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Seal of the fourth mystery drama by Rudolf Steiner.

I (Middle High German: ich, Old High German: ih, Gothic: ik, GermanIch, Greekἐγώ / Latinego; from Indo-European: *eĝom "eĝ[ō]"; Hebrewאָנֹ֖כִי ânochî, anokhi or אֲנִי âni[1] ) is in Modern English the personal pronoun with which every person can only refer to himself. In the deeper spiritual sense, however, it does not merely denote the earthly embodied personality, but the divine spark (Hebrewנִיצוֹץ Nitzotz) in man, the spiritual core of man's being, his actual I-being. In the Indian theosophical tradition it is approximately called kama-manas. However, by this is more understood the lower self, the ego, hardened in egoism, that lives primarily in the intellectual or mind soul. I and ego must be clearly distinguished from each other from a spiritual-scientific point of view. The I forms the immortal core of the human being, while the ego lives in its transient bodily shells and is thus subject to mortality.

With reference to Solomon, the I is also called Itiel (Hebrewיתיאל "God is with me[2]; possessor of power") according to Rudolf Steiner (Lit.:GA 116, p. 83). Man's higher self, his spirit self, is the astral body consciously transformed by the I. To the extent that man has developed his spirit self, his soul also participates in the immortality of its essential core (see also → death of the soul and immortality of the soul).

Awareness of one's own I is promoted in particular by the fourth subsidiary exercise, positivity. Rudolf Steiner shows a meditative way to experience the I-body or thought body in (Lit.:GA 16, p. 55ff).


The I as such cannot be grasped as existing somehow and somewhere, but can only be experienced in its direct creative activity, through which it primarily creates itself constantly anew. Through his bodily shells, man is a creature of higher powers, but through his I he is a free creator of himself.

„The only reason why we can never be rid of our own I lies in the absolute freedom of our being, by virtue of which the I in us cannot be a thing, a thing capable of objective determination. Hence it comes about that our I can never be comprehended as a middle member in a series of conceptions, but always steps in front of each series again as the first member, which holds the whole series of conceptions: that the acting I, although determined in each individual case, is at the same time not determined, because it escapes from every objective determination, and can only be determined by itself, thus being at the same time the determined and the determining.“

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling: Philosophical Writings, First Volume, p. 168

When man incarnates on Earth, he forms the I-organisation (also called I-bearer or I-body) as the highest of the four fundamental members of man's being and as the source of I-consciousness. In the I-experience, the human being feels himself as an indivisible wholeness, as an individuality or monad, which forms the determining centre of his earthly embodied personality and from here not only directs the soul forces of thinking, feeling and willing, but also gradually spiritualises his bodily members and thereby integrates them into his immortal individuality. First the astral body is transformed into the spirit self - the I has become creative in the soul-astral and has thereby ascended to the higher I. Later the I learns to transform also the etheric body into the life spirit and finally even the physical body into the spirit man. Its creative power is then also fully consciously active in the living and in the physical.

The Veiled Sanctuary of the Soul

Fifth apocalyptic seal: The woman, clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, the unveiled Isis.

Rudolf Steiner also calls the I the "veiled sanctuary of the soul".

„For great spirits, the moment when they experience the "I" in themselves for the first time in their lives, when they become aware of it for the first time, is something significant. Jean Paul tells this story about himself. As a small boy he once stood by a barn in the courtyard; there he experienced his "I" for the first time. And this moment was so clear and solemn to him that he says of it: "I looked into my innermost being as into the veiled sanctuary. Human beings have developed through many races, and until the Atlantean period they all conceived of themselves in this objective way; it was only during the Atlantean race that man developed to the point where he could say "I" to himself. The ancient Jews put this into a doctrine.

