Capillary Dynamolysis

David J. Heaf

Visualisation methods for planetary and etheric formative forces

The idea that cosmic bodies other than the Sun and the Moon influence life processes on earth is an ancient one, but is nowadays regarded as superstition. However, if such influences really exist, then it ought to be possible to study them by appropriate scientific methods. When Rudolf Steiner repeatedly reminded those listening to his lectures, especially farmers,1 doctors2 and scientists,3 of the vital significance of cosmic influences for life on earth, a number of people became interested in developing the techniques necessary for their study. When asked by scientists in 1920 how to do this Steiner said that ‘whilst the substances are in the solid state they are subject to the earthly laws, especially gravity, whereas if a body is dissolved, thus entering the fluid state, it comes once again into the sphere of influence of the planets’ (quoted by Kolisko,4 p. 32). Following ancient tradition, the Sun will here be referred to as a planet.

Steiner also gave indications which led to the development of techniques involving the use of substances in the liquid state for the study of etheric formative forces (Pfeiffer,5 p. 8). Here we are particularly concerned with forces which mediate in bringing about form manifest in physical substances, forces which put Isaac Newton’s legendary apple on the tree in the first place. Like gravity and other forces of inorganic nature, etheric forces can only be seen, in the usual sense of the word, if they are allowed to bring about changes in visible objects. Just as iron filings can be used to visualise the pattern of magnetic forces, so too the forms brought about by etheric forces can be visualised by appropriate techniques. Fyfe6 emphasises that to bring these forces to manifestation ‘first of all, substances must be in solution, secondly this must be brought into movement, thirdly there should be some degree of chemical reaction, and fourthly the experiment should develop as far as possible two dimensionally, on surfaces, and in relation to time.’

Capillary Dynamolysis and Planets

Correlations between terrestrial phenomena in the biosphere and planetary movements have been the subject of several hundred scientific papers in the past few decades. Influences of the Moon and other planets on trees and herbaceous plants have been studied for more than twenty years by Edwards and his colleagues.7

Here, however, we are concerned with influences which can be detected with chemical substances. In the 1920s Kolisko developed a visualisation method which in German is referred to as the ‘Steigbildmethode’ (‘rising picture method) and in English – somewhat less descriptively – as ‘capillary dynamolysis’. In the form applied to planetary influences it involves allowing a salt solution to be absorbed by capillary attraction through filter paper. Two variants are distinguished by either horizontal or vertical flow in the paper. For horizontal flow, the solution is conducted by means of a wick to the centre of a square or circular piece of filter paper supported above the solution. For vertical flow, a rectangular sheet of paper is curled into a cylinder and placed with one circular end in the extract or salt solution. When the fluid front has either covered the desired distance or has stopped, the paper is dried, examined and photographed if required. Salt solutions which leave little or no trace on the paper need to be mixed with one or more others which help to develop a ‘picture’. For instance, with lead, it was found that ideal results were obtained with a mixture of lead nitrate, silver nitrate and iron (II) sulphate.8 The photoreduction of silver nitrate and the resulting colours are essential to its part in the process.

In contrast to chromatography, capillary dynamolysis is not analytical but picture-forming. Also, whereas chromatography can contain its own controls in the form of standard solutions applied, and thus allows comparisons to be made to a large extent independently of the surroundings, capillary dynamolysis is applied in this context specifically to studying environmental influences. Whilst Kolisko on the whole standardised such conditions as the type and the orientation of the paper as well as the concentration, amount and age of the salt solutions, ambient conditions were accepted for temperature, lighting and humidity.

