Threefold working in Man

From Anthroposophy

Knowing Man as a threefold being enables a study of the inner workings of the three subsystems in Man, and develop an understanding and appreciation for the wonderful life in Man.

Man breathes, perceives, and eats.

Three processes are studied, corresponding with these three main activities of each living human being, and each has its own flow to be followed:

  • the process of perception: we see, hear .. use five main senses, but in fact this sense perception is an integrated and much more complicated process than generally considered
  • the process of eating: 'taking in food stuffs' is generally linked to metabolism and sustaining our physical body
  • thirdly: balancing these two in the middle, Man's breathing process in the rhythmic subsystem.

The study leads to a foundational base for an understanding of aspects appearing in:

but also to get a feeling of


Schema FMC00.513 provides an overview on the main process through which the human being sustains his physical body during incarnate life.

The narrative to this mind map is given by the two main lectures provided in the lower corners: 1922-08-05-GA347 (left) and 1922-10-22-GA218 (right - see also Schema FMC00.160 for another view), with additional complementary lecture references provided.

Whereas the left downward destructive process is well-studied in contemporary medical science (see mineral science), a true understanding of the renewal of Man's bodies - see the right upward constructive process - requires a spiritual scientific perspective. The latter can also not be read twodimensionally, rather the process needs to be imagined, as Man's bodily principles are not physically located or corresponding to specific parts of Man's physical body. So for the etheric and astral bodies, and the I-organization, certain organs play a main role, but effect the whole bodily principle and even work from the higher to the lower bodily principles. For this last point, see Schema FMC00.415A on Man: an integrated view or also: Schema FMC00.245 (which is key) and FMC00.415 on I-organization (and in second instance see also Schema FMC00.477 and FMC00.283 on Group souls of humanity). Streams [A] and [B] at the output of the intestines need to be superimposed on all that imaginatively.

This main schema can be used to branch off to the study of various related topics:

  • when contemplating the schema, overlay this with the seven life processes and the etheric formative forces (see also The Elementary Kingdoms) or higher ethers (eg Schema FMC00.015 below for a complementary view, or Schema FMC00.419)
  • nutrition and the alchemy in the human body (eg 1924-08-02-GA354 and 1924-09-13-GA346)
  • transmutation of substances in the human body (see table on the lower left in the schema)
  • the formation of organs - see the two etheric streams (eg Schema FMC00.051 and the 1920-05-14-GA201 description for the human heart)
  • the use of the brain as a vehicle for waking consciousness, see Damming up between heart and brain and Schema FMC00.033A; and related Matter is destroyed in the brain and 1922-08-09-GA347 which describes the process of continuous depositing and destruction of minerals ('brain-sand', more also in 1922-09-09/16-GA347)
  • for the outstreamings of the human body due to its decay and/or excretion and radiation: the transitory fleeting destruction (senses, glands, digestion) on the left, and the slower outstreaming into the world (due to decay of nerves, muscles, bones) on the right, see also Schema FMC00.514 from the amazing 1911-12-31-GA134 lecture
  • the creation of the blood (and the rest of the mineral physical body, from spiritual to mineral substance due to the Luciferic effect) - see Blood is a special fluid and the reverse (from mineral back to etherization) see etherization of blood
  • the forming of the bony system and skeleton and the production of blood, see oa Spiritual scientific physiology#Skeleton (oa for the relation to the warm red blood and waking consciousness - see 1924-01-07-GA352)

Schema FMC00.421 are illustrations from Karl König's lectures of October 1953 on the earthly and cosmic nutrition streams. See lecture extracts below.

Schema FMC00.418 is an illustration from Karl König's lecture on the two nutrition streams, the cosmic (sensory fine breathing, see eg FMC00.015A on Human breath) and the earthly (see eg Schema FMC00.412 on Metabolic-limb subsystem), mediated by the Rhythmic subsystem of heart and lungs. Compare with Schema FMC00.044 on Etherization of blood

Schema FMC00.418A is an enhanced version of Schema FMC00.418

Lecture coverage and references

Overview coverage

  • 1923-02-11-GA221 is the famous lecture 'the invisible human being in us' that has been subject of much study because it discusses the etheric double and has an intriguing diagram. The lecture has two parts. In the first part a structural explanation is given of three streams. The second discusses illness as a process in this frame and context.
  • 1924-09-14-GA318 is a less know lecture that starts on human breathing, but then discusses the three streams quite clearly and more elaborate than 1923-02-11-GA221. When one starts with this GA221 lecture, one will be happy to read the GA318 lecture afterwards as it allows to see the structure more clearly. The suggestion is to afterwards re-read the GA221 lecture.
  • 1922-10-22-GA218 is a third lecture that is added because it overlays an 'organ view' on the above, and links to chemical elements. Those two dimensions were not in the two lectures above.
    • This lecture and Schema FMC00.160 is on: Spiritual scientific physiology
    • Five days later, on 27th October, Rudolf Steiner keeps two lectures that further describe this, these are also on the above page grouped with the lecture of 22nd.
  • 1924-06-11-GA327 then provides the background framework for the previous lecture and the explanation in terms of chemical elements and alchemical processes as they can also be found in nature, see for example Schema FMC00.249 for the alchemy in nature over the seasons of the rhythm of a year. The lecture covers sulphur (and behind sulphur like an unseen twin, working closely with it) phosphorus; and then the four chemical elements carbon (C), hydro­gen (H), nitrogen (N), and oxygen (0). The catalysts for the interplay between these are silica (Si02) and lime (CaO, Ca(OH)2).

Interestingly, Karl König also studied the these lectures , and he brings the same content flowing in his own storytelling in the 1953-10 lectures in Thornbury (UK, where today is still the Hatch Camphill Community). These lectures were published in 'Earth and Man' (1982 (and 1969?)). The relevant excerpts were linked and are copied below.

  • 1953-10-15-KK adds Karl Königs intuitive perspective on putting the above pieces together
  • 1953-10-18-KK then tries to link and integrate with 1924-09-14-GA318 and 1924-06-11-GA327

Reference extracts


Now all that is present as substances in the head-organisation, is composed of earthly matter. (So it is in man, too, but let us confine ourselves to the animal for the moment). Whatever matter there is in the head is earthly matter. Already in the embryo-life, earthly matter is guided into the head-organisation. The whole embryonic organisation is so arranged that the head receives its materials from the Earth. There, then, we have earthly substance.

On the other hand, all that we have as substantiality in the organisation of metabolism and the limbs — permeating our intestines, limbs, muscles, bones, etc. — comes not from the Earth at all. It is cosmic substantiality. It comes from that which is absorbed out of the air and warmth above the Earth. This is important. You must not regard a claw or a hoof as though it were formed by the physical matter which the animal eats somehow finding its way into the hoof and being there deposited. That is not true at all. In actual fact, cosmic matter is absorbed through the senses and the breathing. What the animal eats is merely for the purpose of developing its inner forces of movement, so that the cosmic principles may be driven right down into the metabolic and limb system— into the claw or hoof, for instance. Throughout these parts, it is cosmic substantiality.

Precisely the opposite is true of the forces. In the head — inasmuch as the senses are chiefly stationed there, and the senses perceive out of the cosmos — in the head we have cosmic forces; while in the system of metabolism and limbs we have to do with earthly forces — cosmic substances and earthly forces. (As to the latter, you need only remember how we walk; we are constantly placing ourselves into the field of earthly gravity, and in like manner, all that we do with our limbs is bound up with the earthly).


If you follow a subject like nutrition through the lectures of Rudolf Steiner, you will find that he started to speak about it as early as 1904 and 1905. There you will find various remarks about the substance, milk. You will also find that he indicates how complicated nutrition is.

