Seven life processes

From Anthroposophy

Rudolf Steiner described seven main life processes of the human etheric body that sustain the human physical body and map to physiological functions as also described in Spiritual scientific physiology and the Threefold working in Man.

  • breathing
  • warming
  • nutrition
  • circulation
  • maintenance
  • growth and maturation
  • reproduction

These life processes are assocated with the etheric formative forces of the varous planetary spheres in which we are embedded.

Unlike the various human senses, the domains of these life processes are less strictly separated from each other but intermingle, as for example breathing merges into warming, warming into nourishing. This is because all organs are interlinked and the life processes flow into one another. For example the lungs, the primary breathing organ, are connected to the organs of blood circulation, which serve the process of warmth, while these in turn flow together with the organs of digestion, which correspond to the process of nourishing, and so on.


  • comparison with the human senses, and the inner human experience of the life processes (1910-GA045)
  • the top three, middle and lowest three may be mapped to the three subsystems described in Man as a threefold being
  • the life processes may help to associate which diseases are connected to which processes, as a blockage of a given process, or any under- or overactive process may cause certain illnesses
  • not developed on this page yet, but when studying, do compare the logic of the life processes described in Schema FMC00.466 below with:
  • seven inner movements of Man, linked to the spirits of the planetary bodies of our solar system (1912-06-11-GA137)
    • Movement into upright posture ♄ - Saturn
    • Movement of thinking ♃ - Jupiter
    • Movement of speaking ♂ - Mars
    • Movement of the blood ☉ - Sun
    • Movement of the breath ☿ - Mercury
    • Movement of the glands ♀ - Venus
    • Movement of reproduction ☽ - Moon
  • link with the seven sacraments, see Harrison (Note 1 in Discussion section below)


Schema FMC00.466 is a first temporary version to initialize the reference table for the seven life processes (to be developed further).


Schema FMC00.161 maps the planetary influences to the life functions of the Human etheric body.

Schema FMC00.392 shows the elements of the physical body that relate to the three subsystems in Man as a threefold being, and the three worlds from which they are built by the three main triads of the spiritual hierarchies. See also the Bull, Lion and Eagle influences, see Sphinx.


Schema FMC00.513 provides an overview on the main process through which the human being sustains his physical body during incarnate life.

The narrative to this mind map is given by the two main lectures provided in the lower corners: 1922-08-05-GA347 (left) and 1922-10-22-GA218 (right - see also Schema FMC00.160 for another view), with additional complementary lecture references provided.

Whereas the left downward destructive process is well-studied in contemporary medical science (see mineral science), a true understanding of the renewal of Man's bodies - see the right upward constructive process - requires a spiritual scientific perspective. The latter can also not be read twodimensionally, rather the process needs to be imagined, as Man's bodily principles are not physically located or corresponding to specific parts of Man's physical body. So for the etheric and astral bodies, and the I-organization, certain organs play a main role, but effect the whole bodily principle and even work from the higher to the lower bodily principles. For this last point, see Schema FMC00.415A on Man: an integrated view or also: Schema FMC00.245 (which is key) and FMC00.415 on I-organization (and in second instance see also Schema FMC00.477 and FMC00.283 on Group souls of humanity). Streams [A] and [B] at the output of the intestines need to be superimposed on all that imaginatively.

This main schema can be used to branch off to the study of various related topics:

  • when contemplating the schema, overlay this with the seven life processes and the etheric formative forces (see also The Elementary Kingdoms) or higher ethers (eg Schema FMC00.015 below for a complementary view, or Schema FMC00.419)
  • nutrition and the alchemy in the human body (eg 1924-08-02-GA354 and 1924-09-13-GA346)
  • transmutation of substances in the human body (see table on the lower left in the schema)
  • the formation of organs - see the two etheric streams (eg Schema FMC00.051 and the 1920-05-14-GA201 description for the human heart)
  • the use of the brain as a vehicle for waking consciousness, see Damming up between heart and brain and Schema FMC00.033A; and related Matter is destroyed in the brain and 1922-08-09-GA347 which describes the process of continuous depositing and destruction of minerals ('brain-sand', more also in 1922-09-09/16-GA347)
  • for the outstreamings of the human body due to its decay and/or excretion and radiation: the transitory fleeting destruction (senses, glands, digestion) on the left, and the slower outstreaming into the world (due to decay of nerves, muscles, bones) on the right, see also Schema FMC00.514 from the amazing 1911-12-31-GA134 lecture
  • the creation of the blood (and the rest of the mineral physical body, from spiritual to mineral substance due to the Luciferic effect) - see Blood is a special fluid and the reverse (from mineral back to etherization) see etherization of blood
  • the forming of the bony system and skeleton and the production of blood, see oa Spiritual scientific physiology#Skeleton (oa for the relation to the warm red blood and waking consciousness - see 1924-01-07-GA352)

Schema FMC00.155 sketches how Man is traversed by spiritual beings from Moon, Mars, Venus in circulating lymph and chyle fluids, and how Saturn beings take their abode in Man's sensory perceptions. Chyle, lymph blood are also called the three bodily humors as it existed in ancient Greece and the cultures before, and that based itself on liquids for health treatment.


