Rudolf Steiner Archive 

Translators' Note

In earlier English editions of this and other standard works by Rudolf Steiner the technical terms of anthroposophical spiritual science have been variously rendered. The following notes will therefore be helpful.

For the three soul-members Rudolf Steiner's terms and the English equivalents approved — or in some instances suggested — by him are as follows.

Empfindungsseele. Sentient soul.
Verstandes-oder Gemütsseele. Intellectual or Mind-soul.
Bewusstseinsseele. Spiritual soul.

In earlier translations Bewusstseinsseele had been rendered more literally: ‘Consciousness-soul’. Dr. Steiner subsequently gave ‘Spiritual soul’ as the true equivalent. This we have used throughout, though in some contexts — it is generally agreed — ‘Consciousness-soul’ can still be a helpful alternative.

‘Mind-soul’ for Gemütsseele was also approved, indeed suggested, by Dr. Steiner. To understand it rightly one should recall that ‘mind’ had at one time a less one-sidedly intellectual, less cold significance than it generally has to-day. In the mental processes of thought the heart — the entire man — not only the head was felt to be concerned. This should be borne in mind when the fourth post-Atlantean or Graeco-Latin epoch (8th century B.C. to 15th A.D.) is spoken of as the age of the Intellectual or Mind-soul. The fuller meaning is still implied in the verbal use of ‘to mind’ in the sense of tending and caring for; or again, in old-fashioned and colloquial usage, sharing the memory of a past experience — memory always with a touch of feeling. This is intended when the otherwise untranslatable word Gemüt is rendered ‘mind’. The difficulty is evident in earlier efforts to translate Gemütsseele, as in the first English edition of Rudolf Steiner's Theosophy, where it is rendered ‘Soul of the higher feelings’.

Dr. Steiner's names for the three members of the human spirit — equivalent to the eastern Manas, Budhi, Atma — present no special problems. Geistselbst, Lebensgeist and Geistmensch become in English: Spirit-self, Life-spirit and Spirit-man.

Of the three bodily members, Dr. Steiner sometimes refers to the Astral body as Seelenleib — ‘Soul-body’ — or again as Empfindungsleib — ‘Sentient body’. For the Etheric — Aetherleib, aetherischer Leib — we have the corresponding alternatives, ‘Ether-body’ and ‘Etheric body’. In the adjectival form, ‘Ethereal body’ would in our view be preferable and indeed more natural. Till it was introduced in theosophical writings of the late 19th century, the form ‘etheric’ rarely, if ever, occurs. ‘Ethereal’ on the other hand is a well-established word, reaching back through the centuries to a time when the experience of the cosmic Ether was not yet lost to Western man. In this respect it answers exactly to the German aetherisch. From its descriptive use and literary associations, it evokes an immediate feeling of the peripheral and expansive quality of those entities and forces which constitute the Ether-body of man and other living creatures. This quality — the inner connection of the Ether-body with the vast expanse of the Heavens — was frequently insisted on by Dr. Steiner in his later books and lectures (at a time when he was also giving to it the alternative designation Bildekräfteleib — ‘Body of Formative Forces’). But when a certain form has for so long become familiar to students, one is reluctant to impose a sudden change; hence for the present edition we have adhered to the term ‘Etheric body’.

For the nine ranks of Beings of the Spiritual Hierarchies (often referred to in groups of three as the First, Second and Third Hierarchy) there are the two or three alternative sets of names — those of the Christian esoteric tradition in their Greek or Hebrew forms; then in some instances the traditional translation of these names into English or other European language;

lastly, the modern spiritual-scientific names coined by Rudolf Steiner. They are as follows.