With this at first apparently simple but in fact highly complex visualisation system, Kolisko went on to examine the correlations in movements of the various planets with capillary dynamolysis patterns of the salts of the particular metals which ancient tradition has associated with particular planets. This tradition is at least as old as Egypto-Chaldean times and the relationships were recorded in the sixth century AD, although not in quite the same order as appeared in later alchemical works.9 Kolisko, following Steiner,10 assumed the following relationships as the basis of her work:

Planet  Metal
Jupiter Tin

She obtained her first clear results with the Saturn-Sun conjunction of 1926.8 The published photographs of patterns she obtained before, during and after the conjunction show an unmistakable loss of complexity of form during the conjunction. During the 1927 solar eclipse, patterns obtained with gold chloride or gold chloride-silver nitrate mixtures showed similar loss of form accompanied by unusual spots and stripes.11 Kolisko repeated these experiments during a total solar eclipse at Bursa in Turkey in 1936 with similar results. Unfortunately, only three of nearly eighty published photographs are in colour. These show a distinct darkening of the gold chloride pattern from yellow and pink before the eclipse, to violet-brown during the eclipse, to pink and yellow afterwards.11 The changes in the monochrome photographs are consistent with this.

Two examples of capillary dynamolysis pictures prepared with gold chloride before (top) and during (below) the total solar eclipse at Brussa in Turkey on 19 June 1936 at 5.52 am. The upper picture was obtained exactly 24 h. before totality. From Kolisko, L. (1936, Please see Ref. 11 for details.).

In another series of experiments, the relationship between Moon phase and the patterns obtained with silver nitrate was not so clear cut. Kolisko published one hundred and fifty out of more than one thousand patterns, each developed over a 24 h. period at different phases of the Moon for more than a year. Her method of publishing the photographic results of capillary dynamolysis in loose-leaf form in folders helps the reader in the difficult process, especially in this case, of making comparisons. This is because selected photographs can be arranged side by side and thus be more readily surveyed. The results do not leap out at one as is more the case with quantitative experiments where the numerical data is presented in graphic form. Instead, the reader has to contemplate the phenomena with care. In Kolisko’s own words, the book cannot simply be read, one must work at it. This generally applies to all published results of capillary dynamolysis. However, as Kolisko also points out, it should be remembered that, the monochrome photographs have necessarily lost some of the detail of the original patterns. Presumably this will also apply to some extent to those in colour, even in modern publications.

Day and night stages of each picture are clearly visible. Kolisko’s assertion that the forms obtained at full Moon are sharper than at new Moon seems supported by the published photographs, but not her generalisation that the full Moon patterns are ‘without exception’ richer in form and lighter than at new Moon. However, it can be conceded that this generalisation applies to a majority of the patterns. The patterns change greatly from month to month, but in general a full Moon pattern can be paired with its corresponding pattern for new Moon. There are many other features observable in these pictures including ones which correlate with a solar eclipse. On the whole, the results are a good preliminary indication of the possibility that capillary dynamolysis patterns with silver nitrate are somehow connected with or dependent upon the phase of the Moon. This in turn is of course dependent on a complex interaction of the positions of Earth, Sun and Moon and means that any influences on the silver patterns have to be seen in a context wider than that of merely Moon influences.

Kolisko investigated the Jupiter-tin connection with tin (II) chloride and silver nitrate.12 Her published report is ambiguous as to whether she prepared a solution of tin chloride from tin and hydrochloric acid or started with the crystalline salt. In any case the salt solution was aged for a fortnight in the presence of air before use. It is thus difficult to discern what cocktail of tin complexes actually entered the paper during capillary dynamolysis. Silver nitrate solution was allowed to rise through the paper during the day followed at night by the tin chloride with intermediate drying. This mixing adds another level of complexity on top of the aged tin solution, because of the precipitation of silver chloride. Kolisko does not comment on this, but the sharp white boundary at the tin ‘front’ on almost all the pictures is presumably the chloride precipitate. Despite the complex and ill-defined experimental conditions, the results obtained around the times of many conjunctions and oppositions of Jupiter with Sun and Moon over a period of four years are very striking indeed. As with the Saturn-Sun and Moon-Sun alignments there was a very distinct loss of complexity of form which returned after the alignment. Kolisko cautiously concludes that ‘it is impossible to doubt that connections exist between planetary forces and earthly substances.’ Nevertheless, she generally seems to imply that the position of the particular planet has influenced the behaviour of the corresponding metal in solution. As with other studies, this one involving three planets and two metal salts does not permit a direct causal connection to be drawn between, in this case, tin and positions of Jupiter.

