Anthroposophy describes the human being as constituted by a set of bodies or limbs ranging from the physical, in the physical world, to the highest spirituality in the spiritual worlds, passing through the intermediation of the soul. Each body has its own precise function and constitution, which originates from a cosmic process of original creation and subsequent evolution.
The bodies above the dense body are also called, generically, subtle bodies. The subdivisions of bodies or members of human beings can follow different numerological patterns depending on the context in which they are mentioned. There are divisions according to numbers 3, 4, 7 and 9. Each of these subdivisions has its own esoteric meaning which leads, however, to the same mystery, namely David's question "What is man?". (salms 8, 5).
In order to understand how these different subdivisions actually describe the same reality according to different points of view, we can start from the division according to number 4, from which then by subtraction or addition, we will obtain the other subdivisions.
So let's see the first subdivision according to number 4:
The four bodies of the human being: from the bottom to the top, physical body, etheric, astral body and ego.
Physical body: it is the seat that presides over the accumulation of mineral elements. Man shares the physical body with all the kingdoms of nature (mineral, vegetable and animal). The law of growth of the physical body follows number, weight and measure. Currently it is the body with the most advanced development, the most perfect, since it began its evolution on Ancient Saturn, thus crossing four manvataras, up to the present Earth. It was created through the sacrifice of the fiery will of the Thrones (or Spirits of Will) who were then in charge of presiding over the evolution of the human being.
Etheric body: it is the seat of life. The absence of the etheric, astral and Self body is the cause of death of the physical body. Man shares the etheric body in the physical world with the plant and animal kingdoms. It represents the lower body of angels. It gives the bodies that enclose it on the physical plane: rhythm, with alternating expansion and contraction, reproduction and transformation. It was created on the Ancient Sun through the sacrifice of the air feeling of the Dominations (Kyriotetes or Spirits of Wisdom), then in charge of man's evolution. Ahriman is the obstructor capable of corrupting the etheric body by introducing sclerosis and death.
Astral body: it is the seat of consciousness, passions and desires. The absence of the astral body and the Self makes the human being fall into sleep. Man shares the astral body in the physical world with the animal kingdom. It represents the lower body of the archangels. It confers the movement typical of animals and the distinction between an inner and an outer life. The Virtues (Dynameis or Spirits of Movement), charged with presiding over human evolution in the Ancient Moon, sacrificed their liquid feeling to create the astral body. Lucifer is the obstructor capable of corrupting the astral body by burning it with lust and inoculating it with disease.
The Self: it is the eternal individuality that evolves both in the single life, forming the biography, and through numerous incarnations whose karmic needs are determined by its own evolutionary demands. In the passage between death and subsequent incarnation it accumulates and metamorphoses the experiences made by other bodies. For this reason the Self is the seat of human morality, of the arbitrariness between good and evil. It is the least evolved member that the human being possesses, but at the same time it is the one with the greatest potential and on which future evolution depends, being the pivot between the lower bodies and the higher spirits. The absence of the Self causes the human being to fall into oblivion. Among beings incarnated on the physical plane, only man possesses the Self. It represents the lower body of the Principalities (Archai). It was created through the sacrifice of the Elohim (Exusiai or Spirits of Form). The Asura are the spirits of the obstacle capable of eroding the Self, causing it to decay into the Eighth Sphere.
The four bodies in the four worlds: man possesses the four incarnated bodies in the physical world; animals possess astral, etheric and physical in the physical world, while the group Self (Soul) is in the astral world; plants possess etheric and physical incarnated, while the astral is in the astral world and the Self in the Lower Devachan (World of Thought); the minerals possess the four bodies located in the four worlds (physical body in the physical world, etheric in the astral world, astral in the Lower Devachan and the Group Self in the Upper Devachan or World of Reason).
4 is the number of alchemical elements, symbolized by the cross, also called the square or cross of the elements (see also later on about the occult meaning of the Lord's Prayer). The square and the cross are two symbolic moments in man's evolution. In order to realize St. Paul's exhortation "Not I, but Christ in me!", each one of us will have to crucify his lower nature (the square) within his interiority, and he will be able to evolve towards his higher nature (the triangle) as Jesus Christ originally did on the cross. The figure of the closed square will "explode" into the figure of the open cross, thus freeing the Self within matter. The square is in fact the "tomb of the elements" where the lower self is enclosed, but at the same time it is the foundation on which to construct the basis of the triangle of the spirit. When the square is broken and "opened" it becomes the cross of sacrifice, the door of access to the spirit in matter.
I.N.R.I. is the cross of the elements, whose esoteric meaning in Hebrew is: I = Jebeschasch: earth; N = Nuor: fire; R = Ruach: air; I = Iam: water. Each of the elements is also associated with the three disciples (Peter, James and John) who witness the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, when the solar spirit penetrates the etheric body of Jesus, illuminating it from within and transforming it into the Vital Spirit.
