From Anthroposophy

The Sphinx and the Centaur are two important symbols regarding Man's past and future.

The symbol of Sphinx represents the past history of human group souls that worked on and were merged and integrated in Man's current physical form. The different etheric influences were blended and moulded into the current physical body of Man through the human 'I'. In other words: the Sphinx represents the stage of the formation of Man's current physical body through the harmonizing workings of the I on the other three influences.

The Sphinx therefore is an outerly symbol of a clairvoyant vision of the four elements in Man's etheric body stemming from Lion, Bull, Eagle and Man: in its current physical form Man has integrated and harmonized the lion, bull and eagle influences. The sphinx represents the being that brings doubt and confronts Man with questions, and still appears clairvoyantly as a Luciferic being under certain circumstances (see below).


spiritual scientific meaning

  • Man's bodily structure was transformed from the Atlantean epoch to current times mostly through the influence of the etheric body which has made the physical body denser, and also transformed the astral body (1911-08-19-GA129)
  • the merger of the four etheric influences of Bull, Lion, Eagle and (their balanced version in current) Man - see also Group souls of humanity
    • positioning of influences after separation of (Sun and) Moon, with everything soft and plastic and the Sun's forces working on the impressionable matter (1909-06-26-GA112)
    • see also the second apocalyptic seal (FMC00.384 on Group souls of humanity)

symbol and referential use

  • The great Sphinx at Gizeh near the pyramid of Gizeh in Egypt is a symbol left by the Atlantean culture as a reference to this evolution and origin of Man (1914-03-07-GA152)
  • the main human characteristics are also applied in other contexts, eg
    • the evangelists and their gospels: Matthew - Man; Mark - lion; Luke - bull; John - eagle (1922-11-29-GA348)
    • the Book of Revelation
  • Riddle of the Sphinx (1905-06-17-GA091, 1906-06-06-GA094)
    • The Riddle of the Sphinx is a riddle about Man that was put before Man in the Egyptian but also upto the Greek cultural age. "Who is the being who in infancy walks on four legs, in middle age on two, in old age on three?" Oedipus answers that this being is Man, who crawls as a baby on all fours, and in old age leans on a stick. In reality, riddle and answer refer to the whole evolution of humanity, past, present and future, as it was known in the ancient Mysteries. It relates to Man's evolution from the Lemurian epoch (quadruped), via the current fifth epoch (two), and the future Sixth epoch (three).
  • 'Oedipus and Sphinx' represents the evolutionary challenge for the fourth cultural age, whereas 'Faust and Mephistopheles' represents the same for the fifth Postatlantean age. (1914-11-20-GA158)
    • The legend of Oedipus describes how Man faces the Sphinx (which he confronts through his breathing, and) that torments him with questions. The Sphinx is the being who brings doubts. Through the breathing, which causes the ether body to expand, the Luciferic forces make their way into the blood and a Luciferic being appears in the soul and takes the shape of the Sphinx.
    • More on the balance between Lucifer and Ahriman, see also Christ Module 14 – the counterforces: Lucifer, Ahriman and Asuras


Schema FMC00.456 provides an overview of the development of the human races, showing interrelationships between various aspects covered in more detail on other topic pages and schemas.

Reading the schema backwards starting from the current Postatlantean epoch: the current human 'races' (or better: racial remnants) with different skin colour and physiology are related to the cosmic influences of different abnormal Spirits of Form that are radiating from five centers on Earth. People migrated to those areas as part of the great migrations at the end of the Atlantean epoch. In that epoch, communities were held together in the oracles corresponding to the planets, based on their spiritual maturity. These correspond to the various groups described on the topic page spirits descending and incarnating from the various communities on the planets. The racial remnants in the current epoch are not to be confused with the Atlantean sub-races of origin as these were quite different.

Starting from the middle of the Lemurian epoch: when the monads descended, spirits of four group souls descended, giving rise to four group soul races. The various group soul influences worked on Man, whereby Bull, Lion and Eagle influences blended into the human form of Man by the middle of the Atlantean epoch (re Sphinx). Alongside this the influence of the developing I worked on and moulded the form of Man, as the Spirits of Form (SoF) took hold of astral, etheric and physical bodies.

Note the purpose of this schema is to illustrate a number of related perspectives; as always the schema is an oversimplification though and it does not show many perspectives that can be found as part of the 'Aspects' sections on related topic pages. With such schemas, one also needs to consider always that both the conditions on Earth and the organism of Man changed completely over this period.


FMC00.215 is an illustration by Rudolf Steiner titled 'group souls - human being', see also Group souls of humanity

Schema FMC00.256 illustrates the three groups of zodiacal influences on Man, from Man as a threefold being. Compare with FMC00.257 and see also Discussion area on that page.


