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Isaac Newton, seven-part color wheel of the pure spectral colors (around 1700)

Colors, in contrast to dyes, are those sensory qualities that are conveyed to man through the eye, insofar as he thereby disregards the form and structure of what he sees[1] and are associated with very specific emotional color sensations. According to Goethe, colors are "deeds of light, deeds and sufferings."[2] A distinction can be made between light colors, which emanate directly from a self-luminous light source,[3][4] and body colors, which are produced by transillumination or reflection on material objects. In contrast to chromatic colors, white, black, and all intermediate neutral grays without a color cast are called achromatic. What has no colors is colorless. Colors can be characterized in the HSV color space by hue, saturation and value.

The pure spectral colors, which are also called primary colors or primary colors, have the greatest color saturation (chromaticity). Secondary colors are mixtures of two, tertiary colors of three primary colors. Depending on the mixing ratio, the most diverse (ideally all) color tones can be achieved. Glaring, screaming colors with particularly high luminosity and color saturation are also called neon colors. Luminous paints, some of which also glow or afterglow in the dark, emit more light in the visible range than they absorb from the outside.

Warm and cool colors

Red to yellow and brown hues are mostly experienced as pleasant active warm colors. Green and blue to violet hues, on the other hand, are usually experienced as passive cold colors, as Goethe also described in detail in his Theory of Colours under the "sensual-moral effect of color". Warm colors also objectively lead to a measurable increase in blood pressure and respiratory and pulse rates in test subjects, while these decrease with cold colors.[5]

The reality of colors

The colors have no physical reality, but they are nevertheless no mere subjective phenomena, but belong as objective soul reality to the soul world, more exactly to the region of mobile sensitivity.

„Physics should leave it at the mere existence of light in space. The observation of the colored cannot happen at all without being lifted up into the soul. For it is mere foolish talk if one says that the colored is only a subjective. And if one then goes over to saying that there is some objective cause outside and that it acts on us, on our I - it is nonsense; the I itself is inside the color. The I and the human astral body cannot be distinguished at all from the colored, they live in the colored and are insofar outside the physical body of man as they are connected with the colored outside; and the I and the astral body, they only form the colors in the physical body and in the etheric body. That is what matters. So the whole question about the effect of an objective of the colored on a subjective is nonsense; for in the color lies already that which is I, what is astral body, and with the color comes in the I and the astral body. The color is the carrier of the I and the astral body into the physical and into the etheric body. So that the whole way of looking at things must simply be reversed and turned around, if one wants to advance to reality.

What has crawled into physics, and what is embraced by physics with its lines and strokes, must come out again. A period would have to occur at first, where one disdains to draw at all, if one speaks of color in physics, where one should try to grasp color in its fluctuation, in its life.“ (Lit.:GA 291, p. 59f)

Effect of complementary colors on children

In the education of the child, special attention should be paid to the fact that not the external colors have an immediate effect on children, but the complementary colors produced in the organ. A very lively, nervous child will therefore be calmed precisely by yellow and red hues, because he feels the calming effect of the blue and green complementary colors inside him. Conversely, a passive child can be stimulated to activity by blue-green hues.

„An excited child must be surrounded with red or red-yellow colors and have clothes made for him in such colors; on the other hand, in the case of an unexcited child, blue or blue-green colors should be used. It depends on the color that is produced as a counter color inside. This is, for example, in the case of red the green color, in the case of blue the orange-yellow color, as one can easily convince oneself if one looks for a while at a correspondingly colored surface, and then quickly directs the eye to a white surface. This counter color is produced by the physical organs of the child and causes the corresponding organ structures necessary to the child. If the excited child has a red color in its environment, it generates the green counter-image within itself. And the activity of producing green has a calming effect, the organs absorb the tendency of calming.“ (Lit.:GA 34, p. 326f)

The different character of colors in the physical, soul and spiritual world

Six part color circle, drawing by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

In the physical world, colors appear as external colors that adhere to the surface of things; in the astral world (soul world), on the other hand, they show up as internal colors and in the spiritual world as radiant colors:

„The colors are known to us in the physical world only on spatial things. Even where they are present without object, they become noticeable only through them. Only in the borderline cases of physical life one can see colors without object, for example the rainbow.

The colors in the astral world are not bound to a fixed, spatial limit. They are still psychic, the expression of a being at which they are. A sensual passion expresses itself differently than a highly striving thought. Here is immediate harmony; it floats freely, but it is connected with what it expresses. It is not external, but internal color. The bell, for example, does not care whether it is yellow or green, it does not affect its tone. When one gets beyond the astral world, there are also colors; but these are not only inner colors, but they are creative, bring themselves forth, they are radiant colors.

