By Douglas Gabriel, Author
Image: Louise Marquis Stirring the Ether 2011
“Etheric forces, working in fourfold collaboration, are the true forces of life.” – Ernst Marti, The Four Ethers
In my recent studies of the etheric realm in preparation for the publishing of The Eternal Ethers, a most valuable resource was not available to me. A second volume on the ethers by Ernst Marti became available in 2017, after The Eternal Ethers went to press. The second book, The Etheric: Broadening Science through Anthroposophy – Volume 1: The World of the Ethers by Ernst Marti, Translated by Paul King, Temple Lodge Publishing, 2017, brought new insights and beautiful descriptions of the ethers that had not been included in his first book.
There is even a Volume 2 in the works that will address the etheric formative forces found throughout the world. Ernst Marti was considered a recognized expert in this newly found field of etheric science. As a doctor, Marti was familiar with Rudolf Steiner’s indications about the etheric body in health and illness as well as natural science. Marti held a key position in spreading Dr. Steiner’s indications concerning the ethers and the etheric formative forces.
Ernst Marti was born in Switzerland in 1903, and studied medicine in Vienna and Basel. He worked as a doctor in Solothorn and Arlesheim, Switzerland, where he met Ita Wegman, one of Dr. Steiner’s closest students. She entrusted Marti with the task of researching the etheric forces, to which he then devoted his whole life. He worked for more than forty years as a doctor in Basel and founded the Society of Anthroposophical Doctors in Germany. He gave many lectures and courses for doctors as well as the general public, and wrote numerous essays and papers that were published in specialist periodicals. He died at the Ita Wegman Clinic in 1985.
Marti devoted his life to researching the “etheric realm”, a subtle area that exists between the physical and spiritual. Taking the numerous statements and references by Rudolf Steiner as his starting point, Marti developed the understanding of the etheric world in various fields―from the theory of knowledge to the natural world, to music, color, eurythmy, and medicine. Marti built bridges from the ancient and medieval worldview to the present and future of natural and spiritual science.
In The Etheric, Marti explores the fourfold realm of the ethers. Giving an overview of their cosmic origins in the evolution of the earth, Dr. Marti shows how the ethers work in phenomena of warmth, light, sound, and organic life. He brings a contemporary understanding and insight to the classical elements―fire, air, water, and earth―as the media through which the etheric manifests and works in the world. Four physical forces are also explored which, as opposites of the ethers, have a constant tendency to break down and annul what life-giving ether creates. Dr. Marti studies the shadow aspects of the ethers connected to what he terms the ‘sub-natural’ forces of electricity, magnetism, and nuclear force.
The Four Ethers by Ernst Marti
Marti’s first book became a standard in the field of ether studies and tried to correct some of the shortcomings of the other books on the ethers at the time. His book is a classic that you can find for free on the internet. Bio-dynamic farmers consider it a bible for their work in the realm of the etheric – the realm of plants. Marti’s classic: The Four Ethers: Contributions to Rudolf Steiner’s Science of the Ethers Elements-Ethers-Formative Forces, translated by Eva Lauterbach and James Langbecker, Schaumburg Publications, 1984, is still a wonderful introduction to Steiner’s ideas on the ethers.
The debate of his time is clearly demonstrated in Marti’s introduction to the book that highlights the differences in Marti’s approach to the etheric formative forces found in Guenther Wachsmuth’s ideas.
From the introduction to The Four Ethers:
The following two essays were published in Contributions to an Enhancement of the Art of Healing Based on Insights Gained by Spiritual Science, (Stuttgart, 13th and 19th year, 1960 and 1966 respectively). Because of the continued demand for these essays, they are offered here in an expanded form. A part of a new article on the etheric has been added. These three essays now comprise a comprehensive portrayal of the four ethers based on the indications provided by Rudolf Steiner. They are concerned with a fundamental question of the knowledge of nature and the world as seen from the anthroposophical point of view— a question posed in a particular way by Guenther Wachsmuth in his book: The Etheric Formative Forces in Cosmos, Earth, and Man published in 1924. This book seemed to have solved the problem by depicting the ethers as formative forces. Actually, the question of whether the ethers and formative forces are indeed one and the same was not even investigated.
