[RSArchive Icon]
Rudolf Steiner Archive Section Name Rudolf Steiner Archive and e.Lib

Anthroposophy, An Introduction

Schmidt Number: S-5594

On-line since: 20th November, 2006

Lecture V


2nd February, 1924 


 HAVE described how man must be regarded as composed of physical, etheric and astral bodies, and how we can acquire a deeper insight into this composition by exercising our cognitive powers — powers of mind, heart and will — in a certain way. This composition that we discern in man is also found in the external world. Only, we must be clear that there is a consider-able difference between what we find in the world outside and what we find in man.

When, to begin with, we study the physical world — and we can really only study its solid, ‘earthy’ manifestations — we come to distinguish various substances. I need not go into details. You know, of course, that the anatomist, investigating what remains of the living man after he has passed through the gate of death — the corpse — need not take account of any but earthly substances which he also finds outside man. At least, he believes he need not, and within certain limits his belief is justified. He investigates the elements or the salts, acids and other compounds found outside of man, and he investigates what the human organism contains. He does not find it necessary to enlarge his physical and chemical knowledge.

Indeed, the difference only becomes apparent when we study these things on a somewhat bigger scale, and notice what I have emphasised so strongly, namely: that the human organism as a whole cannot be maintained by external Nature, but is subject to destruction. Thus we can say that, in the solid, earthy, physical realm, we do not find, to begin with. very much difference between what is outside and what is inside man. We must recognise a greater difference however, in what is etheric.

 Diagram 4
(grün — green; rot — red)
Click image for large view

I have drawn your attention to the way the etheric really looks down on us from the world beyond the earth. I pointed out that, from out of the etheric, everything, whether it be a large or small drop, is made spherical, and that this tendency to spherical formation, due to the complex of etheric forces, extends to the etheric body of man. We have really to fight continually to overcome this tendency in our etheric body. — Of course, all this takes place in the subconscious. In its present form the human etheric body is closely moulded to the physical body. It has not such sharp boundaries and is mobile in itself; nevertheless we can distinguish a head part, a trunk part and, indistinctly, limb parts where the etheric body becomes diffuse. Thus, when we move an arm the etheric body, which otherwise conforms to the human shape, only protrudes a little beyond the arm, whereas below it is widely extended. But it has from the cosmos the tendency to take on spherical form. The higher being of man — the astral man and the ego — must oppose this tendency and mould the spherical form to the human shape. So we may say: man, as an etheric being, lives in the general etheric world by building up his own form out of the etheric, whereas the formative tendency of the surrounding etheric is to give spherical form to what is fluid. In man what is fluid takes on human form, and this is due to his inner forces opposing the external, cosmic forces.

This opposition is still stronger in the astral man. As I indicated yesterday, the astral comes streaming in from the indefinite, so to speak. In the earthly realm outside man it streams in (arrows in green circle) in such a way that it develops the plant form out of the earth; and the plant form clearly shows this response to the astral. The plant has only an etheric body, but it is, indeed, the astral forces which draw the plant out of the earth. Now the human astral body is extraordinarily complicated and one really perceives it in the way I described yesterday, i.e. as an inner musical element, a whirling, weaving life, an inner activity and all one might describe as music inwardly sensed. But everything else that is astral is discovered streaming in centripetally; it is transformed into the human astral form, whereby complicated things appear.

Let us say, for example, that something astral is streaming in from this side. The human being moulds it to the most varied forms in order to make it serviceable and incorporate it. One might say, the human being wins his astral body by subduing the centripetal astral forces.

Now, when we turn our psycho-spiritually sharpened gaze to the cosmos, we do gain the conception of the etheric as described, but we also receive the impression that it is due to the etheric that we strive away from the earth. While we are held to the earth by gravity, we tend away from the earth because of the etheric. It is really the etheric that is active in this centrifugal tendency. In this connection you need only think of the following: The human brain weighs approximately 1,500 grammes. Now a mass with this weight, pressing on the delicate blood vessels at the base of the brain, would quite compress them. If our brain actually exerted its 1,500 grammes weight in the living man we could not have these blood-vessels. In the living man, however, the brain weighs twenty grammes at most. It is so much lighter because it floats in the cerebral fluid and loses in weight by the weight of fluid displaced. The brain really strives away from man; and in this tendency the etheric is active. Thus we may say that it is just in the brain that we can see most clearly how matters stand.

Here is the brain floating in its fluid, whereby its weight is reduced from 1,500 to about twenty grammes. This means that its activity shares, to a remarkably small degree, in our physical, bodily life. Here the etheric finds tremendous scope for acting upwards. The weight acts downwards but is reduced. In the cerebral fluid there is principally developed the sum of etheric forces that lifts us away from the earth. Indeed, if we had to carry our physical body with all its forces of weight, we would have a sack to drag about. Every blood corpuscle, however, swims and is reduced in weight.

