“The soul on its path to the “mothers” passes the preceding lives through which it has gone during its descent from its former existence in perfection, to its present life in imperfection.”Rudolf Steiner, The Riddles of Philosophy
A great deal of confusion hovers around Steiner’s references to the three elemental worlds, often conflating them with elemental beings, elemental forces, and the etheric formative forces. Out of a need for clarification about this most important area of Steiner’s cosmology, this article offers a summary of Steiner’s indication on the topic and the response of some of his students.
Oskar Kurten’s 2018 book, Symphonies of Creation The Primal Elementary Kingdoms in the Work of Rudolf Steiner, from Temple Lodge Press, does a marvelous job presenting the Three Elemental Worlds directly from the work of Rudolf Steiner. Numerous books have recently been published, by other authors, concerning this topic that have caused great confusion and are in error – according to Steiner’s own words. These elemental realms have seldom ever been addressed by Anthroposophists, and therefore Kurten’s book is one of the only attempts to comprehensively present this topic. The topic is difficult and Kurten’s book is equally difficult to read and comprehend. Thus, we have summarized some of the major points of the book in second section of this article.
Just as confusing, and perhaps more debated, is the topic of the “The Mothers” that Steiner speaks about repeatedly in his lectures on Goethe’s Faust. Even though he is quite clear about who The Mothers are and what functions they play in human life – their existence is hotly debated and often dismissed as an aspect of Anthroposophia that is “forbidden” to discuss. When the debate reaches the fever pitch of demonstrating that Steiner indicated there is a being called AnthropoSophia, whose genesis and nature is defined in The Riddles of Philosophy, the discussion goes off the rails.
Once Anthroposophia is given her rightful place and the “Heavenly Sophia” (the combined beings of the Kyriotetes [Beings of Wisdom] which most Anthroposophists will acknowledge as a key component of Steiner’s cosmology) is added to the overall picture, we are one step away from the dreaded reality that adding The Mothers to Anthroposophia and the Heavenly Sophia then comprise a “Trinity of the Feminine Divine.”
We have placed before the reader a comprehensive presentation of the Divine Feminine Trinity, as a coequal being with the Divine Male Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), in our trilogy called, The Gospel of Sophia.
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Once the three elemental worlds are understood as the realm of The Mothers, the student of spiritual science can then see the cosmological picture of the place of the hierarchies in human development. Reading Steiner’s summary of The Riddles of Philosophy, as presented below, will show the proper place of Anthroposophia, The Mothers, and the elemental realms. Reading the summary of Kurten’s book below, will demonstrate Steiner’s idea that The Mothers comprise the three elemental kingdoms. When the full picture arises, the debate is over. Steiner implies that Sophia is a threefold being who is the helper of the Christ, even throughout the pre-earthly deeds of Christ. Sophia is known as Mother, Daughter, and Holy Sophia (Anthroposophia). This revelation has clearly been placed in the works of Dr. Steiner, for those with “eyes to see” and “ears to hear.”
Anthroposophia and The Riddles of Philosophy
Many spiritual scientists heartily embrace Rudolf Steiner’s injunctions to seek the being of anthroposophy in their personal spiritual development, but are quite confused who this being is or where they can find Her. One of the best places to find a description of the Being Anthroposophia is in the book, The Riddles of Philosophy, Steiner’s sweeping philosophic picture of the development of human thinking.
Anthroposophia is not called out by that name in the book, but Steiner makes it clear that the development of human thinking is also the development of the Being Anthroposophia. As Steiner describes the historical thought processes of philosophers, he points out that a being develops alongside of philosophy in stages of about six or seven hundred years. Four stages of this evolution of thought are described in detail, outlining the nature of the growing Being Anthroposophia.
We are not focused on the Being Anthroposophia in this article because we have previously discussed her at length in the trilogy of books, The Gospel of Sophia. Accepting the reality of a being who “passes through you” every time you advance in spiritual development is somewhat understandable as a personal experience. Steiner calls Anthroposophia the “mid-wife of the soul” who helps lead us to the spirit. In The Gospel of Sophia we call this person in the Divine Feminine Trinity, the Holy Sophia.
Another aspect of the Divine Feminine Trinity is also described in detail by Rudolf Steiner throughout his books and lectures. The Being of Wisdom (Sophia means wisdom), from the ranks of the Kyriotetes, descended along with the Being of Love (Christ), from the ranks of the Elohim, into the human realm.
In The Gospel of Sophia, she is named the Daughter of Sophia. Again, Rudolf Steiner’s many descriptions of this being are scattered throughout his works and anthroposophists seem to be able to understand this idea and the fact that the Being of Wisdom has created the wise workings of Nature in the outer world and in the human being. Wisdom prevails and the Being of Wisdom (Daughter of Mother Sophia) finds a place in anthroposophical cosmology.
