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Egyptian sphinx (Louvre)
Ram sphinxes (Karnak Temple)
Greek sphinx, Attica, ca. 530 BC.

The sphinx (Greekσφίγξ, from σφίγγειν sphíngein "to strangle"; possibly also derived from ancient Egyptian: spanch "that which receives life"; the traditional ancient Egyptian name of the sphinx, however, was not this, but Hu "protector") is a hybrid being with a human head and a mostly winged animal body that can show itself to the clairvoyant gaze. Ideally, one can see the four-beast (also called four-form or tetramorph), which unites all four sphinx animals, i.e. man, eagle, lion and bull. Occasionally, one even sees a dragon or reptile tail, which points back to a very early stage of human evolution. In Egypt, however, sphinx figures with ram, hawk and sparrowhawk heads were also common.

The Sphinx as an ambiguous symbol

„The clairvoyant has indeed before him what is recorded in the Sphinx, where the Sphinx has in particular the distinct lion's body, then the eagle's wings, but also something bull-like - in the oldest representations of the Sphinx there was even the reptile's tail, indicating the ancient reptilian form - and towards the front we have the human form harmonising the other parts.“ (Lit.:GA 106, p. 102)

Like all religious symbols, the four sphinx animals can be interpreted ambiguously. In the highest sense, they are the four leading Cherubim, representing the supporting pillars of the zodiac. However, they can also be regarded as the lower astral forces from which the human form only gradually emerges and thus correspond to the four group souls of Lemurian and Atlantean man.

The figure of the sphinx and the lesser guardian of the threshold

The figure of the Sphinx is also closely related to the lesser Guardian of the Threshold:

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

In the higher realm of the astral plan, it is [the image of] the Sphinx, who must be thrown into the abyss before one can progress. The human being who has to develop is approaching this moment. But not every human being has to go through this stage of development in the same way. It is possible that he will be led through it as if blindfolded. By developing our moral nature we can overcome. If one can bring the moral nature higher before one becomes sighted in the astral world, the appearance of the guardian of the threshold becomes less terrible.“ (Lit.:GA 89, p. 134f)

Sphinx figure in the etheric body of man

To the clairvoyant gaze, the sphinx figure, similar to the centaur, appears in the etheric body of man:

„If you look at a horse clairvoyantly, you will see the etheric head as a figure of light towering over the horse's snout. The etheric head was not so strong, but similar to it in the old Atlantean; later it went more and more into the head, so that today it is about the same size and shape. But the physical head, which was only partly dominated by the etheric head, which still had many forces outside that are inside today, was not human-like to the same high degree; it was only developing, one could still see something of a lower animal head form, so to speak. What was it like when the old Atlantian looked at one of his comrades during the day? He would see a forehead set far back, teeth protruding, something that still reminded him of the animal. When the human being fell asleep in the evening, when the Atlantean clairvoyance began, then the gaze was not only directed towards the animal-like form, but the etheric human head form, and indeed a far more beautiful form than it is today, already grew out of the physical head. Then the animal-like form had become indistinct to the nightly gaze, and the beautiful human form grew out of it. And the Atlantean clairvoyant could look back into still more remote times, into times when man was still more animal-like, but connected with an altogether human-like etheric body; this etheric body was much more beautiful than the physical human body of today, which has adapted itself to the strong dense forces. This memory, vividly shaped: that is the Sphinx.“ (Lit.:GA 105, p. 27f)

The Nightmare, the Question Motif and the Sphinx

Nightmare appears in a more refined form in the riddle of the Sphinx, as it has been handed down, for example, through the Oedipus saga. It is based on the luciferic influence on breathing and blood movement, which was particularly strong in the Greco-Latin period and led to an expansion of the etheric body beyond the boundaries of the physical body. Today, the ahrimanic influence increasingly takes its place, which is expressed in the experience of the Mephistopheles figure as described by Goethe in his Faust tragedy.

