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.


  • the cosmic ether consists of two parts: a) warmth, light , chemical, and life ethers b) a moral being of the cosmic ether present near the stars and planets. Man thus lives within the cosmic ether as moral essence (1922-11-12-GA266/3)
  • the spectrum of elements and ethers is differentiated between the Earth and the Sun (1910-08-23-GA122)
    • On Earth we have the elements up as far as warmth which permeates the Earth. In the Earth we have to look for the solid, fluid and gaseous elements; warmth is shared by both Earth and sun.
      • Light streams upon the Earth from the sun. The earth only shares in light in so far as the beings in its environment (or the bodies in its environment) take part in the life of the Earth.
      • If we wish to locate the higher elementary states (light ether, chemical ether, and lifeether) we must place them in the sphere of the sun.
  • for the principle of differentiation; see Old Saturn for the example explanation of differentiation of inner warmth and outer warmth by the Archai
  • for an explanation on warmth, see Schiller (downloadeable in Further reading section below)
  • the life ether was called Honover in Persian times, in the Gospel of John it's called the Logos (as the 'meaning-filled tone belonging to the Being of the Sun') (1910-09-12-GA123)
  • evolutionary, the separation of the Sun with the Earth also implied a separation of the influences of the higher ethers that working on Man from the Earth before, and now from outside after. This changed again after the Mystery of Golgotha, and relates to the Christ Impulse on Earth, see Christ Module 11 - A new physics


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.

FMC00.006A sketches the formation of the four elements in the physical domain and the current Condition of Form as a result of the third recapitulation, with its origin in previous evolutionary stages. The schema FMC00.006 embedded in the lower right shows how a substance can appear in multiple 'form appearances', see also Potentization


Schema FMC00.306 is a meta schema sketches that brings together a number of perspectives in a mind map, for contemplation and in support of didactic discussions.

On the left: FMC00.149 shows a simple table for the solar system evolution in the context of the cosmic fractal, an ever evolving simultaneous evolution of the different spiritual hierarchies along the main three dimensions of evolution. Below FMC00.147 shows the key relations between the hierarchies and Man and the other kingdoms, and the elements and ethers. Above FMC00.194 shows the principle of how the principle of sacrifice of a higher hierarchy (see also FMC00.077 not shown here) gives rise to an enrichment of the solar system cosmos as new substance and forces arise: the hierarchies remain at work in these, so they are embedded all the way as further developments unfold. Middle right FMC00.084 shows an overview of the spectrum of elements and ethers used as shorthand labels for this underlying spiritual reality, as a language for contemporary spiritual science (just as the language of alchemy was used in the middle ages). Right FMC00.172 depicts how to understand the spectrum in the context of the force substance representation, and this can be contemplated along FMC00.194 to retain the link to spiritual hierarchies. Below FMC00.005 looks at how these ethers and elements are at work in Man, but with a relation to the etheric spheres (FMC00.003 not shown here).


Schema FMC00.306 is a simple diagram by Ernst Marti (see 'Further reading' section below) to illustrate the point that, just as the physical is made up of a spiritual form filled with substance (compare for example the Cleansed phantom and Model for hereditary physical body with Human physical body), also the etheric is not just the formative force but also includes a process component as is obvious from the process of potentization used in homeopathy. This explanation is relevant in developing an understanding of the etheric formative forces in Man (eg Human etheric body and The double) and the kingdoms of nature.

To put this in context, compare with ao


Lecture coverage and references

Coverage overview

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

Source extracts

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”


explains (p98-101) Johann Baptist van Helmont and his coining of the term 'gas' in his 'Ortus Medicinae'

"Hunc spiritum, incognitum hactenus, novo nomine gas voco" which means "Such spirit, which was not known until now, I will call gas"

That is the first time that this word appeared in this type of study or treatise.

This sentence teaches us quite a lot ... he had the feeling that we must address this transpararent substance as spirit ..

