Home > Roy Wilkinson Book > Chapter 1 "The Being of Man"


The decline in western civilization is today an obvious fact. Catastrophes threaten. Enormous and apparently endless progress in technology is creating machines and appliances which dominate human life. Bureaucracy and regimentation relegate the individual to a cypher. The social system threatens to break down. The ordinary individual feels himself gradually overwhelmed and powerless, and the mind is continually bombarded by sense-impressions which leave little opportunity for reflection or contemplation.

There is, therefore, both an outer and an inner crisis. Under the pressure of events the spirit struggles for survival. Materialism has not delivered the heaven it promised. In seeking a worldly paradise man has overlooked his origin and his real nature. The object of this chapter is to help to recall the individual to a realization of himself.

The human being is such an ordinary everyday object that it is easy to overlook the marvel that he is. Yet even a superficial observation of his outer form would reveal wonders, to say nothing of the tremendous capacities of his inner being.

Let us consider for a moment the wonderful structure of the skeleton. We note the round dome of the skull, the form and flexibility of the rib cage, the straight limbs, the supple column of vertebrae, the adaptability of hands and feet and the mechanism of the joints. We see a harmonious balance of forces. Let us look further at the very construction of the bones; in the thigh bone, for instance, we see how the least amount of material is used to give the greatest support, a principle of good engineering. The skull, consisting of several bones fitting into one another, is a wonderful piece of construction. Let us think, too, of the enormous complexity of the inner organs, the heart, the liver, the kidneys. Each one has its own particular features and characteristics. Each functions separately, yet together they provide an outstanding example of harmony.

If we wish to observe further miracles, we need go no further than to consider the breathing system and the way the blood is regenerated or to ponder on the way this stream of life serves the purpose of building up the tissues and carrying away waste.

Other matters for astonishment are the self-regulating heating system within man and his process of digestion. In normal circumstances, whether it is hot or cold outside, the human being keeps his temperature constant. It is a continual source of wonder how substances foreign to the human body are taken into it and transformed.

However marvellous we may consider the bodily organism, the mind is yet a greater source of astonishment. One has only to think of the capacities and achievements of the human mind in one particular field, say that of art — painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature — to realize how it abounds with creativity. We might well say with Shakespeare's Hamlet:

What a piece of work is a man!
How noble in reason!
How infinite in faculty!
in form and moving, how express and admirable!
in action, how like an angel!
in apprehension, how like a god!

Yet there is also a shadow side. Man's probings have produced an immense wealth of knowledge and much of it is put to negative use. Man has infinite possibilities for good, but also for evil; he can create, and destroy.

Of all created beings man is the most complex. He cannot be defined. He can only be considered from various points of view and these are endless. The study of man is the study of a lifetime. It begins in childhood. As soon as the human being begins to come to a consciousness of himself, there is a natural urge to ask about himself. The questions continue into adolescence and, to the searching mind, throughout life. He who seeks finds that the more he knows, the more there is to know.

The questions which arise are those concerning the self and destiny. Who or what am I? What is the purpose of my being on Earth? What is the meaning of life?

In the course of time this or that person will find an acceptable philosophy. Another will relegate the problem to the subconscious and immerse himself in worldly affairs. But the questions do not go away. A birth, a death, a stroke of fate, revives them.

Man's Twofold Nature

Elementary observation tells us that man is of a twofold nature and the two elements can be referred to, loosely, as body and spirit. The body consists of physical substance and the spirit in this sense is everything non-physical. However, since we have to use the word spirit eventually in a specific sense it would be better to use here a different word. Instead therefore of saying body and spirit we will say body and the spiritual part of man or simply spiritual man.

The body consists of flesh and blood and bones, and these, in turn, are composed of the mineral substances of the Earth. In life it is endowed with a living quality; at death it decomposes into the elements of nature. The body has weight and mass. It contains senses through which man perceives the outer world, usually listed as seeing, hearing, taste, touch and smell. It is man's instrument in the physical world.

