Steiner’s lectures are full of references to beings that most of us
would consider fictional: elves, ghosts, and so on.
Steiner said that these beings really exist. Their nature is elusive, he said —
they are different from what you may suppose.
But they are perfectly real, he said.
"It is true that the beings which we call gnomes and goblins have a physical body, but they do not possess what in man we call the ego. The gnomes have the physical body as their highest principle, but they have three principles below the physical body. That makes their bodies far less visible than the physical body of man." — Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1961), lecture 8, GA 102.
"Each year the moon is actually nearer the earth. One recognises this from the ever more vigorous play of the moon-forces in the gnome-world during the time of the new moon. And to this coming nearer of the moon the attentiveness of these goblins is quite specially directed; for it is in producing results from the way in which the moon affects them that they see their chief mission in the universe. They await with intense expectation the epoch when the moon will again unite with the earth...." — Rudolf Steiner, MAN AS SYMPHONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1970), lecture 9, GA 230.
"We gaze down into the depths of the earth not to seek there below for abstract ideas about some kind of mechanical laws of nature, but to behold the roving, wandering gnomes, which are the light-filled preservers of world-understanding within the earth ... The gnomes laugh us to scorn on account of the groping, struggling understanding with which we manage to grasp one thing or another, whereas they have no need at all to make use of thought. They have direct perception of what is comprehensible in the world; and they are particularly ironical when they notice the efforts people have to make to come to this or that conclusion ... People are so stupid — say the gnomes — for they must first think things over ... [G]nomes become ironical to the point of ill manners if one speaks to them of logic ... Thus the gnomes, inside the earth, are actually the bearers of the ideas of the universe, of the world-all. But for the earth itself they have no liking at all. They bustle about in the earth with ideas of the universe, but they actually hate what is earthly." — Ibid., lecture 7.
"[W]e now see these water-beings, these elemental beings of the water, these undines ... These undine beings differ in their inner nature from the gnomes ... They dream incessantly, these undines, but their dream is at the same time their own form. They do not hate the earth as intensely as do the gnomes, but they have a sensitivity to what is earthly. They live in the etheric element of water, swimming and swaying through it, and in a very sensitive way they recoil from everything in the nature of a fish; for the fish-form is a threat to them ... They wish to remain in a condition of metamorphosis, in a condition of eternal, endlessly changing transformation." — Ibid.
"[S]ylphs, which live in the airy-warmth element, press towards the light ... When in spring or autumn you see a flock of swallows, which produce as they fly vibrations in a body of air, setting an air-current in motion, then this moving air-current — and this holds good for every bird — is for the sylphs something audible. Cosmic music sounds from it to the sylphs ... And because this is so, because its ego is kindled in it from outside, the sylph becomes the bearer of cosmic love through the atmosphere. It is because the sylph embodies something like a human wish, but does not have its ego within itself but in the bird-kingdom, that it is at the same time the bearer of wishes of love through the universe.” — Ibid.
"The sylphs experience their self, their ego, when they see the birds flying about. The fire-spirits [i.e., spiritual salamanders] have this experience, but to an intensified degree, in regard to the butterfly-world, and indeed the insect-world as a whole. And it is these fire-spirits which take the utmost delight in following in the tracks of the insects' flight so that they may bring about the distribution of warmth for the seed buds ... [T]he bee is everywhere accompanied by a fire-spirit which feels so closely related to it that, for spiritual vision, the bee is surrounded by an aura which is actually a fire-spirit. When a bee flies through the air from plant to plant, from tree to tree, it flies with an aura which is actually given to it by a fire-spirit. The fire-spirit does not only gain a feeling of its ego in the presence of the insect, but it wishes to be completely united with the insect.” — Ibid.
"The Sun-Initiation gave the Druid priest the spiritual impulse, and as a result he had his science of Nature ... His science of Nature being a Moon-science, the Druid priest perceived how the elemental beings [aka “nature spirits”] can grow and expand into gigantic size.
"From this resulted his knowledge of the Jötuns, the giant-beings. When he looked into the root-nature of a plant beneath the soil, where the Moon-forces were living, there he found the elemental being in its true bounds. But the beings were ever striving to go forth and grow outward gigantically. When the kind of elemental beings who lived beneficially in the root-nature, expanded into giants, they became the giants of the frost ... And what worked in the growth of the leaves, this too could grow to giant size. Then it lived as a giant elemental being in the misty storms that swept over the Earth." — Rudolf Steiner, MAN IN THE PAST, THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE AND THE SUN-INITIATION OF THE DRUID PRIEST AND HIS MOON-SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), lecture 4, GA 228.
"Now it is interesting to see how in the Germanic Scandinavia mythology events which took place in those times, are depicted in pictures of imaginative form, events for which we, in our anthroposophical teachings, only make use of riper expressions, viz., concepts instead of those former pictures. The events which took place when the sun and moon were still united, are described to us. The going forth of the moon is described, and how evolution then passes over into what later becomes ‘Riesenheim’ (Home of Giants). Everything which existed during the Atlantean epoch is described to us as a continuation of what had happened formerly and which were the affairs of the Germanic Scandinavian people themselves." — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF FOLK-SOULS (Anthroposophical Publishing Co, 1929), lecture 8, GA 121.
