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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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chapter iii


6. Thought-forms and the Human Aura

It has been said that the formations of any one of the three worlds can have reality for a man only when he has the faculties or the organs for perceiving them. Man perceives certain processes in space as light-phenomena only because he has a properly formed eye. It depends on the receptivity of a being how much of reality reveals itself to that being. Therefore a man may never say that only what he can perceive is real. There can be much that is real, for the perception of which he has no organs. Now the soul-world and the spirit-world are just as real as the sensible world, indeed they are real in a much higher sense. No physical eye can see feelings and ideas; but they are real. And as by means of his outer senses man has the corporeal world before him as an object of perception, so do feelings, instincts, thoughts, and so forth, become objects of perception for his spiritual organs. Exactly as processes in space can be seen with the sensible eye as colour-phenomena, so can the above-named soul and spiritual processes become, by means of the inner senses, perceptions which are analogous to the sensible colour-phenomena. To understand fully in what sense this is meant is only possible for one who has trodden the path of knowledge to be described in the following chapter and has thereby developed his inner senses. For such a one the soul-phenomena in the soul-region around him and the spiritual phenomena in the spiritual region become supersensibly visible. Feelings which he experiences in other beings ray out from them as light-phenomena for him; thoughts to which he directs his attention flow through spiritual space. For him, the thought of one man about another is not an imperceptible but a perceptible process. The content of a thought lives as such only in the soul of the thinker; but this content activates effects in the spirit-world. These are the perceptible processes for the eyes of spirit. The thought streams out as an actual reality from one human being and flows to the other. And the way in which this thought works on the other person is experienced as a perceptible process in the spiritual world. Thus the physically perceptible human being is only part of the whole man for one whose spiritual senses have unfolded. This physical man becomes the centre of soul and spiritual outpourings. It is impossible to do more than faintly indicate the richly varied world which reveals itself here to the seer. A human though*, which otherwise lives only in the understanding mind of the listener, appears, for example, as a spiritually perceptible colour-phenomenon. Its colour tallies with the character of the thought. A thought which springs from a sensual impulse in a man has a different colour from a thought conceived in the service of pure knowledge, noble beauty, or the eternal good. Thoughts which spring from the sensual life course through the soul-world in shades of red colour. [The explanations given here are from their very nature exposed to great misunderstandings. For this reason it is proposed in this new edition to return quite briefly to these points in a note at the end of the book. See under Addenda.] A thought which springs from devoted and unselfish love rays out in glorious rose-red. And just as the content of a thought comes into expression in its supersensibly visible form, so also does its greater or lesser definition. The precise thought of a thinker appears itself as a formation with definite outlines; a confused idea appears as a wavering, cloudy formation.

In this way the soul and spirit of man appear as the supersensible part of the whole human being.

The colour effects perceptible to the eyes of spirit which ray out round the physical man when observed in his activity, and which envelop him like a cloud (somewhat in the form of an egg) are a human aura. The size of this aura differs in different people. But an idea can be formed of it by picturing that the whole man appears on an average twice as tall and four times as broad as the physical man.

The most varied tones of colour ebb and flow in the aura. And this ebb and flow is a true picture of the inner life of the man. As this changes, so do the colour-tones change. But certain permanent qualities such as talents, habits, traits of character, express themselves also in permanent and basic colour-tones.

In people who for the time being are remote from the experiences of the “Path of Knowledge” described in a later chapter of this book, misunderstandings may arise with regard to the nature of what is here described as “Aura.” It would be possible to arrive at the idea that the “colours” here described came before the soul just as a physical colour comes before the eye. But such a “soul colour” would be nothing but an hallucination. With impressions that are “hallucinatory,” spiritual science has nothing whatever to do. And in any case they are not what is meant in the description now before us. We reach a right conception if we keep the following in mind. The soul experiences in a physical colour not only the sense impression; it has an actual experience. This experience is different when the soul — through the eye — perceives a yellow surface from what it is when it perceives a blue one. This experience may be called “living in yellow” or “living in blue.” Now the soul that has trodden the path of knowledge has a similar “experience in yellow” when observing the active soul-experiences of other beings; an “experience in blue” when observing devotional moods of soul. The essential point is, not that in the thought of another soul the seer sees “blue,” just as he sees blue in the physical world, but that he has an experience which justifies him in calling the thought “blue,” just as the physical man calls, for instance, a curtain “blue.” And further, it is essential that the “seer” should be conscious that this is an experience free from the body, so that it is possible for him to speak about the value and the meaning of soul-life in a world the perception of which is not mediated through the human body. Although this meaning of the description must in all cases be taken into account, it is entirely a matter of course that the seer should speak of “blue,” “yellow,” “green,” etc., in the “aura.”

The aura varies greatly according to the different temperaments and dispositions of human beings; it varies also according to the stages of spiritual development. A man who yields altogether to his animal impulses has a completely different aura from one who lives much in the world of thought. The aura of a religiously disposed nature differs essentially from one that is immersed in the trivial experiences of the day. In addition, all changing moods, all inclinations, joys and sufferings find their expression in the aura.

The auras of different soul-experiences must be compared with each other in order to learn to understand the meaning of the colour tones. Take, to begin with, soul-experiences permeated with strongly marked emotions. They may be divided into two kinds: those when the soul is chiefly impelled to such feelings by the animal nature, and those when these emotions take a more delicate form, when they are strongly influenced by reflection. In the first kind of experiences mainly brown and reddish-yellow streams of colour stream through the aura in definite places. In persons with more delicate emotions there appear in the same places tones of brighter reddish-yellow and green. It is noticeable that as intelligence increases the green tones become more and more frequent. People who are very intelligent, but who give themselves up to the satisfying of their animal impulses, show much green in their aura. But this green will always have a stronger or weaker admixture of brown or brownish-red. In unintelligent people a great part of the aura is permeated by brownish-red or even by dark blood-red streams.

The auras of quiet, deliberate, thoughtful moods of soul are essentially different from those of other conditions. The brownish and reddish tones recede, and different shades of green become prominent. In strenuous thinking the aura shows a pleasing green undertone. These natures know how to find their bearings in every condition of life.

Blue tones of colour appear in intensely devotional moods of soul. The more a man places his Self in the service of a cause the more pronounced become the blue shades. Here too there are two quite different kinds of people. There are natures who are not in the habit of exerting their power of thought, passive souls, who as it were have nothing to throw into the stream of events in the world but their “good feeling.” Their aura glimmers with beautiful blue. This is also the appearance of many religious and devotional natures. Compassionate souls and those who find pleasure in giving themselves up to a life of benevolence have a similar aura. If such people are intelligent in addition, green and blue currents alternate, or the blue itself may assume a greenish shade. The peculiarity of the active souls in contrast to the passive is that their blue is pervaded from within with bright colour tones. Richly inventive natures, those that have fruitful thoughts, radiate bright tones of colour as if from an inner point. This is the case in the highest degree with persons whom one calls “wise,” and especially with those who are full of fruitful ideas. Generally speaking, everything that indicates spiritual activity takes more the form of rays which spread out from within; while everything that arises from the animal life has the form of irregular clouds which stream through the aura.

The colourings of formations in the aura differ according to whether the ideas and conceptions which arise from the activity of the soul are placed at the service of the person's own animal impulses or of idealistic interest. An inventive person, who applies all his thoughts to the satisfaction of his sensual passions, shows dark blue-red shades; he, on the contrary, who places his thoughts selflessly at the service of an outside interest, shows light reddish-blue colour tones. A spiritual life combined with noble devotion and capacity for sacrifice shows rose-pink or light violet colours.

Not only does the fundamental disposition of the soul show its colour streaming in the aura but transient emotions, passions, moods and other inner experiences do the same. Violent anger that breaks out suddenly creates red streams; feelings of injured dignity which suddenly well up appear in dark green clouds. Colour phenomena do not however appear only in irregular cloudlike forms, but also in defined, regularly shaped figures. If we observe a fit of terror in a man we see this in the aura from top to bottom as undulating stripes of blue colour, suffused with a bluish-red shimmer. In a person in whom we observe how he is expecting with anxiety some particular event, we can see red-blue stripes like rays constantly streaming through the aura from within outwards.

Every sensation that is induced in a man from outside can be observed by one who has developed the faculty of exact spiritual perception. People who are greatly excited by every external impression show a continuous flickering of small reddish-blue spots and flecks in the aura. In people who do not feel intensely, these flecks have an orange-yellow or even a beautiful yellow colouring. In so-called “absentmindedness” bluish flecks more or less changing in form play over into green.

A still more highly developed spiritual “vision” can distinguish three kinds of colour phenomena in the aura, radiating and surging round a man. First, there are colours which have more or less the character of opaqueness and dullness. Certainly if we compare them with those that our physical eyes see they appear, in comparison, fugitive and transparent. But in the supersensible world itself they make the space which they fill comparatively opaque; they fill it like clouds. Colours of a second kind consist of those which are as it were light itself. They light up the space which they fill so that it becomes, through them, a shining space. Colour-phenomena of the third kind are quite different from these two. They have a raying, sparkling, glittering character. They fill space not merely with light but with glistening, glittering rays. There is something active, inherently mobile, in these colours. The others are quiet, lacking in brilliance. These on the contrary continuously produce themselves out of themselves, as it were. By the first two kinds of colours the space is filled with a delicate fluidity which remains quietly in it; by the third it is filled with a life constantly kindling itself anew in never resting activity.

These three kinds of colours are not ranged as it were alongside each other in the human aura; they are not each enclosed in a separate section of space, but they interpenetrate each other in the most varied ways. All three kinds can be seen playing through each other in one region of the aura, just as a physical body such as a bell can be heard and seen simultaneously. The aura thereby becomes an exceedingly complicated phenomenon: for we have as it were to do with three auras within each other and interpenetrating each other. The difficulty can be overcome however by directing attention to the three kinds alternately. We then do in the super-sensible world something similar to what we do in the sensible, for example, when we close our eyes in order to give ourselves up fully to the impression of a piece of music. The “seer” has as it were three different organs for the three kinds of colours. And in order to observe undisturbed, he can open or close any one of the organs to impressions. As a rule only the one kind of organ can at first be developed by a “seer,” namely, that for the first kind of colours. A person at this stage can see only the one aura; the other two remain invisible to him. In the same way a person may be accessible to impressions from the first two but not from the third. The higher stage of the “gift of seeing” consists in a person's being able to see all three auras and for the purpose of study to direct his attention to the one or the other.

The threefold aura is the supersensibly visible expression of the being of man. The three members: body, soul and spirit, come to expression in it.

The first aura is a mirror of the influence which the body exercises on the soul of man; the second characterises the life of the soul itself, the soul that has raised itself above what affects the senses directly, but is not yet dedicated to the service of the eternal; the third mirrors the dominion which the eternal spirit has won over the transitory man.

When descriptions of the aura are given, as here, it must be emphasised that these things are not only difficult to observe but above all difficult to describe. No one therefore should see in a description like this anything more than a stimulus to thought.

