The four ethers
Whereas you can perceive the elements as external phenomena, you
can’t perceive the ethers directly. You can, however,
perceive their effects through the elements. The elements are found on
earth; they are bound to it and attracted to it. This is most clearly
the case for the solid element, least so for the warmth element.
The opposite is true for the ethers. They arise from the environment
and their effect runs counter to that of the earth’s
gravitation. They work from the cosmos, and attract earthly matter. An
example of such an ether working from the cosmos is light. You can
observe the force of light when a seed germinates into a plant, which
starts to grow and elongate upwards, breaks through the asphalt surface
and grows towards the light. The plant grows away from the earth and
towards the light, that is, towards the cosmos. Light gives the plant
power to overcome gravity. The etheric force overcomes the weight of
There are four types of ether: warmth
ether, light ether, chemical or tone ether and life ether:
ether is the etheric side of warmth: the inner,
impulse-creating warmth or the warmth of enthusiasm that occurs as the
intention that underlies actions. Its elemental counterpart is fire, or
externally perceivable warmth. Warmth ether and warmth as an element
are closely related.
ether illuminates everything and makes all material things
visible. It is also the force which makes plants grow upwards and makes
people stand and walk upright. Light ether corresponds to the air
or tone ether is the force that structures the development
of phenomena and can be seen, for instance, in the natural succession
of plant communities. Chemical ether corresponds to the water
ether is the force that makes an object and its
environment appear as a unified whole. It is the force that unifies an
object’s course of life. Life ether corresponds to the earth
Warmth is the most rarefied element, and is more like a quality than
like a substance. It represents the transition between the elements and
the ethers, and shares features with both. Warmth as an element can be
perceived as the external heat of objects
and as body temperature. This warmth is produced when material
substances are burned.
Warmth as an ether is the inner, impulse-creating warmth, which incites
activity and which arises when you become enthusiastic about
(‘warm up to’) something. It arises within yourself
and has no material features. This is the warmth you need to proceed to
action. Because it incites action, warmth ether points towards the
Warmth ether is characterised by impulse-creation
Light makes everything visible by illuminating material things. You
can’t see anything in a dark place, but as soon as the light
is switched on, you can see things and you are surrounded by a
colourful environment filled with objects. Light delineates objects and
enables you to see their spatial boundaries. You can’t see
light itself; you can only perceive its presence through the objects
and the air it illuminates.
Another characteristic of light is that it radiates from a source. The
light diminishes with the distance from the source, as it is scattered
in space. As the amount of light increases, the illuminated space
becomes larger. Light is linear, can be split up into two beams by an
object placed in its path, and can’t turn corners. Nor can it
fill a void around a corner, unlike air.
Light ether induces growth and elongation (plants grow towards the
light; bones in animals and humans grow and elongate under the
influence of vitamin D, whose production is stimulated by light) and
makes space expand. Light draws your gaze outward, to the objects. This
shows you that light ether attracts. As seen from within the object
(matter), it is a process of elongation; as seen from the periphery
(ether), it is a matter of attraction.
Because there is light, there is also darkness. Light ether works
between the poles of light and darkness, with the colours of twilight
in between. Between light and darkness there is an area that, on the
one hand, has qualities that are mixtures of the two poles (half-light)
and, on the other hand, has qualities of its own (such as colours).
Light ether is characterised by
delineation and the creation of space;
linearity and attraction; and polarisation.
Chemical or tone
Chemical or tone ether is the type of ether that separates and
connects. Its effect is perhaps most clearly seen in music. Music
consists of individual notes of different lengths, which do not merge
into one another. The intervals (½, ¼, ⅜, ⅝,
etc.) and the frequencies or pitch values of the notes have fixed
proportions. If these proportions didn’t exist and notes were
arbitrary or merged into each other, music would be impossible. In
addition, music needs a musician, who imagines the music in his or her
mind. If a musician just plays notes, you won’t hear music.
