Descent towards incarnation

From Anthroposophy

This topic page covers the descent towards incarnation after the midnight hour, descending through the spirit world and astral world and the planetary spheres upto physical incarnation.

It includes:


  • The etheric body attracts the human being to the folk, to the family; the astral body attracts him particularly to the mother; the “I” to the father (1907-05-29-GA099)
  • during descent into incarnation, Man today experiences something akin to the old Mystery instruction (1921-01-22-GA203)
  • role of the Mahadevas and Lipikas:
    • mahadevas assist the human being in getting the right human etheric body during the descent towards incarnation (1906-07-03-GA094)
    • role of the Folk souls in the etheric body before incarnation: "Man is clothed with a new etheric body by beings of a rank similar to that of the folk spirits" (1907-05-28-GA099, 1907-05-28-GA099, 1907-06-21-GA100)
    • lipikas assist the human being towards the suitable human physical body in the stream of heredity (1906-07-03-GA094)
  • when Man passes into his etheric body but has not yet acquired his physical body he has a brief pre-vision of his coming life, not in all its details but only as a survey over what his future life has in store for him. (1907-05-28-GA099)
  • for more info on the link with the third hierarchy H3 in the descent (re Third Hierarchy#1921-10-07-GA207), see Structure of Man between death and a new birth#1917-01-22-GA174


  • the creation of the physical body and I is prepared by the father from the cosmic midnight hour upto birth (1921-07-02-GA205)
  • from the cosmic midnight hour on, Intuition, Inspiration and Imagination are penetrated by will (so the human being arrives at the development of thought after birth) (1921-07-03-GA205)


Schema FMC00.321 provides a schematic overview of the process of descent towards incarnation from the so-called 'midnight hour' in the spirit world, upto physical incarnation on Earth, and the connection between the spiritual process and the physical process.

See also Schema FMC00.548 and Schema FMC00.331 on Embryo in the womb for the prenatal process.

Adapted from Hoffmeister, see references below.


Schema FMC00.548 illustrates how a new astral body is shaped in the process of descent towards incarnation by attracting astral substance in the astral world and including the package of the previous Earth-life into a mandorla- or clock-shaped body encapsulating the spirit seed.

Adapted from Hoffmeister, see references below.


Lecture coverage and references


The soul, getting ready for incarnation, appears in the astral world as a bell-shaped structure moving through space with high speed. It consists of I and causal body, to which astral matter is now attached to form a new astral body that corresponds to the plan worked out in the spirit world. The new etheric body is formed with the help of the mahadevas. The lipikas lead the soul to a famility corresponding to karma and heredity.


is a lecture called 'The Descent to a New Birth' (read in full, just very short extract below temporarily)

Now comes a moment of extreme importance, equally as important as the moment after death when the whole of the past life is seen as a memory-picture.

When the human being passes into his etheric body but has not yet acquired his physical body — it is a brief moment but of supreme importance — he has a pre-vision of his coming life, not in all its details but only as a survey over what his future life has in store for him.

He can say to himself (but he forgets it when he actually incarnates) that he has a happy or an unhappy life in front of him.

It may happen, if a human being has had many unfortunate experiences in a previous life, that he now gets a shock and is hesitant to enter into the physical body. The result of this may be that he does not come right down into the physical body and so the connection between the several bodies is not fully established. This produces idiocy in the coming life; it is not always the cause of idiocy, but frequently so. The soul rebels, as it were, against physical embodiment. Such a human being cannot make right use of his brain because he is not properly incarnate in it. He can only use his physical instrument aright when he allows himself to be born into it in the full and proper sense.

Whereas in other circumstances the etheric body extends only slightly beyond the physical body, in the case of idiots portions of the etheric body are often to be seen as an etheric sheen extending far beyond the head. Here is a case where something that is left unexplained by physical observation of life, is explained through spiritual science.


see: Mahadevas#1907-05-29-GA099


explains that human beings now receive spiritual instructions during death and a new birth, in the process of their descent between the Midnight Hour and incarnation. Man today experiences something akin to the old Mystery instruction, before he descends from the spiritual world into his physical body.

