The nature of atoms
Spiritual science considers the four elements to be part of an spectrum of elements and ethers, as the result of an evolutionary proces whereby they make up an integrated force-substance framework. These representations, concepts of spectrum and framework, are a macroscopic shorthand language to describe the underlying spiritual nature, whereby various spiritual beings work together in such a way that their interaction and collaboration shows up, for our contemporary sensory waking consciousness, as physical matter, or as effects of physical forces on matter.
A major breakthrough in science was the discovery of the atom (from the Greek, atomos, meaning 'indivisible') as the smallest undivideable unit of matter that that still has all the properties of a certain physical material (which is called 'chemical element'). Atoms can bond together and combine into molecules, but cannot be broken down further.
The atom is thus seen as the fundamental building block of matter, and a cornerstone of physics and chemistry.
Spiritual scientific view
1 - Scope and positioning
The atom is the concept to denote the building block constituting physical 'dead' matter, meaning the mineral kingdom is one of the seven kingdoms of nature, of which four kingdoms of nature can be studied on the physical plane on Earth whereas the other three are the Elementary kingdoms in the higher worlds. With 'dead' matter is meant that the mineral does not contain higher functions such as the etheric living in the plant kingdom, or the astral living in the animal kingdom (and all of them also live in Man).
The mineral is thus most condensed substance in the current physical Condition of Form of Earth, as we are in the fourth and mineral Condition of Life, for more context see Three dimensions of evolution.
2 - Densification of mineral substance
Creation exists of spiritual beings, and spiritual beings only. Their aspects show in substance and force, a duality which is a consequences of the 'consciousness glasses' with which Man currently perceives, as explained in the Force substance representation (see eg Schema FMC00.172). This point is also illustrated on Cosmic fractal, eg Schemas FMC00.305 and FMC00.403.
The way how densification takes place along the 'descent' from the spirit world down to the physical world, is subject of what is called Homer's Golden Chain, for an introduction see Overview Golden Chain. The way this actually happens is part of the framework of evolution (and Three dimensions of evolution
In this case we consider chemical elements, part of the mineral kingdom, with archetypes in the higher spirit world condensing to the lower spirit world where they receive form in the first sublayer 'continents'. See Schema FMC00.136 on spirit world, and FMC00.141 on Overview Golden Chain.
The archetypes of the mineral elements of physical matter are formed by the formative forces of the First Elementary Kingdom in the higher spirit world (where also the mineral group souls are), see Schema FMC00.175A on The elementary kingdoms.
However, to appear in the physical world, they will be clothed by the astral and etheric .. and this is where the various ethers come in.
- the concerted action of elementals and elementary kingdoms, orchestrated by the spiritual hierarchies
- matter as 'evil', as the work of Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences
1 - The first quote is by Rudolf Steiner in 1910-08-22-GA122 (SWCC)
It is pure fantasy to take the existence of atoms, as envisaged today, to be real. So long as atoms are looked upon merely as counters, or shorthand notes for what the senses actually show, we remain on solid ground.
If one wants to penetrate behind the sense-perceptible basis, then one has to rise to the spiritual, and then one reaches the living movement of a basic substance which is none other than the body of the Thrones, permeated by the activity of the Spirits of Form (SoF).
And how is that projected into our sense-world? […] In the act of making manifest what we call matter, it announces itself as the essential being of the Thrones; in so far as this basic substance takes on form, takes on shape, it announces itself as the external revelation of the SoF. […] They are the smiths, forging in their warmth element the crystalline forms of the different earths and metals, out of the formless matter of the Thrones.
This quote can be illustrated by FMC00.194 and FMC00.006A on Spectrum of elements and ethers, that shows that substance 'is' part of the body of the spiritual hierarchies. FMC00.006A shows how in Earth evolution the pairs of the Spectrum of elements and ethers were produced, and FMC00.194 shows how these are all embedded in eachother, and intertwine, as parts of the various hierarchies (and the result of previous planetary stages of evolution). 2 - The second quote by Walter Russell who writes (SWCC, full extract below):
Elements are not things; they are conditions. Produce a certain condition which is the pattern for hydrogen, or carbon dioxide.. and they appear from space into which they continually disappear when the conditions are favorable, exactly as apples appear as the solids of apples and disappear as the gases of apples when conditions favor each stage of each cycle. We wrongly think that elements are different substances and that each substance is permanently existent as such. Elements are but different conditions of light pressures. They are the raw materials for the fashioning of Creation’s images in the patterns controlled by light waves. They appear when the pressure necessary for their conditions appear and disappear when those pressure conditions cease. Every element in each octave occupies its own pressure position in its wave. Each element seems to be a different substance as the pressure conditions of each position in each wave of matter changes. However, it is not the substance that changes, it is the condition of the substance.
