higher worlds

“The three worlds are 1. The physical world, the scene of human life. 2. The astral world or the world of soul. 3. The devachanic world or world of spirit. The three worlds are not spatially separate. We are surrounded by the things of the physical world which we perceive with our ordinary sense, but the astral world is in the same space; we live in the other two worlds, the astral and devachanic worlds, at the same time as we live in the physical world." — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDING A SCIENCE OF THE SPIRIT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 10-11.

Getting to know the "higher worlds" is a central aspiration in Anthroposophy. They are the celestial worlds, the homes of the gods. They are our destination and, in a sense, they are our own home. But what what can we learn about them? Which gods live in which worlds? And what are the relationships between them? Steiner supplied answers to such questions, but they are not wholly satisfactory to our rational minds. The higher worlds transcend rationality, or so Steiner said.

Despite difficulties, the subject is central to Anthroposophy, which means it looms in the background of Waldorf schooling, so we can't duck it. Here, then, is an overview. Perhaps surprisingly, we will begin with an account of what happens when we sleep. According to Steiner, we travel into spirit regions each night during sleep. He meant this literally. He was not talking about fantasy travels, mere dreams. He taught that our astral bodies and egos literally make the trip into the celestial realms while our physical and etheric bodies remain behind, sleeping on the Earth, mired in physical existence. In tracing the path we travel each night (i.e., the journeys made by our astral bodies and egos), we can get an idea of the path we will travel after we die and also the path along which we are meant to evolve — hence the path that Waldorf schools try to steer children toward. These various trips, while different, are also the same: They are our ascents into the domains of the gods.

Steiner gave the following account fairly early in his career as an occultist. He used different terminology later on (a point we will return to), and he had an unfortunate tendency to contradict himself in various ways at each stage of his career. But his overall vision remained fairly consistent. So let's begin by hearing Steiner give an extensive description of our nightly travels. I have pieced it together from two of Steiner's lectures, and — aiming for clarity — I have straightened out the sequence of the presentation while also omitting extraneous verbiage. Still, you may find Steiner's words difficult. Most readers do. If you get bogged down, leap ahead. Further down the page, I'll offer a plainer account.

(But not too plain. We must always resist the urge to make Steiner seem to make more sense than he actually made. Efforts to explain Steiner can lead us into the temptation to impose order and structure where there is little or none. And, of course, there may be the opposite temptation. Those of us who criticize Steiner may try to drain his teachings of whatever good sense they actually contain. So, as you proceed, mull over this puzzle: Have I been fair to Steiner and to you? Have I misrepresented Steiner in any way? It's a good question. I know the answer, and it is tucked into the material on this page, but I won't lay it out any more plainly than this. Mull it over. Work on the puzzle. Have fun — while, of course, maintaining the strict seriousness that Steiner's spiritual wisdom always commands.)

"Coming now to describe rather more in detail how we take our way after falling asleep, we find we can distinguish different spheres through which we pass. First comes the sphere where the I and the astral body — that is to say, the soul of man as it finds itself in sleep — feel united with the movements of the World of the planets ... In the first sphere with which we come in contact after falling asleep — and it will also be again the last sphere we enter before awaking — we have in us the forces of the movements of the planets ... [W]e carry within us a little picture, as it were, wherein the movements of the planets are reproduced. And this picture is different for each single human being ... We follow, as it were, with our astral body all that happens with the planets, as they move out there in the wide spaces of the Universe; we experience it all in our astral body in a sort of planetary globe.

"...[N]ow man comes into the next sphere. This does not mean, he leaves the first; no, for the heart-perception it is still there. This next sphere, which is a much more complicated one, is perceived by another part of the astral body — the part which belongs in waking life to the solar plexus, and to the whole limb organisation of man. The part of the astral body that permeates the solar plexus and the arms and legs is now the organ of perception, and with the aid of this organ man begins to feel the forces in his astral body that come from the Signs of the Zodiac. These are of two kinds — the forces that reach him from the Zodiac direct, and the forces that have first to pass through the Earth. For it makes a great difference whether a particular sign is above or below the Earth.

"Man has therefore in this second Sphere what we might call a solar or Sun-perception. He perceives with the part of his astral body that is associated with the solar plexus and the limbs — an organ of perception that can rightly be called a Sun-eye. And by means of his Sun-eye man becomes aware of his relationship, not now merely, as before, with the planetary movements, but with the entire Zodiac.

"...Every night it is thus given to man — that is to say, to the part of him that goes out of the body — to come into relationship with the whole Cosmos; first, with the planetary movements, and then with the constellations of the fixed stars. In this latter experience — which may come half an hour after falling asleep, or rather later, but with many people comes quite soon — man feels himself within all twelve constellations of the Zodiac. And the experiences he encounters with the constellations are exceedingly complicated.

"...[T]he moment we enter this sphere and begin to have all around us the living interplay of constellations of the Zodiac and movements of the planets — at this moment we encounter also our Karma. With our Sun-eye we behold our Karma. Yes, it is indeed so, every human being has sight of his Karma — in sleep. All that is left of the perception in waking life, is a kind of faint echo vibrating in the feelings.” — Rudolf Steiner, PLANETARY SPHERES AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON MANS LIFE ON EARTH AND IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLDS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 3, GA 214.

We might pause here, more or less immediately, to offer a few more or less clarifying points. Steiner spoke of higher worlds, but he also spoke of various spheres and planes. (In the passage above, he spoke of the "World of the planets" and celestial "spheres," for instance.) Deciding whether a particular region of the cosmos is a world, sphere, plane, or something else can be challenging, and Steiner was not always consistent about such matters. As a rule of thumb, we can say that Steiner often said that there are two higher worlds, the soul world and the spirit world. Various planes and spheres exist within and around these. Very roughly speaking, we can say that when we first rise above the physical world we enter the soul world, with its component parts; and when we rise above the soul world, we enter the spirit world, with its component parts. This simplifies matters too much, and it may lend Steiner too much assistance, clarifying what he often left unclear. Thus, in a sense, it is wrong. But generally and roughly, it is right — that is, it more or less summarizes Steiner's overall vision of what looms above us. (Whether his vision is itself right is, of course, a different question.)

"Throughout this period of the time between death and a new birth, we live among spiritual beings. And then we begin to travel through the starry heavens on our way back to Earth, passing — now with more, now again with less, sympathy — through the various starry spheres. And this is the time when we prepare our coming earthly life. For according as we relate ourselves to the starry spheres through which we pass, so will be our life on Earth. Let me give you an example of how this preparation takes place.

