Human etheric body

From Anthroposophy

The human etheric body is one of Man's bodily principles part of the structural make-up of Man, and so closely intertwined with the other bodily principles it should not be studied or considered as a separate entity.

In one's lifetime, Man develops the etheric bodily principle approximately between 7 and 14 years upto the age of puberty (when the workings of the astral body starts).

The workings of Man's etheric body in the fluid body (Man is predominantly made up of water), organs and etheric currents, can be imagined by observing and comparing the life of the plants, that also have an etheric life body.

In Man's physical body, the etheric body finds it's expression in the glandular system and processes (just as for example the astral system finds it's expression in the nervous system). Furthermore, the connection of the etheric and physical through the brain makes that Man can think autonomously as part of the complex I-organization (FMC00.036). In terms of Man as a threefold being - that is: with three subsystems - the etheric body is intimately bound up with the metabolic and limb system (1924-07-21-GA319). See further Man: an integrated view.

The human etheric body consists of a blend of the four higher ethers (1916-01-02-GA165), it is the life body of formative forces that maintains our physical body.

It acts as a time machine or memory bank, and contains the memory of all our life experiences that we first see as a life tableau after physical death, and is then dispersed in the cosmic ether over a short period of time.

The evolutionary trend in current and future times is such that the etheric body is slowly loosening again of the physical body, and this will have far reaching consequences for Man's reality experience. Whereas currently Man only knows and believes in the mineral physical world as observed through the physical senses, in the future this will naturally flow into experiences of the spiritual that Man therefore has to be able to know and understand.

For the initiate, the etheric body is used as a mirror for clairvoyant perception into the higher worlds, as it is able of a sevenfold reflection. These seven types of reflection are also called the seven spiritual vowels (whereas the twelve types of reflection of the physical body are also called the spiritual consonants. (re 1914-10-03/04/05/06-GA156).


practical experiential

  • impact of lifestyle and nervousness which increases with a weakening etheric body (1912-01-11-GA143)
  • effect of music (eg 1906-07-29-GA097)

life explanatory

  • imprinting of sensory life experiences of the I via the astral body on the etheric and physical bodies
  • diffusion of the etheric body into cosmos after life tableau experience after physical death
  • exercices like yoga, qigong, tai chi effect the etheric and not the physical body
  • in medicine, homeopathy and potentization work via the etheric forces affecting the etheric and physical bodies
  • the etheric body is most dominant in people with a phlegmantic temperament, see eg FMC00.158 on Human temperaments

spiritual scientific

  • connection between etheric and physical body, its evolution from the Atlantean epoch (etheric outside, then entry and tightening connection) over the current into the sixth epoch (loosening of the etheric body again), and its many angles, ao:
    • ancient initiation via the etheric body - and the danger of spiritual death and insanity in current and future times if the etheric body loosens and Man only believes in the physical material - not realizing the realities he is experiencing (1908-04-13-GA102)
    • the re-appearance of natural clairvoyance and experience of Christ in the etheric - see eg Schema FMC00.081 on Christ Module 19 - experiencing the Christ
  • use of the etheric body as a reflector for clairvoyant perception
  • a woman has a masculine etheric body, and a man a feminine etheric body (1905-10-05-GA093A)
  • seven-folded nature of the etheric body, and the corresponding life functions
  • origin of the Man's etheric bodily principle during Old Sun evolutionary phase

More advanced topics:

  • relation of Christ as a group soul to the twelve apostles on the basis of a twelvefold etheric body (1905-08-13-GA091)


Schema FMC00.254 sketches the etheric body. On the right two drawings from original attendant notes and/or typoscripts. For explanation on the arrows see lecture extract below.

Schema FMC00.160 maps the planetary influences to the life functions of the ether body.

Lecture coverage and references

1905-08-13-GA091 - extract, freely translated

In this lecture, the relation of Christ as a group soul to the twelve apostles is explained on the basis of a twelvefold etheric body.

Higher consciousness means that the components of lower consciousness are relaxed and controlled.

In soul forces of TFW correspond to the Thrones, Spirits of Wisdom, and Spirits of Movement. The nine other forces work also in Man but are less noticeable.

