Having recently finished Rudolf Steiner’s Theosophy and having composed 15 pages of notes along the way, I
now present myself with the difficult task of writing a reflective essay on this incredibly rich and dense
metaphysical manifesto.  The book itself is so densely packed full of ideas that I found I could read no more than
about an hour a day, which would usually provide me with plenty to think about for the rest of the day.  Now, in
going back over my notes I see that I can easily produce something of comparable length to the book itself if I
were to critically examine every idea put forward.  So I will only mention the main ideas or those I found most
interesting, and try to keep my comments brief.

The first major claim put forward by Steiner is also the one that struck me the greatest: that the world appears to
us in a threefold manner, beginning with the physical world as it is revealed to us through the basic senses,
followed by the mind’s interpretation of how these things relate to us, and finally the knowledge we acquire about
these objects and what they tell us about what they are and how they work.  These correspond to the threefold
nature of the human being, consisting first of body, then soul, and finally spirit.  What struck me about this claim is
how close it is to the way my own mind divided up reality when I first began to think in deeper metaphysical terms.

Here is a quote from an essay I wrote when I was 16:  “There are three dimensions of thinking.  The first is 1-
dimensional thought, which is what most people of this world use to do most of their thinking.  This is the thought
produced in your brain, and it covers everything solid and concrete that is absolutely and undisputedly there.  In 2-
dimensional thought, there is more than what is simply there.  Most poetry and song lyrics are 2-dimensional,
containing metaphors and symbols, which represent things different from what they are on the first dimension.  
Then there is the third dimension, which is simply the truth.”  Although my thoughts are still a bit unclear here, I
have always thought of the world in terms of three distinct layers, starting with the purely physical or material,
propped up by a dimension of mind to give it meaning and connect it to the third layer, the core of reality, which is
ultimate spiritual truth.

Theosophy goes well beyond this, and introduces many very appealing ideas regarding the hierarchy of the human
being in its relation to the rest of existence.  I am particularly fond of the classes of mineral, vegetable, and animal
existence in which human beings share.  Like minerals we are made up material substances, like vegetables we
grow and reproduce, and like animals we perceive the outer world and develop inner experiences based on what
we perceive.  But as human beings we find ourselves in a fourth mode of existence, characterized by the faculty of
thought, which is nothing less than the introduction of spirit into the physical world.  Such a hierarchy suggests a
universe far more intricate and nuanced than the scientific conception of a mechanical process involving nothing
more than forces and particles, and also gives human existence (or at least the existence of intelligent creatures
capable of rational thought) a central and important role in the totality of what exists.

These conceptions also make room for a more defensible system of morality.  In the materialist universe ethics can
only justifiably be considered relative, as nothing more than mental abstracts constructed by rational agents.  But
the theosophical perspective provides us with a “supersensible” realm in which the concepts of Truth and
Goodness are fixed and eternal.  We may not be able to perceive these perfectly while limited by a human brain,
but they do exist.  Furthermore, the central dichotomy of sympathy and antipathy in the human spirit suggest a
foundation for what we consider to be right and wrong or good and bad.  These are strong foundations, as it very
much appeals to my judgment that anything done in the spirit of sympathy—for the benefit of the collective
whole—is morally superior than anything done out of antipathy or for one’s own personal benefit at the expense
of others.

Another great and very important idea is the distinction between things you can sense with your physical organs
and things of the “supersensible” realm which cannot be perceived without “spiritual sight”.  Steiner says we sense
things in the physical world through perception, and things in the spirit world through intuition.  This essentially lays
the foundation for every other claim he makes and sets up a firewall against scientific objections.  The shortcoming
of science is that it can only draw conclusions on things that are sensible, repeatable, and verifiable through
experiment.  Science can say absolutely nothing about a world beyond the material, including whether such a
world exists.  And to say that we know about this world not through observation but
intuition seems completely
appropriate, as so many of the ideas that are such a huge part of the human experience and have been for
centuries—an immortal soul, repeated earthly lives, karma, and so on—are impossible to study scientifically and
yet it just
seems completely reasonable to believe that they are real phenomena.

