Members of man

The founder of AnthroposophyRudolf Steiner described the seven parts of man and how each coincides with each other. First, there is the physical body of man, which is the oldest part of man since it was the first to evolve. This physical body is of the mineral world, which makes up its composition. Penetrating the physical body is the ether, or etheric body, the second part of man. The physical body of man shares its etheric body in common with the plant and mineral kingdoms. In essence everything possesses an etheric body, which holds things together by giving them their shapes and forms. The etheric body is also called the life-body since during life it prevents the destruction of the body of a living thing, which results in death.

The etheric body penetrates the entire living thing, it is united and not compose of separate parts as is the human body, and it maintains life. However, just as the etheric body gives life to the physical body, the astral body, the third part of man, gives life to the etheric body. It is the astral body that gives life to the etheric body that makes man able to possess motion. Without this astral body the etheric body would be in a state of continual unconsciousness or sleep.

The fourth part or component of man, which is the ego, furnishes life to the astral body. The ego is the seat of consciousness within man. It differentiates him from his fellow creatures in the animal kingdom. Without the ego, man would possess no permanency. Therefore, he would act upon a thing only once, and there would be no repetition of the action. Each time he met the same situation he would need to learn how to react to it again. With the ego, there comes a degree of permanency (for this Steiner uses the phrase «something permanent») or «ego feelings» in man. Without the ego there would be no memory of hunger, thirst, or other things.

Memory develops at various stages and is identified by other terms. Memory is first called an astral body when the mental image is just visualized. For example, when a person sees a pencil, then quickly turns away and retains the pencil’s image. The mental image becomes knowledge when it is retained. An example of this is when the image can be brought back into memory without the pencil actually being perceived. What gives this knowledge or memory permanency can be designated as soul. To be more exact, the human astral body may be called the soul body, or the sentient soul when united with outer physical-sensory organs.

According to Steiner, the sentient soul is the first stage of the ego; the second stage is the intellectual or mind soul‘ The content of both the sentient and intellectual soul consist of information that has come from the physical-sensory organs. Thus far, the memory produced consists of knowledge originating from external sources.

Steiner contends that the ego has the capability to rise above the sentient and intellectual souls when it becomes aware of itself. When the ego becomes aware of itself, is becomes aware that something else is present beside the images that it perceives from sense perception. The awareness of the inner activity of the ego is a sign of supersensible perception on the part of the person who designate the recognition of such activity by using the word «I.» By its very nature the word «I» cannot be used to refer to anything external, or outside of the person using the term. When the word «I» is employed, it means the ego or self-consciousness is evident, which also can and does mean the consciousness of the soul.

When the ego becomes aware of the soul, consciousness of the soul begins. At this point the ego or I simply cannot surrender to itself as it observes itself, but must lift itself out of its own depths in order to observe itself; such activity is achieved through self-contemplation. Through self-contemplation the ego views itself. Within the ego’s vision are not just the images perceived from sense perceptions, but something else, the images that the ego manufactures itself, or the personal thoughts of the soul.

To Steiner, this is the unveiling or entering the hidden temple of the soul. The consciousness is united with the spirit, which forms the spirituality of the soul. The person now must take hold of this spirituality. When the person fulfills this function, the manifestations of this spirituality will be recognized also.

Just as the person had to direct the activity of the ego to view itself, through self-contemplation, so also he must direct the spirituality of the soul. The consciousness of the soul is united with the spirit. When doing this, the higher stages of the human being are developed. The person who achieves this has ennobled or spiritualized the soul out of his ego. The ego is now master of the soul-life, which can be continued so far that no desire or enjoyment can gain entrance into the soul without the ego or I possessing the power to grant the entrance.

With further endeavor, this power can be extended to the astral body. The ego takes possession of the astral body by uniting itself to the latter’s hidden nature. When the astral body is overcome and transformed by the ego it becomes the spirit-self. The «spirit-self» begins only as a germ but increasingly develops as it actively works upon itself.

Just as the ego conquers the astral body by penetrating its hidden forces, so, too, in like manner, the identical process can occur in the etheric body. The work of the ego upon the etheric must be more intense than on the astral body because more factors are involved and the results are manifested more slowly. As Steiner suggests certain human soul qualities develop and changes through the passage of time as the ego works on them. One example of this is a hot-tempered child who turns into an even-tempered man even though he retains characteristics of his hot temper. Also, besides the working of the ego, what this person learns and experiences can bring about the change within him. There are multiple factors that produce gradual change in a person such as education, religion, art, literature and imitation. One of the best means by which change is produced is through repetitive repetition of an act or experiencing a feeling; and, according to Steiner, the religious creed or experience, whatever it may be, has a far-reaching effect on the soul-life. Some effects are so gradual they are hardly noticeable. Whether the individual recognizes it or not, under ordinary conditions, such changes are constantly occurring within his personality. When these changes result within the etheric body the human being has acquired a second spiritual member, which may be called the life-spirit. This term «life-spirit» is appropriate because they are the same forces within the etheric body that were called the «life-body» before the ego worked on them.

After working on the astral and etheric bodies the work of the ego or I is not finished, according to Steiner, it is extended into the physical body. The work is continued as the ego unites with the hidden forces in the physical body. Steiner explains that what appears, as the gross matter of the physical body is just the manifested part of it. Behind this manifested part lie the hidden forces of its being, and these forces are of a spiritual nature. These are the invisible forces that bring the physical body into existence and allow it to decay. It is upon these invisible forces that the ego works, and in ordinary life this work is done instinctively. Consequently a complete clarity of consciousness arises when man, under the influence of supersensible knowledge, takes an active control of this inner working of the ego. When this occurs a third spiritual member of man emerges, which may be called the spirit man that is in contrast to physical man.

In summary, according to Steiner, in occult science man is viewed as being composed of various members. Those of a corporal nature are the physical body, etheric body, and astral body. Those belonging to the soul are the sentient soul, intellectual soul, and consciousness soul. The I, the ego, spreads out its light in the soul. The members possessing a spiritual nature are the spirit self, spirit life, and spirit man. The sentient soul and the astral body are closely united and in a certain respect form a whole. In like manner, consciousness soul and spirit self form a whole and shine their rays through other members of human nature. Now the astral body and sentient soul may be combined into a single member, likewise the consciousness soul and spirit self, and intellectual soul are grouped so to be called the I, since it partakes of the I nature and, in a certain respect, is already the I that has not yet became conscious of its spiritual nature. Considering all of this there are seven members of man: 1. physical body, 2. ether or life body, 3. astral body, 4. I, 5. spirit self, 6. spirit life, and 7. spirit man.


The previous description of the members of man is important because it briefly illustrates the teachings of Anthroposophy. Steiner based these teachings on the principle concept of the evolution of man and his world through the process on innumerable reincarnations. In his An Outline of Occult Science (1972) Steiner claims the world and humankind has underwent four major evolution stages, and within each of these stages there occur many evolutionary and reincarnation changes. The names of the major evolution stages are: SaturnSunMoon, and Earth. To Steiner, there was just one purpose for these innumerable changes, which was the perfection of humanity. This also is a major premise of Anthroposophy. A.G.H.


Steiner, Rudolf. An Outline of Occult Science. New York, Anthroposophical Press, 1972. pp. 21-45, 111

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