Man has passed through the kingdoms of nature. The I-consciousness finally merged in him. The astral, etheric and physical body and the I together form the Pythagorean square. And Judaism added to this the divine self, which comes down to us from above, in contrast to the I from below. Thus the square had become a pentagon. This is how Judaism perceived the Lord of its people, and something sacred, therefore, was to pronounce the "name". While other names, such as Elohim or Adonai became more and more popular, only the anointed priest in the Holy of Holies was allowed to pronounce the name "Yahweh". It was in the time of Solomon that ancient Judaism came to the holiness of the name of Yahweh, to this "I" that can dwell in man. We must take Yahweh's call to man as one that wanted man himself to be made a temple of the holy God. Now we have received a new conception of the Godhead, namely: to make the God who is hidden in the breast of man, in the deepest sanctuary of the human self, the moral God. The human body thus became a great symbol of the Holy of Holies.“ (Lit.:GA 93, p. 143f)

A symbolic expression for the human body in which the I can live in the Holy of Holies is, for example, Noah's Ark as a preliminary stage and then Solomon's Temple with the Ark of the Covenant, which is kept in the Holy of Holies.

„... when man has brought himself to this stage of development, then his self-consciousness speaks to him in a quite different, in a new way. We then look into the veiled sanctuary of our inner being in a completely new way. Man then perceives himself as a member of the spiritual world. He then perceives himself as something pure and sublime above all sensuality, because he has put aside pleasure and suffering in the sensual sense. Then he hears a self-consciousness within him which speaks to him in the same way as mathematical truths speak to him without interest, but speak to him in the same way as mathematical truths speak in another sense. Mathematical truths are true with a sense of eternity. What comes before us in the nonsensical language of mathematics is true, independent of time and space. And independent of time and space, that speaks to us in our inner being which then appears before our soul when it has purified itself upwards to the pleasure and suffering of spiritual things. Then the eternal speaks to us with its meaning of eternity.“ (Lit.:GA 52, p. 201f)

The fifth seal from the Apocalypse of John gives an imaginative picture of this: the woman clothed with the sun, giving birth to a child, the moon at her feet.

Meister Eckhart speaks in a similar way of the "little castle in the soul":

„Look, now notice! So single and unique is this 'little castle' in the soul of which I speak and which I have in mind, so exalted above all ways, that the noble power of which I have spoken is not worthy to ever once for a single moment peer into this little castle, and also the other power of which I spoke, in which God glows and burns with all His riches and with all His delight, dare never ever peer into it; So completely one and simple is this little kingdom, and so exalted above all ways and all powers is this one, that no power or way is ever able to look into it, nor God Himself. In full truth and as true as God lives: God Himself will never for a moment look into it and has never yet looked into it, in so far as He exists in the manner and "quality" of His Persons. This is easy to see, for this single One is without manner or peculiarity. And therefore: If God should ever peep into it, it must cost him all his divine names and his person-like peculiarity; he must leave all that outside, if he should ever peep into it. Rather, as He is One, without all manner and peculiarity, so He is neither Father nor Son nor Holy Spirit in this sense, and yet is a something that is neither this nor that.

Behold, as he is one and single, so he enters into this one thing, which I call a little castle in the soul, and in no other way does he enter into it; but only in this way does he enter into it and is in it. With that part the soul is equal to God, and not otherwise. What I have said to you is true; for this I give you truth as a witness and my soul as a pledge.“

Meister Eckhart: Sermon on the Virgin who was a Woman[3]

This true I of man, which shows itself in the aura as a blue oval, is, according to its inner individual nature, inaccessible even to the most trained clairvoyant:

„This I is a very interesting point in the aura. At one point the I becomes perceptible. There you will find within the outer oval a strange, blue flickering or blue iridescent spot, also oval-shaped. It is really like seeing a candle flame, but with the difference between the astral colours and the physical colours, it is like seeing the blue in the centre of the candle flame. That is the I that is perceived there within the aura. And that is a very interesting fact. No matter how far man develops, no matter how far he develops his clairvoyant gifts, at this point he first sees this blue I-body, this blue body of light. This is a veiled sanctuary, even for the clairvoyant. No one can see into the actual I of the other. It remains a mystery at first, even for those who have developed their psychic senses. Only within this blue flickering place does something new shine forth. There is a new flame formation that shines forth in the centre of the blue flame. This is the third member, the spirit.“ (Lit.:GA 53, p. 59f)

