when he made the following observations during a memorial article that he wrote about her in 1976 (in the German journal Beitraege zur Erweiterung der Heilkunst). He points out that Lilly Kolisko’s work begins at the same time – in 1920 – when Rudolf Steiner holds his lecture cycle on Thomas Aquinas. Rudolf Steiner points out later on that in those lectures he had intended to demonstrate the new path that natural science needs to take into the future. Thomas Aquinas was still concerned in his time with a material world on earth and the spiritual world “in the heavens”. Today, Rudolf Steiner emphasized, this duality has to be bridged and the work of the spiritual world intimately affecting physical phenomena has to be recognized. It is perhaps not just a coincidence that quietly the researcher Lilly Kolisko was beginning to fulfill precisely the challenge that Rudolf Steiner had postulated. She is bringing into the world awareness for physical phenomena that are clearly caused by spiritual events. Gisbert Husemann then quotes Rudolf Steiner who on 10.22.1922 (CW 218) bemoans the fact that not only the world at large is excluding from its consciousness the work and research of Lilly Kolisko but rather, which is even more significant, the Anthroposophic Society itself is ignoring this work: “indeed we are not just working in the presence of an exclusion from the public consciousness but also we are in the presence of an exclusion of the interest from the Anthroposophic Society.” (An English version of Husemann is available here)
One gets a heightened appreciation for Lilly Kolisko’s work when one keeps in mind that Rudolf Steiner asked her to give a full lecture about her research during the Christmas Foundation meeting on the same day when he gave as the “Rhythm of the Day” the verse
This the Elemental Spirits hear, In the East, West, North, and South, May Human Beings hear it.
Rudolf Steiner had intended to direct a renewed appeal to the members of the Anthroposophic Society for financial support of the Kolisko research. With his death however in 1925 this appeal never materialized.
It is to be hoped that these fundamentally anthroposophic impulses of Lilly Kolisko will find enough supporters in the future that her work can be continued.
Adalbert Keyserlingk recalls an incident as an early Waldorf pupil.
“The most wonderful occasion was when Rudolf Steiner came into our classroom, his face alight with joy and said: “Now at last we are able to demonstrate the etheric, because of Mrs Kolisko’s work with very small entities, and we can prove to anyone who wants to see that science can be taken further and can find its way out of the dead end of materialism!”
Adalbert Count Keyserlingk – Developing Biodynamic Agriculture – reflections on early research (- translation of Erinnerungen an FrüheForschungsarbeiten – by verlag der Kooperative, Dürnau) p77-78 of english edition
Here are 6 good introductory articles about her work from her own hand.
Here is a contemporary appreciation of her work.
A trivial question. Lili or Lilly? – there are firm advocates of both! I have heard from her biographer that she signed her letters ‘Lilly’ – a name she fully embraced after her marriage so that her initials were different from her husband’s – so I’m going with that.