From Anthroposophy

Alphabet is the name we use for the basis for language, an expression means to convey meaning by means of signs called letters. The signs or letters are typically visual graphical symbols or characters (written languages), but can also be phonemes or sounds (spoken languages), sensory signs (eg Braille for blind people) or symbols representing modes of consciousness (spiritual languages).

An alphabet forms the basis of communication between beings through the use of language. The term is mostly used to denote earthly context of communication between human beings, rather than communication with spiritual beings which takes places through consciousness and not the earthly senses.

As human beings speak to communicate, the written versions are linked to the phonetic pronunciation of reading the written version, and this is the basis for two classes of characters corresponding to different types of speech sounds: vowels and consonents.

Alphabets have changed through the ages along with the consciousness of Man, and are closely related to the culture of that age.

Well known alphabets are correspond to the cultural ages: sanskrite (indian), hieroglyphs (egypt) and hebrew, greek and latin. Others are the chinese, arabic, cyrillic.

In ancient times the forms of writing evolved along with language, culture and underlying consciousness:

  • cuneiform used in ancient persia (mesopotamia, Babylon). Cuneiform are nail headed characters combined to represent sounds so they could record spoken language), but without an alphabet.
  • Egyptian hieroglyphs used four types of signs: alphabetic signs representing a single sound, syllabic signs representing combinations of 2-3 consonants, then word signs or pictures of objects (concepts), and last the determinative: apicture of an object to help the reader.

Languages such as sanskrite and ancient hebrew are symbolic in that the characters have underlying meaning, as opposed to contemporary characters where the letter is meaningless, and concepts of meaning follow from the combination of characters.

Spiritual languages

The language of creation, see also Franz Bardon's Key to True Kaballah.


relationship of languages to various regions of the earth to the cosmos - see 1922-08-02-GA347 (popular book series Chrystals ..)


Lecture coverage and references

Paracelsus (as quoted in 1906-12-03-GA283)

The kingdoms of nature are the letters of the alphabet, and Man is the word formed from them.

Sephiroths, Lull, Aristotle's categories

1924-05-10-GA353 presents the Sephiroth tree as a spiritual alphabet and Raymond Lully. And also the Greek spiritual alphabet consisting of the ten concepts or categories of Aristotle: existence, quality, ..

In his Ars Magna, Ramon Lull describes the sixteen divine qualities based on the elements. Steiner covers Lull and his approach/intentions, and how he was misunderstood, in 1924-05-10-GA236 (same day indeed)

  • Kindness, greatness, eternity, power
  • Wisdom, will, virtue, truth
  • Honour, perfection, justice, benevolence
  • Mercy, devotion, mastery, patience

1908-11-13-GA108 covers the theory of the categories, also comes back in the KR lectures on Aristotle.

Aristotle's Categories or Classes or Conditions or States: 1. Substance 2. Quality 3. Quantity 4. Relation 5. Action 6. Passion 7. Time 8. Place 9. Situation 10. Habit”

Cosmic al

Lecture 1921-12-18-GA209 is called 'The alphabet - an expression of the mystery of Man' (SWCC)

.. if a Man could look through himself inwardly he would have to admit: I am an etheric body, in other words, I am the echo of cosmic vowels; I am a physical body, in other words, the echo of cosmic consonants. Because I stand here on the earth, there sounds through my being an echo of all that is said by the signs of the Zodiac; and the life of this echo is my physical body. An echo is formed of all that is said by the planetary spheres and this echo is my etheric body.

  • 1. Physical body = Echo of the Zodiac
  • 2. Etheric body = Echo of the planetary movements
  • 3. Astral body = Experience of the (impression of the ) planetary movements (in thinking, feeling and willing)
  • 4. Ego = perception of the echo of the Zodiac

Nothing is said by repeating that Man consists of physical body and etheric body: those are no more than vague indefinite words. If we want to speak in a real language, which can be learned from the mysteries of the cosmos, we would have to say, not talking abstraction but reality:

Man is constituted out  

  • of the echo of the heavens, of the fixed stars,
  • of the echo of the planetary movements,
  • of what is experienced of the echo of the planetary movements, and
  • of what knowingly experiences the echo of the fixed star heavens.

