The crescent Moon standing out in the night sky fascinated humanity since ancient times. Its mysterious, pale silver light has always been associated with the milk of the Great Mother. And her relationship with the waters and the tides immediately recalled a feminine imagination.
In a previous post we discussed about the Earth and the Four Ethers as the representatives of the Phsycal-Etheric World. In this article we are going to continue our exploration of the Planetary Spheres. We are going to talk about the Moon in relation to the so called Sublunary Sphere. And we’re also going to introduce the higher reality of the Soul World (or Astral World) as described by Rudolf Steiner.
But before jumping into this topic we need to introduce the concept of the Planetary Spheres. This because from a spiritual perspective a “Planet” is something very different from what in Astronomy usually means. This fundamental misunderstanding brought a lot of confusion concerning the way we view today the ancient conception on the Planets.
So let’s first and foremost introduce this concept that is going to accompany us through out all this series of articles.
Planets From a Spiritual Perspective
The term “Planet” comes from the greek and means “wandering star”. This because unlike the fixed stars, the planets were seen changing their position very quickly. For the same reason, this definition was also applied to the so called Luminaries, the Sun and the Moon. As Astrologers we are going to use this terminology as well here, calling them Planets regardless of their astronomical definition (star, satellite and so on).
But what is a Planet from a Spiritual Perspective? Do we mean with this term the same thing that Astronomers refer to? Or are we talking about something different? According to Astrosophy when we talk about a planet from a spiritual perspective we are not necessarily focusing on the physical object itself.
On the contrary, with this term we mainly refer to a sphere, a space surrounding the Earth. From a materialistic perspective this space looks “empty”. Yes, we might say that it is filled with other things such as space debris, dust or electromagnetic waves. But materialist science would never consider this void to be somehow “filled up” with something spiritual. On the contrary, this is precisely the perspective brought by Astrosophy.
Let’s take the Moon for example. In Astrosophy the Moon is not only the planet itself. It includes all the space bounded by the orbit of the Moon around the earth extending beyond its atmosphere. And this space just corresponds to what in greek astronomy was called the Sublunary Sphere.
The Sublunary Sphere
The Sublunary Sphere was considered to be everything inside the orbit of the Moon. Or in other words everything inside the Sphere of the Moon. This sphere encompassed the whole Physical World, and was subject to constant change. It was made of the Four Elements, a theory that as we have seen was extended and completed by Rudolf Steiner with the Four Ethers.
Of course the Physical-Etheric world continues even beyond the Sphere of the Moon. But as Steiner said we need to learn to “distinguish the essential from the non-essential”. In fact the place where Human Beings are supposed to experience the PhysicalWorld is the Earth, not the outer space. This is evidently expected by the Universal Order.
Yes, the Physical World extends beyond the Earth itself. But humans are not expected to explore the extraterrestrial spheres physically. We are expected to explore them spiritually.
But what does it mean to explore them spiritually? If you are not familiar with Anthroposophy, one of the most important impulses it brings is giving humanity the tools to perceive back again the spiritual realities. Why “again”? Because over the centuries humanity has been gradually sinking more and more into matter, losing this ability.
In place of the perception of the spiritual worlds, mankind has now developed the forces of the intellect and Science. All this in full consciousness. But by doing this we have lost contact, we lost the link to our spiritual origins. And we are now getting more and more lost in a meaningless, materialistic world view, an empty space with no Soul, nor Spirit.
The Sublunary Sphere
as the Lower Soul World
Going beyond the Physical World we immediately find ourselves in the Soul World. As we mentioned in previous articles, Anthroposophy talks about three worlds:
- The Physical World;
- The Soul World;
- The Spiritual World.
Ascending from the Sphere of the Earth up to the Sublunary Sphere, we enter the Soul World. As we said at the end of the previous article, these worlds are divided in 7 parts or layers: 3 inferiors, 3 superiors and 1 in between. For the Physical World these layers corresponds to the three lower elements; the three higher ethers; and to Fire-Warmth as a bridge between the Elements and the Ethers.