Now when man rises into the mental space, he first loses the ability to perceive the mental colors in the same way, that is why one speaks of the sounding world. The ability occurs to perceive sound and tone. Only when one gets higher again, then one perceives the radiant colors. When the human being has again come to the color, he is in the Arupa. If we could take color from a physical object and take it like a skin and bring it to Devachan, the color would shine there. Therefore, Devachan is also called the world of radiant colors. If one wants to communicate something to a fellow human being here, one says it to him through the sound; in Devachan it would shine in corresponding color.

Such a world, where all beings live in radiant colors, is called the first elementary kingdom. When the matter of these beings becomes a little denser, descends into the rupic, they begin to make themselves heard through sounds: This is the second elementary kingdom. The beings who live in it are very mobile. In the third elementary kingdom, the shape is added to the rest. The inner color is shaped. Passion shows itself in lightning form, sublime thoughts in plant form. In higher realms they are sparks and shines, here they are forms of monochromatic and tonal world.

All our beings have passed through three elemental kingdoms. Gold, copper and so on have now passed into the mineral kingdom. Gold in the lunar round did not look like now, but like a star radiating to different sides, through which one could reach. By a similar process, water, when it freezes into snow, becomes a small crystal. The metals are the condensed forms of the third elementary kingdom. Therefore metal is not internally uniform, but internally shaped (Chladnian sound figures). According to lines and figures the whole mineral kingdom is animated, and in the third elementary kingdom it is colored. By the fact that the forms solidify, surface becomes, and now the color arises at the surface.

We have thus:

  1. Elementary kingdom of radiant colors
  2. Elementary kingdom of free tones
  3. Elementary kingdom of the colored forms
  4. Elementary kingdom of the colored bodies.

The physical world contains all three elementary kingdoms as coagulated in itself. The tone is much more connected with the inside of a being than the color, the latter is more surface. The radiant colors are still more inwardly connected.“ (Lit.:GA 291a, p. 188f)

Everything colored in the world is a transformed aura

The occult meaning of the colors of the aura after: Annie Besant, C. W. Leadbeater: Thought-Forms, 1901[6]

„The physical eye beholds around itself lights, colors. As the clairvoyant perceives the aura on the astral body red, blue, yellow and green, so the physical eye sees around itself red, blue, yellow and green. In both cases the cause is exactly the same. As behind the red in the astral body lives a desire, so behind the red of the flower is a desire as the "thing in itself". A desire living in the flower is the red in the flower. What the sense of sight does when it passes this point is no different than when you turn a skirt around, turn it to the other side. While in the aura man's astral nature is expressed, behind the whole world of color and light, behind the world of the sense of sight, lives the outer astral nature. There would never be colors in the world if things were not completely permeated by astral entities. What appears in the world as colors comes from the astral beings, which manifest themselves outwardly through the color. By turning the inside out, the entity goes down from the higher to the lower plan. You can achieve the following through meditation: If you have a green surface, say a leaf, in front of you and now go out of yourself to look at the thing from the other side, you would see the astral entity which is behind the green color and which indicates itself through the green color. This is how you have to imagine: By looking out into the world and seeing this world covered with colors, you have to suppose the astral entities behind these colors. As you let appear from your inside the colors of your aura for the clairvoyant, so the color cover of the world is the expression for the cosmic aura. Everything colored in the world is a reverted aura. If you could turn your aura around like a skirt, you would see your aura physically visible on the opposite side as well. This is true of the sense of sight, and thus you see that the sense of sight is intimately related to the astral world.“ (Lit.:GA 96, p. 130f)

Color breathing - color as the language of higher beings

Colors form the language of the higher beings who are directly above man. In the future, man will also feel the connection between words and colors. In the notes to an esoteric instruction lesson in Basel on September 24, 1912, it is said:

„Not only in the lungs do we have a breathing process, but also in the eyes. Only that there no air is breathed in and out, but heat. If we see a red color, heat is exhaled (red, orange, yellow). If a cold color like blue, indigo, violet is perceived, then the eye breathes in. That which underlies the eyes etherically - just as air underlies the physical lungs - is heat and is breathed in and out. Basically, every sense organ is a respiratory organ.