„Human life is always influenced by experiences that come from Lucifer and Ahriman. Lucifer in particular played a part in the basic experience of the fourth post-Atlantean period; Ahriman plays a part in our period and conditions the basic experience. Now Lucifer is connected with everything that has not yet grown to the clarity of the individual senses, that approaches man indistinctly, undifferentiated. In other words, Lucifer is connected with the experience of breathing, with the experience of inhaling and exhaling. The breathing of the human being is something that must stand in a quite definite regulated relationship to his overall organisation. At the moment when the breathing process is disturbed in any way, breathing immediately changes from what it normally is, namely an unconscious process to which we need not pay attention, into a conscious, into a more or less dreamlike conscious process. And when - we can express it quite trivially - the breathing process becomes too energetic, when it makes greater demands on the organism than this organism is capable of, then Lucifer has the possibility of penetrating the human organism by breathing. He does not have to do it himself, but his hosts do, those who belong to him.

I am referring to a phenomenon that everyone knows as a dream experience. This dream experience can increase in any way. The nightmare, where man comes to dream-consciousness through disturbed breathing, so that experiences of the spiritual world can mix in, and also all experiences of fear and anxiety connected with nightmares, have their origin in the Luciferic element of the world. Everything that passes from the ordinary breathing process to choking, to the feeling of being choked, is connected with this possibility that Lucifer interferes in the breathing process. This is the gross process where, through a lowering of consciousness, Lucifer interferes with the breathing experience, enters into the dream consciousness and becomes a strangler. That is the gross experience.

But there is also a more subtle experience which, as it were, refines this choking experience for us, which is not as gross as a physical choking. It is not usually noticed that such a refinement of the strangulation belongs to the human experience. But every time the human soul is confronted with a question or a doubt about this or that in the world, there is a refined experience of retching. One can say that when we have to ask a question, when a small or a great riddle of the world forces itself upon us, then we are strangled, but in such a way that we do not notice it. - Every doubt, every question is a refined nightmare.

In this way, the experiences that otherwise confront us roughly are transformed into more subtle experiences when they occur more mentally. One can already imagine that science will one day come to study the connection of the breathing process with the questioning or the feeling of a doubt in the human soul. But also everything that is connected with questions and doubts, everything that is connected with the fact that we are unsatisfied because the world approaches us and demands an answer, or because we are compelled to give an answer by what we are, is connected with the Luciferic.

If we now look at the matter from a spiritual-scientific point of view, we can say: In everything where the choking angel in the nightmare oppresses us, or where we experience an inner oppression, a touch of anxiety through the questioning, we are dealing with a stronger, more energetic breathing process, as it were, with something that lives in the breath, but which, in order for human nature to function in the right way, must be harmonised, weakened, in order for life to proceed properly. Now what takes place when a more energetic breathing process occurs? The etheric body and everything connected with the etheric nature of the human being is, as it were, too much extended, too much pushed apart, and as this then lives itself out in the physical body, it cannot confine itself to the physical body, it wants to pull it apart, as it were. An etheric body that is too luxuriant, too widely extended, is the basis of an intensified breathing process, and then there is the possibility for the luciferic element to make itself particularly felt. One can therefore say that the luciferic element can creep into human nature when the etheric body is expanded. - We may also say that the luciferic element has a tendency to express itself in an etheric body which is dilated in relation to the human form, that is, in an etheric body which needs more space than is enclosed in the human skin, which gives the form more luxuriantly. - One can now imagine that one wants to answer this question artistically, and there one can say: Just as the human etheric body is normal, it is the shaper of the human form which physically stands before us. But as soon as it expands, as soon as it wants to create for itself a larger space, further boundaries than are contained in the human skin, it also wants to give other forms. The human form cannot remain there. It wants to go beyond the human form everywhere. - This problem has already been solved in ancient times. What kind of form comes out of it when the expanded etheric body, which is not suitable for the human being but for the Luciferic being, asserts itself and comes formally before the human soul? What comes out of it? The Sphinx!

