Q00.007 - How to understand 'the ether body draws out of the cosmic I'

From Anthroposophy


This is more and more on my mind since I have never heard Steiner speak this way, as he does in the mysterious way when discussing the etheric body in the last lecture of the Gospel of John, Hamburg series, 1908-05-31-GA103:

In the following passage, the etheric almost has the nature of the 'I', which still baffles.

"What actually occurs is that the astral body imprints its organs upon the ether body, making it possible for the human being to perceive a spiritual world about him; making it possible for his inner being, the astral body, to receive what the ether body is able to offer to it, what the ether body draws out of the entire cosmos, out of the cosmic I."

I mean, wow. Here there is almost an I-like aspect to the etheric. This results in the purified astral body (virgin Sophia) in being "surrounded by light, by spiritual light" and this was called, and is still called today, "The Holy Spirit."

How does the etheric body draw from the cosmic I? Why wouldn't I draw from I so to speak? The Holy Spirit comments are even more complicated since Steiner characterizes the Holy Spirit in vastly different ways over the years - amazingly so even - but I thought to include it for completion.

The question is, then: 'How is the etheric body related to the cosmic 'I'?


Have you read the 1914-10-04/5/6-GA156?

" I have. And?"

The I-organization and threefold soul does take hold of the lower bodily principles, and each of these bodily principles also evolved, and this evolution caused a shift in initiatory practices.

Man’s I-consciousness today is through the I-organization in the lower bodies (sentient, intellectual and consciousness soul in astral, etheric and physical body), using the physical senses to experience the mineral-material ahrimanic imaginations (maya), and the physical body and its nervous system as a reflector.

The quote you mention talks about the consciousness soul (Virgin Sophia) as the gateway which leads, through purification of Man’s astral body, to the spirit self (Holy Spirit).

Added here from 1908-05-31-GA103 (SWCC)

Two things are needed for this:

  • that the human being prepare himself through katharsis and illumination,
  • and then that he open his inner being freely to the spiritual world. ... The inner being must be made susceptible of receiving the higher self.

When this has happened, then the higher human self streams into him from the spiritual world.

One may ask: Where is this higher human self? Is it within the personal man? No, it is not there.

On Old Saturn, Old Sun and Old Moon, the higher self was diffused over the entire cosmos. At that time the Cosmic I was spread out over all humankind, but now men have to permit it to work upon them. They must permit this I to work upon their previously prepared inner natures. This means that

  • if the human inner nature, the astral body has to be cleansed, purified and ennobled and subjected to katharsis. When the human being has been so well prepared that he has subjected his astral body to katharsis, thereby developing his inner organs of perception ..
  • then a person may expect that the external spirit will stream into him for his illumination. The astral body has progressed so far that .. when it dips down into the ether and physical bodies, illumination or photismos results. What actually occurs is that the astral body imprints its organs upon the ether body, making it possible for the human being to perceive a spiritual world about him; making it possible for his inner being, the astral body, to receive what the ether body is able to offer to it, what the ether body draws out of the entire cosmos, out of the Cosmic I.


  • This cleansed, purified astral body, which bears within it at the moment of illumination none of the impure impressions of the physical world, but only the organs of perception of the spiritual world is called in esoteric Christianity the pure chaste wise, 'Virgin Sophia'. By means of what is received during katharsis, the astral body is purified and transformed into the Virgin Sophia.
  • When the Virgin Sophia encounters the Cosmic Universal I which causes illumination, the pupil is surrounded by light, spiritual light. This second power that approaches the Virgin Sophia, is called in esoteric Christianity, the 'Holy Spirit.

Therefore it is correct to say that through his process of initiation the esotericist attains purification and cleansing of his astral body; he makes his astral body into the Virgin Sophia and is illuminated from above by the Holy Spirit, by the Cosmic Universal I. And a person thus illuminated, who, in other words, according to esoteric Christianity has received the Holy Spirit into himself, speaks forthwith in a different manner.

How does he speak?

When he speaks about Old Saturn, Old Sun and Old Moon, about the different members of the human being, about the processes of cosmic evolution, he is not expressing his own opinion. His views do not at all come into consideration. When such a person speaks about Old Saturn, it is Old Saturn itself that is speaking through him. When he speaks about Old Sun, the spiritual being of the Sun speaks through him. He is the instrument. His personal I has been eclipsed, which means that at such moments it has become impersonal and it is the Cosmic Universal I that is using his I as its instrument through which to speak.

Therefore, in true esoteric teaching which proceeds from esoteric Christianity, one should not speak of views or opinions, for in the highest sense of the word this is incorrect; there are no such things. ... In every spiritual- scientific system of teaching, only the series of facts must be related and this must have nothing to do with the opinions of the one who relates them.

Thus we have acquired two concepts in their spiritual significance.

  • We have learned to know the nature of the Virgin Sophia, which is the purified astral body,
  • and the nature of the Holy Spirit (illumination), the Cosmic Universal Ego, which is received by the Virgin Sophia and which can then speak out of this purified astral body.

The lectures referenced above explain the faculty of incarnate clairvoyance whereby the astral senses (imagination, astral world) are used for inner reading of the cosmic wisdom of the solar system, using our own etheric and physical bodies as a reflector of the spiritual reality.

This in response to your question: ‘How does the etheric body draw from the cosmic I? ‘

This cosmic wisdom of the solar system is the macroscopic I of Christ, see also the link with Pentecost.

Between death and a new birth Man this connection with the spiritual world works differently, but during incarnation Man uses his etheric body as a gateway to read the cosmic knowledge of the lower mental world.

If not clear I can write up a longer explanation with more references, because Rudolf Steiner did come back on this theme of your question on very many occasions, and it is a very important question, but I appreciate it’s not obvious to lay the puzzle or explain in a few sentences.