Lecture coverage and references


In 'Anthroposophy: A Fragment', chapter 4 is called 'The Life Processes'

quote A


.. we can distinguish a number of different domains:

1/ The first to present itself is the process by which our body's inner life is supported from outside, namely our breathing. In the breathing process, our bodily life touches the outer world. It then receives from the outer world the strength it needs to continue. Our bodily life sets itself against the outer world in a way that it cannot maintain. These words more or less express that which can be said about what manifests itself to us about the breathing process without going into the results of sense-perceptible science. The latter belong to the field of anthropology. What has just been described is something we experience directly in our own life - in our own need for air, in observing how life is inhibited by lack of air, and so on.

2/ A second process in this domain can be described as warming. To maintain bodily life, we must develop a certain degree of warmth in our body that does not depend on the warmth of our surroundings; rather the processes within the body maintain our own bodily warmth within certain limits - independent of how warm it is outside the body.

3/ A third process of this type is nourishing. Through this process, the life of the body enters into a relationship with the outer world so that the substances we have used are replaced.

4/ However, a fourth process must take place for the process of nourishing to occur. Already in the mouth, the food that is taken in must begin interacting with saliva secreted by the body, and a process of this sort continues to take place as digestion proceeds. This process can be seen as the fourth in this domain, and can be called secreting.

5/ Observing our own bodies shows us that another process is connected with this one. In the secreting that serves the digestive process, the secreted substance is only capable of transforming our food so that it can enter into the life of the body. But it must also be possible to secrete substances that can become part of this bodily life. We must transform nutrients so that they can serve to build up the body. This is based on a process that goes beyond what has been characterized as secreting. We will call this the process of maintaining.

6/ Yet another process becomes evident when we turn our attention to the growth of the human being. This transcends the process of maintaining, which would leave the body as it is at a certain point in time. An additional process is needed, one we can describe as the process of growing.

7/ The processes of maintaining and growing reach their culmination when the completed human body takes on its very specific form. This taking shape of the human being, coming from within and culminating in a specific form, will be called the process of generating. Reproduction can be seen as a repetition of this generating. What belongs to the individual body is generated in such a way that it remains united with the individual, while, in the case of reproduction, what is generated does not. Since we are concerned here, to begin with, only with the individual human being as a self-contained bodily entity, we will not take the reproductive process into account

[human inner experience of these processes]

The processes that we have called breathing, warming, nourishing, secreting, maintaining, growing, and generating now are linked to inner experiences similar to the inner experiences in the I that link up with the processes of sensory perception.

Breathing, warming, and nourishing are linked to emotional experiences that, under normal conditions, we are scarcely aware of, but immediately become prominent when the normal state is disturbed in one direction or the other. If breathing cannot proceed in the appropriate fashion, feelings of anxiety and similar feelings appear. A disturbance in the state of warmth announces itself in our feeling chilly or overheated. A disturbance in nourishing reveals itself in our feeling hungry and thirsty. We can say that the inner experiences linked to breathing, warming, and nourishing manifest in a sort of well-being or comfort. These experiences are always present-, when a disturbance occurs, they are the basis for what comes to expression as feeling unwell, discomfort, hunger, and so on.

Genuine reflection on our own experience shows that similar feeling-like experiences are also associated with the processes of secreting, maintaining, growing, and generating. If we think about how excessive perspiration can signal a state of anxiety or fear, we will be able to acknowledge that, when secretion of this sort stays within reasonable bounds, it is associated with a feeling that expresses itself as comfort of a general sort, and we can also see that all secreting is accompanied by a state of feeling that, as long as it is proceeding normally, escapes conscious observation. Further self-reflection shows that such feeling experiences are also associated with the processes of maintaining, growing, and generating_ We can sense, for instance, that teenagers' feelings of power are the expression of inner experiences linked to the process of growth.

These inner feeling experiences come to face the processes of breathing, warming, growth, and so on, in a way that is similar to how, in the I, the inner experiences arising in the wake ofsense perceptions come to face the sensory processes. Thus it is possible to say, for example, that the relationship of breathing to a certain inner experience is similar to the relationship of hearing to the experience we call sound, although outer sense perceptions reverberate inwardly with a much greater degree of clarity than the other experiences just described.

Concealed, so to speak, under or within our I-human being: is another human being who is built up out of such inner experiences just as our I-being is built up out of our experiences of external sense impressions. This other human being is, however, really only taken notice of in life when its experiences are disturbed, causing it to make its presence known to the I-human being. We are, however, no more justified in lumping together the breathing process, for example, and the inner experiences accompanying it, which are feeling-like in character, than we would be in lumping together the process of sense perception with the related process taking place in the I.

We could easily be tempted to fail to recognize the particular character of these inner experiences and conclude that there is no significant difference between them and the ones that develop under the influence of sense impressions. Admittedly, the difference between these two types of inner experience - for example, between our sense of life and our inner, feeling-like experiences with regard to the processes of breathing or warming - is not particularly clear. However, this difference can be ascertained easily through more precise observation if we keep the following in mind.

Inherent in a sensory experience is the fact that a judgment can be connected to it only through the I. Everything we do under the influence of a judgment relating to sense perceptions must be such that we arrive at this judgment within the I. If, for example, a flower is perceived and judged to be beautiful, the I inserts itself between our perception and our judgment, The inner experiences called up by processes of breathing, warming, nourishing, and so on, indicate in and by themselves something similar to judgment, without the I coming in between. In the experience of hunger lies a direct indication of something, which corresponds to hunger, and which is connected with the hunger in the same way as that which the human being connects with a sense perception after having formed a judgment with regard to this sense perception. When we arrive at judgments relating to a sense perception, the activity of the I brings something together with the sense perception. Similarly, we see that something external to hunger has been connected with hunger, but without the I bringing about this connection. Thus, we may call this latter connection an instinctive manifestation. This holds true for all inner experiences related to the processes of breathing, nourishing, growing. Therefore, we must distinguish between comfort in breathing, well-being in warmth—to the extent that these are instinctive inner experiences—and the corresponding perceptions of the sense of life. To gain access to the domain of the sense of life, the wave of instinct must first wash up against the I-being, so to speak.

