Process of waking and sleeping

From Anthroposophy

The daily dual process of waking and sleeping in Man: the I and astral bodies ‘check in and out’ from physical and etheric.


  1. The above as a cosmic breathing level as part of the Earth’s daily rhythm
  2. The integration of experiences over a three days period
  3. Dreams and dream life - dreaming, its technical explanation and interpretation
  4. Ahrimanic beings influencing Man while asleep - Irregular Moon/Mercury/Venus beings (1922-12-03-GA219)


Lecture coverage and references

1922-08-30-GA214 sketches Man during sleep, and describes the astral organs called Heart-eye to relate to the planetary worlds, and the Sun-eye to the Zodiac and world of the stars. The section below explains why, whereas mostly dreams are a mixture of elements of our subconscious without direct meaning but more often symbolic feelings-based contents, some dreams do contain some prescient meaning:

  • .. no sooner have you passed over into the condition of sleep than the part of your astral body which belongs in waking life to your heart, becomes for you an eye, — becomes, in very fact, what we may call a heart-eye; and with this heart-eye you ‘see’ what is now taking place. For present-day mankind, the perception is a very dim one. Nevertheless it is more assuredly there; the heart-eye perceives the experiences of this first sphere of sleep. Very soon after you have fallen asleep, the heart-eye begins also to look back at what has been left lying in bed. Your I and astral body look back with the heart-eye upon your physical and etheric bodies. And the picture of planetary movements that you are now experiencing in your astral body, rays back to you from your ether-body; you behold a reflection of it in your ether-body. Present-day man is so constituted that as soon as ever he wakes up, he immediately forgets the dim consciousness that he had in the night by means of his heart-eye. There are however, dreams in which we can catch, as it were, an echo of it. Such dreams are astir with an inner movement that is reminiscent of the planetary movements. Then into these dreams come pictures from real life; but that is only when the astral body has begun to dive down into the ether-body, which latter carries and preserves for us the memory of our life.

Compare this with the process of clairvoyant perception beyond waking consciousness, explained in 1914-10-04/5/6-GA156 on Stages of Clairvoyance.

1922-12-03-GA219 discusses Ahrimanic beings influencing man while asleep - Irregular Moon/Mercury/Venus beings

1923-05-02-GA224 describes the activity of the hierarchies in the human etheric body during sleep. Below is a structured outline of that lecture.

Consider the real nature of the etheric or vital body, not in abstract terms but by describing what we find with supersensible perception.

During sleep:

1/ Internal flows in the human being during sleep, etheric activity:

o  As a person falls asleep and the functions of the physical body come to rest, the human etheric body becomes more active between falling asleep and awakening. When asleep, the etheric body becomes inwardly mobile and filled with lively activity. From the places where the sense-organs are located, a continuous lively activity streams inwards.

  • For example, the eyes darkened and closed, begin to glow and irradiate the interiar of the physical sleeping human being like two phosophorent suns. As a result, the inner human being becomes a mild glowing phosoporescent light (which however cannot be seen with the physical senses), the etheric body is radiant with light.
  • From the region of the organs of hearing he interior of man becomes filled with a humming murmur, like a resounding music in the etheric body, coming.  
  • From the whole surface from the skin, etheric streams of warmth flow into the interior of man. The result is a beautiful living and streaming activity of the human etheric body.

o  The I and astral body, outside of the physical and etheric bodies during sleep, receive stronge impressions from this (although all this happens unconsciously).

o  And note it is this streaming (phosophorent glow, humming music, flooding  warmth) that detaches itself  a few days after man's death, as etheric body from the astral body and I, and flows out into the general cosmic ether.

o  What was described above is external revelation, manifestation or emanation of spiritual beings; in reality this flowing warmth, this gentle phosphorescent glow, this living music, are an outer revelation of cosmic beings called SoF.  In accordance with their inner nature they live in the shining stream which, during earthly sleep, flows from the human sense-organs towards the interior of man.

2/ The etheric organism of man consisting of flowing thoughts:

o  Let us follow these streams of flooding etheric radiance inwards along their course into the interior of man's organism. The mild phosphorescent glow, proceeding from the eyes; the living music, which comes from the region of the organs of hearing; the streaming warmth, which goes inward from the whole surface of the skin — all these become an organically coherent etheric system.

