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As members or essential members (GermanWesensglieder) of man or of other spirtual or elementary beings are called in anthroposophy and theosophy the independently appearing elements which in their totality make up the essence of these beings. The human being is not exhausted in the sensually visible material body, but also has higher bodily, soul and spiritual members which can only be experienced supersensually. What thus appears as a multiplicity, however, forms a unity for higher cognition.

„That in higher reality there is a unity, what for human experience separates itself as a multiplicity of seven members[1], remains thereby unchallenged. But this is precisely what higher knowledge is there for: to show the unity in everything that appears to man as a multiplicity in immediate experience because of his physical and spiritual organisation.“ (Lit.:GA 7, p. 112)

In a similar way to the human being, higher spiritual beings also have corresponding members of their being.

The essential members at a glance

Rudolf Steiner's work results in the following division of the essential members of the human being incarnated on Earth. The essence of the human being is divided into body, soul and spirit (right column), whereby each of these basic members is again subdivided into three parts. Seen more closely, the human being is therefore a nine-folded entity (left column).

Just as the sentient soul is closely connected with the soul body and thus forms the astral body, the consciousness soul is also interwoven with the spirit self to form a unity. If one takes this into account, and that the I expresses itself particularly in the intellectual soul, a seven-folded representation of the human being results (middle column).

Paracelsus calls these seven stages or degrees firstly the elementary body[2], secondly the archaeus, spiritus vitae or mumia and life force, thirdly the sidereal man, evestrum or astral body, fourthly the animal spirit, fifthly the intellectual soul, sixthly the spirit soul and seventhly the higher man of the Olympi novi.

9-gliedrig 7-gliedrig 3-gliedrig
Spirit man    Spirit man } Spirit
Life spirit    Life spirit
Spirit self } Spirit self
Consciousness soul } Soul
Intellectual soul     I
Sentient soul } Astral body
Soul body } Body
Etheric body    Etheric body
Physical body    Physical body

The I-bearer, which is formed by the I, is the spiritual centre of the earthly embodied human, the focal point for the immortal I. The I shines forth in the intellectual soul. It intervenes in the body in order to participate in the transformation of its body shells (physical body, etheric body and astral body) in order to transform them into the higher spiritual members (spirit self, life spirit, spirit man). Thereby it develops further in the course of the repeated earth lives.

„It has emerged from the preceding considerations that the beingness of man is built up from the four members: Physical body, life body, astral body and I-bearer. The "I" works within the other three members and transforms them. Through such transformation, the following arise on a lower level: the sentient soul, the intellectual soul and the consciousness soul. On a higher level of human existence the following are formed: spirit self, life spirit and spirit man. These members of human nature now stand in the most manifold relations to the whole universe and their development is connected with the development of this universe.“ (Lit.:GA 13, p. 137)

Body, soul and spirit

A first, more in-depth look at the human being reveals him/herself to be a threefold entity (→ trichotomy), which is divided into body, soul and spirit:

„Why does the world appear to man in this threefold manner? A simple observation can teach this:

I walk across a meadow covered with flowers. The flowers announce their colours to me through my eye. That is the fact that I take for granted. - I rejoice in the splendour of the colours. In doing so, I make the fact my own. I connect the flowers with my own existence through my feelings. After a year, I walk across the same meadow again. Other flowers are there. New joy arises from them. My joy from the previous year will emerge as a memory. It is in me; the object that kindled it has passed away. But the flowers I see now are of the same kind as last year's; they have grown according to the same laws as those. If I have enlightened myself as to this species, as to these laws, I shall find them in this year's flowers as I recognised them in the previous year's. And I shall perhaps thus reflect: The flowers of the previous year have passed away; my joy in them has remained only in my memory. It is only connected with my existence. But that which I recognised in the flowers of last year and recognise again this year will remain as long as such flowers grow. That is something that has revealed itself to me, but which is not dependent on my existence in the same way as my joy. My feelings of joy remain within me; the laws, the essence of the flowers remain outside me in the world.