And Rudolf Steiner adds: "That is a factor with which anyone must reckon, who through spiritual knowledge, stands in reality today. We must not think of a Man born today as he was thought of in olden times."

For the full quote, see: Planets hosting beings at various stages of evolution#1921-01-22-GA203

This is related to the way humanity advances by receiving the seeds of earlier 'waves of work' (eg in the mysteries, and group work) in their astral body (see 1915-06-15-GA159 and 1923-03-03-GA257 on Communicating over spiritual science. Related is also the description, in a much broader context, of Impulses from waves of reincarnating souls.


[The return and descent]

When a man, having completed the three circles, starts on the return journey, his interest in earthly affairs revives. Then — still many years before birth — he looks down on the successive generations in earthly evolution, at the end of which will stand his father and his mother. As soon as he makes this complete change of direction in the Cosmos, he begins to focus his attention upon the Earth. He watches many preceding generations of his ancestry, one after another, until, centuries later, his parents are born.

To them he can send down the potent, far-reaching spirit-germ, diminished in size, of his future physical body, so that this spirit-germ can be united with the physical embryo in the body of the mother.

The spirit-germ is at first majestic and great, like the Cosmos itself. While a man is making his return journey to the physical world, and watching the generations through which his parents descend, and while from the spiritual world he is actively concerned with this sequence of generations, the germ becomes smaller and smaller — until at last it arrives back in the Mars-sphere, the actual sphere of the Sun, and then, passing quickly through the Moon-sphere, it descends to its next life on Earth.

Some time before the man himself descends as a being of soul, he sends down in advance this spirit-germ, so that what he has prepared for his physical body enters the physical world before him. On completing his work for the new earthly life, he is able to enter into a different relation with the cosmos — a relation indeed to the whole cosmic ether. And, as the final act in his descent, he draws from spiritual worlds, out of the whole world-ether, the forces to form his etheric body.

When a man has already sent down the spirit-germ for his physical body — that is, when the spirit-germ has at last descended to the parents at the end of its long journey down from the spiritual world — the man himself, still in the spiritual world, gathers ether around him there, and for a short time becomes a being of Ego, astral body and ether, the ether having been drawn together from the world-ether.

It is not until after conception, during the third or fourth week of the embryonic period, that the human being unites himself with the organism that has been formed by combining the spirit-germ with the physical germ, and bestows upon it the etheric body drawn from the world-ether. Man then becomes a being composed of physical body, an etheric body drawn together in the last moments of his cosmic existence, and the astral body and Ego which have gone through the life between death and rebirth.

Thus, after experiencing the purely spiritual, a man descends to yet another existence in the physical world.



[Path of return .. Saturn]

The time has now come for man to take the path of return. He comes again, first, into the Saturn sphere. The fact that during his earlier sojourn in the Saturn sphere he received into himself the planetary memories, enables the foundation to be laid now in his head for the faculty of memory that will be necessary in his life on Earth. The cosmic memory implanted into his being is, as it were, made “earthly.” Cosmic memory is transformed again into the germ of the faculty of human memory.

And in the Jupiter sphere, all that man acquired through having perceived the thoughts of the Gods, is transformed on the path of return into the faculty to conceive human thoughts which can then be reflected in ordinary consciousness when the germ of the head unites with the physical embryo.

On the return path through the Saturn sphere the detailed elaboration of the metamorphosis of the lower man into the various parts of the head-organisation can also begin. This is a wonderful work, — one human being working upon another, in accord too with the Beings of the higher Hierarchies. Verily, the work that is wrought here for the forming of the human head is like the creation of a whole world. For in the sphere of existence between death and rebirth of which I am now speaking, each single human head is seen to be a wonderful world, — a world of infinite variety and detail; and the work upon it calls for the devotion of human beings who are linked together by destiny, with the co-operation also of Beings of the Hierarchies who, knowing the mysteries of the Cosmos, understand how such a human head must be built and formed.

