6. The four kingdoms of nature
Starting from the three aspects of the human corporality plus the spirit
or 'I', it is possible to understand why nature has four distinct
realms, or kingdoms.
6. 1 The mineral kingdom
Minerals have just a Physical Body. They are totally subjected to natural (physical) laws, being by themselves immutable: only an action external to the mineral is able to change its whole state (e.g. position, temperature, movement, forms, physical and chemical organization). In fact, it is not possible to say that a crystal can grow in the same way as a living being. The former increases its volume by external deposition, the latter due to an inner transformation.
Concerning its form, a mineral is either amorphous or has a crystalline, geometric form. Both are quite different from the organic form of living beings. The crystalline form is due to physical forces acting inside the crystal.
Finally, minerals have an inorganic composition, while living beings have an organic composition.
6.2 The vegetable kingdom
Besides their Physical Body, plants also have an Ether Body, consisting of a super-sensible 'substantiality', as we have seen in section 5.2. Due to such an Ether Body, plants have life and all its manifestations: inner growth, gaseous exchange (partially associated to photosynthesis), reproduction, tissue regeneration, and a typical plant form (as pointed out in section 1.2, it is always necessary to start from the observation of more complete general cases, instead of peculiar transitional forms, which should be understood as having the more general ones as basic ones), with root, stalk/trunk/branches, leaves, flowers and fruits, organic tissues, birth and death.
The Physical Body of a plant has a form which is quite distinct from a mineral precisely because of the action of its Ether Body – the presence of the higher element modifies all the lower ones. The Ether Body interacts with the environment through the Physical Body of the plant. Therefore, one single plant species may show somewhat different forms according to diverse regional conditions (e.g. being more or less high or thick, getting to develop flowers or fruits, etc.)
Since it is the super-sensible Ether Body that gives life to a plant, and produces all its vital manifestations, I conjecture that present-day materialist science will never reach a comprehensive understanding of plant processes and forms.
6.3 The animal kingdom
Let us proceed from the observation of the more complete animals, that is, mammals. Animals obviously also have a physical body. They have life and the vital manifestations which plants also show, although in other forms. But animals have an additional constituent that plants do not have: the Astral Body, which is 'higher' than the Ether Body. In comparison to plants, its presence modifies the Ether and Physical Bodies, thus originating the distinct forms of animals.
Thanks to their Astral Body animals have movements, including those independent of external stimuli. If an animal is hungry, it will move in search of food, independently of feeling, for example, the external smell of food. Furthermore, the Astral Body allows the animal to have sensations, feelings, instincts and external sound manifestations (like peeping, mooing, roaring, etc.) It is due to its astrality that an animal manifests its feelings employing sounds, like howling of pain, growling of menace, etc. Due to this astrality, a dog may shake its tail manifesting satisfaction.
As far as form is concerned, it is important to notice the presence of hollow organs, like the heart, kidneys, lungs, etc. Rhythmic respiration also appears, quite distinct from the gaseous exchange process in plants.
Due to the presence of the Astral Body, the Ether Body of animals penetrates more intensively into the Physical Body as in the case of plants. As a consequence, the capacity of the Ether Body of acting on the Physical Body diminishes in certain aspects. It is due to this fact that, when a paw of a mammal is cut, it never regenerates again. In this sense, the capacity for regeneration of plant tissues is generally much higher – in other words, there is a larger 'distance' between the etheric level and the physical level. Thus, the former is able to change much more the latter. The distinct capacity for regeneration shown by different species of animals can be understood by the higher or lower degree of interpenetration of their Physical Bodies by their Ether Bodies, caused by the Astral Bodies. Obviously this penetration is not the cause, but rather the effect of the super-sensible action of the other two bodies.
Animals are also endowed with something inexistent in plants: the ability of remembrance, something that expresses itself in the repetition of sensations felt in the past (see section 1.3). For example, after being trained to follow a labyrinth in search of food, a mouse will always repeat the correct path. This is a process of learning, which is absent in plants.
In animals there occurs something else that does not happen in plants: an alternation between states of consciousness, between sleeping and being awake. From a certain point of view, plants live permanently in a consciousness similar to deep sleep. The explanation for the difference between these states (something that current science considers a mystery) is relatively simple when weconsider the non-physical bodies; this point will be further explained in section 7.
It is also interesting to mention an explanation provided by Steiner on the phenomenon of pain. After being wounded, animals or humans feel pain. Pain arises because the Ether Body cannot maintain the form of the Physical Body, and reacts against this situation; this is then perceived by the Astral Body as pain. Through a chemical or physical action (e.g. using anesthetic drugs or cold), it is possible to change the interactions of the three bodies, and thus the animal or human ceases to feel pain.