Wachsmuth’s concept of the ethers as formative forces became the basis for all anthroposophic work concerning the knowledge of nature and man from the time of Rudolf Steiner’s death (1925) until today. Rudolf Steiner called the essence of life in plant, animal, and man “etheric” or “life body,” and presented it as such. Later, he added the term “body of formative forces.” These three terms pertain to the same object; however, each refers to a different content and context, much as one might say about a house: It is built of stone or wood, has this or that kind of rooms, is an office building or a home. It is the same building, first considered in terms of its materials, then in terms of its layout, and lastly in terms of its purpose. Likewise, the expression “etheric body” refers more to the substance of the life body, “life body” to the life-giving functions, and “body of formative forces” more to the shape or form-giving forces. With each of these terms the object “etheric body” is considered in a different relationship with the other world phenomena.
Heretofore, Wachsmuth’s presentations have not been critically examined. When my first essay “Concerning the Necessary Distinction Between the Etheric Formative Forces and the Ethers” was published, Wachsmuth published a rebuttal. His essay, however, did not contain an objective argument either for the correctness of his viewpoint or the error in mine. Because of the uncritical acceptance of Wachsmuth’s views, his error has passed into a large part of anthroposophical literature.
Rudolf Steiner himself did not give a systematic presentation of the ethers and the formative forces. However, there is such a wealth of detail pertaining to them in his lectures and books that it is almost impossible to survey them all. Each time he presented them from one viewpoint or another depending on the respective context of the themes of general anthroposophical, medical.
A Summary of The Four Ethers
The following is a summary of Ernst Marti’s classic book on the etheric formative forces, The Four Ethers, taken from my book, The Eternal Ethers. The author presents this summary as an introduction to Marti’s ideas to lay a foundation for his further remarks on the ethers found in his second book. As you will see from the summary, Marti creates a clear and living Imagination of the forces, beings, and elements that must work together to bring life to birth on earth through the dynamic working of the ethers.
A comprehensive overview of Marti’s understanding of the nature of the ethers and their essential importance is outlined below to build a picture of his insight.
Ernst Marti shows the polarity of the ethers manifesting in space and time through the scheme of the seven dimensions as taught by Rudolf Steiner. He also creates an overview of the dynamic between the ethers that allows the reader to find his way to the direct soul experience of each one. He tells the story of the manifestation of the ethers that is the same story as the spiritual development of humanity. Marti’s insights are unique and go further than perhaps any other anthroposophist to create a topology of the etheric world.
Modern science does not recognize the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth. The solid, liquid, and gaseous forms of matter are not elements. The Greek concept of nature was based on the recognition of the four elements. Somewhat as a fifth, ether was added. Aristotle said of ether: “It is that which is different from earth, water, air, and fire; it is eternal and eternally revolves in a circle.” The elements have their origin in the center, the ethers in the periphery. The former are central, the latter peripheral; the former are point-like, individual; the latter universal, comprehensive. Mathematically speaking, one could say they relate to each other like plus and minus, positive and negative.
In the same way that the substances are connected with the forces of the stars, so, too, are the formative forces. The shape of man’s body is formed by the forces of the zodiacal stars. The expression “etheric body” refers more to the substance of the life body, “life body” to the life-giving functions, and “body of formative forces” more to the shape or form-giving forces. With each of these terms the object “etheric body” is considered in a different relationship with the other world phenomena.
Substances and formative forces are born of the stars: substances are born physically, formative forces etherically. What we separate in our thinking meets us united in reality. Nature’s beings bear form and substance as a unity: they are formed substance. The etheric formative force has descended into what can be perceived by the senses, and there produces the form. What in its own realm is pure force and movement, here becomes form at rest. The elements only appear clothed by a substance, the ethers only by a formative force. Physics deals with them in thermodynamics, aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, mechanics, etc. Technology, medicine, agriculture, and other disciplines work with the elements.
None of the four principles: formative force, form, process, or substance occur isolated in nature. Process and formative force are related as are form and substance in the sensory world.
When one speaks of etheric body or formative forces body, they are two views of the same thing. The foursome of—formative force, form, process, and substance provides the basis for understanding nature and man according to spiritual science. They themselves are again like four elements or sources. They are the four archetypal factors of existence.