"Coming forth from the world that is purely spiritual, we pass first through the sphere of the fixed stars. Of these I will not speak just now; that will come in the next lecture. Then we pass through the spheres of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, through the Sun sphere, and through the spheres of Mercury, Venus and Moon, and so by gradual stages come down to Earth. You will realise from the description that we approach the spheres of the stars from the other side. When you stand on Earth and look at Jupiter, you are seeing Jupiter from one side. And when a being — in this case, a human being — is descending from the spiritual world and passes, on his way to Earth, through the spheres of the stars, then at the time when we, looking from the Earth, see Saturn, this being, as he approaches Saturn, will be seeing it from the other side. It will be the same with all the stars. Coming from the spiritual world, he approaches the stars from behind, as it were, and sees the reverse of what men see on Earth with physical sight. You will not of course imagine that the human being who is making his journey to the Earth ‘sees’ in the way we do. He has no eyes as yet, he will only get eyes when he has a physical body. What he sees is spiritual. He sees Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, in their spiritual aspect; Venus also, then Mercury and Moon. And according to the measure of the sympathy or antipathy with which he passes through the one or other sphere, so will be the forces he receives in the course of his descent from each sphere in turn — forces of Saturn, forces of Jupiter, and so on.

"...A human soul may be descending, for instance, at a time when Venus is right on the other side of the Earth, and the soul may thus be able to disregard the Venus sphere. Such a soul will then have no great connection with his family. Or the soul may, on the other hand, go past Venus, and it can do so in a variety of ways. It will then elect to take the path through the Venus sphere that guides it to some particular family. For the soul has this possibility; it can prepare itself for belonging to a particular family by choosing, as it were, the ‘ray’ that goes from Venus to this family. Coming down from the other side, the dark side, of Venus, the soul then draws near to Earth and finds its way to that family.

"The same kind of thing may happen in regard to the Mercury sphere. The sphere of Mercury leads the soul to find its way into a particular folk or people. When the region inhabited by this people is receiving rays of Mercury, then the soul, coming from the other side and approaching the dark side of Mercury, will be helped to find its way to this people. Thus are human souls prepared for life on Earth. Through the influence of the Moon — and when we speak of these heavenly bodies, it is always the spiritual in them that we have in mind — through the influence of the Moon, preparation is made for the soul to become man or woman; through the influence of Venus, for the soul to belong to some family; through the influence of Mercury, to belong to some folk or people.

"The whole life of man on Earth depends, as you see, on the relationship he establishes with the spheres in the course of his descent from the spiritual world.” — Rudolf Steiner, ibid., lecture 4, GA 218.

"[T]he powers of Death are at the same time those of Birth. They lead the human being into earthly life and are made manifest when he leaves it. We thus begin to realize the deep connection between birth and death. Take all the human beings who die in successive times. From each of them in turn the apparition of death, as it were, comes forth and joins a spiritual atmosphere which is there around the Earth no less than is the air we breathe. This spiritual atmosphere contains what death gives up and birth receives. From the very forces that soar upward, as it were, from human corpses, human beings in their turn, are born. Spiritually, our powers of growth are intimately connected with this sphere of death-force — or forces made manifest in death — which surrounds the Earth.

"Now, my dear friends, think of the following: These spiritual forces — at once of death and birth, as we have seen — are forces of the Moon, and into them is mingled all that the dead human being, all along the way from birth till death, accumulated by way of moral powers, moral values. Have you been good in any way, — in the sphere of these death-Moon-forces you will find, as it were, a specific being, imbued with inner force deriving from your goodness. Yet the same being is imbued with all that derives from your badness. It is a being we ourselves engender, all the time, while living on the Earth. 

"...We are immersed in the recapitulation of our life during the first twenty or thirty years after death.

"...While undergoing the aforesaid recapitulation of his past earthly life, man is essentially within the planetary sphere. Advancing from the spiritual forces of the Moon to those of Venus, Mercury, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and at last Saturn, — living therefore between the spheres of Moon and Saturn, feeling within himself the Planetary Cosmos — throughout this time man is still undergoing the backward recapitulation of his recent Earth-life ... [W]hen man goes into the Universe of Stars between death and new birth, he is no longer seeing the physical reflection of the Stars; he is living now with the Beings, to whom the several Stars belong.

"When after death we have passed the sphere of Saturn, we become ripe to experience the pure spiritual world. In the book THEOSOPHY [written by R. Steiner] this moment is described as the passage from the soul-world into Spirit-land. Trammeled however as he is by the memory of his past earthly life, man is unable to achieve the crossing by himself. He needs a helper in the spiritual world ...  If you have duly sent your religious offerings up into the spiritual world, you will be able to find the sublime Being of the Sun who goes with you from the time when you with yourself take leave of the Sun-sphere ... The sublime Being of the Sun will then go with you; He will escort you to the Saturn sphere and farther out from thence into the sphere of Stars.

"...Getting beyond the Saturn sphere, we enter into what was named the Zodiac, in ancient world-conceptions. Though it was meant to typify the fixed-star-heavens as a whole — the Spirit-land, in other words — in the sum-total of the stars which constitute the Zodiac we have a comprehensive picture of the path which Man must undergo, to build from the entire Cosmos, with the help of the Beings of the Hierarchies, the Spirit-seed of his physical body for the next incarnation. 

"...When for example you are living in and with those spiritual Beings who have their physical reflection in the constellation of Aries, the Ram, you will work with the Hierarchies of Aries in forming your future head, which is indeed a Universe in itself ... While working with the Hierarchies in Taurus, you elaborate the region of your larynx in its connection with the lungs. Mars in the meantime, from the planetary spheres, shines up into the sphere of Taurus, and in the movements of Mars there is expressed all that you did with your organs of speech, rightly or wrongly, while you were on the Earth.

"...So then we work our way through the spiritual realm. We spend the longer time upon this spiritual journey, the greater the proportion of our full consciousness in the past earthly life to the dim consciousness we had as a little child ... If a man lived to the age of thirty and spent the first five years in the dream-consciousness of childhood, he will have lived in fuller consciousness six times as long.  So now again he lives six times longer than his entire Earth-life in the still fuller consciousness which pertains to him out there amid the Stars ... The older a man grows, the longer must he spend there. For by his longer life on Earth his higher consciousness was darkened for a longer time, — I mean the higher-than-earthly consciousness which he underwent in the spiritual world after his former death. The longer this was darkened, the longer must he work to make it light again. For we must enter right fully into the light.

"...It is about the middle of the time between death and new birth [i.e., having gone all the way to the light, we now turn around and move toward a new Earthly incarnation] ... [T]he urge arises, to descend again to Earth ... The forces of the Moon are drawing for us once again and we resolve to follow them, so to set forth on our returning journey. If a man grew to adult life in his last incarnation, it will be centuries later.

"The nearer we now come to the planetary sphere and notably to the spheres of Mercury, Venus and Moon, the more we lose the consciousness of community with the Beings of the Hierarchies ... Meanwhile the forces of the Moon arise within us. We feel once more: we are a being destined to live a life of our own. Although not yet in a physical body, we have a premonition of living in and by ourselves, a stranger to the Cosmos. No longer do we see the spiritual Beings as they really are; all that we now possess are the pictures of them.

"...[W]e begin to form our ether-body. We do this when the spirit-seed of our physical body has already fallen from us and is down there on Earth, preparing the physical body in the mother's womb, while we are gathering the forces with which we form our ether-body. With this etheric body we then unite ourselves, when the human seed has already been for a time in the mother's womb.

"Such is the process of return to earthly life ... [We] appear on Earth in such a way that we of ourselves bring about the unfoldment of our destiny, our Karma. It is while passing through the Lunar forces that we conceive the longing thus to live and fulfil our Karma upon Earth.

"Such, my dear friends, is the cycle through which man lives from death till birth. First he experiences the ascent to independent consciousness within the spirit-sphere. Thereafter, this consciousness is gradually steeped again in twilight; the Spirit-sphere remains with him in pictures only, and he receives into himself the will to Karma. He comes back to Earth, to work once more in a physical body. So he goes on, till through a sequence of such Earth-lives he shall become capable of yet another metamorphosis, another mode of being.”  — Rudolf Steiner, ibid., lecture 4.

Steiner placed two distinct "higher worlds" above us. However, he also said there additional realms higher than those he described for us:

“The [spiritual] Beings, the spiritual Hierarchies, their correspondences with the zodiacal constellations...all this is presented in detail in the chapter on the evolution of the world in the book OCCULT SCIENCE — AN OUTLINE, and we can now understand the deeper reasons for that chapter having been written in the way it has. [Steiner himself wrote that book, so it was "written the way it has" because he wrote it that way.It describes the Macrocosm as it should be described. Any real description must go back to the spiritual Beings. I tried in the book OCCULT SCIENCE to give guiding lines for the right kind of description of the World of Spirit — the world entered when there has been an actual ascent into the Macrocosm. [The Macrocosm is the cosmos; each of us humans is a Microcosm or miniature version of the cosmos.]

“This ascent into the Macrocosm can of course proceed to still higher stages, for the Macrocosm has by no means been exhaustively portrayed by what has here been said. Man can ascend into even higher worlds; but it becomes more and more difficult to convey any idea of these worlds. The higher the ascent, the more difficult this becomes.” — Rudolf Steiner, MACROCOSM AND MICROCOSM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1985), pp. 110-111.

"Gentleness and patient reserve open the soul 
to the soul-world, and the spirit to the spirit-world." 
— Rudolf Steiner, 
(Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co,, 1944), p. 67. 

[R. R. images, 2012.] 

A Plainer Account

Mapping the universe as described by Rudolf Steiner is challenging. As I indicated above, the account we have reviewed comes from Steiner's Theosophical period. Steiner gave numerous other indications throughout the remaining years of his life, and his terminology shifted somewhat. Complicating the situation further is Steiner's tendency to ramble, making only partial revelations, here and there, in this lecture or that. Even his books, which he presumably created with great care, tend to be disjointed and, to many readers, very nearly incoherent. Piecing Steiner's revelations together to make a coherent picture strains the mind. Various Anthroposophical authors have made the attempt, with varying degrees of success. In the following, I will summarize the summaries made by some of them, including Stewart Easton, Robert McDermott, Richard Seddon, and Roy Wilkinson. Like their efforts, my own will be incomplete and doubtless flawed. So don't believe everything you read, here or elsewhere. Still, we need to try to grasp what Steiner had to say.


The physical universe is suffused by the spirit realm. Spiritual beings of many types hover around and over and within us constantly, but most people are not spiritually advanced enough to perceive them. (One exemplary person whom Steiner said did not suffer from this limitation was Steiner himself.) When you enter the spirit realm, you will gain progressively higher levels of cognition, enabling you to perceive spiritual reality with increasing depth and clarity.

Not so fast, however. Seen in a different way, the physical universe is divided from the spirit realm. A barrier intervenes, or an adjacent realm threatens. This barrier or realm may variously be call the Abyss or the EIghth Sphere. It is the abode of evolutionarily backward, subhuman beings. You must bypass this on your ascent into the spirit realm. Humans who descend too low spiritually fall into the Abyss and thus lose their human souls. The great danger we face is that we may sink to the level of beings who are lower than ourselves, and remain caught there. [See "Neutered Nature", “Hell”, and “Sphere 8”.]

Even if you bypass the types of perdition Steiner described, you will still be blocked — at least temporarily — from your destination on high. Steiner spoke of a "threshold" located in spiritual space. You must meet the two Guardians of the Threshold and gain their approval before you can proceed to the higher worlds. [See “Guardians”.]

Steiner sometimes said that there are two higher worlds, and sometimes he spoke of three. I will outline his tripartite analysis, since it is presumably more complete, and we want to be thorough since getting to know these worlds is a central goal of Anthroposophy. The three higher worlds, then, correspond to three levels of our inner being. The first higher world is a place of memory, and it is, in a sense, a mirror of the physical universe: It is the physical level of existence as you remember it when you pass beyond it. In this memory/mental realm, you work through your memories in reverse order, starting at death and ending with your most recent Earthly birth. Through this clarifying process, you elevate your consciousness and prepare yourself for the next world. This is, in other words, a place of purgation, sometimes referred to as Purgatory or Kamaloka. [See “Kamaloka”.] Indeed, the initial or initiatory stages we have considered — avoiding the Abyss, satisfying the Guardians, and passing through Kamaloka — may be seen as a single preparatory process. It is sometimes said that you remain in Kamaloka for about a third as many years as you lived on Earth during your most recent incarnation.

The second “higher world” is the soul world. It corresponds to that incorporeal part of yourself that forms your spiritual identity during a single lifetime. (You have different souls in other lifetimes.) In the “soul world,” gods of various types help you to assimilate the insights and benefits of your recent life, particularly as they involved your recent soul. Gods of the the lowest divine order, commonly called Angels, are especially active here. Angels take deep interest in individual humans lives. Higher gods have more elevated, cosmic concerns.

The third “higher world” is the spirit world, corresponding to the incorporeal part of yourself that is immortal, that remains your spiritual essence throughout all your lives. High gods work in the spirit world to assist the dead with their spiritual education and advancement, and more generally to promote spiritual evolution. Just as the focus of activity in the soul world is the soul, the focus of activity in the spirit world is the spirit. Another term sometimes used for this world is Devachan, after the sanskrit — for the happy realm. In this world, we may attain the power of faultless spiritual intuition.

Those are the three higher worlds Steiner sometimes enumerated. But that is not the whole story. Steiner also indicated that the celestial universe consists of seven concentric spheres, one inside another. Each sphere corresponds to the portion of the solar system bounded by a particular planet. The Mercury sphere, thus, is relatively small, and the Saturn sphere (which encloses the Mercury sphere and all the other spheres below Saturn) is immense. The spheres define physical space, but more importantly they reflect spiritual powers and levels. Thus, we need to think of the spirit realm in terms of both "higher worlds" and "planetary spheres." (At other times, Steiner also discussed the spirit realm in terms of planes and other descriptors. Sorting all these out is complex and, to a degree, beyond us. Steiner taught that the higher worlds transcend rationality. Sometimes we can find equivalencies among the various terms Steiner used, but often not. Thus, for instance, the soul world may be described as the astral world, which in turn may be taken as equivalent to the astral plane. But we do better not to push too hard for such clarifications. Steiner taught that the spirit realm has hues and tones and fields that wash into one another, with no clear lines or other demarcations.)

