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Occult Science - An Outline

Chapter II

The Nature of Humanity

What we have seen to be true of the supersensible way of cognition in general, becomes immediately evident when we set out to study Man from this standpoint. For the essential thing will be to recognize the “manifest secret” of our own human nature. What is accessible to the senses, and to the intellect that rests on sense-perception, is but a part of human nature as known to supersensible cognition. It is the physical body of man.

To reach a clear and accurate idea of the “physical body,” our attention must first be directed to the phenomenon of death — the great riddle that confronts us wherever we turn to observe life. And in connection with death, we have to think of lifeless Nature so-called — the kingdom of the mineral, which carries death perpetually within it. All these are facts of which the full explanation is only possible with the help of supersensible knowledge, and an important section of this work must be devoted to them. We will begin by suggesting certain ideas and lines of thought with a view to clearer understanding.

Within the manifest world it is the physical body in which man is of like nature with the mineral creation. Anything that distinguishes man from the mineral cannot properly be regarded as “physical body.” To clear and open-minded reflection the important fact will be that death lays bare the part of the human being which — after death — is of like nature with the mineral world. We can point to the corpse as to that part of man, which, after death, is subject to processes such as are also found in the mineral kingdom. We can emphasize that in this member of man's nature, which we now call the corpse, the same substances and forces are at work as in the mineral world. Equal stress must however be laid upon the fact that for the physical body of man, disintegration sets in the moment death occurs. Moreover we shall be justified in saying: while the same substances and forces are indeed at work in the physical body of man and in the mineral, during man's life their activity is made to serve a higher function. It is only when death has taken place that they work identically with the mineral world. Then they appear, as indeed they must in accordance with their own nature, as the destroyer of the form and structure of man's physical body.

Thus we are able clearly to distinguish what is manifest from what is hidden in the human being. Throughout the life of man something that is hidden must perpetually be battling with the mineral substances and forces in the physical body. The moment the battle ceases, the mineral form of activity makes its appearance. This is the point where the science of the supersensible must enter in; it has to discover what [it is] that maintains the battle. For this is hidden from the outer senses; it is accessible only to supersensible observation. The way man can attain such observation, so that the “hidden reality” becomes as manifest to him as are the phenomena of the sense-world to his ordinary vision, will be dealt with in a later chapter. Here, the results of supersensible observation must first be described. As has already been pointed out, information about the path to the attainment of higher faculties of cognition can only be of value to a man when he has first made himself acquainted, through simple narrative, with that which supersensible research reveals. In this domain it is indeed possible to comprehend what one cannot yet observe. Nay more, the right path to seership is one that takes its start from such comprehension.

Although the hidden something which battles against the disintegration of the physical body can be observed by seership alone, in its effects it is plainly evident even to the kind of judgment which is restricted to the outwardly manifest. For its effects are expressed in the form and shape into which the substances and forces of the physical body are combined during life. When death has taken place, this form gradually disappears and the physical body becomes part of the mineral kingdom pure and simple. Supersensible perception can observe, as an independent member of the human being, what it is that prevents the physical substances and forces during life from going their own way, which would, as we have seen, lead to the disintegration of the physical body. We will call this independent member of man's being the Etheric Body or Life-Body.

If misunderstandings are not to creep in at the outset, two things must be borne in mind when these terms are used. In the first place, the word “ether” is here applied in a different sense from that of modern Physics, which denotes as ether, for example, the supposed carrier of light — the “luminiferous either.” Here the word “ether” will be strictly limited to the meaning above indicated. It will be applied to the reality, accessible to higher perception, which makes itself known to sense-observation only by its effects, namely by its power to give definite form and configuration to the mineral substances and forces present in the physical body. Nor, in the second place, must the word “body” be misunderstood. To designate these more spiritual entities there is no avoiding the use of words taken from ordinary language, which to begin with apply to material, sense-perceptible things. The etheric body is of course nothing “bodily” in the sensual meaning of the term, in however refined a way we might conceive it.1

With the mention of the etheric body or life-body, our description of supersensible realities is already bound to come into conflict with contemporary opinions. As an outcome of the development of human thought hitherto, the mention of a “life-body” as an essential principle of human nature can at the present time scarcely fail to be regarded as unscientific. Materialistic thought has reached a point where it sees no more in the living organism than a combination of physical substances and forces such as are also found in the so-called lifeless body, or in the mineral. The combination is only supposed to be far more complex.