The framework of these inner experiences that take place behind the 'I-human being' through the processes described here will be attributed to the 'astral human being'. For the moment, we will associate nothing more with this term than what is described here. The I-being draws its experiences from the sense world by means of the instruments of our senses, while the astral being draws its experiences from the world given in the processes of breathing, growing, and so on. For the moment we will call this world 'the world of life'.

The forces building up our sense organs transcend what is sense perceptible, Similarly, for a world of life to exist, the organs of life must be constructed out of a world that transcends all life. Also, this world reveals itself in its effects: the building up of the organs of life. The distinct domains of the life processes—breathing, warming, nourishing, and so on—may be taken to indicate an equal number of domains in this world.

It can be further noticed that the domains of the individual life processes are less strictly separated from each other than are the domains of sense perception. The domain of the sense of smell, for example, is strictly separated from the sense of sight, whereas the domains of the life processes are closer together, they intermingle more. Breathing merges into warming, warming into nourishing.

Thus, anthropology points to essentially separate organs for sense perception, while for the life processes it points to organs that flow into one another.

The lungs, the primary breathing organ, are connected to the organs of blood circulation, which serve the process of warmth, while these in turn flow together with the organs of digestion, which correspond to the process of nourishing, and so on.

This indicates that, in the world in which the forces building up these organs are found, the relationships among the corresponding domains are different from the relationships among the forces that build up the sense organs. The former relationships must be more mobile than the latter. The experiences of the sense of taste, for example, can meet the experiences of the sense of hearing only in the common I to which they belong. The feeling of growing, on the other hand, automatically encounters what presents itself in the breathing process. The feeling of strength associated with growing shows up in our comfort in breathing, warming, and so on, through a heightened inner life.

quote B

The I-human being and the astral being represent two parts of the human being which are active in inner processes.

  • To make the I-human being possible, the forces of a supersensible world build up the sense organs. To the extent that the human body is the bearer of the sense organs, it shows itself to be built up out of a supersensible world. We will call this bearer of the sense organs the physical human body. The I-human being permeates it in order to live, with its help, in the sensory world. Thus we must see the physical human body as an entity built out of forces that are intrinsically related to the I itself. Within the sensory world, the physical human body can show itself only in its sense-perceptible manifestation; but, in its inner reality, it is an entity of a supersensible sort.
  • To make the astral being possible, a supersensible world builds up the organs of life. As we have seen, this world's forces are related to the astral human being's experiences. What builds up the physical being is revealed in the sensory world in the way described above. The forces that build up the organs of life can reveal themselves only in the instinctive feeling experiences stemming from the life processes, for they do not produce any sense organs, and only sense organs can give evidence of sense-perceptible things. The organs of life themselves are not organs of perception. Therefore, not only do the forces that build up the organs of life remain imperceptible to the senses, but also their manifestation in the human being cannot become sense-perceptible; it can only be a feeling-like instinctive experience. This manifestation will be called the etheric human body. ("Etheric" in this sense refers only to what is meant here, and not to what is given the name "ether" in physics.) The etheric human body relates to the astral human being as the physical human body relates to the I-human being.

The physical body is so constituted as to convey the experiences of the senses to the I; the ether body can be only indirectly and instinctively experienced by the astral human being. The I must relate to the physical human body as the astral human being relates to the etheric human body.

Thus, the life processes presuppose the existence of forces to which they adapt in shaping sense organs, such as the organ of hearing, from within the body outward to correspond to experiences which they themselves do not serve. The sense organs, in turn, since they are supported by the life processes, presuppose the existence of the organs of life.

  • To the extent that it is the bearer of the sense organs, the physical human body is formed out of the higher spiritual world, and,
  • to the extent that it builds up the organs of life, the etheric human body is formed out of the lower spiritual world.


  • In the astral world, the astral human being enters into relationship with the life processes to the extent that they are revealed in our life instincts.
  • In the physical world, the I-human being enters into relationship with the sense experiences that present themselves as the outer world (tone, sound, warmth, light, and so on), to the extent that these reveal themselves as the sensory world.

If the seven movements we have described are correctly understood, then with them are exhausted the inner movements of Man.

The others are outer movements. When Man moves his feet or his hands, that is an external movement. The inner movements Man brought with him when he came to Earth, though Earth has, it is true, changed them very much. And just as we had to refer the whole complete form of Man to the fixed stars of the Zodiac, and connect the Signs of the Zodiac with the several members of the human form, so now we find that these several movements have their source in the entire planetary system.