Thus man perpetually connects himself in this threefold way with the things of the world. First of all, do not put anything into this fact, but take it as it presents itself. It follows from it that man has three sides to his being. This and nothing else is to be indicated here for the time being with the three words body, soul and spirit. Anyone who associates any preconceived opinions or even hypotheses with these three words will necessarily have to misunderstand the following arguments. By body is meant here that by which the things of his environment reveal themselves to man, as in the above example the flowers of the meadow. By the word soul is meant that by which he connects things with his own existence, by which he feels pleasure and displeasure, pleasure and displeasure, joy and pain in them. Spirit is what is revealed in him when he, according to Goethe's expression, sees things as "as it were divine being". - In this sense, man consists of body, soul and spirit.“ (Lit.:GA 9, p. 25ff)

Through his living body, the human being comes into contact with the earthly environment. It is the carrier of the sense organs and the brain, with the help of which the human being can perceive, imagine and intellectually grasp the earthly world. Only through his bodily organs can man consciously confront the sensual world and distinguish himself from it. This awakens his self-awareness.

The body, however, taken for itself, could not develop any consciousness at all. It would be determined solely by unconscious life processes, as is the case with plants, for example. For consciousness to develop at all, the soul is needed, which uses the body as a tool to be able to recognise and change the earthly world with its help. Only through the soul does the human being feel consciously connected, joyfully or sorrowfully, with the earthly world.

On the other hand, the soul is also oriented towards the spirit, towards the actual creative principle. The soul participates in the created with sympathy or antipathy; but it is the spirit that brings forth the world of the created in the first place. On a large scale, it is the tirelessly creating world spirit that has brought forth the whole of nature and given it its peculiar structure; on a small scale, however, the human spirit, its individual ego, also participates in this creative principle. Man thus becomes in a certain sense the creator and educator of himself. This distinguishes man from the animal, which also has a soul and thus also consciousness, but no self-consciousness. In pleasure and suffering, the animal is helplessly at the mercy of its fate and bound to the narrow limits of its species-typical imprint. Man, on the other hand, can become a conscious creative co-creator, even the master of his fate. With an energetic will, he can find a deeper meaning in even the most difficult strokes of fate and mature from them - and it is precisely this that awakens his self-confidence.

In ancient times, this threefold nature of the human being was very well known. But this knowledge was gradually lost. As early as the Council of Constantinople in 869, the doctrine of the trichotomy (tripartism) of the human being was declared heretical, and since then it was only allowed to teach that the human being consisted of body and soul. At the most, the soul was still allowed a few spiritual abilities, such as the ability to think intellectually. The intention was to make clear the unbridgeable gulf between God and man and to protect man from dangerous arrogance - but at the same time it brought him closer to the animal. And while in ancient times people were convinced that man was an offspring of the divine world, they now began to believe more and more in man's descent from the animal, which is still the core idea of modern evolutionary teachings. In the process, the knowledge of the human soul was increasingly lost, and today the general consciousness is mainly directed towards the human body, which is perhaps still granted some spiritual qualities. By orienting himself more and more towards his bodily existence in the physical-sensual world, man's self-consciousness experiences a powerful stimulation, but at the same time the possibility of a deeper knowledge of the human being disappears. The human being does recognise himself as an individual, much more strongly than was ever the case in the past, but he does not know what actually constitutes his individuality. This often results in severe inner spiritual life conflicts that can only be overcome by acquiring a new awareness of the threefold nature of the human being.

Development of the members in the individual life on Earth

With the actual birth, the physical body is born as an independent entity. In the course of life the higher members of man unfold in successive seven-year periods. In ancient times, this gradual unfolding of the higher members was guaranteed to a great extent by the natural powers of evolution that were predisposed in man. These forces, however, are drying up more and more. Today man must take his development into his own hands through his conscious spiritual striving.

Spirit man 56 - 63 years
Life spirit 49 - 56 years
Spirit self 42 - 49 years
Consciousness soul 35 - 42 years
Intellectual or mind soulI 28 - 35 years
Sentient soul 21 - 28 years
Astral body 14 - 21 years
Etheric body 7- 14 years
Physical body 0 - 7 years


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: URL:
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. Depending on the point of view, the essence of the human being can also be meaningfully broken down into a different number of essence members.
  2. In contrast to Steiner, who calls the etheric body sometimes elementary body, Paracelsus uses this term for the physical body built up from the four elements.