Human character - the I and threefold soul

From Anthroposophy
  • In every-day language we use the term 'human character', or a Man's character, to denote the sum of characteristics that describe a person in his behaviour and the way he reacts to the countless situations of everyday existence. These reactions differ according to the person, and we interpret this by saying that the characters of these individuals are different. Human character includes that person's physical characteristics, psychological attributes, and particular aspects of behaviour, as shown through a Man's actions. These characteristic sets of behaviors, cognitions, and emotional and mental patterns is related to Man's Personality and the complex nature of his constitution.
  • In human sciences, psychology attempts to describe and explain the tendencies that underlie differences in behavior, personality and human character. Psychologists have taken various approaches including biological, cognitive, learning, trait-based theories, and psychodynamic or humanistic approaches.
  • In the arts, a character or character sketch renders a thumbnail portrayal of an individual with descriptions, and particularly attempts to capture behavioural patterns, expressions or gestures that get to the essence of the individual. .

In spiritual science:

The development of the I shows how Man received the fourth bodily principle of the human 'I' through the sacrifice of the Spirits of Form (SoF) that let their substance ripple in and take hold of Man's astral, etheric and physical bodies. These faculties are called respectively the sentient, intellectual and consciousness soul, together making up the threefold soul. Man's individual spiritual I uses these lower bodies, and - as part of the development of humanity across the ages - grows into using the available faculties: starting with the sentient soul .. upto the consciousness soul. This aspect depends on:


The natural development of the I is one of growth from the sentient soul experience growing into intellectual and later consciousness soul. Thereby the I uses an always larger part of Man's lower structure as a means to function and express. This is represented on Schema FMC00.431 by the arrows to the right. The consciousness soul is pivotal as it brings fructification from the spiritual world and moral impulses that are brought down also to the intellectual and sentient souls. As a result, Man's human character is undergoes transformation as the I matures in the mastery and use of the threefold soul.

It is important to realize Man does not leave behind the one aspect for the other, but gains in spiritual maturity: the mastery of having grown into the intellectual soul changes the sentient soul, and similarly the consciousness soul fructifies and changes the intellectual and sentient souls.

Hence, the human 'I' is really alive in the three lower bodily principles or members of Man all the time, and these three aspects are called the threefold soul. How the I holds the middle (or can be seen in the workings) of the threefold soul is also described in the lectures referenced on Schema FMC00.428A (below).


the threefold soul

  • consist of three modifications, three parts within the astral body .. these three members of the astral body prepare the transformation of the astral body itself, of the etheric body and of the physical body. But these transformations are still not what meets us as the actual human inner being or soul. The soul, the inner part of Man, the three modifications of the astral body must make use of certain instruments, and these express themselves in such a way, that in the astral body the sentient soul is a sort of instrument, in the etheric body the intellectual soul soul, and in the physical body the consciousness soul (1910-06-09-GA121)
  • the Human ‘I’ encloses within itself the sentient, the intellectual and consciousness souls (1910-06-09-GA121, see also Schema FMC00.428A)
  • "in the consciousness-soul, the actual I-soul, is integrated the spirit-self or manas .. the spirit self (or manas) is enclosed in the consciousness soul" (1907-12-27-GA101)
  • the threefold soul and the Mars, Mercury and Jupiter influences
  • the archangel does not 'see' the human sentient soul or the part of the intellectual soul concerned with external sensory perception, only the part of the intellectual soul and consciousness soul with purely sense-free thinking, art, moral ideals etc. (1910-06-09-GA121, see also Third Hierarchy)
  • threefold soul and Christ impulse