Each planetary sphere is the home of a particular type of god. When you enter a particular sphere, you deal primarily with the gods who live in that sphere. (The gods are not confined to their home spheres, however, so they may take action elsewhere.) The gods of each sphere help educate you before passing you along to the gods of the next sphere. Thus, the spheres represent a sort of spiritual school consisting of many spiritual grades.

The lowest sphere is that of the Moon. The resident gods there are the Angels. (Note that the concept of concentric planetary spheres breaks down immediately. The Moon is not a planet and it does not orbit the center of the solar system, so its sphere is not concentric with the other spheres. But this is a physical-universe quibble that has no bearing on the spiritual universe.) More than any other gods, Angels take interest in individual humans; the higher gods have higher concerns, although they do not ignore you — you receive their ministrations when you pass into their spheres.

The second sphere is that of Mercury. This is the home of the the Fire Spirits, whom some people call Archangels. (And here another complication arises. “Mercury” is actually the planet that used to be called Venus, Steiner and other occultists have said. The two planets swapped identity some time back.) Archangels are less concerned with you as an individual than as a member of a group such as a nation, people, or race. These groupings will become less important as we evolve, but they manifest the ministrations of the Archangels.

Next comes the Venus sphere, by which we mean the sphere of the planet that used to be called Mercury. The inhabitants there are the Archai or Spirits of Personality. (They receive their blessedness through the forces of personality. Of course, these words apply to something very different in the spirit realm than here below.) The Archai are especially concerned with human historical epochs, not human groupings or individuals. They give each epoch its character or personality, which of course affects the character of groups and individuals. The purifying process of the higher worlds eventually washes away these distinctions.

When you pass beyond the Venus sphere, you rise from the lowest Hierarchy of gods to the middle Hierarchy. The gods and their spheres are arranged in three Hierarchies, each of which contains three types of gods. The lowest Hierarchy is usually called the Third; the middle is the Second; the highest is the First.

The fourth sphere overall — that is, the first sphere in the Second Hierarchy — is the sphere of the Sun. (Like the Moon, the Sun is not a planet and it does not orbit the center of the solar system — but once again, this may be dismissed as a materialistic quibble.) The Sun sphere is the dwelling place of the Exusiai or Spirits of Form. (The gods of the Sun are sometimes identified as Solar Pitris, and Steiner taught that the highest of these is Christ. [See "Sun God".]) The Spirits of Form work on the form of the entire Earth, not just its epochs, peoples, or individual inhabitants.

The remaining planetary spheres of the Second Hierarchy are Mars and Jupiter. The inhabitants of these spheres are the Spirits of Movement and the Spirits of Wisdom. The activities of these progressively higher gods are difficult to describe, and perhaps for our mapping purposes we only need to note that the gods of the outer planets play crucial roles in steering the evolution of the entire created universe, working for the good of humanity (Steiner taught that all of the gods revere us). But these more august gods also keeping their attention on high, contemplating and arranging universal matters. And, for whatever these words mean, the gods of the Mars and Jupiter spheres receive their blessedness through the forces of movement and wisdom.

The spheres of the First Hierarchy bridge the regions between the solar system and the cosmos beyond. Steiner taught that Saturn is the outermost planet of the solar system, thus the Saturn sphere is the greatest and highest planetary sphere. The gods of that sphere are the Spirits of Will, who receive their blessedness through the use of divine will to steer the Earth on the true course.

The planetary spheres are themselves enclosed by a greater sphere, that of the fixed stars comprising the zodiac. (Astrology is always present in Anthroposophical lore. [See "Astrology".]) The ancients conceived of this region as a single fixed sphere, the crystal heaven — what with ordinary vision we perceive as the vault of the sky. In fact, however (or so Steiner said) their are two zodiacal spheres — in effect, lower and higher regions of the zodiac. Here the residents are Cherubim (or Spirits of the Harmonies), in the lower sphere, and Seraphim (sometimes called Spirits of Love), in the higher.* The Spirits of the Harmonies work to harmonize the Earth with all the rest of the solar system. The Spirits of Love work to harmonize the entire solar system with the rest of the created universe. To a degree incomprehensible to us, the gods in the First Hierarchy — especially those residing in the zodiac — are in contact with the Godhead.

To summarize, then, these are the "planetary spheres" and their gods, going from lowest to highest: Moon (Angels), Mercury (Fire Spirits), Venus (Spirits of Personality), Sun (Spirits of Form), Mars (Spirits of Movement), Jupiter (Spirits of Wisdom), Saturn (Spirits of Will), Lower Zodiac (Spirits of the Harmonies), and Higher Zodiac (Spirits of Love).

The Godhead stands beyond the gods of the zodiac, constituting the hierarchy above hierarchies. [See "Polytheism".] In a sense, the Godhead represents the tenth hierarchy. (This is a different use of the term "hierarchy," one that Steiner sometimes used. If we consider the Angels to occupy the first hierarchy — i.e., the first sphere — then counting upwards we find the Seraphim in the ninth hierarchy. If there is a level above that, it becomes the tenth hierarchy.) The picture is cloudy, however. Do not confuse the Godhead with the monotheistic One And Only God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Steiner taught that there are many, many gods and monotheism is only an ideal that may be attained in the distant future. Thus, in a sense, the tenth hierarchy does not yet exist. Indeed, in a sense, the Godhead does not exist — at least, not fully. The Godhead or the tenth hierarchy is our ultimate goal; it will not really exist until we reach that level; in this sense, we ourselves are or will be the tenth hierarchy. [See "All" and "God".] At our current level of evolution, we have very little comprehension of the Godhead, but eventually — when we complete our evolutionary perfection — we ourselves will rise to become the highest spirits of all. In a sense, then, we ourselves will be the Spirits of Love, or the Godhead, or the Father, or God. And perhaps only then will the tenth hierarchy be fully realized. [See “Tenth Hierarchy” and “The Father”.]

That’s the map. That’s the lineup of the worlds above and below us, more or less, within the limits of human comprehension and language.** Or that's the Anthroposophical version of these things, anyway, more or less.

[For more information about the celestial hierarchies and the gods, see, e.g., “Polytheism”, "The Gods", and "All". For more information about the subhuman levels below us, see “Neutered Nature” and “Beings”. For more about the abnormal or evil beings who may threaten or thwart us, see "Evil Ones".]