From our planetary system we have to derive these seven members of what we may call the man of inner movement. And since the relationship of these movements to one another corresponds to the relationship of the planets of our planetary system, we can also designate these several movements with the signs that belong to the planets, thus:

  • Movement into upright posture ♄ - Saturn
  • Movement of thinking ♃ - Jupiter
  • Movement of speaking ♂ - Mars
  • Movement of the blood ☉ - Sun
  • Movement of the breath ☿ - Mercury
  • Movement of the glands ♀ - Venus
  • Movement of reproduction ☽ - Moon

A word must be said about the movement of the blood. This movement comes into contact with what we have earlier learned to recognize as the center of the organs belonging to the middle Man, the “plane of operations” as it were for the Sun Spirit. Thus the movement of the blood, which has its center in the middle Man, is to be brought into relation with the most important force in the middle Man, and we have to designate this movement of the blood with the Sign of the Sun. In doing so we are thinking of the power and force of the Sun Spirit in so far as it is a force in movement. It is, we could say, as a fixed star that the Sun works upon the middle Man as a whole on the other hand, it exerts its influences on the movements that depend on the middle Man, on the movements of the blood, as one of the planets.

If I make use of the sign which is also used by the astronomers of today employing therefore in this case not the old terminology which was altered by Kepler, but the names that are customary in the astronomy of today - then the movement of the breathing can be denoted by Mercury, the movement of the glands by Venus and the movement of reproduction by Moon. For this last movement, localized as it is in the lower Man, is again a movement that comes into contact with the influence of the Spirit of the Moon. This influence here meets and combines with the inner moving of the human being.

[feeling these inner movements]

We have, therefore, in the human being, as well as a threefold seven-membered Man, another seven-membered Man in the connections of the movements that take place within him. The pupil must take pains to distinguish the various movements within him, before he is able to take the next step on the path. He will not find it easy.

The human form we have as it were standing before our eyes, not so the inner movements. A special effort has to be made to feel them. We must learn to discern each one for itself. We must be able to feel inwardly, first the movement of raising oneself upright, then the movement of thought, the movement of speech - this is easiest of all - then again the movement of the blood, and - which is also not difficult - the movement of the breath. We have to come to the point of sensing the various movements which as a rule we only sense in their result, as, for instance, when we experience ourselves first as lying down and then as standing up. We must learn to sense also in this way the movements of secretion.

The faculty of discrimination for the several movements that take place within him is an absolute necessity for the pupil if he would progress further on his path. And if he is to do with these movements what I said he had to do with the human form, then instead of looking at the human form from without, fixing it before him and awaiting the after-image, he must endeavour to feel himself inwardly, feel the movement and activity that goes on within him, and then, after he has, as it were, fixed himself inwardly in the bodily sense, hold fast this impression,—even as yesterday we tried to hold fast, purely in memory, the impression of the human form. The pupil will then actually come to the point of recognising seven forms, where yesterday we met with two.

We encountered, as you will remember, the form of death and the form of Lucifer, and we learned that when we call to remembrance the thought of Christ, we have then something we can carry across into the super-sensible world. And now, when the pupil, as it were, steps forth out of his Man of inner movement, he meets with seven forms. He makes the acquaintance of seven spiritual beings, and he knows that these seven spiritual beings correspond to his own inner movements in the very same way that Sun, Moon and Venus correspond to what we spoke of yesterday.

He comes to understand that he himself has grown out of our planetary system, and that since the physical stars of the planets are directed by the spirits of the planets, Man is only able, for example, to lift himself upright through the fact that the Spirit of Saturn prevails in him, the Spirit who has his scene of action on Saturn as Lucifer has his on Venus. He knows too that his movement of thought has connection with the Regent or directing Spirit of Jupiter, the movement of speech with the directing Spirit of Mars, the movement of the blood with the directing Spirit of the Sun, the whole movement of the breath with the directing Spirit of Mercury, all the glandular movements with the directing Spirit of Venus, and finally the whole movement of reproduction with the directing Spirit of the Moon.

He knows furthermore, that all these spirits work with and through one another. They have their seat, their base of operations, in Man, and one kind of movement works upon another. The Spirit of Saturn, for instance, while it works chiefly through the movement made by Man in lifting himself upright, takes part indirectly in all other movements. A significant situation occurs when the guiding Spirit of Saturn manifests his forces with peculiar strength in the Sign of Aries or in the Sign of Taurus. This creates a very important situation.

Having thus come to the recognition of how the guiding Spirits of the planets are connected with the several members of the Man of inner movement, you will be able to follow me when I say that in the allocation of the signs to the several members we are already touching the fundamental principle of all genuine astrology. Recall the connections we have been considering, and you will recognise that there lies inherent within them the principle of true and genuine astrology, which has its source in nothing else than in the great and significant fact that Man is born out of the World-AII, that Man is in very truth an epitome, an extract of the whole World-All.


Lecture seven in 'Riddle of Humanity' called 'The Connection between the Human Being and the Cosmos. The Twelve Regions of the Senses and the Seven Life Processes.'

Life divides into seven definite processes. But, since they serve all twelve of the sense zones, we cannot assign definite regions to these-the seven life processes enliven all the sense zones. Therefore, when we look at the way the seven relate to the twelve we see that we have

1. Breathing, 2. Warming, 3. Nourishing, 4. Secretion, 5. Maintaining, 6. Growth, 7. Reproduction.

These are distinct processes, but all of them relate to each of the senses and flow through each of the senses: their relationship with the senses is a mobile one. (see drawing.)

The living human being, must be pictured as having twelve separate sense-zones through which a sevenfold life is pulsing, a mobile, sevenfold life. If you ascribe the signs of the zodiac to the twelve zones, then you have a picture of the macrocosm; if you ascribe a sense to each zone, you have the microcosm.

