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Man as Symphony of the Creative Word
Part Three. The Plant-World and the Elemental Nature-Spirits
GA 230

The World-Word is not some combination of syllables gathered from here or there, but the World-Word is the harmony of what sounds forth from countless beings.

Lecture IX

4 November 1923, Dornach

We only learn to know the beings of the sense-world when we observe them in the way they live and act, and it is the same with those beings about which I have been speaking and shall continue to speak in these lectures, the elemental beings of nature. Invisibly and super-sensibly present behind what is physical and sense-perceptible, they participate in all the happenings of the world just as, or rather in a higher sense than do the physical, sense-perceptible beings.

Now you will readily be able to imagine that to these beings the world appears somewhat other than to the beings of the sense-world, for they do not possess a physical body such as is possessed by these latter. Everything which they grasp or perceive in the world must be different from what enters the human eye. This is indeed the case. The human being experiences the earth, for instance, as the cosmic body upon which he moves about. He even finds it slightly unpleasant when through some atmospheric condition or other, as occasionally occurs, this cosmic body becomes softened and he sinks into it even in a slight degree. He likes to feel the earth as something hard, as something into which he does not sink.

This whole way of experiencing things, this whole attitude towards the earth, is, however, completely alien to the gnomes; they sink down everywhere, because for them the whole earth-body is primarily a hollow space through which they can pass. They can penetrate everywhere; the rocks, the metals, present no hindrance to their—shall I say swimming around. There are no words in our language which really express this wandering about of the gnomes inside the body of the earth. It is just that they have an inner experience, an inner perception, of the different ingredients of the earth; when they wander along a vein of metal they have a different experience from when they take their way along a layer of chalk. All this, however, the gnomes feel inwardly, for through all such things they penetrate unhindered. They have not the least idea that the earth exists. Their idea is that there is a space within which they perceive certain experiences; the experience of gold, the experience of mercury, of tin, of silica, and so on. This is to express it in human language, not in the language of the gnomes. Their language is far more perceptive; and it is just because their whole life is spent in journeying along all the veins and seams—ever and again journeying along them—that they acquire the very pronounced intellectuality about which I have spoken to you. Through this they acquire their all-comprehensive knowledge, for in the metals and in the earth everything outside in the universe is revealed to them; as though in a mirror they experience everything which is outside in the universe. But for the earth itself the gnomes have no perception, only for its different constituents, and for the different kinds of inner experience which they offer.

Because of this the gnomes have a quite particular gift for receiving the impressions which come from the moon. It is towards the moon that they continually direct their attentive listening, and in this respect they are—I cannot say the born—it is so difficult to find the appropriate words—but the inherent neurasthenics. Of course, what for us is an illness is for these gnome-beings their actual life-element. For them this is no illness; it is simply a matter of course. It is what gives them that inner sensibility towards all those things of which I have spoken. But it also gives them their inner sensitivity towards the phenomena connected with the phases of the moon.

They follow the changes in the moon-phenomena with such close attention—I have already described their power of attention to you—that it actually alters their form. When, therefore, one follows the existence of a gnome, one receives quite a different impression at full moon from that one receives at new moon, and again at the intermediate phases.

At full moon the gnomes are ill at ease. Physical moonlight does not suit them, and at that time they thrust the whole feeling of their being outwards. They circumscribe themselves, as it were, with a spiritual skin. At full moon they press the feeling of their existence towards the boundary of their body. And in full moonlight, if one has imaginative perception for such things, they really appear like little shining, mail-clad knights. They are clad in a kind of spiritual armour and this it is which presses outwards in their skin to arm them against the moonlight which so displeases them. But when the time of new moon approaches the gnome becomes transparent, wonderful to see, inwardly irradiated with a glittering play of colours. One sees within him, as it were, the processes of a whole world. It is as though one were to look into the human brain, not as an anatomist investigating the fabric of the cells, but as one who perceives inside the brain the shimmering and sparkling of the thoughts. That is how these transparent little folk, the gnomes, appear to one, its though the play of thoughts is revealed within them. It is just at new moon that the gnomes are so particularly interesting, for each of them bears a whole world within himself; and one can say that within this world there actually lies the mystery of the moon.