Wonderful it is beyond all telling, to come in this way to a knowledge of what is in man. Nor can such knowledge ever lead to pride or conceit. Yonder, between death and a new birth, the world in which we live sees to it that we do not succumb to pride! It would be, my dear friends, an absurdity to fall victim to human pride and arrogance among the Beings of the Hierarchies, among Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones! The human being must remain for ever little in comparison with the Beings among whom he works. And when in this earthly existence a man comes to learn of what he is in the great Macrocosm between death and a new birth, he has good reason to say to himself:

“You have not brought very much with you into earthly existence!

You have no great cause to pride yourself upon your present condition; nor have you any occasion to be particularly proud of what you were among the Gods!”

What can grow within us as the result of looking upon the life of man between death and a new birth is a sense of responsibility which makes us say:

“We must strive with all our might to be worthy even here on earth, of being ‘man.’”

For this is indeed what we feel, when we measure the significance of being “man” by the work performed upon the human being by the Gods in the period that lies between death and a new birth.



Going now further on his path of return, man comes again into the Mars existence, where the work upon his being continues. It is here that the spirit-germs for the new body are added — for the breast system and for the limb structures, as they will be in the next earthly life. For it is really so, that the foundations of the limbs of the previous earthly life come forth as the foundations of the head in the new incarnation, and so now during man's passage through the planetary world on the way to his next earthly life the germs for breast system and limb structures have to be laid anew. It must of course always be remembered that these germs are spiritual; the whole process is a spiritual process. As man passes again through Mars existence, the lofty spirituality with which he was imbued during his first passage through the Mars sphere, and which enabled him to experience the cosmic Word, is now transformed into spiritual substance of a somewhat lower order — into that spiritual substance from out of which, later on, the human Ego manifests itself. It is also during this return journey through the Mars sphere that the spirit-germ of the larynx and lung formations are added.



Man comes then again to the Sun. The second passage through the Sun sphere is significant in the highest degree.

Since he completed his first sojourn in the Sun existence, man has passed through the spheres of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, to the world of the Stars, and then made the return journey through Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. All this time his whole being has been given over to the Cosmos; he has become one with the Cosmos, one with the World-All. He has been living in the Cosmos; he has learned cosmic speech, he has learned to weave cosmic thoughts into his being, he has been living, not within his own life of memory — that only dawns for him later — but within the memory of the whole planetary system. He has felt himself one with the Beings of the higher Hierarchies in his memory of the cosmic thoughts and of the cosmic speech.

Now however, when he returns once again to the Sun, he begins to shut himself off more as an individual being. Very faintly the feeling dawns that he is becoming separate from the Cosmos. This is connected with the fact that the first foundations of the heart are now being laid within him.

The return journey continues. For the second time man passes through the Venus sphere and the Mercury sphere, where the spirit-germs of the other organs have to be implanted within him.

[The germ of the heart <-> contains all moral qualities of soul&spirit]

At the moment of entrance for the second time into the Sun existence — all these happenings and processes take a very long time, and long before man enters upon earthly existence he experiences, as we shall see, what is for him a very significant turn of destiny — at the moment when, out in the Cosmos, the spirit-germ of the heart is laid within our being on the return journey to the earth, there is of course not yet a physical heart. True, there is already an indication of a physical heart form, but it is surrounded and inter-woven with all that constitutes the worth of the human being as the outcome of his previous earthly lives. The fact that we receive into ourselves in the Sun sphere the first germ of the physical heart is less important than the fact that in this germ of the heart is concentrated all that we are morally, all our qualities of soul and spirit.

Before the spirit-germ of the heart unites with the embryonic germ of the future body, the heart in man is a spiritual being, a moral being of soul and spirit out in the Cosmos; only later does this moral being of spirit and soul — which man now feels living within him, which man has, as it were, acquired in the course of his return journey to Earth — unite with the embryo.

This concentration, in the germ of the heart, of his whole soul-and-spirit being is experienced by man in communion with the sublime Sun Beings — those Sun Beings who rule over the creative forces of the planetary system and therewith of earthly existence.

Let me try to describe it to you in a picture. The expressions may sound strange but they are really appropriate.