First Hierarchy:
 Seraphim  Spirits of Love
 Cherubim  Spirits of the Harmonies1
 Thrones  Spirits of Will
Second Hierarchy:
 KyriotetesDominions Spirits of Wisdom
 DynamisMights, or Virtues Spirits of Movement
 ExusiaiPowers Spirits of Form
Third Hierarchy
 ArchaiPrincipalities Spirits of Personality
 Archangels  Fire-Spirits
 Angels  Sons of Life or of Twilight

For the Archai — the Greek word literally means ‘Beginnings’ — Rudolf Steiner gives as the German equivalent Urbeginne: Ur-beginnings, First Beginnings, Primal Beginnings, They are the Beings who attained the human stage at the beginning of our evolutionary cycle, on Old Saturn. In Dr. Steiner's well-known lectures on the Apocalypse of St. John, they are described as the eldest of the ‘Elders’ of mankind. In Genesis and other lecture-cycles, the ‘Elohim’ are identified as of the hierarchical rank of the Exusiai, Spirits of Form.

Other alternative names, notably for the Archai and the Thrones, will be found in Rudolf Steiner's ‘Chapters from the Akashic Records’ — Aus der Akasha-Chronik, entitled Cosmic Memory in the 1959 American edition. These had been published seriatim in the periodical Lucifer-Gnosis, a year or two before the first edition of Occult Science.

Concerning the Hierarchies more will be found in Dr. Steiner's lecture-cycles, now available in book form. We refer especially to those entitled Spiritual Hierarchies (Düsseldorf, 1909) and then again Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and in the Kingdoms of Nature (Helsingfors, 1912). Stages of world-creation and evolution are dealt with in the Genesis lectures above-mentioned, in the (Dornach, 1923) lectures Man as Symphony of the Creative Word, and above all in the lecture-cycle Inner Realities of Evolution (Berlin, 1913). The last-named is an invaluable supplement to the Evolution chapter of Occult Science. One other lecture-cycle, frequently recommended for study by Rudolf Steiner, may here be mentioned; it bears especially on Chapter III. It is entitled Life between Death and Rebirth in relation to the Cosmic Conditions (Berlin, 1912-13).

The term das Ich for the middle and essential member of Man's being is here translated alternatively as ‘the I’ or ‘the Ego’. To use only the Latin form ‘Ego’ with its rather hardening suggestion of egoism and self-assertion would, we believe, convey a wrong impression. Through the very sound and character of the word ich, as Rudolf Steiner pointed out, the German language is particularly fortunate in this respect. In older theosophical literature the real being of the I is often referred to as the true Self of Man.

An unavoidable difficulty is presented by the word Vorstellung and the kindred verb and verbal noun, das Vorstellen. In the first English edition of The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity Prof. Hoernlé translated Vorstellung ‘idea’. To this there are obvious objections, yet in our everyday usage — for which there is also a very respectable philosophical background — the English idea corresponds pretty closely to the German Vorstellung. Idea in its Platonic, archetypal meaning — equivalent to the German Idee — can then be distinguished by means of a capital.

Later translators have rendered Vorstellung ‘representation’ or ‘mental presentation’. In the 1939 American edition of Occult Science it is translated ‘visualization’. But a mental image in the sense of Vorstellung need not be visual; it may equally well be auditory or related to any of the other senses (taste, smell, touch, etc.), as for example when in the silence of thought we experience a melody, whether remembered or improvised. In the present edition Vorstellung has variously — according to the context — been translated ‘mental image’, ‘mental picture’, ‘thought-picture’, or ‘idea’, and das Vorstellen ‘the forming of mental images’, or ‘ideation’.

Among the problems inherent in the translation of Rudolf Steiner's spiritual-scientific works is the fact that words of Latin or Greek origin, at first sight the most easily translated, have quite another timbre, another shade of meaning in German and in English. English, like German, Dutch and Scandinavian, is in its roots a Germanic language, but unlike German it is enriched with countless words of Latin origin, whether derived from Latin directly or via Norman-French. In German, words of Latin origin are comparatively rare and practically every Latin form has its Germanic equivalent, which is the word in common use2. The outcome is that when a Latin word is used, it conveys a subtle shade of meaning, apt to be lost when rendered by the most obvious English translation, often identical with the German or nearly so. To take one example, for the English word ‘spiritual’ the ordinary German equivalent is geistig, but side by side with this there is the word spirituell, and when this is used it suggests a spiritual quality in a peculiarly delicate and appreciative sense.