When it comes to understanding the nature of the Mother Sophia, many Anthroposophists depart ways with Rudolf Steiner and refuse to consider the fact that Steiner describes three distinct “beings” of wisdom that manifest in his anthroposophical cosmology. The problem for most Anthroposophists is that Steiner does not give a name to two of the three beings in the Divine Feminine Trinity. Steiner names Anthroposophia and describes her (without naming her) in The Riddles of Philosophy.
He also clearly “names” the three previous incarnations of the Earth – Saturn, Sun, and Moon – as the three Greek gods Zeus, Chronos and Chthon which created “fire, air and water” just as the Saturn incarnation of the Earth created warmth, the Sun incarnation created air, and the Moon incarnation created water. Zeus rules the “ether,” Chronos rules “space,” and Chthon rules “matter.” These three “mothers” created all that is in the outer world. They did not create the earthly substance of the Earth incarnation, which gives the human being a firm world to “come up against” to discover their true nature.
Rudolf Steiner, The Problem of Faust, Faust and the Mothers, Dornach, 11/2/1917.
“Moreover, when we take our Earth upon which we are still evolving, and about which we cannot speak as of something completed, and when we look from this Earth to Saturn, Sun and Moon, there we find the “Mothers” that figure in another form in the Greek Mysteries under names Proserpina, Demeter, and Rhea. For all the forces that are in Saturn, Sun and Moon are still working – working on into our own time. And those forces that are physical are but the shadow, the image, of what is spiritual. Everything physical is a mere picture of the spiritual.”
The human being finds himself as the “world serpent” interwoven with the creation of the Mothers from the past (Saturn, Sun, Moon) wrestling with the present and trying to get back to the Mother’s home through the process. Steiner tells us in The Riddles of Philosophy, that the thinking human being finds himself identified with Ophioneus, the giant who wrestles with the cosmic serpent.
“The soul also feels that it cannot know anything of its own origin at first, because it sees itself in the midst of a world in which the “Mothers” work in conjunction with Ophioneus. It feels itself in a world in which the perfect and the imperfect are joined together. Ophioneus is twisted into the soul’s own being.”
This “soul’s own being” is the human ego that must balance the past, present and the future in all considerations by wrestling with the imperfect and carrying it back to its origins in the perfect – the Mothers. This wrestling is a description of the development of world serpent thinking that exists in both realms of the perfect and imperfect. Thinking is both the lawfulness of the outer world of nature and the lawfulness found in the human soul and spirit. Thinking is the bridge between the “Mothers” of the past (Saturn, Sun, Moon) and the human being’s astral body, etheric body, and physical body which were donated by the Mothers during ancient Saturn, Sun, and Moon.
The ego of the human being was donated by Christ in the Earth incarnation and is represented by the giant Ophioneus wrestling with the serpent. Often, the serpent represents wisdom and self-awareness much like the Tree of Knowledge was the home of the serpent of knowledge of good and evil.
The Mothers are also portrayed in the Greek goddesses Erebus, Nyx, and Hemera. All Greek gods derive from primal Greek goddesses and thus it was understood that the “Mothers” were divine beings who could “give birth” and create fire, air, and water. Do not be swayed to imagine that a Greek god was strictly “male.” Many Greek divinities were both male and female, like Hemera and Eros.
Zeus Space Saturn
Chronos Space Sun
Chthon Matter Moon
Rudolf Steiner goes to great lengths in The Riddles of Philosophy to give numerous names to the Mothers so that there would be no mistaking the fact that they are “feminine” in nature. Here are some of the names he uses to describes this Primal Mother:
- Three Mothers of the world’s origin
- The Mothers
- Primeval Mothers
- Original causes
- Spirit, soul and matter
- Fire, air, water
- Good Mothers of all origin
- Primordial Mothers
- Perfect good
- Beneficial world processes
Steiner clearly described two Sophia’s – Anthroposophia and the Being of Wisdom (Kyriotetes). Once we add the picture of the Primal Mother, it is quite obvious that Steiner taught that Sophia is three distinct beings joined in a trinity of being. We call them – the Mother, the Daughter, and the Holy Sophia. The descriptions below are a compilation of the ideas found in The Riddles of Philosophy that clearly describe both the evolving Being of Anthroposophia (Holy Sophia) and the detailed description of the Primal Mother.
Together, we have the first theological (Sophiological) and philosophical definitions of a Divine Feminine Trinity that is directly linked to the Divine Male Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Father God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit).
