Study process and developing imaginations

From Anthroposophy

Imaginations are pictures in the mind that contain a multidimensional insight or realization about something, in a way that surpasses the limits of our intellectual thinking and rational understanding. A form of higher knowing or seeing.

Our thinking logic usually approaches any subject from a single dimension and then proceeds sequentially in a process of logic. Reality is much more complex. Therefore in spiritual science any subject is studied from various aspects and perspectives, in a way that does not seek for a simple definition but openly accepts all the perspectives offered as information about the true nature of that subject.

It is a faculty of our mind and consciousness, that we can have realizations at a higher level than our rational thinking. This relates to the clairvoyance at the astral level also called 'imagination', but this however has nothing to do with phantasy. Rather the term is used to describe the language of images, pictures with higher or deeper content than an intellectual thought.

The work of studying spiritual science 'as a soul process' is to do this inner work, fed by not only reading and studying, but also contemplation, meditation, pondering .. living with questions. As a result, one slowly develops the faculty that images flash up whereby one 'sees' in ones mind and thereby 'knows', without actually having thought or received an explanation in our normal language. It is up to the person than to assimilate and integrate the 'vision' and translate in words or picture to try and communicate this insight. Note the use of metaphors, analogies, and images in general can be helpful in doing so, because in those cases too one conveys about higher qualities beyond the specifics of the image used.


Inspirational quote

1 Corinthians 13:12

12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.


12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.


Lecture coverage and references

Plato's seventh letter (341-344)

speaks beautifully about insights:

It is only when all these things, names and definitions, visual and other sensations are rubbed together and subjected to tests in which questions and answers are exchanged in good faith and without malice that finally, when human capacity is stretched to its limit, a spark of understanding and intelligence flashes out and illuminates the subject at issue.

and describes how such fruits of insight can only be the result of a dedicated way of life

.. not something that can be put into words like other branches of learning; only after long partnership in a common life devoted to this very thing does truth flash upon the soul, like a flame kindled by a leaping spark, and once it is born there it nourishes itself hereafter.


The following quote from 1911-10-31-GA132 is specifically about the importance of building imaginations.

This sending forth of the Archai gives a grand and powerful picture. And this picture placed before our souls is extremely impressive for certain imaginations, which can then lead us further and further into the realm of occult knowledge.

This is precisely what we have to attain; we must be able to transform the ideas we receive into imaginations, into pictures.

Even if the pictures are clumsily formed, even if they are anthropomorphic, even if the beings appear as winged angels, etc., that does not signify. The rest will be given to us later; and what they ought not to have will fall away. When we yield ourselves to these pictures we penetrate into imaginative perception.

If you take what I have just endeavoured to describe you will see that the soul will soon have recourse to all kinds of pictures unconnected with intellectual ideas.

These latter owe their existence to a much later period, so that we should not at first take such things intellectually. And you must comprehend what is meant when some minds describe things differently from the intellectualists; the intellectualist will never be able to understand such minds.

You see, precisely the most important thing for us is that we lift ourselves to what the ordinary intellect is unable to grasp.

Even though the ordinary intellect produces something as excellent as The History of Philosophy by Schwegler (for I have expressly called this a good book), it is still an example by which we must see how a splendid intellect is completely at a standstill before a spirit such as Jacob Boehme.


describes something that may be experienced quite naturally - more info in the GA138 cycle as a whole.

In this loneliness one has to wait, patiently wait. Much depends on whether one is able to wait, whether one has acquired sufficient moral force to wait. Then comes something of which it may be said, “Yes, you are absolutely alone in infinity, but in you there arises something like pure memories that yet are no memories.” I say, “Like memories that are no memories” because all our memories in ordinary life are such that we can recall anything with which we once came into contact, anything we once experienced. But imagine that you stand there with all that is innermost in your soul, while images keep rising up within you that need to be related to something. But you have never previously experienced them! You know that these images are related to beings, but you have never met these beings. This surging up within you of an unknown world, which you realise you bear within you as pure image — this is the next experience on the path of initiation.


It is difficult to describe these things in words because our language has been coined for the external, physical plane, so we have to exert ourselves when applying it to supersensible conditions. You could say that everything to which we ordinarily apply our understanding lives coarsely, densely in our soul because our brain is always at our disposal and is trained to deal with ideas and concepts relating to the physical plane. But to explain things which do not relate to the physical plane we have to exert our soul to such an extent that, when we study spiritual science, our brain plays an ever-decreasing part.

When we experience difficulties in understanding what spiritual science gives us, this is only because our brain impedes our understanding. Our brain is adjusted and adapted to the coarse concepts of the physical plane and we have to exert ourselves to acquire the subtler concepts — subtler only in so far as human comprehension is concerned —of the spiritual world. This exertion is entirely healthy, it is certainly good, because with spiritual science we then live in our soul in a new way, quite different from that required by physical knowledge and understanding and ideas. We transport ourselves into a world of mobile, subtle pictures and ideas, and that is significant.

It is possible for all of you to be aware of the point at which you are sufficiently within the sphere where the etheric body more or less lives on its own, using the brain only in faint vibrations. lt is the point at which you begin to feel that you no longer have to exert yourself to think the thoughts given by spiritual science, in the way in which you have to exert yourself to think everyday thoughts.

You know very well that you yourself make the thoughts which you think about everyday matters on the physical plane; you develop the concepts in accordance with the daily requirements and conditions of life, in accordance with sympathies and antipathies and with whatever is prepared by your senses and by your brain-bound understanding.

With spiritual science, however, once you really enter into it, you will begin to sense: I have not thought all this myself; it has already been thought before I think it; it is floating there as a thought and merely enters into me. When you begin to feel: This is floating in the objective thinking of the universe and merely enters into me — then you will have won a great deal. You will have experienced a relationship to that delicate etheric, floating and weaving world in which your soul lives. After that it is really only a matter of time, though it might be quite a long time, before you gradually enter that sphere which we share with those among the dead with whom we are karmically linked.

Luigi Morelli

in Chapter 8 of Aristotelians and Platonists, describes the process of developing imaginations by Rudolf Hauschka with the example of Hauschka’s portrayal of the alkalis (sodium, potassium, lithium, rubidium, cesium, etc.). In summary he comes to four steps for the coming to an image to capture an essence:

  1. Description of physical properties.
  2. Transitioning from properties to qualities.
  3. Building up of an imagination.
  4. Completing the imagination and linking it to a cosmic archetype.


Related pages

References and further reading

  • Christof Lindenau:
    • 'Towards a spiritual practice of thinking: A guide for the study of anthroposophy' (EN, in DE as 'Der übende Mensch - Anthroposophie-Studium als Ausgangspunkt moderner Geistesforschung')
    • Im Grenzgang zu erringen: Zur Übungs- und Arbeitsweise geistiger Forschung
    • Staunen, Mitgefühl, Gewissen: Zur Anthroposophie als einer Versuchsmethode des Allgemein-Menschlichen
    • Freiheit erüben: Meditation in der Erkenntnispraxis der Anthroposophie (1993)