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Frederic Leighton: The Bath of Psyche, 1890

The soul (from Indo-European: *saiwalō or *saiwlō, probably derived from *saiwaz, "lake"; GermanSeele), called psyche (Greekψυχή "breath"; Latin: anima) by the ancient Greeks and therefore occasionally also called breath soul, is that essential member of man's being which connects his bodily and spiritual existence.

„By body is meant here that, by which the things of his environment reveal themselves to man [...] By the word soul is meant that, by which he connects the things with his own existence, by which he feels pleasure and displeasure, lust and displeasure, joy and pain at them. As spirit is meant that which is revealed in him when he, according to Goethe's expression, regards things as "as it were divine being". - In this sense man consists of body, soul and spirit.“ (Lit.:GA 9, p. 26f)

Anthroposophy thus represents the trichotomy, the threefold division of the human being into the three essential members spirit, soul and body. In the Catholic Church, the doctrine of trichotomy has been considered heresy since the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869). It was replaced by the dichotomy, which concedes man only body and soul and denies his independent spirit. This dualistic view continues to have an effect in philosophy and the sciences to this day, as is shown by the never-ending discussions about the body-soul problem, which are primarily linked to Descartes' postulated division of the human being into a spatially extended physical res extensa and an inextensible, point-like soul-spirit res cogitans. How there should be a psychophysical interaction between these completely different substances remains completely unclear. From the anthroposophical point of view body, soul and spirit are not different substances, but in the sense of a consistent monism different manifestations of one and the same spiritual substance. This can be compared pictorially with water, which can appear as gaseous steam, as liquid water and as solid frozen ice.

The inner world of the soul, which in its full development is only possible for man, is divided into three parts which can be distinguished in the aura. Its body-bound parts, namely the sentient soul, the intellectual or mind soul and also the part of the consciousness soul facing the sensual world are subject to mortality; only the part of the consciousness soul facing the spirit is immortal. However, this immortal part of the soul is not given a priori and unlosable, but must be actively attained and preserved (see → immortality of the soul).

According to its substantial nature, the soul originates from the astral body, which in turn has separated itself from the astral world. The soul is the organ of consciousness, of desires and sensations, and of the human soul faculties of thinking, feeling, and willing, which determine the life of the soul. Artistically, it is usually represented in female form.

Body, Soul and Spirit

The human soul is often personified in female form. Originally, as some Gnostic writings suggest, it was an androgynous, i.e. dual-sex male-female being, which only assumed its single-sex female form through its fall into the sensual world. For example, the "Exegesis on the Soul" found among the Nag Hammadi scriptures states:

„The sages who lived before us gave the soul a feminine name. In fact, it is also a woman by nature. It has a womb just like other women. As long as it was alone with the father, it was a virgin and man-feminine in form. But when she fell into a body and came into this life, she fell into the power of many robbers. And the wicked threw her to one another and defiled her. Some abused her violently, while others acted in such a way as to persuade her with a seductive gift. In short, she was ravished, and she lost her virginity [...]. But she is wont to become a poor widow, having no help; neither has she any to hear her in her affliction; for she had received nothing from them but the ravishings which they had inflicted on her when they had dealings with her. And the children she brought forth with the adulterers are dumb and blind and sick. But when the Father, who is in heaven above, seeks her and looks down upon her and sees her groaning with her sufferings and shame, and how she repents of the fornication she has committed, and how she begins to call upon his name that he may help her, crying out with all her heart, saying: "Save me, my Father, for behold: I will give account to thee, for I have left my house, and fled out of my virgin chamber. Bring me back to thee again!" and when he sees her that she is in this state, he will hold her worthy of his mercy; for numerous are the sorrows that have come upon her because she has left her house.“

Exegesis on the soul: (NHC II,6)


Sophia (GreekΣοφíα "wisdom") is often called the female aspect of the Godhead in Gnosis. As the world soul, she is the macrocosmic analogue of the human soul or the group soul of mankind. She is often equated with the Holy Spirit (here thought of as female). In many cases it appears as the lowest of the aeons emanated by the Godhead, which in their totality form the Pleroma. Through its fall it becomes the cause for the creation of the material world. A distinction is also often made between a higher and lower aspect of Sophia. The lower or inferior Sophia, which dwells outside the Pleroma, is then also called Achamoth (GreekἈχαμώθ) by the Valentinians. Sometimes she is also called Prunikos (GreekΠρούνικος), which according to Epiphanius of Salamis is supposed to mean something like "harlot" or "the lustful one"[1] - but this meaning of the word is not regarded as certain.

Virgin Sophia

See also: Virgin Sophia

In Christian esotericism, the Virgin Sophia is the astral body that has been purified of lower sensual desires and elevated to the spirit self, corresponding to Isis in pre-Christian times. She stands for the completely pure human or human soul. In esoteric Christianity, the mother of Jesus was always called the "Virgin Sophia", as also by John the Evangelist; only exoterically does he call her the "Mother of Jesus".