Higher beings, who are directly above human beings, have neither such eyes, nor such language as human beings. They direct heat somewhere and a color lights up at that place. Thereby they express their being and so they talk with each other. Who has ever perceived the colors in their living form, feels pain when he sees the solid colors that adhere to the physical objects - just as the whole physical world hurts him initially. The pain ceases only when one learns to feel the colors morally. Then one feels in the red the punishment of egoism, in the blue the reward for overcoming egoism. Then the colors begin to speak a language which will also be the future language of people.

To the extent that people approach the Jupiter existence, their speaking will become more and more at the same time a perceiving; then the respiratory and speech organs will no longer be so separate as they are today. Sight and the sensation of warmth will also unite. It was necessary for the development of the independent I that these processes were separated for a while. If this had not happened, then man would have always perceived what was happening in his environment, but would not have come to self-consciousness. In the future, one will begin to feel a connection between the spoken word and the colors. One will feel green when indifferent things are spoken of; yellow will appear when one speaks egoistically; red will be there when egoism is fought.[7]“ (Lit.:GA 265, p. 360f)

The emergence of the colors on the Old Moon

The Old Saturn, which preceded the evolution of the Old Sun, was the joint work of the first hierarchy, that is, the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. The Old Saturn was a pure heat world, which was wrapped in perfect darkness. But this was a passive darkness resulting from the complete absence of light. The Old Sun was brought forth by the second hierarchy, the Kyriotetes, Dynamis and Exusiai. Only now the light came into being. The third hierarchy, the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai carried then the shadow, the darkness into the light, the airy darkness. Thus on the Old Sun the air element was formed as the shadow of the light. Essentially the beings of the third hierarchy then participated in the following development of the Old Moon. They carried the light into the darkness and the darkness into the light. So they became mediators between light and darkness, from whose interaction the colors arose. And insofar the real acting colors sprayed into the air element, this condensed up to the water element.

„Now we go further. The further evolution is now again directed by the sons of the second Hierarchy, by Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi. These beings bring a newness into the luminous element, which at first, through the second Hierarchy, has moved in, which has drawn after it its shadow, the airy darkness - not the indifferent neutral darkness, the Saturnian, which was simply absence of light, but that which worked out the opposition of light. To this development the third Hierarchy, Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi, brings in through their own being an element which is similar to our desire, our urges to attain something, to long for something.

Drawing from GA 233a, p. 17
Drawing from GA 233a, p. 17

Through this the following came about, through this it came about that, let us say, an Archai or Angeloi being came in here (see drawing p. 17, point on the ray of light on the right) and encountered an element of light, I would like to say, a place of light. In this place of light it received through the receptivity for this light the urge, the desire for the darkness. It carried the Angeloi being the light into the darkness, or an Angeloi being carried the darkness into the light. These entities become the mediators, the messengers between light and darkness. And the consequence of this was that then that which formerly shone only in the light and drew its shadow, the dark airy darkness, began to shimmer in all colors, that light appeared in darkness, darkness in light. It is the third hierarchy that has conjured up the color from light and darkness. You see, here you have also, so to speak, something historically documentary to put before your soul. In the time of Aristotle, when one asked oneself, I would like to say, within the mystery, where the colors come from, one still knew that the beings of the third hierarchy have to do with it. Therefore Aristotle said in his color harmony that the color means a cooperation of the light and the darkness. But this spiritual element, that behind the warmth one has to see the beings of the first hierarchy, behind the light and its shadow, the darkness, the beings of the second hierarchy, behind the colored glittering in a wide context the beings of the third hierarchy, that was lost. And there was nothing left but the unfortunate Newtonian theory of colors, about which the initiates smiled until the 18th century, and which then became the creed of those who are physical experts.

One really does not have to know anything more about the spiritual world if one can speak in the sense of this Newtonian color theory. And if one is still inwardly incited by the spiritual world, as it was the case with Goethe, one resists it. One puts down, as he did, the right thing and scolds terribly. For Goethe never scolded so much as on the occasion when he had to scold about Newton; he scolded terribly about the nonsensical stuff. Such things cannot be understood today, for the simple reason that today someone is a fool before the physicists who does not recognize Newton's theory of colors. But things are not in such a way that, for example, in Goethe's time Goethe would have stood there all alone. Among those who spoke these things outwardly, he stood alone, but the knowing ones, even at the end of the 18th century, they knew quite well how color springs up within the spiritual.