Here we have a special way of delving into the Sphinx. The Sphinx is what actually strangles you. When the etheric body of the human being expands through the energy of breathing, a luciferic being emerges in the soul. It is not the human form that lives in this etheric body, but the luciferic form, the sphinx form. The sphinx emerges as the doubt-raiser, as the question-poacher. So this sphinx has a special relationship to the breathing process. Again, we know that the respiratory process has a special relationship to the formation of blood. That is why the Luciferic lives in the blood, surges and surges through the blood. Everywhere the Luciferic can enter the blood of man through the diversions of respiration, and when too much energy enters the blood, then the Luciferic, the Sphinx, is especially strong.

Thus man, by being open to the Cosmos in his breathing process, faces the Sphinx nature. This experience of facing the sphinx nature of the cosmos in his breathing, this basic experience arose particularly in the fourth post-Atlantean, the Greek-Latin cultural period. And in the Oedipus saga we see how man confronts the Sphinx, how the Sphinx chains herself to him, becomes the tormentor of questions. Man and the Sphinx, or we can also say, man and the Luciferic in the universe should, as it were, be placed as a basic experience of the fourth post-Atlantean cultural period in such a way that when man breaks through his outer normal life on the physical plane just a little, he comes into contact with the Sphinx nature. Then Lucifer approaches him in his life, and he must come to terms with Lucifer, with the Sphinx.“ (Lit.:GA 158, p. 99ff)

Oedipus and the Riddle of the Sphinx

Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx

According to Greek mythology, the Sphinx was regarded as an ominous being and was considered a daughter of Typhon and Echidna and thus at the same time a sister of Hydra, Chimera, Kerberos and Orthos. The question motif is an essential part of the Oedipus saga, according to which the Sphinx dwelt on a mountain outside Thebes and posed a riddle to passing travellers that went like this: "What walks on four feet in the morning, on two at noon, and on three in the evening?" (τί ἐστιν ὃ μίαν ἔχον φωνὴν τετράπουν καὶ δίπουν γίνεται). Whoever failed to solve this riddle was strangled and eaten by the Sphinx. Only Oedipus realised that this refers to man himself: as a child he crawls on all fours, as an adult he walks on two legs and in old age he uses a stick as a third leg - but this is only the trivial exoteric answer. In fact, the riddle of the sphinx points to a deeper occult truth. It is a clue to the human evolution from animal-like beings, though not in the sense of modern materialistic evolutionary theory, to present-day man and further to future Venusian or Vulcan man with three "organs of locomotion", namely the two "wings" of the two-leaved lotus flower at the root of the nose and the left half of the body transformed into a hand[1].

After Oedipus had solved the riddle, the Sphinx plunged into the abyss and died. Thebes was freed and Oedipus rushed to meet his further tragic fate.

„It is expressed in the Greek legend the right feeling which the clairvoyant still had during the old Egyptian times and in the Greek mysteries, when he was so far that the Sphinx came before his eye. What was it then that came before his eyes? Something unfinished, something that was to become. He saw this figure, which in a certain respect still had animal forms, in the ether head he saw what was to work into the physical form in order to make it more human-like. How this human being was to become, what task humanity had in its development, this question stood vividly before him as a question of expectation, of longing, of the unfolding of what was to come, when he saw the Sphinx. That all human research and philosophy arises out of longing is a Greek saying, but at the same time also a clairvoyant one. One has before one a figure that is perceived only with astral consciousness, but it torments one, it poses a riddle: the riddle of how one is to become.