Two-soul doctrine

The two-soul doctrine, still advocated by the Byzantine patriarch Photius I, according to which man has a higher, immortal spirit-soul and an earthly, transient soul, was banned at the Fourth Council of Constantinople in 869. The spirit was to be reserved for God alone. The doctrine of the trichotomy, according to which man consists of spirit, soul and body, has since been considered heresy in the Roman Catholic Church. It was replaced by the dichotomy, which concedes man only body and soul and denies his independent spirit. Thus, as Rudolf Steiner often puts it, "the spirit was abolished".

The immortal soul

According to the anthroposophical view, however, it is precisely the immortal individual spirit, the I of man, that reincarnates and, apart from exceptional cases[2], not the largely perishable soul, which after death, through its purification in the Kamaloka (purgatory) and in the higher realms of the soul world, disperses to its imperishable remnant (entelechy) in the general astral world and must be largely rebuilt anew and with different qualities for the next earthly incarnation. The immortality of the soul is not given from the beginning, but is only acquired with the consciousness soul oriented towards the spiritual through the activity of the I. The doctrine of the reincarnation of the spirit must therefore be strictly distinguished from the transmigration of the soul or metempsychosis. The body is subject to heredity, the soul to the fate (karma) created in previous earthly lives, and the spirit continues to develop through successive incarnations.

Body and soul

Plato still perceived the body as a dungeon or even a grave of the soul (Greekτὸ μὲν σῶμά ἐστιν ἡμῖν σῆμα to men soma estin hemin sema, literally: "The body is a grave for us."[3]), whereby it could only fully develop and ascend into eternity in the body-free state after death. In Christianity, on the other hand - in sharp contrast to this - it is precisely the inherent and indissoluble body-relatedness[4] of the soul that appears as its central characteristic, which is what makes it a truly human soul. For Thomas Aquinas, the most essential destiny of the soul, according to Aristotelian hylemorphism, is to be the form of the body (Latinanima forma corporis)[5]. As an immortal substance, it remains after death, but without body it cannot develop its full potential and loses its personhood[6], which it only has in[7] the body. After death, therefore, it has a lesser mode of existence than in the embodied state and only achieves its perfection through the resurrection of the body, which is made possible by the all-surpassing love and grace of God in that God Himself became man in Jesus Christ, passed through death on Golgotha and rose again on the third day.

In the meantime, with increasing materialism, the understanding not only of the spirit but also of the soul, namely of its continued existence after death, has been largely lost. This development has not stopped at contemporary theology either, for example in the form of the whole-death theory advocated mainly by Protestant theologians or the increasingly widespread talk in Catholic theology since the middle of the 20th century of immediate resurrection in death, which at the same time also de facto "abolishes" the immortal soul.

The soul as inner world

„As its own inner world, the soul essence of man is distinct from his corporeality. The inner world is immediately apparent when attention is drawn to the simplest sense sensation. No one can know at first whether another experiences such a simple sensation in exactly the same way as he does. It is known that there are people who are colour-blind. Such see things only in various shades of grey. Others are partially colour-blind. They are therefore unable to perceive certain nuances of colour. The view of the world that their eye gives them is different from that of so-called normal people. And the same applies more or less to the other senses. It is obvious that even simple sensory perception belongs to the inner world. With my bodily senses I can perceive the red table, which the other also perceives; but I cannot perceive the other's sensation of red. - One must therefore call the sensation of the senses a spiritual thing. If one only makes this fact quite clear to oneself, then one will soon cease to regard inner experiences as mere brain processes or the like. - First of all, the sensation is followed by the feeling. The one sensation gives the human being pleasure, the other displeasure. These are impulses of his inner, his spiritual life. In his feelings, man creates a second world for himself in addition to the one that affects him from the outside. And a third is added: the will. Through it, the human being has an effect on the outside world. And through this he imprints his inner being on the outer world. The soul of the human being flows outwards, as it were, in his acts of will. This distinguishes man's deeds from the events of outer nature, that the former bear the stamp of his inner life. Thus the soul, as man's own, confronts the outer world. He receives stimuli from the outer world; but in accordance with these stimuli he forms a world of his own. Physicality becomes the underground of the soul.“ (Lit.:GA 9, p. 30f)

The three soul members

The human soul is formed by the fact that the individual human I works subconsciously and constantly on the three lower, bodily members of man and that this work is reflected in corresponding changes in the astral body. This results in a threefold structure of the human soul.