It is not so easy to describe what is meant by the spiritual part of man. We know that man has thoughts, impulses, feelings, which are stimulated by contact with the outer world, but in themselves they have no material substance. We know also that man has thoughts, impulses, feelings which arise from within. He is also gifted with a strange faculty or entity which we call a 'conscience'.

In former civilizations and even in our own western world of not-so-long-ago, the necessity was felt for some sort of religious observance. It is not so long since Sunday attendance at church was a regular feature of life and also daily prayers in the home. Grace before meals was a regular routine and many religious festivals were celebrated in the course of the year.

Distracted or even blinded by the wonders of our material civilization, modern man has discarded many of these customs yet deep down he still has an awareness that the material world is not the be-all and end-all of existence. He has needs other than those of the body as is expressed in the biblical phrase 'Man doth not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God'. In other words he has need of spiritual nourishment.

But in an elementary consideration of the body and spiritual man there is a fact which is even more illustrative. It is the alternation of sleeping and waking. Every night the human being lies down to sleep. The body is left in the bed, still living and breathing, yet inert and quiescent. There is an obvious change from the waking state. Some faculty, power or capacity has left it. The change is brought about by the spiritual part of man partially withdrawing from the body. We could therefore look upon the spiritual part as the activator, the one who acts.

The body belongs to the material world, the physical Earth, but spiritual man has his home in the spiritual world or the Heaven of the Bible. In the waking state spiritual man is fused with the physical body or we can say he is 'incarnated'. In sleep he is (partially) 'excarnated'.

The idea of incarnation and excarnation can be extended to the wider context of birth and death. Death has often been called sleep's brother but in sleep some connection between the spiritual and physical is preserved. When the moment of death comes, the spiritual elements separate from that particular body wholly and permanently. They go on their way through spiritual worlds and mother nature takes care of the body, i.e. it disintegrates. In the course of time the individuality concerned will seek a new earthly existence in a new physical body. More will be said on this subject later and also in other contexts.

The Fourfold Being of Man

In an elementary consideration of man we may well look upon him as a being with a twofold aspect but his composition is not quite as simple as that. We must now look a little closer at spiritual man and differentiate between component parts.

We said that the physical body consists of mineral substances into which it decomposes at death. During life, however, these substances have different characteristics. The living body does not decompose and we must therefore postulate that something keeps it alive.

The human body comes into existence through propagation. It has the faculty of growing. To some extent it has the ability of making good any damage received. No mixture of mineral elements can do these things and we are therefore led to think of something which imbues the physical substances with a living quality. It is a sort of second body, albeit immaterial and insubstantial, which permeates the physical. A name given to this agency is the etheric formative force or, simply, the etheric.

Pursuing the matter further we note that the human being has organs of sense-perception. When he confronts the world he sees, hears, smells, tastes, or touches something. But this action calls forth a response within him. As the eye reacts to the light, so something within man is activated by the sensation, giving rise to impulses, aversions, desires, likes or dislikes, feelings of joy or sorrow. This something within is like a third body, although, as with the etheric, it is non-physical. It is given the name of astral body.

There is one more factor to be considered here. We said that sensations arise as a result of stimuli from the outer world. The astral body receives the impressions which give rise to feelings, etc., but it is not necessary that the human being reacts instinctively. He has a power to direct himself. There is in every human being what is in essence an individualized portion of the divine substance and this is termed the ego. As a comparison one could think of every single drop of water in the ocean as a part of it, but the drop that is the ego can become conscious of itself and capable of further development.

Thus we can now define four members of the human being: physical body, etheric, astral, ego.

In speaking of these four, however, it should be added that these are basic. The human being is not at the end of his development. The ego can direct and control the astral and this means that the human being is capable of reaching higher stages of development. When the ego works on the astral, a certain transformation takes place and new elements are created. Put into simpler words, we might say that the human being evolves to a higher state when his life of emotion is brought under control and he then creates new faculties.

Normally the four 'bodies', or principles, function in harmony. Health is established when they are in proper relationship with one another. Illness occurs if they are not.

