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Light (Latinlux; cf. also Greekλευκός leukós "light, white, shining"; derived from Indo-European: *leuk- "to shine, radiate, sparkle", from which the outdated German word lohe "blaze, flame" also derives; Hebrewאוֹר or or aur, related to אוֹרָה aura) is the necessary real condition for us to be able to see external objects by means of our sense of sight. The place from which the light emanates is called the light source.

The light is just as little visible to the senses as the absolute darkness, which is polar opposite to the light. We only perceive the effects of light on objects - and these effects are the colours in which the outer sensual world shines for us (Lit.:GA 110, p. 33ff). That is why space, which is almost empty of air but illuminated by billions of stars, appears deep black to us.

Light and Colours

According to Goethe's theory of colours, colours arise from the interplay of light and darkness; they are deeds and sufferings of light. If the light is darkened, yellow and red hues emerge; if the darkness is lightened, blue and violet colours appear. These are the two primal phenomena of chromatics.

„For we actually undertake in vain to express the essence of a thing. We become aware of effects, and a complete history of these effects would at best comprise the essence of that thing. In vain do we endeavour to describe the character of a man; but put together his actions, his deeds, and a picture of character will meet us.

The colours are deeds of light, deeds and sufferings. In this sense, we can expect them to give us information about light. Colours and light stand in the most exact relation to each other, but we must think of both as belonging to the whole of nature: for she it is entirely that thereby wishes to reveal herself especially to the sense of the eye.“

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: On the Theory of Colours, Preface

The fact that light in itself is of a supersensible nature and only reveals itself in its effects on matter was already described by Johannes Scotus Eriugena in the middle of the 9th century:

„For the philosophers say that the ray of the sun is incomprehensible to the creaturely senses, because they are unable to feel the subtlety of its nature. However, as soon as it gradually descends from the solar body to the lower elements, it gradually begins to become visible. At first it hardly begins to shine in the purest ether, because the nature of the ether itself is very similar to it. However, as it progresses to the upper parts of the aerial circle, it generally becomes clearer, and the more it penetrates downwards into denser natures, the more clearly it shines and presents itself as tangible to the bodily senses. But from the radiance itself the most glorious radiance fills the whole world and shows itself on the surface of all bodies in a manifold play of colours. It itself would also escape the bodily senses through its natural delicacy if it did not mix with the bodily elements.“

Johannes Scotus Eriugena: On the Classification of Nature[1]

The Supersensible Nature of Light

Light in itself is neither sensual nor material, but of a purely supersensible nature. In the etheric world it reveals itself to the spiritual observer as light ether and in the fifth region of the astral world as soul light. Of the two basic forces of the soul world, sympathy and antipathy, antipathy has already been completely overcome. The soul light shines freely and widely through the "soul space". An even higher form of light is the creative spiritual light, which Rudolf Steiner very rarely also referred to with the theosophical or gnostic expression aeon light.

„As the eye distinguishes light and darkness, as the eye distinguishes different colours, so the spiritual, the developed, open eye of the occultist distinguishes the higher, shining light of the spirit, which is not sensual light, which is a brighter shining light in higher worlds, in higher spheres, and this shining light of the spirit, that is reality for the occultist just as our sunlight is reality for our observation. And we see in individual things that the sunlight is reflected back. Thus the occultist distinguishes the radiant self-lighting of the spirit from the peculiar glimmering of light which is reflected back from the world of forms, as a soul flame. Soul means reflecting spiritual light, spirit means radiating creative light. These three realms are spirit-world, soul-world and form-world, for so they appear to the occultist.“ (Lit.:GA 52, p. 348)

„The mystic lives into what lives and weaves around him and in him. He feels the creative light that works outside and creates inside. He is himself shining and sounding in a shining and sounding world. When he lives in the creative light, lives in the creative sound, then he has mystical life. Then something comes over a person that is different from the light from outside and the sound from outside. Once you have experienced this, you feel it to be the truth. The Gnostics, the Egyptian mystics, the mystics of the Middle Ages speak of the creating light. They call it the aeon light. It is a light which from the mystic awakens the objects around him to living life. This is the pleroma of the Gnostics. Thus the mystic feels blessed in the world-light. He feels blissfully interwoven with this aeon light. There he is not separate from the essence of things; there he is partaker of the immediate creative power. This is what the mystic calls his beatification in the creative light.“ (Lit.:GA 51, p. 214f)

In Kabbalistic mysticism, the undefinable and indeterminate boundless primordial light that emerged from nothing, from which, according to the teachings of Isaac Luria, creation arose, is called Ain Soph Aur (Hebrewאין סוף אוֹר), literally "the non-finite light", from אין ain "nothing", סוֹף soph "finite" and אור or resp. aur "light". In the beginning, everything was filled with the hidden essence of God, the boundless, featureless primordial being. Through God's self-limitation (Hebrewצמצום Zimzum), an empty space came into being into which the primordial light shone as a flash of creation and brought forth the created world.