When Man develops his higher Self, he takes control over these forces TFW first in astral, then etheric and finally physical .. and that way the higher consciousness comes in that controls the three components that have departed from one another.

Wiith still higher development, Man takes control over twelve such centers in order to attain higher consciousness.

Each human power stands in relationship with a primal force of the world, universe.

(example: ants)

This way Man can take control of his twelve parts, and this way he splits his ether body in twelve parts. Each part has its own special characteristic.

Higher developed emanate etheric bodies at death, these are used as models.

Christ radiated new physical matter at his birth, so he was able, before to radiate the twelve separate parts of the foregone Christ.

The twelve ether bodies of the apostles are the twelve separate parts of the previous Christ ether body.

Christ is one consciousness and the group soul of the twelve apostles who are his parts and represent his body. Christ has really worked through these twelve parts.


If we consider man's being in its entirety, we have to begin with the physical body, then the etheric body, then the astral body. The physical body of man can be seen by everyone. The etheric body becomes visible when the physical body is suggested away by a strong act of will [editor: clairvoyance]. Then the space of the physical body remains filled with the etheric body. The spiritual scientist considers the etheric as actually being the lowest body. It is the body according to which the physical body is formed. Taking the descending line, the form of the etheric body is the reverse of the physical. It is only in the ascending line that they are identical. A woman has a masculine etheric body, and a man a feminine etheric body.


In the Nineteenth Century it was not possible to make clear to man the deep meaning of that great process of initiation in a drama. There is, however, a medium through which man's understanding can be reached, even without words, without concepts or ideas. This medium is music.

Wagner's music holds within it all the truths that are contained in the Parsifal story. His music is of such a unique character that those who listen to it receive in their ether body quite special vibrations. Therein lies the secret of Wagner's music.

One does not need to understand it — not in the least! One receives in one's ether body the benign and healthful effect of the music. And man's ether body is intimately connected with all the movements and throbbings of the blood.

Wagner understood the mystery of the purified blood. In his melodies are rhythms and vibrations that must needs beat in the ether body of man if he is to be cleansed and purified so as to be ready to receive the Mysteries of the Holy Grail.

1908-04-13-GA102 discusses the impact of connection of etheric body with physical body

Why was spiritual vision a natural condition in the far distant past?

The reason is that the connection between the physical body and the etheric body was different. The connection existing today did not develop until the later phases of the Atlantean epoch. Before that time the upper part of the etheric head extended far outside the boundaries of the physical head; towards the end of Atlantis the etheric head gradually drew completely into the physical head until it coincided with it. This gave rise to the later form of consciousness which became natural in Post-Atlantean man, enabling him to perceive physical objects in sharp outlines, as we do today. The fact that man can hear tones, be aware of scents, see colours on surfaces — although these are no longer expressions of the inmost spiritual reality of things — all this is connected with the firm and gradual interlocking of the physical body and etheric body.

[Ancient initiation via etheric body]

In earlier times, when the etheric body was still partly outside the physical body, this projecting part of the etheric body was able to receive impressions from the astral body, and it was these impressions that were perceived by the old, dreamlike clairvoyance. Not until the etheric body had sunk right down into the physical body was man wholly bereft of his dim clairvoyance. Hence in the ancient Mysteries it became necessary for the priests to use special methods in order to induce in the candidates for Initiation the condition which, in Atlantis, had been natural and normal. When pupils were to receive Initiation in the Mystery-temples, the procedure was that, after the appropriate impressions had been received by the astral body, the priests conducting the Initiation induced a partial loosening of the etheric body, in consequence of which the physical body lay for three and a half days in a trancelike sleep, in a kind of paralytic condition. The astral body was then able to imprint into the loosened etheric body experiences which had once come to Atlantean man in his normal state. Then the candidate for Initiation was able to see around him realities that henceforth were no longer merely preserved for him in scripts, or in tradition, but had become his own, individual experiences.

Let us try to picture what actually happened to the candidate for Initiation. When the priests in the Mysteries raised the etheric body partially out of the physical body and guided the impressions issuing from the astral body into this released etheric body, the candidate experienced in his etheric body the spiritual worlds. So strong and intense were the experiences that when he was restored from the trance and his etheric body was reunited to the physical body, he brought back the memory of these experiences into his physical consciousness. He had been a witness of the spiritual worlds, could himself bear witness to what was happening there; he had risen above and beyond all division into peoples or nations, for he had been initiated into that by which all peoples are united; the primal wisdom, primal truth.