We spoke earlier of man's twofold nature, body and spirit, but for spirit we substituted the expression spiritual man as a general term for everything non-physical. If we now consider the fourfold constitution of the human being, we see that one member is physical and the other three spiritual:

Physical: Spiritual:
body etheric, astral, ego

The fourfold nature of man is connected with a fourfold development of the Earth which will be dealt with later.

The Threefold Being of Man

It has been said already that definitions are somewhat out of place when trying to describe the being of man, and one can only take different points of view. Thus we can look upon man as a fourfold being as just described. But there is also a threefold aspect to the human being which we need to consider, namely, body, soul, spirit.

A simple illustration will clarify these concepts. Let us take the case of someone who delights in taking evening strolls. When the night is calm and the sky is crystal clear, he derives great satisfaction from a contemplation of the stars. He looks up to the majestic dome of heaven and a feeling of pleasure arises within him. In repeating his walks he notices set patterns of stars in the sky and their regular courses. By further observation and thinking he is able to work out the laws and even predict at what time such and such a constellation will appear.

Taking the walk is an individual decision; another person might prefer to sit at home. The feeling of pleasure is also his; another person might feel differently or be apathetic. The fact that seeing the stars sets the mind working is not universally applicable; another person might not bother. But as far as our example is concerned, we note that he is engaged in three activities. He walks, feels and thinks. In walking there is a will activity; feelings are aroused in contemplating the stars; and in the search for subsequent understanding and knowledge, there is a thinking activity. Willing, feeling, thinking — they are brought about by outside stimuli through the senses, but they belong to the inner being of man. In this sense we can say that man builds up a world for himself within himself, and this can be termed the soul. But this is only a half of his experience. To complete the picture we need to form some idea of spirit in this particular sense.

In the illustration given we said that man feels pleasure in looking at the starry heavens. He might feel the same sort of pleasure in observing other things — a beautiful landscape for instance — but the pleasure does not necessarily condition him. He can switch the feeling off. He can also recognize what it is that gives him pleasure, be it the majesty of the heavens or the particular configuration of the hills, the grouping of the trees, the position of the lake. He also realizes that whether he takes a walk or not, the stars are there, so are the hills and the trees. He also recognizes that they were there yesterday, that they will be there tomorrow, and in this sense they are eternal. In other words these things exist for themselves and they are quite independent of his senses and his feelings. He can, nevertheless, formulate laws about them. These exist in his mind and in the objects. As the body, through its sense organs, perceives the physical, and as sensations arise in the soul so there must be something within the human being which comprehends such laws, something which is the equivalent of body and soul — this is the spirit. As the physical body belongs to the physical world, so the spirit belongs to the spiritual, the world of the eternal.

We said that the soul is a part of the inner being of man and that its nature, or even its substance, is influenced by sense impressions. But it is also subject to the influence of the spirit. We can say then that the soul is affected, influenced or even built up from two sides:

  • From the sense impressions via the physical body.
  • From the supersensible impressions of the spirit which are grasped in the thought life.

In this context we can consider the human being as follows. The body is physical and, in so far as it is living, it is permeated by the etheric. It is also permeated by the astral and thus able to receive sense impressions. Then there is the spirit.

The soul is formed out of astral substance. It is the intermediary between body and spirit. It receives experiences via the body through the senses and via the spirit by intuition. Through the latter capacity the human being is elevated above the animal since the animal follows its urges and impulses instinctively.

The human soul can form memories of what it has experienced; it can consider, reflect and think before reacting. It can therefore satisfy its impulses consciously or reject them. Furthermore, its thinking can grasp eternal truths.

That part of the human being which conveys eternal truth to the soul is the spirit and this spirit, working in the individual soul, is what we have referred to previously as the ego.

Man and the Four Kingdoms of Nature

The fourfold development of the Earth is also the basis of the four kingdoms of nature.

The minerals, stones, metals, etc. have weight and mass. They have no inner force. They move only if impelled from outside. They neither grow nor do they reproduce. The mineral has a 'physical body' and man has a physical body in common with the mineral world. Although composed of physical substances, man's body is, however, not the same as the minerals while it is alive. The physical laws come into play at death — dust to dust — but even then the fact that a human being has used this physical matter means that when it is bequeathed to the earth certain beneficial forces of regeneration for the earth accompany it.