Then, in the succeeding years, he adds one bit of information after another to enhance our understanding; it is only in the last year of his teaching, in the lectures he gave to the farmers in Koberwitz, that he, as it were, puts the crown on it, when, in the eighth lecture , he reveals that the whole of our organization is not built up and nourished by the food we take in through our mouths but that this food, as nutritive substance, goes to the brain alone; the organism as a whole, both in animal and man (including claws, hands, muscles, bones, all our organs) is built up, and its hidden structure maintained, by everything that comes to us as nourishment through our sensory organs. He enlarges on this point in almost the last lectures which he gave, in September, 1924, in the Pastoral-Medical course.

With this message we are left, and it is now up to us to find out what its real meaning is. What does it really mean, and I ask you now to be honest, what does it really mean if we say that the brain is nothing else but a dung-heap? In considering this eighth lecture, we shall not simply accept this statement, but learn to understand it with our whole nature. If, as intellectual beings, we can cease to feel offended by such a statement, we can in fact easily understand that the brain is nothing else but manure.

Then there is another statement which Dr. Steiner made on 1923-10-31: "The brain in man actually is nothing else but hardened milk juice."

Now let us compare ,these two statements. On the one hand Rudolf Steiner says: "The brain is nothing else but hardened milk juice"; and elsewhere he says it is something which has more or less finished a process which started in our intestines; that it is finished-up, hardened manure. Only if you go through many of Rudolf Steiner's lectures and find your way through all the statements and descriptions which he gave about milk can you gradually begin to see why dung and milk should be more or less closely related.


In this lecture Konig integrated information from very many lectures by Rudolf Steiner. For a start see oa the lectures referenced on Schema FMC00.513 above, and also the topics such as Blood and nerves

... Recent physiological studies have shown that wherever there are nerve endings, minute quantities of a very complex substance, acetylcholine, are discharged. Thus even up there, where the optic nerve terminates, a kind of secretion takes place, very subtle, fine, on a small scale, but in itself similar to what I have described previously as digestive organization. The eyes, with the optic nerve and their continuation into the brain, are in point of fact nothing else but a metamorphosis of the digestive tract. Only the one runs from the mouth downwards, and the other from the eye backwards.

... I hope that you are now becoming more and more aware of the fact that, both above and below, sensory processes and digestion are found together; only the relation between these two processes is different at the one pole and at the other.

Please imagine the following thing: if we start to eat various kinds of food, this act of eating lies, in regard to our consciousness, more or less entirely within the sensory sphere. Within our mouth we have a collection of dif­ferent sense perceptions. There is not only the sense of taste, but mingled with it is the sense of smell. We know how some­times, if we really eat (not gulp) our food, smelling and tasting are mixed up together. But we also sense warmth and cold; we have the sense of touch, and connected with it the sense of movement, because when we eat we know exactly where our tongue is, how our jaws are placed, how we are biting, chew­ing, and swallowing. So you see that all these sense percep­tions, the sense of touch, the sense of life, whether we like something or don't like it, the sense of movement, the sense of smell, the sense of taste and the sense of warmth, are all in­volved at once when our food is taken in. Then, gradually, this perception disappears. We can still follow our food into the gut, and sometimes the sense of touch and the sense of warmth may persist into our intestines—but our sense perception dies down. Only when we are ill do we have a kind of sensation in our organs, but this is not normal. The act of digestion disap­pears from our world of sense impressions into oblivion.

On the other hand, in the upper realm, the act of diges­tion is in oblivion from the start. We don't know anything about it. Sense perception has become so important, especially through our eye's power of seeing, that it takes us a tremen­dous amount of re-thinking to imagine that our nervous sys­tem, insofar as it is connected with our senses, is not in the least actively engaged in the act of sense perception. It is actively engaged in the act of digestion. Our retina, dear friends, our optic nerve, and the optic nervous tract, form one of the nerve centers or nervous systems by which the world which we re­ceive through our senses as an act of nutrition is taken up and digested. If we took away the eye, our sense perception would, as it were, have no seat to settle down on.

If, instead of "seat," I use the word "throne," perhaps you can understand how our sense organs are really the thrones on which sense perception sits. When I look out into the world, when I hear out into the world, listen to the world, what do I do? With my higher or­ganization, my "I" and my astral body, I am outside, and this world which I see is mine, because I am in it. But all this must have a root, a seat, a throne. And in continually knocking into this throne, in sitting with my higher organization on this throne, I become aware: I see, I listen, I smell, I taste.

Here on earth it is much easier for me to understand this whole process, because things have to come to meet me; to understand that the tongue is just as much a throne as the eye is much easier. Because here we know, I (but I as a higher en­tity) and matter, that we have to meet, and then I am taste, and then I am smell. I, and the world outside me, we sit to­gether as the image without reality on the throne of the eye. But the eye itself, although providing this seat, is at the same time an organ of digestion. For not only do I see this world around me, but within this world, although it is nothing else but an image, there live etheric forces, there live entities which come to me from the cosmos, from all those spheres which are filled with light. It is this, then, which is digested, accepted by the retina, accepted by the organ of hearing, accepted by the tongue.

Now you will see where the doors and entrance gates of the cosmic nutrition stream are: everywhere where the neuro-epitheliums of our sensory organs are distributed. These are the entrance gates to the cosmic nutrition stream, and these gates are actually the seats whereon the sense perceptions for our astral body and I can hold themselves. The same holds good for the lower part. Only here we also start with sense perception, and then descend into oblivion, lose the manifold-ness of sense impressions, and then unify all matter and sub­stance, breaking it down into chyme.


[the upwards stream]

Dr. Koenig: Now I would like to consider the process of eat­ing. When we take in food, the different substances which make it up, and the different sense-perceptions by which we are aware of it, are both gradually dissolved by the various in­testinal juices within the stomach and the small intestines, and step by step become chyme.

I already tried to explain to you how chyme is in fact nothing else but a kind of milk.

But what kind of milk is it? What difference is there between this intestinal chyme and real milk?

Rudolf Steiner said (and this conforms to what science has worked out) that all outer sub­stance which we take in has to lose its individuality. We cannot accept cabbage, we cannot accept pork, we cannot accept spin­ach, potatoes and all the rest, for if we did, we would not be able to keep our own individuality intact. Therefore we break them down and destroy them. We wipe out their individual­ized existence and mold and change them into chyme. Chyme is a substance which I consider to be entirely physical or min­eralized. Both the etheric and the astral forces, both the sensitive substance of the animal kingdom and the living substance of the plant kingdom are broken down. They are destroyed so that the chyme is no longer living substance, or astral sub­stance, but simple, mineralized, physical substance.

When I say simple, I do not mean that its chemical struc­ture is simple, but that it consists of physical substance, of mineralized substances, only. The milk which is produced by man and animal is not just a physical substance, but also a liv­ing and sensitive substance, although the etheric forces in it are stronger than the slight touch of astrality which it carries. For this reason, Rudolf Steiner pointed out that milk, as a sub­stance, is in just the same condition as the flowers of plants; they just reach up to touch the astral forces—where the astral forces, in the words of Rudolf Steiner, kiss the flower of the plant. We find the same condition in milk.

In chyme this is not the case, for it is mineralized, physi­cal substance. Now a great deal of this chyme (I cannot give the percentage, because no one knows it) is, as it were, turned into death—and this is what we excrete. In the animal it is dif­ferent. Rudolf Steiner describes how the I, which is not in­serted into the animal itself, works in the excretory products. In man, the substance turns away from the I, it becomes deadly substance. In the discussion we might consider what really should be done with it.

[1] Now consider the mineralized chyme substance. There is no doubt that a certain amount of chyme - of this mineralized milk, generalized substance - is now taken up through all the millions of villi of the small intestines, and carried into the lymph-capillaries which surround the intestines.