At the time when this cosmic heart is bestowed upon man, he is living among those Spiritual Beings of the Hierarchies in whose hand lies the leadership of the whole planetary system in its connection with earthly existence. The experience is one of infinite grandeur and splendour. It is difficult to find words to describe what the human being experiences in this phase of existence. In a certain respect his feeling resembles a feeling he can have in physical existence.

  • For just as in physical existence he feels that he is bound up with his heart-beat, with the whole activity of the heart, so, out in the Macrocosm, through his macrocosmic spiritual heart, he feels himself at one with his whole being of soul and spirit. The moral being of soul and spirit which he has become at this moment of his experience is, as it were, a spiritual heart-beat within him.
  • His whole being seems now to be in the Cosmos, in the same way as his heartbeat is in him; he becomes aware also of a kind of circulation in connection with this heart-beat. Just as on Earth we feel in the heart-beat the blood circulation and breathing which give rise to it, so, when on the return journey through the Sun existence we begin to be aware of the beating of our spiritual, macrocosmic heart, it feels to us as though streams or currents were uniting this spiritual heart-beat with the Beings of the Second Hierarchy. Even as the blood flows to the heart from the veins in the physical organism, so into our being of spirit-and-soul pour the words of the Exusiai, Kyriotetes, Dynamis, — what they have to say concerning the World and the World's judgement upon man. The words and sounds of the spirit of the World-All are the circulation that now centres itself in this spiritual, macrocosmic heart, in this human being of soul and spirit.
  • There, at the centre, beats the spiritual heart of man. And the beat of the spiritual heart of man is the heart-beat of the world in which he is living. The blood-stream of this world is the deeds of the creative Beings of the Second Hierarchy, the forces which stream out from them. And just as the blood-stream on Earth centres itself in the heart where it is unconsciously experienced by man, so at this point of time between death and a new birth it is given to man, as a grace bestowed, to hold and cherish within him a cosmic heart — one of the organs of perception, one of the cosmic hearts, created out of the pulse-beat of the Macrocosm, even the deeds of the Beings of the Second Hierarchy.

For let it be remembered that the physical heart is a sense organ, which perceives the movement of the blood, not a “pump” as the physiologists imagine. The spirituality and vitality of the human being — these it is that cause the movement of the blood.

Venus and Mercury


And in his passage through the cosmic colonies of Venus and Mercury he can, so to speak, arrange for his destiny to be brought as closely as possible into line with the outer experiences that must come to him through being born into a particular family and a particular nation.



[Back to the Moon sphere – sending/loosing spirit germ – violent feeling of bereavement]

1/ And here, in the moon sphere, we find the “small package” deposited by us (I can describe it only by means of this image); we find again what represents the worth of our moral qualities. And this package must be retrieved.

It will be seen in the course of the next days what a significant part is played in this connection by the Christ-impulse. We must embody within us this package of destiny.


  • while embodying within us the package of destiny and entering the moon sphere,
  • while gaining a stronger and stronger feeling of self-consciousness and transforming ourselves inwardly more and more into soul-beings,
  • we gradually lose the tissue woven by us out of our physical body. The spiritual germ woven by ourselves is lost at the moment when the physical germ, which we shall have to assume on earth, is engendered through the act of conception.

2/ The spiritual germ of the physical body has already descended to earth; whereas we still dwell in the spiritual world.

3/ And now a vehement feeling of bereavement sets in. We have lost the spiritual germ of the physical body. This has already arrived below and united itself with the last of those successive generations which we have watched. We ourselves, however, are still above. The feeling of bereavement becomes violent.

And now this feeling of bereavement draws out of the universe the needful ingredients of the world-ether.

Having sent the spiritual germ of the physical body down to earth and remained behind as a soul (ego and astral body), we draw etheric substance out of the world-ether and form our own etheric body.

4/ And to this etheric body, formed by ourselves, is joined — approximately three weeks after the fecundation (DL editor: fertilization) has taken place on earth — the physical germ which formed itself out of the spiritual germ, as I have previously described.

5/ It was said that we form our etheric body before uniting ourselves with our own physical germ. And into this etheric body is woven the small package containing our moral worth. We weave this package into our ego, our astral body, and also into our etheric body. Thus it is joined to the physical body. In this way, we bring our karma down to earth. First, it was left behind in the moon sphere; for, had we taken it with us into the sun sphere, we would have formed a diseased, a disfigured physical body.

