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Consciousness (Latinconscientia "co-knowledge"; Greekσυνείδησις syneidesis "co-appearance", "co-image", "co-knowledge", συναίσθησις synaisthesis "co-perception" and φρόνησις phronesis, from φρονεῖν phronein "to be in one's senses, to think"; Early NHG: bewisst „to know, to know exactly“; Sanskritचित् Chit) is based, according to Rudolf Steiner, „not on the fact that a being shows a certain counter-effect to an effect, but that the being experiences something within itself which is added to the mere counter-effect as a new thing.“ (GA 13, p. 59f) According to the anthroposophical view, consciousness unfolds and develops in a sequence of seven stages of consciousness, of which our present earthly waking consciousness represents the fourth and middle stage. Areas of consciousness that are less bright than the present waking consciousness of man and are not or only slightly grasped by the human I are called subconscious or, according to Sigmund Freud, preconscious, insofar as they can be more or less easily raised to consciousness. If consciousness sinks below the level of dream consciousness, one commonly speaks of a state of unconsciousness. Nevertheless, dull degrees of consciousness are still present.

Dream consciousness is the consciousness of the astral body, sleep consciousness is connected with the etheric body and the physical body has a deep trance consciousness. These are earlier stages of the development of consciousness, which are gradually distinguished by greater width and wiser content. Since in our earthly life we are enveloped in these members of our being, the forms of consciousness connected with them are also constantly present in us; only at first we know nothing of them. The future development will be that the I will penetrate these older levels of consciousness with its clear self-awareness and thereby penetrate into world realms which are still closed to it today. Through appropriate spiritual training, some of this will be anticipated.

The Seven Conditions of Consciousness

From an anthroposophical point of view, consciousness unfolds in seven Conditions of Consciousness, which are closely related to the seven stages of world evolution described by Rudolf Steiner. They differ in the degree of their brightness of consciousness and in their scope of consciousness. The narrower the consciousness becomes, the brighter it appears and the more unreal it is at the same time. The first level of consciousness, as all-consciousness, encompasses the whole world, but is correspondingly so dull that it is also called trance consciousness or death consciousness. The mineral world still has this consciousness today. Somewhat brighter and at the same time narrower is the dreamless sleep consciousness, which today is peculiar to plants. These first two levels of consciousness are today completely attributed to the unconscious. This is probably the reason why "the hard problem of consciousness"[1] confronts the neurosciences with a seemingly insoluble riddle. Only the more or less dream-like consciousness, which animals also have in varying degrees of brightness, is considered conscious or at least semi-conscious by many researchers today. But the bridge between bodily processes and consciousness phenomena is not found.

At present, we as human beings stand on the fourth level of consciousness, in which the I-consciousness is forming. It has the brightest degree of consciousness of all the stages of consciousness developed so far, but has completely lost its character of reality and has become an ineffective mirror image. Precisely because of this, however, it can also form the basis for human freedom.

„Here, you see, lies that difficulty which philosophers continually encounter, and which they cannot overcome with their philosophy, the main difficulty. Nothing else is given to these philosophers at first but that which they imagine. But remember that being is pressed out of the imagination, out of the content of consciousness. It cannot be in it, for what is in consciousness is only a reflection. Being cannot be in it. Now the philosophers seek being through consciousness, through ordinary physical consciousness. They cannot find it that way. And it is quite natural that such philosophies had to arise as Kant's, for example, which seeks being through consciousness. But because consciousness, quite naturally, can only contain images of being, one can come to nothing other than to acknowledge that one can never approach being with consciousness.“ (Lit.:GA 162, p. 31)

Contemporary philosophers and consciousness researchers such as Daniel Dennett or Susan Blackmore, who deny the reality of actual human consciousness and ultimately want to explain it away altogether, are definitely more correct than those who still grant today's consciousness an autonomous authority. Although they end up in pure materialism for the moment, at the same time they also help to get rid of the flimsy false dualistic body/soul ideas that have had a lasting influence on Western culture and still make it no less difficult to understand the real spirit than materialism.

Beyond the present mirror-image-like waking consciousness, three higher levels of consciousness will develop later, which will result from the three preceding levels of consciousness being gradually penetrated by the brightness of the I-consciousness. They will only unfold their full effectiveness on the planetary world evolution levels following the Earth evolution. Through appropriate spiritual training, however, they can already be anticipated to a certain extent today.

The following seven stages of consciousness are distinguished in anthroposophy:

  1. Trance consciousness, all-consciousness (Old Saturn)
  2. Sleep consciousness, dreamless consciousness (Old Sun)
  3. Image consciousness, dream consciousness (Old Moon)
  4. Waking consciousness, object consciousness, I-consciousness (Earth)
  5. Psychic consciousness, conscious image consciousness, Imagination (New Jupiter)
  6. Super-psychic consciousness, conscious sleep consciousness, Inspiration (New Venus)
  7. Spiritual consciousness, conscious all-consciousness, Intuition (Vulcan)

According to Rudolf Steiner, this will be followed by another five levels of consciousness, but we cannot talk about them today. Altogether, then, there are twelve levels of consciousness.

„After the Vulcanic stage, the human being will also develop further and then climb even higher levels of consciousness. Just as the outer eye looks into the misty grey distance, the inner eye of the seer looks into the distance of five more forms of consciousness, of which, however, a description is quite impossible. So, on the whole, we can speak of twelve stages of consciousness.“ (Lit.:GA 11, p. 161)

All effects in the world, as Rudolf Steiner emphasises, ultimately emanate from spiritual beings who live in different states of consciousness. In their consciousness, to which man can rise through higher knowledge, lies the original source and the actual substance from which reality is woven. All being is ultimately consciousness:

„It is good to note that basically there is nothing else in the universe but consciousness. Apart from the consciousness of some beings, everything else ultimately belongs to the realm of the Maja or the great illusion. You can gather this fact from two passages in my writings in particular, and also from others, but especially from two passages: first, from the description of the total evolution of the earth from Saturn to Vulcan in "An Outline of Occult Science", where the progression from Saturn to the Sun, from the Sun to the Moon, from the Moon to the Earth and so on, is described, at first only in states of consciousness. That is to say, if one wishes to ascend to these great facts, one must ascend so far in world affairs that one has to do with states of consciousness. So one can actually only describe consciousnesses when one describes realities. From another passage in a book that appeared this summer, "The Threshold of the Spiritual World", the same thing can be gathered. There it is shown how, through gradual ascension, the seer's vision rises from what spreads out around us as things, as processes in things, how all this, as it were, disappears as a nullity and melts away, is destroyed, and finally the region is reached where there are only beings in some state of consciousness. So, the realities of the world are beings in the various states of consciousness. The fact that we live in the human state of consciousness and do not have a full overview of realities from this state of consciousness has the effect that what is not a reality appears to us as a reality.“ (Lit.:GA 148, p. 305f)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.



  1. David Chalmers: The Character of Consciousness. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2010, ISBN 978-0195311112, p. 39