6.4 The human kingdom
Besides the three lower corporeal members (Physical Body, Ether Body and Astral Body), humans additionally have the three higher soul members (Rational Soul, Temper Soul and Consciousness Soul) and the spirit, the 'I'. These four higher elements make humans essentially distinct from animals. As previously described, the presence of higher constituents modify all the lower ones. Thus, already in the Physical Body it is possible to notice fundamental differences between humans and animals. We have for example an erect posture, similar to the form of the letter 'I'. It is not by coincidence that in various languages the word 'I' (denoting our 'self', or 'basic personality') begins with the sound of the latin 'i' (pronounced 'ee', as in 'idiom'): 'Ich' (German), 'iá' (Slavish languages), 'io' (Italian), 'yo' (Spanish), etc. Interesting enough, in English the capital letter correspondingt to the letter 'i' is the actual word for 'I'! Animals do not assume an erect position. Monkeys and bears may stay erect for only a few moments, but they soon must sustain themselves also on their front paws, which is their normal position for moving – their vertebral column does not have the shape of a double S as in humans. Birds, although bipeds, do not have an erect position, as revealed by the form and position of their vertebral column; The unique erect position of humans places them in a situation of independence regarding the force of gravity, which animals feel so strongly that they are forced to bend to the soil. Moreover, in order to stand up, we must be awaken, that is, we must have our physical and super-sensible constitution in harmonic interaction (about this point, see section 7, on the phenomenon of sleep). It is grotesquely incorrect to say we were originally quadrupeds and that our erect position is an 'abnormality', which would even explain health problems with our back. Another popular aberration is to say that we acquired the erect posture when our ancestors went down from the trees in order to see farther away. If this were the case we should have developed some kind of giraffe neck!
Another further physical distinction is that humans, as mammals, do not have a protector fur, or leather covering their body, neither scales nor feathers. The bare human body and its disadvantages remains one of the great unknowns to Darwinian evolutionists.
Our bare skin leads to another point. A distinct characteristic of the unique physical human form is the fact that a somewhat embryonic form is maintained during the whole life. This is the case of the hands, which are not developed, in comparison to the front paws of animals. Precisely for not being developed, that is, not being specialized and maintaining an almost embryonic form, we are able to do extremely delicate actions with our hands, from painting to playing a violin, or to caress.
Humans are born totally unprotected and without specialization (besides crying and sucking). On the contrary, animals are born already specialized – e.g. it takes just a few hours for a newborn foal to stand, or for a little duck to start swimming. Infants of a certain monkey species, just after being born, already have in their front paws strength enough to immediately grab their mother's chest skin, keeping sucking while the mother jumps from branch to branch.
It is also a special characteristic that humans take a long time to mature. It is interesting to notice that sexual maturity of animals indicate whether they have already completed their development. In human beings, sexual maturity happens around 14 years of age (in our times, unfortunately, an excess of premature erotic and intellectual stimuli are accelerating this process), but then it takes approximately another 7 years for a young person to be considered a responsible adult. In Brazil, full maturity is legally considered only at that age. Interesting enough, this 21-year frontier for civil maturity stems from an ancient wisdom, and corresponds to a reality of the super-sensible development of each human being (see section 11 below). It is around this age that the 'self' or 'I' begins to fully manifest itself in the young person. Any undue acceleration of a child or adolescent development process may have tragic implications for the future life; metaphorically speaking, it is similar to an animalization of that person. Modern electronic media, among other factors, are responsible for this kind of undue acceleration (see my web site for various papers on this subject).
Another distinct human characteristic is speech, which is totally inexistent in animals. Primates, for instance, do not have the concave-formed palate that is fundamental for speaking, as humans do. Another characteristic is the ability to think. Through thinking humans attain self-consciousness and may act in freedom, as it happens when, using their thinking, they consciously choose one among various possible actions. On the contrary, animals always react automatically in every situation. Humans alone are able to think in advance, considering the consequences of their acts, and eventually even deciding to do something against an inner impulse which would lead to a different action. This is the case, for example, when a person decides to go into a rigorous diet, albeit being a glutton.
Finally, as seen in section 1.3, an additional unique human characteristic is memory, or the ability to remember. Memory is located in the Ether Body, but it is the 'I', as the higher human member, that consults it. Today, current science speculates that memory resides in the brain. However, it has been unable to locate the simplest manifestations of memory in that physical organ. For example, brain research does not have the faintest idea where someone 'stores' the number 2, much less its correspondent numeral (without an image representation), which is a pure concept, without a possible physical representation. What is known, is that certain regions of the brain get more active than others when are specific remembrances occur; for example, there are different brain regions involved in auditive and visual memories. It is well known in medicine that certain types of memories are lost when certain brain regions are damaged. Nevertheless, it is not objectively possible to conclude, from these facts, definite relations of cause and effect – that is, that such memories are 'stored' in those regions. Scientifically, one should at most conclude that those regions are involved in the process of remembering. The hypothesis that the 'storing' is done in the Ether Body, something non-physical, does not contradict present scientific knowledge. But it really contradicts current scientific judgements that are being made about this issue.
There are various evidences for the conclusion that our memory is not physical – and particularly that it does not follow the computational metaphor so much appreciated nowadays. For example, human memory is apparently infinite, and every person keeps all its experiences. Few of them are kept in the conscious level, and thus they can be consulted by the 'I', while most of them are in the unconscious, but may be remembered in exceptional states, such as hypnosis. Anyone may make a simple experiment: looking at some object for some time, then closing the eyes and trying to remember all its details. It will soon be noticed that the recalled memory is not as sharp and detailed as the corresponding visual perception. From the point of view of the model expounded here, it can be said that the 'recording' in the Ether Body is not as sharp and detailed as visual perception, or that the perception of memory in that body cannot be made with the same sharpness by the 'I'. But, according to the computational model, there should be somehow a physical 'storing' and, later on, 'retrieving' of all the details! Using a Darwinian evolution argument (a kind of argument that is very much in vogue nowadays, to speculate about every process occurring in living beings), human beings that could 'store' more details of their experiences would clearly have many advantages over those that could not do it. This would mean that the full 'storing' of sensorial perceptions should have been attained gradually.