[the loosening of the etheric body, and its impact]

The whole evolution of mankind has a certain strange quality. It goes forward in one direction until a certain point is reached and then it begins to stream in the opposite direction. Having streamed downwards to a certain point, it turns again upwards, reaching the same stages as on the descent, but now in a higher form.

Today man stands in very truth before a fateful future, that future when, as is known to everyone who is aware of this deeply significant truth of evolution, his etheric body will gradually loosen itself again, freeing itself from its submergence in the physical body, where the things of the physical world are perceived in their sharply outlined forms. The etheric body must release itself again in order that man's being may become spiritualised and once again have vision of the spiritual world. Today humanity has actually reached the point when in a great number of individuals the etheric body is beginning to loosen.

A destiny in the very highest degree significant is approaching us, and here we come near to the secret of our own cultural age.

We must realise that the etheric body, which has descended very deeply into the physical body, must now take the path upwards, carrying with it from the physical body everything that has been experienced through the physical senses. But just because the etheric body is loosening itself from the physical, everything that was formerly reality — in the physical sense — must gradually be spiritualised.

It will be essential for mankind in times to come to have conscious certainty that the spiritual is reality.

What will happen otherwise?

The etheric body will be freed from the physical body while men still believe only in the reality of the physical world, and have no consciousness of the reality of the spiritual, which will be manifest in the loosened etheric body as the fruit of man's past experience in the physical body. In such conditions men may be faced with the danger of losing all relationship to this loosening of their etheric bodies.

Let us consider the point at which a man's etheric body, which has been firmly anchored in the physical body, begins to loosen from it again and to emerge. Suppose that this happens to a man who in his physical existence has lost all belief in, all consciousness of, the spiritual world, and has cut himself off from any connection with it. Let us assume that he descended so firmly and deeply into the physical body that he has been able to retain nothing save the belief that the physical life is the one and only reality. Now he passes into the next phase of human existence. Relentlessly the etheric body emerges from the physical body, while he is still incapable of realising the existence of a spiritual world. He neither recognises nor knows anything of the spiritual world about him. This is the fate which may confront men in the near future, that they do not recognise the spiritual world which, as the result of the loosening of the etheric body, they must inevitably experience, but regard it as a phantasy, illusion, vain imagination. And those who have experienced most ably, with the utmost perfection, the physical body, the men who have become the pundits of materialism and are full of fixed, rigid notions of matter, it is they who, with the loosening of the etheric body, will face the greatest danger of being without a single inkling that there is a spiritual world. They will regard everything that then comes to them from the spiritual world as illusion, fancy, as so many figments of dream.

If in times to come, when the etheric body has again loosened itself from the physical, man is to live his life in any real sense, he must have consciousness of what will then present itself to the etheric body. In order that he may be conscious that what then comes to him is knowledge of the spiritual world, it is essential that realisation of the existence of the spiritual world shall be preserved in humanity and carried through the period when man is most deeply immersed in the material world.

For the sake of the future, the link between the religious life and the life of knowledge must never be lost. Man came forth from a life among the gods; to a life among the gods he will again return. But he must be able to recognise them; he must know that in very truth the gods are realities. When the etheric body has loosened he will no longer be able to rely on remembrances of ancient human times. If meanwhile he has lost consciousness of the spiritual world, has come to believe that life in the physical body and things to be seen in the physical world are the only realities, then for all ages of time he must dangle, as it were, in mid-air. He will have lost his bearings in the spiritual world and will have no ground under his feet. He will be threatened, in this condition, with what is known as the “spiritual death.” For around him there is only phantasy, illusion, a world of whose reality he has no consciousness, in which he does not believe, and so ... he dies! That is the death in the spiritual world. It is the doom which threatens men if, before passing again into the spiritual worlds, they fail to bring with them any consciousness of those worlds.

