Elementary being

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Rudolf Steiner: Elementary Beings, pastel on transparent paper (1923)

Elementary beings (also elementals, elemental beings, elementary spirits, elemental spirits, nature spirits; GermanElementarwesen) are the work masters who are directly active in nature. To call them "elementary spirits" is actually misleading, because they have no "I", no independent spiritual core, but are serving members of the higher spiritual hierarchies. The Spirits of Rotation of Time guide their actions. Elementary beings come into being as cut-offs of higher spiritual beings, which belong to the third hierarchy (Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi). Man, as the fourth hierarchy, also unconsciously brings forth many different elementary beings through his activity. In accordance with their dependent character, they must never be attributed any moral responsibility for their actions. The elementary beings remain hidden from the physical senses, they only reveal themselves to the imaginative perception.

Properties of the elementary beings

„You do not need to imagine the elementary beings as being particularly highly developed; they do not go through birth and death like human beings. Very few of them have gone through anything even resembling human development. Most of them do not have such developments ahead of them. Some come - like comets - from other planets, disappear again and continue their existence elsewhere. What these entities accomplish is not without influence on human beings. Many things happen in the human astral body that are due to the effects of these beings. Only to him who can see in the astral space are such processes, which can take place in the human astral body, explicable.“ (Lit.:GA 88, p. 74)

Among elementary beings, the principle of form dominates over life and consciousness:

„The elementary spirits are such beings in whom form is more powerful than life and consciousness, whose form must therefore be dominated by consciousness and life. They are the exact opposite of the dhyanic beings. These can control more than their form and life. With the elementary spirits, form is more comprehensive than life and consciousness. They therefore demand other life and other consciousness to master their form. That is to say, the elementary spirit has to establish itself in other life and other consciousness in order to use it for itself. Therefore, it is the retardant that holds back other life and consciousness. Thus the elementary spirits are the actual restraining beings of evolution. All parasitic beings are dominated by such elementary spirits. They are those entities for us human beings which in the lunar epoch were already perfected in their kind, hence the form prevalent in them. They are now flooding away, they are in descending development.

Animals, for example, which carry a skeleton on the outside, which are wrapped in their skeleton, have pushed beyond development. Their inner development has dissolved, and from the outside they surround themselves with a horny layer (beetles, notch beasts). They are preparing themselves for the descent into the eighth sphere. The Old Moon also had an eighth sphere, a secondary Moon. These beings have finished then, they have gone beyond their development and are now like an overripe fruit. In the eighth sphere belong, for example, the spiders, and among the plants the mistletoe. Goethe therefore attributes the realm of spiders and flies to Mephisto. Everything parasitic is an outward expression of the elementary beings living on the astral plane.

Before that, man himself was an elementary being. Not everything physical in man is destined to be redeemed. A cinder remains from the human being. This dross that remains is constantly present in man, therefore he is under the influence of the astral elementary beings; the corresponding elementary being clings to him. Man is therefore in constant contact with that which is an impeding enemy, a disturber of his development. In German mythology, the beings that attach themselves to the human being are called the "albs" or elves. They appear in an undefined form in the so-called nightmare. These dreams manifest themselves in such a way that one believes a being is sitting on one's chest. When one becomes astrally sighted, one first sees these beings (The Dweller on the Threshold in Bulwer's "Zanoni"). It is the reflection of man's astral acquaintance with his alb, a man's fighting back against his enemy. The being is the projection of an astral being in ourselves. It is the [little] Guardian of the Threshold. The man who cannot overcome the fear of the inner enemy usually turns back at the gate of initiation.

In the higher realm of the astral plan, it is [the image of] the Sphinx, who must be thrown into the abyss before one can progress. The human being who has to develop is approaching this moment. But not every human being has to go through this stage of development in the same way. It is possible that he will be led through it as if blindfolded. By developing our moral nature we can overcome. If one can bring one's moral nature higher before one sees in the astral world, the appearance of the Guardian of the Threshold becomes less frightening.

In the Atlantean race it is chiefly the Turanians who have given themselves up to black magic and have become acquainted with the elementary world in the most extensive degree.“ (Lit.:GA 89, p. 133ff)

The elementary beings are inaccessible to sensual observation:

„But those who have spiritual powers of perception perceive such beings and can describe them. To the lower kinds of such beings belongs everything that the perceivers of the spiritual world describe as salamanders, sylphs, undines, gnomes. It need not be said that such descriptions cannot be regarded as images of the reality on which they are based. If they were, the world they refer to would not be a spiritual but a grossly sensual one. They are illustrations of a spiritual reality that can only be represented in this way, through parables. It is quite understandable that those who only want to accept sensual perception regard such beings as the spawn of a wild imagination and superstition. Of course, they can never become visible to sensual eyes, because they have no sensual body. Superstition does not lie in the fact that one regards such beings as real, but that one believes they appear in a sensuous way.“ (Lit.:GA 9, p. 156)

However, Rudolf Steiner also gives the hint that these elementary beings are in the process of development, through which they will later also become perceptible to the senses:

„If we look at the normal elementary kingdoms, that is - if we use the popular expression - the kingdoms of the gnomes, sylphs, undines, salamanders, we actually have in them kingdoms that still want to become something in the world. They are approaching similar forms which we have in our world of the senses, only they will be different, but they will one day become perceptible to such senses as men have today...“ (Lit.:GA 219, p. 84f)

On the other hand, there are elementary beings of a different kind, which already led a sensually tangible existence on the Old Moon, but are now in a descending evolution and can only be experienced supersensually. Paradoxically, they accompany man as gnome-like spirit dolts, as ugly spider beings related to the sylphs and undines, and as salamander-like warmth beings wherever he is enthusiastic about the true, the beautiful and the good. They are deeply despised by the regular elementary beings in nature and take refuge from them deep inside man, so that they are difficult to discover even for the developed spiritual eye.