human character

  • physiognomy as the physical expression of human character (1910-03-12-GA068B and 1910-03-14-GA058)
  • link between soul disposition or state of the soul (gemüt) and temperament (1908-10-26-GA244 Q&A 172.1 and 1911-11-09-GA244 Q&A 218.3), see also Human temperaments
  • Laocoön group (or also Laokoon or Laocoon) (1910-03-14-GA058, 1917-01-24-GA292) - and Lessing's views
    • symbol of human character, or the unbalance between the three elements of the soul
      • Laocoon shows, in an outward physical way, the definite moment when the human being loses the unified character of the I which as a strong center joins the body members together. Through the entwining of the serpents, that which we call the human I is out of the body of Laocoon, and the individual impulses of the I, each one stripped bare into the physical, go their way Each individual limb goes its own way in limb and head and is not brought into characterful harmony with the outer form,because the I has just disappeared. (GA058)
    • the Laocoon group is a monument to the overcoming of the old priestly culture (of the third cultural age) by the cleverness of the individual human being (in the fourth and fifth cultural ages), built on the wisdom of the individual human being. The priest Laocoon, entwined with snakes (as a symbol of wisdom) shows how the world's culture of wisdom overcomes the old culture of priests, in which people had different views of truth and wisdom and of what should happen. Note: this is also contained symbolically in the legend of the Trojan horse, showing how the Trojan priestly culture was overthrown by the wisdom of Odysseus who built the Trojan horse (GA093)
    • relation with the Niobe group or Florentine Niobids (group of statues discovered in 1583 in Rome, now in museum in Florence, Italy)
      • Niobe is described as opposite of Laocoon. When the physical and etheric bodies are destroyed from the outside (and become more rigid in matter, rather than being formed by the I and astral body from above), they take on a form which, on the one hand, follows the destructive power and, on the other hand, makes it visible how the I and the astral body are forced out. Physical and etheric bodies freeze in formed matter.. and this is reproduced in Laocoon in the formation of the mouth, in the formation of the face, in the holding of the arms, in the forms which the fingers assume (1922-03-31-GA211)

soul life


  • about Schema FMC00.428: see 1908-08-10-GA105 that describes what the situation would have looked like without Luciferic infection: Man would have received the Christ principle but without freedom
  • lesser and greater guardian of the threshold

Inspirational quote


The I 'plays on the instrument of the soul and the different strings of human soul life',  what comes out as music and the expression of individual soul life, is what we know as and call human character


Schema FMC00.431 provides and overview on how the I 'plays on the instrument of the soul and the different strings of human soul life', what comes out as music and the expression of individual soul life, is what we know as and call human character.

  • how the I pulses through, works on, and develops the human soul
  • the human I works itself up sentient -> intellectual ->  consciousness soul and can express itself in each of the three areas of soul life
  • the I works order & harmony in the soul life, so a mutual fructification of sentient, intellectual, consciousness souls

Note: the schema was assembled mainly on the basis of the original german lecture versions of 1909-10-29-GA068B and 1910-03-12-GA068B. Purpose was to present a foundation. It can most probably be enrichted by including contents from the other five lectures.


Schema FMC00.565 shows a simple schematic to the description the two main elements in soul life, and what takes place in the process of human sense perception and the creation of mental images, sensations and memory - as related to desire and judgement.


Schema FMC00.428 illustrates the I as the center or cardinal point of two opposing streams of Jehovah (Spirits of Form) and Lucifer. The Jehovah SoF impulse infused love into Man's physical blood from below, the Luciferic influence brought Man's freedom and egoism from above, into Man's astral body and developing sentient soul. Both influences were first subconscious, and develop to full consciousness only with the maturing of Man's threefold soul. The Christ Impulse brought about a shift, see Schema FMC00.428A.


Schema FMC00.428A adds the explanation from Rudolf Steiner's narrative in the sources listed, against the background of Schema FMC00.428.

It shows how "the Christ Impulse triggered a reversal of the influences of the two crossing streams", and gave Man independence in love and allowed for a spiritualization of love, as love without true freedom is not love.

Note: all texts originate from the GA244 sources listed, but were aggregated into a single schema explanation.


Schema FMC00.468 provides the key statement and illustration of the fructification of Man by the Christ Impulse, and specifically how the evolved consciousness soul is the gateway for this spiritual fructification by Man's higher triad (consisting of spirit-self or manas, life-spirit or budhi, and spirit-man or atma) through the Christ Impulse as the budhi life-giving influence driving this.


Lecture coverage and references

Overview coverage

Below are seven main lectures part of 1909-GA058 and GA068B.

  • GA058 volume was first published in 1984, with the title: Metamorphoses of the soul, paths of soul experience. Interestingly, the lectures in that volume first have 1909-12-05-GA058 (anger: the chained Prometheus), then 1909-10-22-GA058 (truth, and Goethe's Pandora), 1909-10-28-GA058 (Andacht), and then 1910-03-14-GA058 (human character).
  • The chronological ranking of lectures now shows that although four lectures constitute the headlines of this volume's title, Rudolf Steiner actually covered this quite differently. GA068B was published in first edition in 2021, nearly 40 years later and over a century after the lectures were held.