If you assign a planet to each of the life processes, you have a picture of the macrocosm; as the life processes, they embody the microcosm. And the mobile life processes are related to the fixed zones of the senses in the same way that, in the macrocosm, the planets are related to the zones of the zodiac — they move unceasingly through them, they flow through them. And so you see another sense in which Man is a macrocosm.


see also FMC00.392

Let us review yesterday's conclusions.

  • The zones of the twelve senses can be seen as a kind of human zodiac.
  • Flowing through all these sense-zones are the seven life processes: breathing, warming, nourishing, secretion, maintenance, growth and reproduction. (See drawing, Lecture Seven.)


You will therefore be right in supposing that the activities called up in us by the senses are relatively static in comparison with what goes on in the life processes and their central organs. Remember how we described the sense regions as a comparatively stable part of the human being. They are stabilised through being organised around a particular physical organ: the sense of sight around the eyes — even though it involves more besides — the sense of hearing around the ears, and so on. And remember how mobile the life processes are as they circulate uninterruptedly through the whole body, reaching every part of it. The life processes move through us.

If we consider what was said yesterday about how our sense experiences on Old Moon were more like life processes, we must conclude that human existence on Old Moon was altogether more mobile than that of our present Earth era. Old Moon man was more mobile, more inwardly mobile. Earth Man really does relate to what he consciously experiences in the way the relatively fixed constellations of the zodiac relate to one another. During the Earth stage the outer surface of Man has become motionless, still, as the constellations of the zodiac are still. During the Old Moon phase, the present-day human senses contained a life and mobility such as that displayed by the planets of our present-day cosmos; for our planets' relationship to one another is constantly changing.


And the life processes are even more spiritualised than these lower senses. More than a few persons who claim to represent a particularly lofty mystical point of view speak of the life processes as something ‘lower’. To be sure, they are low here, but what here is low is high in the spiritual world, for what lives in our organism is a reflection of what lives in the spiritual world. This is a very noteworthy statement.

Outside us in the spiritual world there are significant spiritual beings whose nature is reflected within us — within the bounds of the zodiac of our senses through which the planets of our life processes move.


So we can say: the four life processes of secretion, maintenance, growth and reproduction are reflections of what exists in the spiritual world — as are the processes of breathing, warming and nourishing. The fourfold process of secretion, maintaining, growth and reproduction mirrors a lofty region of the spiritual world. That region receives us after death and there we live and weave, spiritually preparing our organism for the next earthly incarnation. Everything in our physical organism that is comparatively low corresponds to something that is high and can only be perceived through the faculty of Imagination. There is a whole world that can be perceived through Imagination, through imaginative knowledge. This world that is accessible to imagination is reflected from beyond the constellations of the zodiac into the senses of the human organism. To picture this, imagine that Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon are reflections of what exists beyond the limits of the zodiac: they have spiritual counterparts that exist there and the astronomical bodies we can observe within the bounds of the zodiac are only reflections of these counterparts.


And then there is yet another super-sensible region. It is beyond the limits of the human senses and perceptible only through the faculty of Inspiration. This is the world of Inspiration. The processes of breathing, warming and nourishing are a reflection of this world, just as Saturn, Jupiter and Mars are reflections of their spiritual counterparts from beyond the limits of the zodiac. Moreover there is a profound relationship between what is out there in the cosmos and what, as lower nature, is present in man. These spiritual counterparts of the life processes actually exist. ...And this is how we should mark out the boundaries of the human senses and life processes.

Now we approach that which is higher than life, those true regions of the soul which are the home of human astrality and human egoity, of the I. We leave behind the world of the senses and the realms of space and time and really enter the spiritual world. Now on Earth, because there is a certain connection between the twelve sense-zones and our I, it is possible for our I to live in the consciousness sustained by these sense-zones. Beneath this consciousness there is another, an astral consciousness which, in the present stage of human development, is intimately related to the human vital processes, to the sphere of life. The I is intimately related to the sphere of the senses; astral consciousness is intimately related to the sphere of life. Just as our knowledge of the zodiac comes through — or from within — our I, so knowledge of our life processes comes from astral consciousness. It is a form of awareness that is still subconscious in people of today: it is not apparent in normal circumstances, it still lies on the other side of the threshold. In physical existence such a knowing consists of an inner awareness of the life processes.

Sometimes, in abnormal circumstances, the sphere of life is included in the sphere of consciousness; it is thrust up into normal consciousness. But for us this is a pathological state. It is an astonishing thing for our doctors and natural scientists to behold when the subconscious intrudes and allows what is normally hidden beneath our twelve-fold sense-awareness to emerge — when eruptions of the subconscious allow the planets to intrude their life into the sphere of the zodiac. Such a consciousness is appropriate when it has been cultivated and developed, really developed in the fashion that is described in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. But if it has not been developed properly, it is pathological.


It is not possible to reach so deeply into the life sphere that something there actually changes, not if one is employing the consciousness that is contained in the human zodiac of the twelve senses. But we do affect the life sphere when the subconscious erupts into our usual daytime consciousness. The concepts and ideas that occupy our normal consciousness do not yet sink deeply enough into us to reach the depths of the life processes. Now and then, however, the life processes are stirred up and occasionally the ensuing wave is very strong. But with today's proper and normal, externally-orientated consciousness it is not possible — thank God! — for a person to affect the life processes, for otherwise people would make a real mess of themselves with some of the thoughts they entertain. Human thoughts are not strong enough to have this kind of effect. But if some of the ideas people harbour today were to well up out of their unconscious into the sphere of life, as did the ideas of the woman we were describing, then you would see some people walking about with extremely swollen faces and some with much worse problems, too. Thus you see that beneath our surface, which is connected with the zodiac, there is a subconscious world that is intimately connected with the life processes and can profoundly affect them in abnormal circumstances.