The plant, too, has obvious physical form but it is a form which is not static. It grows, it produces seed, it dies. There is some power within it which moulds the physical and we can recognize a 'life' quality which we named the etheric formative force. The mineral has a physical body, the plant also, but in addition the plant has an etheric body, although body in this sense is a non-physical substance. By comparison with the mineral, which we have to characterize as dead, the plant lives. It is however unconscious, and while it is correct to say that the plant lives it is at the same time asleep.

The animal has feelings, instincts, impulses. It is not rooted to one spot, dependent on its immediate surroundings like the plant, but it can move and forage. It has a sort of consciousness, which might be characterized as dreaming, and a means of expressing itself. The animal has therefore a third factor, that in which the sensations live, the astral body.

When we consider man we find a fourth principle. Man stands upright, at least in waking consciousness, yet there is no one bone which keeps him upright. When he sleeps or faints, his position is horizontal to the Earth. We note too that only little by little and with great effort does a child assume the upright position.

The human being is subject to gravity but he does not feel his own weight. Unlike the animal he is conscious of his own consciousness and this is connected with memory. Animal memory is an instinctive feeling. The dog, for instance, feels well in the master's presence but man can consciously reconstruct a situation and can even remember his own thoughts.

Animal utterances, although both characteristic and distinctive, have no thought content. They are primarily reactions to immediate situations. Human speech, however, while also capable of producing sounds instinctively, is used by man to formulate thoughts and as a means of artistic expression. Moreover he can withold it if he wishes. He does not, of necessity, have to obey his instincts and impulses but he can direct them. Furthermore, each individual person is a species in himself with his own individuality. The human being has then this fourth member, the self, the ego.

Thus the human being is related to the other kingdoms of nature. He has, in common with the minerals, a physical body; with the plants, an etheric; with the animals, as astral; but by virtue of the ego, he is man.

Mineral: Plant: Animal: Man:
physical physical physical physical
body etheric etheric etheric
    astral astral

Man is also dependent on the other kingdoms for his life on Earth. Without the mineral there would be no firm earth for physical existence. There would be no material to build up his physical body, his bones, tissues, etc.

It is the plant world which regenerates the air a man breathes. A man breathes in, uses such ingredients of the air as he needs for his own support and breathes out a transformed substance. This contains what the plants need and they transform it back again. There is, therefore, a mutual giving and taking. The role of the plant as the universal food provider is obvious.

The animal, too, belongs to the life cycle of nature, and man has every reason to be grateful to the lower kingdom for his existence as man. We are not thinking here of the service animals provide for man in the everyday sense but the fact that his evolution is bound up with that of the animal kingdom to which he is indebted for his progress. In the view of spiritual science, the human being existed as a spiritual entity until the right physical form was created for his incarnation. The animal world is a remnant of those forms which were unsuitable and have since degenerated.

Man and the Four Elements — Temperament

The fourfold development of the Earth is also connected with what we term the four elements — Earth, Water, Air, Fire (Warmth).

These, too, play a part in the constitution of the human being. If a person has too much of the Earth in him we call him a melancholic; Water, phlegmatic; Air, sanguine; and Fire, choleric.

The melancholic person seems to be weighted by the substance of his body, giving an impression of heaviness and tragedy. He is withdrawn and introspective, turning his experiences over and over in his mind. Centred in himself he has difficulty in seeing any point of view but his own, yet is astonished if accused of selfishness. He has the feeling that the world is against him although, if his sympathies are aroused, he can be most helpful. He is an intellectual and a great reader. He has a good memory for anything touching himself, particularly if he has been slighted.

The phlegmatic is an easy-going, good-humoured person, probably inclined to rotundity. He will neither be hurried nor worried by anything in particular and although he may take his time over whatever task he has to do, he will do it well and conscientiously. He is sociable but has a natural reserve; he likes a settled routine and, like the ocean, he is persevering and persistent. Possibly he may give the appearance of being a dreamer but in actual fact he is sizing up any given situation and his judgement will be sound.