This loss of weight in a fluid is an old piece of knowledge. You know, of course, that it has been ascribed to Archimedes. He was bathing one day and noticed, on lifting his leg out of the water, how much heavier it was than when in the water, and exclaimed: Eureka! I have found it. He had discovered that every body in a fluid loses in weight the weight of the fluid displaced. Thus, if you think of Archimedes in his bath, here his physical leg and here the same leg formed of water, then the physical leg is lighter in water by the amount that this water-leg weighs. It is lighter by just this amount. Likewise the weight of our brain in the cerebral fluid is reduced by the weight of a mass of cerebral fluid of the size of the physical brain. That is, it is reduced from 1,500 to 20 grammes. In physics this is called ‘upthrust’, and here the etheric acts. The astral, on the other hand, is stimulated — to begin with — by breathing, whereby the airy element enters the human organism and eventually reaches the head in an extremely attenuated state; in this distribution and organisation of the air the astral is active.

Thus we can really see in the solid earthy substance the physical; in the fluid, especially in the way it works in man, the etheric; in the airy, the astral.

It is the tragedy of materialism that it knows nothing of matter — how matter actually works in the several domains of life. The remarkable thing about materialism is just its ignorance of matter. It knows nothing at all about the way matter works, for one does not learn this until one is able to attend to the spiritual that is active in matter and is represented by the forces.

Now, when one progresses through meditation to the ‘imaginative’ knowledge of which I have already spoken, one finds the etheric at work in all the aqueous processes of the earth. In the face of real knowledge it is childish to believe that all that is at work here — in the sea, in the rivers, rising mists, falling drops and cloud formations — contains only what the physicist and chemist know about water. For in all that is out there in the mighty drop of the ‘water-earth’, in what constantly rises in the form of vapour, forms clouds and descends as mist, in all the other aqueous processes — water plays, indeed, an enormous part in shaping the face of the globe — in all this etheric currents are working. Here is weaving the ether revealed to one in ‘pictures’ when one has strengthened one's thinking in the way I have described. Everywhere behind this weaving water the cosmic ‘imagination’ is weaving, and the astral ‘music of the spheres’ plays everywhere into this cosmic imagination, coming — in a sense — from behind.

In man, however, all these conditions are found to be quite different from what they are outside him. If one looks, with vision sharpened in the way I have indicated, at what is outside man, one finds the world built up in the following way: To begin with, there is the physical, in direct contact with the earth; the etheric, which fills the whole cosmos; then the astral, which streams in as living beings. indeed, it is no merely general, abstract, astral weaving that we behold, but actual beings entering space, beings of a psycho-spiritual nature just as man, in his body, is also a psycho-spiritual being. This is what one beholds.

If we now look back to man, we find in him, too, an etheric body corresponding to the external etheric. But this etheric body is not perceived in such a way that you can say: there is the physical man, and here is his etheric body. Certainly, you can draw it so, but that would only be an arrested section. You never see merely the present etheric body; this section which you can draw is seen to be continuous with what has gone before. You always see the whole etheric body extending back to birth. Past and present form a whole. If you have a twenty-year-old person before you, you cannot see merely his twenty-year-old etheric body; you see all that has happened in his etheric body back to birth and a little beyond. Here time really becomes space. It is just as when you look down an avenue and see the trees drawing closer and closer together on account of perspective; you see the whole avenue in space. Likewise you look at the etheric body as it is at present but see its whole structure, which is a ‘time-structure’. The etheric body is a ‘time-organism’, the physical body a ‘space-organism’. The physical body is, of course, self-contained at any given moment; the etheric body is always there as a totality which comprises our life up to the given moment. This is a unity. Hence you could only draw or paint the etheric body if you could paint moving pictures; but you would have to be quicker than the pictures. The momentary configuration that you draw or paint is only a section and is related to the whole etheric body as the section of a tree-stem to the whole tree. When you draw a diagram of the etheric body, it is only a section, for the whole etheric body is a ‘time-process’. Indeed, on surveying this time-process one is led beyond birth, even beyond conception, to the point where one sees the human being descend from his pre-earthly life to his present life on earth, and, just before he was conceived by his parents, draw together etheric substance from the general cosmic ether to build his etheric body.

Thus you cannot speak of the etheric body without surveying man's life in time back to birth and beyond. What one regards as the etheric body at some definite moment is only an abstraction; the concrete reality is the time-process.

