The Etheric Formative Forces

from The Etheric Formative Forces
in Cosmos, Earth & Man

by Guenther Wachsmuth, 1932

There are altogether seven etheric primal forces, formative forces, active in the cosmos; of these, however, only four reveal themselves in the space-and-time processes of our present phenomenal world. In what follows, therefore, we shall deal only with these four etheric formative forces.

Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophical science designates these four kinds of ether as:—

  • Warmth Ether,
  • Light Ether,
  • Chemical Ether (or Sound Ether), and
  • Life Ether.

The four kinds of ether may be classified in two groups, and this distinction is of fundamental importance for the understanding of all that is to follow: — The first two, Warmth Ether and Light Ether, have the tendency to expand, the impulse to radiate out from a given central point; they act centrifugally; whereas the other two, Chemical Ether and Life Ether, have the tendency to draw in toward a centre, the impulse to concentrate all in a given central point; their action is suctional, centripetal. This polarity of the two ether groups—the centrifugal, radiating, self-expanding will, and the suctional, centripetal will to draw inward, to concentrate—is an ultimate elemental principle lying at the bottom of all natural phenomena.

Warmth Ether tends towards the spherical form

Warmth Ether tends towards the spherical form. If it were merely a conveyer of “motion,” then it could in turn call forth only motion in a substance-medium in which it works.

Since, however, the tendency to cre­ate spherical forms is inseparably linked with its action, therefore it calls forth, wherever it enters into Nature and is not obstructed in its action, spherical forms. We are here dealing—and this must again and again be emphasized—not with abstract dead oscillations of unknown origin, but with concrete formative forces.

elf light

The second ether state is that of Light Ether, or, more simply, of that which is given to the physical perception of man as “light”. As Lenard says, light gave us the first intimation of the existence of ether, and he thinks “Light is undoubtedly a transverse wave motion: that is, in a beam of light and perpendicular to its direction—never merely backward and forward displacements in the same direction with the beam, as is the case in sound waves—there are present periodically shifting states. Optical researches by no means recent—for instance, those in regard to polarization of light, have already shown the transverse character of light waves. In the course of time we have learned to recognize still other ether waves which are invisible: ultra-violet, ultra-red, and electric waves; but these as a group have the same characteristics as light waves, differing only in their lengths.” That the “characteristics” are similar, the lengths different, may satisfy us so long as we are testing in a one-sided and arbitrary fashion the quantitative-mechanical action in the substance medium; but in this way we learn nothing whatever in regard to the natures and the concrete distinctions of the different kinds of ether. The Light Ether to which we refer, which calls forth for the human eye in the manner to be explained later the phenomenon of light, does in fact induce among other things a transverse oscillation; but in addition to what has been said above we must add that this occurrence describes the figure of a triangle, so that Light Ether, as we shall see, when it can exert its effect unhindered in Nature, also produces there triangular forms, whereas Warmth Ether produces spherical forms. We may say, then, that an oscillation, a form which is caused by Light Ether in a substance-medium, takes the shape of a triangle.

Chemical Ether, Tone or Sound Ether

The third ether is Chemical Ether, Tone or Sound Ether. Its forces, that is, cause the chemical processes, differentiations, dissolutions, and unions of substances; but also — though, as it were, through activities in another field — its forces transmit to us the tones perceptible to the senses. The inner kinship of these two spheres of action will be clear to us from the phenomenon of Chladni’s sound-forms. For it is tone which causes the uniting together, the orders and forms, of substance and bodies of substance. “That which the physically audible tone produces then in the dust is happening everywhere in space. Space is interpenetrated by waves produced by the forces of Chemical Ether,” which, in the manner of the Chladni dust figures, dissolve and unite substances. But Chemical Ether has in reality “a tone-and-sound nature of which sensible sound, or tone heard by the physical ear, is only an outward expression: that is, an expression which has passed through air as a medium.”

We must establish the fact that tone and chemical processes are to be attributed to the same ether in the manner explained.

Chemical Ether, when it can exert itself unhindered in Nature, produces, as we shall be shown concretely, half-moon forms.

In contrast with the expansive kinds of ether—warmth and Light Ether—Chemical Ether, as we have said, tends in its action to be centripetal.

It may also be proved that the phenomenon of cold is one of those attributes which are to be ascribed to Chemical Ether, a fact which is essential for an understanding of the relation between processes of cold and of contraction.

ELF Life Ether

The fourth ether is Life Ether. It is phylogenetically the most highly evolved ether, and therefore in its qualities most varied and compli­cated. It is that which is rayed out to us, among other things, from the sun and then modified in its action by the atmosphere of the earth. Life Ether, together with Chemical Ether, belongs to the group of suctional forces, those which tend to draw inwards. We shall also be able to prove its relation to that which is called “gravitation” and to the phenomenon of magnetism.

Its form-building tendency, when it can exert its effect unhindered in substance, leads to square shapes, expressed, for instance, in crystallizing salt.