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: