Soul forces

From AnthroWiki

Three basic soul forces or soul faculties that shape the soul life of modern man can be clearly distinguished: thinking, feeling and willing. This threefold structure of the soul's life was first clearly described by Johannes Nikolaus Tetens (1736-1807), who aimed for a "psychological analysis of the soul" according to the method of natural science.

The separation of these three soul forces is not equally pronounced in all three soul members. In the sentient soul, thinking, feeling and willing are still very strongly interwoven. In the intellectual or mind soul, the will is already clearly set apart, while thinking and feeling are still closely connected with each other. Only with the consciousness soul does the complete separation of all three soul forces begin. A complete separation of the three soul forces is also achieved by a correspondingly advanced spiritual training, which leads up to a splitting of the personality. However, one must not imagine this separation of the three soul forces as a schematic juxtaposition:

„We distinguish between these three soul faculties, thinking, feeling and willing, but in the unified life of the soul they are not strictly separated from each other. One should actually say: When we speak of thinking, of imagining, we are speaking of a soul faculty in which, for example, the will and also feeling are certainly inside, but it is mainly thinking that is inside. In the will, on the other hand, there are certainly thoughts inside, but it is mainly the will that is inside. Thus it is only the most prominent thing that is designated in the individual soul faculties, while everywhere under the surface, one may say, lie the other soul faculties also.“ (Lit.:GA 82, p. 120f)

In Germanic mythology, the three powers of the soul are referred to by the gods Odin, Vili and .

Soul Forces and Essential Members

The soul forces unfold through the activity of the four fundamental members of man. Thinking weaves between the physical body and the etheric body, feeling vibrates between the etheric body and the astral body, and willing works between the I and the astral body.

„There is first the physical body of man (see drawing, light); there is then the etheric body of man (red). Between the two is the weaving world of thought, in so far as it is integrated into our organism. Between the etheric body and the astral body (green) is the world of feeling, and between the astral body and the ego-shell (blue) is the world of will.“ (Lit.:GA 208, p. 15)

Drawing from GA 208, p. 15 (Plate 1)
Drawing from GA 208, p. 15 (Plate 1)

Soul forces and age

The connection between the soul forces changes with age. This must be taken into account especially in pedagogy. In children, feeling is still closely connected with willing. It is not until adulthood that thinking, feeling and willing separate from each other. In old age, thinking and feeling grow together more and more.

„Man carries within himself thinking cognition, feeling and willing. If we look at the child, then we have a close connection between wanting and feeling in the picture that the child presents to us psychologically. One might say that wanting and feeling have grown together in the child. When the child fidgets or struggles, it makes exactly the movements that correspond to its feeling at that moment; it is not able to distinguish the movements from the feeling.

It is different with the old man. With him the opposite is the case: thinking cognition and feeling have grown together, and the will appears in a certain independent way. Thus the human course of life proceeds in such a way that feeling, which is at first bound to willing, gradually detaches itself from willing in the course of life. And this is what we often have to do with in education: the detachment of feeling from willing. Then the feeling, detached from the will, connects with the thinking cognition. This is what later life has to do with. We have only properly prepared the child for later life if we cause the feeling in it to be able to detach itself well from the will; then in a later era of life as a man or woman it will also be able to connect the detached feeling with the thinking cognition and will thus be able to cope with life. Why do we listen to the old man even when he tells us about his life experiences? Because in the course of his life he has combined his personal feelings with his concepts and ideas. He does not tell us theories, he tells us what he has personally been able to connect with the ideas and concepts. In the case of the old man who has really connected his feeling with thinking cognition, the concepts and ideas therefore sound warm, sound saturated with reality, concrete, personal; whereas in the case of the man who has remained more in manhood or womanhood, the concepts and ideas sound theoretical, abstract, scientific. That is part of human life, that the human soul's faculties go through a certain course, in that the feeling will of the child develops into the feeling thinking of the old man. In between lies human life, and we shall only educate well for this human life if we are able to conceive of such a thing psychologically.“ (Lit.:GA 293, p. 108f)

Connection with earlier stages of world evolution

The three fundamental soul forces of man were already predisposed on the stages of world evolution preceding the development of the Earth: the will on Old Saturn, on which the basis of the physical body was also created under the guidance of the Spirits of Will, the feeling on Old Sun, on which the etheric body was formed under the guidance of the Spirits of Wisdom, and the thinking on Old Moon, on which the ancestor of man was endowed with the astral body under the rule of the Spirits of Motion. From here the connection with the beings of the Third Hierarchy, discussed below, who passed through their stage of humanity during these earlier planetary phases of evolution, also becomes apparent: The Archai on Old Saturn, the Archangeloi on the Old Sun and the Angeloi on the Old Moon.