This is another illustration that shows how the constitution of the original GA included the guiding principle to not include the publishing of what were regarded 'double' lectures with similar contents or coverage than other lectures. Indeed Rudolf Steiner sometimes held lectures that were quite similar or congruent in contents. These alternative or complementary lectures were only published as part of the GA2025, most typical examples of which are GA111 and GA117A. For the earnest student, these lectures sometimes contain important details, another phrasing or other differences.

The above example also shows that no 'contents based coherence' or 'study logic' was used for the assembly of the volumes, as lectures could have been presented differently, as the logic of Schema FMC00.431 shows.

Note that in 1910-GA059, Vol 2 of Metamorphoses of the soul, Rudolf Steiner goes into characteristics such as conscience, laughing and crying, human error, praying, positive and negative soul disposition, and so on.

Reference extracts


the below can be read/interpreted in the context of understanding dementia and diseases such as alzheimer (see Memory), but also more general the fact that certain soul faculties (may) weaken in old people (eg slower functioning etc)

from: Questions and answers on the lecture given in Leipzig on 16 March 1907

Why do old people grow weak-minded, seeing that the soul remains changed?

The soul does not change. It never descends from the level it has reached, it its instrument has grown weak. It is like a great pianist who cannot play well as before if the instrument is poor.

You will say the soul no longer knows its own level. Yes, for it cannot see itself for as long as it is in a physical body. There you altogether have only the reflection of the soul, the mirror reflection. When the mirror grows or breaks, it can no longer give a reflection.

It is only the occult student who is truly able to perceive his soul.

quote - other version

The soul, indeed, does not change. It never descends from the stage once reached. But its instrument has become weak, like a great pianist who can no longer play as he played formerly, if he has a bad instrument.

You will say the soul no longer knows its own stage. Yes, the soul does not see itself as long as it is in a physical body. There is only to be found the reflection of the soul, the mirror image. Now the mirror becomes clouded or broken. Then it can no longer reflect.


for specific quote on consciousness soul, see: Man's bodily principles#1907-12-27-GA101

for full lecture, see: Group souls of humanity#1907-12-27-GA101

1908-10-26-GA244 Q&A 172.1

(limited extract)

Where do we place the 'Gemüt' in the structure of Man's nine bodily principles?

Mainly in the consciousness soul .. [Vorzüglich] the 'I'.


The German word for the active force in the soul is 'Mut'. When an attribute or characteristic becomes intrinsic, then this is represented with the syllable 'Ge' .. so 'Gemuot' is the same as 'Gemüt'. The German word 'Gemüt' as an encompassing concept. .. The I develops in the consciousness soul. .. Through the consciousness the active element of the feeling comes in: Muot or Mut, the active that works in the soul.

'Gemüet, Gemüot' .. means 'Gemüt' .. is the part of the soul that develops itself from intellectual soul, consciousness soul, where the Willing impuls hits in.


When someone is born, his I and astral body, including his sentient soul, intellectual soul and consciousness soul, are by no means featureless; they are endowed with definite attributes and characteristics brought from previous lives.




The mission of truth


The I is confined between losing itself and egoism. Lessing demands that man strive for truth. A sense of truth leads to selflessness. The one-sided point of view does not lead to truth. Passions, desires, have to be overcome; to the same extent peace and harmony rules among man. There is the truth of reflective thought about outer observation, as well as truth which comes about by creative thought. Among the latter are the truths of spiritual science. Reflective thinking can lead to egoism; truths arrived at by creative thinking, which lead into the future, liberate us from our self. This is the contrast between Epimetheus and Prometheus. Both the Titan brothers must work together. Wisdom and the Word have to unite with the deed.



The mission of 'reverence'


The “Unio mystica” is the union with the eternal-feminine within human reach. The human being should strengthen his I but he must not harden it into egoism. The will is able to develop devotion towards the unknown, the feeling develops love for the unknown. When both are united reverence comes into being, which leads to knowledge of the unknown. Love without judgement leads to sentimental enthusiasm. Love and devotion imbued with the right kind of self-feeling lead upwards.