"We must again bear in mind that what we call the actual human soul life, the human inner being, is not simply a chaos of sensations, drives, ideas, passions, ideals, surging through one another; but we must tell ourselves with all clarity that this human soul breaks down into three separate members; that we can distinguish quite precisely: the lowest soul member, the sentient soul; the middle soul member, the intellectual or mind soul; and the highest soul member, the consciousness soul. These three members are to be distinguished in the human soul life. But they must not fall apart in this human soul. The human soul must be a unity. What is it in the human being that unites these three members of the soul into a unity? That is precisely what we call in the actual sense the human "I", the bearer of human self-awareness.|58|145f}}

Corresponding to the three lower members of man, the following soul members are thus incorporated into the astral body:

  1. Sentient soul
  2. Intellectual or mind soul
  3. Consciousness soul

„One can again unreservedly have the will to triviality and say: Why do you anthroposophists have the spleen to distinguish in the soul three soul members and even many members in human nature? You speak of a sentient soul, an intellectual soul and a consciousness soul. It would be much simpler to speak of the soul as a unified entity in which thought, feeling and volition take place - it is certainly simpler, more convenient - and trivial too. But at the same time this is also something that the scientific contemplation of man cannot in truth promote. For it is not from the longing to divide and to make many words that the division of the human soul into sentient soul arises, that is, into that part which first enters into contact with the environment and receives the perceptions and sensations from outside, in which the desires and instincts also develop, and which is then to be separated from that part in which what has been gained has already been processed in a certain sense. We bring our sentient soul into activity by facing the outside world, receiving from it impressions of colour and sound, but also allowing to emerge what we as normal human beings do not have in hand at first: our drives, desires and passions. But when we withdraw and process within ourselves what we have taken in through perceptions and so on, so that what is stimulated in us by the outer world is transformed into feelings, then we live in the second soul member, in the intellectual or mind soul. And in so far as we direct and guide our thoughts and are not led on a string, we live in the consciousness soul.

In "Occult Science" or in "Theosophy" you will see that the three members of the soul have many more relations - of a different kind - to what is in the outer world, not because we take pleasure in the division, but because what we call the sentient soul is related to the cosmos in quite a different way than what we call the consciousness soul.

It is the consciousness soul that isolates the human being, that makes him feel like an inwardly closed being. What we call the intellectual soul brings him into relationship with his surroundings and with the whole cosmos, making him a being that appears like an extract, like a confluence of the whole world. Through the consciousness soul, man lives in himself, isolates himself. The most important thing that one experiences in the consciousness soul is that which one develops most late in life: the ability to think logically, to have opinions, thoughts and so on. That rests in the consciousness soul. In relation to these qualities, the individual nucleus of the human being, which comes into existence through birth, is indeed most predisposed to isolation. This innermost core of being works itself out most late in the human being. While his envelope, his bodily organisation, emerges earliest, his actual individuality emerges latest. But as man is at present - he was different in the past and will be different in the future - he indeed develops his opinions, concepts, ideas in the most isolated part of his being. These, therefore, have the least influence on the whole structure and formation of his total personality, and also come out as an annex only when the total personality is firmly established, plastically formed.“ (Lit.:GA 60, p. 237ff)

The first disposition of the sentient soul was created when the Earth was condensed to the state of fire in the polar age, which in a certain way repeated the Old Saturn. It continues to form through the unconscious work of the human I on the astral body. It is a transformed part of the astral body. This twilight unconscious work on the astral body began in Lemurian times and reached its climax in the Egyptian-Chaldean culture. The sentient soul is born as an independent element at the age of 21. Aristotle referred to the sentient soul as the orectikon. In the Hebrew tradition it is called Nephesh.

The intellectual or mind soul was predisposed when the Earth was condensed to the state of air in the polar age. It represents a modification of the astral body, which is further formed by the I working unconsciously on the etheric body and the result of this activity being reflected back into the astral body. This work began in the Atlantean period and reached its climax in the Greco-Latin culture. Aristotle called the intellectual or mind soul the kineticon. In the Hebrew tradition it is called Ruach. As an independent element, the mind soul is born at the age of 28. In the intellectual soul, the I appears to us for the first time, but it does not yet become clearly aware of itself. This only happens through the consciousness soul.

The consciousness soul is also a transformed part of the astral body. Its first disposition was created when during the hyperborean age - a short repetition of the Old Sun - the Earth condensed to the state of water. It is formed further by the fact that the I unconsciously works on the physical body, reshaping it, and this activity is reflected back into the astral body. This unconscious work of the I began at the end of the Atlantean era and is striving towards a climax in our present cultural epoch. The consciousness soul is born as an independent element at the age of 35. Aristotle used the term dianoetikon for the consciousness soul. In the Hebrew tradition it is called Neshama.