Yet it is not so very long since other views were held, even by official science. If we study the writings of many serious thinkers of the first half of the nineteenth century, we realize how at that time even “genuine scientists” were aware that something more is present in the living body than in the mineral. They spoke of a vital force or life-force. True, they did not conceive it as a “life-body” in the sense above described, but there was in their minds a dim underlying feeling that something of the sort exists. To their way of thinking, it was as though the life-force were present in the living body over and above the physical substances and forces, in much the same way as in the magnet the magnetic force is present over and above the mere iron. Then the time came when the idea of a life-force was eliminated form the accepted scientific teachings. It was claimed that physical and chemical causes alone are a sufficient explanation. Latterly, there has again been a reaction. Some scientific thinkers are disposed to admit that something like a vital force is, after all, not entirely out of the question. But even scientists who admit this much will hardly be disposed to make common cause with the conception here put forward of the life-body.

Generally speaking, to enter into a discussion of these scientific theories from the standpoint of supersensible knowledge will be of little value. Rather should it be recognized that the materialistic conception is an inevitable concomitant of the great progress of Natural Science in our time. This progress has been due to an extreme refinement in the methods of observation by the external senses. And it is characteristic of human nature: again and again in the course of his evolution man brings certain faculties to a high degree of perfection at the expense of others. The faculty of precise sensory observation, which has evolved so significantly with the rise of Natural Science, was bound to eclipse the cultivation of those human faculties which lead into the hidden worlds. But the time has come round again when their cultivation is urgently needed. The recognition of the hidden worlds will not be furthered by combating judgments which are only the logical outcome of its denial; rather, by putting forward the hidden reality itself in a true light. Then those for whom the time has come will recognize it.

Yet it was necessary to say this much, lest mere ignorance of scientific viewpoints should be presumed when mention is made of an etheric body, which, we are well aware, will widely be regarded as a mere figment of the imagination.

The etheric body, then, constitutes a second member of the human being. For supersensible perception it has indeed a higher degree of reality than the physical. A description of how supersensible perception sees it can only be given in the later sections of this book, when the way of understanding such descriptions will have been made clear. For the present it will suffice to say that the etheric body completely permeates the physical, of which it may be regarded as a kind of architect. All the organs of the physical body are maintained in their form and structure by the currents and movements of the etheric body. Underlying the physical heart there is an etheric heart, underlying the physical brain as etheric brain, and so on. The etheric body is in effect a differentiated body like the physical, only far more complicated. And whereas in the physical body there are relatively separated parts, in the etheric all is in living interflow and movement.

Man has the etheric body, the science of the supersensible advances to a further member of human nature. And as in leading up to the etheric body attention had to be drawn to death, so, to form a conception of this further member of man's nature, supersensible science points to the phenomenon of sleep. All the creative work of man depends — so far as the manifest world is concerned — on his activity in waking life. But this activity is only possible if he again and again derives from sleep a strengthening of his exhausted forces. In sleep, action and thought disappear; pain and joy vanish from conscious life. On awakening, man's conscious powers well up from the unconsciousness of sleep as if from mysteries and hidden springs. It is the same consciousness which sinks into dark depths when man falls asleep, and then arises again when he awakens. To the science of the supersensible, what rouses life again and again from the unconscious state is the third member of the human being. It may be called the Astral Body.

As the physical body cannot maintain its form through the mineral substances and forces it contains, but needs to be permeated by the etheric body, so too the forces of the etheric body cannot of themselves become illumined with the light of consciousness. Left to itself, an etheric body would of necessity be in a perpetual state of sleep — or, we may also say, could only maintain in the physical body a vegetable form of life. An etheric body that is awake is illumined by an astral body. For outer observation the effect of the astral body disappears when man falls asleep. For supersensible observation however, the astral body still remains, but it is now seen to be separated from the etheric body, or lifted out of it. Sensory observation is in fact concerned, not with the astral body itself, but only with its effects within the manifest world, and these are not immediately present during sleep.

