The Four Ethers – Reading 2

“In Saturn, then, there was an interweaving of varying conditions of warmth. Let us get hold of that quite clearly. The Genesis account describes a repetition within the developing earth of this ancient Saturn state, these relationships of warmth or fire. That is the first thing in the elementary existence which we have to hold fast to. But mark, please, in what sense we speak of warmth or fire in the case of such a lofty existence as that of the Saturn evolution. We shall not get anywhere near it by striking a match or lighting a candle and examining the warmth of physical existence. We have to think of it as much more spiritual — or perhaps better say more of the soul. Feel your way into yourself as a warmth-bearing being — and this feeling of your own warmth, experience of your own soul-warmth, will give you a proximate idea of that interweaving warmth in Saturn.

Then we pass on to the Sun, the second phase of the evolution of our planet, and speak of how in elementary existence warmth condensed to the gaseous or aeriform. Thus in the elementary existence of the Sun we have to distinguish between warmth and the gaseous or airy. We have already pointed out that together with the condensation of warmth into air — that is to say, with the descent of the elemental consistency in the direction of density — there is a corresponding ascent towards a more rarefied, more etheric condition, so that if we call “air” the elementary condition next below warmth, we must call the condition next above warmth, light, or light-ether. Thus, if we look at elementary conditions as a whole during the Sun evolution, we shall say that in the Sun there is an interpenetration of warmth, light and air, and all life during that time manifested itself within this condition of warmth, light and air. Now we must once more make clear that if we take into consideration only these elementary manifestations of warmth, light and air, we are only considering the outer aspect — the maya, the illusion — of what is really there. In reality spiritual Beings are announcing themselves externally by means of warmth, light and air. It is somewhat as if we were to stretch out our hand into a heated space and say to ourselves: “Since there is warmth in this space, there must be a Being who disseminates this warmth, and finds thereby means of manifestation.”

When we pass on to the Moon, there again we have warmth as the middle condition, condensing below into air or gas and still further below into water. Light once more makes its appearance above. Then, above the light, we have a finer, more etheric state. I have already said that we may give the name “sound-ether” to what works within substances as an organising principle, causing chemical combinations and chemical analyses; it is something which man can only recognise with his external senses when it is transmitted by the air, but it lies spiritually behind all existence. We might call it “ringing” or tonic ether. Alternatively, because this spiritual sound organises material existence according to number and weight, we might also call it the ether of numbers. Thus we rise from light to sound, but we do not confuse this sound with the external sound which is carried over the air, but recognise it as something which is only perceptible when the clairvoyant sense is in some way awakened. Thus both in the Moon itself and in what works upon it from without we have to see, in elementary form, warmth, air, water, light and sound.

When we reach the fourth condition, and with it the coming into existence of the earth proper, a further stage of condensation and a further stage of rarefaction are added — below, the earthy or solid; above, the life-ether, which is a still finer ether than the sound-ether. So we may describe the elementary existence of the earth in this way. Warmth is again the middle state; as denser conditions we have air, water, solid; as rarer conditions we have light, sound and life ethers. In order to be quite sure that nothing is left vague in this exposition, I will once more state explicitly that what I describe as “earth” or “solid” must not be confused with what modern science calls earth. What is described here is something which is not directly visible around us. Of course, what we tread upon when we tread the earth’s soil is earth, in so far as it is solid; but so are gold, silver, copper and tin, earth. Everything of a solid material nature is earth in the sense of occultism. The modern physicist will of course say that there is nothing in this distinction — that he himself differentiates between our various elements, but that he has no knowledge of any primeval substance lying behind those elements. It is only when the clairvoyant eye penetrates the external elements — some seventy of them — and seeks the basis of solidity, when he looks for the forces which organise matter into the solid state, it is only then that he discovers the forces which construct, which build, which combine solid, liquid and gaseous. That is what we are referring to here, and that too is what Genesis is referring to. We shall, then, expect to find that according to Genesis the three earlier conditions are in some way recapitulated in earth existence, but that the fourth state appears as something new.

