Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What is Anthroposophy? Part 2

The Nature of the Human Being

Rudolf Steiner’s understanding of the human being is primarily threefold - body, soul and spirit. He believed that we experience the world through this threefold nature. This is primarily explained in his book Occult Science - An Outline.

  • The body is the vehicle in which the soul and spirit travel and experience the world.
  • The soul links those experiences of the world to our own existence - our desires, passions and interests.
  • The spirit allows these experiences of the world to reveal themselves for who and what they are.

Here is an example of how we experience the world through these three natures. Imagine a flower. Through our body we can see the flower is colourful and has a fragrance. This awakens a sense of joy and pleasure in our soul. Our spirit then recognises the rose’s inherent qualities of fragility and impermanence. In this way we have fully experienced the flower rather than just observing it.

This reflects Steiner’s idea of the world in which we live as being threefold:

  1. In the physical world we form a world outside of us. 
  2. In the soul world we develop a world within us. 
  3. In the spirit world we learn about a higher world beyond ours. 

Steiner subdivided the three natures of body, soul and spirit into nine facets. All of these work together as part of the same unitary body:

material body - the physical organs of the body.
etheric body - the blueprint of the shape of the human body.
soul body - the boundary that contains the soul within the limits of the physical body.

sentinent soul - the processing centre for information derived from our senses - where tastes and passions are centred.
mind soul - the thinking and reasoning part of the soul which receives perceptions from the physical senses and the invisible world.
consciousness soul - the part most connected with the invisible world.

spirit self - the part of the human that exists in the spirit realm.
life spirit - the divine force that fuels us.
spirit body - container for the spirit part of the threefold nature.

The Seven Fold nature of the Individual

Following his identification of these nine facets of the human individual, Steiner then simplified them to seven by combining the soul body & sentient soul and calling it the astral body and combining the mind soul and the consciousness soul into the “I” or ego.

Those seven subdivisions are:

  1. physical body - the physical organs of the body.
  2. etheric body - the  life force that the life force that maintains the physical body's form until death.
  3. astral body - the centre of our desires, drives and passions. 
  4.  I - our individual essence - our sense of self.
  5. spirit self - the part of us that exists in the spiritual realm.
  6. life spirit - the divine force that fuels us.
  7. spirit body - container for the spiritual parts of the threefold nature.

How these work together

The I lives within the body and soul which act as vehicles through which it can experience life. The spirit lives within the “I” which allows it to experience the physical life. It needs the “I” because it is part of the immortal spirit world which can not directly experience the mortal nature of the physical world. The “I” acts as a conduit through which the spirit can experience this.

The difference between animals, plants and humans

Steiner used these different bodies to differentiate between plants, animals, humans and inanimate objects.

  • Minerals only have a physical body.
  • Plants have physical and etheric bodies.
  • Animals have physical, etheric and astral bodies.
  • Human beings have physical, etheric, astral bodies and an “I”.

The relationship of the physical, etheric and astral bodies

The etheric body keeps our physical body alive and binds the astral body to it. The life processes and forces in our etheric body heal and maintain our physical body. It is the life force through which we are kept alive. At death the etheric body gradually detaches from the physical body. At this point physical forces overwhelm the body and it decays. This is why Anthroposophical Medicine addresses medical issues through spiritual awareness  of the etheric and astral bodies as well as the physical body and the “I” of the patient.


During sleep the astral body and the “I” leave the physical confines of the body. The experiences had during sleep have an effect on the etheric body. Steiner suggested that there were two kinds of dreams, or sleep experiences. The first is echoes of things that have happened during the day combined with some things from the astral world. These may have some effect on the etheric body, but there is a second kind of experience. This consists of thoughts sent to the sleeper from higher individuals (Steiner sometimes used the theosophical term “masters” to describe them). By spending the daytime pursuing noble thoughts and meditation  a person can become receptive to these messages and thoughts during sleep.