In the Zohar, the holy book of Kabbalah, this trinity of soul members is described in its fundamental meaning thus:

„And behold, when the All-Holy One created man, He read his substance from the four sides of the world, placed man himself in the place of the lower sanctuary, and drew to him the soul of life from the upper sanctuary. And the soul is grouped into three levels, which is why it has three names, according to the upper secret: Nephesh, Ruach, Neshama. Nephesh the lower level. Ruach is the substance that rules over the soul, existing in all things in the right way. Neshama, the higher substance, ruling over everything - holy, upper level. These three levels are combined in man, in those who are worthy to serve their Lord. For in the beginning there is in him the Nephesh, and that is the holy judgment, that in it man may change to the right. When a man reaches purification on this level, he can ennoble himself by ascending to "Ruach", for this is the holy level that rests above Nephesh, so that with it the man who has become worthy may ennoble himself. But if he has ascended in Nephesh and Ruach and has changed to the right in the service of his Lord, then Neshama, the upper, holy level that rules over all, rules over him, so that he may beautify himself with the upper, holy level - thus he becomes all-perfect, perfect on all sides, in order to become worthy of the world to come, as one who loves God.“ (Lit.: Zohar, p. 127f)

Old and young souls

„You know from the description in my "Occult Science in Outline" that during the Lemurian period of earth evolution only very few human beings survived, so to speak, the events of earth evolution on earth itself, that only a few remained on earth during the Lemurian period; that the majority of souls, before the actual danger of the mummification of all human beings began, rose from the earth to other planets and continued to live on Mars, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter and so on; that then, from the end of the Lemurian period and during the Atlantean period, these souls gradually descended again to the earth in order to embody themselves in earthly bodies under the changed earthly conditions and to appear in ever new incarnations. So we have souls who came down from the planetary world relatively early, and others who descended late, only in the late periods of the Atlantean evolution. The former souls, who descended earlier, have had more incarnations within the Earth than those who descended later, and these we can therefore call younger souls, in contrast to the former, souls which have absorbed less.

An old soul was the individuality hidden behind the name Gilgamesh, and a younger one embodied in Eabani at the starting point of Babylonian culture. Yes, in relation to this younger or older of the human souls something very strange is revealed - one might almost say even to the surprise of the occultist. If, for example, anyone today has come so far as to admit a little of the truths of spiritual science, but otherwise still clings to the prejudices and value judgements of the outer world, then it will seem plausible to him that, for example, philosopher or scholar souls of our day must be reckoned among the older souls. Occult research shows the exact opposite, strange as it may sound, and it is surprising to the occultist himself that in Kant, for example, a young soul lived. Yes, the facts say so, there is nothing to be done about it. And one could point out that the younger souls embody themselves in the majority in the coloured races, and that the coloured races, especially the Negro race, prefer to embody younger souls. But it is precisely the peculiarity of the human way of thinking, which lives itself out in scholarship, in the materialistic science of today, that conditions younger souls. And it is even demonstrable that in the case of many a personality, in which one would not at all presuppose it, the previous incarnation is by all means with the savages. Yes, that again is what the facts say! All this must be noted, it is so. Of course, this does not take anything away from the importance or value of the judgements we make about our environment; nevertheless, it must be grasped in order to gain an overall understanding of what we are dealing with. In this sense we have to do with Eabani in ancient Babylonia with a young soul, in Gilgamesh with an old soul. Such an old soul, according to its whole nature, will grasp early on what is, so to speak, not only a cultural element, a cultural factor of the present, but what falls into the present as a cultural impact and lets us look far out into the perspective of the future.“ (Lit.:GA 126, p. 34f)

The fate of the soul after death

Rohrbach parish church. Altar of All Souls (1700) - Altarpiece: Poor Souls in Purgatory.

Immediately after death, the human being initially experiences a comprehensive life panorama for about two to three days, which places his past earthly life in simultaneity before his consciousness. During this short time, which is experienced as blissful, his etheric body disperses to a small remnant in the world ether. Only then does the dead person enter the state of kamaloka, which comprises the 3 or 4 lower parts of the soul world (astral world), in which the human being must give up those desires which could only be satisfied by means of the physical body which is given up with death and which still bind him to the past earthly life. A large part of the astral body is discarded here and merges into the general astral world. In the kamaloka, man encounters the spiritual-cosmic forces of the ]]lunar sphere]].

„The first time after death - as has already been said - is actually filled for the human being with a kind of connection with the last life on earth. It is a kind of growing out of the last earthly life, so that in fact in these first times after death everything continues that has taken hold of the human astral body in earthly life. What occupied this human astral body, the nature of the affects, the nature of the passions, the nature of the feelings, continues. And because the human being here in physical embodiment consciously experiences all these things only when he is within his physical body, the experience of all these forces in the astral body is of course essentially different when the human being passes through the region that lies between death and a new birth. In normal cases - and there are many exceptions - this experience is essentially permeated in the first times after death by a certain deprivation, caused by the fact that the human being has to live in his astral body without the physical body being at his disposal. Man longs to still have his physical body; this keeps him in the sphere of the earth for a shorter or longer time - one may call it that - in the normal case. All kamaloka actually runs in the sphere between the earth and the lunar orbit; but the actual kamaloka which is significant for man runs much nearer the earth than, let us say, the lunar orbit.“ (Lit.:GA 140, p. 266f)