Lecture coverage and references


talks about the Riddle of Sphinx, with the sketch above in Schema FMC00.176

The Riddle of Sphinx is that Man walks on four legs, then on two legs, then on three legs.

  • Man walked all four as a unigender being in the Lemurian epoch.
  • Currently Man walks on two legs.
  • In the future Man will walk on three. Both feet and the right side and arm will disappear. Instead there will be a very developed left arm.

Before Man assumed the upright posture there was a time when he moved on all fours. Such is the origin of the riddle of the Sphinx: ‘Who is the being who in infancy walks on four legs, in middle age on two, in old age on three?’ Oedipus answers that this being is man, who when, a baby crawls on all fours, and in old age leans on a stick. In reality, riddle and answer refer to the whole evolution of humanity, past, present and future, as it was known in the ancient Mysteries.

  • Quadruped in a previous epoch of development,
  • man walks today on two feet;
  • in the future he will ‘fly’ and will indeed make use of three auxiliary organs, namely the two wings developed from the two-petalled lotus which will be the motive organ of his will, and for the rest, the organ arising by a metamorphosis of the left half of the chest, and the left hand. Such will be the organs of movement in the future. The present organs of reproduction will atrophy as well as the right side and the right hand. Man will give birth to his like by the force of the word; his word will mould ethereal bodies like his own.

When half of Man had become physical, sun and moon were in balance; therefore the hip region is designated as the Balance, as at that time the sun was in the sign of the Balance. After this point, the higher members cooperated much more than before. Thus the most manifold forms could appear.

For example, the etheric body, or the astral, or the I could work especially strongly. It could even happen that the physical body might predominate over the other three members. Through this four human types developed.


A number of men appeared who had worked out the physical body especially. Then there were men who had received their stamp from the etheric body, others whose astral nature predominated, and also ego-men, strongly marked ego-men. Each man showed what predominated in him. In the ancient times when these four forms originated, one could meet grotesque shapes, and the clairvoyant discovers what is present in the different types. There are representations, although these are not well known, in which the memory of this has been preserved.

[Bull - physical predominates]

For example, those men in whom the physical nature became especially strong and worked on the upper parts, bore the mark of this in their upper part. Something was formed that was entirely suited to the baser form, and through what was thus active there appeared the shape that we see retained in the apocalyptic picture of the Bull, although not the bull of today, which is a decadent form. What was governed principally by the physical body at a certain time, remained stuck at the stage of the bull. This is represented by the bull and all that belongs to this genus, such as cows, oxen and so on.

[Lion - etheric predominates]

The human group in whom the etheric rather than the physical body was strongly marked, in whom the heart region was especially powerful, is also preserved in the animal kingdom. This stage, beyond which man has progressed, is preserved in the lion. The lion preserves the type that was worked out in the group of men in whom the etheric body was intensely active.

[Eagle - astral predominates]

The human stage in which the astral body overpowered the physical and etheric is preserved for us, although degenerated, in the mobile bird-kingdom, and is portrayed in the Apocalypse in the picture of the Eagle. The predominating astrality is here repelled; it raised itself from the earth as the race of birds.

[Sphinx-Man - the I predominates and harmonizes]

Where the I grew strong, a being evolved that should actually be called a union of the three other natures, for the I harmonizes all three members. In this group the clairvoyant actually has before him what has been preserved in the Sphinx, for the Sphinx has the lion-body, the eagle-wings, something of the bull form — and in the oldest portrayals there was even a reptilian tail, pointing to the ancient reptile form — and then at the front there is the human face, which harmonizes the other parts.

These are the four types. But in the Atlantean time the Man-form predominated, as the human shape gradually constructed itself out of the eagle, lion, and bull natures. These transmuted themselves into the full human form, and this gradually transmuted itself into the shape that was present in the middle of Atlantis.

Something else occurred through all these events. Four different elements, four forms, merged harmoniously in man.

  • One is present in the physical body, in the bull nature; these are the predominating forces that evolved up to the evolutionary period of the Balance.
  • Then we have the lion nature in the etheric body;
  • in the astral body, in the predominating forces of the astral, the eagle or vulture nature;
  • finally, the predominating forces of the ego, the true human nature.

In single beings, one or another of these members had the upper hand. Through this the four types arose.

But one could meet still other combinations.

  • For example, the physical, astral, and ego might be equal, while the etheric predominated; that is a particular type of mankind.
  • Then there were beings in whom the etheric, astral, and ego had the upper hand, while the physical was less developed, so that we have men in whom the higher members prevail over the physical body.
  • Those human beings in whom the physical, astral, and ego predominated, are the physical ancestors of the males of today, while those in whom the etheric, astral, and ego predominated, are the physical ancestors of the females of today.

The other types disappeared more and more; only these two remained, and evolved into the male and female forms.