"Spirits of Love" is a tricky term, in Anthroposophy. Steiner applied it to the highest gods of the First Hierarchy, but he also sometimes applied it to the Spirits of Form, who are much lower gods. He also sometimes applied it to us, human beings — not as we are now, but as we will become as the realized tenth hierarchy. We ourselves will then be the Spirits of Love and/or the Spirits of Freedom. In the very limited sense made possible by his system, Steiner spoke of freedom as our spiritual objective. This, however, is not a proactive form of freedom but a renunciatory or purifying form, freedom not for good things so much as freedom from bad things. [See "Freedom".] We also should note that even the term "human" is expansive or plastic in Steiner's telling. We move upward or evolve through the spheres or worlds or planes, but so do the gods themselves (at least until they reach their final fulfillment). Along the path, they pass through a human stage, the stage we ourselves currently occupy. Thus, during the evolutionary phase before the present Earth phase, a phase that is called Moon or Old Moon, we had not yet risen to become human, but the Angels were human then. In the phase before that, Old Sun, the Angels had not yet risen to human status but the Archangels were then passing through their human stage. These evolutionary phases — Earth, Moon, Sun — are called planetary stages or conditions. Do not confuse planetary spheres, which we discussed above, with planetary stages. Our ascent into the spirit realm takes us up through the former while our evolution takes us through the latter. [See "Matters of Form".] During evolution, we have passed through Saturn, Sun, and Moon, bringing us to our Earth phase. When we finish with Earth, we will proceed to Jupiter, then Venus, then Vulcan. Five other, ineffable phases lie beyond Vulcan, just as there were pre-Saturn phases — phases that we ourselves did not experience but the gods high above us did. The Spirits of Form, for instance, were human in the phase before Saturn — that is, in a period before the cosmos as we know it began its evolution. I probably also should add that Steiner sometimes spoke of the "crystal heaven" as lying beyond the zodiac, in which case it is beyond the highest sphere of our cosmos. He said it is the region that contains records of evolutions prior to our own.

** Steiner sometimes spoke of other regions of the spirit realm, or at least he used different terminology. He spoke, for instance, of Spiritland. [See, e.g., "Everything".] Spiritland is the realm of inspiration, being positioned above the physical and astral planes. It may be equated with the spirit world, but not in all usages. So don't assume that we have fully mapped out the higher worlds. We have followed most of Steiner's indications, but not all of them. Getting all of his statements straight is virtually impossible. 

“[Steiner] often formed his ideas half spontaneously while speaking, and this is why they are often contradictory and inconsistent. His followers liked to call his meandering way of thinking ‘organic'; in fact it was more associative, rich in analogies, undisciplined, and spiced with a dose of megalomania.” — Miriam Gebhardt, RUDOLF STEINER: Ein Moderner Prophet (Verlagsgruppe Random House, 2011), from the Introduction.

There are also shadowy and dark regions I have not covered here, abodes of abnormal or even evil spirits, such as Asuras, and the minions of Ahriman and Lucifer. Placing them on this map is difficult, beyond the few indications we have seen concerning the Eighth Sphere and the Abyss. Steiner's sunnier teachings seem to indicate that there is no such thing as evil, really. On other occasions, however, he spoke explicitly of evil gods and demons, and he identified some of their homes. He located Ahriman, for instance, in the "evil lower Devachan". [See "Evil Ones".] He variously located Lucifer in the evil astral world (or the evil plane of the astral world), or on Venus, which seems more pleasant.

It is not wholly relevant, but the following, from the ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, helps explain why the Godhead is such a mysterious concept in Steiner's teachings:

"The most daring forms of Christian mysticism have emphasized the absolute unknowability of God. They suggest that true contact with the transcendent involves going beyond all that we speak of as God — even the Trinity — to an inner 'God beyond God,' a divine Darkness or Desert in which all distinction is lost. This form of 'mystical atheism' has seemed suspicious to established religion; its adherents have usually tried to calm the suspicions of the orthodox by an insistence on the necessity, though incompleteness, of the affirmative ways to God. One of the earliest and most important exponents of this teaching was the Pseudo-Dionysius, who distinguished 'the super-essential Godhead' from all positive terms ascribed to God, even the Trinity (The Divine Names, chapter 13). In the West this tradition emerged later; it is first found in Erigena in the 9th century and is especially evident in the Rhineland school in the 13th and 14th centuries. According to Eckhart, even being and goodness are 'garments' or 'veils' under which God is hidden. In inviting his hearers to 'break through' to the hidden Godhead, he exclaimed, 'Let us pray to God that we may be free of "God," and that we may apprehend and rejoice in that everlasting truth in which the highest angel and the fly and the soul are equal' (German Sermons, 52). The notion of the hidden Godhead was renewed in the teaching of Jakob Böhme, who spoke of it as the Ungrund — 'the great Mystery,' 'the Abyss,' 'the eternal Stillness.' He stressed the fact of divine becoming (in a nontemporal sense): God is eternally the dark mystery of which nothing can be said but ever puts on the nature of light, love, and goodness wherein the divine is revealed to human beings." — "Christianity." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 17 Dec. 2012. 



Steiner placed at least two distinct "higher worlds" above us: chiefly the astral plane or the soul world, and above it the spirit world. However, he also said that there are many divisions and subdivisions as well as additional realms higher than those he described for us: 

“The [spiritual] Beings, the spiritual Hierarchies, their correspondences with the zodiacal constellations...all this is presented in detail in the chapter on the evolution of the world in the book OCCULT SCIENCE — AN OUTLINE, and we can now understand the deeper reasons for that chapter having been written in the way it has. [Steiner himself wrote that book, so it was "written the way it has" because he wrote it that way. But as usual, Steiner was claiming that he was compelled to faithfully describe the occult truth, which is hidden from virtually everyone but himself.] It describes the Macrocosm as it should be described. Any real description must go back to the spiritual Beings. I tried in the book OCCULT SCIENCE to give guiding lines for the right kind of description of the World of Spirit — the world entered when there has been an actual ascent into the Macrocosm. [The Macrocosm is the cosmos; each of us humans is a Microcosm or miniature version of the cosmos.]

“This ascent into the Macrocosm can of course proceed to still higher stages, for the Macrocosm has by no means been exhaustively portrayed by what has here been said. Man can ascend into even higher worlds; but it becomes more and more difficult to convey any idea of these worlds. The higher the ascent, the more difficult this becomes.” — Rudolf Steiner, MACROCOSM AND MICROCOSM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1985), pp. 110-111.

Some additional notes may be in order. 

◊ The seven planetary spheres reflect the seven “sacred planets” of antiquity. In other lectures on other subjects, Steiner also discussed the “earth sphere” — our subastral home. But because of his devotion to ancient teachings as well as his numerological love of the number seven, he usually omitted the Earth when discussing planetary spheres. Instead, Steiner included the Earth in the roll of evolutionary planetary stages. Those stages are divisions in spiritual time more than divisions in spiritual space. [See “Everything”.]

◊ Just as he included two “planets” that are not planets (Moon and Sun) in his lineup of planetary spheres, Steiner omitted two planets that really are planets. Uranus and Neptune have no “spheres,” he taught. He said that those two planets are not really members of the solar system, having been created by different beings than the ones who created Mercury, Venus, and the other "real" planets.