The tripartite division distinguishes the esoteric way from the exoteric way of religions. In all forms of authentic spirituality, since the dawn of time, man is considered to be composed of three principles: body, soul and spirit. The body belongs to the world of matter composed of the four elements; the soul to the world of planets and stars; the spirit is the divine spark that participates in God himself:
Body: is the physical body united with the vital principle (etheric body). The body operates in the physical world and serves man to perform actions.
Soul: it is the astral body united to the ego, the lower reflection of the Self. In one concept the sentient soul, the rational soul and the conscious soul are summed up. The soul, on the other hand, operates in the world of feelings and serves to unite with the joys and sufferings of the world.
Spirit: it is the Self, in which the three higher spirits (Manas, Budhi and Atma) are present in nuce. The spirit is the only part, individual, that is reincarnated in various personalities. The spirit works in thought and reason and serves as an instrument for the universal thinking of the divine.
It was in the West with the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 869 A.D. that, to combat what the nascent Catholic Church saw as "the Gnostic heresy", it was decided that man was made up only of body and soul. The soul, in this conception, had "spiritual qualities", but the umbilical cord with the spiritual world was now cut.
From the tripod of ancient wisdom that had come from India to the West, through Egypt and finally to Greece, it had passed to a man who had lost his direct relationship with the divine world. Man could thus gain access to the divine only through the soul's faith in dogmas and not the free understanding of the spirit. After death, the soul could be damned forever in Hell or saved by blind faith in the church by ascending to Paradise. The church painted God as a universal judge. Reincarnation and karma, as the law of cause and effect of the ego's actions, became "pagan superstitions. Thus, by abolishing the spirit, dualism was introduced into all subsequent Western history, so that man felt increasingly alienated from his spiritual origin. He was able to develop the rational intellect at the expense of the faculties of imagination.
But this denial was then a necessity, which was then overcome with the fulfillment of the age of the rational soul. From the moment the epoch of the conscious soul began, in which we still find ourselves today, we can therefore find that divine element within us, the Self. The Self evolves through repeated incarnations, alternating its existence between the physical and spiritual worlds, in order to experience as many life conditions as possible for its own evolution. As it evolves it aligns its karma, it extinguishes its selfishness and makes itself available to collaborate with the spiritual hierarchies of the cosmos. When we perceive the hidden meaning of things apparent to the senses, we see the element of the Self that has pervaded the cosmos since its creation. Rudolf Steiner was also the first to recognize that the tripartition is found not only in the spiritual world as Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and in the soul as faculty (wanting, feeling, thinking) but also in the body with the system of the head, the replacement and the limbs which in turn lead man back to the past (head), the present (in the replacement) and the future (in the limbs).
When the element of time enters the scene, we can then speak of spiritual evolution and the ternary division of man unfolds and becomes septenary. The body is divided into physical, etheric and astral body, the spirit into Spiritual Self, Vital Spirit and Spiritual Man. The mediator between bodies and spirits, in this subdivision, takes the name of Self, a name in which the soul is implicit. Explaining the members who participate in the evolution from body to spirit we arrive at the number seven, and seven is in fact the number of the spirit that unfolds in time. Just as there are seven days of creation, there are seven days of the week which, despite our hyper-rational and materialistic epoch, we maintain: the sequence of the week derives from the wisdom of the Ancient Mysteries in which knowledge of the past conditions of existence of man and the cosmos was transmitted:
Ancient Saturn = Saturday
Ancient Sun = Sunday
Ancient Moon = Monday
Earth-Mart = Tuesday
Earth-Mercury = Wednesday
Future Jupiter = Thursday
Future Venus = Friday
The occult planet Vulcan, the seventh metamorphosis of Earth, is not rendered explicitly, for it is the recapitulation of all the stages prior to a higher octave. Only in this sequence is the sense of the order of the days of the week with respect to the planets, that is, in the macrocosm. The same subdivision according to the number 7 is found in the constitutive limbs of man, that is in the microcosmic:
Physical body: it was created in the planetary metamorphosis of the ancient Saturn. Man was then in a condition of trance.
Etheric body: it was created in the Ancient Sun. Man was then in a condition of dreamless sleep.
Astral body: he was created in the Ancient Moon. Man was then in a condition of dreaming.
The Self: was created during the metamorphosis of the Earth-Mars. Man then acquired in the Earth-Mercury the present waking consciousness.
Spiritual Self (Manas): it is the transformation of the astral body by the Self. It corresponds to the state of consciousness of the Imagination or conscious dream. It will be reached in the planetary metamorphosis of the Future Jupiter.