Very different is the sanguine, a happy, talkative, quick-witted, lithe companion, jumping from one subject to another and not staying with anything for long. ('Sanguine' in this context has a different meaning from the normal dictionary definition.) A person of this temperament shows interest in everything but it is fleeting. He is capricious, likes change, is full of ideas and is an incurable optimist. He lives in the moment and for the moment, finds it difficult to fulfil tasks and perhaps overlooks responsibilities.

Usually short and stocky in physique, the choleric is the mover of mountains. He is forceful, emphatic, deliberate and feels himself the born leader. He has the will; he has the energy; he has the right idea; only he can direct the enterprise properly — in spite of what others may think. He wants to get on with the appointed task immediately, without allowing time for second thoughts, but once it is launched he likes to hand over detailed planning to others. Fixed in purpose, he has little regard for anyone else, but as long as he is the recognized leader, all is well and he will even show magnanimity and generosity.

Although one cannot be dogmatic, it appears that there is some connection between temperament and profession. Naturally representatives of all temperaments are found in all fields of work and the human being is not subject to his nature. Nevertheless, tendencies are evident and it is obvious that the human being is happiest in the situation which suits him. For instance, one often finds melancholics as doctors, parsons, gardeners, nurses and in the arts.

The phlegmatic is usually reliable, truthful, orderly, and hence detailed administration is his field of work. He will be good at teaching, research work, draughtmanship and architecture.

Those professions which mean meeting and talking to people are the ones which suit the sanguines (e.g. social work, catering), but they are adaptable and will try any sort of work, leaving it quickly if they are not happy.

The profession, par excellence, for the choleric is that of sergeant in the army, but he fits into any position of command such as foreman or executive, although he may also arouse resentment.

Most people are a mixture of at least two elements. These are gifts of nature and show a person's characteristics but this does not mean that he is determined by them. The human spirit can overcome all one-sided tendencies and establish harmony. The elements, indicated in the temperaments, also have a physical basis in the human being. Warmth is in the blood, air in the lungs, the watery element is connected with glands and the solid earth with the bones.

The Historical Development of Fourfold Man

The human being has achieved his present constitution through a series of developments but this statement is not to be understood as a process of evolution in the Darwinian sense. Looking back in history — a long, long way — the constituent parts of the human being have not always been the same; neither, in view of the possibility of further development, will they be the same in the future.

The Earth has gone through a long evolutionary process and a fourfold development lies behind it. It was in each stage of the evolutionary development that the higher spiritual powers (God) created each constituent member of the human being: first the physical, or rather a foundation for the physical; then the etheric, the astral and the ego, until, in the fourth stage, all were finally fused together in the being of man. After long periods of development a new age begins in which man is to come to a consciousness of his ego and to take over his further development himself. This is man's present stage of evolution.

Man and the Progress of Civilization

There is a difference between being ego-endowed and being conscious of the ego. The small child has an ego but is not conscious of it until he or she grows up. A similar development has taken place in the course of history and we can observe it if we follow the progress of civilization.

After the catastrophe in which the continent of Atlantis disappeared, new civilizations developed, the first of which is referred to as Ancient India, with a date of approximately 8,000 BC. This was followed by Ancient Persia, then Egypt/Babylonia, Greece/Rome and our own (see Chapter 3). In the first three, particularly, the members of the community felt themselves more as part of a group than as individuals. They were not what we should now term 'ego-conscious'. It is true that they possessed all four 'bodies', including the ego, but the relationship of these with one another was different. One could say that the spiritual was much more loosely connected with the physical, or that the ego was less incarnated than at present. It is this gradual coming together which gives the key to understanding history.