Now this etheric figure, which was there in Atlantean times and lived in memory in Egyptian times, has incorporated itself more and more into the human being, and it reappears on the other side in the human nature, it reappears in all the religious doubts, in the inability of our cultural epoch to face the question: What is man? - In all the unanswered questions, in all the sayings that revolve around "ignorabimus", the Sphinx reappears. That is why it is so difficult for man to come to a conviction of the spiritual world, because the Sphinx, which was formerly outside, having just in the middle period found himself the one who solved the riddle, who plunged it into the abyss, into man's own interior, because this Sphinx now appears within man.“ (Lit.:GA 105, p. 187f)

The Vision of Ezekiel

Ezekiel's Vision (Merian Bible)
The Vision of Ezekiel, Raphael (1518)

The Jewish prophet Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord in his great vision through the four-beast:

„1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. 2 On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), 3 the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. 4 As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. 5 And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, 6 but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. 7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: 9 their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. 15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. 16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. 18 And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23 And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.“

The apocalyptic vision of Daniel

Daniel also describes the four sphinx beasts in his apocalyptic vision, albeit in a modified form:

Gustave Doré: Daniel's Vision of the Four Beasts, Doré's English Bible (1866)

Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts

1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. 2 Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ 6 After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8 I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.

The Ancient of Days Reigns

9 “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. 11 “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.

The Son of Man Is Given Dominion

13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Daniel’s Vision Interpreted

15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. 16 I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things. 17 ‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’ 19 “Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet, 20 and about the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn that came up and before which three of them fell, the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions. 21 As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. 23 “Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. 24 As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. 25 He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26 But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. 27 And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ 28 “Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart.”“

Sphinx and Christianity

The four-beast also forms the basis of the evangelist symbols and in the Christian tradition the Christ is often associated with the four-beast, for example in the church fathers Irenaeus of Lyon (2nd century) and Hippolytus of Rome. The Christ was man in the birth, "bull calf" in the sacrificial death on the cross, "lion" in the resurrection and "eagle" through the ascension. However, this is to be understood to the effect that the Christ - as the representative of humanity and the archetype of the human being par excellence - completely overcomes the animal forces in the human being. The sphinx form as such is a Luciferic phenomenon that entered man through the Fall and can only be overcome through the sacrificial act of the Christ.

„When the etheric body of man expands through the energy of breathing, a luciferic being emerges in the soul. In this etheric body lives not the human form, but the luciferic form, the sphinx form. Thus the human being, by being open to the cosmos in his breathing process, faces the sphinx nature. This basic experience emerged particularly in the 4th post-Atlantean, the Greek-Latin cultural period. And in the Oedipus legend we see how man confronts the Sphinx, how the Sphinx chains herself to him, how she becomes the tormentor of questions. Man and the Sphinx, or we can also say, man and the Luciferic in the universe should, as it were, be placed as a basic experience of the 4th post-Atlantean cultural period in such a way that when man breaks through his outer normal life on the physical plane just a little, he comes into contact with the Sphinx nature. Then Lucifer approaches him in his life, and he must come to terms with Lucifer, with the Sphinx.“ (Lit.:GA 158, p. 102f)

„In the future the human face will look out in transfigured form from the separated, cast down evil of the animal. Let us think of the transfigured human face, which today slumbers like a riddle in animal matter, separated from animal evil and symbolically represented - the Egyptian Sphinx. It is not something that only points to the past, but it also points to the future.“ (Lit.:GA 93a, p. 239)


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  1. Rudolf Steiner says in this regard:

    „Later there will be only three organs: The heart as the organ of Buddha, the two-petalled lotus flower in the centre of the eye and the left hand as the organ of movement. Blavatsky's statement about a second spinal column also refers to this future. The pineal gland and the mucus gland organise a second spinal column, which later unites with the other. The second spinal column will descend from the head in front.“ (Lit.:GA 93a, p. 37f)

    According to Rudolf Steiner, this statement refers to the future Venusian existence or perhaps even to the future Vulcan existence (Lit.:GA 94, p. 70ff).

    A corresponding passage in Blavatsky reads:

    „At the end of the next round humanity will again become male-female, and then there will be two brands of backs. In the seventh race the two will merge into one. Evolution corresponds to the races, and with the evolution of the races the sympathetic nerve develops into a true spinal cord. We return ascending the arch, only with the addition of self-consciousness.“ (Lit.: Secret Doctrine, III. vol., p 545)