Cosmic Evolution of Substances

The origin of all substances in the present Earth is the primeval warmth from which a polar evolution of substances has started. On one side we have cosmic processes of condensation of the element fire into ever denser conditions of air, water (fluid element) and earth (solid element). On the other side we have the processes of gradual ‘rarefaction’ of warmth ether into further etheric conditions of light, sound or chemistry, and life. This twofold evolution has brought to the seven conditions of matter on the present Earth: the solid, the fluid, the gaseous, the warmth ether, light ether, chemical ether and the life ether.

Evolution of Earthly and Cosmic Substances

According to science, all substances existing today came out of "an extremely hot and dense state" [1], an infinitely condensed point, which one scientist named 'the primeval atom' [2]. After the Big Bang we have the following succession: extremely rapid expansion of energy and forming of subatomic particles (within a second) – much slower forming of atoms of hydrogen and helium – extremely slow process of synthesis of heavier elements while the gaseous clouds are cooling down (in millions of years). We could summarize this evolution of substances in the following way: out of the explosion of cosmic fire we get first gas, which then condenses and forms heavier, liquid and solid conditions of matter.

According to cosmic evolution from a spiritual-scientific perspective, there were three previous states of the universe, called Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon, before the present state of the Earth came into existence. "First we have the Saturn existence, inweaving in the fiery element. Then comes the Sun existence, with its addition of the airy element. But in Occult Science [3] you can read how with the addition of the air something else is associated. The fine warmth element of Saturn condenses to a gaseous element. But every such densification is accompanied by a counter-process of refinement. Condensation to the gaseous element is a descending process, but on the other side there is an ascent to the light element. Thus, speaking of the transition from Saturn to Sun, we must say that Saturn still weaves solely in the element of warmth, whereas during the Sun evolution something denser, the gaseous element, is added, but so also is light. The light element makes it possible for the warmth and the air to manifest themselves in outward radiance." [4]

In the first phase of cosmic evolution – on Old Saturn – there existed only the cosmic fire. It is the primeval substance out of which all other substances have developed. On Old Sun we have already three states of matter – warmth, air and light. In the consequent cosmic condition, on Old Moon, part of the air condensed further into the element of water; parallel to this the chemical ether (also called sound/tone ether or number ether) came into existence. In this phase of cosmic evolution we have all together five kinds of matter. On the present Earth, part of the water element condensed into the element of earth; parallel to this came into existence life ether. Thus we have on the present earth seven types of matter, each having its own specific characteristics.

Seven Conditions of Matter

According to physical science we have four fundamental states of matter: solid, liquid, gaseous, and plasma[5] The state of any physical substance is determined by temperature. In spiritual science we characterize these states as four earthly conditions of matter (also called 'four elements'):

Above these we have four spiritual/etheric conditions of substance:

Thus we can say that "in ordinary life we differentiate the solid, the fluid and the gaseous or airy. Spiritual-scientific writings add to these, four other finer conditions of matter. The first element which is finer than the air is the one which causes it to expand, which always increases its spatial content. What expands the air in this way is warmth; it is really a fine etheric substance, the first grade of ether, the warmth ether. Now follows the second kind of ether, the light ether. Bodies which shine send out a form of matter which is described in spiritual science as light ether. The third kind of ether is the bearer of everything which gives form to the finest matter; this is the formative ether, which is also called the chemical ether. It is this ether which brings about the union of oxygen and hydrogen. And the finest of all the ethers is that which constitutes life: prana, or life ether." [6]

The nature of ethers can be grasped gradually when we observe carefully and patiently beings, phenomena and substances in the world which surrounds us. For example, "when we enumerate what we call the elemental conditions on earth we begin with the solid element and follow that with water, gas or air, and then warmth. These constitute as it were the densest conditions of matter. But these are not all of them. If we ascend further we meet with finer conditions, but just calling them finer substances does not tell us much about them. The main thing is to recognize them as relatively finer than the denser ones of gas, warmth, and so on. They are usually called etheric conditions, and we have always described light as the first above the warmth. So if we descend from warmth into the next stage below it in density we come to gas, and if we ascend we come to light.

Going up a stage beyond light we come to an even finer etheric condition, to something which is not actually directly there in the ordinary sense world. We are only presented with a kind of external reflection of it. From the occult point of view one can say that the forces in this finer ether are those which govern the chemical affinities and combinations of material substances, the organization of matter such as we can observe if, for instance, we place a fine powder on a metal plate and then draw a violin bow down the edge of the plate and obtain the so-called Chladni's plate-patterns. Space is differentiated, and is filled with the movement of forces which are more rarefied than light. So when we ascend from warmth to light and from there to this finer element, we can speak of a chemical or sound ether, which contains the forces to differentiate matter, to separate and combine substances, but in reality is of the nature of sound of which the sense perceptible sound heard by the ear is only the outward expression, namely the expression of its passage through the air.

If we ascend from the sound ether to an even higher, more rarefied etheric condition we come to the finest etheric state of all, weaving within the sound or chemical ether. This even finer ether permeates the sound ether just as the sound our mouth utters is permeated with the meaning of our thought, turning the sound into word. Try to compre­hend what it is that makes a sound into a meaningful word, and then you will have a picture of this finer etheric element moving cosmically through the organizing universal sound, giving it meaning, as it reverberates in space as the creative Word. This Word, streaming through space, pouring itself into the sound ether, is the source of life, is vigorous, vibrant, life." [7]

Fire element and warmth ether are two sides of the same condition which is the bridge between earthly and cosmic substances. For that reason "we differentiate in nature the solid, the fluid, the gaseous, the warmth ether, light ether, chemical ether and the life ether. These are seven stages of matter." [8]

Ethers can be characterized as cosmic formative forces because of their nature, in that they provide a supersensible matrix for the existence of the various kingdoms of nature. Ethers are basically cosmic forces, the sources of life energy. But they can also be in a more passive state as spiritual substances. This should not surprise us, for we can encounter this twofold nature of substances and forces also in the physical realm, where we have substances which exist in a state of matter or in a state of energy. This double polarity of substances and forces can be seen in the Yin – Yang symbol. [9]

Yang refers to active and heavenly – that is, spiritual forces. Yin refers to passive and earthly – that is, substances. And each of them contains also its opposite. This means that in earthly substances which are essentially passive (Yin) there is hidden an active nature (energy). In a similar manner we can find passive nature (substance) also in the spiritual realm where there is otherwise the dominant active (Yang) principle of world existence.


  1. Wikipedia/Big Bang, May 2012
  2. As above
  3. Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science – An Outline, Rudolf Steiner Press, UK, 2009 (or An Outline of Esoteric Science, Anthroposophic Press, 1997)
  4. Rudolf Steiner, Munich, 18.08.1910, Genesis – Secrets of Creation, Rudolf Steiner Press, UK, 2002
  5. Wikipedia/Plasma (physics), March 2013
  6. Rudolf Steiner, Foundations of Esotericism, Berlin, 30.09.1905
  7. See note 4
  8. Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 3.11.1905;
  9. Yin-Yang symbol is the fruit of traditional Chinese spiritual understanding of the world and has rich and manifold meanings, but at its core is the complementary polarity of two cosmic principles or systems of forces, between heavenly and earthly forces. If we use spiritual-scientific terminology, we can translate it into polarity between ethers and elements.