The foregoing applies even more so with the Saturn-lead experiments which involve an even greater level of complexity.8 A mixture of silver nitrate, iron (II) sulphate and lead nitrate was used to study Saturn conjunctions and oppositions with various planets between 1926 and 1951. However, it should be added that here Kolisko used what she describes as a ‘control’, namely a silver nitrate-iron sulphate mixture without the lead. The patterns with the three salts are far richer in form than those mentioned above. Although Kolisko carefully describes the phenomena in the patterns, she makes no attempt to explain the chemistry behind the highly complex forms obtained. However, Pelikan reporting similar work by Theodor Schwenk during the 30th November/1st December 1949 Saturn-Mars conjunction,13 points out that precipitation of metallic silver and lead sulphate has already occurred during the initial mixing of the three salt solutions and that the precipitation process of these two substances carries on within the paper thus giving rise to the patterns. Over the 25 year period the results obtained are again very striking, with an unmistakable loss of form in the patterns during the various planetary alignments. The controls, i.e. without lead nitrate, showed the normal pre- post-alignment patterns. The presence of the lead salt is clearly an essential condition for the phenomenon of the pattern change during the alignment, but so also are the other two salts. Furthermore, as the Saturn alignments include those with the Moon and with Mars, whose supposedly corresponding metals are present in the salt mixture, it is not possible from these published experiments to disentangle the interrelationships. Whether the silver nitrate and the iron sulphate are visualisation reagents for a process taking place in the capillary dynamolysis of lead nitrate or whether the reverse is the case cannot be determined.

What is clear, however, from Kolisko’s work is that correlations were shown between the patterns and the planetary alignments. This has also been confirmed in other laboratories, for instance with the above mentioned Saturn-Mars conjunction in 1949. With the mixture of the same three salts, Schwenk’s results republished by Pelikan13 are again very striking. It is interesting to compare the two sets for this alignment. Partly because Kolisko8 used a different type of filter paper, her patterns are not as distinctive as Schwenk’s on this occasion, although the change during the conjunction is unmistakable. Kolisko’s silver-iron ‘control’ also underwent a change, from which she implies a Mars-iron connection.

More independent corroboration of the latter can be found in Fyfe’s work.14 After discovering variability in capillary dynamolysis with silver nitrate and iron (II) sulphate mixtures she investigated the parameters more thoroughly. Mixing technique, delay in putting the paper in the solution and of course salt concentration all had very marked effects on the richness of form in the resulting capillary dynamolysis patterns. This allowed her to conclude that speed of reaction between the salts and their concentration before dynamolysis commenced were the main causes of previous variability. She also took the additional precautions of maintaining temperature and humidity constant, as well as placing the apparatus in the dark. Even so, with these experimental conditions she was able to demonstrate loss of form in the patterns during three Moon-Mars conjunctions.14

Capillary dynamolysis and plant saps

Kolisko began applying capillary dynamolysis to plant saps in 1923 again following indications from Steiner.15 The method involves capillary dynamolysis first with an aqueous extract of plant sap followed, with intermediate drying, by a metal salt, usually silver nitrate, which serves as an indicator to develop the pattern. Since then it has been widely applied in this form, though, of course, nowhere near as widely as its close relative, paper chromatography. For a brief history of the common origins of the two paper methods see Záveský .16 For a bibliography of the application of capillary dynamolysis to medical diagnosis and to testing composts and soils see Steffen.17 Extensive pioneering work in the application of the method to plant saps was undertaken by Fyfe18 who used it to provide evidence of Moon influences on sap qualities later extending the work to other planets and related plants. More recent published evidence of continued widespread interest in the method can be found in the special issue of ‘Elemente der Naturwissenschaft’ devoted to applications involving plant saps.19 These applications include quality control in the manufacture of herbal remedies and in the determination of optimal harvesting times for the plants concerned.