The evolving human thinking that Steiner calls Anthroposophia, as described in The Riddles of Philosophy, places the Greek thinker in the temple of the Primal Mother, or the Temple of Wisdom (Sophia). This Temple of Wisdom was created by the donations of the divine hierarchy in the three prior stages of the Earth – Ancient Saturn, Ancient Sun and Ancient Moon. The Temple of Wisdom (Sophia) is where the Greek thinker began the awakening of the forces of the human ego – the human thinker – as it wrestled to understand the outer world, which was for the most part, a complete mystery. The wisdom of the world was taught to the thinker by completely immersing the thinker in the Mothers.
All that arose from the gifts of the divine in the past were seen as the wisdom of the Mothers. The thinkers needed to find themselves separate from that world of the Mothers if they were to become independent thinkers. Thus, the Giant Ophioneus (ego) had to wrestle self-knowledge from the Mothers in the world of wisdom around them.
In mythology, Ophioneus wrestled with the serpent but today the thinking human being (ego) wrestles with the outside world and attempts to tame its forces for the “Good.” Ophioneus represents the modern philosopher trying to tame the forces of the serpent (dragon) found in the astral body of desires. If those forces are tamed, the philosopher can become like Asclepius, the great healer who tamed the serpent Ophiuchus and was raised into the starry heavens as a constellation. The Greeks looked to the starry heavens as a Temple of Wisdom that taught them the virtues of the archetypes found in the stories of the characters who had been raised up into that divine realm. Asclepius wrestled with the serpent and was bitten by it, but finally he learned to hear the language the serpent spoke, thus making him “filled with the wisdom of the gods.”
The human ego can also wrestle with the astral body of desires and learn to tame its wild fury into calm wisdom and thereby be raised into the heavens as a new archetype.
The taming of the astral body of desires is accomplished by understanding and refining the astral body so that it can become a new sense organ that can perceive supersensible realities. These new organs not only perceive the moral world order but also allow the philosopher to “look” into the world of the gods – the divine realms. Sometimes this is called “seeing the astral light.” and other times it is called the moral capacity of Imagination.
Imagination is a new way of seeing with new sense organs that must be developed through higher thinking, love, and moral action. Asclepius brought the healing arts to Greece through the practice of interpreting dreams that would arise while a person “slept” in the healing temple. The archetypes would speak to the person and the priests would translate the dreams. This was a passive form of “seeing” into the spiritual world where thinking was unawakened and sleepy.
In today’s world, we must consciously develop the higher capacities of thought that Steiner describes as the fourth stage of the evolution of Anthroposophia (Holy Sophia) in The Riddles of Philosophy. Steiner calls this consciousness “thinking about thinking” as a new stage of philosophical development that helps build the strength to wrestle with the serpent of wisdom. Observing the process of thinking itself leads the philosopher to the “Asclepius” personal ego that is “coming towards” the individual from the outer world. The world (Primal Mother) brings the revelation of the true nature of the human ego, but it is the wrestling with wisdom (serpent) that brings the possibility that one can “write your destiny in the stars” as the Greek gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines did.
The Three Elemental Worlds as “The Mothers”
The creative, shape-giving activity of the elementary kingdoms is the basis of all phenomena through which being comes into manifestation. It is important not to confuse elementary kingdoms with elemental beings who are at work as forces of nature, even though there is a close connection between these two kinds of being. We must therefore distinguish between being a kingdom in the usual sense, and being incarnated in a kingdom in the esoteric sense.
As beings of a particular kind, minerals, plants, animals, and human beings each comprise a kingdom of their own. Among these earthly creatures only the human being is incarnated in the strict sense. Human beings awaken in their physical-mineral body to self-awareness. For, today only human beings are completely in the mineral kingdom. They will ascend in future periods of evolution to the plant, animal, and human kingdoms because we have an ego-consciousness.
Only when human beings have learned to understand and manipulate plant life in the same way as we manipulate things today in the dead mineral kingdom, will we be incarnated in the plant kingdom. We will reach this level at the Jupiter stage of Earth’s incarnations. At the Venus stage, human beings will understand and master the nature of animal sentience, and thereby be incarnated in the animal kingdom. Finally, in Vulcan, we will fully understand the nature of the human being and only then will be incarnated in the human kingdom.
The spirit world encompasses the two higher Stages of Form, the arupa and rupa planes. It is divided into seven regions, of which the arupa plane forms the three higher regions, and the rupa plane the four lower. The spirit world is composed of living thought-beings. The thought substance of which these beings of the spirit world consist, contains the forces that give what manifests in the astral and physical world its form. This thought-substance is the bearer of the divine thought that is the foundation of the world, the substance into which the gods implant their intentions and goals for the formation of the world. The spirit world thus reveals itself as a world of formative thought-forms creating structures and form.