The same 7=3+1+3 division applies to the Soul World as well. So we can talk about 3 layers belonging to the Lower Astral; 3 belonging to the Higher Astral; and a layer in between.
In this post we are going to be focusing on the layers which belongs to the Sublunary Sphere. They are the first 4=3+1 Layers, and we find their description in Rudolf Steiner’s book Theosophy. You can read Theosophy from the Rudolf Steiner Archives by clicking on the link below.
Let’s now take a look at this layers or “regions” of the Soul World. Please bear in mind that as the Elements and Ethers are all mixed together in the Physical World, so are these “soul substances” in the Soul World.
They belong to the same Planetary Sphere because they all share one thing. They all contain in different proportions the soul force of Antipathy. Let’s clarifying this concept by taking a closer look at the Lower Soul World.
The Lower Soul World
The Soul World is very weird. It is a world of images made of everything we usually experience as feelings, emotions and sensations. Imagine to see floating in front of you “the sensation of hunger”, a joyful feeling and “the sensation of the color red” as if they were living images. Or imagine to have in front of you “sexual desire”, “the sound of waves” and “the smell of soap”.
It’s a very, very confusing place. Mainly, because we see floating in front of us “soul substances” that we usually consider to be something existing only inside of us. But now, we have them in front of us, and we are experiencing them as a sort of hallucinatory state. It’s very chaotic, and to be honest—disturbing.
So how do we make order out of this chaos? How is it possible to get a clear understanding of these higher realities, that look like a totally insane world? In Theosophy, Steiner starts by making a very elegant distinction. He introduces two fundamental forces acting on the soul substances: Sympathy and Antipathy. At first this might seem very abstract, but actually it’s very simple.
You can think of Sympathy and Antipathy as a force of attraction and a force of repulsion, respectively. It’s like in a magnet. Sympathy tends to attract and merge together the substances of the Soul World. Antipathy does the opposite: it repels and hardens the substances so they keep separate. But here’s the thing.
According to which of these two fundamental forces prevails, you have a different “region” of the Soul World populated by soul substances that behave in a similar way. Hence, we have 3 possible scenarios:
- Antipathy prevails on Sympathy (A > S);
- Antipathy equals Sympathy (A = S);
- Sympathy prevails on Antipathy (A < S).
These three scenarios corresponds to the first three regions of the Soul World, or to three types of soul substances. Let’s see them.
1. Region of Burning Desire
Antipathy prevails on Sympathy (A > S). Imagine a ball of dark “soul substance” which desperately chases down other balls, that always manage to escape from it. This region is filled with dark substances that act like that. It corresponds to what we usually experience when we are overwhelmed by a burning desire, craving for something.
The Antipathy in those soul substances is so strong that they repel everything else around them. So it’s not the other substances that are running away from them! It’s them, with their Antipathy, to repel everything else. But why do they “chase” other substances? Because at the same time they still have enough Sympathy (just a few) to feel attracted by a specific soul substance (for example the “taste of chocolate”).
They are dark and dense, and they correspond to gross burning desires that makes themselves immediately disgusting and undesirable. By definition they will never, ever obtain the object of their burning desire because of their Antipathy.
So what can we learn from this? If you desperately desire someone (or something that can distance itself from you), you are at the same time making yourself repellent. You are pushing them away from you, and it’s unlikely that you are going to get what you want.
Since the Antipathy of these substances makes them so dense, they have defined boundaries and stay separate from the others. For this reason they are similar to the Earth Element of the Physical World. Especially if they don’t have any Sympathy left. In this case, they look like dark and repelling stones, completely passive and closed in themselves.
2. Region of Mobile Sensitivity
Antipathy equals Sympathy (A = S). Imagine a group of spheres mixing together interpenetrating each other, or sliding on each other in a completely indifferent way. In this region the soul substances have enough Antipathy to maintain a defined individuality, but not enough Sympathy to make them repellent.