But you see, the air is the shadow of the light. And just as, when light arises, under certain conditions the dark shadow is there, so arises, when color is there and this color works as reality - and it could do that as long as it penetrated into the airy element -, so arises, when the color sprays in the airy element, works in the airy element, thus is something, is not merely a reflection, is not merely the reflex color, but a reality, which sprays in the airy element: then, just as counterpressure arises under certain conditions, the liquid, the watery element arises from the real colored element. As the shadow of the light is air, cosmically thought, so the water is the reflection, the creation of the colored in the cosmos. You will say: I don't understand that. - But try just once to grasp actually the colored in its real sense.

Drawing from GA 233a, p. 20
Drawing from GA 233a, p. 20

Red - well, do you think that the red is really in its essence only the neutral surface as which one usually looks at it? The red is something that makes an attack on you, after all. I have mentioned it many times. One wants to run away from the red, it pushes one back. The blue-violet, you want to run after it, it always runs away from you, it becomes deeper and deeper. Everything lives in the colors. The colors are a world, and the soul element really feels in the world of colors in such a way that it cannot get along without movement, if it follows the colors with the soul experience.

You see, man is gazing at the rainbow today. If you only look at the rainbow with some imagination, you will see elementary beings who are very active at the rainbow. These elementary beings show very strange appearances. Here (at red and yellow) one sees certain elementary beings constantly coming out of the rainbow. They then move over like this. The moment they arrive at the lower end of the green, they are attracted. You see them disappear here (at green and blue). On the other side they come out again. The whole rainbow shows, for the one who looks at it with imagination, a flowing out of the spiritual, a disappearance of the spiritual. It really shows something like a spiritual roller, wonderful. And at the same time, one notices in these spiritual beings that by coming out of there, they come out with a great anxiety, by going in, they go in with a quite invincible courage. If you look at the red-yellow, fear is emanating, if you look at the blue-violet, you get the feeling: There everything lives like courage, like courage.

Now imagine that not only the rainbow is there, but if I now draw a section here (see drawing, plate 2 above) and the rainbow stands like this (turned by 90°), the beings come out of it, there they disappear; here anxiety, here courage (see drawing p. 22). The courage disappears again. So now the eye would be directed, here is the rainbow, here is now red, yellow and so on.

Drawing from GA 233a, p. 22
Drawing from GA 233a, p. 22

There the rainbow gets a thickness. And there you will already be able to imagine that watery element arises from it. And in this watery element now live spiritual beings, which are really also a kind of image of the beings of the third hierarchy. One can already say: If one approaches the knowing ones of the 11th, 12th, 13th century, one must understand such things. You can't even understand the later ones anymore, you can't understand Albertus Magnus if you read him with what man knows today. You have to read him with a kind of knowledge that such spiritual things were still a reality for him; then only you understand how he uses the words, how he expresses himself. And in this way appear like a reflection of the hierarchies air, water. As the hierarchies themselves penetrate, the second hierarchy penetrates in the form of light, the third hierarchy in the form of the colored. But with the fact that this forms, the Moon existence is reached.“ (Lit.:GA 233a, p. 18ff)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. According to the definition in DIN 5033, color is "the visual perception of a part of the visual field that appears structureless to the human eye, by which this part alone can be distinguished from an adjacent district that is seen at the same time and is also structureless, when observed with the unaided eye.
  2. Goethe: Zur Farbenlehre (1810), Vorwort
  3. DIN 5033-1:2009-05 : Farbmessung – Teil 1: Grundbegriffe der Farbmetrik. „Lichtfarbe: Farbe eines Selbstleuchters.“
  4. DIN EN 12464-2:2007-10 : Licht und Beleuchtung – Beleuchtung von Arbeitsstätten – Teil 2: Arbeitsplätze im Freien. „Die Lichtfarbe einer Lampe bezieht sich auf die wahrgenommene Farbe (Farbart) des abgestrahlten Lichtes. “
  5. According to studies conducted by Harry Wolhfarth (1921-1996) at the University of Alberta (Canada) in 1955: „... research involved nearly 200 volunteers who stared for five minutes at a colored card calibrated using a standard color scale. Before and twice after, various measurements of pulse, blood pressure and respiration were made. To counter external stimuli, the subjects used gloves and earplugs. Based on this and similar research, Wohlfarth was able to show that there is indeed an effect of color on the autonomic nerve system, and this was both measurable and predictable. Red, orange and yellow stimulated the autonomic nerve system in the order of red (minimum), orange (medium) and yellow (maximum). A depressive effect was found in the sequence of green (minimum), blue (medium), and black (maximum).“ [1]
  6. Quelle:
  7. In notes from another hand it says: "The red color will be felt as the punishment for the bad that is to be overcome; the yellow indicates the egoistic of man, the blue the heavenly that we have in mind."