Steffen experienced difficulties with the reproducibility of the method applied to Urtica dioica leaf extracts and investigated in more detail the factors responsible.17,20 Whilst much of the variability arises between harvesting the leaves and the finished extract, unacceptable variations can arise in the capillary dynamolysis process itself. Particularly bad reproducibility was obtained with extract-treated papers which showed a strong flow inhibition in the second stage with the metal salt reagent. With the sessile drop penetration test used as a size test by paper manufacturers, Steffen showed that the maximum flow inhibition corresponds with the zone of least wetability of the paper and that the richness of the final pattern arises in the complex flow dynamics set up when the rising metal salt solution breaks through the zone of flow inhibition at various points, carrying particulates and redissolved plant substances with it. Steffen’s observations of the flow phenomena actually taking place within papers pre-treated with pure substances such as sugar led him to conclude that ‘capillary dynamolysis is an inorganic, physical experimental situation’ in the sense that Steiner uses the term ‘inorganic’ in his epistemological writings.21 This clearly challenges the assumption by Fyfe18 and others that the patterns are visualising ‘formative forces’ in the plant sap. Steffen further challenged the conclusiveness of results published by Fyfe and others purporting to demonstrate a correlation between planetary positions and capillary dynamolysis of plant saps.20

Balthasar22 defended Fyfe’s work by pointing out that Steffen was relatively new to the field and that his documented observations were contradictory. Also, citing Kolisko’s work purporting to show the effect on capillary dynamolysis patterns of high homeopathic potencies of a particular substance corresponding to its absence in molecular terms, Balthasar essentially argued that Steffen’s explanation of the patterns is reductionistic. Both views in this controversy would appear to have a measure of validity and, because of the epistemological issues raised, the background deserves closer investigation.

Before looking at whether or not the method evidences the working of formative forces the question arises as to the extent to which it involves inorganic or organic nature. This is precisely the question raised by Knijpenga following the introduction he wrote to the special issue of Elemente der Naturwissenschaft mentioned above.23 He points out that after the methodological problems have been overcome there remains the cognitive task of how the capillary dynamolysis patterns are to be read. He argues that the experimental conditions and processes are not causes of, but conditions for the development of a pattern which ultimately expresses pictorially something about the plant substance. That part of the process whereby the experimenter can vary the patterns at will simply by changing the physical conditions, Balthasar assigns to cognition of inorganic nature. However, the actual pattern which arises he regards as a kind of evolved form of expression of the plant type and it can be studied as such by the method of comparison. With this the observer can contemplate the capillary dynamolysis patterns and, with sufficient mobility of thinking, overcome their spatial aspect, ultimately seeing what is at work creating them. For this, the observer has to cultivate intuitive judgement. Thus in my opinion, Balthasar, neatly reconciles the two sides of the controversy.

In contrast, Steffen regards the whole process as belonging to inorganic nature, i.e. as lifeless and explainable in terms of physical causality.20 However, with a broader understanding of the meaning of ‘organic nature’ as embracing not only living organisms, but also chemical substances, it is not difficult to see where organic nature participates in the process. After all, when we taste the flavour of peppermint from an extract of the plant prepared as tea, for instance, we are surely experiencing an expression of the plant type. By analogy, the capillary dynamolysis pattern conveys another expression of the plant type, in this case to the eye. Influences of the plant extract, such as those on the wetability of the filter paper, are dependent on the chemical properties of the plant substances. Here we have a manifestation, albeit complex, of the substance type. External causality, e.g. temperature, humidity, porosity etc. is here relegated to a modifying role just as is the case with a living organism.

Despite the controversy in the eighties, the technique continues to be used and developed, for instance at Wala Heilmittel Gmbh in Germany, although its application cannot be said to be significantly increasing globally. Strüh24 used the technique to compare the methods of preparing plant tinctures with and without added alcohol. Wala tinctures are generally based on alcohol-free extraction using rhythmic cycling of the extraction temperature.

Balzer-Graf has applied the technique over a period of 20 years to the study of food quality. In ‘blind’ experiments, the method enabled wheat samples to be sorted according to the kind of farming system, organic or conventional, that was used.25 The technique as also been applied to comparing old and new varieties of grains; monitoring the ageing of food products; studying effects of time of harvesting and comparing genetically engineered potatoes with conventional ones.26 The latter work has so far been inconclusive because of the difficulty of matching the age of transgenic tubers with controls and further work has been delayed because of a ban by the authorities in Switzerland on growing the transgenic tubers in the open.