Man has his physical body in common with the minerals and his etheric body with the plants. In the same sense he is of like nature with the animals in respect of the astral body. The plant is in a perpetual state of sleep. Anyone who does not judge accurately in these matters may easily fall into the error of attributing to plants too a kind of consciousness such as the animals and man have in their waking state. But this mistake is only possible when one's idea of consciousness is inexact. One may then aver that a plant too, when subjected to an outer stimulus, will perform movements, just an animal will do. One will refer to the “sensitiveness” of many plants, which for example contract their leaves when certain outer things affect them. But the criterion of consciousness does not lie in the fact that to a given action a being shows a definite reaction. It lies in this, that the being has an inner experience, and this is a new factor, over and above the mere reaction. Otherwise we might as well speak of consciousness when a piece of iron expands under the influence of heat. Consciousness is only there when for example, through the effect of heat, the being inwardly experiences pain.

The fourth member which supersensible science attributes to the human being, is one he no longer has in common with any of the manifest world around him. Indeed it is this fourth member which distinguishes him from all his fellow-creatures and marks him as the crown of the creation — or of that realm of the creation to which man belongs. Supersensible science arrives at an idea of this fourth member of the human being by pointing to an essential differentiation between the kinds of experience we have even within waking life.

This difference becomes directly evident when man observes that in the waking state he is on the one hand in the midst of experiences which must come and go, while on the other hand he also has experiences of which this cannot be said. It comes out most distinctly when we compare the conscious experiences of man with those of the animal. The animal experiences the influences of the outer world with great regularity. Under the influences of heat and cold it becomes conscious of pain or pleasure, and its experience of thirst and hunger is subject to bodily processes which take a regular and periodic course. Man's life is not exhausted by experiences such as these. He can develop wishes and cravings transcending all these things. For the animal, could we but pursue the matter far enough, we should always be able to indicate — within the body or outside it — the precise cause for any given action or sensation. With man it is not so. He can give birth to wishes and desires for whose origin no external cause — whether in the body or outside it — is sufficient. Everything that belongs to this domain must be attributed to a special source, which the science of the supersensible recognizes to be the I or Ego of man. The I may therefore be described as the fourth member of the human being.

If the astral body were left to itself, pleasure and pain, feelings of hunger or of thirst would come and go in it, but one thing would never come about — namely, the sense of something permanent in all these things. Not the permanent itself, but that which has conscious experience of the permanent, is here called the I. (We must form our concepts with great precision if misunderstandings are not to arise in this domain.) With the awareness of something permanent and lasting in the changing flow of inner experiences, the feeling of “I” of inner selfhood begins to dawn. The mere fact that a creature experiences hunger, for example, cannot give it the feeling of “I.” On every new occasion when the causes of hunger make themselves felt, hunger arises. The creature falls upon its food simply because the causes of hunger are there anew. The feeling of “I” comes in when the creature is not merely impelled to take food by the renewed causes of hunger, but when a previous satisfaction gave rise to a sense of pleasure and the consciousness of the pleasure has remained. Here it is not only the present experience of hunger but the past experience of satisfaction which provides the impulse.

The physical body disintegrates when it is not held together by the etheric; the etheric body falls into unconsciousness when it is not irradiated by the astral body. In the like manner the astral body would ever and again have to let the past sink into oblivion if the I did not preserve the past and carry it over into the present. Forgetting is for the astral body what death is for the physical body and sleep for the etheric. Or, as we may also express it: life is proper to the etheric body, consciousness to the astral body, and memory to the Ego.