Warmth is not spatial, it is zero-dimensional. The Old Saturn consists only of warmth/fire. Warmth is “intensive movement.” The opposite is extensive movement which presupposes space, which does not exist until the Old Sun. On Old Saturn, warmth and fire are not separated, they are a single mobile unity; separation also presupposes space. On Old Saturn time originates, as space does on Old Sun. Warmth brings time into appearance. One can nevertheless attempt somewhat to differentiate warmth/fire. Warmth-ether is the birth of time; fire is its dying away. They are like future and past interpenetrating each other. In the present, warmth creates time, makes time. In Saturn’s warmth, there is no matter because matter requires space.
Light-ether is the expanding force that creates space; warmth ether is the ripening and approaching of time (which works together with fire and the waning warmth). One can characterize these ethers’ collaboration as space creation within a span of time.
Tone or chemical-ether can be characterized as that principle which separates, creates distances, forms nodes, makes buoyant versus heavy, harmonizes, and creates order. Measure, number, and weight have their origins in water and tone.
Life-ether is the force of self-permeation in an inward direction, of inner self-assertion, of inner integration. It does not reject, but absorbs, thereby providing the basis for assimilation.
Life ether heals.
It creates a whole, a healthiness.
It replenishes, restores each part to another whole.
Life ether enlivens and individualizes in such a way that complete organisms develop which enclose themselves in a skin, permeate themselves as a unity, and form and structure themselves.
Life ether forms living bodies.
Matter and space mutually determine each other. During the evolution of earth, space first appeared on Old Sun. Only from then on can one speak of matter. The first material substances to arise were light and air. Spiritual science points out that all substance is condensed light. Light and air behave towards each other in a negative and positive manner. The ethers relate to the elements as active to passive. Negative matter is also matter in active form.
In this way one arrives at the concepts of process and matter. Therefore, we must distinguish, for example, silica and the silica process, gold and the gold process. By gathering all characteristics of the elements and ethers and looking at them from the viewpoint of positive and negative matter, insights into the problem of matter and process come about.
The elements represent the physical.
The ethers represent the etheric.
The physical is lifeless.
The etheric is that which is alive.
In the living organism, all elements and ethers are working together. Singly, the elements and ethers are active inorganically, physically. In a living being the elements make up the physical body, the ethers make up the etheric body. In the universe, they make up the body of the earth and the body of the universe. Both are living organisms.
Earth exists through the mutual interpenetration of etheric body and physical body. It ends when they separate. Then, the physical body disintegrates and becomes a part of the whole earth. In the same way, the etheric body dissolves and becomes absorbed by the periphery of the universe. What is it that appears through the working together of light ether and chemical ether?
Light ether creates space. Tone ether separates and creates order. The growing plant does not remain only a simple line, a bare stem. It sprouts leaves, twigs, flowers, fruits. Visualize a tomato plant. A finely structured object in space has developed. Light ether and tone or chemical ether allow the structure of space to appear. Segments develop. Segments are separations and arrangements within one unit of space.
In music one can also speak of arrangements in segments which have a character relating more to time. They are, however, also structures in space, when they resound. Also belonging to reality are the forces of electricity, magnetism, and similar forces, which, according to their nature, are opposites of the ethers. They are not peripheral forces, connected with the periphery, but centric forces, exerting their influence out of the earth, as if from the earth’s center, from “below,” as the ethers exert their influence from “above,” from the world’s periphery.
The Beautiful Language of the Ethers
Ernst Marti’s descriptions of the ethers presented above carried the work of Guenther Wachsmuth further and made the ideas about the ethers more easily understood. Wachsmuth’s writing is difficult in translation and sounds more like a lawyer than a natural scientist. Wachsmuth’s book was approved by Steiner, but lacked refinement and application.
Wachsmuth had worked from the foundation laid by Rama Prashad in his book Nature’s Finer Forces, which caused quite a stir in its day; even being called “black magic” by H. P. Blavatsky. The debates raged on during Steiner’s day and he once said that Prasad was correct but that his teachings on the ethers should not become the path Westerners should take. Steiner also pointed out that Prasad’s “Science of Breath” involving the ethers could be dangerous.