If one unveils it, this moon-mystery, one comes upon truly remarkable discoveries, for one reaches the conclusion that at the present time the moon is continually approaching nearer—naturally you must not take this in a crude way, as though the moon would collide with the earth—but each year it does in fact come somewhat nearer. Each year the moon is actually nearer the earth. One recognises this from the ever more vigorous play of the moon-forces in the gnome-world during the time of the new moon. And to this coming nearer of the moon the attentiveness of these goblins is quite specially directed; for it is in producing results from the way in which the moon affects them that they see their chief mission in the universe. They await with intense expectation the epoch when the moon will again unite with the earth; and they assemble all their forces in order to be armed in readiness for the epoch when the moon will have united with the earth, for they will then use the moon substance gradually to disperse the earth, as far as its outer substance is concerned, into the universe. Its substance must pass away.

Because they hold this task in view these kobolds or gnomes feel themselves to be of quite special importance, for they gather together the most varied experiences from the whole of earth-existence, and they hold themselves in readiness, when all earthly substance will have been dispersed into the universe,—after the transition to the Jupiter-evolution—to preserve what is good in the structure of the earth in order to incorporate this in Jupiter as a kind of bony support.

You see, when one looks at this process from the aspect of the gnomes, one gains a first stimulus, a first capacity, to picture how our earth would appear if all the water were taken away from it. Just consider how, in the western hemisphere, everything is orientated from north to south, and how, in the eastern hemisphere, everything is orientated from east to west. Thus, if you were to do away with all the water, you would get in America, with its mountains and what lies under the sea, something which proceeds from north to south; and looking at Europe you would correspondingly find that, in the eastern hemisphere, the chain of the Alps, the Carpathians and so on, runs in the east-west direction. You would get something like the structure of the cross in the earth.

When one gains insight into this, one receives the impression that this is really the united gnome-world of the old Moon. The predecessors of our Earth-gnomes, the Moon-gnomes, gathered together their Moon-experiences and from them fashioned this structure, this firm structure of the solid fabric of the Earth, so that our solid Earth-structure actually arose from the experiences of the gnomes of the old Moon.

These are the things which reveal themselves in regard to the gnome-world. Through them the gnomes acquire an interesting, an extraordinarily interesting relationship to the whole evolution of the universe. They always carry over the firm element of a preceding stage into the stage which follows. They are the preservers in evolution of the continuity of the firm structure, and thus they preserve the firm structure from one world-body to another. It belongs to the most interesting of studies to approach the super-sensible world from the aspect of these spiritual beings and to observe their special task, for it is through this that one first gains an impression of how every kind of being existing in the world shares in the task of working upon the whole formation of the world.

Now let us pass over from the gnomes to the undines, the water-beings. Here a very remarkable picture presents itself. These beings have not the need for life that human beings have, neither have they the need for life that the animals have even though instinctively, but one could almost say that the undines, as also the sylphs, have rather a need for death. In a cosmic way they are really like the flying creature which casts itself into the flame. They only feel their life to be truly theirs when they die. This is extraordinarily interesting. Here on the physical earth everything desires to live, for all that has life-force in it is prized. It is the living, sprouting life that is valued. But once we have crossed the threshold, all these beings say to us that it is death which is really the true beginning of life. This can be felt by these beings. Let us take the undines. You know, perhaps, that sailors who travel a great deal on the sea find that in July, August and September—further to the west this is already the case in June—the Baltic Sea makes a peculiar impression, and they say that the sea is beginning to blossom. It becomes, as it were, productive; but it produces just those things which decay in the sea. The process of decay in the sea makes itself felt; it imparts to the sea a peculiar putrefactive smell.

All this, however, is different for the undines. It causes them no unpleasant sensations; but when the millions and millions of water-creatures which perish in the sea enter into the state of decomposition the sea becomes for the undines the most wonderful phosphorescent play of colours. It shines and glitters with every possible colour. Especially does the sea glitter for them, inwardly and outwardly, in every shade of blue, violet and green. The whole process of decomposition in the sea becomes a glimmering and gleaming of the darker colours up to the green. But these colours are realities for the undines, and one can see how, in this play of colours in the sea, they absorb the colours into themselves. They draw these colours into their own bodily nature. They become like them, they themselves become phosphorescent. And as they absorb the play of colours, as they themselves become phosphorescent, there arises in the undines something like a longing, an immense longing to rise upwards, to soar upwards. Upwards they soar, led by this longing, and with this longing they offer themselves to the beings of the higher hierarchies—to the angels, archangels and so on—as earthly sustenance; and in this sacrifice they find their bliss. Then within the higher hierarchies they live on further.