Notice that, if the observed object is a geometrical figure without color nuances, it is possible to remember all its details, because it can be reconstructed through thinking on its (non-physical!) concepts. Another evidence is the process of forgetting: according to the computational model, something is either recorded, or not recorded. Further, if something is recorded, it may be blocked or unblocked by some actions. But we do not have the sensation of 'unblocking' an access when, suddenly, without any apparent cause, our memory of some forgotten thing suddenly returns (e.g. the name of a person).
The question could be posed: If thinking and memory are not physical, why do we need the physical brain at all? According to Steiner, the brain and the nervous system act as mirrors, allowing us to have consciousness of what is being thought, felt or wished. If some region of the brain is damaged or extirped, the memory associated to that region continues to exist, but it cannot be consulted; the consciousness process that would permit to select what is looked for cannot take place anymore.
In the example above, the recording in the Ether Body originates from sensorial perceptions. But also sensations and feelings experienced by the Sensitive Soul through the Astral Body may be recorded into the Ether Body, as for instance the taste of a fruit, a pain in some organ, a feeling of fear, etc. Finally, also thoughts of every kind, practical or abstract ones, may be recorded there – in short, the totality of our experiences.
From all these considerations, it is possible to understand that humans are really no just 'higher animals'. Summarizing: just like plants and animals are beings of essentially different natures, as we can observe in their manifestations (the latter have Astral Bodies, and the former do not), animals and humans are also beings of essentially different natures (the later have 'I's, the former do not).
7. Sleep and dream
The fourfold description of the human constitution makes it possible to understand what happens during sleep. As it was seen in section 5.2, by observing a sleeping adolescent one can notice the manifestation of all her vital processes, such as respiration, metabolism, growth, etc. But she has no consciousness, no normal movement, etc. She also does not fell and think, or manifest her higher Self. It looks like her Astral Body and her 'I' are gone, not manifesting themselves anymore. Steiner says that what happens in deep sleep is a separation of these two members in relation to the Physical and Ether Bodies. This separation is not total, being just sufficient to restrain the Astral Body and the 'I' from manifesting themselves. It is interesting to observe that sometimes, when we awake, we have the impression that we are falling – it is indeed a kind of image we form for the 'fall' of our Astral Body back into the Ether Body.
Steiner further describes that during deep sleep the Astral Body expands, reaching the whole super-sensible world associated to the stars domain, therefore its name. Its contraction during the process of awakening and penetrating again in the Ether Body is what produces that sensation of 'fall'. In the full expanded state, the Astral Body experiences other beings which also have this body. In a similar way, the 'I' experiences what belongs to the purely spiritual world, which is 'higher' than the Astral world.
In section 6.4 we have seen that human memory resides in the Ether Body, and depends on an action of the 'I' to be consciously consulted. Since during deep sleep the Ether Body is separated from the Astral Body and the 'I', everything experienced by the last two will not be engraved into the Ether Body. This explains why after awakening we cannot recall the 'night experiences' we had with our Astral Body and the 'I'.
During awakening a transition state may occur if the Astral Body, still partially in the astral world, penetrates only slightly into the Ether Body. In such a case, the experiences of the Astral Body may actually be engraved into the Ether Body. After fully awakening, a person will then remember these experiences through a conscious interaction with the 'I'. Nevertheless, since such experiences are of a completely different nature than normal physical experiences, the person interprets them employing images stemming from previously known sensorial perceptions. This is the origin of certain kinds of dreams. They can seem illogical from the point of view of the physical world, because they actually do not originate there. They are mere distorted interpretations, in the form of images, of astral or spiritual experiences of the Astral Body and the 'I'.
Dreams always happen in images, and they can only be created during the phase of falling asleep or, most commonly, while awakening. Dream images are sometimes interpretations of immediate sensations experienced in the physical world during sleep, e.g. when we dream that we are in the middle of a fire – and the cause is that we have covered ourselves with too many blankets. A digestive trouble with the intestines during sleep may provoke a dream with snakes.
The important aspect to notice is that during sleeping and dreaming we have special kinds of consciousness, quite different from the one we have during wakefulness. This explains why sometimes we are able to solve a problem during our sleep, awakening with its solution.
Our deep-sleep state is similar to the state of consciousness of plants. As in plants, only the Physical and Ether Bodies are present. On the other hand, during dreaming we are in condition similar to the consciousness state of animals. In ancient timers, the consciousness of humanity never attained the degree it has nowadays, this being the reason for the creation of myths and legends, which are all represented through images. Rudolf Steiner explained conceptually and in grandiose manners the significance of many ancient myths, such as those that are narrated in the Bhagavad Gita, in writings of the Ancient Egypt, in the Bible, in Greek and Norse myths, etc. It is a fantastic experience to begin to understand such myths: we begin to feel connected to our ancient forbears and start understanding them.
8. Death and the existence after death
With the fourfold model of the human being, it is possible to understand, from a spiritualist point of view, what happens with death. Recall what was seen in section 5.1: contrary to person in deep sleep, a dead person has no vital manifestations. In the absence of vital manifestations, the Ether Body is not present. Thus, death means the separation, in relation to the Physical Body, not just of the Astral Body and the 'I', as in deep sleep, but also of the Ether Body. Without the Ether Body, the Physical Body loses the capacity for regeneration; it becomes subject to physical forces and begins to decompose itself.