Vital Spirit (Buddhi): is the transformation of the etheric body by the Self. It corresponds to the Inspiration or conscious sleep. It will be reached in the Future Venus.
Man-spirit (Atma): is the transformation of the physical body by the Ego. Corresponds to Intuition or conscious trance. He will be reached in the Future Vulcan.
It is Jesus Christ himself who gives a prayer that can unite the septenary of the microcosm with the septenary of the macrocosm: the Lord's Prayer. In doing so Jesus Christ is directly linked to the ancient alchemical motto of "As above, so below" or which in esotericism takes the name of "law of correspondence".
"Our Father in Heaven": the equilateral triangle represents both the ternary spirit of the human being and the Trinity.
"Hallowed be your Name": "name" indicates the real name of man, the Spiritual Self and therefore the Holy Spirit.
"Thy Kingdom Come": "Kingdom" means the Life Spirit and therefore the Son.
"Your Will be done": "will" indicates the Spirit Man and therefore the Father.
"As in heaven, so on Earth": through the correspondence of the macrocosm with the microcosm, we now pass from the triangle of the spirit to the square of the elements, that is, the constitutive limbs of the human being divided according to number 4.
"Give us our daily bread today": "bread" is the physical body, that is, the earth element.
"And forgive us our debts just as we forgive our debtors": "debts" is the etheric body, that is, the element of water.
"Do not abandon us in the moment of Temptation": "temptation" refers to the astral body and therefore to the air element.
"And deliver us from Evil": "evil" that attacks the Self or the element of fire that can burn as it heats up. It is the task of the human self to develop the moral sense and redeem evil, bringing Lucifer and Ahriman to mutual equilibrium in Christ.
Here we can see man in his current state, with his four lower bodies in the form of a square, the square of the elements, which starting from the Self that "frees itself from evil" can progressively transform the three astral, etheric and physical bodies in the spiritual counterparts: Spiritual Self, Life Spirit and Spirit Man.
This is the cosmic evolution that is broadly observed. But if we want to see the present man more closely we need to introduce a tripartition not only in the body (physical, etheric, astral) and spirit (manas, buddhi, atma), but also in the soul as a sentient, rational and conscious soul. We arrive therefore at a division of the constituent limbs of the human being on a nine-based basis. In the three souls of man, which correspond to his faculties of feeling (sentient soul), thinking (rational soul) and wanting (conscious soul), we can observe the transformation of what lives in the space-time element and therefore dissolves in the post-mortem (the three bodies), becoming what becomes eternal and lasts in the spiritual worlds (the three spirits).
The Self always represents the central pivot of the evolution of the soul which, from the bodies, gradually extracts the spirits through the experiences of the soul. It is a grandiose operation of spiritual alchemy that embraces both the history of humanity and individual life.
At the level of the evolution of civilization we see how initially man must complete the development of the triple body:
In the Ancient Atlantean Age, the development of the physical body is completed. The human being of Atlantis initially possessed a liquid body, then became gelatinous and finally developed the cartilaginous skeleton. When the whole skeleton ossified and the skull took its present form (with Noah), the development of the physical body came to an end.
In the Paleo-Indian era (called in the Apocalypse, Ephesus Church) the development of the etheric body took place so that it would be rooted in the body and in the physical world, the Seven Holy Rishi practiced an initiation that took place at the level of the etheric body: they taught the technique of yoga to develop a living relationship between the chakras of the etheric body and the physical body.
In the second epoch, the Paleo-Persian one (Church of Smyrna), the Magi of Zarathustra practiced instead an initiation at the level of the astral body that that epoch had to develop. In these Mysteries they spoke of the cosmic clash between Ahura Mazdao or Ormazd the solar spirit, and Angra Mainyu or Ahriman the spirit of darkness.
The development of the body is followed by that of the triple soul:
In the third epoch of culture, the Egyptian one (Church of Pergamum), initiation into the Mysteries of Hermes Trismegistus took place at the level of the sentient soul. It was taught of the death of Osiris at the hands of his brother Seth, the widow Isis who recomposes the body of her husband and gives birth to her son Horus who will take vengeance on his father.
In the fourth era of Greek-Roman culture (Church of Thyatira), the initiation into the Mysteries of Eleusis or Orphic, took place at the level of the rational soul: it was thus told of the minor mysteries of the cycle of the seasons and the major mysteries of man's rebirth on earth, according to the common myth of the abduction of Persephone (the Self), daughter of Demeter (the Earth) by Hades (King of the Underworld). Within the fourth epoch the great watershed of the history of the Earth and of man takes place: the Self of the Earth descends from the eternity of the Trinity to enter the cosmos of creation. The Earth thus becomes "adult" welcoming the Spirit of the Sun sacrificed in human form, i.e. Christ accomplishes the Mystery of Golgotha. After the Mystery of Golgotha, we have a rapid recapitulation of the whole development of the soul: first of all, the spiritual-knightly current of the Knights of the Round Table rises, which recapitulates the initiation of the sentient soul within Christianity and completes it. Then the Knights themselves enter the current of the Search for the Holy Grail, which completes the development of the sentient soul within Christianity.