What is described in physics as a photon or light particle, and which in principle represents a quantised electromagnetic wave packet, is only a Luciferian-Ahrimanic reflection of the supersensible light in the sub-sensible world. Electricity arises, according to Rudolf Steiner, when the forces of the light ether are thrust into the sub-sensible reflection of the astral world, which is the realm of Lucifer. Magnetism appears when the sound ether forces are pushed down into the subphysical lower Devachan, which is ruled by Ahriman. Ahriman, the Spirit of Darkness, forms here, as it were, the dark material mirror coating which throws back the light, and Lucifer produces the light glow of the sensual colours.

The Origin of Light on the Old Sun

Light originated on the Old Sun as a result of what Rudolf Steiner called the "giving virtue" of the Spirits of Wisdom. At that time space did not yet exist, but time did, which had already arisen together with warmth on the previous planetary stage of development, the Old Saturn. From the giving virtue of the Spirits of Wisdom, the air element first arose through the condensation of a part of this warmth. The air was thus added as an outer element to the continuing heat of Saturn. Now giving is always twofold, a giving and a taking. So the Archangels joined as the takers - but they do so in a very special way. They do not simply keep what they have received for themselves, but they radiate it back to the spirits of wisdom as an image, but not immediately, but with a time delay at a later time. They are messengers of what was before, messengers of the beginning they are - Archangeloi. And that is why, beholding the effects of the light, we always look into the past.

„This gives rise to something quite special, which you can only imagine correctly if you think of the picture of an internally closed sphere, where something is radiated from the centre, which is given; this radiates to the periphery and from there radiates back to the centre. On the surface, inside the sphere, are the archangels, who radiate it back. You don't need to imagine anything on the outside. - So we have to think of what comes from the spirits of wisdom starting from a centre: it is radiated out on all sides, is caught by the archangels and radiated back. What is that which radiates back into space, this radiated gift of the spirits of wisdom? What is the wisdom radiated back into itself? - That is the light. And thus the archangels are at the same time the creators of light.“ (Lit.:GA 132, p. 34)

In this way, when the Spirits of Wisdom have their inner being reflected back to them in the light as an outer being with a time delay, space comes into being, although not yet in the three dimensions we are accustomed to, but two-dimensionally as "inner" and "outer". Thus space is born from time; space and time are not independent of each other.

„Inner and outer are the two opposites that now confront us. The former and the later transform and become in such a way that they are transformed into the inner and the outer. The "space" is born! Through the bestowing virtue of the Spirits of Wisdom, space arises on the Old Sun. Before, "space" could only have a figurative meaning. Now we have space, but at first only in two dimensions: not yet above and below, not yet right and left, but only outer and inner. - In reality, these two opposites already appear towards the end of the Old Saturn, but they repeat themselves in their actual meaning, as creating space on the Old Sun.“ (Lit.:GA 132, p. 35)

Light and Thinking

When we think, we live in light. What we experience inwardly as thought, we see outwardly as light. The imaginative view shows that light and thought are the same, only seen from different sides.

„And if we even approach the light, then we also weave and live in the light. Only we do not notice this, because in ordinary consciousness we have no idea that the inner weaving of light is contained in our own thinking, that every thought is caught light: caught light in the physically seeing, caught light in the physically blind. The light is an objective. Not only does the physically sighted receive light, but the physically blind also receive light when they think. For the thought which we inwardly hold within us, the thought which we inwardly capture within us, it is light present within us.“ (Lit.:GA 270a, p. 88)

„Man has a certain experience of the outer light. The same experience that man has through the sensual perception of the light in the outer world, he has towards the thought element of the head for the imagination. So that one can say: The thought element, objectively looked at, is looked at as light, or rather, experienced as light. - We live, in that we are thinking human beings, in the light. We see the outer light with our physical senses; we do not see the light that becomes thought, because we live in it, because we are thought-people. One cannot see what one is oneself at first. When one steps out of these thoughts, when one enters into imagination, inspiration, then one confronts it, and then one sees the thought element as light. So that when we speak of the complete world, we can say: We have the light in us; only there it does not appear to us as light, because we live in it, and because, by making use of the light, by having the light, it becomes thought in us. - You take possession of the light, so to speak; the light that otherwise appears to you outside, you take into yourself. You differentiate it within you. You work in it. That is your thinking, that is acting in the light. You are a being of light. You do not know that you are a being of light because you live in the light within. But your thinking, which you develop, is life in the light. And when you look at your thinking from the outside, you see light.

Now think of the universe (left drawing). You see it - during the day, of course - flooded with light, but imagine that you are looking at this universe from the outside. And now we do the reverse. We have just had the human head (right drawing), which has the thought in its inner development and looks at light from the outside. In the universe we have light that is looked at sensually. If we come out of the universe and look at it from the outside (arrows), what does it appear as? As a structure of thoughts! The universe - inwardly light, outwardly thoughts. The human head - inwardly thought, seen from without light.“ (Lit.:GA 202, p. 74f)

Light and Thought

But the present does not live in the thought; it comes to us from the past. And in the light penetrated by thought we look into a dying world. But in it shines the order of the cosmos (Greekκόσμος kósmos "world [order]", also "ornament, decency, adornment") and through it the world shines in beauty.

„Now the thought that lives in us is actually that which comes over from the past, that which is the most mature in us, the result of earlier lives on earth. What was formerly will has become thought, and thought appears as light. From this you will be able to feel: Where there is light, there is thought - but how? Thought, in which a world perpetually dies. A pre-world, a premature world dies in thought, or in other words, in light. That is one of the mysteries of the world. We look out into the universe. It is suffused with light. Thought lives in the light. But in this thought-penetrated light lives a dying world. In the light, the world is continually dying.

When a man like Hegel contemplates the world, he actually contemplates the perpetual dying of the world. Those people who have a special inclination towards the sinking, the dying, the paralysing of the world become especially thought people. And in the dying the world becomes beautiful. The Greeks, who inwardly were actually thoroughly of living human nature, outwardly had their joy when beauty shone in the dying of the world. For in the light in which the world dies, the beauty of the world shines. The world does not become beautiful if it cannot die, and in dying it shines, the world. So that it is actually beauty that appears out of the radiance of light of the world that is continually dying. This is how one views the universe qualitatively.“ (Lit.:GA 202, p. 76)

Wisdom lives in the light

"Wisdom lives in the light" or also "In the light wisdom radiates" are aphorisms given by Rudolf Steiner for meditation, which help to grasp the essence of light more deeply.

„The main characteristic of ordinary thinking is that every single activity of thinking affects the nervous system, especially the brain; it destroys something in the brain. Every ordinary thought means a process of destruction in the small, in the cells of the brain. For this reason sleep is necessary for us, so that this process of destruction can be repaired. During sleep we replace what was destroyed in our nervous system during the day by thinking. What we consciously perceive in an ordinary thought is in reality the process of destruction that takes place in our nervous system.

Now let us endeavour to develop meditation by devoting ourselves, for example, to the contemplation of the following:

Wisdom lives in the light.

This idea cannot come from sense impressions, because it is not the case, according to the outer senses, that wisdom lives in the light. In such a case, through meditation we hold back the thought so far that it does not connect with the brain. If we thus develop an inner thinking activity which is not connected with the brain, we shall feel by the effects of such meditation on our soul that we are on the right path. Since in meditative thinking we do not cause a process of destruction in our nervous system, such meditative thinking never makes us sleepy, however long it is continued, which our ordinary thinking can easily do.“ (Lit.:GA 152, p. 25)

Matter as condensed light

Light itself is not matter, but all earthly matter is compressed, condensed light trapped in darkness.

„There really is a state of dissolution of all matter attainable by clairvoyant research, where all matter shows itself in a thereby sameness; only what appears there is no longer matter, but something that lies beyond all specialised matter that surrounds us. And every single matter then presents itself as compressed, condensed from this basic matter - it is no longer matter, after all - whether you have gold, silver or whatever kind of matter. There is a basic being of our material being on earth, from which everything material has only come about through condensation. And to the question: What is this basic matter of our earthly existence?- spiritual science answers: All matter on earth is condensed light! There is nothing in material existence that is anything other than light condensed in some form. Therefore you see that for one who knows the facts, there is no theory to justify such as the oscillation hypothesis of the 19th century, in which one tried to represent light by means which are themselves coarser than light. Light is not due to anything else in our material existence. Wherever you reach out and touch matter, you will find condensed, compressed light everywhere. Matter is light by its very nature.“ (Lit.:GA 120, p. 192)

See also


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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.
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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 (by Steiner Online Library).
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. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 230 [1]