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Sub-Physical Planes of Existence

Interestingly, Steiner also refers to levels of existence beneath the physical.  This is an idea that occurs in the Zohar and several other old cosmologies, but is rare among theosophical thinkers.  As he puts it:

"We have the physical world, the astral world, the Lower Devachan, and the Higher Devachan.  If the body is thrust down lower even than the physical world, it comes into the sub-physical world, the lower astral world, the lower or evil Lower Devachan and the lower or evil Higher Devachan.  The evil astral world is the province of Lucifer, the evil Lower Devachan the province of Ahriman, and the evil Higher Devachan the province of the Asuras.  When chemical action is driven down beneath the physical plane - into the evil devachanic world - magnetism arises.  When light is thrust down into the sub-material (i.e. the evil astral world) ....electricity arises.  If what lives in the Harmony of the Spheres is thrust down further still, into the province of the Asuras, an even more terrible force - which it will not be possible to keep hidden very more longer - is generated.  It can only be hoped that when this force comes to be known - a force...far, far stronger than the most violent electrical discharge -  ...that before some discoverer gives this into the hands of humankind, men will no longer have anything un-moral left in them.  "
[The Etherisation of the Blood, pp.40-41]

It is tempting to interpret this last as a dire reference to nuclear power (this lecture was given in 1911).  Indeed, it may well be that Steiner DID actually hit on something here with his clairvoyant insight.  And although electricity may indeed be defined as "light in the sub-material state.  Light is there compressed to the utmost degree, " [Ibid, p.41], it seems difficult to see how chemistry and magnetism are related.  The important thing is the idea of the physical forces in the universe as originating not only from sub-physical - or should we say intra-physical - planes of existence, but through the relationship between supraphysical etheric forces and phenomena and those sub/intra-physical realities:

Life Ether (Harmony of the Spheres) --------------------------
Chemical Ether (chemical action) --------------------          |
Light Ether (light) -------------------------        |         |
Warmth Ether                                 |       |         |
Physical world                               |       |         |
sub-physical Astral World / electricity -----        |         |
sub-physical Lower Devachan / magnetism --------------         |
sub-physical Higher Devachan /terrible forces of destruction --

 Elsewhere Steiner gives a different correspondence of the ethers, relating Life Ether to earth, Chemical Ether to water, and Light Ether to air (the element fire being synonymous with warmth ether)

But such inconsistencies do not negate the inspirational value of these lectures.  Ironically, it is usually the concepts that are only once referred to, and then forgotten, that tend to have the greater inspirational value, whilst the regularly regurgitated theosophical and psychological ideas (such as the Old Saturn, Old Sun etc sequence, or the Thinking-Feeling-Willing triad) tend to be right and artificial.

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 24 June 1998