(When one observes the waking human being, one sees the etheric body in activity — the physical body of course as well — and this activity is somewhat different from that I have described for sleep; the activity then extends a little outside the physical body.)

o  All that streams and flows and shines inwards, from the senses and from the whole skin, is formed into a shell-like copy of man within him, extending to a certain depth. The streaming warmth goes inwards from the skin, attains a certain thickness like a shell, and forms the etheric organism of man which is compounded of the living music, the glowing light, the streaming warmth, intermingled with one another, flowing through one another, influencing one another mutually.

o  This etheric organism consists of the forms of thoughts, of flowing thoughts. If one were to draw this continuous inner flow activity of the etheric body during sleep at a particular moment, one would draw coulored lines and forms that would represent flowing thoughts. It is the thought-process of the Universe individualised. This individualised thought-process of the Universe reveals itself as individualised Logos.

o  This forming of thoughts streaming and weaving within man, connected with these movements shining in from the senses, is not just thought but it speaks. It speaks a human speech that is directed inwards, a silent language belonging to the interior of man. It speaks in an individual form, expressing in an inner Word, that can be perceived spiritually, the essential being of Man.

During sleep, the I and astral body of man (outside the physical and etheric bodies, and unconscious as far as the ordinary consciousness is concerned), experience what is happening. They experience the etheric body .. as individualised Logos.

Speech, which otherwise is directed outwards to the ears of our fellow men, is as if transformed, turned inwards etherically.

It is as if we were to repeat inwards everything which we have said during the day, from waking to falling asleep — but in the opposite order, beginning with the evening and ending with the morning. In a silent language we repeat all that we have said from morning to evening — but in a way that reveals the whole nature of our soul.

In so far as man's essential being is experienced in what is spoken, from morning to evening, this experience is manifested inwardly, from evening to morning, in the resounding, speaking, individualised Logos.

And this resounding, speaking, individualised Logos brings to expression at the same time — writing, as it were, into the time-sequence of the etheric, in that gleaming, gently phosphorescent light — the occult script corresponding to everything that works inwardly during the night, as the other side of what is spoken during the day.

(The same thing happens during every sleep, even during a daytime nap, but in a more fragmentary way.)

Looking at this still more closely, using the same methods through which the individualised Logos that weaves within man is revealed — seeking the ultimate reality, behind what is fundamentally only appearance — one finds all those hierarchical beings called in the anthroposophical writings SoM, who are above the SoF.

Thirdly — in this attempt to exercise the art of seeking the real being behind the words — we find the ultimate reality of what I once described as a kind of opposite vertebral column.

In describing the human etheric body .. it is described how the streams that compose the etheric body as a whole work together to form a structure that lies towards the front of man, just as in the physical body the bony structure of the vertebral column, and the vertebral canal, lie towards the back.

  • In the physical body we have this vertebral column and vertebral canal, running vertically.
  • And in the etheric body we have a confluence, a radiating together of what I have just described, into a kind of opposite vertebral column — lying in relation to the physical body towards the front.
  • And just as the nerves proceed from the physical vertebral column, and also the rib-bones, for example — in the same way the rays and the streams in the etheric body flow together into this other column. They do not proceed from it, but flow together and work together, with all that they contain, here in the front of the human etheric body.

The result is an exceptionally beautiful and impressive etheric organ. Particularly during sleep, it is revealed in its gleaming and glowing, its resounding and its manifold effects of warmth, its inner language.

And beholding it more closely, one can see that this organ permeates what I once described as the various Lotus-flowers. Thus you can realize how through this organ — which develops in this confluence of the etheric body, and connects with the streams of the astral body, forming the Lotus-flowers — man finds his connection with the external astral and cosmic universe.

This, too, is a manifestation and can be described as an appearance, and its true inner reality must be sought. This reality is found in the Hierarchy which in anthroposophical writings I have called the SoW.


Related pages

References and further reading

  • Stefan Leber: 'Der Schlaf und seine Bedeutung' (1996)
  • Leber, Kranich, Smit, Zimmermann, Schuberth: 'Der Rhythmus von Schlafen und Wachen - Seine Bedeutung im Kindes- und Jugendalter' (1990)
  • Rudolf Steiner - selection of lectures: 'Sleep and Dreams - A Bridge to the Spirit' (selected and introduced by Michael Lipson) (2003)
  • Richard Seddon: 'The Wonders of Sleep: An Anthroposophical Study' (2012)
  • Rudolf Steiner - selection of lectures: 'The night as a wellspring of strenght' (selected and introduced by Edward de Boer)