Gestures of reverence are the bended knee, folded hands, the lifted face. The soul purifies within itself a feeling for what is beautiful and what is good. The will, purified by reverence, builds up moral ideals. In old age the strength arises to be active in life. We draw near to the almighty, Increasingly rich knowledge is the result of educating the consciousness soul. The “eternal-masculine” must permeate all reverence. The strong Iascends to higher regions.


human character (1)


The mission of anger


There are hidden faculties in the soul. Soul and spirit can issue only from soul and spirit. The fact of repeated earth lives is a consequence of this. The sentient soul is connected with the sentient body, the Intellectual soul with the ether body and the consciousness soul with the physical body. In the sentient soul lie images, antipathy and sympathy. The intellectual soul forms thoughts and judgements with the outside world. We have to make ourselves as many-sided as possible and overcome egoism. Anger can educate the human being to calmness and true gentleness.

Prometheus brought language, knowledge, writing and fire to mankind, all of them gifts which educate the I. The wrath of Zeus extinguishes the power of the I in Prometheus. Zeus is succeeded by Christ, anger by the loving I.




human character (2)

Note: the date on rsarchive has the wrong year (checked against V1 in DE edition)


The divisions in the being of Man must be overcome by the unified character. At its foundation lies the harmony brought forth by the I from the interaction of the three soul members. The human being ripens through experience and wisdom learnt from life. Experiences are transformed into abilities. They are limited by the disposition of the physical and ether bodies. The forces which we have woven into archetype can only enter existence in a new life. The outer is an expression of the inner being.

Laocoon, an image of the human being from which the I is absent. True ripeness of experience is not attained until the 35th year of age. Joy and love fill the physical body of the child with strength. Then there are fewer obstacles for the I in the period of the consciousness soul. Similar links exist between the ether body and the intellectual soul and the periods when they manifest themselves. The experience of authority in the period from 7 to 14 provides the foundation for courage. The ideals presented to the human being in the period from 14 to 21 are imprinted on the sentient soul. Immersion in the cosmic secrets further remoulds the character.

Character is evident in facial expression, the physiognomy and the formation of the skull.


see long extract on: Folk souls#1910-06-09-GA121 - advised to read in full

If we wish to throw light upon the present inner being of man, we find it necessary to picture it as being threefold, as being divided into:

  • The sentient soul, which is, as it were, the lowest member of the inner human being,
  • The intellectual soul, the central member, and
  • The consciousness (or spiritual) soul, the highest member of the inner nature of the human being, in which the human ‘ I ’ is first actually brought to a state of consciousness.

In the spiritual-soul is first to be found that which is called human self-consciousness. Nevertheless the ‘ I ’ of Man is active in all three parts of his inner life, in the sentient soul as well as in the intellectual soul , and in the consciousness soul.

In the sentient-soul the ‘ I ’ is active in such a way that man is hardly aware of his I. In the sentient-soul, therefore, he is thus far given up to all his desires and passions. The ‘ I ’ broods dully in what we call the sentient-soul. It first works itself out and begins to appear in the intellectual-soul or mind-soul, and only becomes quite apparent in the spiritual-soul.

If we wish to examine each of these three members of the human inner being separately, we must look upon them as three modifications, as three parts within the astral body. It certainly is the case, that these modifications, these three members of the astral body, prepare the transformation of the astral body itself, of the etheric body and of the physical body. But these transformations are still not what meets us as the actual human inner being or soul. The soul, the inner part of Man; consists of three modifications of the astral body. The three modifications must make use of certain instruments, and these express themselves in such a way, that

  • in the astral body the sentient soul is a sort of instrument,
  • in the etheric body the intellectual soul soul, and
  • in the physical body the consciousness soul.

Thus we can distinguish the human inner being from that which is the human envelope or covering; so that therefore the inner nature of man consists of three modifications of the astral body.


[see full lecture as it describes what is contained in these three members of the soul, how to distinguish them from one another]


in Man the ‘I’, his highest member, encloses within itself the sentient, the intellectual and consciousness souls.


important lecture complementing Schema FMC00.428 and Schema FMC00.428A

see: Thinking Feeling Willing#1917-10-08-GA177

Laocoön and Niobe groups


This is the famous Laocoön group — the starting-point, as you know, of many an artistic discussion, ever since Lessing's Laocoön of the 18th century. It is the work of three sculptors of the School of Rhodes. Lessing's writings on this subject are, indeed, most interesting. He tried to show, you will remember, how the poet describes is not placed before the eyes. We must call it to life in our imaginations. Whereas what the plastic artist has created is there before our eyes. Therefore, says Lessing, what the plastic artist portrays must contain far more repose; it must represent moments which can at least be imagined — for a single moment — in repose.

