From AnthroWiki
Titian: "Allegory of Time" - depiction of past, present and future on the basis of ages: the old man (past) looks back, the young man (future) looks forward; the man (present) turns towards the viewer.
The hourglass, a simple measuring instrument and at the same time a symbol for the inexorable flow of time.
Ancient hollow sphere sundial (scaphe) for displaying temporal hours; the horizontally mounted gnomon (shadow hand) was lost.

Time (GreekΧρόνος chronos; Latintempus) appears to us today in earthly experience as an unstoppable, irreversible, linear sequence of events directed from the past through the present into the future. Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944) coined the term arrow of time[1] for this in the Gifford Lectures he gave in 1927, which gives the time axis a clear irreversible direction in spatiotemporal diagrams.

In contrast, the ancient mythologies were based on a cyclical model of time, which has its origins in the experience of the course of the year. Closely connected to the concept of time is the concept of temporality as an expression of the unstoppable, irreversible changeability and transience of the physical world, which is understood as a process of development characterised by constant becoming and passing away. Temporality is thus an opposite concept to the eternity and imperishability of the higher spiritual world. In the Old Testament, temporality and especially death are interpreted as the consequence of the Fall of Man.

From an anthroposophical point of view, what we experience as time has its true cause in the interaction of a sum of lower and higher spiritual beings.

Augustine on the riddle of time

„So what is time? If no one asks me about it, I know, but if I should explain it to one who asks me, I do not know; with confidence, however, I can at least say that I know that if nothing passed, there would be no past time, and if nothing passed, there would be no future time. those two times, then, past and future, how can one say that they are, if the past has already ceased to be and the future is not yet? If, on the other hand, the present were always present, and did not pass into the past, it would no longer be time, but eternity.“

Augustine: Confessiones 11,14

The double current of time

In a letter written to Edouard Schuré in 1907, Rudolf Steiner hints at how essential and fundamental his preoccupation with the nature of time was for him from around the age of 18. At that time, in 1879, he had just graduated from high school and was preparing for his studies. As a 21-year-old student, Steiner wrote the essay "Einzig mögliche Kritik der atomistischen Begriffe" (The only possible critic of atomistic concepts) (Lit.: Contributions 63, p. 9), which he sent in June 1882 to Friedrich Theodor Vischer, whom he admired. In it, he also addressed the need for a correction of our concept of time, which Vischer had also repeatedly called for. For example, in a review of the book "Der alte und der neue Glaube" (The Old and the New Faith) by w:David Friedrich Strauß, Vischer wrote of Darwin's theory of evolution as a kind of timeless time in which the concepts of "before" and "after" were invalid categories. The concept of real development, which can never be based on mere blind chance, is different:

„If Darwin's view is extended to all the development of species in the plant and animal kingdoms, the concept of development and inner purposefulness is abolished. For through adaptation, breeding and the struggle for existence, purposefulness only arises in retrospect; the conception is basically mechanical; according to it, forms are only brought forth through a kind of friction which, once they are there, prove to be purposeful. One can speak of development only if one regards nature as an unconscious artist, to whom an image of what is to come into being is somehow in mind before it comes into being. If the concept of development, of immanent expediency, is to be compatible with this view, it would have to be proved by an entirely new investigation of the concept of time, i.e., it would be necessary to refer to timeless time and to deduce from it that before and after are invalid categories in this question, that therefore, if expediency comes into being only aposteriorly, without a spirit in nature that works towards it from the outset by an intuition, this could just as well be called a priori; - an investigation of the greatest difficulty, of which I doubt whether it would prove what is to be proved.“ (Lit.: Friedrich Theodor Vischer: Der alte und der neue Glaube, p. 289f)

During this time Steiner already developed a clear conception of the double current of time, in which the external time flowing from the past into the future is countered by an opposing current of time in the astral world. Both currents cross in the respective, only externally real present and this, he later emphasised, was the condition for spiritual seeing.

„I was drawn to Kant at a very early age. In my fifteenth and sixteenth years I studied Kant very intensively, and before the transition to the Viennese university I occupied myself intensively with Kant's orthodox successors from the beginning of the nineteenth century, who have been completely forgotten by the official history of science in Germany and are hardly mentioned any more. Then came an in-depth study of Fichte and Schelling. During this time - and this already belongs to the external occult influences - the complete clarity about the concept of time fell into place. This realisation had no connection with the studies and was directed entirely from the occult life. It was the realisation that there is a backward evolution interfering with the forward one - the occult-astral. This realisation is the condition for spiritual seeing.“ (Lit.:GA 262, p. 15)

However, Rudolf Steiner did not use the term "Doppelstrom der Zeit" (double current of time) explicitly in his writings and lectures, but only in substance; it is only found in a notebook entry for a lecture given in Berlin on 4 February 1913 (Lit.: Contributions 49/50, p. 34).

In a lecture also given in Berlin on 17 May 1905, Steiner said:

„In any period of time, your life is an average of two currents, one going from the future to the present and the other from the present to the future. Where the currents meet, a congestion occurs. Everything that the human being still has before him, he must see appear before him as an astral appearance. This is something that speaks an incredibly impressive language.

Imagine that the secret disciple [comes to the point of his development where he] is to look into the astral world, where his senses are opened to him, so that he would see what he would still have to experience until the end of the present period appearing as an outer appearance in the astral world all around him. This is a sight that is quite haunting for every human being. We must therefore say that it is an important stage in the course of occult training that man encounters as an astral panorama, as an astral appearance, that which he has still to experience up to the middle of the sixth root-race - for that is where our incarnations go. The path opens up to him. No secret disciple will experience it in any other way than that he sees as an outer appearance that which he has before him in the near future up to the sixth root-race.

When the disciple has advanced to the threshold, then the question comes to him: Do you want to live through all this in the shortest possible time? Because that is what it is all about for the one who wants to receive initiation. If you think about it, you have your own future life before you in a moment as an outer panorama. That, in turn, is what characterises our view of the astral. For one person this means that he says to himself: No, I won't go in there. For the other, on the other hand, he says: I must go in. This point of development is called the "threshold", the decision, and the appearance that one has there, oneself with all that one still has to experience, is called the "guardian of the threshold". The guardian of the threshold is therefore nothing other than our own future life. It is we ourselves. Our own future life lies behind the threshold.“ (Lit.:GA 324a, p. 38f)

Space and time do not exist separately from sensuous things and processes

It seemed to Steiner that it was wrong to regard space and time as entities separate from sensuous things and processes:

„Space, apart from the things of the sensory world, is an absurdity. As space is only something in the objects, so time is only given in and with the processes of the sensory world. It is immanent to them. In themselves, both are mere abstractions. Only sensuous things and processes are concrete entities of the sensuous world. They present concepts and laws in the form of external existence. Therefore, in their simplest form, they must be the cornerstones of the empirical theory of nature. The simple sensuous quality and not the atom, the basic fact and not the movement behind the empirically comprehensible are the elements of it. Thus it is given a direction which is the only possible one. If one bases oneself on this, one will not even be tempted to speak of limits of cognition, because one is not dealing with things to which one attaches arbitrary negative characteristics such as supersensible and the like, but with really given concrete objects.“ (Lit.: Contributions 63, p. 10)

Time and timelessness

The activity of the hierarchies is timeless in itself, just as the highest spiritual processes in human beings are timeless. There would be no time if all beings were on the same level of development. It is difficult to speak of the beginning of time, for the concept of time is already contained in the word beginning; one can therefore only speak of the essence of time. And this results precisely from the fact that different degrees of development are quite possible in the timeless, which through their interaction make essential time possible.

„... the highest spiritual processes in man lead to the concept that they proceed timelessly. The activities of the hierarchies are timeless. - It is difficult to speak of time-emergence: the word "emerge" already contains the concept of time; one should rather say: the essence of time, and this is not so easy to speak of. There would be no time if all beings were on the same level of development. Time comes into being through the interaction of a sum of lower and a sum of higher beings. In the timeless, different degrees of development are possible; through their interaction, time becomes possible.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 176)

Past, present and future

Early iron clock from the Kellenberger clock collection, Winterthur/Switzerland

The past mentally shines in the beauty of light, in the darkness the willpower is revealed that leads into the future.

„You look out into the world: you are surrounded by light. In the light a premature world dies. You step onto the hard stuff - the strength of the world carries you. In the light, beauty mentally shines. In the shining of beauty the premature world dies. The world rises in its strength, in its power, in its violence, but also in its darkness. In darkness it rises, the future world, in the material will-like element.

If physicists will one day speak seriously, they will not indulge in those speculations in which today they talk about atoms and molecules, but they will say: The outer world consists of the past, and inside it does not carry molecules and atoms, but the future. And when one day they will say: The past appears to us radiantly in the present, and the past envelops the future everywhere - , then one will speak of the world correctly, for the present is everywhere only that which the past and the future work together. The future is that which actually lies in the strength of the substance. The past is that which shines in the beauty of light, whereby light is set for everything that reveals itself, for of course what appears in tone, what appears in warmth, is here meant by light.

And so man can only understand himself if he conceives of himself as a future nucleus which is enveloped by that which comes to him from the past, from the aura of light of thought. One may say: spiritually speaking, man is the past, where he shines in his aura of beauty, but incorporated in this aura of the past is that which, as darkness, mixes with the light which shines over from the past and which transmits into the future. The light is that which radiates from the past, the darkness that points into the future. The light is of a mental nature, the darkness is of a volitional nature.“ (Lit.:GA 202, p. 78f)

Ahura Mazda and Ahriman

„Thus one must look at the cosmos qualitatively, not merely quantitatively, then one can come to terms with this cosmos. Then, however, there is also a continuous dying into this cosmos, a dying of the past into the light, a rising of the future into darkness. The ancient Persians, out of their instinctive clairvoyance, called what they felt to be the dying of the past in the light Ahura Mazda, and what they felt to be the future in the dark will, Ahriman.“ (Lit.:GA 202, p. 82f)


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: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
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.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. A. Eddington: Space Time and Gravitation. Cambridge University Press 1920