And thus we see the remarkable fact that each year with the return of early spring these beings evolve upwards from unfathomable depths. There they take part in the life of the earth by working on the plant-kingdom in the way I have described. Then, however, they pour themselves, as it were, into the water, and take up by means of their own bodily nature the phosphorescence of the water, the element of decomposition, and bear it upwards with an intensity of longing. Then in a vast, in a magnificent cosmic picture, one sees how, emanating from earthly water, the colours which are carried upwards by the undines and which have spiritual substantiality, provide the higher hierarchies with their sustenance, how the earth becomes the source of nourishment in that the very essence of the undines' longing is to let themselves be consumed by the higher beings. There they live on further; there they enter into their eternity. Thus every year there is a continual upstreaming of these undines, whose inner nature is formed out of the earthly sphere, and who radiate upwards, filled with the longing to offer themselves as nourishment to the higher beings.

And now let us proceed to the sylphs. In the course of the year we find the dying birds. I described to you how these dying birds possess spiritualized substance, and how they desire to give this spiritualized substance over to the higher worlds in order to release it from the earth. But here an intermediary is needed. And these intermediaries are the sylphs. It is a fact that through the dying bird-world the air is continually being filled with astrality. This astrality is of a lower order, but it is nevertheless astrality; it is astral substance. In this astrality flutter—or hover might be a better word—in this astrality hover the sylphs. They take up what comes from the dying bird-world, and carry it, again with a feeling of longing, up into the heights, only desiring to be inhaled by the beings of the higher hierarchies. They offer themselves as that which supplies breathing-existence to the higher hierarchies. Again a magnificent spectacle. With the dying bird-world, this astral, inwardly radiant substance is seen to pass over into the air. The sylphs flash like blue lightning through the air, and into their blue lightning, which assumes first greener, then redder tones, they absorb this astrality which comes from the bird-world, and dart upwards like upward-flashing lightning. And if one follows this beyond the boundaries of space, it becomes what is inhaled by the beings of the higher hierarchies.

Thus one can say: The gnomes carry one world over into another in regard to its structure. They progress, as it were in a direction—the expression is only used as a comparison—which is horizontal with evolution. The other beings—the undines, the sylphs—carry upwards what they experience as bliss in yielding themselves up to death, in being consumed, in being inhaled. There they continue to live within the higher hierarchies; within them they experience their eternity.

And when we pass over to the fire-beings, only think how the dust on the butterfly's wings seems to dissolve into nothing with the death of the butterfly. But it does not really dissolve into nothing. What is shed as dust from the butterfly's wings is the most highly spiritualized matter. And all this passes over like microscopic comets into the warmth-ether which surrounds the earth, each single particle of dust passes like a microscopic comet into the warmth-ether of the earth. When in the course of the year the butterfly-world approaches its end, all this becomes glittering and shimmering, an inner glittering and shimmering. And into this glittering and shimmering the fire-beings pour themselves; they absorb it. There it continues to glitter and shimmer, and they, too, get a feeling of longing. They bear what they have thus absorbed up into the heights. And now one sees—I have already described this to you from another aspect—how what the fire-beings carry outwards from the butterfly's wings shines forth into world-space. But it does not only shine forth; it streams forth. And it is this which provides the particular view of the earth, which is perceived by the higher hierarchies. The beings of the higher hierarchies gaze upon the earth, and what they principally see is this butterfly-and-insect-existence which has been carried outwards by the fire-beings; and the fire-beings find their highest ecstasy in the realization that it is they who present themselves before the spiritual eyes of the higher hierarchies. They find their highest bliss in being beheld by the gaze, by the spiritual eyes, of the higher hierarchies, in being absorbed into them. They strive upwards towards these beings and carry to them the knowledge of the earth.