Finding satisfactory methods of distinguishing organic from conventionally grown food is becoming an increasing concern in parallel with the recent rapid increase in the organic food market and the ideological attacks on the organic method of farming. Indeed Balzer-Graf’s work was given a prominent position in the UK Soil Association’s annual conference in January 2000.27 Ordinary chemical analyses, even with modern chromatographic methods, are not considered satisfactory. Whilst of course they detect significant differences in levels of individual substances,28 they do not adequately assess the vitality or wholesomeness of organic food by this method. Mandera,25 in a paper examining a wide range of plants and a number of parameters of the capillary dynamolysis method, including the effects of dilution of the plant extract and sampling the plant at different times of the year, writes “through the Goethean approach to research we can learn to see the growing plant as a ‘picture’, in order to get a sense for the activity of the ether body.” But as the foregoing discussion indicates, getting that sense makes considerable demands on the faculties of observation of the investigator. Now that laboratory testing is extensively computer-automated and results are expected in digital form, investigators have become detached from the phenomena under investigation. In the light of this, will a new generation of investigators come forward willing to cultivate the necessary observational skills for the capillary dynamolysis technique to work?


  1. Steiner, R. (1924) Geisteswissenschaftliche Grundlagen zum Gedeihen der Landwirtschaft. 8 lectures given at Koberwitz, 7th – 16th June. GA 327. Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach, 1984. Translated by George Adams as ‘Agriculture’. 1974. Pubs: Biodynamic Agricultural Association, Rudolf Steiner House, London
  2. Steiner, R. (1924) Meditative Betrachtungen und Anleitungen zur Vertiefung der Heilkunst. GA 316. Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach. Translated as ‘Lectures to young doctors’ A series of 8 lectures 2-9th January and 5 lectures 21-25th April 1924 given in Dornach. Published as study material only by: The Anthroposophical Medical Association. Copies available from Dr. James Dyson, Park Attwood Clinic, Trimpley, Bewdley, West Midlands DY12 1RE.
  3. Steiner, R. (1921) Das Verhältnis der verschiedenen naturwissenschaftlichen Gebiete zur Astronomie. Dritter Naturwissenschaftlicher Kurs: Himmelskunde in Beziehung zum Menschen und zur Menschenkunde. 18 lectures given at Stuttgart, 1st – 18th January. GA 323. Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1983 (No published translation is available in English. The typescript of a translation by George Adams entitled ‘The relation of the diverse branches of the natural sciences to astronomy – 3rd Science Course’ is kept at The Library, Rudolf Steiner House, 35 Park Road, London NW1 6XT)
  4. Kolisko, Lilly (1929) Das Silber und der Mond – Experimentelle Studien aus dem biologishen Institut am Goetheanum – Schriftenreihe der Natura III. Orient-Occident Verlag, Stuttgart
  5. Pfeiffer, Ehrenfried (1975) Sensitive crystallisation processes – a demonstration of formative forces in the blood. Anthroposophic Press, New York
  6. Fyfe, A. (1981) Scientific hypotheses and etheric forces. Science Forum 3, 30.
  7. Edwards, Lawrence (1993) The vortex of life – nature’s patterns in space and time. Pubs: Floris Books, Edinburgh
  8. Kolisko, L. (1952) Sternenwerken in Erdenstoffen – Saturn und Blei – Ein Versuch die Phänomene der Chemie, Astronomie und Physiologie zusammen zu schauen. Published by the author.