◊ Steiner called his teachings "Anthroposophy" because they focus on human beings (anthropo-). But as we have seen, the term "human" can be misleading. Many other beings have been "human," according to Steiner — the term does not apply to us alone. Nonetheless, we are special, Steiner said. The arch-demons Lucifer and Ahriman tempt us to leave the upward "white path" of evolution. They empower us to do so by bringing us the knowledge of evil. Knowing that there are alternative possibilities (a good choice and bad choice) allows us the freedom to choose. Specifically, we gain the opportunity to reject the "white path" and instead select the "black path" that leads downward toward self-destruction. We can sin, in other words. Indeed, Steiner said that the "great sin" is the action of leaving the upward stream of evolution.

This is a crucial point in Anthroposophical cosmology, so let's develop it a bit further. According to Steiner, because we have the knowledge of good and evil — that is, the power to choose either the white path or the black path — we will develop the capacity to become more free than any other spiritual beings have ever been. For this and other reasons, the gods revere and indeed worship us. We follow them upward, now, through the spheres; we visit them in their higher worlds. But we will break the mold, one day. Eventually, we will stand at the spiritual apex, just as we now stand at the spiritual focal point. We will surpass the gods who have been our teachers and assistants; we will become God. This is the great promise Anthroposophy holds out.

Whether this is a real promise is perhaps worth mulling over. Some have called Steiner's system fantasy, or science fiction, or blasphemy. For rationalists, the chief objection is the lack of any concrete evidence to support Steiner's cosmology. A secondary objection concerns the issue of freedom. (There are, of course, many other objections one could raise.) Choosing the black path would be suicidal; no one in her/his right mind would go that route. Does this paradigm, then, really have anything to do with freedom? Not if we define freedom as the ability to make choices among a variety of desirable options. Indeed, Anthroposophy compels its adherents to make a single "choice" or suffer the pain of eternal punishment. [See, e.g., "Sin", "Hell", and "Sphere 8". Concerning the white and black paths and their connection to Waldorf education, see "Spiritual Agenda".]

One of Steiner's foremost Anthroposophical explicators, Stewart C. Easton, reviewed Steiner's descriptions of higher worlds and threw in the towel. In what is probably his most important book, MAN AND THE WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY, Easton declines to try sorting out all the layers and versions of the higher worlds and spheres and planes. Following what he says is Steiner's lead, he prefers to keep things vague.

"When the ego has at last passed out of kamaloka, it is now freed from the astral body ... It enters into what Steiner in the earlier parts of his lecturing life used to call Devachan, which originally he divided into higher and lower Devachan. Later he abandoned the use of the Sanskrit terms in favor of what may best be translated simply as spirit-land, or the spiritual world, which he divided into various 'regions.' These regions are fully described in his AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE [here Easton overstates things by a wide margin], the last edition of which was passed for publication by Steiner himself two months before his death [early in 1925]. All that he said there is thus unchanged, but in ANTHROPOSOPHY: AN INTRODUCTION, a series of lectures given to the members of the newly founded General Anthroposophical Society in February, 1924, the material of the earlier books is discussed again but, as Steiner himself tells us, from an inner viewpoint [and thus different]. In this section we shall make more use of this later work ... No further mention will be made here of the separate 'regions' of spirit-land, each of which has its own characteristics and is therefore experienced differently by the self that passes through them." — S. C. Easton, MAN AND THE WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 160-161.

Although he was somewhat more informative elsewhere, Easton fell into the error common among Steiner's promoters, claiming too much for his hero. Steiner was vague, and for a reason. Here is a passage from chapter three ("Sleep and Death") of AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE. Take what you can from it:

"Three realms of the land of spirits appear before supersensible consciousness that may be compared with three regions of the physical sense world. The first region is the 'solid land' of the spiritual world, the second, the 'region of oceans and rivers,' the third, the 'atmospheric region.' — What assumes physical form on earth so that it may be perceived by means of physical organs is perceived in its spiritual nature in the first realm of the land of spirit beings. For example, the force that gives the crystal its form may be perceived there, but what thus appears is the antithesis of the form it assumes in the sense world. The space, which in the physical world is filled with the stone mass, appears to spiritual vision as a kind of cavity. Around this cavity, however, the force is visible that gives form to the stone. The color the stone possesses in the physical world is experienced in the spiritual world as the complementary color. Thus a red stone appears greenish in the spirit land and a green stone, reddish. The other characteristics also appear In their complementary forms. Just as stones, earth masses, and so forth, make up the solid land — the continental regions — of the physical world, so the structures described above compose 'the solid land' of the spirit world. — Everything that is life within the sense world is the oceanic region in the spirit world. Life to the physical eye is manifest in its effects in plants, animals, and men. Life to spiritual vision is a flowing entity that permeates the land of spirits like seas and rivers. A still better analogy is that of the circulation of the blood in the body, for whereas oceans and rivers appear irregularly distributed within the physical world, there is a certain regularity, like that of the circulation of the blood, in the distribution of this streaming life of the land of spirit beings. This flowing life is heard simultaneously as a spiritual entoning. — The third realm of the spirit land is its 'atmosphere.' What appears in the sense world as sensation exists in the spiritual realm as an all-pervading presence like the earth's air. Here we must imagine a sea of flowing feeling. Sorrow and pain, joy and delight flow through this realm like wind or a raging tempest in the atmosphere of the sense world. Imagine a battle raging upon earth. Not only human forms confront each other there, forms that can be seen with the physical eyes, but feelings stand forth opposing feelings, passions opposing passions. The battlefield is filled with pain as well as with human forms. Everything that is experienced there of the nature of passion, pain, joy of conquest, is present not alone in its effects perceptible to the senses, but the spiritual sense becomes conscious of it as atmospheric processes in the land of spirits. Such an event in the spirit is like a thunder storm in the physical world, and the perception of these events may be likened to the hearing of words in the physical world. Therefore it is said that just as the air surrounds and permeates the earth beings, so do 'wafting spiritual words' enclose the beings and processes of the spirit land." — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), chapter 3, GA 13.

Easton's reticence is doubtless wise. Still, let's press ahead just a short distance further. The higher "worlds" Steiner discussed may also be referred to as higher "planes." In Theosophy, a “plane” may be defined as follows:

Used figuratively for ‘the range or extent of some state of consciousness, or of the perceptive power of a particular set of senses, or the action of a particular force, or the state of matter corresponding to any of the above’ (TG 255). Though the cosmic planes are different from one another, they are not separated by gaps, just as the spectral colors are distinct and characteristic yet merge imperceptibly into each other. Nor can it be supposed that at all stages of evolution the scheme of planes was the same as now: we hear of a physico-astral stage of humanity and of other beings which now no longer exist on earth, in much the same way as we find the fossils of types intermediate between existing types but now extinct.

“No hard and fast enumeration can be made as to the number of planes in the kosmos. The number assigned depends on the particular purpose for which the definition is made. The septenary classification is often used, as in the seven planes of prakriti or the seven states of consciousness pertaining to each. But other enumerations may equally be made, and any plane is subdivided into subplanes.” — ENCYCLOPEDIC THEOSOPHICAL GLOSSARY (Theosophical University Press, 1999).