Turning to the hierarchy of what makes up a human being, without going into the details these seven layers (or
three sets of three overlapping forms) are the best concept of the true human being that I have come across.  By
uniting physical body, soul body, and spirit form into one individual being, we make room for personal identity to
consist not only in the material of the flesh but in the spirit that moves it.  A human being is not just a collection of
particles that by the structure of its assembly is capable of conscious thought, nor merely a thinking substance
trapped in a vessel of otherwise dead matter, but it is both of these things and more.  The body is a part of who
we are and the physical sensations we receive through it will leave a mark on our spirit forever, but it is also the
most transient aspect of our being.  The fact that there are even more layers makes this tapestry of human
existence even richer.  The body is a temporary vessel of the soul, which is a form of the spirit, which itself is one
of an infinite variety of forms of the “I” at the heart of it all—the Brahman, or God—that which is everything.  We
are at the same time an individual human being and a manifestation of God itself, but in between lay many layers of
existence, and this seems an appropriate and beautiful arrangement.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this idea is that while everything is transient and passing, at the same time
everything we do has permanence—both within the spirit and in the outside world.  If I plant a tree I have made a
mark on the world that will last forever, as the universe with the tree would not be the same universe had the tree
never been planted.  However small an effect we have, the effects we have are permanent.  And not only do all of
our actions leave a permanent mark on the world, but everything we experience leaves a permanent mark on our
soul, and exists forever in the spiritual world.  This divine symmetry is such an awe-inspiring idea that almost
nothing else matters while contemplating it.  Everything that has ever been still
is and though it never ceases to take
on new forms it never dies away.  I can’t imagine a more profound and uplifting thought.  The power of this idea is
so great that as long as it is present to the understanding, I don’t believe one could possibly be in a state of
despair.  It is more than an idea—it’s an affirmation of
being, of all being.

The soul exists permanently, and it lives many repeated lives on this earth.  Steiner offers a very compelling and
reasonable argument in favour of this doctrine, based on observations that are probably common to all people.  
Occasionally we come across a total stranger to whom we feel somehow drawn, and we feel an affinity or close
connection to this person for no apparent reason.  We may also encounter people who for no reason at all we
seem to have a natural aversion to.  One possible explanation for such phenomena is that we have in fact
encountered the souls of these people in previous lives, and based on our relationship to them in these former
lives, our souls are predisposed to feel a certain way towards them in this life.  An even stronger argument lies in
the fact that many children are so different from their parents.  A genius like Goethe or Mozart, born of ordinary
parents, is almost inexplicable without assuming that these men possessed talents earned in previous incarnations.  
The idea of reincarnation just makes sense.  Death is like the soul going to sleep and birth is like waking up.  We
do not start anew each day but our present circumstances are always determined by what we have done
beforehand.

Steiner paints a beautiful picture of the spirit world and the soul’s journey through it after each incarnation.  The
soul does not immediately go from the trappings of flesh to the complete freedom of pure spirit, but ascends
through different regions to shed itself of its attachments to the world that were forged during life.  Beginning in the
region of “burning desire” the soul must first come to accept that the desires it had that could only be satisfied
through a physical body can no longer be satiated.  Once the loss of worldly pleasures has been accepted it
moves on to the next phase and must shed itself of the pleasures it took in the world’s trivialities, and so on up
through the hierarchy as the force of antipathy is slowly purged and sympathy takes over completely.  Depending
on the amount of antipathy already present in the soul, and the degree of attachment it had to earthly life and its
different aspects, the amount of time a soul spends in any one region varies, but it always eventually reaches the
region of actual soul life in which it is no longer concerned with the physical world at all.

Such a system may seem slightly dogmatic at first, but there is no better conception of life after death that I have
ever come across.  If there is another realm of existence deeper than physical life, it makes perfect sense that one
can only make the transition from one to the other by steady increments, rather than being thrust all at once into a
completely different type of world.  The Spirit Country itself is imagined as a realm not completely unlike the
world we know, as everything in the spirit world is a form or archetype of the objects in the physical world.  We
cannot really imagine what this is like, but there is no question that the idea of its existence is comforting.  Perhaps
the best part is Steiner’s assurance that we encounter the people with whom we shared our lives in the physical
world again in the spirit world, and our relationships continue along the same basic circumstances.  Thus anyone to
whom your soul feels drawn has probably been a companion throughout many lives, and you can expect to
encounter them again in the spirit world and in many lives to come.

The most important point about the soul in Spirit Country and our existence throughout many incarnations is how
these future lives are determined.  Our next life is usually chosen to balance out the karma of previous lives, but
this is not dictated to us by any higher authority, but freely chosen by our soul in the highest region of the spirit
world, once it has been completely purged of earthly passions.  The notion that
we choose our own fate is one of
the most compelling metaphysical ideas I have ever come across, and when I first encountered the idea in reading
Illusions by Richard Bach at the age of 15, it completely opened up an entirely new way of thinking for me.  The
idea that our fate is not dictated to us by God but that it is freely chosen by our souls is so appealing to me that I
would think the universe a highly unjust and fundamentally terrible place if it were not so.  Many people, however,
have a problem with this idea because they can not or will not accept that the ill turns of fortune and the seemingly
pointless suffering they have endured in this life was actually freely chosen by them beforehand.  Yet I can think of
nothing that makes better sense than to imagine that my soul, in its most enlightened form at the highest region of
the spirit world, looking back on the mistakes it had made and the suffering it had caused in previous lives, would
choose to suffer in the next life to balance things out and become a more perfect being.  Such a thought is also
enormously helpful in the midst of suffering, as nothing makes pain easier to endure than the belief that there is a
reason for it—that your soul has a specific purpose in forcing itself to experience that pain.