To attribute memory to animals is an error still easier to fall into than the mistake of ascribing consciousness to plants. It is natural enough to think of memory when a dog recognizes its master, whom it may not have seen for some time past. Yet in reality the recognition depends not on memory, but on something else. The attraction proceeds from the master's nature, which give pleasure to the dog when in his presence. Every time the master's presence is renewed this causes a renewal of the pleasure. Now memory is only there when a being not only feels the experiences of the present moment but preserves those of the past. Even when this is granted, it is however still possible of make the mistake of attributing memory to the dog. Surely, one might rejoin, since the dog grieves when its master goes away, it must retain some memory of him. This too, however, is a wrong conclusion. By living with him, the master's presence has become a need to the dog; it feels his absence just as it experiences hunger. If we are not ready to make clear distinctions of this kind, insight into the true relationships of life remains impaired.

Prevalent misconceptions may even now lead to the retort that we surely cannot know whether anything like human memory is present in the animal or not. This difficulty is due to untrained observation. Anyone who can observe in a really sensible way how the animal behaves in the whole nexus of its experiences, will notice an essential difference between the behavior of the animal and that of man. He will realize that the animal's behavior implies the absence of all memory. To supersensible perception this is directly evident; but in these matters what the supersensible observer is aware of directly, can also be recognized in its effects by sense-perception and the penetration of sense-perception with clear thinking.

If we say that man is aware of his memory by looking into his own inner life — a method he obviously cannot apply to the animal — we make a fatal mistake. Man is of course aware of his own faculty of memory, but he can not derive this knowledge from mere introspection. He derives it from what he experiences with himself in relation to the things and events of the external world. This kind of experience he has with himself, with his fellow-man, and with the animals too, in precisely the same way. It is an illusion to imagine that we judge of the presence of memory simply on the strength of introspection. The power underlying memory may indeed by called an inner one; the judgment about it is acquired, even for one's own person, by the tests of the external world — by observing the whole sequence and continuity of life. Of this we can form a judgment in the case of the animal no less than in our own. In such matters the psychology of our time suffers greatly from crude and inexact conceptions — conceptions based on faulty observation and therefore highly misleading.

The significance for the Ego of remembering and forgetting is like that of waking and sleeping for the astral body. As sleep lets the cares and troubles of the day vanish into nothingness, so does forgetting spread a veil over the unhappy experiences of life, thus extinguishing a portion of the past. And as sleep is necessary to refresh the exhausted powers of life, so must the human being blot out from memory certain portions of his past if he is to meet new experiences openly and freely. From the very forgetting he gains strength for perception of the new. Think for instance of how we learn to write. The many details which a child must live through as he learns to write are afterwards forgotten. It is only the faculty of writing that remains. How would a man ever manage to write, if every time he put pen to paper there rose up in his soul the memory of all the experiences he had to undergo as a child during his writing lessons!

Now memory appears in different stages and degrees. We have it in its simplest form when a man perceives an object and, having turned away, is able still to recall an image of it to his mind. It was while he was perceiving the object that he formed the mental image. A process was then taking place between his astral body and his Ego. The astral body brought the external impression of the object to his consciousness. But his awareness of the object would have lasted no longer than it was actually there before him, if it were not for the Ego receiving this awareness into itself and making it its own.

It is this point that the science of the supersensible distinguishes “body” from “soul.” We speak of the “astral body” so long as we have in mind how the knowledge or awareness of an actually present object comes about, while we designate as “soul” what give the knowledge performance, duration. From this it will be evident how close is the connection of the astral body with the part of the soul which gives permanence to knowledge. In a sense, they may even be said to be united — to constitute a single member of the human being. Hence it is also possible to refer to them jointly as the astral body. Or, if we desire a more exact description, we may call the astral body of man the “Soul-Body” and the soul, is so far as it is united with the astral body, the “Sentient Soul.”

The Ego rises to a higher stage of being when it directs its activity to what it has received and has made its own by taking cognizance of external objects. In this activity it liberates itself increasingly from the external objects of perception., to work within its own sphere and property. The part of the soul to which this faculty belongs may be described as the Intellectual or Mind-Soul.