Thus we see how these elemental beings are the intermediaries between the earth and the spirit-cosmos. We see this drama of the phosphorescent uprising of the undines, which pass away in the sea of light and flame of the higher hierarchies as their sustenance; we see the up-flashing of the greenish-reddish lightning, which is in-breathed there where the earth continually passes over into the eternal, the eternal survival of the fire-beings, whose activity never ceases. For whereas, here on earth, it is particularly at a certain time of the year that butterflies die, the fire-beings see to it that what it is their task to look to is poured out into the universe throughout the entire year. Thus the earth is as though cloaked in a mantle of fire. Seen from outside the earth appears fiery. But everything is brought about by beings who see the things of the earth quite differently from how man sees them. As already mentioned, man's experience of the earth is of a hard substance upon which he walks about and stands. For the gnomes it is a transparent globe, a hollow body. For the undines water is something in which they perceive the phosphorizing process, which they can take into themselves and feel as their life-element. Sylphs see in the astrality of the air, which emanates from dying birds, that which makes their lightning flashes more vivid than they would otherwise be, for in itself the lightning of these sylphs is dull and bluish. And then again the disintegration of butterfly existence is something which continually envelops the earth as though with a sheath of fire. When this is beheld it is as though the earth were surrounded by a wonderful fiery painting; and, on the other side, when one looks upwards from the earth, one beholds these lightning flashes, these phosphorescent and evanescent undines. All this makes us say: Here on earth the elemental nature-spirits live and weave; they strive upwards and pass away in the fire-mantle of the earth. In reality, however, they do not pass away, but there they find their eternal existence by passing over into the beings of the higher hierarchies.

All this, however, which at first appears like a wonderful world-picture is the expression of what happens on earth, for initially it is all played out upon the earth. We human beings are always present in what is there taking place; and the fact is—even if in his ordinary consciousness man is at first incapable of grasping what surrounds him—that every night we are involved in the weaving and working of these beings, that we ourselves take part as ego and as astral body in what these beings are carrying out.

But it is the gnomes especially which really find it quite an entertainment to observe a person who is asleep, not the physical body in bed, but the person who is outside his physical body in his astral body and ego, for what the gnome sees is someone who thinks in the spirit but does not know it. He does not know that his thoughts live in the spiritual. And again for the undines it is inexplicable that man knows himself so little; likewise with the sylphs, and likewise with the fire-beings.

On the physical plane, you see, it is certainly often unpleasant to have gnats and the like buzzing around one at night. But the spiritual man, the ego and astral body—at night these are surrounded and woven about by elemental beings; and this being surrounded and woven about is a constant admonition to man to give an impetus to his consciousness in order to know more about the world.

Now, therefore, I can try to give you an idea of what these beings—gnomes, undines, sylphs and fire-beings—mean with their buzzing about, of what happens when we begin to hear what amuses them in us, and of what they would have us do when they admonish us to give a forward impetus to our consciousness. Yes, you see, here come the gnomes and speak somewhat as follows:

You dream your self,
And shun awakening.

The gnomes know that man possesses his ego as though in a dream, that he must first awaken in order to arrive at his true ego. They see this quite clearly, and call to him in his sleep:

You dream your self

—they mean during the day—

And shun awakening.

Then there sounds forth from the undines:

You think the deeds of angels

Man does not know that his thoughts are really with the angels

You think the deeds of Angels
And know it not.

And from the sylphs there sounds to sleeping man:

Creative Might shines to you,
You divine it not.
You feel its strength

—the strength of Creative Might—

And live it not.

Such approximately are the words of the sylphs, the words of the undines, the words of the gnomes.

The words of the fire-beings:

Divine Will offers you strength,
You accept it not.
With its strength you will,

—with the strength of Divine Will—

Yet thrust it from you.

The aim of all these admonitions is to give man a forward impetus in regard to his consciousness. These beings, which do not enter into physical existence, wish man to make a move onward with his consciousness, so that he, too, may participate in their world.

And when one has thus entered into what these beings have to say to man, one also gradually understands how they give expression to their own nature, somewhat in this way:

The gnomes:

I maintain the life-force in the root,
It creates for me my body's form.

The undines:

I bestir the water's power of growth,
It forms for me substance of life.

The sylphs:

I quaff the airy force of life,
It fills me with the power of being.