Man now developed apace on Earth. Though a deterioration and a downward tendency had been inherited from the Old Moon, a new impulse now gave development an upward trend. During this time the spiritual beings who had departed with the Sun evolved there to ever higher states.

Let us imagine that we have a block of iron beside us, and say that we are men of average strength. We shower blows on the iron and try to beat it flat. But we can give it no form. We cannot form it until we have softened the substance by smelting. Something of this kind happened to the Earth when it was freed of its densest substances at the separation of the moon. The Earth-beings could now be formed, and the Sun-beings intervened once more. (It will be remembered that during the old Moon period, they had already acted, as Group-souls from the Sun upon the Moon below.)

Before the separation of the Moon, the substances were too dense. These beings now made their influence felt as forces which by degrees fashioned and completed the human body in its present form. Let us consider this a little more closely.

Suppose that you had been able to take up a position on that old sphere composed of Earth-plus-Moon. You would have seen the spiritual beings whom we have described above. You would have observed on the Earth a hardening process, a growing desolation, and you might have said to yourself: ‘All around me is a waste; everything on Earth seems lifeless; the forces of the Sun have no power to influence what promises to become a huge graveyard filled with corpses.’

Then you would have watched how the body of the Moon detached itself from the Earth. The Earth's substance would have become soft, impressionable, plastic, and you then might have said to yourself: ‘Everything has grown soft and plastic; the forces proceeding from the Sun can now again work upon the Earth.’

Then you might have seen how the Bull-spirits regained their influence upon the human beings who were their counterpart; likewise the Lion- and Eagle-spirits.

And you might have said: ‘The Moon is outside; its harmful influence is modified by its removal and now works only from a distance. The Earth is thus enabled once more to experience the activity of the spiritual beings.’


What is it then that, between the time of Atlantis and our own time, has really changed in human nature?

It is that part of Man in which his essential being is ensheathed. His essential being is enclosed in three bodily sheaths; it is enclosed in the physical body, the ether body and the astral body; our innermost, our I, is hidden within these three sheaths. These three have all become different in the course of evolution from the age of Atlantis up to our own time.

What is the essential drive which makes these sheaths different?

We have to look for this impulse primarily in the ether body. It is the ether body which is the energising influence, which is the really impelling factor. It is the ether body which has made the physical body denser, and which has also transformed the astral body. For these three bodies are not like the rind of a fruit, or the layers of an onion, one outside the other, but their forces mutually interpenetrate, they are in living interplay with one another. The sheath which plays the most important part in this process of transformation, in this historical development of the human being, is the ether body.

Let us make a diagram of the three bodies to illustrate this. I will draw them simply as three layers lying one under the other.

We have to look for the real forces, the effectual forces, especially those of Eros and Demeter here in the ether body; from the etheric they are sent upwards into the astral body, and downwards into the physical body; that is to say, the ether body has an influence both on the astral and upon the physical bodies. During the period I have referred to the ether body makes the physical body definitely denser, more compact; it so transforms the astral body that it no longer develops forces of clairvoyance, but only the intellectual forces of human nature. Because Man has been transformed in this way, because the ether body has brought about a transformation in all three bodies, important and fundamental changes have taken place. They have all three been changed. The Atlantean body, even a post-Atlantean body of the first period, was utterly different from a body of the present day. All the relationships and conditions of life were quite different, everything has changed.


Let us suppose that a man endowed with the ancient clairvoyance wanted — not simply to describe man, who really distorts the several streams which flow into him by harmonising them — but precisely to make manifest these different currents, he would have to say: ‘Something forms the foundation of the human being which cannot be seen physically, the archetypal Phantom which today only appears in physical form because man has harmonised the eagle, bull and lion influences.’ Anyone who wants to study the evolution of man must study man's archetypal Phantom as a super-sensible form. But in order to do this he would have to separate out again what has flowed together in man. He would have to realise that an etheric shadow-form lies behind the whole of human development, and that into this there enters and intermingles a bull-influence, a lion-influence and a bird-influence, in such a way that in the finished man of today they are no longer to be distinguished.

Suppose a culture-epoch — for instance, that of ancient Egypt — were trying to represent human evolution, were trying to put before man the immense riddle of human evolution, then the real man, the archetypal Phantom, which arose as the result of the Saturn, Sun and Moon evolutions, would have to remain invisible; but, as if out of the invisible, a composite figure would have to be formed, put together out of the forms of bull and lion, with wings such as an eagle has, such as birds in general have. If you recall the all-embracing significance of the figure of the Sphinx, which was intended to represent the great riddle of human evolution, then you have in fact what a clairvoyant culture, which was inwardly aware of the truth about humanity, put before this humanity. The features which stand out separately in the Sphinx are in human nature inwardly interwoven. For clairvoyant sight the human form has a very strange appearance. If one allows such a sphinx, made up of a lion-form and a bull-form, together with the wings of a bird, to work upon the clairvoyant vision, and if one completes it by adding the human Phantom which underlies it, if one weaves these elements together, then the human form as we have it today comes into being before us. The clairvoyant consciousness cannot then look upon a sphinx — which to begin with does not resemble a man at all — without saying to himself: ‘Thou art I myself!’