It is characteristic both of the sentient and of the intellectual soul that they work with what is received through the impressions of sense-perceived objects and with what memory retains of these impressions. The soul is here entirely given up to things external to it. For even what it has made its own through memory,--even this was received originally from outside. But it is able to transcend all this; the soul is not only sentient and intelligent. Supersensible perception can most readily form an idea of this transcendent faculty by pointing to a simple fact, the far-reaching significance of which needs only to be rightly valued,--the fact that in the whole domain of language there is one name which differs in its essence from all other names. It is the name “I.” Every other name can be given by every man to the thing or being to which it belongs. “I,” on the other hand, as the designation of a being, only has meaning when the being gives itself this name. The name “I” can never reach a man from without as a designation of himself. It is only to himself that any being can apply this name. “I” am an I only to myself; to every other being I am a you, and every other being is a you to me.”

This is the outer expression of a deeply significant truth. The real being of the I is independent of all external things and for this very reason no external thing or person can call it by its name. Hence those religious faiths which have consciously maintained their connection with the supersensible wisdom speak of the I as the Unutterable Name of God. For this is what they mean to indicate. Nothing external has access to the part of the human soul which is here envisaged. Here is the “hidden Holy of Holies” of the soul, to which no entry is possible save for a Being with whom the soul is of like kind and essence. “The God who dwells in man,--He it is who speaks when the soul perceives and knows itself as “I.” As the sentient soul and intellectual soul live in the outer world, so does a third member of the soul immerse itself in the Divine when the soul comes to a perception of its own essence and nature.

One may all too easily be misunderstood at this point — as though one were asserting that the human I and God were one and the same. Yet it is not said that the I is God, but only that it is of like kind and essence with the Divine. When we say that a drop of water taken from the ocean is of the same essence or substance as the ocean, are we thereby stating that the drop is the ocean? If we must use a comparison, we may put it thus: as the drop is to the ocean, so is the I to the Divine. Man can find a Divine within himself, because his own and most essential being springs from the Divine.

In this way man reaches up to a third member of his soul — to an inner knowledge and awareness of himself, even as through the astral body he gains knowledge and awareness of the outer world. Hence too, Occult Science calls this third member of the soul, the Consciousness-Soul or Spiritual Soul. Thus Occult Science sees the soul as consisting of three members: Sentient Soul, Intellectual Soul and Spiritual Soul; just as the bodily nature consists of the three members: Physical Body, Etheric Body and Astral Body.

Errors in psychological observation, not unlike those already discussed with reference to memory, give rise to difficulties once again when seeking insight into the nature of the I. Much that people think they see may easily be taken by them for a refutation of what has here been said, whereas in truth it serves only to confirm it. Such is the case, for instance, with Eduard von Hartmann's remarks on page 55 of his Outline of Psychology.2 “To begin with,” says von Hartmann, “self-consciousness is older than that word “I.” The personal pronouns are a comparatively late product in the evolution of language, and have for language merely the value of abbreviation. The word “I” is a short substitute for the proper name of the speaker — with this peculiarity, that every speaker applies it to himself, no matter by what proper name the others call him. In animals and in the untrained deaf and dumb, self-consciousness may evolve to a high degree, even without the initial connection with a proper name. Also the consciousness of the proper name may completely replace the use of the word “I” when this is absent. The recognition of this fact will suffice to remove the magic halo with which the little word “I” is invested for so many people. The word contributes nothing to the concept of self-consciousness; it receives its own content purely from this concept.”

We need not quarrel with such a point of view. We may well agree that the little word “I” should not be invested with a magic halo — such as could, after all, only blur the thoughtful perception of the truth. But the essence of a matter is not decided by the way in which the word, the designation for it, has evolved. That the real essence and nature of the I in self-consciousness is “older than the word “I” — this is precisely the point. The point is, moreover, that the human being needs this word, with its unique properties, to express what he experiences in relation to the outer world in a different way from an animal. Nothing is ascertained about the nature of the triangle by showing how the word “triangle” evolved. No more can the nature of the I or Ego be determined by anything that we may know as to how the use of the word “I” arose from other usages of words in the evolution of language.

