Man's bodily principles

From Anthroposophy

Man's structure as made up of bodily principles corresponding to the planetary evolutionary stages and spectrum of elements and ethers. These bodily principles are therefore of a different spiritual constitution, woven by spiritual beings at the different worlds or planes of consciousness.

Because on Earth we are on the fourth of seven planetary stages, we distinguish in Man's

  • the inherent and latent structure, including higher principles that can be further developed through initiation, and that some individuals have matured ahead of the development for mainstream humanity
  • the principles that all humanity already developed upto the current epoch and cultural age.

Therefore sometimes Man is called being with different 'multiplicity:

  • a threefold being consisting of body, soul and spirit. Note to avoid confusion: Man is also called a threefold being as Man is made up of three 'functional' subsystems
  • a fourfold being because mankind developed four principles
    • see also Pythagoras' Tetractis (eg 1907-01-28-GA96 and 1906-11-08-GA055)
  • a sevenfold if considering Man's full structure
  • a ninefold being if counting the threefold soul as three elements, see also the Human 'I'.

The schema below illustrates it sounds more complicated than it it, but one needs to be fully familiar with this schema in order to not get confused.

Man's transformation and spiritualization consists of the transformation of the lower triad (of astral, etheric and physical bodies) to the higher triad (of spirit self or manas, life spirit or budhi, and spirit-man or atma).

Note the Man's bodily structure is different during incarnation and life between birth and death, compared to Structure of Man between death and a new birth. During incarnation he lives in the four bodily principles that he developed during death and a new birth. After death, Man sheds his physical, then etheric and finally astral body, and continues with the cleansed part of the astral body and the I. Then Man works with the higher spiritual hierarchies in the Spirit world and develops the new bodies for the next life. See more on Man's cycle of reincarnation


bodily principles

evolutionary perspective

  • the dual structure of astral and etheric bodies (with higher and lower nature) arose as a result of the descent of the monads in the Lemurian epoch, see Development of the I. The higher and lower were at first not yet joined together; later they approached one another and became united. (1905-10-16-GA093A)
  • the relationship between Man's level of consciousness and the kingdoms of nature can be mapped to Man's bodily principles: on Earth mineral, on Future Jupiter plant, on Future Venus animal, and Future Vulcan the I/Man (1907-12-27-GA101)

various other

  • physical and etheric bodies need oxygen from the air; the I and astral body need nitrogen. Nitrogen is a substance which brings us into intimate connection with the spiritual world. It is the bridge to the spiritual world in the state in which our soul lives during sleep; without nitrogen our I and our astral body, when outside the physical body during sleep, could not exist (1922-07-02-GA213, see Mineral kingdom)
  • Sevenfold harmony and inner experience
    • the sevenfold nature of Man was taught in the Atlantean Mystery schools (Turanian adept school in fourth sub-race), where the sevenfoldedness was taught through the use of seven sounds, seven colours, and seven aromas .. so the principle that lives in sevenfold harmony would become an inner experience (1907-02-18-GA096 and also 1907-01-28-GA096)
    • The seven bodily principles map to the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer, see Schema FMC00.095
  • The nine bodily principles can be linked to the Sermon on the Mount

Inspirational quotes

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience


Schema FMC00.086 shows the simplest overview of the constitution of Man's bodily principles, and how it can be referenced as 3,4,5,7 or 9 folded.

Schema FMC00.218 complements and expands on FMC00.086, showing the main planetary stage for the development of each bodily principle; and adding different terminology used in theosophy, jewish doctrine, and esoteric christianity.


FMC00.479 illustrates how Man lives in the three worlds. On the right is shown how the worlds interpenetrate and Man lives in all three worlds. On the left is the typical spiritual scientific concept drawing of Man's bodily principles, whereby it requires deeper study to detach from the limitations of the conceptual representation and grasp the realities it represents. In the middle, as a way of mapping or transposing between both, is shown how both the formative forces of the Elementary Kingdoms (EKi) and all spiritual beings involved to generate our reality experience in the physical world called the Cosmic fractal, whereby the spectrum of elements and ethers .


FMC00.218A is a drawing from Rudolf Steiner in a letter to Marie Steiner, showing the development of Man's bodily principles in the seven main planetary stages of evolution. It illustrates FMC00.218.


FMC00.312 is a symbolic meta schema collating imagery on Man's bodily structure. On the left, Man's bodily principles. During death and a new birth, Man's I connects with the third hierarchy H3 and Man's higher triad. This structure is also depicted on the right with the structure of Lord's Prayer, with fourfold Man on Earth below and Man's treefold spiritual self above. In the middle is shown how the human I uses the lower bodily principles to have a reality experience.