Now it should be noted that in the course of this study we have also thrown light upon the four members of man from another standpoint. A Phantom, a shadow-form, designated in esotericism as Man, came over as the product of the Saturn, Sun and Moon evolutions. In the process of the densification of this Phantom the influences named in esotericism, lion, bull and eagle are at work. And here we have the four esoteric symbols which together make up the human being and which have a profound meaning for human evolution.

We have said that in the course of humanity's evolution on the Earth, forces from without, cosmic forces, were at work, both upon the human being himself, and upon other creatures, especially the bird creation. That in fact came about during the Atlantean time; so that one can say that an influence from cosmic space came down into those parts of the human organisation to which normal human consciousness no longer reaches. This influence was at work in Atlantis, and of course it has also continued in the post-Atlantean time. This was the current coming from what I called yesterday the upper gods, the gods who were in a sense the representations of the sub-earthly, the Chthonic gods. They are Beings who were encountered by the pupils of the Greek Mysteries, who had to wrestle with the great riddle of the Sphinx. They had to behold the unconscious part of the human being in such a way that through self-knowledge they also arrived at the four-foldness of humanity.


contains the remarkable statement:

As regards the power of speech, however, the Egyptians could not even acquire that dim comprehension which they had for the power which enables man to stand upright. Their souls had first to undergo the right schooling, so that in later times they might be able to understand the riddle — how the Christ lives in man's gift of speech. That riddle was to be received with the most sacred reverence by the maturing human soul.

This was provided for in the most wonderful way by the Hierophants, the Initiates of the Egyptian civilization, when they erected the enigmatic Sphinx with its dumb, granite form which only produced sound under the influence of the Cosmos when the human beings of that day were in an exalted state of consciousness.

In the contemplation of the silent Sphinx, from which sound only proceeded at sunrise under certain cosmic conditions and in certain relations, there came to man that deep reverence by which the soul was prepared to understand the language which must be spoken when it would be brought to higher consciousness how the Christ-Impulse gradually enters into the evolution of earthly humanity. That which the Sphinxes themselves could not yet say, although they prepared the way for it, had to be said to mankind.

See topic '[1] - Sounds from stone monuments' in the Discussion area below


see also Blood and nerves

What happens when the breathing process becomes excessively vigorous and forceful? The ether-body expands, becomes too diffuse; and as this takes effect in the physical body, it tends to break up the physical body. An over-exuberant, too widely extended ether-body gives rise to an excessively vigorous breathing process and this provides the Luciferic forces with opportunity to work. The Luciferic forces, then, can make their way into the human being when the ether-body has expanded beyond the normal. One can also say that the Luciferic forces tend to express themselves in an ether-body that has expanded beyond the limits of the human form, that is to say, in an ether-body requiring more space than is provided within the boundaries of the human skin.

Of attempts made to find an appropriate form in which to portray this process, the following may be said.

  • In its normal state, the ether-body moulds and shapes the physical form of Man.
  • But as soon as the ether-body expands, as soon as it tries to create for itself greater space and an arena transcending the boundaries of the human skin, it tends to produce other forms. The human form cannot here be retained; the ether-body strives to grow out of and beyond the human form. In olden days men found the solution for this problem. When an extended ether-body, which is not suited to the nature of Man but to the Luciferic nature, makes itself felt and takes shape before the eye of soul, what kind of form emerges? The Sphinx!

Here we have a clue to the nature of the Sphinx. The Sphinx is really the being who has us by the throat, who strangles us. When the ether-body expands as a result of the force of the breathing, a Luciferic being appears in the soul. In such an ether-body there is then not the human, but the Luciferic form, the form of the Sphinx. The Sphinx is the being who brings doubts, who torments the soul with questions.

And so there is a definite connection between the Sphinx and the breathing process.

But we also know that the breathing process is connected in a very special way with the blood. Therefore the Luciferic forces also operate in the blood, permeating and surging through it. By way of the breathing, the Luciferic forces can make their way into the blood of Man and when excessive energy is promoted in the blood, the Luciferic nature - the Sphinx - becomes very strong.

Because Man is open to the Cosmos in his breathing, he is confronted by the Sphinx. It was paramountly during the Greco-Latin epoch of civilization that, in their breathing, men felt themselves confronting the Sphinx in the Cosmos.