Let us check the account by the same method that we used in earlier lectures. In the coming into existence of our earth we should expect to find a repetition of the Saturn state. In other words we should expect to find the Saturn warmth working as an expression of a soul-spiritual. And this is what we do find, if we understand the account rightly. I have told you that the words which are usually translated And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters really mean that the soul-spiritual of the Elohim expanded and that a warmth element — the kind of warmth we conceive to be rayed down from the hen to the egg in the act of brooding — penetrated the existing elementary condition. In saying “The spirit of the Elohim radiates as a brooding warmth through the elementary existence, or the waters,” you indicate the recapitulation of the Saturn warmth.

The next condition has to be one which represents a recapitulation of the Sun evolution. For the time being let us ignore the condensation process which goes on from warmth to air, and let us turn our attention to the process of rarefaction, to the element of light. Let us take the fact that during the solar period light penetrates into our cosmic space, and then the recapitulation of the ancient Sun evolution will be the permeation by light of our developing earth. That is announced in the mighty words: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

The third recapitulation, considered with reference to the finer elementary states, must consist in the fact that the organising, tonic or sound-ether permeates our nascent earth. Let us then ask ourselves whether there is in fact any indication of such a recapitulation of the Moon evolution in the Genesis account. What should we expect to find? We should expect the sound-ether to set to work to organise the elementary substance, rather as the fine powder spread on a plate is organised when we pass across the plate the bow of a violin, and the sound-forms of Chladni appear. There would have to be a recapitulation which would be recorded somewhat like this: “The tonic or sound-ether set to work to organise matter in a certain way.” But what is actually reported about the moment of creation which followed upon the coming into existence of light? We are told that something was stimulated by the Elohim in the material elementary mass which caused it to radiate in the upward direction and to gather itself together, to contract, in the downward direction, as I described to you yesterday. A force enters into the elementary matter and organises it, just as sound takes hold of the powder and brings about the Chladni figures. Just as the powder is organised, so the elementary mass is organised through the radiation upward of part of it, and the concentration downward of the other part. The word rakia, which is used to indicate what the Elohim introduced into the elementary matter, is difficult to translate, and the usual translations are inadequate to render it correctly. Even when one takes into account all that can today be contributed towards its elucidation, including what philology has to say, one is bound to confess that neither the translation “firmament” nor any of its variants takes us very far. For there is an element of activity, of stimulation in this word. And a more precise philology would find that there is contained in this word what I have just indicated — that the Elohim stimulated something in the elementary matter which may be compared with what is stimulated in the powder ofthe Chladni sound-figures when sound sets to work to organise it. As the powder is organised in the case of the Chladni sound-figures, so the elementary mass is disposed upward and downward on the second “day” of creation. Thus, in the Genesis account, following the intervention of the light-ether, we see that of the sound-ether, and the second “day” of creation gives us, quite in accordance with the facts, what we must understand as a recapitulation of the Moon evolution.

You will soon see that these recapitulations cannot come about in an entirely straightforward manner, but that they overlap one another. And the apparent contradiction between today’s exposition and that of yesterday will soon be explained. The recapitulation takes place in such a way that first there happens what I am now describing, and then there is a more comprehensive recapitulation, such as I described yesterday.

After the moment when the sound-ether has so disposed the substances that some radiate upward, and others accumulate below, we should expect to find that something sets to work as a still finer condition, one which we must call the earth element proper — what we have called the life-ether. After the second “day” of creation something should happen which would indicate to us that life-ether was streaming into the elementary mass of our earth, just as previously light and organising sound had poured in. There should be some phrase in Genesis to indicate that life-ether thrilled through the mass and caused life to stir, caused life to unfold. Look at the Genesis account of the third “day” of creation. It tells us how the earth causes green things to grow, the living element of tree and herb — as I said yesterday, in the mode of species — after his kind. There we have a vivid description of the instreaming of the life-ether, which evokes everything that is said to have come into being on the third day.”

R. Steiner, Genesis, Lecture 4, 20 August 1910, CW122