Then we would express in real cosmic speech what is abstractly expressed by the words: Man is made up of physical body, etheric body, astral body and ego.


  • .. picture to yourselves the Zodiac, the representation of the fixed stars. Man is exposed to their influence on descending from the life of soul and spirit into earthly life. If their effects are to be designated in accordance with their actual being we must say that they are cosmic music, they are consonants. And the forming of consonants in the physical body is the echo of what resounds from the single formations of the Zodiac, whereas
  • the formation of vowels within the music of the spheres occurs through the movements of the planets in the cosmos. This is imprinted into the etheric body. Thus, in our physical body we unconsciously bear a reflection of the cosmic consonants, whereas in our etheric body we bear a reflection of the cosmic vowels.
  • This remains in the silence of the subconscious. But as the child develops, forces press upwards within the body and strengthen the speech organs; these are forces that, as reflections of the formative forces of the cosmos, build up the speech organs. The more interior speech organs are so formed out of Man's essential being that they can produce vowels, and the organs nearer to the periphery, the palate, the tongue, the lips and everything that contributes to the form of the physical body, are built up in such a way that consonants can be produced. While the child is learning to speak, something takes place in the upper part of his being, as a result of the activity of his lower part, which is a consequence of the formative forces taken up into the physical body, and also into the etheric body. (This is naturally not a material process but has to do with formative activity.) Thus when we speak, we bring to Manifestation what we might call an echo of the experience Man goes through with the cosmos in the life between death and a new birth during his descent out of the divine spiritual world. All the single letters of the alphabet are actually formed as images of what lives in the cosmos.

1911-01-19-GA060 Zarathustra

This ancient conception of the universe did not merely state vaguely: Outside and behind the world of the senses which works upon eyes and ears, there is “Spirit.” A kind of alphabet, records of the spiritual world were revealed. Suppose we to-day take a page of a book. We see letters on it and we build up words from these letters, but we must first have learnt to read. Those who have not learnt to read in the spiritual sense, cannot understand Zarathustra; they cannot read the sense of his teaching but merely see signs and symbols. Only those who know how to build up these signs into a doctrine to which their souls respond can understand Zarathustra.

Zodiac through the signs Now behind the world of the senses, in the ordered grouping of the stars, Zarathustra perceived a symbolic writing in cosmic space. Just as we have a written alphabet, so Zarathustra saw in the starry worlds of space, a kind of Alphabet of the spiritual worlds, a language through which they became articulate. Thus arose the science of penetrating into the spiritual world and of reading and interpreting the constellations. He knew too, how to decipher the signs in which the Cosmic Spirits inscribe their activities into space. Their language is the grouping and movement of the stars. Zarathustra and his disciples saw that Ahura Mazdao creates and manifests by describing an apparent circle in the heavens, in the sense of our Astronomy, and this circle was for them the outward sign of the way in which Ormuzd manifested his activity to man. Zarathustra showed — and this is a most important point — that the Zodiac is a line which returns on itself, forming a circle as the expression of the rotation of Time. In the highest sense, he taught that while one branch of Time goes forward into the future, the other turns backwards into the past.

If we take a sheet of paper upon which are inscribed alphabetical characters, these may be combined into words; but we must first have learnt how to read. Without this ability no one could read about Zarathustra; for they would merely perceive certain characters which could only be followed with the eyes. Actual reading can only take place after it is clearly understood how to connect such characters with that which is within the soul. Now, Zarathustra discerned a written sign underlying all that was in the perceptual world, particularly in the manner in which the stars are grouped in the universe. Just as we recognize written characters upon paper, so did Zarathustra descry in the starry firmament something similar to letters, conveying a message from the Spirit-World. Hence, arose an art of penetrating into the World of Spirit, and of deciphering the signs indicated by the arrangement of the stars, and of finding a method of reading and construing from their movements and order, in what manner and way those spiritual beings that are without, inscribe the facts concerning their activities in space.