Elves of light, also called white elves.
[H. A. Guerber, MYTHS OF THE NORSEMEN (George G. Harrap & Cp., 1909),
illustration by Charles P. Sainton.]
"We must think of this Slavonic soul as being able to see entities in natural phenomena...the Slavonic soul conceived of a vast number of beings in this strange spiritual world which we can best compare with the world of the Elves of Light." — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), pp. 164-165. In Norse mythology, the elves of light are the good elves, contrasted to the dark or black elves. Steiner taught that the spiritual beings described in Norse myths really exist.
"Everything that refers to ‘giants’ in legends is absolutely based on a knowledge of the truth. If, therefore, a real memory of these times is preserved in the Germanic [i.e., Norse] myths, we feel it to be absolutely correct, from the spiritual scientific point of view, that the giants are stupid and the dwarfs very clever." — Rudolf Steiner, THE BEING OF MAN AND HIS FUTURE EVOLUTION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981), p. 117.
"When we observe the astral plane we come upon certain beings there — only one kind among many — who seem to have no expression or manifestation among the beings found on the physical plane, but who are yet connected with it. There on the astral plane we meet with them as astral beings — with pronounced will, pronounced purposes, and so on. Within our immediate world they have this existence on the astral plane, but they are related, belong, to the same sort of beings as inhabit our present moon, having even a certain physical existence on the moon. One who is able to approach these things clairvoyantly knows that on their scene of action, the moon, these are beings in a certain respect similar to man, but that they are dwarfs in comparison, scarcely reaching the height of a six or seven year old child. Upon the moon, however, a particular opportunity is offered them for their activity. The physical conditions are quite different there, the atmosphere for instance is quite different and in consequence when these beings withdraw, so to speak, to their habitat they acquire the faculty of a tremendous roaring, of uttering immensely powerful, frightful sounds. These dwarf-like beings can maintain an astral existence within our world. You must in fact picture conditions in the higher worlds as being much more complicated than people are wont to do." — THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN, lecture 1.
"[H]e who eventually attains the faculty to see the tree-spirits come forth from the trees — the same that ancients saw stealing away in the dawn, and darting out again in the evening twilight — he will also be able, as he approaches a human being, to see emerge from him the figures of his earlier lives together with the evolution of his karma. For this kind of vision leads on to a vision of karma.
"In the mineral world, where at first we perceive the clever, mischievous little dwarfs, the vision leads us to the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones." — Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS, Vol. 8 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1975), p. 54.
"We have an old German word that is used primarily when people have particular dreams. When a spiritual human being oppresses them, this is called the Alp ... Later Alp became Elp, and then elf — those spirits the elves. Man is merely a condensed elf." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM BEETROOT TO BUDDHISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 176.
"[O]ur brain connects us with certain elemental beings, namely those elemental beings that belong to the sphere of wisdom ... To etheric observation, this [aura] hovers in the immediate vicinity of our head. The I lives in it, and alongside the I are found the elemental beings of the myths and sagas. There they are called elves, fairies, and so on." — Rudolf Steiner, THE RIDDLE OF HUMANITY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), lecture 5, GA 170.
"If you could observe certain spots, as, for instance, springs where underneath there is stone overgrown with moss, thus forming a kind of partition between plant and stone, and then water trickles over it — that too is essential — then you would see that what are called Nymphs and Undines are very real, an actuality." — THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN, lecture 9.
"When we are passing through the Mars sphere, for example, we are ghosts, specters, for the Mars dwellers. We pass through their sphere as strangers, as alien beings. But the Mars beings, too, at a certain stage of their existence, are condemned to pass through our earth sphere and one who possesses certain initiate faculties encounters them when conditions are favorable.
"Beings of our planetary system are continually streaming past each other. While we are living on earth, often imagining that we are surrounded only by the beings of the different kingdoms of nature, there are itinerants from all the other planets in our environment. During a certain period between death and a new birth we, too, are itinerants among the other planetary “men,” if one might speak in this way. We have to develop in our lives on earth the essentials of our particular mission in the present epoch of cosmic existence. Other beings are allotted to the other planetary worlds, and between death and rebirth we must contact these worlds, too." — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH (Anthroposophic Press, 1968), lecture 8, GA 140.
"[I]n a spiritual sense the shades — the real ghosts, I would say — of a former age are roaming about in a later age ... My dear friends, I am saying something far removed from any superstitious use of words. I say it with the full consciousness of voicing an exact and scientific fact: — Never before did the ghosts of the preceding age move about among men so palpably as they do in this present time. And if men fail to perceive them, it is not because we are living in an age of darkness ... We have many an opportunity to learn to know the Ahrimanism in the world today, for it is at work most strongly. By the very path which I have now described, it hinders people from receiving into their hearts and souls what must come forth anew, what was not there before — what is coming to the light of day in Anthroposophy." — Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS, Vol. 3 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1977), lecture 2, GA 237.