And the fire-beings—there it is very difficult to find any kind of earthly words for what they do, because their sphere is far removed from earthly life and earthly activity.


I consume1Here Rudolf Steiner coins a word from verdauen, to digest: däuen—ich däue, to express, not ordinary digestion, but a fiery consuming process. the striving power of fire,
Into soul-spirit it releases me.

You see, I have endeavoured to the best of my ability to give you an idea of how these beings of the elemental kingdom characterize themselves; and of the admonitions which they impart to man. But they are not so unfriendly to man as only to suggest to him what is negative in its nature, but pithy and positive sayings also proceed from them. And man experiences these sayings as being of immense, of gigantic import. In such matters as these you must acquire a sense for whether a saying is uttered merely in human words, however beautiful they may be, or whether it sounds forth as though cosmically from the whole mighty chorus of the gnomes. It is the whole manner of its arising which brings about the difference. And when man hearkens to the gnomes after the admonitions which I have written down have been imparted to him, then there sounds towards him from the massed chorus of the gnomes:

Strive to awaken.

Here the significance is the mighty moral impression created by such words when they stream through the universe, arising from the massed chorus of infinitely many single voices.

And from the undine chorus resounds:

Think in the spirit.

With the chorus of sylphs things are not so simple. When the gnomes appear like shining armoured knights in full moonlight there resounds from them as though from earth-depths:

Strive to awaken.

When the undines soar upwards filled with the longing to be consumed, then in this upsoaring there sounds back to the earth:

Think in the Spirit.

But for the sylphs, in that, up above, they allow themselves to be inhaled, disappearing in bluish-reddish-greenish lightning into the world-light, then, as they flash into the light and therein disappear, from the heights there sounds down from them:

Live creatively breathing existence.

And as in fiery anger—but anger which is not felt to be annihilating, but rather as something which man must receive from the cosmos—as in fiery but at the same time enthusiastic anger, the fire-beings carry what is theirs into the fire-mantle of the earth, their words resound. Here the sound is not like that of single voices massed together, but from the whole circumference there resounds as with a mighty voice of thunder:

Receive in love the Will-Force of the Gods.

Naturally, one can turn one's attention away from all this; then one does not perceive it. Whether or no man does perceive such things depends upon his own free decision. But when man does perceive them he knows that they are an integral part of cosmic existence, that something actually occurs in that gnomes, undines, sylphs and fire-beings unfold their evolution in the way described. And the gnomes are not only present for man in the way I have already portrayed, but they are there to let their world-words sound forth from the earth, the undines to let their world-words soar upwards, the sylphs theirs from above, the fire-beings theirs like a chorus, like the massing of a mighty uplifting of voices.

Yes, this is how it could appear when transposed into words. But these words belong to the Word of worlds, and even though we do not hear them with ordinary consciousness, these words are yet not without significance for mankind. For the primeval idea which had its source in instinctive clairvoyance, that the world was born out of the Word, is indeed a profound truth, but the world-word is not some collection of syllables gathered from here or there; the world-word is what sounds forth from countless, countless beings. Countless, countless beings have something to say in the totality of the world, and the world-word sounds forth from the concordance of these countless beings. It is not the general abstract truth that the world is born out of the Word that can bring this to us in its fullness. One thing alone can do this, namely that we gradually arrive at a concrete understanding of how the world-word in all its different nuances is composed of the voices of individual beings, so that these different nuances contribute their sound, their utterance, to the great world-harmony, the mighty world-melody, in the Word's act of creation.

When the gnome-chorus allows its “Strive to awaken” to sound forth, this—only transformed into gnome-language—is the force which is active in bringing about the human bony system, the system of movement in general.

When the undines utter “Think in the spirit”, they utter—transposed into the undine-sphere—what pours itself as world-word into man in order to give form to the organs of digestion.

When the sylphs, as they are breathed in, allow their “Live creatively breathing existence” to stream downwards, there penetrates into man, weaving and pulsating through him, the force which endows him with the organs of the rhythmic system.