The legend of Oedipus describes how the human being faces the Sphinx, how the Sphinx torments him with questions. The picture of the human being and the Sphinx, or of the human being and the Luciferic powers in the Cosmos, gives expression to a deeply-rooted experience of men as they were during the fourth Postatlantean age, and indicates that when, in however small a degree, a Man breaks through the boundaries of his normal life on the physical plane, he comes into contact with the Sphinx-nature. At this moment Lucifer approaches him and he must cope with Lucifer, with the Sphinx.

[added for context]

The basic tendency of our fifth Postatlantean age is different. The trend of evolution has been such that the ether-body has contracted and is far less prone to diffusion or expansion. The ether-body, instead of being too large, is too small, and this will become more marked as evolution proceeds. If it can be said that in the man of ancient Greece, the ether-body was too large, it can be said that in the man of modern times the ether-body is compressed and contracted, has become too small. The more human beings are led by materialism to disdain the Spiritual, the more will the ether-body contract and wither. But because the organization and functions of the physical body depend upon the ether-body — inasmuch as the ether-body must permeate the physical in the right way — the physical body too will always tend to dry up, to wither, if the contraction of the ether-body is excessive; and if the physical body became too dry, men would have feet of horn instead of the feet of a normal human being. As a matter of fact, man will not actually find himself with feet of horn, but the tendency is there within him, owing to this proclivity of the ether-body to weaken and dry up.

Now into this dried-up ether-body, Ahriman can insinuate himself, just as Lucifer can creep into an extended, diffuse ether-body. Ahriman will assume the form which indicates a lack of power in the ether-body. It unfolds insufficient etheric force for properly developed feet and will produce hornlike feet, goat's feet.


That Faust's pact with Mephistopheles is signed with blood is a proof of the wisdom contained in the legend. Faust must bind himself to Mephistopheles by way of the blood, because Mephistopheles has no direct access to the blood and craves for it. Just as the Greek confronted the Sphinx whose field of operation is the breathing system, so the man of the fifth Postatlantean age confronts Mephistopheles who operates in the nerve-process, who is cold and scornful because he is bloodless, because he lacks the warmth that belongs to the blood. He is the scoffer, the cold, scornful companion of man.

Just as it was the task of Oedipus to get the better of the Sphinx, so it is the task of man in the fifth Postatlantean age to get the better of Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles stands there like a second being, confronting him. The Greek was confronted by the Sphinx as the personification of the forces which entered into him together with excessive vigor of the breathing process. The human being of the modern age is confronted by the fruits of intellect and cold reason, rooted as they are in the nerve-process. Poetic imagination has glimpsed, prophetically, a picture of the human being standing over against the Mephistophelean powers; but the experience will become more and more general, and the phenomenon which, as I have said, will appear in childhood, will be precisely this experience of the Mephistophelean powers.

[section underlined below, see also The double]

Whereas the child in Greece was tormented by a flood of questions, the suffering awaiting the human being of our modern time is rather that of being in the grip of preconceptions and prejudices, of having as an incubus at his side a second “body” consisting of all these preconceived judgments and opinions.

What is it that is leading to this state of things?

Let us be quite candid about the trend of evolution. During the course of the Fifth Postatlantean age, so many problems have lost all inner, vital warmth. The countless questions which confront us when we study Spiritual Science with any depth, simply do not exist for the modern man with his materialistic outlook. The riddle of the Sphinx means nothing to him, whereas the man of ancient Greece was vitally aware of it. A different form of experience will come to the man of modern times. In his own opinion he knows everything so well; he observes the material world, uses his intellect to establish the interconnections between its phenomena and believes that all its riddles are solved in this way, never realizing that he is simply groping in a phantasmagoria. But this way of working coarsens and dries up his ether-body, with the ultimate result that the Mephistophelean powers, like a second nature, will attach themselves to him now and in times to come.

The Mephistophelean nature is strengthened by all the prejudices and limitations of materialism, and a future can already be perceived when everyone will be born with a second being by his side, a being who whispers to him of the foolishness of those who speak of the reality of the spiritual world. Man will, of course, disavow the riddle of Mephistopheles, just as he disavows that of the Sphinx; nevertheless he will chain a second being to his heels. Accompanied by this second being, he will feel the urge to think materialistic thoughts, to think, not through his own being, but through the second being who is his companion.

In an ether-body that has been parched by materialism, Mephistopheles will be able to dwell. Understanding what this implies, we shall realize that it is our duty to educate children in the future — be it by way of Eurythmy or the development of a spiritual-scientific outlook — in such a way that they will be competent to understand the spiritual world. The ether-body must be quickened in order that the human being may be able to take his rightful stand, fully cognizant of the nature of the being who stands at his side. If he does not understand the nature of this second being, he will be spellbound by him, fettered to him. Just as the Greek was obliged to get the better of the Sphinx, so will modern man have to outdo Mephistopheles — with his faunlike, satyrlike form, and his goat's or horse's feet.

