Spectrum of elements and ethers

From Anthroposophy

The 'lower' elements and 'higher' ethers are the result of the previous evolutionary stages and arose through sacrifice of high spiritual beings that gave the substance for other lower spiritual beings to grow and develop. Our physical reality is made up from, or woven from these elements and ethers, though each of them represents a class of spiritual beings in itself.

In each planetary stage, an element-ether pair was created: two kinds of warmth on Old Saturn, air-light on Old Sun, water-chemical ether on Old Moon, and earth-life ether on Earth. See the Four elements

Each of these elements and ethers has its own set of laws, see the section about the formative forces for an example of how different these are from what is described as physical laws.

The four elements were known by all ancient religions and teachings from India, Egypt upto the Greek culture, can still be found in esoteric teachings in the middle ages, as well up to today in Alchemy or hermetics.

Elements and ethers are concepts mapping to the influences of spiritual beings such as Elementals of nature and the elementary kingdoms, they can be regarded as a sort of macroscopic label or shorthand to denote their distinct influences, in order to have a 'language' to describe what is underlying the the kingdoms of nature.


Schema FMC00.084 gives an overview of the four elements and four ethers (there are two sorts of warmth hence the overlap).


Schema FMC00.172 elaborates on the simpler FMC00.172A (see: Force substance representation). It shows how on physical Earth, coarse substance is 'Matter', and fine substance becomes 'Force', in the language of physics in mineral science. However between coarse substance (atoms) is the fine substance (ethers, force), and both form a balance that sustains itself, a bit like an extension of the phase diagram in chemistry.


FMC00.078 is added to read the left column of FMC00.084 (above) above with the symmetry in FMC00.006 (below), more info on the relationships represented by the colours in Planes or Worlds of Consciousness

FMC00.194 shows how during the preceding planetary stages (and recapitulations on Earth), the elements and ethers were created, in a way that the spiritual hierarchies all remain present in the totality of the whole spectrum of elements and ethers.


Schema FMC00.225 is a summary of the GA132 lectures that sketch - in imaginative pictures - the spiritual principles underlying the appearance of the elements and ethers. These principles (sacrifice, bestowal, renunciation .. ) and imaginations provide deeper meaning and understanding of the 'philosophical principles' of the elements and ethers, i.e. the working of the spiritual hierarchies.

FMC00.006 sketches the origin from previous evolutionary stages to show how a substance can appear in multiple 'form appearances', see also Potentization

Lecture coverage and references


Rudolf Steiner covered the warmth and light ethers in the first two scientific courses:

  • 1919-12-GA320 light course (10 lectures) as well as 1903-08-GA091 (7 lectures on Light and colour)
  • 1920-03-GA321 warmth course (14 lectures, but see also e.g. P.E. Schiller under references below)

Besides those two courses, an overall grasp can only be developed from the multitude of scattered lectures, as well as aspects covered in the third scientific course


Jakob Boehme (1575-1624) had the concept of a 'dark ternary' and a 'light ternary' divided by a fourth property of fire or lightning (3 + 1 + 3 = 7).

William Law (1686-1761) wrote 'The way to divine knowledge' (1752) to assist contemporary readers to a better understanding of Boehme's works. In the third dialogue the concept of the seven properties of nature is explained as (source: wikipedia)

.. the dark ternary of attraction, resistance and whirling became the ground of the “threefold materiality of earth, water and air (“an anguishing materiality”) out of which came the fourth property of nature as a “globe of fire and light” as the “true outbirth of the eternal fire”. Since this eternal fire is not a “moveable thing” and stands forever “in the midst of the seven properties” so the sun as the “true outburst of the eternal fire” is not a moveable thing and is therefore the centre and heart of the whole system, forever separating the first three properties from the three that follow, and thus changing the “three first forms of material wrath into the three last properties of the Kingdom of Heaven” .. the sun is the place that gives forth fire and light “till all material nature is dissolved”

In the lectures of 1921-06-24-GA205 and 1921-06-26-GA205 .. Steiner describes four types of Earthly and Cosmic Laws, and takes the perspective as if an ancient Greek would converse with a contemporary scientist. The Greek would point out that all our current knowledge is just one type of knowledge or lawfullness, denoted with the element 'earth'.. Similarly, the second lawfullness, denoted with the element 'water', describes the etheric and its formative forces, not only in the plant kingdom but also in the inner movements or streams in the human being (forming the organs).

1921-04-12-GA313 (SWCC), see also The two etheric streams

.. the human being is thoroughly organized and inwardly organized with respect to water, to air, and to warmth. He is also differentiated with regard to the ethers, but this differentiation is a fluctuating one. It is a continual occurrence, a continual interplay between

  • light and warmth ethers on the one hand, pressing centripetally from above downward, and
  • life and chemical ethers on the other hand, pressing centrifugally from below upward.

By this means the etheric configuration of the human being is formed. It is actually a transformation of the vortex formed by the mutual impact of these two kinds of ether. The shape that you encounter must be understood then, as a cooperation between these two kinds of ether.

Creation of elements and ethers in planetary stages of evolution

Colours of the etheric

In 'Rudolf Steiner - Recollections by some of his pupils', F.W. Zeylmans talks about his first meeting with Rudolf Steiner and how he presented his findings regarding colours and sat there spellbound as he couldn't believe that anyone could give the answers to questions he could not even formulate properly.

The spectrum with the seven colours is only one part of the whole spectrum, the part that is visible in the solar system. To understand the whole spectrum one must draw a circle, and then there ar ethe sveen colours of the solar spectrum and on the other side the five peach-blossom colours. You ought really to have taken your start from these twelve. One sees these seven colours because there the astral body swims, as it were, in the colours. But the peach-blossom colour is so subtle and ethereal that it hardly appears at all in external nature; there the 'I' is living in the etheric; peach-blossom is actually the colour of the etheric.


Note there is a difference between the ethers, and the (etheric) formative forces. This was the subject of a long standing 'dispute' between Gunther Wachsmuth and Ernst Marti, supported by ao Iwer Thor Lorenzen. Reference to Lorenzen's book on the subject.

The reference by Law (and Boehme) describes the spectrum with warmth in the middle as the source of the other elements and ethers.

Related pages

References and further reading

  • Ernst Marti: The ethers
  • Gunther Wachsmuth
  • Iwer Thor Lorenzen
  • Paul Eugen Schiller: Vom Wesen der Wärme (1961) - scanned PDF file available here:
    Paul Eugen Schiller - Vom Wesen der Wärme.pdf