1909-GA010 (the constitution of the etheric body)-

1912-01-11-GA143 (overcoming nervousness) (SWCC)


.. forgetfulness, so common and such a nuisance, but also so significant in our lives. Strange as it may seem, anthroposophy shows it to be harmful to health, and that many upsets bordering on severe illness can be avoided if people would only be less forgetful. And who can claim to be exempt, since there is no one who is not forgetful to some degree. Just consider the numerous cases in which people can never find where they put things. One has lost his pencil, another cannot find his cufflinks, etc., etc., all of which seems trivial but such things do, after all, occur often enough in life.

There is a good exercise for gradually curing such forgetfulness. Suppose a lady is forever putting her brooch down when she takes it off in the evening, and then cannot find it in the morning. You might think the best cure for her forgetfulness would be to remember to put it always in the same place. There isa far more effective means of remembering where it is. This does not, of course, apply to all objects but in this case the lady should say to herself, “I will put my brooch in a different place each evening, but as I do so I will hold the thought in mind that I have put it in a particular spot. Then I will form a clear picture in my mind of all the surroundings. Having done this, I will go quietly away. I realize that if I only do this once, I probably will not succeed, but if I make a habit of it, I will find that my forgetfulness gradually disappears.”

Further results can be attained from such an exercise. When it becomes habit to hold such thoughts when things are put aside, it represents a strengthening of the etheric body, which, is the bearer of memory.

But now assume you have advised someone to do this exercise not because he is forgetful but because he is nervous. It will prove to be an excellent cure. His etheric body will be strengthened and the nervous tendencies will disappear. In such cases, life itself demonstrates that what spiritual science teaches is correct.

[jerking in writing]

.. the physical and etheric bodies are intimately connected .. anyone with a healthy soul will be moved to compassion for clerical workers and others whose professions demand a great deal of writing. Perhaps you have noticed the strange movements they make in the air whenever they are about to write. Actually, with some of them the movements are not so extreme and they may only give a kind of jerk when they write, a jerk repeated for every up and down stroke. You can see the jerking in the writing.

This condition is easily understood through spiritual science.

  • In a healthy human being the etheric body, guided by the astral body, is always able to permeate the physical body. Thus, the physical body is normally the servant of the etheric body.
  • When, undirected by the astral body, the physical body executes movements on its own, it is symptomatic of an unhealthy condition. These jerks represent the subordination of the etheric to the physical body, and denote that the weak etheric body is no longer fully able to direct the physical. Such a relationship between the physical and etheric bodies lies at the spiritual scientific foundation of every form of cramp or convulsion. Here the physical body has become dominant and makes movements on its own, whereas in a healthy man all his movements are subordinated to the will of the astral body working through the etheric.

Again, there is a way of helping a person with such symptoms (provided the condition has not progressed too far), if one takes into account these facts. In this case we must recognize the existence and efficacy of the etheric body and try to strengthen it.

Imagine someone so dissipated that his fingers get to shaking and jerking when he tries to write. You certainly would do well to advise him to write less and take a good vacation, but better still you might also recommend that he try to acquire a different handwriting. Tell him to stop writing automatically and try practicing for fifteen minutes a day to pay attention to the way he forms the letters he writes. Tell him to try to shape his handwriting differently and to cultivate the habit of drawing the letters. The point here is that when a man consciously changes his handwriting, he is obliged to pay attention to, and to bring the innermost core of his being into connection with what he is doing. The etheric body is strengthened in this way and the person is made healthier.

It would not be a bad idea to introduce such exercises systematically into the classroom to strengthen the etheric body even in childhood. But, even though anthroposophy can give such pedagogical advice, it will doubtless be a long time before leading educators will consider it anything but foolish. Nevertheless, suppose that children were first taught to write a particular style of penmanship and after a few years were expected to acquire an entirely different character in their handwriting. The change, and the conscious attention it would involve, would result in a remarkable strengthening of the etheric body.

So something can be done to strengthen the etheric body. This is of immense importance because in our time weakness of the etheric body leads to many unhealthy conditions. What has been indicated here represents a definite way of working upon the etheric body. When these exercises are practiced, an actual force is applied to the etheric body that certainly could not be applied if the existence of this body were denied. Surely, the effects of the force, when they become apparent, demonstrate the existence of the etheric body.

