THE TRIFOLD MAN: Steiner’s Soul Structure

Many religious or spiritual traditions break down the various parts/levels of the mind-body-soul construction. Here is the mystic Rudolf Steiner’s insight.


He calls it the “Trifold Man” which is linked to the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

The Father is the universal/cosmic/God Force, which is likened to the Spirit aspect of ourselves.

The Son is creation/manifestation, likened to our Bodies.

The Holy Spirit is the Bridge/the Vehicle by which the Father and the Son reach each other, likened to our Soul aspect.

In another analogy, the Body is the instrument, the Soul is the musician, and the Spirit is the music.

When we learn how to play our instrument and make the correctly tuned music (in tune with the Music of the Spheres – the song of the Universe/God), we become “Maestro” – Master, Magician. This is the Great Work; the alchemical Transformation. This is the Goal of Human Existence.



Let’s now break down the Trifold Man into its three aspects, each of which are broken down further into three sub-aspects:


a) Physical body (the “matter”) which is the seen element and likened to the mineral world, which relates to the state of death. 

b) Etheric/Life Body (the “living”) which is the unseen element behind the seen, likened to the plant world, which he relates to the state of unconsciousness.

c) Astral Body (the “spark”) which is consciousness, making humans different from the plants and minerals, giving us motion, emotion, sensitivity, and opening us up to stellar influences. When we sleep, our Astral body leaves our physical body (the Etheric body remains with the physical body during sleep) and returns to the “spirit world” – the Source – to be replenished and nourished, ready for another day when we wake up, returned to our bodies, rested.  This body is likened to the animal world, which Steiner relates to the state of subconsciousness.


II) THE SOUL: aka the “Ego” or the “I” - 

This can get a little tricky, because the Soul is the Ego and the “I”, which work in tandem, yet Steiner gives them subtle differences. Nonetheless they all work as the Bridge/Vehicle I spoke of above, connecting Heaven and Earth/ Divine and Human/Macro and Micro. The vehicle of the “I” (individuality), which “travels across” this bridge, is the Ego (self-awareness). To further complicate things, there is a sort of overlap between the Soul and the most subtle of the Bodies, the Astral. I suppose this overlap is what actually is the “physical” – if we can use that word – connection between these individuated parts of Self.

Here’s an alchemical way of looking at it: The Ego is the Fire element – the spark of consciousness which illuminates man intellectually and enlivens his/her mind. The “I” is the Water element – the drop of the Divine from the Divine’s ocean; the God within, the Hidden Name, the Private Self.




When we combine the fire and the water symbols, we get the 6-pointed star, or the Star of David as it is often known, which is also the symbol of the Anahata chakra – the Heart Center.



The Heart Center is in fact the energetic bridge between the lower and upper chakras, between the carnal and the spiritual energy centers of the body.



The anahata is also frequently related to Christ, who said of himself, “I am the Way…no one gets to the Father except through me.” This clearly relates the Bridge/Vehicle symbol to me.



The Soul is what Steiner calls the “enduring quality” of the human being. It is the element of the human being which is permanent. It is responsible for our memories, for bringing in experiences from the phenomenal world and making them our own; in other words, relevant to our personal mythos and learning. Thus it is responsible for our individuality,  and relates it to the state of self-consciousness.


Here’s how the breakdown goes:

a) Soul plus the Astral Body is called Sentient Soul

b) Soul plus the Ego is called Intellectual/Mind Soul (alchemical Fire)

c) Soul plus “I” is called Conscious/Spiritual Soul (alchemical Water)

The Ego and the “I” are uniquely human. Self-awareness creates a sense of unity in one’s life (past memory and present state of being) so that we can continue to build upon our experiences. They help us interpret perceptions we take in through our senses.

The Soul is considered the “Holy of Holies” in that nothing external to our own selves has access to it.



The Spirit level of our Selves is about Mastery. It exists regardless of our ability to Master ourselves, but when we are able to consciously take the reigns of our Spirit – fully responsible – we are Fully Human. This is the level of being human we are intended to evolve into. A fully aligned Self with our Spirit is the second birth – the true meaning of being “born again in the spirit.” You might also call this enlightenment in the most literal sense of the word, infusing light (the fire element: awareness, intellect, our mind) with our Spirits.

Steiner speaks of three “veils” that are penetrated, the first being the veil of the Astral body, which is the easiest to penetrate because it is the most subtle. The veils become increasingly more difficult to enlighten because of their increasing density.

a) Spirit-Self (aka manas) – Combining Ego with Astral Body/”The Spark”

When the individual (the “I”) by way of the soul (“Ego”) works upon the Astral body, it (the Astral body) becomes transformed through self-awareness and active, participatory will. The mastery on this level is control of emotions and animal drives.

b) Life-Spirit (aka Budhi) – Combining Ego with Etheric Body/”The Living”

When the individual (the “I”) by way of the soul (“Ego”) acts upon the Etheric body via powerful impressions such as religion and art forms, we achieve the mastery of our temperament and the way experiences dictate who we are and how we behave.

c) Spirit-Man (aka Atman) – Combining Ego with Physical Body/”The Matter”

This is the highest level of human achievement required if the human is to master his/herself. This is Alchemical Mastery, the ultimate magical power on Earth, mastery over matter.  This is the 3rd Veil, which is the hardest to enlighten because, of course, matter is the most dense part of ourselves/creation.


The entire process of the Trifold Man is one of Spiritual Initiation, which can be summed up as thus: The conscious (active/aware) participation with our own spiritual evolution by transforming our Astral Body into the Spirit-Self and the Etheric Body into the Life-Spirit. This is all accomplished via the workings of the “I”/Ego upon the Soul, which, through the Astral Body, is connected to our Physical Bodies. Once fully transformed, we become Spirit-Man, master of our own incarnation with the ability to work directly with the Father and the Son for the spiritual evolution of both humanity and the entire Cosmos. This is ultimate freedom, and is also ultimate cooperation with “God’s Will.” It is conscious universal participation. As Spirit-Man, we are co-creators, helping to evolve humanity and the cosmos itself!


Phew! You got all that?

This entry was posted in Alchemy and Magic, Anthroposophy, Religion, Spirituality, Mysticism, The Great Work and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to THE TRIFOLD MAN: Steiner’s Soul Structure

  1. Nicholas Katranis says:

    thanks Liz! xo

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