It is different again with the astral body. This is apprehended in the way I described yesterday. I can only draw it diagramatically, and in the diagram space must become time for you. Let us assume we are observing the astral body of a person on the 2nd February 1924. Let this be the person. [ 1 ] He does indeed make this impression upon us: Here is the physical body, here his etheric body. We can also observe his astral body and this makes upon us the impression I described in my book Theosophy. It is so. But when one comes to the really ‘inspired’ knowledge which appears before empty consciousness — I described such knowledge yesterday — one attains the following insight. One says to oneself: What I am observing as the astral body of this person is not really present today, i.e. on the 2nd February 1924. If the person is twenty years of age, you must go backwards in time — let us say, to January 1904. You perceive that this astral body is really back there, and extends still further back into the unlimited. It has remained there and has not accompanied him through life. Here we have only a kind of appearance — a beam. It is like looking down an avenue; there, in the distance, are the last trees, very close together. Behind them is a source of light. You can have the radiance of the light here, but the source is behind — it need not move forward that its light may shine here.

So, too, the astral body has remained behind, and only throws its beam into life. It has really remained in the spiritual world and has not come with us into the physical. In respect to our astral body we always remain before conception and birth, in the spiritual world. If we are twenty years old in 1924, it is as if we were still living spiritually before the year 1904 and, in respect to our astral body, had only stretched forth a feeler.

That, you will say, is a difficult conception. Well, so it is. But you know there was once a Spanish king who was shown how complicated the structure of the universe is. He thought he would have made it simpler. A man may think like this, but, as a matter of fact, the world is not simple, and we must exert ourselves somewhat to grasp what man is.

To look intently at the astral body is to look directly into the spiritual world. (Only in the world external to man have you around you what is astral.) When you look at human beings spiritually, you look into the spiritual world in respect to their astral bodies. You perceive directly what a man has undergone in the spiritual world before he descended to earth.

But, you will say, my astral body is active within me. Of course it is; that is self-understood. But imagine some being or other were here, and by means of cords mechanically connected, were to produce some effect at a considerable distance away. It is like that with respect to time. Your astral body has remained behind, but its activities extend through the whole of your life. Thus the activity that you notice in your astral body today has its origin in a time long past, when you were in the spiritual world before descending to earth. That time is still active — in other words, it is still there, as far as the spiritual is concerned. Anyone who believes that the past is no longer ‘present’ in the real time-process resembles a man in a railway train to whom one might say: That was a beautiful district through which we have just passed, and who would reply: Yes, a beautiful district. But it has vanished; it is no longer there. Such a man would believe that the district through which he had passed in an express train had disappeared. It is just as stupid to believe that the past is no longer there. As a matter of fact it is always there, working into man. The 3rd of January 1904, is still there in its spiritual constitution, just as what is spatial remains after you have travelled through it. It is there, influencing the present.

Thus, if you describe the astral body as I have done in my Theosophy, you must realise, in order to complete your insight, that what is active here is the ‘radiance’ of something far back in time. The human being is really like a comet stretching its tail far back into the past. It is not possible to obtain true insight into man's being unless we acquire these new concepts.

People who believe one can enter the spiritual world with the same concepts one has for the physical world should become spiritualists, not anthroposophists. Spiritualists endeavour to conjure the spiritual — only somewhat thinner than ordinary matter — into the ordinary space in which physical men walk about. But it is nothing spiritual — only fine exudations. Even the phantoms described by Schrcnk-Notzing are only fine, physical exudations which retain in their shape traces of the etheric. They are mere phantoms, not something really spiritual.

If you study the world and man in the way I have described you will realise the presence of the higher worlds in external Nature. In the case of man, a study of the successive worlds will lead you at once to the ‘time-process’ within him. In his case, however, you can go further still and reach a domain which our philistine materialistic age will not recognise as accessible to knowledge.

I have referred to perception, by the senses, of the coarse, tangible physical objects around us as the first stage of cognition.

The second stage was that of ‘strengthened thinking’ in which we apprehend the living, moving images of the world. The third kind of cognition was ‘inspiration’ in which we perceive the beings that express themselves through these images — hear a kind of music of the spheres that sounds from beyond. In the case of man we are led, not merely out of the material world, but out of the present into his pre-earthly life — into his existence as a psycho-spiritual being before descending to earth. This ‘inspired’ knowledge is attained by emptying our consciousness after strengthened thinking.