1918-10-04-GA184 stresses the importance of learning to read the alphabet of life, to get back from abstraction to reality

For it will not be possible in the future to derive our education from abstract principles; we shall have to educate on an empirical, concrete basis. And we do not discover these empirical, concrete bases if we have no power to read life. We must be able to read life; but for that we must learn its alphabet. As you know, there is much more to it than that, but the most necessary alphabet that will suffice for the immediate future is to know three letters — normal evolution, Ahrimanic evolution, Luciferic evolution. Just as no-one can read a book without knowing his ABC, so anyone who is ignorant of these three letters cannot read — they are simply the letters through which one learns how to read life. Only by our learning to read life will the Utopian spirit so widespread among men be overcome. And people will then have to embark on a study of those forces which play into life.

For it will not be possible in the future to derive our education from abstract principles; we shall have to educate on an empirical, concrete basis. And we do not discover these empirical, concrete bases if we have no power to read life. We must be able to read life; but for that we must learn its alphabet. As you know, there is much more to it than that, but the most necessary alphabet that will suffice for the immediate future is to know three letters — normal evolution, Ahrimanic evolution, Luciferic evolution. Just as no-one can read a book without knowing his ABC, so anyone who is ignorant of these three letters cannot read — they are simply the letters through which one learns how to read life. Only by our learning to read life will the Utopian spirit so widespread among men be overcome. And people will then have to embark on a study of those forces which play into life.


Above all, the dead speak in the actual sounds of the alphabet — sounds and combinations of sound. The longer a soul has lived in the spiritual world after death, the more will he be speaking in a kind of, language which you can only make your own by cultivating a true feeling of discrimination even in the realm of earthly speech, insisting no longer on the abstract meaning of the words but entering into their feeling-content. It is as I was saying in the educational lectures here. With the sound a [a, pronounced as in father.] we experience something like astonishment and wonder. Moreover we take the sense of wonder deep into our soul when we not only say a, but ach [German or Scottish pronunciation of ch as in Loch. Ach is the German equivalent of the exclamation Ah.]. Ach signifies: “A — I feel wonder. The sense of wonder goes right into me: ch.” And if I now put m before it and say mach [Mach: German for ‘make’ or ‘do.’], I follow what awakens wonder in me as though it were coming nearer to me step by step — mmm — till at long last I am entirely within it. It is with this kind of meaning — meaning that issues from the sounds themselves — that the answers of the dead will often come. The dead do not speak English, nor do they speak German, nor Russian; their speech is such that only heart and soul can understand them, — if heart and soul are in the ears that hear. I said just now; the human heart is greater and more majestic than the Sun. Seen from the earthly aspect it is true, the heart is somewhere inside us, and will be no pretty sight if we excise it anatomically. Yet the real heart is there throughout the human being, permeating all the organs; so too it is in the ear, We must get used to the heart-language of the dead, if I may so describe it. We get used to it in learning gradually to jettison all nouns and noun-like forms and live in verbs. It is the words of action and becoming which the dead still understand for a comparatively long time after death. Then, at a later stage, they understand a language that is no longer language in the ordinary sense, and what we then receive from them has first to be re-translated into an earthly language.

1922-12-02-GA283 – cosmic alphabet

As I have explained to you, when man has passed through the portal of death, he passes at the same time from the earthly world into the world of the stars. Though it appears that I am speaking figuratively, this description is a reality. Imagine the earth, surrounding it the planets, and beyond them the fixed stars, which are traditionally pictured, for good reason, as the Zodiac.

From earth, man views the planets and fixed stars in their reflections; we therefore say that earthly man sees them from the front. The Old Testament expresses this in a different way.

When man moves away from the earth after death, he gradually begins to see the planets as well as the fixed stars from behind, as if were. He no longer sees these points or surfaces of light that are seen from the earth; instead, he sees the corresponding spiritual beings. Everywhere he sees a world of spiritual beings. Where he looks back at Saturn, Sun, Moon, Aries, or Taurus, he sees from the other side spiritual beings. Actually, this seeing is also a hearing; and just as one can say that one sees Moon, Venus, Aries, or Taurus from the other side, from behind, so one can say that one hears the beings who have their dwelling places in these heavenly bodies resound into cosmic space.