Schema FMC00.404A below offers an illustration of the above.
Schema FMC00.404 illustrates Walter Russell's periodic table as a growing octave wave curve from which the chemical elements are generated. Note that whereas in the first version (left) he had upto the 10th octave, in later versions (middle) this was adapted and he sticked to nine. Further documentation on this change is available (on request).
Schema FMC00.404A puts the Russell periodic table in context for easier reading and interpretation. See also the downloadeable PDF document reference  in the Further reading section on the Walter Russell page, and the explanations of the foundational concepts such as 'double charged sphere' (pages 12-19) and 'wave field'. See also The two etheric streams that map Rudolf Steiner's explanations to the explanations in .
Schema FMC00.404B compares two versions of the periodic table of chemical elements. On the left a representation from 1997 by Eric Scerri from tables by Bayley, Thomsen and Bohr that shows a symmetrical tree structure with seven levels. On the right, Russell's table with the mapping of the seven levels on the left, showing an exact mapping. Notice the noble gases in green on the left, as the nodes on the axis of symmetry on the right.
Lecture coverage and references
We are going forward to an age when, as I indicated recently, men will understand what the atom is, in reality. It will be realised — by the public mind too — that the atom is nothing but coagulated electricity. The thought itself is composed of the same substance.
Before the end of the fifth cultural age, science will have reached the stage where Man will be able to penetrate into the atom itself. When the similarity of substance between the thought and the atom is once comprehended, the way to get hold of the forces contained in the atom will soon be discovered and then nothing will be inaccessible to certain methods of working.
A man standing here, let us say, will be able by pressing a button concealed in his pocket, to explode some object at a great distance — say in Hamburg! Just as by setting up a wave-movement here and causing it to take a particular form at some other place, wireless telegraphy is possible, so what I have just indicated will be within Man's power when the occult truth that thought and atom consist of the same substance is put into practical application.
1 - Bubbles in the ether
Maximilian Rebholz writes in 'The nature of matter' (translated from unpublished typoscript, ca 1948)
In the cycle The Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and in the Kingdoms of Nature (GA136), it is shown how a material planet actually arises. From the sun, which in reality emanates space by transferring the cosmic forces from the non-spatial into the etheric spatial, the Spirits of Form work in such a way that each one forms his ether sphere, and these all have their common center in the sun. These ether spheres are in reality the planets of our solar system. But now Ahrimanic Spirits of Form from the cosmos throw themselves against the activity of the normal Spirits of Form that emanates from the sun, and at the periphery of the ether sphere, they produce an invagination, which appears to us as the physical planet. Where we see this planet, there is actually a hole in the ether sphere of the normal Spirits of Form that is filled with Ahrimanic forces.
What is true of the physical planet as a “hole in the ether” on a large scale is equally true of every atom of matter on a small scale. The atoms also appear as “holes in the ether” to the imaginative vision that perceives the ether.
In the cycle The Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and in the Kingdoms of Nature (GA136), it is shown how a material planet actually arises. The cosmos of the normal Spirits of Form would consist only of variously extended etheric spheres, all centered in the sun. These etheric spheres are really the “planets” of our solar system. But now Ahrimanic Spirits of Form throw themselves against these from outside and cause invaginations on the periphery of the etheric spheres, which appear to us as the physical planets. Where we see these, there are in truth holes in the etheric spheres of the normal Spirits of Form that are filled with Ahrimanic forces.
This description in GA136 is also important because it shows us on a large scale what has to be thought of an “atom” on a small scale.
Dr. Steiner also called atoms “holes in the ether.”
How does this view compare with what spiritual science has to say? Certainly natural physical phenomena do lead us back to atoms, but what are these atoms? […]
To imaginative cognition atoms are revealed as bubbles and the reality is where the empty space is supposed to be. Atoms are blown up bubbles […], in contrast to what surrounds them they are nothing. You know that where bubbles are seen in soda-water there is no water. Atoms are bubbles in that sense; where they are the space is hollow, nothing is there. And yet it is possible to push against it; impact occurs precisely because, in pushing against hollowness, an effect is produced.
[… A]toms are empty — yet again not empty. [… W]hat exists within the atom bubbles is ahrimanic substance. Ahriman is there. The whole system of atoms consists of ahrimanic substantiality.
Imaginative clairvoyance first perceives only the supersensible, etheric-astral realm but not yet the subsensible, which, as all matter, is perceived by imaginative clairvoyance as a hollow space in the ether. The comparison with water bubbles is quite valid: for in these, too, is air, which is only not seen.
2 - Double charged sphere and hole
As a hypothesis, assume that Russell's 'double charged sphere' and 'double charged hole' are eachother polar opposites in space and counterspace, as explained in the teachings by Rudolf Steiner and Nick Thomas.