In the selections below from Marti’s book, The Etheric, we can see that his ideas matured after he wrote his first book, The Ethers. Many years of experience as a doctor observing the forces and effects of the ethers brought great insight in Marti’s work. He learned to speak of the ethers as the mysterious forces that they are.
There are moments in his descriptions where he sounds like Novalis describing profound spiritual manifestations in our humble world. The clarity and power of the ideas are so distinct that the original words were kept intact. The sharp distinctions between ethers, forces, elements, and the beings who stand behind them are brought into stark relief in these new formulations of ether theories. There is no vagueness in Marti’s understanding of the ethers and their manifestation through time and space. His insight gives us a panoramic view of the ethers and shows us the refined details that we need to divine the ethers in nature and in our self.
Selections from Ernst Marti
Life is the province of the etheric.
The etheric is the basis for the phenomenon of life in plant, animal and man.
Three effects arise from life: the creation of an organism’s form, its own unique substance and the life processes as such.
Life is a supersensible reality.
The four elements are not matter; they are archetypal ideas of everything with regard to degree of density, consistency. Everything in nature is a differently blended manifestation of these four elements. Nature shows a layering of the elements.
Ether means ‘that which lights up, that which blazes.’ Aristotle says that ether is something quite different from elements, everlasting and eternally circling forming a limit to the vault of the heavens.
Creation of Ethers
The first stage consisted of fire, warmth-ether, and physical warmth; the second of fire, warmth-ether, physical warmth, light, air, and densification; the third of fire, warmth-ether, physical warmth, light, air, densification and the addition of time-ether, water and binding force. The fourth, our earth stage, consists of four elements, four ethers and four physical forces.
At each stage there is an extension of the manifest world. In the first stage, time appears; in the second, space; in the third, spatial movement; and in the fourth, form. Our earth condition embraces four ethers, four physical forces and four elemental states. This gives us four earthly physical forces: diminishing warmth, condensing, densifying darkness; mass-inducing binding forces; and fragmentation of striving to reduce to atoms.
Light is all outer effect, externalization. Just as expansive light creates and illumines space, so is the contrary concentrating, densifying physical force connected with darkness.
Matter is concentrated light.
When we look further at the relation of light to space, we find that light always proceeds from a source, a center, and shines out radially to a periphery. This is the nature of light – source and circumference.
Light is a force that behaves contrary to darkness. Its action is linear, radial, straight. Light cannot shine around a corner. Light-source, and light-limit at the colored surface, are connected by a straight line one-dimensionally. We could say: The light-force rays out away from a center and comes to rest on a surface which is the colored limit of light-space. In the organic realm, the light-ether has a radiant, brightening, suctional manifestation; it makes things visible by distinguishing surfaces from each other and generating space. The light-ether creates the periphery and thereby space itself, or more concisely: light-ether ‘spaces.’ In the organic realm light-ether as growth energy causes the ‘spatialness’ of living things.
Light-ether is an expansive, stretching, attenuating force, and the contrary physical force a densifying, compacting one. Light is brittle and can be split.
Light-ether is the extending, space-creating force.
The light-ether ‘space’ extends, sets boundaries, brightens, creates surfaces. The opposite force densifies, contracts, concentrates, darkens, creates ‘subfaces’ (density and darkness are the hallmarks of what we call matter).
Tone-ether divides, separates, creates intervals and spatial and numerical relationships – which is why it is called the number-ether. Tone-ether is active separation and union, the result of which is vibration. It is a dividing, differentiating, ordering, moving force. It creates nodes, it moves and concentrates matter and is the cause and impetus for movement, an agent arousing excitation through three primary movements: rotation, waves, and vibrations.
Through its activity the chemical number-ether nullifies weight in substances. Chemical ether is a force that opposes gravity; we can call it a force of lightness or levity in contrast to gravity. Chemical action is tone-ether’s principal mode of appearance. Harmonizing is the fundamental nature of tone-ether. It originates in the cosmic periphery. From there it penetrates the sense-perceptible world and can be perceived wherever levity, order, numerical laws, polarizations and symmetries occur in nature.
Tone-ether is an arousing force appearing as vibration; tone-ether harmonizes.
Tone-ether is found everywhere in the sense-perceptible world where levity, order, and numerical laws occur in nature.
It brings about separation and division, as well as distances and intervals. It is the agent that lifts into levity, divides, differentiates, creates relationships and movement in all living beings.