In some cases the dead are bound to the earthly sphere longer than usual. Often this experience, which is difficult for the deceased to bear, is caused by the fact that the person has neglected to form concepts and ideas during earthly life that extend beyond earthly existence. However, it can also be worries for friends, relatives and children left behind or unfulfilled tasks that tie the dead person to earthly existence for a long time. One can then help the dead by taking over their tasks and duties. For the earth itself and for the people left behind here, the earth-bound dead pose a great problem, for "much of the destructive forces at work within the earth sphere come from such dead people banished to this earth sphere." (Lit.:GA 182, p. 20)

See also: Earth-bound dead

I-consciousness in earthly life and after death

See also: I-consciousness

The memory of the physical body, which arises as a thought when the body dissolves, enables us to have I-consciousness after death. The moment of death is of special significance here, when the physical body is discarded in an instant and thereby a tremendous light of consciousness flares up, which, however, because it is so bright and dazzling, man is only gradually able to grasp. Here it is only continued on a large scale what was already the case on a small scale during life on earth, for even then the I-consciousness was based on small processes of destruction in the physical body.

„Self-consciousness, which is summed up in the "I", rises out of consciousness. This arises when the spiritual enters into the human being through the forces of the physical and etheric bodies breaking them down. In the degradation of these bodies the soil is created on which the consciousness unfolds its life. But if the organisation is not to be destroyed, the decomposition must be followed by a reconstruction. Thus, when a degradation has taken place for an experience of consciousness, precisely what has been degraded will be rebuilt. In the perception of this reconstruction lies the experience of self-consciousness. One can follow this process in inner vision. One can feel how the conscious is transformed into the self-conscious by creating from oneself an imitation of the merely conscious. The merely conscious has its image in that part of the organism which has become empty through degradation. It has moved into self-consciousness when the emptiness has been filled again from within. The beingness that is capable of this fulfilment is experienced as 'I'.“ (Lit.:GA 26, p. 19f)

„In death the physical body dissolves into earth matter. Now this is significant. When we sleep, the desire to return to the physical body lives in us constantly - I have already mentioned this several times. This desire dominates us from the moment we fall asleep until the moment we wake up; in a way, we long for the physical body again. If we have discarded it in death, then we cannot long to return to it, we cannot press ourselves back into it. But from this it follows that we cannot develop this desire to return to the physical body. This desire, which we have from the time we fall asleep until we wake up, is now gone. Something else takes the place of this desire. It is replaced by the thought of our physical body that arises in our astral body and especially in our I. We now look at our physical body. It lives in our consciousness. It becomes a content of our consciousness. And the dissolution of our physical body into its elements causes us to carry the consciousness of our physical body through the time that passes between death and a new birth. Through this, however, we know ourselves, as it were, remembering our physical body, as an I the whole time between death and a new birth. Thus the knowledge of the physical body takes the place of the possession of the physical body. A state of consciousness, an appearance of consciousness takes its place. This whole feeling of the physical body, which we have from birth to death, is replaced after death by the consciousness of our physical body. And through this consciousness, that is, through a purely spiritual state, we are further sufficiently connected with life on earth.“ (Lit.:GA 163, p. 125)

Immortality of the soul

Praying Madonna on the Crescent Moon, Spain, 17th century (anonymous)

The immortality of the soul does not consist simply in the survival of what we know as the empirical life of the soul - called "mind" in English - from earthly existence, for this is largely tied to the activity of our physical organistation.

„Those who have thought about the immortality of the soul have always thought as about something that is in ordinary life and passes through the gate of death; whereas that which passes through the gate of death must first be sought, for it lies so deeply hidden in the soul that it is not even noticed, that attention is not directed to it in ordinary life; but it is there nevertheless. And when he who thus really, as it were chemically, separates the spiritual-soul from the bodily, when he then experiences this spiritual-soul as it is concealed in a supersensible world of spiritual beings standing above him, then he also knows that in this soul which is concealed in ordinary life - just as hydrogen is concealed in water - he has in it something which works quite secretly, as it were between the lines of life; which absorbs into itself the finest forces of the soul, of experience, of the moral faculties of man, just as the little plant germ absorbs the forces from the whole plant in order to concentrate them. And just as after the withering, after the leaves wither and the blossom dies, the plant carries over as a little germ that which lived in the previous plant into the following plant, that which the plant has saved over as a germ, - so it is in the human soul. When you distil it in this way, you realise that in every moment of life, awake and asleep, this human soul is constantly working in the subsoil of everyday life, working out all the abilities we acquire, being penetrated, deeply penetrated, by what it has done wrong and right, beautiful and ugly; it carries this within itself, just as the plant germ carries within itself the germ of the whole new plant. And then one knows that what lives so hidden in the soul goes through a life between death and new birth - and again returns to earth life. In the life between death and a new birth, the human being gathers forces from a spiritual world, but these forces become formative forces, so that through a new birth he can unite with what is given to him by father and mother, by the ancestral line. Thus the human soul does not live through one earth-life, but through successive earth-lives.“ (Lit.:GA 64, p. 342f)

Above all, however, the immortality of the soul is not something that is given to man from the outset and cannot be lost, but something that he must actively acquire and likewise actively preserve.