Thus for the seer the particular character of the life of soul expresses itself in the nature of the aura. When he encounters a soul-life that is given up entirely to passing impulses, passions and momentary external incitements, he sees the first aura in the loudest tones of colour; the second, on the contrary, is only slightly developed. He sees in it only scanty colour formations; while the third is barely indicated. Only here and there, a small, glittering spark of colour shows itself, indicating that even in such a soul-mood the Eternal lives as a seed, but that it is driven into the background by the effect of the sensuous as has been indicated. The more the man casts away his lower impulses, the less obtrusive becomes the first part of the aura. The second part then grows larger and larger, filling the colour-body within which the physical man lives, more and more completely with its illuminating force. And the more a man proves himself to be a “Servant of the Eternal,” the more does the wonderful third aura reveal itself, that part which bears witness to how far the human being has become a citizen of the spiritual world. For the divine Self radiates out through this part of the human aura into the earthly world. In so far as human beings reveal this aura, they are the flames through whom the Divine illumines this world. They show through this part of the aura how far they know how to live not for themselves but for the eternally True, the nobly Beautiful and Good; how far they have wrung from their narrower self the power to offer themselves upon the altar of the great World Process.

Thus what the man has made of himself in the course of his incarnations comes to expression in the aura.

All three parts of the aura contain colours of the most varied shades. But the character of these shades changes with the stage of development reached by the man. In the first part of the aura can be seen undeveloped life of impulse in all shades from red to blue. These shades have a dull, muddy character. The obtrusive red shades point to the sensual desires, the fleshly lusts, the passion for the enjoyments of the palate and the stomach. Green shades appear to be found especially in inferior natures tending to obtuseness and indifference, greedily giving themselves up to every enjoyment, but nevertheless shunning the exertions necessary to bring them to satisfaction. Where the desires are passionately bent on any goal beyond the reach of the capacities already acquired, brownish-green and yellowish-green auric colours appear. Certain modern modes of life breed this kind of aura.

A personal conceit which is entirely rooted in unworthy inclinations, thus representing the lowest stage of egotism, shows itself in muddy yellow to brown shades. Now it is clear that even the animal life of impulse can take on a pleasing character. There is a purely natural capacity for self-sacrifice, a striking degree of which is to be found in the animal kingdom. This development of an animal impulse finds its most beautiful consummation in natural mother love. These selfless natural impulses come to expression in the first aura in fight reddish to rose-red shades of colour. Cowardly fear and terror of external provocations show themselves in the aura in brown-blue and grey-blue colours.

The second aura again shows the most varied grades of colours. Brown and orange coloured formations point to strongly developed conceit, pride and ambition. Inquisitiveness also betrays itself through red-yellow flecks. Bright yellow mirrors clear thinking and intelligence; green is the expression of understanding of fife and the world. Children who learn easily have a great deal of green in this part of the aura. A green-yellow in the second aura betokens a good memory. Rose-red indicates a benevolent affectionate nature; blue is the sign of piety. The nearer piety comes to being religious fervour, the more does blue pass over into violet. Idealism and an earnest view of life in a higher sense, are seen as indigo blue.

The basic colours of the third aura are yellow, green and blue. Bright yellow appears here if the thinking is filled with lofty, far-reaching ideas that comprehend the details as part of the whole of the divine World Order. If the thinking is intuitive and also completely purified from all sensory conceptions, the yellow has a golden brilliance. Green expresses love for all beings; blue is the sign of a capacity for selfless sacrifice for all beings. If this capacity for sacrifice rises to the height of strong willing which devotes itself actively to the service of the world, the blue brightens to light violet. If pride and desire for honour as last remnants of personal egotism are still present, despite a more highly developed soul-nature, there appear beside the yellow shades others verging on orange. It must however be remarked that in this part of the aura the colours are very different from the shades one is accustomed to see in the world of the senses. It displays to the seer a beauty and a sublimity with which nothing in the ordinary world can be compared.

This description of the aura cannot be rightly judged by anyone who does not attach the chief weight to the fact that “seeing the aura” implies an extension and enrichment of what is perceived in the physical world: an extension indeed that aims at knowing that form of soul-life which has spiritual reality apart from the world of the senses. This presentation has nothing whatever to do with a reading of character or of a man's thoughts from an aura perceived in an hallucinatory manner. It seeks to expand knowledge in the direction of the spiritual world and will have nothing to do with the questionable art of reading human souls from their auras.

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