The further stage in cognition is attained by making the power of love a cognitive force. Only, it must not be the shallow love of which alone, as a rule, our materialistic age speaks. It must he the love by which you can identify yourself with another being — a being with whom, in the physical world, you are not identical. You must really be able to feel what is passing in the other being just as you feel what is passing in yourself; you must be able to go out of yourself and live again in another. In ordinary human life such love does not attain the intensity necessary to make it a cognitive force. One must first have attained ‘empty consciousness’, and have had some experience with it. And then we undergo what many who are striving for higher knowledge do not seek: we suffer what may be called the pain of knowledge.

If you have a wound somewhere, it hurts you. Why? Because, owing to the wound, your spiritual being cannot permeate your physical body properly at the place concerned. All pain comes from not being able, from one cause or another, to permeate the physical body. And when something external hurts you, this is also because you are unable to ‘unite’ yourself with it — to accept it. Now, when one has attained the empty consciousness into which there flows an altogether different world from that to which one is accustomed, then, for such moments of inspired cognition, one is without one's whole physical man; this is then one large wound and hurts all over. One must first undergo this experience; one must endure the leaving of the physical body as actual pain and suffering in order to attain inspired knowledge. Of course, an understanding of such knowledge can be acquired without pain, and people should acquire this understanding apart from suffering the pain of initiation. But to acquire an immediate, spiritual perception — not a mere understanding — of what works into man from his life before birth, that is, of what he leaves behind in the spiritual world, one must cross the abyss of universal suffering and pain.

We can then experience the above identification with, and coming to life in, another being. Only then do we learn the highest degree of love which consists not in ‘forgetting oneself’ in a theoretical sense, but in being able to ignore oneself completely and enter into what is not oneself. And only when this love goes hand in hand with that higher — inspired — cognition are we really able to enter the spiritual with all the warmth of our nature, with all our inwardness of heart and mind; that is, with our soul forces. We must do this if we are to progress in knowledge. Love must become a cognitive force in this sense. When such love has attained a certain height and intensity, you pass through your pre-earthly life to your last life on earth; you slip over, through all you have undergone between your last death and your present life, into your former life on earth — into what we call previous incarnations.

Now, it was, of course, also in a physical body that you then trod the earth. But nothing remains of all that made up that physical body; it has been absorbed into the elements. Your innermost being of that time has become entirely spiritual and lives in you as spirit alone.

In truth, our ego, in passing through the gate of death and the spiritual world to a new life on earth, becomes wholly spiritual. It cannot be grasped with the ordinary powers of every-day consciousness; we must intensify the power of love in the way I have described. The man we were in a previous life is just as much outside us as another human being of today. Our ego has the same degree of externality. Of course, we then come to possess it — to experience it as ourself — but we must first learn to love without any trace of egotism. It would be a terrible thing indeed, if we were to become enamoured — in the ordinary sense — of our former incarnation. Love, in the highest sense, must be intensified so that we may be able to experience our former incarnation as something quite other than ourself. Then, when our cognitive power emerges through the empty consciousness, we acquire knowledge through love intensified in the highest degree, and reach the fourth member of man — the ego proper.

Man has his physical body through which he lives at each moment in the present physical earth. He has his etheric body through which he lives continually in a time-process extending back to a little before his birth, when he drew together this etheric body out of the general cosmic ether. He has his astral body through which his life extends over the whole period between his last death and his last descent to earth. And he has his ego through which he reaches back into his previous life on earth. Thus, when we speak of the various members of man's being we must speak, in each case, of his extension in time. We bear our former ego-consciousness within us today, but unconsciously. How? If you want to study how you must realise that man, here in the physical world, is not only a solid body, a fluid man and an airy man, but an organism of warmth as well. This is also the way to approach the ego. Everyone knows this, at least in a very partial way. If we measure a person's temperature we get different degrees of fever in different parts of the body. But there are different temperatures throughout man's whole organism. You have one temperature in your head, another in your big toe, another inside your liver, another within your lung. You are not only what you find drawn in definite outlines in an anatomical atlas. You have a fluid organism in constant motion. You have an organism of air which permeates you continually, like a mighty, symphonic organism of music. And, in addition, you have a surging organism of warmth, differentiated with respect to temperature. In this you yourself live. Indeed, you feel that this is so. After all, you are not very conscious of living in your shin-bone, or in any other bone, or in your liver, or in your vascular fluids. But you are very conscious of living in your warmth, though you do not distinguish between your ‘warmth-hand’, ‘warmth-leg’, ‘warmth-liver’, etc. Nevertheless this differentiation is there, and if the temperature differences proper to the human warmth-organism are absent or disturbed, we feel this as illness, as pain.