„Inner activity, inner active involvement with what man makes of himself, even what he makes of himself as an immortal being, that is necessary. Man must work at his immortality. That is what most people would like to have conjured away. They believe that knowledge can only teach us something of what we already know, that we are immortal [...]

That is basically the Christian teaching. Therefore, man should not merely have faith in Christ, as a newer confession would have it, but he should consider Paul's words: "Not I, but the Christ in me." The power of Christ in me, it must want to be developed and it must be trained! Faith as such cannot save a person, but only the inner cooperation with the Christ, the inner working out of the power of the Christ, which is always there if one wants to work it out, but which must be worked out. Initiative, activity, that is what humanity will have to fulfil itself with. And it will have to realise that mere passive faith simply makes it too easy for man, so that immortality would gradually die on earth. This is the endeavour of Ahriman.“ (Lit.:GA 205, p. 186f)

„Plato's "Phaidon" wants nothing other than eternity of the soul. He does not want to prove eternity of the soul. It is not a matter of logical proof. His aim is to bring to life what is gathered around Socrates and to bring it into a new world. The soul is to rise by turning away from what can be seen with eyes and heard with ears. In short, eternity is to be something that one acquires, that one acquires through initiation into the mysteries. Plato's disciple says: The soul can become immortal if it rises to the vision of eternity. When it sees the spiritual, it participates in spiritual life. In this way it becomes eternal. This is a process of development that we went through in the Platonic "Phaidon", also a process of development that we see in the "Symposium" [...]

That is the basic element that runs through the Platonic "Phaidon". Plato says: You can see what you want, but if you only perceive what your eyes, ears and external senses give you, then you cannot come to the spiritual. The super-sensible is what guarantees you eternity of the soul. - He could not have the eternity of the soul proved. The disciples should acquire it, they should become immortal. That is the basic conception of the Platonic method.“ (Lit.: Rudolf Steiner 1901/1902, 12th lecture, pdf)

Up to the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, people had an inner knowledge of their true self, albeit without a distinct I-consciousness. The more the body-bound I-consciousness came to the fore, the more this knowledge was lost. What the human being consciously carried as a soul in his earthly life was thus increasingly subject to mortality. This is also indicated in Paul's Epistle to the Colossians (Col 3:3–4). Only through conscious union with the Christ can the soul be saved from sharing the fate of the perishable body. Rudolf Steiner spoke about this in detail in his lectures at the foundation of the Christian Community:

„Above all, it is a question of your being able to place before your souls in the right way that which is expressed as the mystery of Christianity in the third part of the Letter to the Colossians in the third verse. I would like to call this passage before your souls today in the way it is really meant:

You have died, and your I is separated from you and
united with Christ in the spirit world; but if Christ,
who bears your I, has himself come before the vision,
then you too will reveal yourselves with him.

A tremendous depth is hidden in this word. It is actually spoken almost for later times than for the time of the apostles. It is actually spoken for our time, so that our time understands it in the right way. For it is so, that in the earthly development of mankind up to about the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, men experienced in their inner being that which could be of their [true] self in this inner being. With what they experienced in their inner being, they experienced at the same time something real of what lived in them in the pre-earthly existence. One could not have said to these people: Become aware of your eternal spiritual-soul core through something! because they simply had states of consciousness in which this eternal spiritual-soul core shone forth. They only needed self-knowledge, just as people today have sense-awareness; and in looking at their self they perceived - without that clear I-consciousness which only developed later - their pre-natal and their after-death. And so they could understand when the initiates spoke to them: Your body dies, but what you experience in your inner being you know does not die with you; it is alive, it remains alive. - Death did not yet have an instrument to kill the human soul.

But what put the apostle in a different position was that the souls had begun, around the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, to participate in the destinies of the body, and that the souls [since that time] have been in danger of sharing the destinies of the body. In ancient times, the soul did not share the fate of the body. Part of the fate of the body is dying, and the soul had not died with it. That was the very concrete conception in ancient times. This fact was later abstracted because people could not bear it in all its intensity. People did not want to admit to themselves that what had developed between birth and death under the continual pressing forth of the I-consciousness no longer had a share in the eternal core of the soul of man, but had a share in the body and participated in the fate of the body, that it therefore died with it. This was clear above all to the first Christians that the time had come in earthly development when the soul was endowed with the I on earth, but thereby died with the body. That the body dies was not what was said in the first proclamations of the Gospels, but that the soul dies, and that it has already died in the human beings who emerged from the pre-Christian development of the world. It was meant as a real word: You have died. - Not the earlier souls had died, for then they had not yet participated in the fate of the body, but you belong to the fate of the generation of those who have died, that is, your souls participate in the fate of the body; for what you carry here as an I-consciousness through your physical body is only a reflection of your true self. - Before the Mystery of Golgotha, one did not know anything of this true I when one looked into one's own self, but it was not yet separated from the human being. At the time of the Mystery of Golgotha it was separated from the human being, and the human being was lifted up into the spiritual world, and only the reflection of the I remains here below as I-consciousness.