  • Characterization of the 7 stages of life and the differences between them.
  • Life stages as planetary stages.
    • Influence Saturn, Jupiter and Mars have on life of senses, nerves and respiration.
    • Influence of Mercury, Venus and Moon on lower abdominal organs.

Extract A

[Seven levels of human life]

Human life also has a number of levels, and in the first place these may be considered as follows.

1/ The first, and to our everyday thinking this is not yet a level of life, is the life of the senses. Although they are part of the whole human being, the senses are so much at the periphery that we tend to forget that the life of the senses is the outermost layer of our life.

2/ Moving inwards from the periphery—now thinking only in terms of life—we come to the life of the nerves, which is an inward continuation of the life of the senses just as the nerves go inwards from the sense organs.

3/ The life of the nerves in turn is in touch with another level that develops in the living human being. I have shown some aspects of it on earlier occasions, when I drew your attention to the way we draw breath. We take in air and the air we inhale creates a kind of inner rhythm which continues through the spinal canal and on into the brain. There the life of the nerves comes in contact with the life of our breathing, which is the next level as we move inwards.

4/ The life of breathing in turn connects with another level of life. The breath, we may say, continually renews the blood. Thus the breathing rhythm is connected with the blood rhythm and we can move on from the life of our breathing to the life that exists in the rhythm of the circulation.

5/ The circulation, however, is also connected with the whole of metabolism; it takes in metabolism, and we thus come to the next level, the life of metabolism.

Metabolism stimulates the movements we make in the world around us. It is thanks to our metabolism that we are actually able to move around.

6/ The nature of the human—and also the animal—metabolism is such that the soul is able to use the metabolic processes to produce movements. In the life of movement we are again becoming part of the outside world, for anything we achieve at that level of life connects us with the outside world.

7/ There is one more level of life: the life of reproduction. In movement we continually use ourselves up, and internal "reproduction" has to take place for the very reason that we are in motion. Instead of "life of movement", we may thus also put "internal reproduction, or regeneration", providing we remain inside the human skin. And when this reproduction occurs independently, it becomes life of reproduction in the true sense.

  1. Life of the senses
  2. Life of the nerves
  3. Life of breathing
  4. Life of circulation
  5. Life of metabolism
  6. Life of movement
  7. Life of reproduction

Yesterday we had twelve elements of form, today we have evolved seven levels of life, and it is true to say that in terms of the ether body, human beings live differently on each of these seven levels. If we are to take these things seriously, we cannot speak of a single kind of life that is all at the same level.

1/ In the first place, then, our ether body may be said to live at the level of the senses, and this is a form of life that barely feels like life to us. Through it, we are involved in the outside world. If we take the eye, for example, we say the ether body is alive in the eye and in a manner of speaking enlivens it. It does however come in touch with a form of matter that is close to death in the eye, which is a living organ only in so far as the ether body enters into it. Apart from the ether body, the eye is really a physical apparatus.

Individual sense organs are always both a physical apparatus and penetrated by the ether body, each in its own particular way. Generally speaking, however, our sense organs are dead organs, except that the ether body enters into them. It would therefore be reasonable to say that the life of the senses is life in the process of dying.

2/ The life of the nerves takes the experiences gained through the senses and makes them into something that can preserve the life of the senses. All lingering effects are due to the life of the nerves, therefore—lingering sounds, for example, and in the case of the eye, after-images. The life of the nerves, then, is a kind of resting life, or a life that holds and keeps.

3/  The life of breathing gives image quality to the fleeting life of the senses that tends to preserve itself. We are able to have images of the outside world because the breathing rhythm is in touch with the currents that pass through the nerves. Ideas and abstract thoughts are still entirely bound to the life of the nerves, but anything to do with images is connected with the life of breathing. When we breathe we have creative life in us, a life we may call the image-creating life. This lives in the human form and therefore also takes part in the human form.

We have seen that the human form arises out of the zodiac, and because the creative life that comes with our breathing lives in the human form, it also has part in the whole outer form that has been created out of the starry heavens [Fig 13]

This form is therefore also part of the inner aspect of the human being. And it is thanks to our breathing that we have not only the contents of our conscious mind but also images of all our internal organs, images based on the outer form. Our internal organs therefore arise at first in a roundabout way—as images created in the breathing process. They do not yet have substance at this point. The breath creates an image of the internal human being. With our breathing we are in the outside world, moving within the zodiac with the earth, and we are continually inhaling the images of our internal organization.

These images are inhaled from life outside us. This, then is our creative life. The images we inhale are spread through the whole organism by the life of circulation. This and the life of breathing take human beings to the point where they are inwardly image of the world. Thus we may say: [Fig 14]

"This is the creative life", and then say: "These are images that spread, something that spreads out, images of our organs."

4 and 5/ The life of circulation is in touch with the life of metabolism, with the result that the images are given physical substance and physical organs develop on the fifth level of life. Matter infiltrates the images; it suffuses or tinges them. Thus the upper human being creates images in the life of breathing and these images are made tangible reality by the matter that infiltrates and tinges them.