When, with developed consciousness, we attain the picture stage — ‘imagination’ — we perceive the etheric as weaving pictures. When we perceive the astral, we hear the music of the spheres which sounds towards us or, we might say, from out of ourselves. (For our own astral body leads us back to our pre-earthly life.) And when we advance farther to the form of cognition that attains the highest degree of love — when the power of love becomes a cognitive force — when, to begin with, we see our own existence flowing from a former life on earth into this present life, we feel this former life in the normal differentiation of the ‘warmth-organism’ in which we are living. This is real intuition. We live in this. And when some impulse arises in us to do this or that, it does not only work, as in the astral body, out of the spiritual world, but from still farther back — from our former life on earth. Our former life on earth works into the warmth of our organism, and kindles this or that impulse. Thus we see in the earthly, solid man the physical body, in the fluid man the etheric body, in the airy man the astral body, and in the warmth element the ego proper. (The ego of the present incarnation is never complete; it is always developing.) It is the ego of the former life on earth, working in subconscious depths, that is the ego proper. And when you perceive a man clairvoyantly you are led to say: lie is standing here and I see him, to begin with, with my external senses. But I also see what is etheric and what is astral; then, behind him, the man he was in his previous incarnation.

 Diagram 5
Diagram 5

In fact, the more this consciousness is developed, the more clearly do we see, in a kind of perspective, the head of his last incarnation a little above the head of his present incarnation, and, some-what higher still, the head of his second last incarnation. In civilisations in which there was still a kind of instinctive consciousness of these things, you will fmd pictures which show, behind the clearly drawn countenance of the present incarnation, a second countenance less clearly painted; behind this a third that is still less clear. There are Egyptian pictures like this. You understand such pictures if you are able to perceive, behind the present man, the man he was in his last and second last incarnations. Not until one can extend man's life in time to include previous incarnations can one really speak of the ego as the fourth member of human nature.

All this acts in the ‘man of warmth’. ‘Inspiration’ approaches you from without or from within, you yourself are within the warmth; here is ‘intuition’, true intuition. We experience warmth within us quite differently from anything else.

Now, if you look at it in this way, you will get beyond what should be a great riddle to the man of today, if he gives attention to his soul in a really unprejudiced way. I have spoken of this riddle. I said, we feel ourselves morally determined by certain impulses given us in a purely spiritual way. We want to carry them out. But we cannot, to begin with, understand how that to which we feel ourselves morally bound shoots into our muscles. If, however, we know that we bear within us, from our last incarnation, our ego which has become entirely spiritual and now acts upon our warmth-man, we have the required connection. Our moral impulses act indirectly, through the ego of our last incarnation. Here the connection between the moral and the physical is first found. It cannot be found by merely studying the present world of Nature and man as a section of it.

You see, if you study the present world of Nature, you may say: Well, there outside is Nature; man takes in its substances and builds up his organism — one does actually picture it in this naive way. Thus man is a portion of Nature, being compounded of certain of its substances. Good! But you suddenly realise that there are moral impulses and you should act in accordance with them! How, I would ask, can a portion of Nature do that? A stone cannot do it, nor can calcium, or chlorine, or oxygen, or nitrogen. But man, who is compounded of these, is supposed to be able to do so! He experiences a moral impulse and is expected to act in accordance with it, although he is compounded of all these substance which cannot do so.

But in all that is thus welded together in man there arises — especially indirectly through sleep — something that passes through death, becomes more and more spiritual, and enters a body again. It is, of course, already in the present body, for it comes from the last incarnation. It became spiritual and now works into the present incarnation. What is compounded of earthly substances will work into the warmth-man of the next incarnation. Here the moral element flows from one earth life into another; here we can grasp the transition from physical to spiritual Nature and from spiritual to physical Nature again. We cannot understand this transition with one life alone, if we are honest with ourselves and do not close our eyes to the whole psycho-spiritual problem.

What we can regard as the earthly elements — the solid, liquid, gaseous and warmth elements — is permeated everywhere by what can be designated as the etheric, the astral and the ‘ego-like’, i.e. what is of like nature with the ego. In this way we see the connection between man's members and the universe, and gain an idea of the extent to which man is a ‘portion’ of time, not only of space. He is only a portion, or section, of space in regard to his physical, bodily nature. For spiritual perception the past is continually present; the present moment is, at the same time, a real eternity.

What I am explaining to you was once the content of instinctive forms of consciousness. If we really understand ancient records we find a consciousness of this fourfold composition of man and his connection with the cosmos. But this knowledge has been lost to man for many centuries; otherwise he could not have developed the intellect he has today. But we have now reached the point in human evolution when we must again advance from the physical to the really spiritual.


1. A sketch — not reproduced — was made.

The Rudolf Steiner Archive is maintained by:
The e.Librarian: elibrarian@elib.com