„Now it is extremely difficult - for all concepts change from planetary state to planetary state - to define what the mission of the old Saturnian, the old solar, the old lunar epoch was. This is not easy, because one must first characterise the mission of our Earth in a very abstract way. The easiest way to get an idea of it is to visualise the nature of the various forces that manifest themselves in the space of the world. Now, if you look at the human interior, at the life of the soul, you have willing, feeling and thinking, and again, if you look at the human shells, at the exterior of human nature, you have physical body, etheric body and astral body, so that, if you look at the human being of today and look away from his ego, you can see him as a fabric of the physical, etheric and astral body, into which are woven - as into an outer shell - willing, feeling and thinking.

Now these forces in the human being, both in the outer and the inner human being, are always related to some earlier mission which was bound to earlier embodiments of the Earth. For example, there is the Saturn mission. If you want to get a rough idea of it, you can think of it as being related to that which is the human physical body on the one hand and the human will on the other. This is to be thought of in such a way that, if there had been no embodiment of Saturn on our Earth, the will of man on the one side and his physical body on the other side could not have come to their present form. Man owes what he has in the way of will and physical body to Old Saturn. That he owes the physical body to Saturn we learn from the Akashachronik. But every previous state also has an effect on the formations that follow this state. That which today manifests itself as will is due to the after-effect of the Saturn element. This leads to the result that from within the human being his beingness manifests itself as will. You will get an idea of the mission of the solar state if you consider what is called the human etheric body and connect feeling with it. You have already been told that the etheric body goes back to the Old Sun. But the after-effect works in such a way that man was able to develop the inner powers of feeling later. And if we finally look at the state of the moon, we see that the astral body of man and human thinking are bound to it. So that we can say: In order that these powers of the inner and outer man - physical body, etheric body and astral body; willing, feeling and thinking - could have developed in such a way that man today possesses them as outer and inner life, three successive cosmic missions were necessary for this. And those Beings whom we have called the Beings of the Hierarchies had to co-operate each time in corresponding alternating activity, so that the task of the three successive embodiments of our Earth could be fulfilled and man could be given what appears in his present constitution.

So the mission of the Old Saturn state had to be fulfilled, otherwise man would not have been able to receive the impact of the physical body and the will. The mission of the Sun had to be fulfilled, otherwise he could not have received the etheric body and feeling, and finally the mission of the Moon had to be fulfilled, otherwise he could not have had the astral body and what we call the power of thought. Thus the three preceding embodiments of our Earth are especially devoted to that which we may call one of the predominant elements of our own personal beingness, our "I". For the fact is that the outer, physical body, which has flowed out of the essence of Old Saturn, out of the Spirits of Will, represents nothing but the Will seen from without. With us the will works as an inner life from within. - These words are quite precisely chosen, they are not fantastic, but quite exactly according to the nature of the thing. You can learn much from them. - The Earth has gone through the solar period in order to establish the etheric body on the one hand through the influence of the Spirits of Wisdom, and in order to establish on the other hand, through the continued action of the element of wisdom, that which reflects the inner wisdom: feeling. That which was the lunar mission is similarly connected with the astral sphere and with thinking.

Now the question arises: What special mission have the Spirits of Form, who mainly work on the Earth and form the Earth, chosen?

We can say first of all: The spirits who have mainly worked on Saturn, the Spirits of Will or Thrones, had the mission of weaving in the element which later, during the evolution of the Earth, reveals itself in the Will. That is Saturn's great mission: to implant the will, to implant the powers of the will. When we look at something like this, we gain respect for the cosmic powers that are at work. We gain a proper appreciation of these powers when we see that a special planetary mission was necessary for the elaborate weave of outer will living in the physical body and inner will. The whole world of the Hierarchies had to give rise to a planet and let it pass away again in order to bring about the relationship which is woven into us as an outer and inner element of will. In the same way, the Old Sun had to come into being in order to give rise to the etheric body and the emotional element, the inner wisdom element. What is then reflected in our thinking element, in our astrality, as the inner thought element in man, for this the Moon Mission was necessary.“ (Lit.:GA 121, p. 95ff)

Connection with wisdom, beauty and goodness

„Now in more recent times these three highest ideals of humanity have always been brought into connection with the three human powers of the soul known to us and considered in the most varied relations. The ideal of wisdom has been associated with thinking or imagining, the ideal of beauty with feeling, the ideal of goodness with willing.

Wisdom can only become a human being in clear ideas, in clear thinking. That which is the object of art, the beautiful, cannot be grasped in this way. Feeling is the soul force that has to do primarily with beauty, so the researchers of the soul, the psychologists, have said for a long time. And that which is realised as the good in the world is connected with the will.“ (Lit.:GA 272, p. 194)

„Therefore the Rosicrucians said: Shape the world in such a way that it contains within itself wisdom, beauty and strength, then wisdom, beauty and strength are reflected in us. If you have used the time to do this, then you yourself go out of this Earth with the reflection of wisdom, beauty and strength. Wisdom is the reflection of Manas; beauty, piety, goodness is the reflection of Buddhi; strength is the reflection of Atma.