Much has been said and written about this Laocoon group, especially in relation to Lessing's explanations. It is interesting how the aestheticist, Robert Zimmermann, — without, of course, having any knowledge of Spiritual Science — arrived at an explanation which needs, no doubt, to be supplemented, but which was none the less correct for an age that had not Spiritual Science. His explanation contains — albeit only as an instinctive suggestion — some element of what I have been setting forth today. We see the priest, Laocoon, with his two sons, wound around by the serpents and going towards their death. Now we cannot but be struck by the peculiar way in which the body has been moulded. Much has been written on this subject. Robert Zimmermann rightly pointed out: The whole representation is such that we have before us the very moment where the life (or, as we should say, the etheric body) is already fleeing away. It is already a moment of unconsciousness. Hence the artist represents it as though the body of Laocoon were already falling asunder. That is the marvellous quality about this figure. The body is already being differentiated into its parts. Thus even in this late product we see how the Greek was aware of the etheric body. He brings to expression the actual moment where life is passing into death. It is the quick withdrawal of the etheric body through the shock — the shock that is expressed by the awful snakes coiling around. This effect of the etheric body withdrawing from the physical, and the physical falling asunder, is the characteristic thing in the Laocoon; not the other things that are so often said, but the peculiar way the body becomes differentiated. We could not imagine the body thus, unless we conceived it as the moment when the etheric body is drawing away.


To the same epoch belongs the famous Niobe group, Niobe losing all her children through the wrath of Apollo.


Note 1 - Terminology: 'Andacht'

The German term Andacht is used and imported into English language for use within spiritual science, because the specific and rich intended meaning by Rudolf Steiner of this German word cannot be translated appropriately to English, without causing major misunderstandings when an existing equivalent English word would be used).

This is an example where words fall short of intended meaning in a spiritual scientific context. In normal everyday use and waking consciousness there is no single word for the subtle meaning described and intended. In fact any word is just a 'label' for what is intended and described here.

Hence, in this context and framework, translating the single word literally just does not work. 'Andacht' can not be translated by: attention, attentiveness, reverence, devotion, 'on-thought', or any single word.

As described in 1910-03-12-GA068B:

Andacht is that what gets aroused in the soul as inner impulses for the unknown, for what we do not know yet, as we can not understand it yet.

Did we not have anything in us that points us to what we can not understand, then this urge and longing could not awaken, to come to the unknown. All that we want to understand and can only understand once we have entered into it, this first has to work in us in a dark way as yearning or longing in our soul.

That what draws us into that, what we have not yet grown into, under what we do not find ourselves yet, but rather find ourselves outside of still, that is Andacht.

Related pages

References and further reading

  • F. W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven: 'The Anthroposophical Understanding of the Soul' (1982 in EN, original in NL 1946: 'De Menselijke Ziel')
  • Karl König : 'The human soul' (1959 in EN, in NL 1964/1996)
  • Otto Julius Hartmann (1895-1985):
    • Die Frage nach der Seele: die menschl. Seele in Beziehung zu sich selbst, zu d. Mitmenschen, z. Weltall
    • Fragen der Seele in der Welt von heute
    • Von den Geheimnissen der menschlichen Seele (1982-84)
  • Joseph Ennemoser: 'Untersuchungen über den Ursprung und das Wesen der menschlichen Seele (1980)
  • John Gunning: 'The balance of the soul' ('Seelengleichgewicht'), articles Part 1 and 2 in Anthroposophical Quarterly No 21, issue 2.
  • Christof Gestrig: 'Die menschliche Seele. Hermeneutik ihres dreifachen Wegs'
  • Wolf-Ulrich Klünker:
    • Die Antwort der Seele. Psychologie an den Grenzen der Ich-Erfahrung (2006)
    • Anthroposophie als Ich-Berührung. Aspekte geistiger Begegnung (2013)
  • Roland van Vliet: 'Freedom, the I and Love: A Philosophy of Love' (2022)