In the spiritual soul the real nature of the I first becomes revealed. For while in sentient and intellectual activity the soul is given up to other things, qua spiritual soul it seizes hold of its own being. Hence too, the spiritual soul can only perceive the I by dint of a certain inner activity. The mental images and representations of external objects are formed as these objects come and go; in the intellect they go on working by their own impetus. But if the I is to perceive itself, it can no longer passively devote itself to other things. To become conscious of its own essence and being, it must first call it forth — by dint of inner activity — out of the depths of its own nature. With the perception of the “I” — with self-contemplation — an inner activity of the I itself begins. By virtue of this activity, the perception of the I in the spiritual soul has a fundamentally different significance for man from the observation of what comes to him through the three bodily members and the other two members of the soul.

The power which brings the I to manifestations in the spiritual soul is indeed the self-same power which reveals itself throughout the world. In the body however, and in the lower members of the soul, it does not come forth directly but is revealed stage by stage in its effects. The lowest revelation of it is through the physical body; thence it arises, step by step, up to the content of the intellectual soul. We might say that with each step in the ascent one of the veils by which the Unmanifest is shrouded falls away. In the experience and content of the spiritual soul, the Unmanifest in its own essence enters unveiled into the inmost temple of the soul Admittedly it shows itself as a mere drop out of the ocean of the all-pervading spiritual essence. Yet it is here that man must first seize the spiritual essence. He must know it by discovering it within himself; then he can also find it in all other revelations.

What penetrates in this way like a drop into the spiritual soul is what Occult Science calls the Spirit. Thus the spiritual soul is connected with the universal Spirit which is the hidden reality within all things manifest. If man would apprehend the hidden Spirit in all the other manifestations of the World, he must needs do so in the same way in which he apprehends the Ego in the “Consciousness-Soul” — the spiritual soul. He must apply to the manifest world the same activity which has led him to a perception of the I within himself. By this means he evolves to higher stages of his being. To the bodily members and the members of the soul he now adds something new.

The first step along this path consists in his conquering and making his own all that lies hidden in the lower members of his soul He does this by working upon his soul — working upon it out of the inmost resources of the Ego. We have a vivid picture of the way the human being is engaged upon this work when we compare a man still given up to lower ravings and so-called sensual pleasures with a high-minded idealist. The former evolves into the latter in that he withdraws from lower inclinations and turns to higher ones. In so doing, he works from the Ego upon his soul, ennobling and spiritualizing it. The Ego becomes master in the soul's life.

This process can go so far that no desires or enjoyments can gain access to the soul without the I itself being the power which makes possible their entry. And in this way the soul in its entirety becomes at length a revelation of the I, as was hitherto the spiritual soul alone . This is the meaning of all civilization, of all the spiritual strivings and aspirations of mankind. There is this constant endeavor for the mastery of the Ego. Every human being living at the present time is engaged in this great work — whether he will or not, whether he is conscious of the fact or not.

This work leads on to ever higher levels of human nature. Through it man evolves new members of his being, which lie — as yet unmanifest — behind what is manifest in him. Moreover, it is not only the soul over which a man can attain mastery by working upon it from the Ego, till from the manifest within the soul the unmanifest springs forth. He can extend this work still further, carrying it over to the astral body. As he does so, the Ego gains power over the astral body, entering into union with its hidden nature. The astral body thus mastered and transformed by the I may be called the “Spirit-Self.” (This is identical with what is called, in connection with Oriental wisdom, “Manas.”) In the Spirit-Self we have therefore a higher member of man's nature, one which is already present in him — germinally, as it were — and comes forth ever more and more as he continues to work upon himself.

As man gains mastery over his astral body by penetrating to the hidden forces that underlie it, so in the course of evolution does he gain mastery over the etheric body too. The work upon the etheric body is however more intense and more exacting. For what lies hidden in the etheric body is shrouded beneath a double-veil; the hidden in the astral body beneath a single veil only. We can get some idea of the difference in the work upon the two bodies by noticing the changes which take place in a human being in the course of his life. Think of the qualities that are developed when the Ego works upon the soul. How very different a man's pleasures and desires, his joys and sufferings become! A man need only look back to the time of his childhood. What was it that he then delighted in, or that caused him pain? And what has he not learned and added to the faculties he had in childhood? These changes are but an expression of the way the Ego has been gaining mastery over the astral body. For the astral body is the bearer of pleasure and pain, of joy and suffering. And now compare with this the small extent to which certain other qualities of man will change in course of time: his temperament, for instance, his deeper traits of character. One who as a child is given to sudden fits of anger will often show signs of violent temper right on into later life. This is indeed so evident a fact that some thinkers tend altogether to dismiss the possibility of change in the basic character of any man. They assume it to be something that persists throughout is life, though it may be revealed in varying directions. Such a judgment rests however on insufficient observation. One who has sensitive perception will realize that even the character and temperament of man can change under the influence of his Ego, although the change is comparatively slow. We might even say that the two types of change are to one another as the movement of the hour hand to that of the minute hand of a clock.