It is a force of harmony which is the basis of music and chemical processes. It is the force that divides, separates, creates intervals and rations, and orders. It demonstrates numeric properties and is the force of levity. It is an arousing, activating force that appears as vibration; it causes all movement, order and symmetry.
The opposite force to tone-ether is the ‘third force’ which nullifies all this.
It destroys all separation and differentiation.
It brings things to a uniform mass.
It reduces order to chaos, suspends all motion, annuls ‘individual space’ by heaping together into an inert mass.
It is the force which, because of its property of attraction, is usually call gravity (but this is only one aspect of this force). The question of mass and inertia is connected with this force of coherence. We can call it the mass-inducing force of gravitational pull.
Tone-ether divides in two, separates, orders, moves, creates numerical relationships and harmonies, polarities and symmetries. It generates levity. The opposite force wipes all this out, it isolates, creates uniformity, reduces order to chaos, suspends all movement, makes inert. It is the forces usually referred to as the force of attraction, as gravity – the force of holding in a grip, heaping, keeping immobile. The question of inertia and mass are connected with this.
The force that shapes organic form is life-ether which creates fully spatial, sculptural, changeable forms. Life-ether shapes the organism into the environment: the plant between earth and sky, the animal into the horizontal, the human being into the vertical.
Life-ether acts in the three dimensions of space, it models inwards from without, it sculpts and transforms content. The ability to assimilate and excrete lies with the life-ether. The wholeness-creating, healing force of life-ether permeates the entire body and makes it a living body in which everything is integrated into the activity of life-ether. The ‘whole’ created by life-ether – called an organism – is essentially an individuum, something indivisible.
Life-ether is the actual vitalizing and individualizing force that creates organic wholeness and heals wounded ones. It forms organisms sculpturally by creating a skin, and sustains integrity in every point of the organism. Life-ether creates living bodies – it ‘bodies.’
Life-ether sculpts and creates a living person (organism), an individual whole with variable form and metabolism. It heals. The opposite force functions mechanically and destroys form, volume and the solidity of the earth-element through fragmentation, splitting, breaking down to pieces and dust.
Warmth is an entity which stands at the outset of evolution. Warmth is primarily non-spatial, purely temporal, intensive movement. With the coming into being of warmth on Old Saturn ‘time’ also arose. Warmth-ether is generative time.
There are three aspects: warmth-ether, elemental warmth or the fire element, and physical warmth/heat. Warmth becomes, is, was – all at the same time, in every moment. This triad is clearly related to time: warmth-ether to the future, physical heat to the past, and fire-element to the present. These three bring ‘time’ to manifestation.
Time appears through extensive movement, through change and sequence. Warmth-ether creates, brings into being: it is the future aspect in organism.
Warmth-ether does not burn. It does not appear in heat phenomena. It generates and creates and causes things to come into being.
Warmth-ether is the force of coming-into-being, becoming, arising, force of future. Physical warmth/heat is the force of decay, termination, cessation, force of past.
Ethers in the Plant Realm
Light-ether is at work in expansion and extension. It brings about the size of the plant.
Tone-ether is active in the differentiation, ordering, in overcoming weight. It brings about structures in the organism.
The life-ether creates something whole, an individuum. It forms organs, the organism.
The warmth-ether determines maturity and organic time, and thereby the age of the plant. They are the creators of what is presented here conceptually as size, structures, organs, and age.
The four constructive forces are opposed by four destructive ones. The fragment and destroy the wholeness of the plant form, demolish the order of its structure, and cause its spatial manifestation to vanish. These forces are called earth forces, physical or geophysical forces that are real, opposing forces to the ethers.
Warmth-ether and chemical-ether result in a maturing chemistry – a process of maturation.
Between light-ether and life-ether we have the growing, metamorphosing whole – metamorphosis.
Ethers and Dimensions
On Old Sun, therefore, there was only one-dimensional space, which was one-dimensional positive through the air element and at the same time one-dimensionally negative through the light ether. On Old Moon space became two-dimensionally positive through the addition of the water-element, and simultaneously two-dimensionally negative through the sound-ether.
Only on earth did three-dimensional positive space arise through the earth-element, and tree-dimensional negative space through life ether.