From the document 'Notes on the Works of Walter & Lao Russell' (anonymous author), PDF downloadeable on the Walter Russell topic page.
page 33-34 on 'Fundamental Particles & Chemical Elements'
The Doubly Charged Sphere (and its inverse partner, the Doubly Charged Hole), in the most basic sense, constitute a fundamental particle. Because these entities pulsate, being made of a union of Male (+) and Female (+), there is no such thing as a "singly charged particle". "Electrons", "Protons", etc. are variations upon its structure.
The cyclic regeneration of such small entities would probably produce what appears to be a continuous "popping in and out of existence" on the smallest levels of scale (the general concept usually being referred to as "vacuum fluctuations", "zero point energy", and a multitude of other names within science).
To describe the transition of these "subatomic" entities into chemical elements, Walter and Lao produced a periodic table . We will attempt to give a brief synopsis of its features. To begin, let's turn the periodic table on its side. Notice that it is one of the spiral helices of The Octave Wave as shown earlier, except the Wave-Fields and Doubly Charged Spheres are growing in size exponentially.
All things, including elements, grow from the inside-out through the inert gas that centers them starting in the first octave. The Still Magnetic Light is thus the "nucleus" of the atom on the deepest level. The seemingly different elements are only the changing pressures around it, so they too are variations of the Doubly Charged Sphere.
This sphere cycles through The Octave Wave, continuously changing form as it does so. By the time it becomes a Carbon atom in the third octave, it is a "true sphere". All atoms before it and after it are prolate and oblate, respectively. Its Wave-Field also becomes a perfect cube. The Wave-Fields of other elements are skewed when they are prolate or oblate, and this shows up within their crystal structures.
Furthermore, Walter Russell himself writes on chemical elements:
[Elements of matter are not permanently existent]
Elements are not things; they are conditions.
Produce a certain condition which is the pattern for hydrogen, or carbon dioxide, or sodium chloride, and they appear from space into which they continually disappear when the conditions are favorable, exactly as apples appear as the solids of apples and disappear as the gases of apples when conditions favor each stage of each cycle.
... Hydrogen is the most plentiful substance, which the sun generates in its outer atmosphere, and the most plentiful of our outer atmosphere beyond twenty miles. Also, our oceans are inexhaustible storehouses of voided hydrogen, which can be regenerated to active hydrogen.
Water, air, hydrogen, and oxygen are not things; they are conditions of the light of the sun and the dark of space from which they sprang.
... Hydrogen flames leap for thousands of miles into the sun’s atmosphere, yet there is no hydrogen at all upon the sun’s surface until the time of its leaping into flame. If the amount of hydrogen which explodes from the sun’s surface in one week existed upon the sun, there would be no sun. It would explode. The sun generates hydrogen and burns it simultaneously.
[Elements are but different conditions of Light pressures]
We wrongly think that elements are different substances and that each substance is permanently existent as such.
Elements are but different conditions of light pressures. They are the raw materials for the fashioning of Creation’s images in the patterns controlled by light waves. They appear when the pressure necessary for their conditions appear and disappear when those pressure conditions cease. Every element in each octave occupies its own pressure position in its wave. Each element seems to be a different substance as the electric pressure conditions of each position in each wave of matter changes. However, it is not the substance that changes, it is the condition of the substance.
Voidance and re-creation is one of the simplest and most obvious principles of Nature. I cannot imagine how it has escaped discovery during the centuries. Oxygen, for example, is voided when you breathe it in. You produce a condition that calls for the pattern of carbon dioxide, and oxygen, as raw material, is as voided as though it never was. Iron, likewise, voids oxygen and oxygen voids iron by rusting. And so it goes all down through the octave waves.
the last paragraph makes the link to Transmutation of substance
3 - Force substance representation
In 1905-08-GA091 Rudolf Steiner put forth the representation that the reality we perceive is a balance and tension field between force and substance. See Schema FMC00.172A on Force substance representation.
The 1919-GA038 quotes, in that context, make it clear that forces are one side of the coin, and matter is another side of that same coin .. hence the 'viewed in a one-sided way'.
1919-GA038 Q&A - Answers to six questions about some basic concepts of natural science
II. … One cannot say that force has an effect on matter, since matter consists merely in the affects of the force-rays when they meet.
I. … The contents [of atoms] are the results of force-directions meeting each other - e.g., directions of force.
Force is the revelation of spirit viewed in a one-sided way.
GA reference unknown (mentioned by M. Rebholz, see footnote 241)
Everything that can be the object of external investigation somehow has in itself
- the element of the Luciferic, the externally luminous,
- and of the Ahrimanic, gravity.
Ahriman is also the spirit of gravity.
4 - Matter as 'evil', as the work of Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences
The above title can come across as a bit shocking, but requires a correct understanding and positioning.