Every age, after all, has known how to express its essential characteristic in legend and saga. The Oedipus legends in Greece and the Mephistopheles legends in the modern age are examples, but their basic meanings must be understood.

You see, truths that are otherwise presented merely in the form of poetry — for instance, the relations between Faust and Mephistopheles — can become guiding principles for education as it should be in the future. The prelude to these happenings is that a people or a poet have premonitions of the existence of the being who accompanies man; but finally, every single human being will have this companion who must not remain unintelligible to him and who will operate most powerfully of all during childhood. If adults whose task it is to educate children today do not know how to deal rightly with what comes to expression in the child, human nature itself will be impaired owing to a lack of understanding of the wiles of Mephistopheles.

It is very remarkable that indications of these trends are everywhere to be found in legends and fairy-tales. In their very composition, legends and fairy-tales which seem so unintelligible to modern scholars, point either to the Mephistophelean, the Ahrimanic, or to the Sphinx, the Luciferic. The secret of all legends and fairy-tales is that their content was originally actual experience, arising either from man's relation to the Sphinx or from his relation to Mephistopheles.

In legends and fairy-tales we find, sometimes more and sometimes less deeply hidden, either the motif of the riddle, the motif of the Sphinx, where something has to be solved, some question answered; or else the motif of bewitchment, of being under a spell. This is the Ahriman motif. When Ahriman is beside us, we are perpetually in danger of falling victim to him, of giving ourselves over to him to such an extent that we cannot get free. In face of the Sphinx, the human being is aware of something that penetrates into him and as it were tears him to pieces. In face of the Mephistophelean influence he feels that he must yield to it, bind himself to it, succumb to it.

The Greeks had nothing like theology in our modern sense, but were very much closer to the wisdom of Nature and the manifestations of Nature. They approached the wisdom of Nature without theology, and questions and riddles pressed in upon them.

Now the breathing process is much more intimately connected with Nature than is the nerve-process. That is why the Greek had such a living feeling of being led on to wisdom by the Sphinx. It is quite different in the modern age when theology has come upon the scene. Man no longer believes that direct intercourse with Nature brings him near to the Divine Wisdom of the world, but he sets out to study, to approach it via the nerve-process, not via the breathing and the blood. The search for wisdom has become a nerve-process; modern theology is a nerve-process. But this means that wisdom is shackled to the nerve-process; man draws near to Mephistopheles, and owing to this imprisonment of wisdom in the nerve-process, the premonition arose at the dawn of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch that Mephistopheles is shackled to the human being, stands at his side.

If the Faust legend is stripped of all the extraneous elements that have been woven around it, there remains the picture of a young theologian striving for wisdom; doubts torment him and because he signs a pledge with the Devil — with Mephistopheles — he is drawn into the Devil's field of operations. But just as it was the task of the Greek, through the development of conscious Egohood, to conquer the Sphinx, so we, in our age, must get the better of Mephistopheles by enriching the Ego with the wisdom that can be born only from knowledge and investigation of the spiritual world, from Spiritual Science.

Oedipus was the mightiest conqueror of the Sphinx; but every Greek who wrestled for manhood was also, at a lower level, victorious over the Sphinx. Oedipus is merely a personification, in a very typical form, of what every Greek was destined to experience. Oedipus must prove himself master of the forces contained in the processes of the breathing and the blood. He personifies the nerve-process with its impoverished ether-forces, in contrast to those human beings who are altogether under the sway of the breathing and blood processes. Oedipus takes into his own nature those forces which are connected with the nerve-process, that is to say, the Mephistophelean forces; but he takes them into himself in the right and healthy way, so that they do not become a second being by his side, but are actually within him, enabling him to confront and master the Sphinx.

This indicates to us that in their rightfully allotted place, Lucifer and Ahriman work beneficially; in their wrongful place — there they are injurious. The task incumbent upon the Greek was to get the better of the Sphinx-nature, to cast it out of himself. When he was able to thrust it into the abyss, when, in other words, he was able to bring the extended ether-body down into the physical body, then he had overcome the Sphinx. The abyss is not outside us; the abyss is man's own physical body, into which the Sphinx must be drawn in the legitimate and healthy way. But the opposite pole — the nerve-process — which works, not from without but from within the I, must here be strengthened. Thus is the Ahrimanic power taken into the human being and put in its right place.

Oedipus is the son of Laios. Laios had been warned against having a child because it was said that this would bring misfortune to his whole race. He therefore cast out the boy who was born to him. He pierced his feet, and the child was therefore called “Oedipus,” i.e., “club foot.” That is the reason why, in the drama, Oedipus has deformed feet.