In these remote periods we find that priests or kings were the leaders and that they were divinely inspired. The state of the common people was more one of sleep and dream than of wakefulness and therefore they could easily be guided. From a study of the mythologies we can deduce a different state of mind. Men were aware of non-physical beings and walked side by side with the gods. The physical Earth was not quite real. In the course of time the ability for spiritual perception faded until, in Greek times, thinking took its place. Hence the birth of philosophy. At the same time the feeling of individuality developed. These matters are central to the Graeco-Roman epoch. Philosophy took the place of vision and law between man and man took the place of divine guidance. The self-consciousness of every individual manifests itself at the present time. Modern man is aware of himself as an individuality, as an ego, and this brings in its train the social upheavals of the modern age.

Individual Development

As, in the course of history, man has attained individual consciousness, so in the course of growth the child achieves maturity. The process of growth is accompanied by a process of growing self-awareness, i.e. as the ego incarnates, self-consciousness grows. From a state of deep sleep in babyhood, through the dreamy consciousness of early childhood, the child reaches the state of adult awareness.

In the process of growth we can observe how the four principles manifest themselves at different times. At birth the physical body makes its appearance. Naturally, etheric, astral and ego are connected with it but the relationship changes in the course of time. It is obvious, for instance, that the child has no capacity for self-direction, hence we could say that the ego-force does not manifest itself at this stage. We note the effort that has to be made to stand upright and at about the age of 3 the child first says 'I' in speaking about itself. These are manifestations of the ego but it is still working — so to speak — from outside.

We observe how closely the small child is connected with the mother, how at first it is dependent on her even for its physical nourishment. It basks, so to speak, in the life-forces of its parent and only at the age of 7, with the coming of the second teeth, is this phase at an end. During this time the etheric forces have been working predominantly at the building up of the physical body and childhood illnesses are a sign of this adjustment and of throwing off inherited parental influence. The coming of the second teeth is the sign of a stage of completion. One might speak at this stage of the birth of the etheric body and one notices a distinct change in the nature of the child.

Much more marked is the change at puberty when the astral forces begin to make themselves more manifest. Traditionally at the age of 21 the human being is considered grown up and self-responsible. The ego takes over. We thus have marked periods of seven years and the advent of these different forces should be taken into account in education, as it is in the Rudolf Steiner schools.

In this present consideration it would lead too far to trace developments further. We know that the substance of the body is renewed every seven years and, in passing, it might be stated that the human being continues to come into possession of different forces in the same rhythm. The staging posts of 7, 14, 21 are very noticeable. Those of 28, 35, 42, etc. are perhaps less so but they are there nevertheless and are worthy of closer observation.

You are now reading from Chapter 1 of Roy Wilkinson's book on Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. To read this chapter from the beginning click here

Waking, Sleeping, Birth and Death

With the knowledge of the four principles of man, the physical body, etheric, soul and spirit, we are in a better position to understand the processes of sleeping and waking and the facts of birth and death.

The difference between sleeping and death is that during sleep the physical and etheric bodies remain united while soul and spirit separate themselves from them, although of course some connection remains. At death, the etheric, as well as the soul and spirit, leaves the body and the separation is permanent.

In thinking of the etheric force one can imagine something like an atmosphere which pervades the whole of the Earth. The plant, animal or man breathes a portion of it in and retains it as a life-sustaining force in life, but at death it is breathed out again into the world ether.

When a person dies his etheric is thus breathed out or we could say his etheric body dissolves and this usually takes about three days. During this period there unfolds before the spiritual entity of that person a picture of his whole life. This is experienced as a tableau unfolding in backward sequence. It is an event which many people have described when they have been brought to the point of death but subsequently recovered.

The soul and spirit then progress through other realms, the soul-world first, until such time as the spirit casts off the soul-body, in much the same way as the physical body was discarded, and enters its own spirit-world or the highest heaven. On its journey it becomes aware of its many imperfections, debts and failings in its previous existence on Earth and resolves to return to put things right. The idea of reincarnation and the law of compensation (karma) is nothing new. Origen, one of the early Christian fathers, puts it in this way: 'Every soul [in the sense of the human being] comes into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defects of its previous life. Its place in this world as a vessel appointed to honour or dishonour is determined by its previous merits or demerits...'

