Hidden effect

By Mathias Maurer, July 2019

As the weather grows warmer again, more skin and muscle are also on show once more. Remarkable how many people in this country are discreetly or assertively wearing tattoos and piercings – across generations and social class.

Almost like a ritual ornamentation – sometimes inserted under the skin with surgical help and forming a lasting single unit with the body. That the body is used as a platform on which to find our own identity is not a new phenomenon. What is new is the scale on which the human body is today en masse worked on and sculpted – using models which keep the tills of the providers ringing.

The body is like a permanent building site for self-optimisation, the range of interventions extending from cosmetics, going to the gym, dietary plans and teas to give you a feeling of wellbeing to cosmetic surgery, prosthetics and transplants. The cult of the body is the new religion that gives meaning to our lives. Jogging and wellness are replacing the contemplation of higher matters, the health app is the new bible. The point is no longer that there might be something bigger than our self which gives meaning and a direction to our lives, the issue is shaping the pure physique. For those who in earlier times strove for the soul’s salvation, their fitness level was of secondary concern. Those who today are striving for the perfect body are seeking their soul’s salvation in that.

Peter Sloterdijk writes in You must change your life that the enhancement fever implants the illusion in people that they are shaping themselves and their existence through external applications ...

Curious about whether Rudolf Steiner had any comments on the subject of tattoos, I did indeed find something. In a lecture he gave to workers at the Goetheanum in Dornach on `13 February 1924 he said: “... these designs which people make on their bodies were originally very important. Let us assume for a moment that a person tattoos a heart on their body. Well, when they go about during the day that has no great significance when they are awake. But when they are asleep, then what has been tattooed on the skin makes a very significant impression on the sleeping soul, and then that turns into a thought in their sleeping soul which they have of course forgotten in the morning when they regain consciousness. But tattooing originally came about with the intention to work in the human being as far as into sleep.”

Assuming for a moment that it is true that tattoos work unconsciously in the soul as thoughts during sleep, then we would have to ask ourselves whether we can judge the consequences of such text or images. What do skulls, dragons and mythical creatures, flowers and names mean? We come up against the boundary between the message accessible to the senses and its unconscious effect.

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