6/ Energy then enters into the physical organs from the life of movement. We may put it like this: We have physical organs and here we have life that generates power in the organs.

7/ The life of reproduction, finally, renews itself.

You can also see how the threefold human being arises: nerves and senses, circulation and rhythm, and metabolism and limbs, or metabolism and movement. Reproduction, finally, gives rise to a new human being.

The attributes I have added on the right (Fig. 14) give you an idea of the differences between the levels of life.

  • Living in the senses, our ether body is in a kind of life that is dying.
  • In the life of the nerves, the currents in the nerves, it is in a life that holds and keeps.
  • The breathing life is where our ether body truly becomes a body of creative powers that designs images.
  • The life of circulation ensures that those images become our whole internal organization.
  • Physical substance is then brought in through the life of metabolism. The ether body enters into metabolism and suffuses the actual body of creative powers with matter. Subjective human energy is added through the life of the limbs, and so on.

The instinctive wisdom of old gave people understanding of this, too, and they knew, therefore, that human beings take in the life that is outside and develop it further inside them.

2018 - Ross Rentea

Edited (SWCC) from interview on

Rudolf Steiner identified seven main physiological functions that shed light on our basic life processes. This helps to associate  which diseases are connected to which processes.

[Upper three processes: (fine) breathing, warming, nutrition (breaking down)]

1/ Breathing is the first life process, associated with the planet Saturn. Breathing is is an occult term, which signifies "intake" from the outside world; the beginning of digestion. It encompasses taking in something as spiritual as thought, light, or oxygen through the lungs; or as physical as taking in food. All these must be transformed as they are accepted by the body.

If too much enters that cannot be processed, it will cause damage or illness. A first step is to control quantity and what comes in. If you take in too much untransformed warmth, you will get burnt, as in radiation illness. Uncontrolled intake of substances that overwhelm you can lead to addiction or, physically as in smoking, can lead to cancer. Lastly, if the body constantly fights over­abundance, it gets used up; the typical process of aging.

2/ Warming is the second process, it is ruled by the planet Jupiter. This directs our attention to whatever increases body temperature. One such process is the influence of the thyroid gland. People who suffer from an under-secretion of the thyroid feel cold and are slow.

There is a progression between this process and the first one. The real function of the thyroid hormone, besides taking up oxygen like the first process, is to increase the use of oxygen throughout the body. Every time oxygen is used, it is a form of burning, and its fire results in warmth. So you can see how the warming is an intensification of breathing.

There is however another significant aspect to warming. Substances taken in by breathing need to be absorbed more deeply. This happens when food is taken across the gut wall and into the inner organism, or when substances cross through the membranes into the cells. All of these passings, or ferryings, across walls require warmth, and create warmth. One of these ferrying processes is the ionic pump (such as the sodium potassium pump). Surprisingly 60% of the body's metabolic energy is generated just to keep these pumps going. Sodium and potassium are substances that make electricity flow. They also make our nervous system function, which ulti­mately allows us to think. Thinking is con­nected to the planet Jupiter.

Illnesses of this physiological stage either have to do with burning too fast; using too much oxygen (the problem of free radicals and antioxidants), or too little warmth production as in hypothyroidism.

3/ Nutrition is the third process. It is connected with Mars, and related to destruction. Nutrition has this same quality. Substances brought in with breathing, then warming, now must be broken down within the body. Nutrition has to do with breaking down of proteins, and building up new ones. Actually, the whole world of biochemical changes belongs to this life process.

The path from the first to the third process seems to follow the path of food, but we can also follow the thinking process along the same route.

  • We can receive a thought from another person; taking it in.
  • We can warm it up, becoming enthusiastic.
  • Then we can digest and transform it, until we perceive it as our own.

If a substance cannot be transformed, illnesses of deposit ensue, such as fat cholesterol, xan­thomas, deposits of water (edema), uric acid crystals, (gout), sugar deposits (diabetes) etc. These illnesses are a weakened Mars.

[Middle process: circulation]

4/ Circulation, the fourth process, relates to the beat of the heart and the rhythm of the lungs. The transformed substances must now be transported to the organs that use them. This is done through the cardiovascular system of the body, governed by the Sun and the I. Everything to do with flow is a manifestation of circulation, for example the white protein in the blood called albumen. It even looks like the sun, or like an egg, intense at the core, with a white mantle around it.

Any disturbance, where circulation suddenly gets out of rhythm, belongs to this pathology. If substances accumulate instead of going where they belong, you have illness. Albuminous processes circulating in the wrong place can cause diar­rhea or various forms of allergies (sudden nasal dis­charges).

[Lower three processes: maintenance, growth and reproduction]

One can consider the first three processes as a unit of sorts, with the fourth at the center. The next three processes go together as a unit as well. Maintenance, growth and reproduction are oriented in the opposite direction, more from the inside of the body towards the outside.

5/ Maintenance, the fifth process, relates to tissue and cell connections. It is the sum total of making substance into the body's own cells, each one round like little mercury droplets. This process belongs to Mercury.

Mercury also controls the intercellular messenger activity between each cell. All repair, scarring and healing belong to Mercury.

Too little produces weakness or hypermobility of tendons; too much can cause uterine fibroids or cysts. In congestive heart failure the heart muscle is not maintained enough.