In accordance with past efforts, desires, achievements, and needs for the future, a new astral body is formed. New

etheric forces are also accumulated and, at the given moment of conception, a start is made on the formation of a new physical body with material provided by the mother. Since the body and soul configuration must meet its needs, the incarnating spirit seeks out that line of heredity and those circumstances which are most fitting, i.e. it seeks suitable parents in a suitable environment and at a suitable time. (See Chapter 2).

The Physical Body as a Mirror of Soul Activity

We saw that the human being can be considered from many points of view. We can gain further understanding by reading, so to speak, his structure.

The Earth is round; we are inclined to think of the universe as round — certainly the heavenly bodies above us appear to move in circles — and the human frame would seem to be built on an arrangement of globes.

The head is hard and round and the brain is thus effectively protected. The limbs are rod-like. In contrast to the head the hard part is inside and the soft part, the flesh, is outside. The legs carry the body, the arms create and manipulate, and if we are thinking of a globe then this is the space in which they operate. The limbs are radii.

In between head and limbs is the almost round chest where bones and intermediate muscular spaces alternate in the rib cage to allow flexibility for breathing.

We have already called attention to the threefold activity — thinking, feeling and willing — and in the human structure we can see a corresponding physical expression.

The head is relatively detached from the rest of the organism, poised delicately on the vertebral column. It receives the sense impressions which come through the eyes, ears, nose and tongue. It is in this region that the human being is most conscious. Protected within its stronghold, the brain is the bodily basis of the thinking spirit. Thoughts arise from what is seen or heard, or from perceptions of different kinds whenever one begins to think about what the senses tell. The sense organs as well as the brain are centred in the head, which, as a whole therefore, is the instrument of thinking, yet physically it remains passive.

With his limbs man makes his impression on the outer world. He may have all sorts of thoughts but they remain in that sphere unless he does something. Then he performs a conscious act, but he is only conscious of it in his brain. If a man sitting at his desk picks up the telephone he is aware of what he is doing but is not at all conscious of the way his muscles activate joints in his arms and fingers. Think of what a problem would arise if a person were to become conscious of all his movements. One is reminded of the story of the centipede who was stalled when asked which foot followed which. There are other organs that may be included in the limb system. These are the chief organs of the metabolism. The process of digestion normally takes place unconsciously. When something goes wrong, then we have an awareness and usually it is unpleasant.

A balance between the head system and the limb-metabolic system is maintained by the rhythmic system (embracing heart and lungs).

In the limb system, then, we must speak of unconsciousness yet also of the greatest activity. This is the region of willing. In the middle region are the heart and lungs. While the head and digestive system rest from time to time, there is no retiring for the rhythmic system. From the moment he is born to the moment he dies, a man's heart and lungs function ceaselessly. In fact death takes place when they stop.

It is also a curious phenomenon that for the most part we do not notice these rhythms but we can do so if we wish. For instance, we can consciously breathe in and out, or otherwise. Breathing is also connected with speaking — that most human of human activity.

A shock will stop the heart, causing fainting. Bad or good news will change the rate of breathing. Thus we may say that the rhythmic system is the seat of feeling.

In the head, then, we are conscious, in the limbs asleep, and in the chest is a between-stage of dreaming. We can equate head activity with thinking, limbs with willing and chest with feelings. Unity in separation.

We see, then, how the human spirit makes use of its bodily organs for its different activities.

However, no system works independently. Perception means taking hold of impressions and making ourselves conscious of them, but the will is needed to grasp the idea. Action means directing our activity to the world, which is an act of will, but thought flows into it.

The threefoldness in the human organism can be observed in man in other ways. As a slight further example we might look at the structure of the head where a discerning eye might see a threefoldness in skull, cheek bones and jaws. Anyone with a high forehead, the philosopher's brow, is usually considered a thinker. Heavy jaws mean a person of will. In between is the region of the main sense organs which have much to do with feeling; thus the eye can have a thoughtful, determined or sympathetic look. At the end of the jaw there is a little dent as if the jaw consisted of two sections. With a little imagination one might picture the head as a transformed body: the cranium is the head, cheek bones are ribs or arms and the jaws the legs.