Now the forces that affect these changes in character or temperament belong to the hidden domain of the etheric body. They are alike in kind with the forces that govern the kingdom of life — the forces of growth and nourishment and those that serve the reproductive process. All this will appear in the proper light in the further course of this book.

It is not when man is merely given up to pleasure or suffering, to joy or pain, that the Ego works upon the astral body; rather, when these proclivities are actually being changed. In like manner, the work of the Ego works upon the astral body; rather, when these proclivities are actually being changed. In like manner, the work of the Ego extends to the etheric body when it applies itself to changing the qualities of character, temperament and so forth. And at this transformation too, every man is working, whether or not he be aware of it. The impulses that work most strongly in this direction are those of religion. When the Ego lays itself open to these influences again and again, they work within it as a power which reaches down to the etheric body and transforms it, just as the lesser incentives of life will bring about the changing of the astral body. These lesser incentives, which come to man through learning, through thoughtful reflection, through the refinement of his feelings and so on, are subject to many variations; the religious emotions, on the other hand, impress a kind of unity on all his thinking, feeling and willing. They pour out as it were a common light, a light that is “single,” over the whole life of the soul. A man thinks and feels one thing to-day, another to-morrow. Many and varied circumstances provide occasion for his thoughts and feelings. But one who is aware through his religious life, of whatsoever kind it be, of something that outlasts all changes, will refer to the same underlying emotion his thoughts and feelings of to-day and his experiences of to-morrow. A man's religious faith thus has a penetrating influence in his soul's life — an influence which grows as time goes on through constant repetition. It thereby gains the power to work on the etheric body. So do the influences of true art affect the human being. When through the outer form, color or sound of a work of art man penetrates with thought and feeling to the spiritual sources that underlie it, the impulses the Ego thus receives do in effect reach the etheric body. Thinking this through to its conclusion, we may gain some idea of the immense significance of art in human evolution.

We have thus indicated some of the incentives enabling the Ego to work at the etheric body. There are other such influences in human life, though outwardly less evident than the ones here mentioned. From these, however, it can already be seen that there lies hidden in man a further member of human nature, which, once again, the Ego is progressively elaborating. It is the second member of man's spiritual being, and may be called the “Life-Spirit.” (It is identical with what is named “Budhi” in connection with Oriental wisdom.” The term Life-Spirit is right and proper because the same forces are working in it as in the life-body. Where they reveal themselves as life-body the I of man is not yet active in them; when they come to expression as Life-Spirit they are penetrated through and through by its activity.

Man's intellectual development, the purification and refinement of his feelings and of the manifestations of his will, are the measure of his transmutation of the astral body into Spirit-Self. His religious experiences, and other experiences too which life affords, become engraved in his etheric body, changing it into Life-Spirit. In the ordinary course of life all this goes on more or less unconsciously. There is, on the other hand, what is called the Initiation of man. Initiation consists in his being shown, through supersensible knowledge, the means whereby he may take in hand with full consciousness this work upon the Spirit-Self and the Life-Spirit. This will be spoken of in subsequent chapters. For the moment, the point was to show that in addition to the Soul and Body the Spirit too is at work in man. In contrast to the transitory body, the Spirit belongs to the Eternal in man. This too will emerge more clearly in further course.

