Four elements

From Anthroposophy

The four elements of warmth (or 'fire'), air, water and earth denote the spiritual substance created in the planetary system in previous planetary stages of evolution, together with the higher ethers. Each combination of a lower element and a higher ether arose from the sacrifice of spiritual beings who had reached a certain level of consciousness, whereby the sacrificed their lowest principle and emanated substance. See FMC00.225 and GA132.

The elements and higher ethers belong togther, see Spectrum of elements and ethers, and are coupled by the etheric formative forces coming from the the elementary kingdoms (EK). How this hangs together is described in the Golden Chain, see Overview Golden Chain.



Schema FMC00.225 is a summary of the GA132 lectures that sketch - in imaginative pictures - the spiritual principles underlying the appearance of the elements and ethers. These principles (sacrifice, bestowal, renunciation .. ) and imaginations provide deeper meaning and understanding of the 'philosophical principles' of the elements and ethers, i.e. the working of the spiritual hierarchies. See 1911-10-31-GA132 to 1911-12-05-GA132.

Schema FMC00.300A shows the four elements: in the middle the original BBD by Rudolf Steiner, right a chalk drawing by one of the stenographers attending the lecture, and on the left a digital version in English.


Schema FMC00.300B shows the diagram by Rudolf Steiner as compared with Rawn Clark's version of the 'tetrapolar magnet' and the two 'electric and magnetic fluids' in IIH (as taken from A Bardon Companion). The diagram from 1923-12-27-GA233 (see Schema FMC00.300A was rotated and mirrored to get the same layout, and colours were added). See also and compare with The two etheric streams

FMC00.149 gives a tabular synthesis of solar system evolution, showing the development of the Spectrum of elements and ethers and the development of our current Four kingdoms of nature, as well as Man's developing Condition of Consciousness.


FMC00.324 is an illustration from 'Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians' (1780s), showing the four elements and the converging triangles on the left, and the relation with polarity: creating make and female from the Sun and the Moon. See also The two etheric streams


FMC00.194 shows how during the preceding planetary stages (and recapitulations on Earth), the elements and ethers were created, in a way that the spiritual hierarchies all remain present in the totality of the whole spectrum of elements and ethers. See also Schema FMC00.193 on Sacrifice.


Lecture coverage and references


When ancient initiates described their initiation they would say that after they had crossed the threshold they were first made acquainted with the activity of the elements. In olden times, “elements” was the name given to what today would be called physical conditions. That is, the solid, which was called “earth”; all fluids, which were called “water”; everything gaseous, which was called “air”; and everything to do with “warmth,” which was ascribed to the warmth ether and which was called an element.

Modern physicists deny all this. For them these four elements do not exist. For them there are from sixty to eighty elements, which have qualities. Under certain conditions one is fluid, another solid or gaseous. The condition of warmth belongs to all. What was described as an element in olden times does not exist today. There are now only qualities of things; the qualities have no existence of their own.

What today are called elements are actually only “real” in the coarse, tangible physical world. And what in olden times were called elements were understood not as reaching down into tangible matter itself, but only to the intangible, living activity of matter.

The world and “all that therein is” is born out of the spirit; man is born and called to rise to the spirit. Spiritual Science shows us more and more that the spirit lies exhausted in matter, that physical substance is the magic robe of the Spiritual. It is for man living in the material world, to charm the spirit out of this magic robe. The Spiritual finds its resurrection in man, in the human soul that rises above itself. — To enable the soul to find this path is the task of Spiritual Science. Thus does spirit find spirit. And man will realise and understand the spirit more and more as he fashions himself in its image.


Empedocles possessed a modern spirit, but at the same time he was initiated in many different mysteries. He was clairvoyant to a high degree. Let us now imagine vividly that his modern way of thinking made him feel inclined to consider the world from a materialistic aspect; he has, in fact, drawn up a materialistic system which describes the world more or less from the stand point of a modern materialistic chemist, namely, as a combination and separation of elements. The one difference is that Empedocles distinguishes only four elements. He thought that various beings arise according to the way in which these four elements combine. As a result of these thoughts he felt the strong desire to discover in a true and real way what lies behind these material elements, what air and water really contain. If we peruse the Akasha Chronicle today and look into water, air, fire and earth we shall discover in them etherically the Christ. Empedocles could not find Him, but he felt the tremendous impulse to discover something in air and water, fire and earth, to find out what they really contain.


the Greeks had four elements, for them the periodic table with chemical elements would only represent the single (mineral) element 'earth', and the physical only one lawfullness


The human being and the elements.


less relevant reference, but interesting to see drawing in this lecture and compare with Schema FMC00.300 and variants

The pupil thus developed in reference to the world of nature a fine power of feeling for four qualities; in experiencing the warm air the feeling for warmth was developed in him, and at the same time a feeling for the element of air and its relation to warmth. Out of the coldness there developed the feeling for the difference between moisture and dryness; and he developed a delicate power of sensing these differences, because through these capacities of feeling he stood with the whole of his being in what the world offered.


Aristotle's pupil Alexander the Great had learnt of his own accord to feel what the climatic influences, what the winds carried from the north-west as the elements of cold and damp, and what the winds carried from the south-west as the elements of warmth and damp, but that, to him, was only one half of a world-feeling. This was amplified in his instruction, and there arose in his own inner being the idea that to this there belonged what drifted over from the north-east, the dry cold, and what drifted over from the south-east, the dry warmth.

Thus from the four directions of the wind he had learnt to distinguish the feeling of dryness, of warm dryness, of damp warmth, and of damp cold; and as a true man of that epoch he sought to reconcile these opposites.


Related pages

References and further reading

Initiation related

see also Initiation into Hermetics (IIH) and Initiation exercises

  • William R. Mistele: 'The four elements' (2019)
  • Emil Stejnar: 'The four elements' (original in DE: 'Die vier Elemente')
  • Johannes H. von Hohenstätten: Vertiefung der 4 Elementelehre des Franz Bardon (2015)