"When human beings cling too strongly to earthly things it may be difficult for them to find their bearings in the sphere of the Moon Beings ... The moon-influences are not really active below the roots of plants ... The moon-influences, rising like mist from this shallow layer, may cause human beings who have to pass after death into the Moon sphere — the soul-world — but are unable to understand the Moon Beings, to be trapped by this shallow stratum of moon-influences and they can actually be seen by sensible-supersensible perception wandering about as ghosts, as spectral shades.” [Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONS, Vol. 2 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1974), pp. 150-151.
"It is a fact that near Stuttgart you sometimes see in the spring that the clouds assume most peculiar shapes. They look like primeval monsters, like dragons really. We asked Rudolf Steiner whether that had any significance, and he said, 'Yes! Remember that around here, a little to the east of the city, there is the greatest deposit of fossils in Central Europe, fossils of primeval animals, of the saurian type. And the forces which in the old days worked on those animals, giving shape to the dragons and saurians, operate up above in their kind of cosmic laboratory. They use the clouds as their plastic material. There you can still study the etheric formative forces which were special in this part of the world.'” — Alfred Heidenreich, THE RISEN CHRIST AND THE ETHERIC CHRIST (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), lecture 2.
"Demons are born through man's immoral conduct ... [T]he demons created out of immoral actions, also have an astral body, an etheric body and a physical body...but they do not have the basis for developing an ego. They are born without heads, as it were ... [T]hey fall victim to the fate of dropping out of evolution. But this only increases the hordes of luciferic beings, for they come under their power. As they cannot progress in a regular way they have to become parasites ... They attack man during the embryonic period and share his existence between conception and birth. Some of these beings, if they are strong enough, can continue to accompany the human being after birth, as seen in the phenomena of children who are possessed.
"What is brought about by the criminal demon parasites attached to unborn children is the cause of the deterioration of the generation succession, which are not as they would be if these demons did not exist. There are various reasons for the decline of families, tribes, peoples and nations, but one of them is the existence of these criminal demon parasites during man's embryonic period." — Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF MYSTERY WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1984), lecture 7, GA 275.
Steiner's teachings have an undeniable, unintended entertainment value.
They amount to laughable, lunatic tall tales.
Yet he meant them seriously.
Even when he almost made sense on some points
(speaking of giants and dwarfs semi-metaphorically, for instance),
nonetheless he beggared belief.
And sometimes his teachings crossed the line from the bizarre into the truly benighted.
(The underlined words in the following are links to other pages here at Waldorf Watch.
Using the links may help you to follow Steiner's strange, twisted tale.)
"Lemuria perished as the result of the raging fires and the wickedness of a large section of its population. The human beings who were saved went to the West, to a continent lying between the present Africa, Europe and America, namely, Atlantis. There the evolution of humanity continued for long, long ages. The number of human beings gradually increased and the souls who had gone to Jupiter, Mars, and so on, during the period of desolation, came down to this continent. The process lasted for a long time. It was thus that the concept of race developed in ancient Atlantis. In occultism it is said that there were human beings in Atlantis whose bodies were inhabited by souls who had previously been on Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and so on. They were called Mars men, Jupiter men, for example. The external forms of the bodies differed for this reason. During the whole first half of Atlantis the texture of the human body was much softer, much more flexible, and yielded to the forces of the soul. These soul forces were essentially more powerful than they are today, and they both shaped and overpowered the physical body. A man of ancient Atlantis would have been able to break a railroad track, let us say, with ease, not because his physical forces were strong, for his bony system had still not developed, but through his magical, psychic forces. A cannon ball, for example, could have been repulsed by this psychic force. The density of flesh developed only later. A similar phenomenon is still to be found today in certain lunatics who on account of the liberation of strong psychic forces — in that condition the physical body is not properly connected with the higher bodies — can lift and throw heavy objects.
"Because in Atlantis man's physical body was still pliable, he could more easily adjust himself to processes in the life of soul; the physical stature could be made to decrease or increase in size. If, for example, a man in Atlantis was, let: us say, stupid or sensual, he fell into matter, as it were, and became a giant in stature. The more intelligent human beings developed a delicate constitution and were smaller in stature; those who were dull-witted were giants. Man's external form was far, far more strongly influenced by the forces of soul than is the case today when substance has become rigid. The bodies of men developed in accordance with the qualities of soul, and this accounted for the great differences in the races.
"When myths and legends have described the dwarfs as being clever and the giants as dull-witted, we recognize once again the reflection of a profound, occult trend. When a soul came down again to the earth from Mars, the qualities with which it had been connected there continued for a long time to influence it and the body it inhabited. This fact explains the differences in races and racial characteristics." — Rudolf Steiner, ROSICRUCIAN ESOTERICISM (Anthroposophic Press, 1978), lecture 8, GA 109.
- Compiled by Roger Rawlings
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 14. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ◊◊◊