  9. Stillman, John M. (1924) The story of alchemy and the early history of chemistry. Republished by Dover Books, New York & Constable & Co, London 1960.
  10. Steiner, R. (1920) Geisteswissenschaft und Medizin. 20 lectures given at Dornach, 21st March – 9th April. GA312. Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach, 1985. Translated as ‘Spiritual Science and Medicine’, Pubs: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1975 (Out of print)
  11. Kolisko, L. (1936) Gold and the Sun – an account of experiments conducted in connection with the total eclipse of the Sun of 19th June 1936. School of Spiritual Science, Rudolf Steiner House, London.
  12. Kolisko, L. (1932) Sternenwirken in Erdenstoffen IV – Der Jupiter und das Zinn – Experimentelle Studien aus dem Biologischen Institut am Goetheanum. Mathematisch-Astronomisch Sektion am Goetheanum, Stuttgart
  13. Pelikan, Wilhelm (1952) Sieben metalle. Translated by Charlotte Lebensart as ‘The secrets of metals’. 1973. Pubs: Anthroposophic Press, New York
  14. Fyfe, Agnes (1967) Über die Variabilität von Silber-Eisen-Steigbildern. Elemente der Naturwissenschaft, 6(1), 35-43
  15. Kolisko, Eugen & Lilly Kolisko (1978) Agriculture of Tomorrow. Kolisko Archive Publications, Bournemouth
  16. Záveský, Václav (1987) Was kann die Steigbildmethode nach L. Kolisko zu einer phänomenologischen Betrachtung der Pflanzenstofflichkeit beitragen? Elemente der Naturwissenschaft, 46(1), 4-21
  17. Steffen, William (1983) The physico-chemical basis of capillary dynamolysis. Science Forum 4, 3-7
  18. Fyfe, A. (1967) Die Signatur des Mondes in Pflanzenreich. Stuttgart English edition ‘Moon and Plant’, Stuttgart, (2nd ed. 1975)
  19. Elemente der Naturwissenschaft 46(1), 1987, 1-130
  20. Steffen, W. (1983) Untersuchungen zu den physikalisch-chemischen Grundlagen der Steigbildmethode. Elemente der Naturwissenschaft, 38, 36-49
  21. Steiner, Rudolf. (1886) Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung. Rudolf Steiner Verlag. GA 2, 1979. Translation by Olin D. Wannamaker: Theory of Knowledge implicit in Goethe’s World Conception. Anthroposophic Press, Spring Valley, New York 1968
  22. Balthasar, Paul (1986) Bemerkungen zu William Steffen: Untersuchungen zu den experimentellen und physikalisch-chemischen Grundlagen der Steigbildmethode. Elemente der Naturwissenschaft 44(1), 66-70
  23. Knijpenga, Haijo (1987) Die Steigbildmethode als erkenntnistheoretisch Herausforderung. Elemente der Naturwissenschaft, 46(1), 2-3
  24. Strüh, Hans-Joachim. (1992) Zu den stofflichen Verhältnissen und zur zeitlichen Entwicklung von pharmazeutischen Pflanzenauszügen. Tycho de Brahe Jahrbuch für Goetheanismus. Tycho-Brahe Verlag, Niefern-Öschelbronn. 260-283.
  25. Balzer-Graf, Ursula (1996) Vitalqualität von Weizen aus unterschiedlichem Anbau. Beiträge zur Förderung der biol.-dyn Landwirtschaft, Sonderheft Forschung, 44, 11, pp. 440-550.
  26. Abstracts of ongoing projects in Beiträge zur Förderung der biol.-dyn Landwirtschaft, Sonderheft Forschung, February 1998, pp28-35.
  27. Balzer-Graf, Ursula (2000) The Renaissance of Farming: A Vision for Organic Farming in the 21st Century. Proceedings of a conference at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, UK, 7-9 January 2000. Soil Association, Bristol. This presentation including the colour slides is available from ‘The Library’ on the Soil Association’s web site at in two Adobe Acrobat PDF files.
  28. Smith, Bob L. (1993) Organic Foods vs Supermarket Foods: Element Levels. Journal of Applied Nutrition, Vol. 45, No. 1, 35-39
  29. Mandera, Ruth. (1995) Zur Metamorphose von Pflanzenorganen, Substanzqualitäten und bildtypen im Steigbild. Tycho de Brahe Jahrbuch für Goetheanismus. Tycho-Brahe Verlag, Niefern-Öschelbronn. 281-310.