Immediately after death, the Ether Body is still connected to the Astral Body and the 'I'. According to Steiner, this connection remains for approximately three days, when the Ether Body dissolves itself, while a substrate of if remains in the etheric world. During this three-day period, the Astral Body and the 'I' have the experience of the whole memory of the past life, as registered in the Ether Body, without the restrictions imposed by the connection of the latter with the Physical Body, such as the sequence of time. It is like observing a big instant panorama, displaying everything that was experienced during the past life. This observation of the life panorama may be provoked by some extreme cases of near-death conditions, such as in accidents, operations, etc. In the case of accidents, such as disasters that are consciously experienced (e.g. drowning, big falls, etc.) the shock felt immediately before or during these experiences may produce a brief separation of the Ether Body, which continues to be connected to the Astral Body and the 'I', in relation to the Physical Body. In this situation, the Astral Body also can have the experience of the etheric memory. Since death really did not occur, the person later remembers the images of the life panorama. This is a relatively common fact. Many people who had this experience unfortunately do not speak about it, because it is something totally strange to normal life experiences. They have the fear of being taken for crazy. Nowadays, thanks to the near-death research pioneered by Dr. R. Moody, people who have passed through such an experience are describing it more frequently than it was done in past times. The interesting point is that, in general, people who have observed their 'life panorama' acquire an inner certainty of the existence of the spiritual world. By the way, the experience of the 'life panorama' is an additional evidence that memory is not physical, in relation to the arguments we have seen in section 6.4.
The Ether Body substrate that is left aside three days after death provides an explanation for some mediumistic phenomena. A medium, in general in a state of trance – nowadays, a state in which research should not be done anymore, because the observer has no control on his/her experiences –, may enter in contact with those Ether Body remnants, and so be able to consult part of the life memory of a death person. During life, physical abilities also reside in the Ether Body. Therefore, a medium in trance may exercise some abilities of a dead person, which explains for example some phenomena of incorporation of surgeons. It is important to understand that no incorporation of the 'I' (or the 'spirit') of a dead person takes place, but just a connection to the referred etheric remnants. Even if the medium is not in a deep trance, his actions, reactions and knowledge do not proceed from the medium himself. This means that his 'I' is not present at that moment, which is a condition that does not correspond to the present stage of evolution of humanity (there was an ancient time where everybody had trance-like experiences, and there was no clear consciousness as we have nowadays). Today and in the future, only self-consciousness can guarantee truly moral actions, allowing to decide if the experiences are clear or dampened, that is, if they should be trusted upon or not.
According to Steiner, this three-day period is followed by another that takes about one-third of the total past life duration (this time interval corresponds approximately to the time the person spent sleeping during life). During this period the Astral Body remains connected to the 'I' and there is a recall of the past life, but with everything reversed in time: it is a retrospective that begins with the experiences close to the moment of death, and proceeds back to moment of birth. Everything is experienced also by reflection: we experience the effects of our own actions, as felt by other people. For example, if a person offended somebody, the former feels the latte's suffering as a consequence of that act.
Since the Astral Body is still present in this period, a very important fact is that all its desires continue to exist. Desires that did not crave for something spiritual, but were rather essentially based upon the physical world, become true tortures. This happens because there is no more a Physical Body to satisfy them. For example, during this period a glutton person will feel enormous sufferings, because he cannot experience the pleasure of eating. A person that was addicted to smoking will continue to feel the need of the pleasure of a cigarette, but cannot satisfy it. This is the occult reason why the Catholic Church gave the name Purgatory to a spiritual place where the soul of the dead must expiate thier sins. In the oriental tradition, this period is called 'Kamaloka'. Ancient asceticism aimed at disconnecting the person from all life pleasures, in part to avoid the later sufferings of Kamaloka.
A natural and intrinsic necessity of the Physical Body, such as hunger, does not produce a suffering during this period, neither the needs that are born from the spiritual essence of the 'I', such as esthetical pleasures or feeling delicate tastes or odors, or even the pleasure of helping other people. Thus, there is absolutely no reason to repress the pleasures of life; only those that do not correspond to real needs or do not emanate from higher motivations.
This phase of one-third of life has the goal of transmitting to the 'I' the essence of the whole life, purifying it and setting it free from any connection to the physical Earth. During this retrospective phase, when the moment of birth is attained, all desires connected to the Earth have been purified. Antipathies, for example, have been transformed into sympathies, repulsion towards some person becomes attraction to her, etc. Thus, the 'I' may render itself fully to the spiritual world, because nothing more binds it to the physical world. Just like a substrate of the Ether Body remained in the etheric world three days after death, a substrate of the Astral Body is left in the astral world after this period corresponding to one-third of the past life time. Therefore, three corpses are left behind after death: the physical, the etheric and the astral. Alone the 'I' remains imbued with an essence that is a spiritual synthesis of the past life.
The 'I' then starts a life in communion with other spiritual beings, as well as the spiritual essence of the physical world. This happens in a peculiar way: what was outside the living being, becomes the inside, as for example the space occupied by a stone. One should not imagine the spiritual world as being analogous to the physical world. In fact, much of what passes with the former, is in a certain sense the opposite of the latter. Steiner says that one should not imagine the spiritual world as a space with four dimensions; on the contrary, a more appropriate image is a space with two dimensions – without thickness there is no matter!