The arupa world is the world of Intuition, the actual Akashic Chronicle. The rupa world, also called the mental or heavenly world, is the world of Inspiration, the world of the harmony of the spheres that reveals itself as a sounding world. Only on the rupa plane do the thought seeds of arupa take shape as specific thought forms, as thought-archetypes. The rupa world is the world of formed thoughts, the world of archetypes or the realm of forms.
The surrounding sense world, excluding ourselves, is not the immediate expression and activity of divine-spiritual beings but of lower supersensory beings which the gods have detached from themselves, and which they use to bring to manifestation their thoughts from the past. These are the beings of the world of the elements.
The spiritual world is the primordial world sufficient unto itself; the other two (soul and physical) emerge from it by a process of densification, as it were, and dissolve back into it again.
The human being lives as a god-permeated being in a god-unpermeated world. Only in such a world, devoid of gods, could humanity advance from a dim consciousness to bright, free self-awareness, to its own free intelligence and free will. Everything that appears on the physical plane in sense-perceptible form is a condensed image of what is pre-figured as thought-form in this first region of archetypes.
The three elementary kingdoms are the form-creating thought-seed beings of the arupa plane, which give everything that is shaped its supersensory or sense-perceptible form. The first elementary kingdom consists of the formless thought-seed beings of the highest, the seventh region, of spirit land, which give rise to what is mineral and manifested in physical form.
Humanity, too, once lived in the first elementary kingdom: during the Old Sun period, in addition to his physical body, he received the etheric body and thus lived a plant-like existence in the second elementary kingdom. In the Old Moon phase, with the integration of the astral body into his being, he rose to the animal level, and therefore lived in the third elementary kingdom. And by being endowed during earth existence with the Ego-component, the human being entered the fourth kingdom. Thus the beings and forces of the elementary kingdoms are the foundation for the becoming of all beings and worlds. No true understanding of the world is possible without an understanding of the elementary kingdoms.
The archai work formatively at the physical level using the forces of the first elementary kingdom; the archangels work at the etheric level using forces of the second elementary kingdom; and the angels, at the astral level, using forces of the third elementary kingdom.
We can imagine the elementary kingdoms as thought-seed entities flowing in the elemental world as 1) points of energy, 2) as thought-figures, or 3) as thought-forms, without independence and without impetus of their own for their activity. The formative forces of these thought-seed entities are used by the angels, archangels, and archai in order to create formed structures in the soul, etheric, and physical worlds.
The first elementary kingdom works through sound and tone; the second through light; the third through fire; the fourth through air as the Ego shapes itself. The first elementary kingdom acts formatively through life-ether; the second through sound-ether; the third through light-ether; and the fourth through warmth-ether.
Elemental beings absorb completely into their being the cosmic thoughts of the elementary kingdom raying into them, will themselves through and in them, become one with them and are able to unfold their activity with them. Elemental beings shape the phenomena of the physical world using elementary-kingdom forces of cosmic thought. If we are to speak at all of what is behind physical reality, then we must speak of the objective weaving of thought, of the objective world of thought, the elementary kingdoms.
The activity of thinking, the connecting and separating of ideas, does not take place in the physical body but in the etheric or elemental body. When we live into the elemental world, thoughts become living beings.
As a secretion of the beings of the third hierarchy and of the Elohim, the elemental beings have no independence of their own. They consist, so to speak, only of body and soul; they have no essential spiritual core. The elemental beings are: fire/salamanders, air/slyphs, water/undines, and earth/gnomes.
The human physical body is fashioned and maintained by the first elementary kingdom, the etheric body by the second, and the astral body by the third.
We can also regard the elemental world in its three aspects as the totality of etheric beings that bring to manifestation in physical, etheric, and astral forms the formative forces of cosmic thought of the three elementary kingdoms.
Once we have clearing defined the elemental realms and the realm of The Mothers, it is easy to see they are one and the same. The Mothers created Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon. The Elohim created the fourth elemental realm as a recapitulation of The Mothers and then added the human Ego-consciousness.
Just as Steiner did not name AnthropoSophia in The Riddles of Philosophy, he defined Her so well that it is unmistakable what he was indicating. So too, Steiner did not name The Mothers as the third member of the Divine Feminine Trinity. Steiner described and defined them clearly, but more than likely the world was not ready to hear about the Divine Feminine Trinity at that time.
Steiner gave the teachings of wisdom that revealed the most comprehensive cosmology of the Divine Hierarchy, and thus had to reveal the three aspects of Sophia – Mother/Daughter/Holy Sophia. Now is the time for clear thinkers, enriched by spiritual science, to study and embrace Sophia in all Her forms and finally clarify the true nature of the elemental kingdoms and their relationship with The Mothers.
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