First we develop a realm of wisdom around us by promoting wisdom. Then we develop a realm of beauty in all fields. Then wisdom appears visibly and it is reflected in us: Buddhi. Finally, we give it physical existence, wisdom within, beauty without. If we have the power to enforce this, then we have strength: Atma, the power to transform all this into reality. Thus we set up in ourselves the three realms: Manas, Buddhi, Atma.

Man does not progress on Earth through idle contemplation, but by incorporating wisdom, beauty and strength into the Earth. Through the work of our higher self we transform the perishable bodies given to us by the gods and create eternal bodies for ourselves.“ (Lit.:GA 93a, p. 177)

Gold, frankincense and myrrh

Symbols for the three fundamental soul powers are also the three gifts of the Sages of the Orient, who had been disciples of the high initiate Zarathustra in an earlier incarnation. The gold stands for the wisdom of thought, the frankincense for the piety of feeling and the tart myrrh for the willpower.

„A tremendous attachment developed in the schools of the Chaldeans to the individuality - not the personality - of Zoroaster. They felt a kinship, these Sages of the Orient, with their great leader. They saw in him the star of humanity, for "Zoroaster" is a transliteration of the word "gold star" or "star of radiance". They saw in him a reflection of the Sun itself. And out of their deep wisdom, it could not remain hidden from them when their Master shone again in Bethlehem. There they were led by their star and brought him the outward signs of the best that he had been able to give to mankind. The best that could be given to a human being from the Zarathustra current was the knowledge of the outer world, of the mysteries of the cosmos, absorbed into the human astral body, into thinking, feeling and willing, so that the Zarathustra disciples wanted to imbue their thinking, feeling and willing, the powers of their soul, with the wisdom that one can imbibe from the deep foundations of the divine-spiritual world. For this knowledge, which one can make one's own by imbibing the outer secrets, one had gold, frankincense and myrrh as symbols: Gold as a symbol for thinking, frankincense for piety, for that which pervades us as feeling, and myrrh for the power of will. Thus they showed their kinship with their Master when they appeared before him as he was born again in Bethlehem. Therefore the writer of the Gospel of Matthew indeed correctly tells us how the wise men among whom Zoroaster had worked knew that he had reappeared among men, and how they expressed their kinship with him by the three symbols - gold, frankincense and myrrh - , the symbols of the best that he had given them (Matthew 11).“ (Lit.:GA 114, p. 102f)

Connection with the Hierarchies

In a narrower sense, the faculties of thinking, feeling and willing are related to the beings of the third hierarchy.

„We humans think. At first we believe that we experience only our thoughts. But as our thoughts pass through our soul, the Angeloi live in reality within our thoughts. And just as we feel with our senses, just as we grasp and grasp something, so the Angeloi live inside our thinking - that is their feeling. They bring this to our consciousness. And just as the Angeloi feel in our thinking, so the Archangeloi experience in our feeling, and so the Archai look in our willing." (Lit.:GA 270b, p. 108)

If one looks at the matter in an even more comprehensive sense, one realises that ultimately all hierarchies are involved in the activity of our soul forces. In his anthroposophical guiding principles Rudolf Steiner has presented this connection concisely and clearly. In thinking the third hierarchy is reflected, in feeling the second hierarchy and in willing the first hierarchy:

"59. An unbiased observation of thinking shows that the thoughts of ordinary consciousness have no existence of their own, that they appear only as mirror images of something. But man feels himself to be alive in thoughts. The thoughts do not live; but he lives in the thoughts. This life originates in spirit-beings, which (in the sense of my "Occult Science") can be addressed as those of the third hierarchy, as a spirit-realm.

60. The extension of this unbiased observation to feeling shows that the feelings rise out of the organism, but that they cannot be produced by it. For their life carries within itself an essence independent of the organism. Man can feel himself with his organism in the world of nature. But precisely when he does this, understanding himself, he will feel himself with his world of feeling in a spiritual realm. This is that of the second Hierarchy.

61. As a being of will, man does not turn to his organism, but to the outer world. He does not ask, when he wants to go, what do I feel in my feet, but what is the goal out there to which I want to go. He forgets his organism by willing. In his will he does not belong to his nature. He belongs there to the spirit-realm of the first hierarchy.“ (Lit.:GA 26, p. 41)

Connection with the Trinity

The three soul forces are also connected with the Trinity. Thinking inclines towards the understanding of the Holy Spirit, feeling towards Christ and willing towards God the Father.

„This tripartite being is in turn such that the actual thinking inclines to the understanding of that which is the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that the feeling inclines to the understanding of that which is the Son, the Christ, and that all willing inclines to the understanding of the Father. One must actually always feel connected, knowing oneself to be a thinking, feeling and willing being through the spiritual trinity with the Spirit, with the Son, with the Father.“ (Lit.:GA 343a, p. 373)


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: URL:
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.