Normally, after living several hundreds of years in the spiritual world, the 'I' feels a great need of returning to the Earth, in order to repair the harms consciously or unconsciously done during its past life, and to progress morally. Aided by pure spiritual beings, it envelopes itself with a new Astral Body. The pair formed by 'I' and Astral Body is then directed to an elected couple of parents, from whom the kernels of an Ether Body and a Physical Body will be inherited, thus beginning the formation of an embryo that will be born later on, at an adequate cosmic moment. This is the essential process of reincarnation. The fundamental thing is to apprehend that, without the concept of reincarnation, human life makes no sense. Since we are not purely spiritual beings, we are not perfect. So we always commit mistakes during an earthy life. The idea that it is impossible to repair our faults, or perfect ourselves later on, is an absurd that would totally eliminate the sense to life – unless we put up the hypothesis that human life exists precisely to make it possible for the 'I' to develop itself to perfection. This perfection is clearly a moral one.
Normally, the 'I' is immortal, returning once and again to new incarnations. There have always been some ideas that something is immortal within the human being. But it should be clearly understood that immortality applies only to the spiritual essence. An exaggerated preoccupation with the own immortality could mean an egotistical manifestation ("I am not going to disappear"). Our correct preoccupation should be towards spiritual knowledge, with the aim of contributing, in a really positive sense, to the improvement of humanity and the world. There should also be a preoccupation with the own existence before birth: "What impulses did I bring to this life? What is my mission from the point of view of humanity as a whole, as well as from the cosmic point of view? What harms have I produced in the past that now should be repaired?"
The 'I' incarnates imbued with various impulses for the new life, leading the individual to situations in which he may repair harms done in past lives, as well as progress or contribute to providing for the progress of other people and humanity. Such situations may involve meeting certain people, visiting some place without knowing exactly why, catching some sickness, etc. This is, in brief, the Anthroposophical concept of destiny, or carma (k'rma). Nevertheless it is fundamental to recognize that although the 'I' unconsciously leads a person to certain situations, what she does or not does in each one of them may vary depending on her acting out of a conscious and free decision. With other words, destiny never eliminates freedom.
Beginning with birth, the process of full incarnation generally needs 21 years. During this period of time the lower bodies are molded in such a way that the 'I' can manifest itself according to its destiny – that is, as long as the environment favors this process and does not disturb it.
9. The four temperaments
Let us examine another application of the fourfouldness of the human organism: the four temperaments. Rudolf Steiner revived the old Greek teaching about them, conceptualizing them in terms of that fourfouldness.
The melancholic temperament stems from a predominance of the Physical Body over the other three. A person with this temperament feels too much the attraction of gravity, as a constant, physical, earthly load. Such a person tends to feel that everything is 'heavy', above all her own life. She has the tendency to suffer with everything, constantly lamenting herself. It is typical for such a person to keep asking herself why should her sufferings and frustrations occur precisely with her, and not with other people. She manifests an exaggerated introspection, tending to a certain degree of depression. Physically, such a person is often slim, showing a long body stature, with deep eyes. The melancholic is the predominant temperament of our times, due to our civilization, that is too much turned to the physical.
The phlegmatic temperament stems from a predominance of the Ether Body. A person with this temperament has exaggerated metabolic functions, and somehow ruminates everything. She adores eating, and generally does it slowly, saving each forkful. But she also ruminates about her thoughts, which in general are slow, tending to an inner dreaming activity. Physically, she is a 'watery' person (the quality of being 'liquid' is intimately connected to the etheric – without water, there is no germination and life), in general with an excess of weight. It is an excellent temperament for our times, because it produces a certain isolation of the person in her own inner dreamy world, therefore not being too much affected by the aggressiveness, agitation and chaos of the modern world, mainly in big cities.
The sanguinic temperament stems from a predominance of the Astral Body. A person with this temperament has a basic difficulty to concentrate on anything. She is in general a quite 'aerial' person (a quality connected to the Astral Body – recall the appearance of hollow organs due to its influence, mentioned in section 6.3), in the sense of being easily movable not only physically, but also in her actions, speech and thinking. In general, such a person is slim and has a long stature.
The choleric temperament stems from a predominance of the 'I'. It is like the person has been possessed by an inner fire, being always decisive in her attitudes and opinions. She likes to impose herself, and loses her temper very easily, revealing lack of patience. Physically, she tends to have a short and stout stature – a typical choleric was Napoleon –, walking with strong and decisive steps. Many choleric have a prominent, large chin and thick eyebrows, sometimes curly hair.
Considering the characteristics shortly described above, one may recognize the four ancient Greek elements: earth, water, air and fire. These should be taken as qualities inherent to solid bodies, liquids, gases and heat, respectively. For instance, if one tells a choleric that he has this temperament, he may become red of rage (as with an inner fire), violently punch with his fist on the table and shout: "What? Me a choleric? Never!"