Man and the Universe

In this short treatise there is one more aspect to be considered, namely, the connection of man with the universe. We have seen how he is related to the Earth, to the kingdoms of nature and, to some extent, to the spiritual worlds. Around the Earth are Sun, Moon and stars, moving in orderly and rhythmic procession.

There are rhythmic processes in the human being and we will consider a particular one here, that of breathing.

On average the human being inhales and exhales 18 times in a minute = 1,080 per hour = 2160 in 2 hours = 25, 920 per day of 24 hours.

In a period of 24 hours, each of the 12 zodiacal constellations appears to circle the Earth as it revolves on its axis. Each day the Sun moves forward in the zodiac so that, in the course of a year, it appears to pass through all 12 constellations. Every year in springtime the Sun comes to what is known as the vernal equinox on about the 21st day of March and covers a particular star. However, every year the Sun will have fallen behind this star a little, and after 72 years it will be 17 behind. The gap grows wider every 72 years so that it takes 25,920 years before the Sun once more covers the original star. This movement is known as the precession of the equinoxes and the cycle is known as the Cosmic or Platonic Year.

In this great rhythm, the Sun has a particular relationship to one sign of the zodiac for 2,160 years. Every 2,160 years, approximately, there is a new period of culture, a new civilization.

Dividing this Cosmic Year of 25,920 by 360 we should have a Cosmos Day or Sun-Day: 25,920 3 360 = 72.

This number recalls the biblical phrase 'For the days of our years are three score and ten'. The 72 is also the rate of our pulse beat per minute.

It is obvious then that there is some connection between human and cosmic rhythms.

In this connection too we might consider other matters; for example, the menstrual rhythm in the woman is the Moon rhythm. We might think too of the whole process of life which takes place between forces of expansion and contraction. We see it in the growth of the individual plant. We see it in the seasons, the expansion in summer and the contraction in winter, the light and the dark of day and night. We see it also in the breathing process of man in life. At death his being is breathed out into the cosmos and at birth into a new physical vehicle.

There is a further matter which might be mentioned here but it would require much greater elaboration to do it justice. It is the relationship of the human organism with the zodiac and the planets.

Pictures or reliefs from the ancient cultures and mediaeval times portray such a connection. It is particularly clear in certain mediaeval pictures. The human organism is portrayed as twelvefold and on each portion is drawn one of the signs of the zodiac.

The older ones were in the form of a circle, i.e. around a man when he is in the embryonic stage. By the time of the Middle Ages, man was growing up (historically), feeling himself standing more firmly on the Earth and looking around himself in greater consciousness.

Names of the signs of the zodiac are given here in place of the pictures, and are in both Latin and English.

Head Aries Ram
Neck Taurus Bull
Arms Gemini Twins
Chest Cancer Crab
Heart Leo Lion
Abdomen Virgo Virgin
Hips Libra Scales
Sex Organs Scorpio Scorpion
Thighs Saggittarius Archer
Knees Capricorn Sea Goat
Calves Aquarius Waterman
Feet Pisces Fishes

Similarly, planets were connected with inner organs.

These representations demonstrate the belief that man is built up out of the forces of the cosmos.

From each region of the zodiac and from the planets there stream to the Earth certain forces and these forces become manifest in the physical being of man.

Every person has these collective forces within him. According to the position of the Sun and zodiac, modified by the relationship to the planets, a person receives specific forces at birth. This does not mean that he is determined by those forces. They are given to him as an endowment. What he does with them is his own affair.

Seen then from the other side, the time of birth is extremely important since the individuality would wish to incarnate at that particular moment which is favourable to his needs. Equally significant is the moment of death.

If we accept that in the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth, then we must also look upon the universe as a manifestation of the divinity. But God also created man in his own image and hence the relationship between man and the universe. Man is the microcosm. He is the answer to the riddle of the universe.

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Rudolf Steiner. An Introduction to his Spiritual World-View, Anthroposophy. © Roy Wilkinson 1998