It’s only when the musician imagines the music, that is,
hears it inside his or her head before playing or singing it, that you
hear music. This is the effect of tone ether. Music is thus based on a
force that separates and, at the same time, recombines what was
separated in a harmonious way. Tone ether works through proportions,
distances and measures. It separates and recombines, creating a unified
Chemical substances also show certain fixed ratios between the chemical
elements themselves, as well as in compounds like salts, acids and
proteins. That’s why this type of ether is also known as
chemical ether. This ether plays a role in all processes where things
are separated and then recombined in new and harmonious proportions.
The chemical or tone ether is characterised by the concepts of separating,
structuring, creating proportions and harmonising.
Life ether is the life force of organisms. It is the force that creates
organic units that are more than the sum of their parts, and in which
each component is an integral part of the whole. It is the ether which
causes delineation as well as integration. It causes the whole to be
visible in each component. It also ensures that each component
readjusts to the whole when an organism changes. Life ether
doesn’t reject anything and adjusts everything to the whole.
It ensures that a changing organism remains recognisable as an
individual. In that sense, it provides the continuity and individuality
in a ‘biography’. It is also the force that allows
an organism to endure and remain itself, thus maintaining the
organism’s integrity. Hence, this ether can restore an
organism’s health, by healing wounds and making them
disappear completely in due time.
Life ether is the force that ensures that:
- an organism is a spatially defined, indivisible
- an organism is and remains itself, even after changes
- an organism is an individual;
- all its components are expressions of the whole and
their proper place and function from the whole.
Life ether affects
the individual. It is the principle that creates
integration and individuality.
As we have seen, the observational attitudes relating to the elements
centre on the object. The elements of earth, water, air and warmth have
led you from external observations of the object to inward observation
of the symbolic image. Since it’s impossible to go any
further inward, you then need to turn your perspective outward again.
The ethers help you focus on the influence that the environment has on
the object. You now need to ask yourself: what is the nature of the
object’s environment and how does it affect the object?
The term environment is used in a broad sense here, including the
spatial environment as such as well as its development in time and
important events that have occurred in the environment and have
decisively influenced the object’s development.
You can only understand the appearance of a common oak by also
examining its environment. The oak is shaped by its environment and in
turn shapes that environment. You can see the oak as the combined
outcome of the potential qualities that were present in the seed and
the influence of its environment. The oak will show different levels of
vigour on different soils, and will take on a broader shape in an open
field than in a forest. If its environment has dried up over time, or
if the forest has been thinned at any stage, the tree will show this.
The consequences of a direct hit by lightning or coppicing will remain
visible for a long time and will decisively influence the
On a sunny day in spring, you’re taking a stroll through a
flat, semi-open landscape with pastures and fields. You can’t
see very far, as there are groves and shrubs all around limiting the
view. You’re walking along a road lined with trees, whose
tops overarch the road like a tunnel, filtering the sunlight. Along the
sides of the road, the branches hang very low, but there is more
headroom along the middle. The leaves are denser and darker on the
outside of the treetops. The beeches look healthy. You hear thrushes
and tits singing, and a woodpecker is hammering on a tree trunk. The
smooth tree trunks are about 50 cm in diameter, and show overgrown
scars where branches have been sawn off, as well as holes probably made
by woodpeckers. After you have walked along the lane for a while, you
notice a manor house at its end.
You can now distinguish the effects of the various ethers:
ether reveals that the trees have a different shape
and differently coloured leaves on the outside than at the centre. The
vitality of the trees is also an aspect of the relationship between
object and environment: the trees are in a suitable place.
Bockemühl called the relationship between the tree-lined road
and its environment the ‘context of phenomena’,
that is, the relationship between an object and its spatial
ether reveals an object’s past: smooth
trunks, overgrown scars and woodpecker holes. These relationships
across time are called ‘context of
ether reveals the significance of the lane, namely as a
sightline for the manor house. This is known as the ‘context
of life’, that is, the cohesion within an object’s
course of life or ‘biography’.
Ethers are not
visible, and the same is true for the
‘contexts’, that is, the relationships and
cohesions. You can, however, imagine them. After you have imagined
them, you may think you can see them, but this is always a matter of
interpretation. If you change your perspective, you may well come up
with different relationships, which might be just as valid as the other