A well-known illustration may help imagine how people that have a predominance of one of these temperaments behave. Suppose somebody is walking through a trail in some dense woods and gets stopped by a rock about one meter high which is blocking the way. The melancholic, seeing this big stone, begins to lament: "What a tragedy, a stone on my way! This could only happen with me! What should I do now? It's going to make me miss an important meeting, it's going to ruin my life!" and so on. The phlegmatic begins to admire the beauty of the rock, manages to lean on it or sit on it, and starts to daydream recalling all the big, beautiful rocks she had encountered in her life, or how nice it would it be having her beloved one also sitting there, appreciating the sun shining through the branches and leaves of the wonderful tall trees, inhaling the fresh air, feeling the nice scent of the flowers around, and so on. The sanguinic comes hopping down the trail, whistling or singing, happy with the fresh air of the woods and the gorgeous surrounding vegetation – which he observes with passing glimpses, without slowing his pace to concentrate on anything in particular. Then he jumps to the top of the rock and tries some dance steps before going down to the other side. Finally, he happily continues his way, having already forgotten the stone. Now the choleric: seeing the big stone, he has an attack of fury, curses the people that usually clean the trail for not having removed the stone, and with an explosion of anger, he violently kicks the stone, hurting his feet. With a second explosion of anger he gives a violent punch on the rock...
In general, everyone has two or more predominant temperaments, but obviously it may happen that just one of them is exaggerated. The ideal is to have a balance of all four, in order to be apt to feel so deeply as a melancholic, to maintain a certain distance from the exterior, as the phlegmatic does; to be so joyous and, when appropriate, unconcerned as the sanguinic, and to be able to take firm decisions as the choleric does.
Small children are usually sanguinic, and this can exhaust an adult only by watching them running and hopping all the time. As a matter of fact, it has been observed that in our modern civilization less and less children run and hop freely. Stressful education methods, heavy diets, communication media, video games and computers, force them to penetrate too early into their physical bodies, thus tending to a precocious melancholic temperament.
According to an educational recommendation given by Steiner, which is regularly implemented in Waldorf Education, children in each class are grouped depending on their temperaments. Thanks to this measure, the choleric children, for example, can strike each other until they have spent their excess of energy. The phlegmatic children, being such strong dreamers, end up by finding their temperament-like neighbors so boring that they tend to take the initiative of abandoning their phlegm. On the other hand, if a choleric child is placed side by side with a melancholic one, the former constantly strikes the latter, who feels herself ever more a sufferer, savoring her unhappy life. Grouping the children according to their temperaments also allows the teacher to address each group in a special manner, for instance, choosing and telling parts of stories that result more adequate to one of the other temperament. The teacher may also give big and complex problems for choleric children to solve, while presenting many small ones for the sanguinic, etc. This is one aspect of the active psychology present in Waldorf Education, and an example of how conscious, sensitive, knowledgeable and loving each teacher has to be.
For parents at home, an early recognition of their children's temperaments may help them a lot in educating and handling them. For example, proper food may be prepared for each temperament (e.g. a phlegmatic tend to like sweets, a choleric strong spices, etc.). One should understand the tendencies and peculiar behavior of each child, and then organize correspondingly adequate activities. Thus, a sanguinic child or adolescent may like to study the guitar, flute, clarinet or violin, a choleric may prefer the trumpet, percussion or the piano (which he likes to hammer with his fingers); a melancholic may love the cello, and a phlegmatic may tend to play the harp or piano (which she likes to play very softly, in waves). A melancholic child should never be admonished too strongly, or for a long time, because he will start enjoying the suffering. And before admonishing a choleric child, one should consider if one is willing and prepared to enter a real fight.
10. Developments stages of the child and of the adolescent
An interesting and important application of the fourfold subdivision of the human organism is the characterization of the development stages according to the age, in periods of approximately 7 years, as observed and conceptualized by Steiner. With its birth, the Physical Body (which was dependent on the mother's body, staying 9 months in its shelter) obviously becomes independent, being born to the world.
The study of a human embryo's development is fascinating. Erich Blechschmidt, the great embryologist who organized the University of Göttingen Museum of Human Embryology (see, for instance, http://www.aktion-leben.de/Abtreibung/Embryonal-Entwicklung/sld01.htm unfortunately in German, but with interesting figures showing human embryos at various weeks ['Wochen'] of age), wrote in one of his books that it is impossible, starting from an observation of any state of an embryo's development, to foresee what would be its next states (unless using previous knowledge acquired from other embryos). Some organs do not form from progressive use, because they start to function only after birth, such as the lungs. One of the most interesting characteristics of animal embryos is that they are all quite similar in their initial development – and all of them are similar to the human embryo! It has been told that Haeckel, the great pioneer in the study of embryos, once forgot to label glasses containing small animal embryos, and later could not classify them anymore. It is as if the embryos wanted to demonstrate that the human being is the origin of all higher animals. Haeckel's well-known idea that ontogenesis recapitulates phylogenesis may, in this sense, be taken much farther. (Blechschmidt contradicted this idea, probably not referring to the very first stages of the embryo development – a figure in the site mentioned above shows an impressive picture with the feet of a human embryo at its 11th week.) It is also interesting to observe how monkeys, specially chimps, are born with a round head, the same as humans. But the latter preserve their embryonic form, and the former develop their mandibles, used to attack and defend; they become prominent, the skull elongates, and powerful muscles penetrate the cavities that form with time. On the contrary, humans preserve the relatively round form of their head. It is also interesting to observe that the head form of recent-born monkeys remembers the head of old people.
