Elementary world

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The elementary world in the proper sense is the world of the four elements earth, water, air and fire and the elementary beings working them, which build up the physical world - seen, however, not with sensual but with spiritual organs of perception. In an extended sense, this expression is used as a synonym for the astral plane as a whole (Lit.:GA 116, p. 31), in the lower regions of which those astral beings are resident who reveal themselves through the four elements. In contrast to the sensuous world with its largely solidified forms, the elemental world is in constant motion and metamorphosis of form:

„The sensory world is the world of completed forms; the spirits of form reign in the sensory world. The elemental world is the world of mobility, the world of metamorphosis, of transformation. Just as one must continually transform oneself if one wants to feel oneself in the elementary world, so all beings continually transform themselves in the elementary world. There is no closed, no delimited form in the elementary world; everything is in perpetual metamorphosis.“ (Lit.:GA 147, p. 53)

The term «elementary world»

Steiner's use of the term «elementary world», however, is even more differentiated. In his writing "The Threshold of the Spiritual World" he writes:

„Man, as an etheric being, stands in an etheric (elementary) world.“ (Lit.:GA 17, p. 24)

The elementary world is thus equated here with the etheric world or at least described as part of it. What may at first seem like a contradiction is clarified by a hint Rudolf Steiner gives elsewhere. According to this, the lowest 3 regions of the astral world coincide with the 3 uppermost regions of the physical-etheric world (collectively referred to as the physical plane in the following quotation) and it is precisely here that the Kamaloka, the region of purgatory, is to be found, which cosmically corresponds to the lunar sphere or the sublunar sphere:

„If we start from the physical plane, we have here (it is drawn) seven sub-divisions of the physical plane; then would come seven sub-divisions of the astral plane. Of these, the three lowest coincide with the three highest of the physical plane. We must regard the astral plane as being pushed together with the physical plane in such a way that the three uppermost sections of the physical plane are at the same time the three lowermost sections of the astral plane. We can speak of a marginal zone, that is, the one which our souls cannot leave after death, when they are still bound to the Earth by desires. It is called Kamaloka.“ (Lit.:GA 101, p. 223)

Drawing from GA 101, p. 223
Drawing from GA 101, p. 223

Thus the astral region of burning desire coincides with the light ether, the region of mobile sensitivity with the sound ether and the region of wishes with the life ether.

Rudolf Steiner also gives the following explanation, which shows that the elementary world is identical with the soul world. It is only seen here from a different point of view:

„Names which are to express the experiences of the human soul in the elementary and in the spiritual world will have to be adapted to the peculiarities of these experiences. In giving such names, it will be necessary to take into account that the experience in the elementary world is quite different from that in the world of the senses. This experience is based on the soul's ability to change and its observation of sympathies and antipathies. The naming will necessarily have to take on something of the changefulness of these experiences. It cannot be as rigid as it must be for the sensory world. Anyone who does not take this inherent fact into account will easily find a contradiction in the naming of this writing and that in my "Theosophy" and "Occult Science". The contradiction is resolved when one considers that in these two writings the names are chosen in such a way that they characterise the experiences of the soul which it has in its full development between birth (conception) and death on the one hand and between death and birth on the other. Here, however, the names have been chosen with reference to the experiences which the clairvoyant consciousness has when it enters the elementary world and the spiritual regions. It is evident from "Theosophy" and "Occult Science" that soon after the physical-sensuous body has been detached from the soul, that body which is called the etheric body in this text is also detached from the soul at death. The soul then first lives in the entity which is here called the astral body. After its detachment from the soul, the etheric body transforms itself within the elementary world. It passes into the beings which form this elementary world. In this transformation of the etheric body, the soul of the human being is no longer present. However, the soul experiences the processes of this elementary world as its external world after death. This external experience of the elementary world is described in "Theosophy" and "Occult Science" as the passage of the soul through the world of the soul. One will therefore have to imagine that this world of the soul is the same as that which is called here, from the point of view of supersensible consciousness, the elementary world.“ (Lit.:GA 17, p. 92f)