“They erect, as it were, no solid barrier between themselves and their surroundings” (Steiner, Theosophy). The result is a series of fluid and passive relationships without any particular direction. Steiner said that this region contains all the soul substances of any kind of sensation.
When we see a color, hear a sound, or have any other physical sensation, they are pretty indifferent to our soul taking them by themselves. Only adding something else we can start talking about pleasure. But pleasure would be another kind of soul substance, as we are going to see in point 4. Sensations by themselves are pretty neutral. For this reason this region is called Mobile Sensitivity.
And since these substances behave relative to each other like fluids in the Physical World, they are similar to the Water Element. In a sense, they can also be looked at as the “water” of the Soul World.
3. Region of Wishes
Sympathy prevails on Antipathy (A < S). In this region Sympathy is stronger than Antipathy. This brings the soul substances to grow and expand more and more. They look like a sort of giant balloons that attract other soul substances, allowing them to enter inside of them. This kind of soul substance can be recognized as the center of a field of attraction, that extends all around it. This field of attraction is called “wish substance”. And it is the result of a greater amount of Sympathy.
The Antipathy in them instead does something different. As we said, Antipathy is about repulsion. But once other soul substances entered a wish substance, the repulsion it’s what holds them inside, preventing them to go out. Antipathy creates a skin, a boundary: if you are out, you stay out; if you are in, you stay in. Being Sympathy stronger, you’re allowed in, but you can’t go out.
So we can see that their behavior is somehow selfish. First, they attract other soul substances inside their field. We could say that they swallow them, in a sense. And once they entered inside, they can’t go out anymore. This is the result of their Antipathy or “selfishness”.
This region is called Region of Wishes, because it corresponds to what happens when we are longing for something. We want something to be part of our life, we try to have it in our “sphere of influence”. And when we get it, we don’t want to let it go anymore, right?
Since these soul substances grow and expand like a balloon, and they are very big, they create a sort of atmosphere in the Soul World. And for this reason they are similar to the Air Element of the Physical World.
4. Region of Liking and Disliking
When we talked about Fire, we said that it is the intermediate level between the 3 lower elements and the 3 higher ethers. We also pointed out that the elements are experienced outwardly, whereas the ethers inwardly. Something similar applies to this fourth level. Here we transition from considering the soul substances from outside, to considering them from the inside.
But what does this mean? Basically we saw how the first three levels describe the way that soul substances relate to each other. In the first region they stay separate; in the second, they start merging with each other; and in the third they literally enter inside other soul substances.
Now we are going even further. We’ll try to understand the “inner experience” of a soul substance. We said that the main forces defining soul substances are Sympathy and Antipathy. But how are they experienced by the so called inner life of a soul substance?
They are experienced as liking and disliking. Sympathy is experienced as a form of pleasure (when we like something); Antipathy as a form of suffering (when we dislike something). This is very interesting because we start having soul substances that are basically an expression of the inner life of other soul substances. This might feel confusing, but as we said the Astral World is a very messy place.
Now we can speculate that the lower the regions of the Soul World, the more suffering we can find. For this reason the Sublunary World has also other names. In eastern spiritual traditions it is also called Kamaloka, a Sanskrit word which means “place of desires”. Whereas in Christian terms it is known as Purgatory, a place where the souls go through an expiatory purification before moving on.
I hope with this article to have helped you to get the bigger picture of the subtle realities behind the Sublunary Sphere. Thanks for reading, as always if you enjoyed this article please subscribe to the Astronomicon Newsletter with the bar at the top of the website to receive weekly updates, and not to miss the future posts about the Planetary Spheres. Thanks again, and have a good week.
I consider myself a free researcher in western spiritual disciplines, in particular Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy and the Neoplatonic Hermetic tradition. I have a three-year training in Astrology at the CIDA delegation of Trieste, the Italian Center for Astrological Disciplines. I graduated in Computer Engineering from the University of Trieste.