Physical body

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The physical body (Shtula-Sharira in Indian Theosophical terminology) is the lowest member of the human being. In the true sense of the word, anthroposophy uses it to refer to the supersensible form, the so-called phantom of the human being. This form is closely related to, but not identical with, the mineral, material body, which can be sensually perceived, but which today is generally equated with the physical body. Anthroposophical spiritual science demands a finer distinction here. The outstanding importance of the physical body is pointed out by the famous quote by Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782): "Corporeality is the end of the works of God".

Only as a result of the Luciferic temptation did the form fill itself with earthly materiality and thereby become the corruptible, sensually visible physical body (see below). In the Jewish Kabbalah, the physical body is called Guph (Hebrewגּוּף) and is connected with the lowest Sephira Malchuth ("realm"), which corresponds to our earthly world. Paracelsus calls it the elementary body, since it is built up of the four elements (fire, air, water and earth). Rudolf Steiner, on the other hand, occasionally used this term for the etheric body (Lit.:GA 138, p. 32ff).

The physical body was already predisposed on the Old Saturn, but at first only as a pure heat body. Only during the development of the Earth did it partly condense into a solid crystalline state. Of all the members of the human being, it has undergone the longest development, which has been advanced to a high degree of perfection by a multitude of spiritual beings. With good reason, therefore, it is also called the actual Temple of the Gods by Rudolf Steiner (Lit.:GA 218, p. 169) and the Temple of the Holy Spirit by Paul (1 Cor 6:19).

Awareness of the physical body is awakened especially through the first subsidiary exercise, thought control. Rudolf Steiner shows a meditative way to experience the physical body in (Lit.:GA 16, p. 9ff).

Distinction between physical and mineral body

The material body of man is not identical with the physical body. The physical body was at first a physical, but only supersensually perceptible, immaterial form of the human being, which Rudolf Steiner also called a phantom. Through the Luciferian temptation and the Fall, man was brought down from paradise to the solid earth and thus came more and more into Ahriman's sphere of influence. The phantom was thereby gradually destroyed and the mineral earthly matter, which in a certain sense is nothing other than broken, destroyed form, was deposited in the physical form and thus made the physical body also sensually visible. The substance-filled body can thus also be called the mineral body.

„Being physical and being mineral are two quite different things. The human physical body is physical because it is governed by quite the same laws as the stones; the human physical body is at the same time mineral because it has the mineral substances impregnated in it.“ (Lit.:GA 102, p. 202f)

„One must carefully distinguish between a physical body and a mineral body. A physical body is that which is governed by the physical laws which are at present observed in the mineral kingdom. The present physical human body is not only governed by such physical laws, but is also interspersed with mineral matter. On Saturn [here we do not mean our present Saturn, but the so-called Old Saturn, which was an earlier state of development of our Earth] the physical laws expressed themselves only through the effects of heat. And the whole of Saturn consists of heat bodies. These heat-bodies are the first plant of the present physical-mineral human body. The latter has been formed from the former by the incorporation into the former of the gaseous, liquid and solid substances which were only formed later.“ (Lit.:GA 13, p. 159)

„What is usually regarded as the physical body of the human being is only a maya, an illusion. What confronts the human being and what he believes to be the physical body is basically already the interaction of the four members of the human being, the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body and the I, and the result, the whole result of this interaction is that which, so to speak, confronts the human being in a way that is visible to the eyes and tangible to the hands. If you really wanted to see the physical body, you would have to be able to eliminate the ego, the astral body and the etheric body from the human being - just as one eliminates three substances from a chemical composition consisting of four and retains one; then you would retain the physical body. But that is not possible under the present conditions of existence on earth. You will perhaps think that this happens every time a human being dies. But that is not correct. For what remains when a human being dies is not the physical body of the human being, but the corpse. With the laws that are then active in the physical body when death has occurred, the physical body could not live. These are not its very own laws, but laws that belong to the outer world. If, therefore, you follow these thoughts, you will have to say to yourself that what is usually called the physical body of man is a maya, a delusion, and what we in spiritual science call the physical body is that lawfulness, that law-organism, which within our mineral world creates the physical body of man in the same way as the law of crystallisation of quartz or that of emerald creates quartz or emerald. This human organisation which is effective in the mineral-physical world, that is actually the physical body of man. And nothing else is meant in spiritual science wherever the physical body of man is spoken of.“ (Lit.:GA 124, p. 92f)

„Physical forces express themselves in the body of man when, for example, as a child he first crawls and then gradually passes over into the vertical position. That is one kind of overcoming of gravity; these peculiar relations of balance and gravity are always in him. But this is not actually physically visible; it is what we in spiritual science call the physical body: They are indeed physical forces, but as such they are essentially invisible forces. Just as when we have a pair of scales and a lever: in the middle is the hypomochlion, on one side a force that acts as a result of a weight, and on the other side again a force that acts as a result of a weight. The forces that act there are not the cords on which the weights hang, but they are invisible, yet they are physical forces. Thus we must think of what we call physical in the physical body of man largely as forces.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 67)

The physical body is the lowest and at the same time the oldest member of the human being in terms of evolutionary history. The first structure of the physical human body was already created on the planetary stage of development of Old Saturn in the form of differentiated heat bodies, whereby each of these heat bodies represented a specific reduced image of the entire cosmic life of Old Saturn. The initially uniform heat body of Old Saturn had thus divided itself into many individual small heat bodies, so that from a certain time Old Saturn was composed exclusively of nothing but physical human bodies. The first structures of the later animal kingdom, plant kingdom and mineral kingdom had not yet been created at that time. Rudolf Steiner often uses the comparative image of a blackberry for this state, where the one berry is composed of many individual small berries.

At each subsequent planetary stage of development, further elements were incorporated into the physical body: On the Old Sun the air element, on the Old Moon the water element, and finally during our present earth evolution the earth element. Because of its great evolutionary age, the physical body of man is comparatively much more mature than his other members.

„What man carries with him here on earth as his physical body does not at all derive from the physical life of the ancestors, does not derive at all from what can take place on earth as processes. What we carry with us as a physical body is actually already in itself a four-membered entity. We have developed our physical body through the time of Saturn, the Sun, the Moon and the Earth. It was first formed on Old Saturn; during the solar period the etheric body was incorporated, during the lunar period the astral body, and during the terrestrial period the ego; and through these incorporations the physical body has always been changed. Thus we have the altered Saturn system, the altered solar conditions, the altered lunar conditions all within us. We could not carry a physical human body if we did not carry the altered physical conditions within us. Of all this, only that which we have on us from the earth is actually visible; the other members are not visible. The physical body of the human being becomes visible by absorbing the substances of the earth, transforming them into its blood and penetrating an invisible thing with it. In reality, one sees only the blood and the products of its transformation, that is, only a quarter of the physical human body; the other three quarters are invisible. For there is first of all an invisible framework; in this invisible framework are invisible currents; but all this is present as forces. In these invisible currents there are again invisible effects of the individual currents on each other. All this is not yet visible. And now this threefold invisible is permeated by that which the food, which is processed into blood, forms as the filling of this threefold invisible. Only through this does the physical body become visible. And only with the laws of this visible we are in the field that comes from the earthly. Everything else does not come from earthly conditions; everything else is that which comes from cosmic conditions, and which is already prepared for us when conception occurs, when the first physical atom of the human being comes into existence. In previous times, without there having been a physical connection with father and mother, long preparations have been made for what is to be the later physicality of man. The hereditary relationships are only then worked into it.“ (Lit.:GA 141, p. 143f)


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.
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Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.