[continuation, also linking it to the term chaos, achaos, akasha]


We have seen that the characteristic features of the Old Moon evolution were only able to come about through the separation of the Sun from the Moon. Then we have seen that during the Earth evolution it again became necessary for the sun to separate off from the Earth; we have seen that a duality is necessary for a life of full consciousness. The Earth element had to withdraw. But in such a withdrawal something else is also involved; the elementary conditions of the moon nature and of the sun nature change, become different. If you make a study of our present sun, even from a purely physical aspect you are obliged to say to yourselves: “The conditions which we have on Earth and which we call solid and liquid are not to be found in the physical sun.” The most you can say is that the sun still condenses to the gaseous state. This is recognised by modern physics. Such a separation of elementary conditions comes about through the severing of what was previously a unity.

We have seen that the Earth develops in such a way that a gradual densification downward takes place from warmth to solid, to earth, and that what is above as elementary existence light-ether, sound-ether, life-ether — seems to press inwards from without. But this description does not fit the part which goes out as the sun. It would be better therefore to say that there are seven states of elementary existence.

The first, the most rarefied state, which constitutes and brings about life; then what we call number, or sound-ether; then light-ether; then warmth-ether; then we have air, or the gaseous element, the watery element and finally the earthy or solid.

  • It is in the earth that we have to look mainly for the elements up as far as warmth. Warmth permeates the earth, whereas the earth only shares in light in so far as the beings in its environment — or if you like the bodies in its environment — take part in the life of the earth. Light streams upon the Earth from the sun.
  • If we wish to locate the three higher elementary states — light-ether, the ether of spiritual sound, and life-ether — we must place them in the sphere of the sun.

In the Earth we have to look for the solid, fluid and gaseous elements; warmth is shared by both Earth and sun.

1921-06-24-GA205 and 1921-06-26-GA205

In these lectures .. Rudolf 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).


(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.


The cosmic ether out of which our etheric body is taken, has two parts:

  • The one part of this cosmic ether is made up of warmth ether, light ether, chemical ether, and life ether.
  • Underlying all of this, as the second part, is a moral being of the cosmic ether. This moral being is, however, present only near the stars and planets.

Thus, when you live on Earth, although you do not know it during the day, you are also within the cosmic ether as moral essence (thus in both parts). However, the moral is driven out from between the stars by the sunlight. The sunlight itself has within itself nothing less than the original source of the moral ether for us. Yet, whoile the Sun shines it drives, through its light, the moral essence out of the ether.


[Ahrimanic influence]

When we go out of the physical and etheric bodies we leave begind the religious and the moral. And because the moral cosmic order is gone from the ether, the ahrimanic being has access to this ether. This liar-spirit speaks to human beings during their sleep and represents good as evil and evil as good.

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

  • Rama Prasad: ‘Nature’s finer forces’ (1889).
  • Gunther Wachsmuth (1893-1963)
    • The Etheric Formative Forces in Cosmos, Earth and Man: A Path of Investigation into the World of the Living - Volume 1 (1923 in DE, 1932 in EN)
    • The Ethereal World in Science, Art and Religion. From the Way of Man to Control the Image Forces - Volume 2 (1927 in DE, EN translation available by FMC project but not published yet)
  • Hermann von Baravalle (1898-1973)
    • Wärme und Kälte , Magnetismus und Elektrizität (1940)
  • Paul Eugen Schiller
  • Iwer Thor Lorenzen (1895-1976)
    • Elemente, Aether und Aetherleiber - im Lichte der von Rudolf Steiner begründeten Geisteswissenschaft (typoscript 1976, original published in DE in 2016, EN translation available by FMC project but not published yet)
  • Ernst Marti (1903-1985)
    • The four ethers: Contributions to Rudolf Steiner's science of the ethers, elements-ethers-formative forces (1974 in DE, 1984 in EN, also in NL)
    • The Etheric: Broadening Science through Anthroposophy - Volume 1: The World of the Ethers (1989 in DE, 2017 in EN)
    • The Etheric: Broadening Science through Anthroposophy – Volume 2: The World of Formative Forces (2020 in EN)

Introductory reading list

  • Below is a selection of introduction books: two each by Gunther Wachsmuth, Ernst Marti and Nick Thomas, and one by Iwer Thor Lorenzen. Lorenzen book has been translated in English by the FMC project, and the second book Wachsmuth partly - both awaiting publication.
  • Then there are also the following works by George Adams, Olive Whicher, and Lawrence Edwards
Books etheric 3.jpg
  • Whereas some books get more technical, the one single book who is most readable and gives a complete introduction is the one by Adams and Whicher 'The plant between sun and earth'.