In the I lives the spirit

„The "I" lives in body and soul; but the spirit lives in the "I". And what is of the spirit in the I is eternal. For the I receives its essence and meaning from that with which it is connected. In so far as it lives in the physical body, it is subject to the mineral laws; through the etheric body, it is subject to the laws of reproduction and growth; by virtue of the sentient and intellectual soul, it is subject to the laws of the spiritual world; in so far as it receives the spiritual into itself, it is subject to the laws of the spirit. What the mineral, what the laws of life form, comes into being and passes away; but the spirit has nothing to do with coming into being and passing away.“ (Lit.:GA 9, p. 50f)

The real I and its mirror image

For we all have a secret, wonderful ability to withdraw
from the change of time into the inner self, stripped of
everything that has come from outside, and there, under
the form of immutability, to behold the eternal in us.
This contemplation is the innermost, own experience, on
which alone depends all that we know and believe of a
supersensible world.

F. W. J. Schelling: Philosophical Writings, Vol. 1, p. 165[4]

To be clearly distinguished from the real I is the I-consciousness that we experience in everyday consciousness. Only in pure thinking does the real I, the self-creating spirit, protrude into the I-consciousness and can be experienced intuitively here and subsequently also throw light on the reality of other spiritual experiences.

„In order to recognise the "I" as that by means of which the submergence of the human soul into full reality can be seen through, one must carefully guard against seeing the real I in the ordinary consciousness which one has of this "I". If, seduced by such a confusion, one were to say, as the philosopher Descartes did, "I think, therefore I am," one would be refuted by reality every time one slept. For then one is without thinking. Thinking does not guarantee the reality of the "I". But it is equally certain that the true "I" cannot be experienced through anything else than pure thinking alone. It is precisely in pure thinking, and for the ordinary human consciousness only in this, that the real I projects itself. He who merely thinks only comes as far as the thought of the "I"; he who experiences what can be experienced in pure thinking, by experiencing the "I" through thinking, makes something real, which is form and matter at the same time, the content of his consciousness. But apart from this "I" there is at first nothing for the ordinary consciousness that sinks form and matter into thinking at the same time. All other thoughts are at first not images of a full reality. But by experiencing the true I as an experience in pure thinking, one comes to know what full reality is. And one can advance from this experience to other realms of true reality.

This is what anthroposophy tries to do. It does not stop at the experiences of ordinary consciousness. It strives for a research into reality that works with a transformed consciousness. With the exception of the I experienced in pure thinking, it eliminates ordinary consciousness for the purposes of its research. And in its place it puts such a consciousness that operates to its full extent in a way that ordinary consciousness can only achieve when it experiences the I in pure thought. In order to attain what is thus striven for, the soul must acquire the power to withdraw from all outer perception and from all ideas which in ordinary life are so entrusted to the human inner world that they can revive in memory.“ (Lit.:GA 35, p. 103f)

The real I is only accessible to a higher, intuitive experience. While still a young student in Vienna, Rudolf Steiner wrote to his friend Josef Köck about his experience, which gave him his first insight into his "innermost self, stripped of everything that came from outside". This letter, the first ever preserved by Rudolf Steiner, is dated 13 January 1881, 12 midnight:

„It was the night of January 10-11, during which I did not sleep for a moment. I had occupied myself with individual philosophical problems until half past midnight, and then I finally threw myself onto my bed; my endeavour last year was to investigate whether it was true what Schelling says: "We all have a secret, wonderful ability to withdraw from the change of time into our innermost self, stripped of everything that came from outside, and there, under the form of immutability, to look at the eternal in us." I believed and still believe that I have discovered this innermost faculty quite clearly in myself - I had suspected it long ago -; the whole idealistic philosophy now stands before me in an essentially modified form; what is a sleepless night against such a discovery!“ (Lit.:GA 38, p. 13)

In the years that followed, the fruits of this experience continued to ripen. From Weimar, almost exactly ten years later, on 4 January 1891, Rudolf Steiner wrote in a letter to Rosa Mayreder:

„If I am to sink with my self, disappear into the object without finding myself again, then knowledge can also no longer be what it must be, namely the argument about my destiny. I only feel fully human when I know the point that links my "I", my individual being, with the being of the universe. For me, science is ultimately the answer to the great question: what does my "I" mean to the universe? I want to divest myself of my self-consciousness only for the purpose of finding it again in the object. But to throw it away in order to sink into infinite objectivity can never lead to knowledge. Being an individual, being separated as an "I" means the great question for me, means the pain and agony of existence. Finding oneself in the object, being absorbed in the universe - redemption and the serene enjoyment of the highest world-harmony. It is terrible to see oneself thrown out of the domain of the world spirit, to be a point in the world structure, it is unbearable to be "I"; but to throw off this skin of particularity, to step out onto the plan, where the world spirit creates, and to see how my individuality is also founded in the essence of the whole, to grasp one's own existence in time from the standpoint of timeless observation, that is a moment of delight for which one must exchange all the agony of existence. But he who has never been an "I" cannot comprehend the "I" either; he who has never suffered cannot understand the delight that lies in comprehending pain; he who does not live through the evil of particularity cannot partake of the joy of self-decomposition. To be able to die, one must first have lived.“ (Lit.:GA 39, p. 69f)

In his 1911 Bologna lecture, Rudolf Steiner showed that the I experienced in regular daytime consciousness is a mere image of the real I, which is only falsely transferred to the bodily inner world. Man thus feels separated from the world and is confronted with seemingly insurmountable limits of knowledge. A future epistemology will have to recognise that the I is in truth always already located in the external world. Rudolf Steiner had already shown in his "Philosophy of Freedom" that the real I - not its mere mirror image - is experienced in pure thinking independently of the body's organisation. The true I can only be experienced through corresponding spiritual training in the supra-spiritual world.

„For most people today, our I is still a very dormant organ. If one believes that the I is very much awake, one is actually mistaken. For in the will - as I have already explained to you - the human being is actually also asleep, and in that the I is active at will, we are not dealing with something that stands before us as an I, but rather with something that stands before us in the way that the night actually stands before us. Although the night is dark, we also reckon with the night in our lives. If you really look back on your life, it consists not only of that which was bright as day, but it also consists of the nights. But they are, so to speak, always cut out of the course of time. It is similar with our I. Our I is actually noticeable to the ordinary consciousness in that it is not there for the consciousness; it is already there, but it is not there for the consciousness. Something is missing from the place, and that is why one sees the I. It's really like when you have a white wall and you haven't painted a spot with white; then you see the black. And so, as what has been erased, one actually sees our I in ordinary consciousness. And so it is also during waking: the I is actually always asleep at first; but it shines through as a sleeping thing through the thoughts, the ideas and through the feelings, and therefore the I is also perceived in ordinary consciousness, that is, it is supposed to be perceived. So we can say: our I is not actually perceived directly at first.

Now a prejudiced psychology, a doctrine of the soul, believes that this I actually sits inside the human being; where his muscles are, his flesh is, his bones are and so on, that is also where the I is. If one were to survey life only a little, one would very soon perceive that it is not so. But it is difficult to bring such a consideration before people today. I tried to do so in 1911 in my lecture at the philosophers' congress in Bologna. But nobody has understood that lecture to this day. I tried to show how it actually is with the I. This I actually lies in every perception, it actually lies in everything that makes an impression on us. The I does not lie in my flesh and in my bones, but in what I can perceive through my eyes. If you see a red flower somewhere: in your I, in your whole experience, which you have by being devoted to the red, you cannot separate the red from the flower. With all this, you have given the I at the same time, the I is connected with the content of your soul. But your soul content is not in your bones! Your soul content, you spread it out over the whole space. So this I is even less than the air you are breathing in, even less than the air that was in you before. This I is connected with every perception and with everything that is actually outside of you. It is only active within, because it sends the forces in from perception. And furthermore, the I is connected with something else: You only need to walk, that is, to develop your will. But your I goes along with it, or rather the I takes part in the movement, and whether you creep slowly, whether you run, whether you move at a crawl or somehow turn and the like, whether you dance or jump, the I takes part in all that. Everything that emanates from you in terms of activity, the I participates in. But that is not in you either. Think, it does take you along. When you dance a round dance, do you think the round dance is in you? It wouldn't have any place in you! How would it have room? But the I is there, the I joins in the round dance. So in your perceptions and in your activity, that's where the I sits. But it is never actually in you in the full sense of the word, in the way that your stomach is in you, but it is actually always something, this I, which is basically outside of you. It is just as much outside your head as it is outside your legs, except that when you walk it participates very strongly in the movements that your legs make. The I is really very much involved in the movement that the legs make. The head, however, is less involved in the I.“ (Lit.:GA 205, p. 218ff)