FMC00.312A is the version with the FMC schema references that are collated here, they can be followed and studied individually so as to merge the perspectives they offer and integrate them in your soul work.


Schema FMC00.130 provides a simple tabular overview of evolution and the developmental goal per planetary stage (and Condition of Consciousness) - and epoch (taking into account conditions of life and form). See more on Man's transformation and spiritualization


Schema FMC00.286 shows the evolutionary dimension, and illustrates that one can not always assume intellectual logic of induction and deduction to hold in reality, as spiritual research shows. The development of Man's subsystems did not develop along the sequence of Recapitulation as they were developed in the planetary stages, but actually in a more complex 'partial reverse recapitulation'.


Schema FMC00.245 illustrates how the soul and spirit live in Man's bodily principles and I-organization. How the threefold soul activity and thinking feeling willing relates to the bodily organisms, and our contemporary waking consciousness is just a part of this.

See also what contemporary mineral science calls 'the hard problem of consciousness', namely the fact that current human consciousness can not be explained by the purely materialistic mineral aspect of Man.

Lecture coverage and references

Overview coverage

Man's bodily principles are described in very many lectures.

For an introduction and overview, see for example 1905-06-20-GA091 or 1922-04-30-GA212

Reference extracts


describes the double structure of the astral and etheric bodies as a result of the descent of the monads in the Lemurian epoch (see Development of the I), and also states (here short key sentence added for reference, as this aspect is not often described).

Fundamentally it is a .. two-fold formation: we have to differentiate in it a lower and a higher nature. ... They were at first not yet joined together; later they approached one another and became united.

for quote and link, see quote B on:

Human astral body#1905-10-16-GA093A


The Pythagorean 'quadrature' [editor: Tetractis] is nothing else than the four-foldness, physical body, etheric body, astral body and 'I'. Those who have occupied themselves more deeply with spiritual science know that the I works out from itself what we call Spirit-Self (or Manas), Life-Spirit (or Budhi), and the actual Spirit-Man (or Atma).


is on the Lord's Prayer which also has a sevenfold structure. At the end this lecture also makes reference to the sevenfold harmony, as in 1907-02-18-GA096


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

In modern Man we have the following structure:

  • the physical body, the etheric or life body, and the astral body;
  • then the sentient soul, which is as if embedded in it, is intimately connected with the astral body;
  • then the mind or intellectual soul
  • and the consciousness soul; and again in the consciousness-soul, which is the actual I-soul, integrated the spirit-self or manas.

This is roughly how we would have to imagine the people of today.


Let us now consider the relationship between our soul, that is, our sentient soul, our intellectual or emotional soul, our consciousness soul and the spirit self (or manas) enclosed in the consciousness soul, to our etheric body.


.. mentions that the sevenfold nature of Man was one of the things that was made known in the Turanian adept school (in the fourth and middle sub-race of the Atlantean epoch), where the sevenfoldedness was thought with the use of seven sounds, seven colours, and seven aromas all on a scale .. the principle that lives in sevenfold harmony would become an inner experience.

Reference to this is also made at the end of 1907-01-28-GA096 on the Lord's Prayer.


... describes how the various cultures in the current epoch 'discovered' the different bodily principles:

  • Indians - physical body
  • Egyptians - etheric body, hence there special link with water
  • Babylonians - astral body
  • Jews - I



1 - Wesenglieder

The term 'wesenglieder' is an important term in spiritual science, as it describes the structural make up in subcomponents or sheaths of any physical entity of the four kingdoms of nature on Earth. Though these appear as physical entities or objects to our waking consciousness, in fact they consist of multiple 'interpenetrating' sheaths that are part of different classes of spiritual beings of the hierarchies.

Just as the terms 'element' and 'ether' used in the spectrum of elements and ethers are a macroscopic shorthand label to describe the workings of the spiritual beings in terms of substance and force, quality and quantity, so too the various parts in the structural buildup of Man also need a language label or term. Spiritual science explains how these various components, elements, or principles, are related to a) the stages of evolution in the great cosmic fractal and b) the spiritual hierarchies that are all part of an interconnected interplay.

Choice of the term 'bodily principles'
  • Steiner translator Anna Meuss has been using 'levels of existence' for Wesensglieder. However ‘levels of existence’ really doesn’t mean anything to the average reader, ànd the term is not appropriate: it’s not about levels of existence. This would rather apply to conditions of consciousness CoC, see table FMC00.048.
  • Also 'levels of being' and 'components of being' have been proposed, inspired on 'wesen' (being) and 'glieder' (limbs)
  • Another alternative could be 'subtle bodies', maybe better than 'bodies' or 'sheaths'.
  • ‘Principles of being’ .. would imply that the state of being has multiple principles, which is also not correct – they are really sheaths that are woven by the hierarchies in evolution.
  • ‘bodily components’ would insinuate they are components of one body, which is also not what is meant here.
  • Technically probably the most correct would be ‘components of our structure or structural make-up’ .. but that does not work as a readable shorthand label or description.

The rationale for ‘bodily principles’ is related to the structure of Man:

  • The word 'bodily' - referring to bodies - is there because we speak of astral body, etheric body etc .. but actually these are extensions of the term ‘body’ we know .. higher up it’s not mental body anymore but threefold soul and I and spirit self etc. Just as we have a human physical body that (we think) we know (re: phantom or resurrection body – the physical body is not material but spiritual too, the mineral aspect is due to the luciferic infection) .. we also have other less ‘visible’ components of our structure that we can call human astral body for example
  • but actually these are all part of a multi-fold structure consisting of components woven by the hierarchies and thus blended onto one another, components that ‘come and go’ in evolution ..
  • hence the term 'bodily principles' implies we do not mean one body .. but the fact they are structural components in our make up, part of the blueprint so to speak.

The use of the word 'principles' can be illustrated with an analogy. Also with the four elements one could say that, although behind these stand spiritual beings, for Man (who does not know or see these beings due to his state of waking consciousiness) they are like philosophical principles. In fact many people, regard the four elements as philosophical principles, and even an initiate used the term in this sense. So here too what is meant with a principle is broader than the tangible or definable (in the physical world and sense) that we think of when using the world 'body'; and the broader conceptual principle is meant, with its many different aspects. Therefore: a principle, related to the bodily nature and make up, the principle being broader and less contained as in a material body.

Furthermore Rudolf Steiner writes in his book 'Theosophy':


By the word 'body' is meant whatever gives a being shape or form. The term body must not be confused with a bodily form perceptible to the physical senses. Used in the sense implied in this book, the term body can also be applied to such forms as soul and spirit may assume.

Note that in lectures and letters we also sometimes find the term 'principle' used for fragments of Man's constitution, for example in the letter 1906-01-06/07-GA262

Within this progression the Lunar-Pitris who have not completed their development work differently from those who have. The latter imbue the astral body perfectly with the Mercury element from without, but the former still have to perfect themselves with the things which are developing in Man. Their own being is therefore within the human being. In this way they are the luciferic principle.

Comment and response [1]

by translator TR (2021-12-03)

.. calling the 'I' Man's fourth 'bodily principle' (orig. "Wesensglied") ... clashes quite severely with my sense of translatory as well as essential rightness. Please reconsider ..

answer and addition to the above:

It is certainly true that there is not a direct language translation correctness between 'wesenglieder' and 'bodily principles'. The reason for this was explained above. Regarding the example of the human 'I' as Man's fourth bodily principle, this may actually be read in two ways, and this specific case can be taken to consider the chosen terminology. On the on hand, one could say it is hart to relate to the 'I' as a 'bodily principle'. However, it is certainly also the case that the 'I' is more of a principle than a 'limb of our being' (taking wesenglieder literally). The human I 'takes hold' of the lower bodily principles or components (see the penetration by the SoF - see Schema FMC00.046 on Development of the I).

The choice was made here to not call these 'bodies' because of the mineral-material physical connotation of the term 'body'. To avoid this subconscious mental trap for our imagination, the term 'principle' is deliberately chosen as an open or more conceptual term that refers to the spiritual beings that make up this 'principle' for Man's structure as part of their development and the solar system evolution. Indeed our 'bodily principles' are woven and made up of, as components of, the higher hierarchies.

There is no single Schema to this point, which is something we have to hold as a mental imagination. However one can get there ao by integrating the meaning of/in various illustrations:

Addition: Rudolf Steiner's use of the term 'principles'

The lecture of 1905-08-18-GA090B is called 'The seven principles' and states that

.. in Man, atma consists of seven principles:

  1. auric shell, 2. budhi 3. manas, 4. kama manas 5. kama; 6. physical.


2 - Consciousness soul or spiritual soul

Both terms are used, one source states that Rudolf Steiner started used spiritual soul as of 1923 (to be checked)

Related pages

References and further reading