The human physical body acquires individuality only through the circumstance of its being permeated by the etheric body. Otherwise, all physical bodies would be exactly alike; for human beings, while dwelling in the spiritual world, weave identical spiritual germs for their physical body. We become individualities only by means of our karma, by means of the small package interwoven by us with our etheric body which shapes, constitutes and pervades our physical body already during the embryonic stage.

Of course, I shall have to enlarge during the next days on this sketch concerning the human being's transition between death and a new birth. Yet you will have realized what a wealth of experiences is undergone by us: the great experience of how we are first merged into the cosmos and then, out of the cosmos, again are shaped in order to attain a new human earth-life.



After this, man comes again into the sphere of the Moon. Let me remind you how during his first passage through the Moon sphere man's thoughts were directed, for good and also for ill (evil?), to the primeval Teachers of the human race, to the starting-point of earthly existence, when superhuman Teachers imparted superhuman wisdom to the men of Earth.

When he comes down into the Moon existence for the second time, there is less inducement for him to turn his attention to what was on Earth long ago. For now the period of time that man spends — above, in the Cosmos — in this Moon existence, is the same period of time as takes its course on Earth below between conception and birth.

Man's embryonic life runs hand in hand with a particular cosmic development.

  • Up there in the Moon sphere he is passing through a definite phase of evolution
  • while below, stage by stage, the physical embryo is being prepared — the physical embryo with which he then gradually unites.

How does this macrocosmic life of the human being take its course during this second period of evolution in the Moon sphere? What does man accomplish there?

[Gradient of consciousness]

In all the experiences I have been describing, man's consciousness is far clearer and more awake than the ordinary consciousness of his life on Earth. It is most important to distinguish the various degrees of human consciousness. Consciousness during dream-life is dull, consciousness during waking life is clear, consciousness after death still clearer. As a dream is to reality, so is all our life on Earth in comparison with the clarity of our consciousness in the life after death.

Moreover, at each new stage in the life after death, consciousness becomes still clearer, still more alert.

  • When we pass through the Moon existence on the upward journey, consciousness grows clearer owing to the fact that in the Moon sphere we come into the environment of the wise, primeval Teachers of humanity.
  • Clearer and ever clearer grows our consciousness as we pass on through the spheres of Mercury and Venus;
  • and its clarity continues to be intensified every time we enter a new sphere of the heavens.
  • But when we are returning again and approaching a new life on Earth, consciousness is dimmed and darkened stage by stage.
  • During the phase of Mercury existence on the return journey, we still have a consciousness that is clearer than any consciousness can be in ordinary earthly existence.
  • But when we come to the Moon sphere, and are in an environment that reveals to us what man was at the beginning of earthly evolution, then our consciousness begins to be obliterated. In the same sphere where, on the upward journey, the super-sensible world first lit up for us in a clearer consciousness than was possible on Earth, consciousness is now dimmed. We are returning to the Earth and consciousness becomes ever dimmer and dimmer, until it remains in us only as growth-force — the power of growth that is present in the little child, the dreaming little child. Consciousness has dimmed into dream! This is the moment when the being of soul-and-spirit can unite with the physical embryo. In order that this momentous event may come to pass, in order that the human being at a certain point of his development make connection with the physical embryo, he must pass through a Moon evolution in communion with the primeval Teachers of humanity, while the physical embryo down below is passing through its ten lunar months in the body of the mother. And the Moon evolution that he has to undergo consists in this — that a whole host of the Teachers of mankind are engaged in the task of dimming down the cosmic consciousness which the human being still possessed during his Mercury existence, toning it down to the dream consciousness in which he lives at the beginning of his life on Earth.

Physical man, with all that we can see of him here on Earth, is, in truth, only to be understood in the light of a knowledge of super-sensible man. And super-sensible man can never be explained by the facts of Earth, but only by the facts of the great World, the Macrocosm.

My object in these lectures has been to show you how earthly man is born as spirit-man out of the spiritual cosmos.


Related pages

References and further reading