I have said already that when etheric forces are impoverished, the feet cannot develop normally, but will wither. In the case of Oedipus this condition was induced artificially. The legend tells us that he was found and reared by shepherds after an attempt had been made to get rid of him. He goes through life with clubbed feet. Oedipus is Mephistopheles — but in this case Mephistopheles is working in his rightful place, in connection with the task devolving upon the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch.

The harmony between ether-body and physical body so wonderfully expressed in the creations of Greek Art, everything that constituted the typical greatness of the Greek — of all this, Oedipus is deprived in order that he may become a personality in the real sense. The Ego that has now passed into the head becomes strong, and the feet wither.

The man of the fifth Postatlantean age has quite a different task. In order to confront and conquer the Sphinx, Oedipus was obliged to receive Ahriman into himself. The man of the fifth Postatlantean age, who confronts Ahriman-Mephistopheles, must take Lucifer into himself. The process is the reverse of that enacted by Oedipus. Everything that the Ego accumulates in the head must be pressed down into the rest of man's nature. The I, living in the nerve-process, has accumulated “Philosophy, Law, Medicine, and, alas, Theology too” — all nerve-processes. And now there is the urge to get rid of it all from the head — just as Oedipus deprived the feet of their normal forces — and to penetrate through the veils of material existence.

And now think of Faust standing there with all that the I has accumulated; think of how he wants to throw it all out of his head, just as Oedipus deprives his feet of their normal forces. Faust says: “I have studied, alas! Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Medicine too, and saddest of all, Theology” ... he wants to rid his head of it all. And moreover he does so, by surrendering himself to a life that is not bound up with the head. Faust is Oedipus reversed, i.e., the human being who takes the Lucifer-nature into himself.

And now think of all that Faust does, so that having Lucifer within him, he may battle with Ahriman, with Mephistopheles who stands beside him. All this shows us that Faust, in reality, is Oedipus reversed. The Ahriman-nature in Oedipus has to get the better of Lucifer; the Lucifer-nature in Faust has to help him to overcome Ahriman-Mephistopheles. Ahriman-Mephistopheles operates more in the external world, Lucifer more in the inner life. All the misfortunes that befall Oedipus because he must take the Ahriman-nature into himself, are connected with the external world. Doom falls upon his race, not merely upon himself. Even the doom that falls upon him is of an external character; he pierces his eyes and blinds himself; similarly, the pestilence which sweeps his native city — this, too, is an external doom. Faust's experiences, however, are of the soul — they are inner tragedies. Again in this respect, Faust reveals himself as the antithesis of Oedipus.

In these two figures, both of them dual — Oedipus and Sphinx, Faust and Mephistopheles — we have typical pictures of the evolution of the fourth and fifth Postatlantean ages.


A question was asked about the design that appeared on the cover of the Austrian journal, Anthroposophy, showing the heads of an eagle, a lion, a bull and a man.

Dr. Steiner. Gentlemen, I think we should first bring to a conclusion our explanation of the human being, and then next time consider the aspects of man that these four symbols — the eagle, lion, bull and man — represent. Before we can say anything about them we must build a foundation, and this is something I shall try to do before the end of today's lecture. These four creatures, including man, spring from an ancient knowledge of the human being. They cannot be explained as the ancient Egyptians, for instance, would have done, but today they must be explained differently. One can interpret them correctly, of course, but nowadays one must begin from slightly different suppositions.


When we observe the heart or lungs, we find that they look completely different from the ear or eye. When we look at the lungs, we cannot turn to the stars, nor can we do so in the case of the heart. The force of the stars works strongly in the heart, but we cannot deduce the heart's configuration solely from the stars. The ancient Egyptians knew this; they knew that these organs could not be as closely linked to the stars as those of the head. They pondered these aspects and asked themselves which animal's constitution emphasized the organs similar to the human heart and lungs. The eagle particularly develops those organs that man has in his head.

The ancients thought that the animal that primarily develops the heart, that is all heart and therefore the most courageous, is the lion. So they named the section of man that contains the heart and lungs “lion.” For the head, they said “eagle,” and for the midsection, “lion.”

They realized that man's intestines were again organs of a different kind. You see, the lion has quite short intestines; their development is curtailed. The minute “intestine” in the human ear is formed most delicately, but man's abdominal intestines are by no means shaped so finely. In observing the intestines, you can compare their formation only with the nature of those animals that are mainly under their influence. The lion is under the influence of the heart, and the eagle is under the sway of the upper forces. When you observe cows after they have been grazing, you can sense how they and their kind are completely governed by their intestines. When they are digesting, they experience great well-being, so the ancients called the section of man that constitutes the digestive system, “bull.” That gives us the three members of human nature: Eagle — head; lion — breast; bull — abdomen.