Now the activity of the Ego is not exhausted with the work upon the astral and etheric bodies. It extends also to the physical. We see a faint suggestion of the influence of the ego on the physical body when, for example, a human being blushes or grows pale. For the I is here the underlying motive power of a process taking place in the physical body. If now, through the Ego's own activity and initiative, its influence upon the physical body undergoes essential changes, the Ego will then be working in unison with the hidden forces of the physical body. It will be united, in effect, with the same forces which bring about the physical processes in this body. The Ego itself may then be said to be working upon the physical body to transform it. But this expression must not be misunderstood. It must not be supposed that the work is of a crude material kind. For what appears crudely material in the physical body is merely what is manifest in it. Behind this manifest there lie the hidden forces of its being, and these are of a spiritual kind. Here we are speaking, not of a working upon the material appearance of the physical body, but of a spiritual working — a working upon the invisible forces to which the coming-into-being and also the decay of the physical body are due. In ordinary life man can at most become very dimly conscious of this work of the Ego upon the physical body. Full clarity is only reached when under the influence of spiritual knowledge he takes the work consciously in hand. It then becomes manifest that there is yet a third spiritual member in the human being. It may be called, in contrast to the physical man, the “Spirit-Man.” (In Oriental wisdom it is called “Atma.”)

With regard to Spirit-Man it is easy to be led astray by the fact that the physical appears to be the lowest member of the human being. One finds difficulty in conceiving that work upon the physical body should culminate in the highest member of man's nature. But for the very reason that the physical body conceals beneath a threefold veil the Spirit that is active in it, the highest form of human activity is needed to unite the Ego with this hidden Spirit.

Thus in the light of Occult Science man appears as a being composed of several members. Those of a bodily nature are: physical body, etheric body and astral body. Those of the soul are: sentient soul, intellectual soul and spiritual soul. In the soul the Ego sheds its light. Lastly we have the spiritual members: Spirit-Self, Life-Spirit and Spirit-Man.

From the above explanations it will be seen that the sentient soul and the astral body are intimately united, forming in one respect a single whole. The same is true of the spiritual soul and the Spirit-Self. For in the spiritual soul the light of the Spirit arises, to radiate from thence throughout the other members of man's nature. Taking this into account, the constitution of the human being may also be described as follows: The astral body and the sentient soul can be taken together as a single member; likewise the spiritual soul and the Spirit-Self. Lastly the intellectual soul, since it partakes of the nature of the I — since in a certain respect it is the I, though not yet conscious of its spiritual being — may be designated simply as the I or Ego. We thus obtain the following seven members of the human being:

Physical body

Etheric body or life-body

Astral body

I, Ego




Even for those accustomed to materialistic notions, this organization of the human being according to the number seven would not have the vaguely magical and superstitious quality often attributed to it, if they could simply follow the given explanations, and not themselves bring in the “magical” significance which they presume. We speak of the seven colors of the rainbow, or of the seven notes of the scale (treating the octave as a repetition of the keynote.) In no other sense — only from the standpoint of a higher kind of observation — do we refer to the seven members of man's being. As light appears in seven colors and the musical scale in seven notes, so does human nature — for all its singleness and unity — appear in the seven members here described. In sound and color the number seven does not imply any kind of superstition; nor does it in the constitution of the human being. (On one occasion when this was mentioned in a lecture, it was objected that the number seven does not apply to color, since there are other “colors” beyond the red and violet, only the human eye cannot perceive them. But even taking this into account, the comparison is still valid; for the human being too reaches beyond the physical body on the one hand and beyond Spirit-Man on the other. Only these extensions of man's being are “spiritually invisible” to the available methods of spiritual observation, just as the colors beyond red and violet are invisible to the physical eye. This remark was necessary because it is too easily concluded that supersensible vision and the ideas to which it leads are scientifically inexact. If one really enters into what is here intended, it will in no case be found inconsistent with genuine Science. There is no contradiction — neither when scientific facts are cited by way of illustration, nor when a direct relation to the discoveries of natural Science is pointed out.)



  1. That the terms “etheric body” and “life-body” are not intended as a mere revival of the long since discarded idea of a “vital force” was pointed out by the author in his earlier work, Theosophy.

  2. E. von Hartmann: System der Philosophie im Grundriss. Vol. III: Grundriss der Psychologie.

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