Picture this whole structure — it sounds as if I speak figuratively, but it is not so, this is a reality; imagine yourself out there in the cosmos: the planetary world further away, the Zodiac with its twelve constellations nearer to you. From all these heavenly bodies it sings to you in speaking, speaks in singing, and your perception is actually a hearing of this speaking-singing, singing-speaking.

When you look toward the constellation of Aries you have a soul-consonant impression. Perhaps you behold Saturn behind Aries: now you hear a soul-vowel. In this soul-vowel element, which radiates from Saturn into cosmic space, there lives the soul-spiritual consonant element of Aries or Taurus.

You therefore have

  • the planetary sphere that sings in vowels into cosmic space, and you have
  • the fixed stars that ensoul this song of the planetary sphere with consonant elements.

Vividly picture the more serene sphere of the fixed stars and behind it the wandering planets. As a wandering planet passes a constellation of fixed stars, not just one tone but a whole world of tones resounds, and another tone world sounds forth as the planet moves from Aries to Taurus. Each planet, however, causes a constellation to resound differently. You have in the fixed stars a wonderful cosmic instrument, and the players of this instrument of the Zodiac and fixed stars are the gods of the planets beyond.

We can truly say that, just as man's walk was shaped for earthly conditions out of cosmic, spiritual orientation, so his speech was shaped for earthly conditions. When man takes speech back into song, he moves closer to the realm of pre-earthly existence, from whence he was born into earthy conditions. It is human destiny that man must adapt himself to earthly conditions with birth. In art, however, man takes a step back, he brings the earthly affairs surrounding him to a halt; once again he approaches the soul-spiritual element from which he emerged out of pre-earthly existence.

We do not understand art if we do not sense in it the longing to experience the spiritual at least in the revelation of beautiful appearance. Our fantasy, which give rise to the artistic, is basically nothing but the pre-earthly force of clairvoyance. Just as on earth tone lives in the air, so what is actually spiritual in pre-earthly existence lives for the soul element in the earthly reflection of the spiritual. When man speaks, he makes use of his body: the consonant element in him becomes the sculptural form of the body; and the stream of breath, which does not pass into solid, sculptural form, is used by the soul to play on this bodily instrument.

We can, however, direct toward the divine what we are as earthly, speaking human beings in two ways. Take the consonantal human organism; loosen it, as it were, from the solid imprint, which it has received from the earthly forces of gravity or the chemical forces of nutrients; loosen what permeates the human being in a consonantal way! We may indeed put it like that.

When a human lung is dissected, one finds chemical substances that may be examined chemically. That is not the lung, however. What is the lung? It is a consonant, spoken out of the cosmos, that has taken on form.

Put the human heart on a dissecting-table; it consists of cells that can be examined in relation to their chemical substances. That is not the heart, however; the heart is another consonant uttered out of the cosmos.

If one pictures in essence the twelve consonants as they are spoken out of the cosmos, one has the human body. This means that if one has the necessary clairvoyant imagination to observe the consonants in their relationships, the complete shape of the human body's sculptural form will arise. If one therefore extracts from the human being the consonants, the art of sculpture arises; if one extracts from the human being the breath, which the soul makes use of in order to play on the instrument in song, if one extracts the vowel element, the art of music, of song, arises.

From the consonant element extracted from the human being, the form arises, which we must shape sculpturally. From the vowel element extracted from the human being arises the musical, the song element, which we must sing. Man, as he stands before us, on earth, is really the result of two cosmic arts. From one direction derives a cosmic art of sculpturing, from the other comes a musical and song-like cosmic art. Two types of spiritual beings fuse their activities. One brings forth and shapes the instrument, the other plays on the instrument.

No wonder that in ancient times, when people were still aware of such things, the greatest artist was called Orpheus. He actually possessed such mastery over the soul element that not only was he able to use the already formed human body as an instrument, but with his tones he could even mold unformed matter into forms that corresponded to the tones.

You will understand that when one describes something like this one has to use words somewhat differently from what is customary in today's prosaic age; nevertheless, I did not mean all this figuratively or symbolically but in a very real sense. The matters are indeed as I described them, though the language often needs to be more flexible than it is in today's usage.


Related pages

References and further reading

  • William G. Gray:
    • The language of the Gods