6/ Growth and maturation belong to the same process that forms tissue or actual organs like liver, lung, kidney, etc. It takes influences related to Venus to individualize tissues and transform them into organs. When growth comes to an end, and the body as a whole presents itself to our eyes, we have a truly harmonious 'whole' in front of us. These Venus forces become obvious in the 'beauty' that the human form, in its entirety .. all maturing has as its crowning point the formation of beauty.

7/ Reproduction, the seventh process, is governed by the Moon and the total opposite of the Saturn forces. Reproductive forces result in the formation of an embryo that grows and is ultimately a totality; a new world, excreted to the outside at birth. Saturn forces bring the outer world ‘in’, the Moon forces take the inner world ‘out’.

Pathology in the reproductive realm includes genetic diseases.

These two life processes of maintenance and growth are in a way opposite to the second and third processes of warming and nutrition. The latter had very much to do with taking in substance. Now, under influence of the etheric formative forces of Mercury and Venus, substances are excreted.


Note 1 - Different perspectives on seven processes


Rudolf Steiner describes seven life processes and their mapping to the various etheric formative forces of the planetary spheres Saturn to Moon, but did so with a slightly different nomenclature (descriptive terminology) or taxonomy (classification system). The nuances can be studied between:

  • Schema FMC00.466: planets <-> life processes - based on 1910-GA045 ('Anthroposophy: A Fragment') and 1916-08-12-GA170
  • Schema FMC00.161: planets <-> organs, and life processes - summarizing from 1921-10-29-GA208

.. which give two different views.

A third views comes from 1912-06-11-GA137 with the seven inner movements of Man, linked to the spirits of the planets

  • Movement into upright posture ♄ - Saturn
  • Movement of thinking ♃ - Jupiter
  • Movement of speaking ♂ - Mars
  • Movement of the blood ☉ - Sun
  • Movement of the breath ☿ - Mercury
  • Movement of the glands ♀ - Venus
  • Movement of reproduction ☽ - Moon

At first glimpse this table triggers immediate intuitive recognition in that the blood maps to the human 'I' principle, breath to air and astral, glands to the etheric, and reproduction to the physical (so Man's bodily principles); and, that speaking thinking walking (upright posture) are three capabilities or faculties of the human 'I', see Walking Speaking Thinking.

Remark on the side: This can trigger a lateral thought about the further planets Uranus and Neptunus, that might be related to future human faculties that would be developed in the future [re memory, see Thinking Feeling Willing#Evolutionary]

Note 2 - Harrison

It is interesting to compare the seven life processes to what Harrison calls "the sequence of phenomena caused through the sevenfold involutionary spiritual energy in the natural order" of things. Compare the description below with Schema FMC00.466: nourishing <-> nutrition, generation <-> circulation/secreting, etc.

C.G. Harrison in the Transcendental Universe (1893)

On the question of sacramentalism I can touch but briefly. It is the assertion of the principle that matter is the vehicle of spirit, and its recognition is an intellectual necessity if we are to make any further pro­gress towards comprehension of the natural order.

The Sacraments are seven in number: Baptism, Con­firmation, Eucharist, Matrimony, Penance, Order and Extreme Unction.

They are the evolutionary equiva­lents of the sevenfold involutionary spiritual energy which in the natural order, cause the phenomena of Birth, Strength, Nutrition, Generation, Recuperation, Speech and Transmutation.

Conversely, they stand to Man's lower nature in the relation of Death to Sin, Weakness to the Flesh, Absorption in the Higher, Self-Surrender, Mortification, Obedience and Adapta­tion.

The dynamic effects, therefore (if we may use the expression), of the Christian Sacraments are involutionary as regards the lower and evolutionary in respect to the higher nature of man. If we apply this idea to the symbol of the double vortex, we shall recognize in the sacraments the appointed means whereby the opposing forces will ultimately range themselves around their true centre,—the personality (the fifth or human principle) and the attraction of the Eighth Sphere be neutralized. The spheroidal vortices will then coalesce and become one, first as an elliptical spheroid and afterwards as a true sphere capable of indefinite expansion.

Sacramentalism is the assertion of a principle which has its analogy in nature in every case where a lower type of life is succeeded by a higher one.

As F. D. Maurice points out,

" it assumes Christ to be the Lord, it assumes that men are created in Him,—that this is the constitution of our race ; that therefore all attempts of men to resolve themselves into separate units are contradictory and abortive."

Related pages

References and further reading

  • Karl König: Der Kreis der zwölf Sinne und die sieben Lebensprozesse (1999 in DE)
  • Lotte Sahlmann, Anke Weihs, Baruch Urieli: Higher Senses and the Seven Life Processes (1996)
  • Martha Veronika Van Duin: 'Art of Living: A Study of the 7 Life Processes' (1999)
  • Coenraad Van Houten: 'Principles and Processes in Adult Learning'
    • 'Awakening the Will' (1999) - Chapter 5
    • 'Practising Destiny' (2000)
  • Philipp Gelitz, Almuth Strehlow: 'The Seven Life Processes: Understanding and Supporting Them in Home, Kindergarten and School' (2016, in DE 2018 as 'Die sieben Lebensprozesse: Grundlagen und pädagogische Bedeutung in Elternhaus, Kindergarten und Schule'
  • Martyn Rawson: 'Stages in the learning process in a Waldorf context' (PDF)
  • Robyn M Brow: 'A Practical Guide to Curative Education: The Ladder of the Seven Life Processes' (2016)