There are many such duplicates, more or less synonymous and yet conveying different shades of meaning, as for example, Sinnbild and Symbol, Einweihung and Initiation, Einbildungskraft and Phantasie, Schauung and Vision. Both in his written works and in his lectures, Rudolf Steiner makes full use of the subtle shades of meaning made possible in German by the alternative use of less familiar words of Latin or Greek derivation. For the translator, this presents a problem all too easily overlooked.

Among other things, the words of Greek or Latin origin in German, being in less common use, can often be adopted as technical terms pure and simple. This applies (though in varying degree) to the names Rudolf Steiner gave to the three higher stages of cognition: Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. The words are identical in the two languages, but whereas ‘imagination’ for example is a word in common use and as such indispensable in English, the same does not apply to Imagination in German. In such instances we distinguish the word by a capital when used in the technical meaning of spiritual science.

This new edition of Occult Science is a free translation. While trying to be true to the essential meaning, we have translated into the English idiom, which for the most part involves a considerable departure from the original. Notably in dialectic — in the way a logical sequence of thought or reasoned argument is presented — the style and construction natural to English are as different as can be from the German. Directly rendered and especially when the argument is prolonged, what appears crystal-clear and straightforward in German is apt to become ponderous and wordy, over-insisting on the obvious in English, until at last the reader is befogged. Since it is Rudolf Steiner's method of spiritual-scientific teaching to evoke wake-fulness and clarity of thought, it surely is important that the thought be conveyed in the way that comes natural to one who thinks — and is at pains to think clearly — in his own language, whichever it may be.

In this and other ways, we think a free translation can often be a faithful rendering rather than one which adheres more closely to the style and structure of the original. To translate freely is however an added responsibility, obviously exposed to dangers. For one is then interpreting the author's meaning and the interpretation may not always be the right or the only one. We do not pretend that our translation will be free of mistakes. In view of future editions we shall be grateful to have our attention drawn to any seeming discrepancies or errors.

We are indebted to a number of friends for valuable help and suggestions. Mr. A. C. Harwood kindly read through the finished manuscript. Above all we have to thank Miss D. S. Osmond, to whose encouragement and practical help at every stage the present edition is very largely due.

*   *   *   *   *

An introductory word should also be said concerning the Synopsis. Rudolf Steiner's basic works need to be read and studied continuously. He never included an index; rarely, if ever, a detailed list of contents. Even the longest chapters of the present work he left undivided by sub-headings.

The Synopsis is intended above all for those who already know the book. Those who are reading it for the first time, or even re-reading it as a whole, will do well to disregard the Synopsis entirely. It is intended for students who may recall a particular theme and want to find it again without too great loss of time. Leaders of study-groups will find it helpful in this way. The Synopsis does not pretend to be exhaustive; we trust, however, that a sufficient number of references have been given. Nor is it meant as an analysis. Careful analyses — revealing, for example, the inner structure and the many correspondences implicit in the long Evolution chapter — have often been made by students. They can be most helpful — helpful perhaps even more in the making than in the finished outcome. No such intention underlies the following synopsis. It has the purely practical purpose of enabling the reader quickly to find the passage he is looking for.

G.A., M.A.     



  1. Geister der Harmonien, hitherto translated ‘Spirits of Harmony’. Harmonien is however the plural form. ‘Spirits of the cosmic Harmonies’ would perhaps convey most truly the feeling of the original.

  2. Synonyms of Germanic (Anglo-Saxon) and Latin origin are of course frequent in English too; here however, both are in common use, indeed, the Latin form is often the more common. In German this is not so.


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