In meditation one can try to form an initial idea of the clairvoyant cognition of the elementary world. Rudolf Steiner compares the perception of the elementary world at first with the rising of ideas of memory:

„One experiences a world which remains unknown to sense perception and ordinary intellectual thought if one does not perceive through the sensuous body but outside it through the elementary body. If one wants to compare this world with something that belongs to ordinary experience, the world of memories, of ideas of memory, presents itself. Just as these rise from within the soul, so it happens with the supersensible experiences of the elementary body. Only the soul knows in the case of a memory-imagination that it refers to an earlier experience within the world of the senses. The supersensible conception also bears a relation. Just as the memory-imagination announces itself through itself as something that cannot be called a mere figment of the imagination, so does the supersensible imagination. It struggles out of the soul's experience, but it immediately reveals itself as an inner experience that relates to something external. Through the memory-imagination something becomes present in the soul that one has experienced. Through the supersensible imagination, inner soul experience becomes what is present at some time or somewhere in the supersensible world. It is thus revealed by the very essence of the supersensible conceptions that one can regard them as inwardly revealing communications from a supersensible world.“ (Lit.:GA 16, p. 29)

According to Rudolf Steiner, however, the elementary world is also the world of living thought-beings which constantly surround us and from which we draw our thoughts, but by which they are deadened into thought-corpses.

„For we are in reality everywhere we stand, walk and lie, not only in the world of air and light and so on, but we are always in a flooding world of thought. You can best visualise it by thinking of it like this: When you walk through space as an ordinary, physical human being, you walk through it breathing, you walk through air-filled space. But in this way you also move, so to speak, through thought-filled space. The thought substance fills the space around you. And this thought substance is not an indeterminate sea of thoughts. It is not something like a nebulous ether, as one would sometimes like to imagine, but this thought substance is actually what we call the elementary world. When we speak of beings of the elementary world in the broadest sense of the word, then these beings of the elementary world consist of this thought substance, properly of this thought substance. There is only a certain difference between the thoughts that buzz around out there, which are actually living beings, and the thoughts that we have within us. I have often pointed out here what the difference is. In my forthcoming book, which I mentioned yesterday, you will again find references to this difference.

You can ask yourself the question: If we have some being, an elementary being, out there in the thought space, and yet I also have thoughts in me - how do my thoughts relate to the thought beings that are out there in the thought space? You will get a correct idea of this relationship of your own thoughts to the thought beings outside in space if you imagine the relationship of a human corpse, which has remained after the human being has died, to the living human being who walks around. In doing so, however, you must consider such thoughts as you gain in the outer sense world in waking consciousness. For our thoughts are thought corpses. That is the essential thing. The thoughts that we carry with us from the outer world of the senses through our waking consciousness are actually thought corpses, they are paralysed, dead thoughts; outside they are alive. That is the difference.

Now, we are actually caught up in the thought elementary world in that we, by taking up our perceptions from the environment and processing these perceptions into thoughts, kill the living thoughts. And by having them in us, these thought corpses, we think. That is why our thoughts are abstract. Our thoughts remain abstract precisely because we kill the living thoughts. We really go about with our consciousness in such a way that we carry thought corpses within us and call these thought corpses our thoughts, our ideas. That is how it is in reality.“ (Lit.:GA 177, p. 99ff)

In the notes of an esoteric lesson of 15 March 1911 in Berlin, the elementary world is limited to the sub-sensory world, which is separated from the super-sensory world above by the plane of the sensory world. In fact, the astral world encompasses supersensible and sub-sensible realms that are strongly influenced by the adversary powers. The postscript by an unknown hand in Elisabeth Vreede's collection of notes states:

„In Rosicrucian teaching the sub-sensible world was always called the elementary world, the world of the elements of fire, air, water, earth.“ (Lit.:GA 266b, p. 160)

At this point, instructions are also given to settle into the imaginitavie realisation of this world through the meditation of elementary geometrical figures. These exercises, however, since they bring the student of the spirit into contact with the lowest astral forces, at the same time necessarily make him egoistic. Therefore, one should never perform them without at the same time practising all-embracing compassion (see below).


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.