If we imagine what man experienced before the Mystery of Golgotha, he then had his soul, in which he experienced the pre-birth, and he had the real I, which he did not perceive at first. After the Mystery of Golgotha, man had his soul, but he no longer experienced the pre-birth in it. Since that time his true self has been a spiritual one, that is, it does not belong to the earthly world but to the spiritual world, and he has the reflection of this self through the physical body, the self-consciousness: "... and your self is separated from you and united with Christ in the spirit world."

He has now descended to earth, so that this spiritual world can penetrate the earthly world through him. But man's true self does not live in the world which can be seen with the eyes and which can be approached with the three ordinary faculties, thinking, feeling and willing; it lives in a world which since that time has penetrated the earthly one, but it is united with the Christ. And one can only know of the true I by knowing at the same time of the Christ; one can only feel the true I when one feels at the same time the essence of the Christ and the essence of the Mystery of Golgotha; the true I can only carry one through when one feels at the same time carried through by that impulse which proceeds from the Mystery of Golgotha.“ (Lit.:GA 344, p. 117ff)

Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1887)

The fact that the awareness of the mortality of the body-bound soul first appeared in the Greco-Latin period is pointed out in the Apocalypse of John at the opening of the fourth seal:

„We perceive ... how at the opening of the fourth seal, which therefore corresponds to a mystery of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, a pale horse appears, and how now there is talk of death which has come into the world (Acts 6:8). This touches on one of the most important mysteries of the Apocalypse, insofar as this mystery is particularly important for our time. In the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, in a certain sense, death really enters humanity. Just realise this. You learn to recognise human nature well by looking at something like death [...]

This was what occurred in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, precisely in the epoch that coincided with the Mystery of Golgotha, that man saw his earthly life clearly enclosed, so to speak, by the two gates: the gate of birth or conception and the gate of death.

This consciousness, this kind of constitution of the soul, really only came into being in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, so that we have to do with the unfolding of this consciousness that man is strictly enclosed within the limits of earthly life, approximately from the eighth century before Christ until the fifteenth century after the Mystery of Golgotha. Since that time, a new consciousness has been preparing itself, but we are only at the beginning.“ (Lit.:GA 346, p. 74ff)

The words Achilles speaks to Odysseus, who has descended into the underworld, are also to be interpreted in this sense:

„Praise me not now death, glorious Odysseus.
I would rather be the unfortunate vassal,
Who lives but meagrely, as a day labourer to build the field,
Than rule the whole crowd of mouldering dead.“

Homer: Odyssey 11,488-491

Rudolf Steiner remarks:

„The fourth culture, the Greco-Roman, it leads man completely down to the physical plane. He has now become so fond of it that he has completely forgotten where he came from. He has lost his understanding of the spiritual world. This is deeply illustrated by the saying of the Greek hero Achilles: "Better a beggar in the upper world than a king in the kingdom of shadows.“ (Lit.:GA 109, p. 246f)

Personal immortality

Personal immortality - the consciousness of personality that lasts beyond death - was only achieved by man through the consciousness soul.

„In Spain, the Moorish scholars, above all such a personality as Averroes, taught how intelligence rules everywhere, how the whole world, the cosmos, is filled with the all-governing intelligence. The people down on earth, they have different qualities, but they do not have their own personal intelligence. But every time a human being works on earth, a drop of intelligence, a ray of intelligence goes out from the general intelligence, sinks, as it were, into the head, into the body of the human being, fills him, so that when a human being walks about on earth, he has something like a kind of part of the quite general cosmic intelligence. When man then dies, he passes through the gate of death, then what he has had as intelligence goes back into the general intelligence, flows back.

Plate 9
Plate 9

So that what the human being has in thoughts, concepts, ideas during life between birth and death flows back into the general reservoir of general intelligence and one cannot speak of that which the human being carries as particularly valuable in his soul, his intelligence, being subject to a personal immortality.