Man perceives light and physical substance with the physical senses thanks to the Luciferic 'infection' and luciferic spiritual beings in Man and our solar system, whilst the same time the ahrimanic spiritual beings make for matter and physical substance itself. Hence, the physical material reality Man perceives and studies with mineral science is the work of luciferic and ahrimanic influences.
Note, in a similar vein, that Rudolf Steiner also stated that there is no evil above the spirit world, in the budhi or nirvana planes. Evil only exists in the lower planes, and is a result of a 'design choice' for our solar system. As explained on War in heaven, the 'non-regular' spiritual beings were given their rightful mission in the evolution of our solar system during the Old Moon stage of evolution. Hence, whereas the regular-developed spiritual beings would have delivered a different spiritual version of Man and the 'I' (see more on this in 2.1.1 and 2.1.3 in this Q&A), we now live on Earth with sensory waking consciousness plunged into a physical material world with good and evil and the counterforces of hosts of beings of Lucifer, Ahriman and Sorat. As discussed a.o. on Fall and redemption - original sin and grace, it is part of Man's spiritualization, and the future stages of evolution of our solar system, to redeem this situation.
Dr. Steiner having supposedly once said (according to Carl Unger):
There is no matter; there is only evil.
Plotinus also understood matter as “evil,” regarding which Otto Willmann makes this beautiful remark:
In Plotinus, too, one can think of the bound Ahriman when he says that evil is cast in golden shackles [the veil of the etheric] so that the gods and human beings do not see it, or when they see it, they immediately remember the images of the beautiful by which it is bound.
(Geschichte des Idealismus [History of Idealism], Volume I, page 667, addition in square brackets by Rebholz) Adolf Arenson pointed out once,
Matter came into being through the supersensible archetype of cold, through hate. All matter is the product of hate.
 - Periodic table
 - Various notes
2.1 - How to write a simple statement about the atom?
- Force and matter are two sides of one coin, and it plays between the normal euclidean physical space and the etheric counterspace: gravity and suction. That is why there is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and Dirac's wave equation: one cannot 'freeze' an electron or photon to take a picture with a 'matter only' camera from a materialistic perspective that wants to see a particle. Alternatively physics wants to test if 'the nature of the thing' is a wave and then indeed the energy component and wave behaviour is found. See also the GA091 lectures referenced on Force substance representation. This duality is in Dirac's wave equation, and how from it follows the concept of antimatter. The term 'antimatter' is a typical exponent of the 'matter'-ialistic contemporary mineral science that takes the view that everything must exist of matter in space. Here science went as far as to mathematically derive the opposite, but calling it antimatter is really saying it acts like suction instead of gravity.
- RS mentions that the atom is really an empty bubble with hollow space (etheric counterspace). This continuous popping in an out of existence is also what Walter Russell explains. Everything in his framework or cosmogeny is based on the threefoldedness of a still point, a male and a female. However he carries things further where RS stops after hints in lectures, and the scientific courses.
2.2 - Regarding Russell's octave wave and period table, see Schema FMC00.404B
- Observe on the left the seven levels, whereby intuitively one sees the first highest three levels being 'simple', and the four lower levels much richer and more complex, heavier elements.
- Now see Schema FMC00.379 and the explanation of the etheric formative forces working from the cosmos and after reversal and reflection also with additional influences from Earth (explanation most probably by Rudolf Steiner, as published in the book by Wachsmuth (1927)).
- Question: Is it possible we find back the 3 and 4 for seven levels that are also in Walter Russell's octave wave? Consider intuitively, for contemplation, that the distinguish the first three levels, and the four levels afterwards. On Russell's Nine-stringed harp this corresponds to (octaves 3+4+5) and (octaves 6+7+8+9).
- Octaves 3+4+5 map to three levels 1+2+3 of 7, and are the levels of life. The five elements hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, silicon make up organic chemistry and 98% of nature's kingdoms.
- Octaves 6+7+8+9 map to four levels 4+5+6+7 of 7. Observe the three levels 4+5+6 contain the seven metals corresponding to the seven planets and/or the etheric formative forces. On the highest level 6: gold, mercury, lead (sun, mercury, saturn), then on level 5: silver, tin (moon, jupiter), on level 4 iron and cupper (mars, venus).
- Is there a difference between these two groups? Consider FMC00.379 again: the plant is part of the Earth, it is an example of organic chemistry, of a living kingdom of nature. The schema text says that the growth of the plant is carried by three breath rhythms of influences reflected by/from the earth.
References and further reading
- Ernst Bindel and Arnold Blicke:
- 'Das Periodische System der Elemente als Schöpfungsurkunde' (Die Drei No. 18 of 1948)
- 'Zahlengesetze in der Stoffeswelt und in der Erdenentwicklung’ (1952)