Steiner also offers a very interesting metaphysical account of substances.  The four basic divisions of mineral,
plant, animal, and human seems like a completely valid hierarchy of things that exist, all of which are connected to
the spirit world by varying degrees.  Objects in the mineral world are composed of the same substances as
objects in the spirit world, but are condensed into a form that makes them sense-perceptible.  Certain forms have
the ability to grow, change form, and reproduce, and as in the case of plants they contain a spirit germ that gives
them this ability.  More complex forms such as animals gain the ability to move around, to have sensations and
impulses, and these forms are governed by spirits as well.  Finally we reach the human form in which spirit actually
enters the world by way of a mind capable of thought.  A scientist might object to this framework on the grounds
that it seems to presuppose that the universe was designed with human beings in mind, but there is nothing
irreconcilable about this idea and evolutionary theory.  It may even help to explain the problems with evolution, as
we now have another mechanism at work besides random chance—these spirit germs do not just accidentally
stumble onto newer and better forms but may deliberately create them.  Human beings are also not necessarily the
only form of being in which the spirit can enter the sense-perceptible world, but one of many such creatures in the
cosmos.

There are spirit beings besides human beings even within this world.  One of my favourite ideas is that there really
is an all-encompassing spirit of any time and culture, personified in the
Zeitgeist in which all members of that
culture take part.  This higher form of spirit being expresses itself in the sensations, feelings, and inclinations of any
of the members of an ethnic group.  An even more fantastic notion is that mythical creatures such as gnomes really
exist and help build the world, though they are not sense-perceptible and can only be perceived by those gifted
with the ability.  Finally there are some spirit beings that do no descend into the physical world at all, but when our
eyes are open they can allow us to perceive or understand things that were formerly incomprehensible.  Any
spiritual or scientific epiphany could be the work of these types of spirits.

There is a lengthy description of the human aura found towards the end of the book, and while this is (and Steiner
admits this) the most dubious and objectionable section, it is still very interesting.  Those equipped with spiritual
sight can perceive people’s auras, which extend outward from the body at varying distances, and take on the form
and colour that characterize a person’s normal disposition as well as his or her thoughts and feelings at the
particular time.  For instance, thoughts of a sensual nature move through the aura in shades of red, while those of a
more intellectual nature are green and light yellow.  A precise thought appears as a formation with distinct
contours, while a confused thought appears blurred and foggy.  Though we may not really see or experience the
auras in such a concise manner this idea makes sense when considering how often people can “pick up on”
another’s emotions even without any indication having been given.  We explain this by calling it “intuition” but as
Steiner says, it is intuition by which we perceive spiritual truths.

The final section of the book has to do with the path to higher knowledge, and how to attain spiritual sight.  
Essentially, one must work diligently to cultivate one’s mind, to be in constant control of one’s own thoughts and
thought processes.  We can appreciate life’s trivialities but we cannot be consumed by them.  We must recognise
when we are drifting through a stream of consciousness without being fully
aware of our thoughts, and maintain
strict control over the content of our minds.  This is of course enormously difficult, even more-so now than in
Steiner’s time.  For the past century, our minds have been shaped by the predominant media in our culture—
television—which is completely antithetical to cultivating strict control over our own thoughts.  Having grown up
on television my thoughts are in a constant state of tumultuous flux, and no sooner do I grab hold of a particular
train of thought than I lose it again off on some tangent.  To undo this damage may be beyond my capabilities, but
there is no harm in trying.  Since reading the book I have made more of a conscious effort to maintain control of
my thoughts, but I must admit to a great deal of pessimism regarding my ability to keep it up.

One reason for the difficulty in adopting this or any other spiritual practice is the uncertainty as to the truth of its
claims.  Everything in this book may be wrong, and I am sceptical enough by nature to withhold my acceptance of
any doctrine, even those that seem the most rational and appealing to me, which the ideas in this book are.  But
there may be no immortal soul, no spirit world beyond this one, and human beings may be nothing more than a
cosmic accident with little time left in the universe before we face our own extinction.  I can never completely rule
against this chance, and so I can not wholeheartedly accept Theosophy.  However, one of the most enlightened
points that Steiner makes is that we need not accept these claims on faith alone.  These ideas are for us to think
about and critically examine, to discover their truth for ourselves.  Unless we come to the conclusion ourselves,
we do not really believe it.  And so I will remain agnostic in my approach to such ideas, and admit that while they
may not be true and the universe may be nothing more than particles and forces, if there
is a spiritual reality
deeper than the sense-perceptible world, it is probably very close to the way Theosophy describes it.
Theosophy
Rudolf Steiner - 1910