And if one attends to what sounds inwardly—in the manner of the fire-beings—from the fire-mantle of the world, then one finds that this sounding manifests as image or reflection. It streams in from the fire-mantle—this sounding force of the word. And every nerve system of every man, every head I would add, is a miniature image of what-translated into the language of the fire-beings—rings out as: “Receive in love the Will-Power of the Gods”. This saying, “Receive in love the Will-Power of the Gods”, this is what is active in the highest substance of the world. And when man is experiencing his development in the life between death and a new birth, this it is which transforms what he brought with him through the gate of death into what will later become the human organs of the nerves and senses. So we have:

System of movement

Chorus of gnomes: Strive to awaken

Metabolic organization

Undines: Think in the Spirit

Rhythmic system

Sylphs: Live creatively breathing existence.

Nerve-senses system

Fire-beings: Receive in love the Will-Power of the Gods.

Thus you see that what lies beyond the threshold is akin to our own nature, you see how it leads us into the creative divine forces, into what lives and works in all forms of existence. And when one calls to mind what an earlier epoch divined, and is expressed in the words:

The power of life, the seeds behold;
Turn thee away from words' cramped mould.2Goethe: Faust, Part I, Scene I.

—one is impelled to say that all this must become actuality in the further course of the development of mankind. We cramp all knowledge into words if we have no insight into the germinating forces which build up the human being in the most varied ways.

We can therefore say that the system of movement, the metabolic system, the rhythmic system, the system of nerves and senses merge into a unity in that they resound in harmony. For there sounds upwards from below: “Strive to awaken”; “Think in the Spirit”—and from above downwards, mingling with the upward-striving words, “Live creatively breathing existence”; “Receive in love the Will-Power of the Gods”.

This “Receive in love the Will-Power of the Gods” is the calm creative element in the head. Then what strives from below upwards in “Think in the Spirit”, from above downwards in “Live creatively breathing existence”, in their combined activity is what so works and weaves that it creates an image of the way in which human breathing passes over in a rhythmical way into the activity of the blood. And what implants into us the instruments of the senses, this is what streams from above downwards in “Receive in love the Will-Power of the Gods”. But what works in our walking, in our standing, in our moving of the arms and hands, everything in fact which brings man into the manifestation of his element of will, this sounds forth in “Strive to awaken”.

Thus you see how man is a symphony of that world-word which can be interpreted on its lowest level in the way I have presented it to you. Then this world-word ascends to the higher hierarchies, whose task it is to unfold other aspects of this world-word in order that the cosmos may arise and develop. But that which has, as it were, been uttered as a call into the world by these elemental beings is the final reverberation of that creative, upbuilding, form-giving world-word which lies at the base of all activity and all existence.


You dream your Self,
And shun awakening.

I maintain the life-force in the root,
It creates for me my body's form.


You think the deeds of Angels
And know it not.

I bestir the water's power of growth,
It forms for me substance of life.


Creative might shines to you,
You divine it not;
You feel its strength
And live it not.

I quaff the airy force of life,
It fills me with the power of being.


Divine Will offers you strength,
You accept it not.
With its strength you will,
Yet thrust it off from you.

I consume the striving power of fire,
Into soul-spirit it releases me.

Chorus of gnomes: Strive to awaken!
Undines: Think in the Spirit!
Sylphs: Live creatively breathing existence!
Fire-beings: Receive in love the Will-Power of the Gods!


Du träumst dich selbst,
Und meidest das Erwachen.

Ich halte die Wurzelwesenkraft,
Sie schaffet mir den Formenleib.


Du denkst die Engelwerke
Und weisst es nicht.

Ich bewege die Wasserwachtumskraft,
Sie bildet mir den Lebensstoff.


Dir leuchtet die Schöpfermacht,
Du ahnst es nicht;
Du fühlest ihre Kraft
Und lebst sie nicht.

Ich schlürfe die luft'ge Lebekraft,
Sie füllet mich mit Seinsgewalt.


Dir krafter Götterwille,
Du empfangst ihn nicht.
Du willst mit seiner Kraft,
Und stosset ihn von dir.

Ich däue die Feuer strebekraft,
Sie erlöst mich in Seelengeistigkeit.

GNOMENCHOR: Erstrebe zu wachen
UNDINEN: Denke in Geiste
SYLPHEN: Lebe schaffend atmendes Dasein
FEUERWESEN: Empfange liebend Götterwillenskraft.