Finally, the culmination of the soul's development in the fifth age of culture, our present age (Church of Sardis), when Parsifal, the first and only one among the Knights of the Round Table, succeeds in reaching the Holy Grail: he is pure of heart and therefore can contemplate the fullness of his Self within his soul itself, made into a vase or Grail. Parsifal develops the conscious soul first. With this foreshadowing, comes our present fifth epoch of culture which has as its goal the complete development of the conscious soul. Today man must make his soul pure from selfishness in order to welcome his Higher Self, his divine spirit so that in all that is matter he can grasp the meaning it has for the human being, the spirit.
At the end of their evolution the triple soul is completely transformed so that the sentient soul becomes intuitive soul, the rational soul becomes inspirational soul and finally the conscious soul becomes imaginative soul. This evolution is represented in the Gospels of the Three Marys, witnesses at the foot of the cross of the Mystery of Golgotha. It is John who makes all the names:
Mary Magdalene = Intuitive Soul.
Mary wife of Cleofa = Inspirational Soul
Mother of God = Imaginative Soul
Here the evolution of the soul leads to the total liberation of the Self which thus conquers free will and can proceed to the transformation of the astral body into the Spiritual Self.
With the Spiritual Self we have the beginning of the development of the triple spirit:
In the sixth epoch of culture, the future Russian-Slavic era (Philadelphia Church), we will have the task of developing the Spiritual Self which will reach its climax only in the Future Jupiter.
In the seventh epoch of culture, the future American (Church of Laodicea), the foundations will have to be laid for the Vital Spirit, an evolution that will be completed only in the Future Venus. The last epoch of civilization of this Post-Atlantic Fifth Age will end with the "War of All against All".
Finally we will move on to the Sixth Post-Atlantic Era or the Era of the 7 Seals (as described in Revelation) with the task of developing the last constitutive limb of man, the Spirit Man. The evolution of man will be completed, however, only in the Future Vulcan, when the Spirit Man is completed, every man will have become a Creator God.
Here, then, is the meaning of the subdivision according to the number 9, individual and human, which refers to the 9 Septenniums of Human Biography:
Physical Body (Moon): is developed in the first seven-year period (0-7), which summarizes the Atlantis Era.
Ethereal body (Mercury): is developed in the second seven-year period (7-14), which summarizes the Paleo-Indian Era.
Astral body (Venus): developed in the third septennium (14-21), which summarizes the Paleo-Persian Epic.
Sentient Soul - Intuitive Soul (Sun I): developed in the fourth seven-year period (21-28), which recapitulates the Egyptian Epoch.
Rational Soul - Intuitive Soul (Sun II): is developed in the fifth septennium (28-35), which summarizes the Greek-Roman Epoch.
Conscious Soul - Imaginative Soul (Sun III): is developed in the sixth septennium (35-42), which is equivalent to the current Fifth Post-Atlantic Era.
Spiritual Self (Mars): it is developed in the seventh septennium (42-49), which prefigures the Sixth Post-Atlantic Epoch.
Vital Spirit (Jupiter): it is developed in the eighth septennium (49-56), which prefigures the Seventh Post-Atlantic Era.
Man-spirit (Saturn): is developed in the ninth septennium (56-63), which prefigures the Sixth Age or the Seven Seals.
In summary, we can say that, through the action of the Self, in individual life and in the history of humanity, the astral body becomes a sentient soul and finally a Spiritual Self. The etheric body succeeds him becoming rational soul and finally Vital Spirit. Finally, the physical body, the most dense and perfect, is transformed last, first into a conscious soul and then into Spirit Man.
The nine bodies of the human being: where the Self is the fulcrum of the metamorphosis of the three lower bodies first in the three souls and then in the three higher spirits.
We can now contemplate in its fullness that, as in the history of civilization we pass these stages, so in man's life the previous stages of civilization are summarized and later, in old age, the future ones are anticipated. For this reason, in the Steiner-Waldorf pedagogy or art of education, we proceed in teaching cycles called "epochs": each teaching age summarizes the entire process of cosmic and human history at different levels of understanding. The child is accompanied to adult life in the same way that the spiritual worlds have accompanied the evolution of humanity from the dawn of human consciousness to the current individual consciousness. Man thus becomes aware of his individual freedom and the responsibility he has towards his spirit, in evolution, as well as towards the entire cosmos that evolves with him and through him.