After the birth of her Physical Body, the child enters a process of 'gestation' of the Ether Body, which will be 'born' or will become independent, approximately at the age of 7. This process means a 'birth' from the universal etheric forces that involved the Ether Body during its maturation. The Astral Body exists mainly as a germ, so that the beginning of this first 7-year period (just after birth) is also characterized as fully lacking consciousness or having a dream and fantasy subconsciousness. During this period, the child develops her physical base and is devoted to typical etheric vital processes: eating, sleeping, metabolism, relative lack of consciousness. From an educational point of view, one should consider that this period is a continuation of the one in which the child's individuality was immersed into the purely spiritual world, thus one should assure a very slow replacement of the forces and influences of that world. Lack of self-consciousness means that the child is extremely open to the influences of the environment. On the other hand, through her actions – that is, out of her will –, she transmits everything that goes on inside herself. In fact, at this stage the child is essentially a will-being: she simply does not control the consequences of her willing as she will do after this period. If a child in the first 7-year period wants something she should not get, there is only one way out: distracting her, or making her wish something else.
Steiner characterized the child in this period as a big sensorial organ, therefore it is necessary to take extreme care with the experiences the child has, since all influences go very deep. This is the reason why psychoanalysis looks for traumas in the early experiences of childhood: in this period experiences become much more rooted in the unconscious than in later ages. Thus, the world or environment to be presented to the child should be essentially a good and loving one – children are born expecting a good world, otherwise they would not incarnate! The encounter with evil is a terrible, unconscious experience for a small child. This kind of opening to the environment leads to the fundamental learning method at this period: imitation, that is, making the child experience real actions by imitating them from grown-ups, because actions are acts stemming from the will. Small children have an astonishing capacity for imitating, which is connected to their opening to the outside world. Telling stories full of images is another educational means of great value.
The biggest transformations of the whole life occur in this period: learning how to stand and walk, and learning how to speak and think (which are direct consequences of the opening to the external world and the capacity for imitating), which, by the way, should progress in this order. Steiner points out the great importance of learning how to attain corporal balance and stand; this means learning to locate oneself in space, something that animals cannot do. He attributes this impulse to an elementary action of the child's 'I', that is, this impulse is not due to natural forces intrinsic to the child.
At the end of the first 7-year period, which is physically characterized by the change of teeth, part of the Ether Body which was dedicated to building up the Physical Body becomes free to be used by the child through her memory and thinking. Therefore, formal school education should only begin in this second 7-year period. Caring about this detail makes it possible for the child to start memorizing abstract things; if this would have been done in the first 7-year period, it would be damaging for the child's being as a whole. This is the reason why children in Waldorf Education are admitted to the first grade only after completing about 6½ years of age, and also why learning to read and write is introduced very slowly by the teacher, using lots of fantasy. The letters of the alphabet are nowadays abstract symbols, and during the first 7-year period one should not force intellectual abstractions or the memorization of symbols void of reality and fantasy, as are our letters. During this second 7-year period, the Astral Body is developing, and the child or young person becomes more and more self-conscious. At about the age of 9 years a critical phase is reached, when the first existential questions appear (for example, "Are you really my parents?"), indicating the first manifestations of self-consciousness and the feeling of being separated from the world. This development of the Astral Body means that the qualities connected to it, such as feelings and fantasy, are the ones to be cultivated. During this period, the adolescent is a feeling being. Thus, just like imitation is the big educational method for the first 7-year period, the fundamental thing during the second 7-year period is the use of art: the world to be presented should be essentially a beautiful one. Every teaching action should be artistic, accompanied by emotions and esthetic feelings. This is why Waldorf Education uses during this period so much art in every subject. The whole educational process should anchor in reality, and not abstraction. In sciences, for example, the most fundamental aspect should be teaching how to observe phenomena and describe them, and not understanding them abstractly. The end of this period is marked by the threshold of puberty. Unfortunately, nowadays this inner transformation is getting exaggeratedly accelerated, due to the influence of eroticism and early intellectualization, provided by TV, video games, the Internet and education based on intellectual abstractions.
When an animal reaches sexual maturity, it is fully adult. This is not the case with humans. It is not by chance that an old and full of wisdom tradition sets the age of majority at 21 – as mentioned before, in my country, the beginning of civil responsibility –, which means precisely the completion of the third 7-year period. At the beginning of this period the Astral Body has already become independent and has individualized itself; what was developed was the manifestation of the 'I'. During this third 7-year period the 'I' craves for an understanding of the universe, thus education should now turn to the intellect, at the right places and moments, but without giving up fantasy and esthetics. The world to be presented is a true one. The teaching of sciences should now begin to approach theories conceptually, trying to show the possible explanations for physical phenomena. But one should not cheat the young persons by confusing theory with reality, as it is normally done with Darwinian Evolution, Newton's Theory of Colors, atomic theory (the atom is not a planetary system!), etc. At this school stage purely formal theories should be treated, as for example theorem proving in Mathematics. At this age, the young persons should learn how to criticize. If this is done during the first two 7-year periods, the child's inner structure will be damaged, because she needs maturity to face the world from a conceptual point of view, which is necessary to criticize it. Promoting any criticism during the first two 7-year periods would produce, quite on the contrary, a deep frustration in the child and adolescent, because what they expect is a world that is beautiful and good. In the third 7-year period one should gradually begin to give the young person more freedom and responsibility, which does not make sense in the two previous periods. In the latter, the young person knows (or feels) that he does not have enough knowledge and concept of the world, and (generally unconsciously) wants to feel that there is a firm guidance around. Many times children 'test' their parents by exceeding limits; they do it precisely to verify whether the parents are guiding them with attention. Imagine the unconscious frustration of a child or young person, when, instead of feeling the firm but loving hand of parents and teachers, she is subjected to a libertarian education, without limits!