Rudolf Steiner describes this as follows. With our digestion we build our blood. We build the blood by lifting this mineralized chyme step by step, stage by stage, from the physical state up into the living etheric, then into the sensitive, astral state, un­til it reaches in man a condition where it is able to carry the self-conscious I. This is achieved by means of various systems which we bear within our whole organization. Note that I do not say body; the body is only the last imprint of this organization.

As soon as [1] the villi have been permeated by mineralized chyme, and the lymph vessels have taken it up, [2] it is led up­wards through the thoracic tract. The ! receives all the lymph vessels from the whole lower region of the body, including the limbs; it carries the chyme up into a special vein, whence [3] it goes into the heart. [4] From the heart it goes upwards into our lung system, where it receives through the rhythmic system the enlivening qualities of oxygen. In this way the physical chyme is lifted into the realm of living substance.

[5] Then it is taken up by another system. At this stage, we cannot remain solely within the anatomical structure. The etheric, astral, and I spheres are inserted into different organs, but, as processes, do not terminate where the physi­cal organs do. Everything connected with the kidneys (and the cerebrospinal fluid) is a kind of physical shadow of that process [5] which now takes up the living substance and perme­ates it with the forces of nitrogen, making it into sensitive substance.

Then [6] another set of processes, which are repre­sented physically by the liver, the gall, and the spleen, raise it still further, so that, with the help of hydrogen, it becomes a substance which can carry an I.

In this way, dear friends, we can see how

  • food is taken in from above and directed from the site of our mouth down­wards,
  • where it is digested and broken down into physical matter.
  • Then the lymph and veinous blood take it again up­wards. This is the second direction. [2]
  • Where the kidneys and cerebrospinal fluid work, a third direction comes in: this stream of substance is permeated by the forces of nitrogen from opposite sides.[5]
  • Lastly, the forces of the liver, spleen, and gall-bladder surround the food and with the forces of hydro­gen, which work like a sheath of warmth and fire, transform it into a still higher state. [6]

Now it is important to realize that, in a process of fire and warmth, ash falls down and light rises up.

The ash of the process described above is taken up and introduced into the brain; it is this substance which nourishes and builds up the brain. There, within our brain, we have an organ called the epiphysis or pineal gland. This minute, interesting and mys­terious organ was in fact once upon a time an eye, which looked out into the world. It was the third eye of Polyphemos, of which mythology speaks. This organ receives the ash which rises upward from our nutrition stream and distributes it to the different parts of the brain. This is one process.

[downward stream]

But there is also another process. Earlier on, I tried to show you how, wherever sensory epithelium is found, in the nose, eyes, tongue, ears, and over almost all the skin, cosmic nutrition streams in, and then follows the path of the sensory nerves. All our sensory nerves are intimately connected with the brain.

In exactly the same way that the chyme goes into the large intestine to become excretion, so also excretion takes place, as I have already described, in the occipital part of the brain in the case of the optic tract; in another part, the same holds good for the acoustic tracts, and so on. But before this takes place, there is in the region of the mid-brain, in the thalamic region, a collection center for the cosmic nutrition stream; this is the pituitary gland, the hypophysis.

[ see Schema FMC00.418A]

If we study the development of the pituitary gland, we find something which shows how justified it is to speak of a dividing line in the head, separating the upper from the lower part. For the pituitary gland is an organ which is derived from parts of the pharynx, and from parts of the brain. These two parts join together. Why? Because a center is created there, from which the collected cosmic nutrition stream from the brain finds its way down to the organs below. This is an extremely fine and subtle process. But during the last fifty years, and especially quite recently, the pituitary gland has been found to be of the utmost importance for the working of our entire organization. It has even been called the leader, the conductor, of the orchestra of our endocrine glands.