Electricity and the Ethers
Electricity, magnetism, nuclear force and elementary particles do not belong to nature but to sub-nature which in non-dimensional.
The electricity that we use for our lighting, machines, etc., must be artificially drawn up out of the earth into which it constantly seeks to vanish. Electricity sets the boundary to dark space by collecting on its surface – which is a ‘subface.’ This is demonstrated in a capacitor.
From the surface, light-ether strives outwards and electricity inwards. Electricity and light-ether have the same speed. Light ether creates space by generating distance.
Distance is the one-dimensional relation between two points; with light-ether we can call it the source and the goal of the light beam. We find a duality likewise in electricity: positive and negative electricity. However, between these two we find a charge intent not on creating distance but on wiping it out, on annihilating space. The charge between positive and negative electricity integrates itself into the physical force of densification; but here, rather than leading to an increased density, it strives to cancel itself out.
It is dark space of positive matter that allows electricity to manifest in the sphere of nature.
Static electricity — densifying darkness
Magnetism — immobilizing force of inertia
Nuclear force — atomizing fragmentation
Magnetism and the Ethers
Rotation and mass are the conditions necessary for the manifestation of magnetism (e.g. the rotation of the earth or of a star). We have seen that the concept of mass belongs to the realm of the two-dimensional physical force (the ‘mass-inducing force of gravitational pull’), and the motion relates to the tone/chemical ether. At the level of elementary particles, magnetism arises as spin, the magnetic effect resulting from the spinning motion of elementary particles. It is the degenerate forces of the circling chemical-ether.
Magnetism is the opposite force to tone-ether. Magnetism permeates the physical force with a rigidifying power of order – the opposite of the vibrantly dynamic tone-ether. The movement impulse hidden in magnetism leads, when joined with electricity, to flowing electricity, to electromagnetism.
Nuclear Force and the Ethers
Nuclear force is life-ether pressed down into sub-nature. Acting three-dimensionally, life-ether is the healing force that creates wholes, individuals. In sub-nature, it manifests in degenerated form; it becomes a triune force that acts non-dimensionally, creating atoms (electron, proton, neutron).
In nature, life-ether is the greatest, most all-encompassing, all-creative force. Nuclear force is the most powerful, all-destructive, non-dimensional point-force.
We hope that by now you have enkindled a warm place in your heart concerning the ethers and their crucial part in our life. Studying the ethers is tantamount to unveiling the forces and powers of the future that will one day be understood to be the creative principals that drive the living forces of nature and give humans the life body upon which they build their individual consciousness. There is hardly a natural science subject that is more important than the ethers because they directly impact every person on the earth.
To understand our past and our future we need to understand the role the ethers play in our human spiritual evolution. A complete cosmology is impossible without understanding the ethers and the beings who have donated and activated these forces, elements, and ethers. Understanding the ethers central role in human spiritual evolution will continue to grow as we learn more about the akasha-ether, the unfallen tone-ether, and the unfallen life-ether. These “new” ethers will manifest as nourishment for those who have ‘eyes to see’ and ‘ears to hear.’ They will ‘sing the eternal song’ and ‘speak the eternal gospel’ as signs given through the grace of these higher ethers.
The ‘higher’ development of humanity arises in direct connection to perceiving and utilizing the higher three ethers that only now are manifest to human perception. New supersensible organs will develop that perceive and commune through these higher ethers that make their home in the rays of the Sun.
The ethers ultimately lead the aspirant to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil which connects the human soul to the four lower ethers of warmth, light, tone, and life. Higher knowledge of the future gifts of the akasha-ether, unfallen tone-ether, and unfallen life-ether leads the initiate to the Tree of Life which is found in the middle of New Jerusalem, descending from heaven adorned as a bride. These mysteries of the future are already present in what can be understood of the Tree of Life in the human Spirit Self, Life Spirit, and Spirit Human.
Interacting with each new ether develops new spiritual capacities as the future unfolds. Someday, we will be asked by the divine to ‘eat of the Tree of Knowledge’ and become ‘like gods.’ Later, when we have prepared ourselves for the ‘wedding feast’, we are given the chance to drink from the ‘water of life’ flowing out from the Tree of Life and to eat of the fruit of the Tree.
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