In the Anthroposophical publication FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM, we find the following table that attempts to sort out various terms Steiner used for the spiritual worlds or planes or regions. I'm afraid that for most readers this attempt will only make things murkier, however.

["Glossary of Indian-Theosophical Terms"


(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1992), GA 93a.]

According to this, there are (according to Theosophy) four planes higher than Arupa-Devachan (the Higher Spiritual World), or two such planes according to Anthroposophy. We might stipulate that planes are different from worlds. Thus, we could say that Anthroposophy recognizes three worlds but five planes (plus the subdivisions of Devachan). This is not wholly satisfactory, however, since some of the planes are identified as worlds. Thus, in our efforts to map the higher worlds, we may have to conclude that in Anthroposophy there are five, not three: kamaloka (or the remembered physical plane), the soul world, the spirit world, the Buddhi plane, and the Nirvana plane. This contradicts what Steiner often said, but it conforms to what he sometimes said. In this account, the Buddhi plane (or the World of Fore seeing [sic]) is the level or world where all final vestiges of the physical plane are left behind and the logic of the physical/material universe is utterly abolished. Only spiritual consciousness applies on the Buddhi and Nirvana planes (that is, extremely heightened forms of clairvoyance prevail, allowing immediate, deep comprehension of spiritual truths). The Nirvana plane is the august level or world of supersensible cognition, freedom, and blessedness (Nirvana) attained by only by the highest initiates who, indeed, have reached the level of divinity: Buddha, for instance, and Christ.

In his most important book, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE, Steiner speaks of the "realms" in "Spirit-land" (which he locates higher than the soul world, and which we may then take as being the spirit world, in one usage).

Steiner explains that we go to Spirit-land during sleep and after death. We spend our time there receiving the ministrations of the gods who prepare us for our coming lives. (We receive these ministrations nightly, during the little death that is sleep, and also — in somewhat different form — during the periods following our actual deaths.) The process entails rising through a series of spiritual regions. 

At one point, Steiner says clairvoyance discerns three realms in Spirit-land, but he quickly boosts the total to five, and then he indicates that indeed there are more than five. The lowest realm corresponds to ground or earth in the physical world and consists of those forces needed to bring the physical world into existence. The second realm corresponds to water on the physical level, and it consists of those spiritual forces needed for life. The third realm corresponds to air in the physical world, and it consists of forces that produce feeling. The fourth realm corresponds, more or less, to warmth, and it consists of living thoughts, the power of true thinking. The fifth realm consists of spiritual beings, gods, who provide the wisdom [see "Gnosis"] that is the real essence of spiritual life. This realm corresponds to the Sun, the home of Christ the Sun God. And yet Steiner says that higher realms lie beyond.

"Three distinct regions of Spirit-land — the land of Spirits — are apparent to supersensible consciousness [i.e., clairvoyance]...

"Whatever assumes physical form upon Earth and is thus made perceptible to physical organs [i.e., our physical eyes], is seen in its spiritual essence in the first region of Spirit-land ... The characteristic color which the stone has in the sense-world [i.e., the physical world] is experienced in the spiritual world as its complementary. Seen therefore from Spirit-land, a red stone is experienced with a greenish and a green stone with a reddish hue. Other properties too appear as their antithesis...

"All that is life in the sense-world is the oceanic region of the spiritual world [i.e., the second of five regions] ... To the eye of the spirit, life is a flowing essence, like seas and rivers pervading the Spirit-land...

"The third region of Spirit-land is the airy sphere or 'atmosphere.' All that is feeling and sensation in the outer [i.e., physical] world is present in the spirit-realm as an all-pervading element, comparable to the air on Earth...

[Concerning the fourth region:] "The thoughts man apprehends within the manifest [i.e., physical] world are but a shadow of the real thought-being** ... [This is] what pervades the fourth region of Spirit-land ... [The fourth region is] the real world of thoughts ... While feelings and passions occasioned by the external world belong to the third region of Spirit-land, all that can come to life in the soul of man so that he becomes creative, acting on his environment in such a way as to transform and fertilize it, is manifested in its archetypal being in the fourth region...

"The prevailing element of the fifth region may be likened to the light of the physical world. It is none other than Wisdom, manifested in its pristine, archetypal form. Beings [i.e., gods] belong to that region who pour Wisdom into their environment, even as the Sun sheds light upon physical creatures...

"There are yet higher regions of Spirit-land..." — pp. 83-86.

Although one could be forgiven for thinking, while reading most of OCCULT SCIENCE, that Spirit-land is the totality of spiritual existence, Steiner indicates that in fact Spirit-land is part of a hierarchy of higher worlds. His explanation is perhaps less clear than we could like, but it is consistent with his doctrine that the spirit world(s) is/are beyond ordinary definitions and boundaries. Clarity, he avers, is out of the question. Thus, in speaking of events at the end of Old Moon (i.e., the phase of cosmic evolution preceding the Earth phase), he writes, 
"At the close of the Moon evolution...all the forces and Beings connected with it pass [i.e., passed] into a more spiritual form of existence ... All the Beings and forces have become spiritualized once more, rising during the process of spiritualization into far higher worlds. The lowest of the worlds where something of them is still to be perceived is the very world where man now sojourns between death and new birth — the several regions, namely, of Spirit-land. Thereafter the Beings gradually descend once more into lower worlds. Before the physical evolution of the Earth begins [i.e., before the beginning of the Earth phase of evolution], they have come down so far that their lowest manifestations can be beheld in the astral or soul-world" — pp. 161-163.

So we discover that Spirit-land is the lowest of the worlds that are higher than "lower worlds" such as the soul-world. As to how many regions or realms Spirit-land contains, we are left to go figure. So, go figure. If you develop the very high faculty of Intuition, you will have the answer. Bearing in mind that Imagination is lower than Inspiration, and Inspiration is lower than Intuition, you may like to learn the following:

"The situation in which man finds himself immediately after death is, up to a point, capable of description by the exercise of Imaginative cognition. What happens later, however, when man is further on in the time between death and a new birth, would have to remain totally incomprehensible if Inspiration did not supervene. Inspiration is required to discover what can be said about the life of man in Spirit-land when the time of purification is over [i.e., when he has been cleansed of earthly attachments]. Then comes a state where even Inspiration no longer suffices, where it loses the way and fails to understand. In the course of man's development between death and a new birth, he enters upon a time where Intuition alone can follow him" — pp. 267-268.

So for people of ordinary understanding — and even for people who possess Imagination and/or Inspiration — the truths Steiner would convey surpass understanding.

A final effort at clarification. But, again, for many readers it may just make things worse.