Thus, we have seen how the application a deep knowledge of the non-physical
members of the human being lead to fundamental directives in education.
The results of such an application may be seen and experienced by
anyone at Waldorf Schools, this revolutionary educational method that,
at the time of writing this translation (2006), was already 87-years
old -- and continues to be revolutionary! The Waldorf Education movement
is now spread over all continents and has been recognized by the UNESCO
as the first global alternative pedagogical system in the history
of mankind. There are almost 1,000 Waldorf schools in most countries
and cultures, uniting people of the most different ethnical roots.
For some interesting statements about Waldorf Education, see http://www.waldorfanswers.org,
section Comments. Readers could ask: but if its results are so extraordinary,
why is it not more spread around, reaching more students? One of the
answers to this question is very simple: we are in a deep materialistic
age, and Waldorf Education's principles are spiritualistic. And precisely
for being spiritualistic in a modern, conceptual way, it has so many
11. The three members of the spirit
Analogously to the body and the soul, the spirit also has three different
members. But contrary to the members of the first two, the members
of the spirit are in germinal stage in the present humankind. The
'lowest' member is called Spirit Self (Steiner's original designation
in German is 'Geistselbst') and originates from a conscious action
of the 'I' on the Astral Body; it may be considered a transformation
of the latter. The next one is the Life Spirit ('Lebensgeist'),
which is constituted by a transformation, a spiritualization of the
Ether Body. I will call the third member Spirit Person ('Geistesmensch'),
which appears as the result of a spiritualization of the Physical
Body. Somewhere else it has been translated as 'Spirit Man' (e.g.
but since there are no sexual characteristics in this member, such
a denomination may give a wrong connotation. In fact, albeit being
a masculine word, 'Mensch' is used for both sexes, there existing
the words 'Mann" and 'Frau" for 'man' and 'woman'.
The action of the 'I' over the Astral Body is easier to describe and understand. It deals with a process of avoiding that personal desires and any manifestation of egotism stemming from the Astral Body can reach consciousness and provoke actions. This is achieved by ennobling emotions and the manifestations of will. Everybody can experience the fact of being able to educate a taste, changing a repulse into an attraction, or vice-versa. For example, it is possible to act consciously and reach, after some time, the point of not feeling anymore a desire which existed before, such as smoking, or eating chocolate. A change in the Astral Body would have only occurred in these cases if the person does not have to force herself to avoid smoking or eating chocolate, but not wanting to do them becomes part of her personality. If a person does not like a certain vegetable or fruit, but recognizes that many people do, so she is missing something the world is offering her, she may force herself to eat that plant; with time, a taste for it is developed. The Astral Body has been changed.
Steiner says that activities of artistic and truly religious character stir an action in the Ether Body, spiritualizing it. The action upon the Physical Body is much more complex. One may see this kind of action when a person blushes with shame – the origin is moral –, or gets pale out of fear. Since the Physical Body lies three levels below the spiritual domain in the human being, it is much more difficult for the 'I' to consciously work on it. Obviously, when considering the actions of the 'I', the question is not causing a movement of the physical body, but rather to act upon deep physical forces, such as those that lead to birth, disintegration, or the heartbeat rhythm. Fortunately, humans nowadays do not have the capacity of acting at the lower, unconscious depths of their Physical Body. For this, a deep knowledge of the spiritual world and responsibility towards is required.
Analogously to the inner manifestation of the physical world through the Sentient Soul (see section 2.1), it is through the Spirit Self that the 'I' enters in touch with the spiritual world. The manifestations of the spiritual world occur through what is true and what is good. It may seem strange that one speaks about 'good' as being something that can be objective in the spiritual world, because people are used to interpret it as something subjective, depending on everyone's opinion, social customs, etc. Nevertheless, knowledge of what should be the correct progress for humanity and the universe from a cosmic point of view leads, necessarily, to absolute moral values. For example, nowadays, in large parts of the world, it is taken for granted that killing a person is an immoral act. A criminal may eventually regenerate and become an example for the world. From the Anthroposophical point of view, death is as sacred as birth, and the present state of conscience of humanity does not permit to have a sufficient knowledge to determine if a person should or should not die. Universal Good will reveal itself more and more if the person learns to enter in always deeper touch with the spiritual in the universe.
The higher thinking that can be reached through the Spirit Self is what reveals the spiritual world within a human being, that is, the universal truth and universal good. In section 4.2 the process of getting new ideas was attributed to the Consciousness Soul. In his book Teosophy, Steiner explains that nowadays Consciousness Soul and Spirit Self form a kind of unity.
Just like there is an individuality within each human physical being, the Spirit Person, as the third and highest member of our spiritual organization, constitutes the human individuality within the spiritual world. This individuality uses the Ether Body to enliven her Physical Body. In a similar way, the Spirit Person uses the Life Spirit, which works as an envelope within the spiritual world, separating a Spirit Person from other spiritual beings. When a person has reached adulthood, his Physical Body becomes relatively static. The Life Spirit, on the contrary, keeps growing spiritually, depending on how much spiritual nourishment is absorbed by the Spirit Person, because this nourishment has eternal value.
Steiner touches the extremes when he says: "Through the body, the soul is confined to the physical world; by the Spirit Person, wings grow on it to move around the spiritual world." (Theosophy, chapter 'The essential nature of the human being.')
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