The pituitary gland is intimately connected with the metabolism of carbohydrates, with the function of our gall,with the production of milk, with the ovarian cycle in women, and with other processes involving almost the entire metab­olism of our body. That certain hormones are excreted by the pituitary gland is only one side of the picture. The other side is that it is the place where the forces of the cosmic nutrition stream are collected. And if I were now to trace down the dif­ferent endocrine glands via the thyroid and parathyroid, right down to the adrenal glands, you would see that here are the steps whereby the cosmic nutrition stream is gradually brought down into the lower parts of our organization. Even­tually it enters the sea of lymph and the sea of the venous blood.

Rudolf Steiner described, in the eighth lecture of the agriculture course [editor: see 1924-06-16-GA327 above], how the hoof and the nails, which are of the same substance (as are, in fact, all the extreme tips of the body), are filled with substance which we derive from the cos­mic nutrition stream.

[upward stream]

  • At first our food substances are part and parcel of the same world of which we are aware through our senses; they are outside ourselves; they are part of the outer world.
  • Then they are taken in and gradually broken down, inside our intes­tines. But it is important to realize that here they are still part of the outside world. The inside of the intestines is still part of the external world.
  • Only when you pierce through the wall of intestine are you really inside the body—in the internal world. Then the chyme becomes surrounded by our different organs, liver, spleen, kidneys, etc.
  • Then it is lifted up, transformed, and introduced into our brain. This brain is an organization which, so to speak, sticks out into the external world. It is both within and without, to the same extent that the chyme is with­in and without.
  • The chyme is lifted up from the physical state and be­comes progressively living and sensitive substance. Through the forces of oxygen, then nitrogen, and finally hydrogen, it ascends and, as it were, fills and nourishes the brain.

Thus the whole external world streams up from below; ...

[downward stream]

.. another stream comes through our sensory organs; it travels down in the same way that the other travels up.

The existence of the cosmic and the earthly nutrition streams lies revealed in the organization of our pineal and pituitary glands. The pineal gland receives the earthly nutrition stream from above, and leads it down. There, in this very special region, the upper and the lower meet and find each other; but they must also remain continu­ally apart from one another, otherwise disease and destruc­tion result.

The chyme has to be lifted up through different stages, and it is this activity which creates the blood. It is not that the chyme changes, as one usually thinks, into blood sub­stance; for the blood itself, of course, is cosmic substance. But it is the activity of overcoming the material chyme, the physi­cal chyme fluid, that keeps the blood going. [This last remark was made in answer to a question about the origin of the blood.]


Lymph is blood without the red blood corpuscles. The lymph is entirely separate from the blood. The lymph is pro­duced more or less through the work of the spleen, the lymph glands, the thymus gland, etc., whereas the blood corpuscles have an entirely different source. Nevertheless, the progression, from chyme to lymph to the venous blood up to the arterial blood, is quite correct.

Question: Did you mean that there is a separation in the chyme between the spiritual and the physical? You spoke about it almost as if there was some ash rising. Where is the spiritual?

Dr. Koenig: The ash rises after all this has been accom­plished. But the chyme, before it has risen up and become sen­sitive substance and I-carrying substance, is purely physi­cal. Out of this process, as it is a rising process, ash must fall down. And this happens.

Comment by a Member: To make this quite understandable, perhaps it is necessary to imagine the chyme being lifted pro­gressively from the physical to the etheric, the astral, and the I realms, when it dematerializes. When it becomes etheric it becomes like a plant juice, when it becomes astral, it be­comes something like muscle tissue. If you take a piece of wood, and burn it, you get warmth and flame, which you can­not confine like material substance, and you are left with the ash. So in this process, where chyme is lifted up into higher realms, it eventually dematerializes, but some material or ash remains, and that is what goes to the brain.

Dr. Koenig: If you really follow the chyme being lifted up to living, sensitive, and then I-bearing substances, you will see it is a process which occurs in a rhythmic sequence. It is like the building up of the layers of the onion, only becoming finer and finer, instead of coarser and coarser.


Related pages

References and further reading