The Spanish-Moorish scholars also taught that man does not have personal immortality. He lives on, but the most important thing about him - so the scholars said - is that he can develop intelligent knowledge during his life. But that does not go along with his being. So you cannot say that the intelligent being has a personal immortality. You see, this was, I would say, the furore of the struggle of the scholastics among the Dominicans, the furore to assert the personal immortality of man. In those days it could not have occurred in any other way than that these Dominicans asserted: Man is personally immortal, and what Averroes teaches is heresy. We have to say that differently today. But for that time it is understandable that a person who did not accept personal immortality, like Averroes in Spain, was declared a heretic. Today we have to look at the matter according to reality, according to reality. We must say: In the sense in which man has become immortal according to his consciousness soul, he has only acquired this immortality - this continuing consciousness of personality - after he had passed through the gate of death, since the time when a consciousness soul takes hold in the earthly man. So if you had asked Aristotle or Alexander what they thought about immortality, how would they have answered? Words do not matter, but if they had been asked and if they had answered in Christian terminology, they would have said: Our soul is taken up by Michael, and we live on in the community of Michael. - Or they would have expressed it cosmologically; just out of such a communion as that of Alexander or Aristotle was, one would have said cosmologically, and one has also said it: the soul of man is intelligent on earth, but this intelligence is a drop from the fullness of that which Michael pours out like an intelligent rain which overflows men. And this rain emanates from the sun, the sun in turn takes back into its own being the soul of man, and the soul of man, which exists there between birth and death, it radiates down from the sun to the earth. Michael's rule would have been sought on the sun. This would have been the cosmological answer.“ (Lit.:GA 237, p. 163ff)

The Hebrew doctrine of the soul already knows a corresponding differentiation by distinguishing between nephesh (Hebrewנפש; sentient soul), ruach (Hebrewרוח; intellectual soul) and neshama (Hebrewנשמה; consciousness soul). The lower soul members nephesh and ruach are mortal and dissolve after death. Neshama is the living breath, the "breath of life" that Yahweh-Elohim blows into man (Genesis 2:7) and in Genesis denotes the consciousness soul, especially in its fusion with the spirit self. In this way, it is the immortal part of the soul that resides in the body during the earthly incarnation, but is not therefore bound to the body.

== Soul death

Soul death, the dying off or complete dissolution of the soul, threatens those people who fill their souls only with earthly transient knowledge during their life on earth. They will be hit particularly hard by the second death at the time of the Last Judgement, when not only the physical body but also the etheric body in its form corresponding to earthly development will finally be laid aside, because they do not have the necessary soul substance through which they can continue their further development on the New Jupiter - the New Jerusalem from the Apocalypse of John. Only those who have filled their astral body with the Christ Being will pass the second death unnoticed.

Descent of the souls

„All souls are descended from Christ, and such a time will come when souls will become aware of this, and when they will understand that even the equalisation among souls can only take place through the Christ.“ (Lit.:GA 266c, p. 48)

(Record C)

„In the primordial beginning there was a soul substance which then divided itself into innumerable differentiated individual souls; through this differentiation karma arose, which exists in soul connections from person to person. In the time before the event of Palestine, these karmic connections lived out in the blood relationship, were bound to the blood. But precisely at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, this soul substance gradually dried up, and men would have passed soullessly over the earth at the end of the earth's development, would have lapsed into animalism in human bodies which would be the caricatures of animal bodies; and the I (for it is not the I that dies out, karma is bound to this until the end) would be empty and soulless if the Mystery of Golgotha had not taken place. The Christ is the spiritual progenitor of the present humanity, as Adam is in relation to the body, and only by filling ourselves with the Christ-substance, the Christ-impulse, do we escape soullessness, and we do this by absorbing the knowledge of the Mystery of Golgotha and letting it live in us. More and more soulful then become the relationships and the living together of man and man.“ (Lit.:GA 266c, p. 48f)

(Record D)


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  1. Epiphanius: Panarion XXV 48
  2. Cf. the Principle of Spiritual Economy
  3. Gorgias 493a2-3
  4. In this context, the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus handed down in the Gospel of Luke is noteworthy, insofar as it is one of the few biblical passages that gives a concrete idea of the existence of the dead in Sheol, the underworld, and the souls are drawn here in a thoroughly corporeal form and not as bodiless free souls. They appear as concrete human beings who can see and hear, suffer pain or feel joy. Even in early Christianity, this parable was therefore often used as an argument against the Platonic doctrine of the soul and the gnosis that followed it, which saw the redemption of the soul precisely in its bodily-free existence. Accordingly, Tertullian († c. 220) already characterised the soul thus:

    „So we describe the soul as arising from God's breath, immortal, consubstantial, corporeal, of form capable of image, simple in substance, sentient through itself, progressing in various ways, free-willed, subject to contingencies, of changing mental direction and disposition, rational, ruling, endowed with foreboding, and arising from a soul.“

    Tertullian: On the Soul (De anima), Cap. 22online

    In the following chapters, Tertullian describes in great detail how the soul is generated at the same time as the body at conception, in that the divine breath once received by Adam is passed on from generation to generation (see De anima 27).

  5. see also: Richard Heinzmann: Anima unica forma corporis - Thomas von Aquin als Überwinder des platonisch-neuplatonischen Dualismus in Philosophisches Jahrbuch, 93rd volume, Verlag Karl Alber, Freiburg/München 1986, p. 236ff
  6. "The soul separated from the body is a single substance of rational nature existing for itself. It is not, however, 'person'." (Sum of Theology I 29,1,V)
  7. in the body, but not through the body