Here is the “Note on Terminology” found on an unnumbered page at the end of MACROCOSM AND MICROCOSM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1968) — a collection of Steiner lectures. The note bravely attempts to show that both Oriental Theosophy and Rosicrucian Theosophy tell us of three higher planes or worlds above the physical plane or world. But it then acknowledges that, seen from a different angle, there may be at least five worlds altogether. 

Note that Anthroposophy itself may be considered a movement that associated itself with Rosicrucianism. [See "Rosy Cross".]

So where do things stand? The spirit realm as discussed in Anthroposophy is a strange place, where things flow into one another and there are no sharp divisions. Thus, in a sense, we could dispense with all of these analyses and just say that above the physical plane there is a huge spirit realm with lots of gods and lots of regions, and trying to draw lines where none exist is a foolish, sublunar, intellectual (and thus demonic) enterprise. Meditate on that.

On the possibility of making a clear distinction between planes and worlds: This could work, except that Steiner undercut the possibility. He argued that the varying descriptions of the spirit realm all really boil down to the same thing:

“The occultist speaks of different states of consciousness. In reality they are different worlds: and it has become customary, as you know, to call these different states of consciousness different planes. That which can be surveyed with the physical consciousness is called the physical plane; that which is perceptible to the first consciousness of a supersensible nature, the astral plane; to the second, the lower Devachan or mental plane; and to the third, the higher mental, or higher Devachan plane. Still farther on, we have the Budhi plane and the Nirvana plane. All we are doing here is simply to give other names to the results reached on the occult path. Both roads lead to a picture of man. For it is always man who in his varying conditions or states is active as member of the different planes or worlds. What we have done is to lead over the knowledge of man from the standpoint of occultism, where we speak of different conditions of consciousness and different conditions of evolution, to the knowledge of man from the standpoint of theosophy. For where the occultist speaks of conditions of consciousness, the theosophist speaks of successive planes. Occultism can in this manner be communicated openly as theosophy.” — Rudolf Steiner, MAN IN THE LIGHT OF OCCULTISM, THEOSOPHY AND PHILOSOPHY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1964), lecture 10, GA 137.

From an early lecture, using some terms that he later abandoned:

"The three different worlds of which occultism speaks are as follows: —

"(1) The physical world.
"(2) The astral world (Purgatory).
"(3) The spiritual world, or Devachan in Sanscrit terminology (The Christian Heaven).

"There are yet other worlds above and beyond these three but they will not concern us in these lectures. They are, moreover, beyond all human conception. Even the highest Initiates can have but a faint presentiment of them." — Rudolf Steiner, AN ESOTERIC COSMOLOGY (St. George Publications, 1978), lecture 9, GA 94.


As we have seen, the higher worlds do not admit of 

dull, logical classifications and delimitations. 

The words and concepts we use in the physical realm 

break down when we lift our (clairvoyant) eyes. 

Here Steiner uses a term we have not seen 

previously on this page, 

but one that is as good as any: 

The etheric world

"Before the human being attaches himself 

to the physical world through the embryo 

he draws to himself the forces of the etheric world. 

Here on the earth we live in the physical world, 

which is the world we experience through our senses 

and grasp through our earthly intellect. 

But in this world there is nothing 

that is not immersed in the etheric world."

— Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924

(Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 65. 

[R.R. sketch, 2011, based on the one in the book.]

So. Have you solved the puzzle? What have you concluded?

Have I been fair to Steiner and to you? 

Have I made Steiner seem to make less sense 

than he actually made?

 Have I stacked the deck in order to make 

Steiner's teachings seem garbled and laughable? 

It's a good question.

What is your answer? 

(Hint: Forget Rawlings. 

Forget the things Rawlings has said. 

Go back to the top of the page 

and read the passages from Steiner. 

Read Steiner, and consider what he says.) 

For more information on the higher worlds as described by Steiner, 

[R. R., 2010.]


I must admit that I feel the allure of Steiner's vision. Don't you? It's thrilling, comforting, and even fun, imagining a mighty system of wondrous realms, especially when we put ourselves at the glorious center of it all. To give ridiculous (but perhaps pertinent) comparisons, it's akin to the thrill we get from J. R. R. Tolkien fantasies, or Harry Potter books, or STAR WARS films. 

But I also feel the emptiness and sorrow of it. Steiner's vision is almost wholly unsupported by evidence. It is almost wholly unconnected to reality. (Comparing Steiner's work with the work of Tolkien, et al, may seem ludicrous and offensive, but the only fundamental difference is that Steiner claimed that his fantasies are factually true.)

Think how tiny Steiner's universe is. Especially when we think in terms of the planetary spheres, his universe is downright claustrophobic — a few spheres, stretching out a long distance by our normal standards, but shrinking to virtual vanishing point when compared to the revelations of modern astronomy. 

There is no zodiac. The constellations are imaginary formations of our own devising. Nor is there a crystal heaven. The real universe stretches on through distances and timespans that wholly dwarf Steiner's little sketch. We now know that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, has about 100 billion stars (or one hundred thousand million, as the Brits would say). And there are approximately an equal number of galaxies. Thus, the total number of stars we know anything at all about is approximately 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Give or take a few.*

Of course, the sheer immensity of the real universe can be daunting. It can make us feel small and insignificant. This is precisely why warm little fantasies such as Steiner's appeal to us.

But the majesty of the real universe can also be stimulating and ennobling. This is our home. This is the glory with which we are surrounded. And don't forget, we are one with the stars. All of the heavy elements that make up our bodies were born in the hearts of distant stars, elements forged in the furnaces of the stars and then hurled outward by stupendous stellar explosions. The atoms in your body come from the most spectacular bursts of energy, the mightiest fireworks displays, in the most distant reaches of reality. As Carl Sagan used to say, we are made of star stuff.

And we have brains made of star stuff, brains that enable us to think deeply and truly. Brains that enable us to get beyond the childish fantasies of our intellectual infancy. Brains that let us stand proudly erect in this glorious universe and claim our true place in it — that is, the place of smart, thinking beings who face reality without flinching, who prize truth, and who work to spread the light of truth-finding into all the expanses that were previously dark.

— Compilation, commentary, and confession by Roger Rawlings

* Since I wrote this, astronomers have made additional discoveries. We now know that there are far more galaxies and stars than I indicate here.

[R. R., 2012.]

“You see, when the soul arrives on earth in order to enter its body, it has come down from spirit-soul worlds in which there are no spatial forms. Thus the soul knows spatial forms only after its bodily experience, only while the aftereffects of space still linger on [i.e., only after birth in the physical plane, but while memories of the spirit realm linger] ... But though the world from which the soul descends has no spatial forms or lines, it does have color intensities, color qualities. Which is to say that the world man inhabits between death and a new birth (and which I have frequently and recently described) is a soul-permeated, spirit-permeated world of light, of color, of tone; a world of qualities not quantities; a world of intensities rather than extensions.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION (Anthroposophic Press, 1964), p. 23.

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, 
use the underlined links, below.


basics : where he got it (Theosophy)

guardians : of the threshold

higher worlds

if only : wishing, hoping...

kamaloka : etc.