The etheric body can be strengthened by performing another exercise, in this case, for the improvement of memory. By thinking through events, not only in the way they occurred but also in reverse sequence, that is, by starting at the end of an event and pursuing it through to the beginning, will help to make the etheric body stronger. Historical events, for example, which are usually learned in chronological sequence, can be followed backwards. Or a play or story can be thought through in reverse from end to beginning. Such exercises when done thoroughly are highly effective in consolidating and strengthening the etheric body.

.. it soon becomes apparent that people do not do the things that would contribute to the strengthening of the etheric body. The restless daily bustle of modern life does not allow them the opportunity to come to that inner quiet required for such exercises, and in the evening after the day's work they are generally too tired to be bothered. Should spiritual science begin to penetrate their souls, however, people would soon see how many things done in the bustle of modern life could be dispensed with, and they would find the time to practice such exercises. They also would become aware of the positive results that could be achieved if such exercises were carefully applied in education.

Another exercise: If it has not been cultivated from early youth, it is perhaps not quite so useful in later life. Nevertheless, it's still a good exercise to practice in later years. With certain things we do, no matter whether or not they are of enduring importance, it is good practice to look carefully at what is being done. This is comparatively easy in writing and I am quite sure many people would soon correct their hideous handwriting if they really looked at the letters.

In still another exercise a person should endeavor to watch himself the way he walks, moves his head, laughs, etc. In short, he should try to form a clear picture of his movements and gestures. Few people actually know what they look like when they are walking, for instance. While it is good to make this experiment, it should not be prolonged because it would quickly lead to vanity. Quite apart from the fact that it can be corrective of undesirable habits, this exercise also tends to consolidate the etheric body. When a man cultivates an awareness of his gestures and involuntary actions, the control of the astral becomes increasingly stronger over the etheric. Thus, he also becomes able, if necessary, to suppress certain actions or movements out of his free will.

It is an excellent accomplishment to be able to do quite differently the things we do out of habit. .. This does not mean that we need become fanatical about the indifferent use of our right and left hands. If a man, however, is occasionally able to do with his left hand what he commonly does with the right, he will strengthen the control of his astral over his etheric body.


1915-06-13-GA159 (the etheric body as a reflexion of the universe)


Let us now recall that the etheric body of man naturally consists of the different kinds of ether which we have learnt to distinguish.

We recognize these as consisting of:

  • warmth-outer ether,
  • light-ether,
  • chemical-ether [by which the music of the spheres is communicated]
  • and life-ether.

Let us turn our attention to the light-ether. It is true that the whole etheric body consists of an inner blend — an inwardly organised blend of the four kinds of ether, but we shall only consider today that part of the ether body which is light-ether; and in order to fix our attention on that part of the etheric body which we call the light-ether, we have sketched it above.

1916-03-20-GA174A (the weaving and living activity of the human etheric bodies)

What is my etheric body? It is that in you which is subject to the forces streaming in on all sides from the periphery.

You can even show it in a drawing. [see Schema FMC00.254]. Imagine that this is the human being. His physical body is the one that is subject to the forces that go towards the centre of the Earth. His etheric body is the one that is subject to the forces streaming in from all sides, from the ends of the Universe. Here we have a system of forces in man.

  • There are forces that pull downward, — they are really present in all organs that are upright, — and
  • there are forces that pour in from without, tending inward.

You can actually perceive in the form of man where the one kind and the other are more represented.

  • Study the legs and it is obvious, their form is due to the fact that they are more adapted to the earthly forces.
  • The head is more adapted to the forces of the periphery.
  • In like manner you may also study the arms, and this is not uninteresting.
    • Hold your arms close to your body, and they are subject to the forces that go towards the centre of the Earth.
    • Move them in a living way, and you yourself will be subjecting them to the forces streaming in from all sides of the periphery.

Such indeed is the difference between arms and legs:

  • The legs are invariably subject to the central forces of the Earth, while
  • the arms are so only in a certain posture, that is to say, conditionally. Man is able to lift them out of the domain of the earthly central forces and place them in the midst of those forces which we call the ethereal forces, the forces pouring in from the periphery.

And so you can see for all the single organs, how they are placed in the whole cosmic system.


Related pages

References and further reading