Of course, the ancients knew when they studied the head that it was not an actual eagle, nor the midsection a lion, nor the lower part a bull. They knew that, and they said that if there were no other influence, we would all go about with something like an eagle for our head above, a lion in our chest region and a bull down below; we would all walk around like that. But something else comes into play that transforms what is above and moulds it into a human head, and likewise with the other parts. This agent is Man himself; man combines these three aspects.

It is most remarkable how these ancient people expressed, in such symbols, certain truths that we acknowledge again today. Of course, they could form these images easier than we because, though we modern people may learn many things, the thoughts we normally acquire in school do not touch our hearts too deeply. It was quite different in the case of these ancient people. They were seized by the feeling emanating from thoughts and therefore dreamed of them. These people dreamed true dreams. The whole human being appeared as an image to them, and from his forehead they saw an eagle looking out, from the heart, a lion, and from the abdomen, a bull. They combined this into the beautiful image of the whole human being. One can truly say that long-ago people composed their concept of the human being from the elements of man, bull, eagle and lion.

This outlook continued in the description of the Gospels. One frequently proceeded from this point of view.

  • One said that in the Gospel of Matthew the humanity of Jesus is truly described; hence, its author was called “Man.”
  • Then take the case of John, who depicts Jesus as if He hovered or flew over the earth. John actually describes what happens in the region of the head; he is the “eagle.”
  • When one examines the Gospel of Mark, one will find that he presents Jesus as a fighter, the valiant one; hence, the “lion.”
  • Mark writes like one who represents primarily those organs of man situated in the chest.
  • How does Luke write? Luke is presented as a physician, as a man whose main goal is therapeutic, and the healing element can be recognized in his Gospel. Healing is accomplished by bringing remedial forces into the digestive organs. Consequently, Luke describes Jesus as the one who brings a healing element into the lower nature of man. Luke, then, is the “bull.”

So one can picture the four Gospels like this: Matthew — man; Mark — lion; Luke — bull; John — eagle.

As for the journal whose cover depicts the four figures that you asked about, its purpose is to present something of value that can be communicated from one human spirit to another. So the true human being should be depicted in it. In rendering this drawing, the eagle is represented above, then the lion and bull, with man encompassing them all. This was done to show that the journal represents a serious concern with man. This is its aim. Not much of the human element is present in the bulk of what newspapers print these days. Here attention was to be drawn to the fact that this newspaper or journal could afford man the opportunity to express himself fully. What he says must not be stupid: the eagle. He must not be a coward: the lion. Nor should he lose himself in fanciful flights of thought but rather stand firmly on earth and be practical: the bull. The final result should be “man,” and it should speak to man. This is what one would like to see happen, that everything passed on from man to man be conducted on a human level.


[1] - Sounds from stone monuments

The above quote from 1914-03-07-GA152 may also provide an explanation for the allmost mythical stories of the Colossi of Memnon

West of Luxor in Egypt, we find two 18m high massive stones statues called the Colossi of Memnon, attributed to the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. They are dated approx 1350 BC.

Something similar has been stated about the Colossi of Memnon, Thebes (quote from bariumblues.com website)

These statues were a major tourist attraction in the ancient world. Each morning, visitors were rewarded by the sound of tones emitted from the statues with the rising of the sun. Conventional historians like to attribute this well documented phenomenon to a freak of nature due to damage to the statues caused by an earthquake in the 1st century BC. However, as early as the 5th century BC, Assyrian soldiers partially dismantled the statues in order to find the hidden mechanism within which they suspected was creating the tones. They found nothing. There was no mechanism to find. The tones were created by the subtle knowledge of the Egyptian priests in fashioning forms which resonated with the etheric formative forces streaming out of the earth each morning.

History has manywritten reference to the singing statues comes from the Greek historian and geographer Strabo, who claimed to have heard the sound during a visit in 20 BCE. Strabo said it sounded "like a blow". The second century Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias compared it to "the string of a lyre" breaking. Others described it as the striking of brass or whistling. Other ancient sources include Pliny (not from personal experience, but he collected other reports), Pausanias, Tacitus, Philostratus and Juvenal.

Stories vary, some state that the musical sound only appeared after an earthquake shattered the northern colossus in 27 BC, collapsing it from the waist up and cracking the lower half. Around 199 CE, Roman Emperor Septimius Severus repaired the statue and the singing was not heard again.

It appears (source: wikipedia) that similar sounds, although much rarer, have been heard from some of the other Egyptian monuments (Karnak is the usual location for more modern reports).

Related pages

References and further reading

  • Ludwig Laistner: 'Das Ratsel Der Sphinx'
  • Maria Strakosch-Giesler: 'Die erlöste Sphinx - Über die Darstellung der menschlichen Gestalt in Bild- und Glanztfarben' (1955)

Various (non qualified)

  • Heinz Demisch: 'Die Sphinx, Sphinxmotiv in darstellende Kunst Anfänge bis Gegenwart' (1977)