Elementary beings and classical elements

Certain elementary beings are closely connected with the four elements. These well-known elements only exist because elementary beings are trapped or enchanted in them.

„So when we ascend - as spiritual science says - from earth through water, through air to fire and then to light, we step from the outwardly perceptible, visible into the invisible, into the etheric-spiritual. Or, as it is also said, fire stands at the boundary between the outwardly perceptible, the material, and that which is etheric-spiritual, which is no longer outwardly perceptible. So what does a body consumed by the flame, that is, by the fire, do? What happens when something burns? When something burns, we see light arising on the one side. The first outwardly imperceptible thing, that which works into the spiritual world, that which is no longer merely outwardly material, so to speak, gives heat when it is so strong that it becomes a source of light. It gives something to the invisible, to that which can no longer be perceived externally, but it must pay for this through the smoke. It must allow the opaque, the smoky, to emerge from what was previously transparently illuminated. And so we see how heat or fire differentiates itself, divides itself. On one side it divides into light, and thus it opens a way into the supersensible world. For sending something up as light into the supersensible world, it must send something down into the material world, into the world of the opaque but visible. Nothing arises unilaterally in the world. Everything that comes into being has two sides: If light comes into being through heat, then on the other side cloudiness, dark matter comes into being. This is an ancient teaching of the spiritual sciences.

But the process as we have now described it is only the outside, only the physical-material process. This physical-material process is based on something else. If you have mere warmth before you, that is, something that does not yet glow, then in a certain respect the warmth itself, which you perceive, is the outward physical, but there is a spiritual in it. When this warmth becomes so strong that luminosity arises and smoke forms, then something of the spiritual that was in the warmth must enter into the smoke. And this spiritual substance which was in the heat, which passes into the smoke, into an air-like substance, that is, into something which is under the heat, is now enchanted in the smoke, in that which appears as a cloud. Spiritual beings who are with the warmth must, so to speak, allow themselves to be enchanted into that which becomes dense, into that which becomes smoky. And so everything that falls out of the warmth like a cloud, like a materialisation, is connected with an enchantment of spiritual beings. We can put it even more bluntly. Let us imagine that we liquefy the air, which is already possible today. The air itself is nothing other than condensed heat; it has arisen from the heat by the formation of smoke. That of the spiritual has been conjured into the smoke which actually wants to be in the fire. Spiritual beings, which are now also called elementary beings, are enchanted in all air, and they are further enchanted, banished, so to speak, to an even lower existence, when air is transformed into water. Hence spiritual science in general sees in what is outwardly perceptible something that has emerged from a primordial state of fire or warmth in such a way that it first became air or smoke or gas, in that the warmth condensed into gas, the gas into liquid, the liquid into solid. Look back, says the spiritual scientist, look at something solid: it was once liquid, it only became solid in the course of development; and the liquid was once gaseous, and the gaseous formed as smoke out of the fire. But with this condensation, with this becoming gaseous and solid, is always connected an enchantment of spiritual beings.

So if we now look at our environment, if we look at the solid stones, the streams of water that run down, if we see the water that evaporates and rises as mist, if we see the air, if we see everything solid, liquid, aeriform and fire, we basically have nothing but fire. Everything is fire, only condensed fire. Gold, silver, copper is condensed fire. Everything was once fire, everything was born of fire - but in all this condensed matter there is everywhere a spiritual element that rests enchanted in it!

How, then, do the spiritual-divine beings who are around us achieve it that, as it is on our planet, a solid comes into being, that a liquid, an aeriform comes into being? They send down their elementary spirits that live in fire, they imprison them in air, water and earth. These are the messengers, the elementary messengers of the spiritual creative formative beings. First you have these elementary spirits in the fire. In fire, if we speak figuratively, they still feel at ease, and now they are condemned, so to speak, to live in enchantment. And we look around us and say to ourselves: these beings to whom we owe all that is around us, they have had to descend from the element of fire, they are enchanted in things.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 34ff)

Members of the elementary beings

The members of the elementary beings are of a different nature than those of humans. Like human beings, they have four basic members, but they are much more earthly oriented and are partly rooted in the lower three elementary kingdoms. (Lit.:GA 102, p. 162ff)

The Gnomes, who are closely connected with the earth element, have a physical body as their highest element. Below this they have three further members of being which reach down into the third, second and first elementary kingdoms. Due to the effect of these three lower elements, the physical body of the gnomes is usually not visible to the senses.

The Undines, who are connected with the water element, have an etheric body as their highest member, then a physical body and below that two more members rooted in the third and second elementary kingdoms.

The Sylphs, who weave in the air element, have an astral body, an etheric body, a physical body and another member in the third elemental kingdom.

Only the Salamanders have an I, an astral body, an etheric body and a physical body, just like human beings. However, their I is not fully developed. Salamanders develop as a cut-off of the group soul of higher animals, such as apes, if not everything returns to the bosom of the group soul at their death and its I-like remnant remains.


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - books, lectures and articles by Rudolf Steiner online (Jim Stewart).
steinerbooks.org - 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.