„Let us begin with what we call our I, in so far as we experience this I consciously, what this I actually represents. You know, this I as consciousness is interrupted in the course of life by all the states that pass between falling asleep and waking up. With the exception of dreaming, and actually to a certain extent also in dreaming, this I-consciousness is gone for the time between falling asleep and waking up. We can say that this I-consciousness always ignites at the moment of waking - igniting being, of course, only a metaphorically used expression - and it dims at the moment of falling asleep.

If we acquire the faculty of observation for such things, then we notice that this I-consciousness is bound in the narrowest sense to the whole range of sense perceptions, but actually only to this. You only need to carry out a kind of soul experiment once, which consists in trying to eradicate all sense content in the waking state, to refrain, as it were, from all sense content. We will come back to the matter later from another point of view. But you will notice that in most cases and with most people there is a certain tendency to sink into a kind of sleep state; that is to say, to dull the I. You can already notice that the I is not as strong as it should be. One can already notice that the consciousness of the ego, as it prevails in the daytime awakening, is essentially linked to the presence of sense content. So that we can say: We experience our I at the same time as the sense content. For everyday consciousness, we experience our I in no other way than with the sense content. As far as the sense content reaches, there is I-consciousness, and as far - at least for ordinary life - there is I-consciousness, so far reaches the sense content. If one starts from the standpoint of this everyday consciousness, it is quite justifiable not to separate the I from the sense-content, but to say to oneself: inasmuch as red, inasmuch as this or that sound, inasmuch as this or that sensation of warmth, touch, taste or smell is present, the I is also present, and inasmuch as these sensations are not present, the I, as it is experienced in the ordinary waking state, is also not present.

I have often described this as a finding of the observation of the soul. I made it particularly clear once in a lecture I gave at the philosophers' congress in Bologna in 1911, where I tried to show how what is experienced as the ego should not be separated from the whole range of sense experiences. We must therefore say: the I is essentially bound first - I am always talking about experience - to the sense perceptions. We do not now consider the I as reality; on the contrary, we want to refer to the I as reality only in the course of these three lectures, today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. We want to deal now alone with what we call the I-experience in the sphere of our life.“ (Lit.:GA 206, p. 118f)


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. אֲנִי âni probably corresponds largely to the lower ego and אָנֹ֖כִי, ânokî to the divine I. However, as in most ancient languages, in [[w:Hebrew|]] the I is often not written on its own, but added to the prefix or suffix for grammatical marking of the 1st person to the verb. âni is the origin of the prefix [[w:Aleph|]], which is used to indicate that I am the doer in it; the suffix ni, also derived from âni, indicates that I am the passive object of the action, such as in the Psalms referring to Christ's word on the cross: Hebrewאֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי Psalms 22:1 Greekἐλώι ἐλώι λεμὰ σαβαχθανί "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani" (My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me) (Matthew 27:46). Also significant is the Aleph prefix in the name of God that Moses hears from the burning bush: אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה "ähejäh 'aschär 'ähejäh" (I am the I-am) (Exodus 3:14); הְיֶ֖ה , "hejäh denotes "being" par excellence and becomes I-ness through the Aleph prefix." [1]
  2. cf. Strong's Concordance „Ithiel“
  3. Meister Eckhart: Predigt von der Jungfrau die ein Weib war; cf. also: Intravit Iesus in quoddam castellum at www.eckhart.de
  4. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling: Philosophische Schriften, Erster Band, S. 165; vgl. auch den Brief von Rudolf Steiner an Josef Köck vom 13. Januar 1881 (Lit.:GA 38, p. 13)