The most important thing for which we can prepare a child is the experience of freedom, at the right moment in life, through the understanding of one's own being.


Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)

Temporal form, memories, biography, transformation, rubicon
By: Claus-Peter Röh, October 2014, First published in the Journal of the Pedagogical Section, Dornach, Easter 2014, No. 51

Transitions in the Human Temporal Organism (Part Two)

The observation exercises for the powers of transformation at the transition points of the third and the sixth/seventh year lead from the actual physical encounters to the perception of an individual “melody of development”. (See Journal of the Pedagogical Section, Nr. 50). The characteristics of the child's inner being show in the child's changing physical appearance and manner. The ability to “read” these characteristics enables us to find the suitable approach for the child's education.

Before we study the transition at age nine or ten, we want to change our focus from the child's outer appearance to his or her zeitgestalt or temporal form. We can observe the child's physical body carefully with all our senses. The physical body, however, is being permeated by the child's individual temporal form at every stage of development, at every point of transition. This is an organism which consists of all the past experiences which now bear from the inside upon the child's further maturation, including:


childhood experiences

Crises and illnesses

Life in the family and in the kindergarten

Friendships, new acquaintances, moving house

acquired habits and patterns of behaviour

Developmental impulses which have been inherent in the child since pre-birth


Future Aspects of the Temporal Organism

All learning and teaching the child has experienced in the past becomes part of the child's temporal organism which extends far into the future. Past education touches upon the child's present development – today's education touches upon the young person's future development. Teachers therefore have a profound responsibility to include the inner laws of the temporal organism in their daily work and orientation. Rudolf Steiner describes this kind of responsibility. We cannot get to know people without considering the human being as a temporal organism... And if educators only look at the present life of a child, if they only look at the eight or nine year old, they do not accomplish their task properly. We can only teach and educate children appropriately if we are aware that whatever we do with the eight or nine year old, affects the temporal organism – which is a unity – and that the significance of education emerges from the child, from the middle-aged person, from the elderly. But it emerges in a different manner, it goes through a metamorphosis. We can only teach in the proper sense of the word if we are able to arrive at a clear picture of these modifications.”i

If we want to understand more about the connection between the past and the present, we can study those childhood experiences which we remember clearly and consider meaningful for our later life. Empirical studies based on the questioning of former pupils describe effects, attitudes and skills which originate in schooling. The context of the temporal organism shows in a particular quality when a person achieves to overview his or her entire life. The Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer writes in “Memories Look at Me: A Memoir”: “My life – Thinking these words I see before me a streak of light. On closer inspection it has the form of a comet. The brightest end, the head, is childhood and growing up. The nucleus, the densest part, is infancy, that first period, in which the most important features of our life are determined.ii

Further back, in the longer part of the comet, Tranströmer sees his life as an adult. From there, he tries to approach the nucleus, his existence, through his childhood memories. What shaped him? What is the essence of his being? Part of the picture is his grandfather who was 71 years older and his “close friend”. There is also the boy's obsession with collecting, the interest in insects, the joy of drawing and his first reading. Then, there is his method of cunningly protect himself in a fight with an older and stronger boy: “When he approached me, I pretended that I myself had flown off and only a corps was left. I was just a limp rag which he could punch as much as he wanted to. He realized that. - I am wondering what it might have meant for my life later on, this ability to turn myself into a limp rag. It is the art to get run over while preserving your self-esteem. Did I not fall back on it too often?”iii

His time at school and the encounters with teachers have a special meaning in Tranströmer's memories. “The teachers which are predominant in my memories are of course those who created some kind of tension, the most striking originals... We sensed that some of them were burdened with some tragic element in their lives.iv Assiduously, Tranströmer describes the expanse and candour of a child's soul. He assimilates even seemingly insignificant events profoundly; they continue to influence him for decades. “There was an entry exam for High School. I only remember that I misspelled the word “särskilt” (special). I spelled it with double l. This lead to some issues around this word which I could not get over until the 1960s.”v The Swedish poet considers the past as part of the future, he connects the sum of time with the qualities of the Self. “I carry my former faces around within me like a tree bears its annual rings. The sum of these is my “Self”. The mirror only sees my last face, but I can feel all of my earlier faces.”vi


Childhood and School as Biographical Sources

In summing up what has been said so far, we can describe the following qualities of an individual's temporal organism:

  • Whatever has been experienced and assimilated in childhood may have direct and far reaching consequences and can resurface in a different way after a number of years.

  • The web of experiences and their aftereffects create the biography's temporal organism.

  • The Self's temporal organism is obviously active from infancy onwards but only the totality of the “annual rings” can reveal its unity.

What Tranströmer describes in his memoirs as a determinative force,vii is described by Steiner as the second etheric-spirit man in us: This temporal organism is really present in us as a second human being and we may indeed call it an organism. When a person gets older, when he becomes an elderly fellow just as I have become, then he can see that his soul has a certain constellation. The soul's constellation we see in us now is connected to the one we had when we were around five or six years old...thus the various parts of the temporal organism are related to each other in time and not in space. I carry this temporal organism within me. In my books I have called it the etheric body or the body of formative forces.”viii

The etheric body carries within itself the forces of growth and formation. The Higher Self, or the “second individual” in us, initiates our growth and maturation from infancy onwards. Their close connection is described at the beginning of lecture four in Super-sensible Physiology and Balance in Teaching. In the first few years of a child's life, the Self is assimilated into the physical growth. Later, the etheric forces are freed from the connection with the physical development and the Self is able to seize them in a new way. This happens at around the time when the child's second set of teeth emerges. “What is freed now may be called the etheric body or the intelligence. At birth, the Self “came down”, as it were, and this Self now exudes into the etheric body and organises it by and by. In this way, the eternal Self amalgamates with the emerging intelligence, the parturition of the etheric body.” ix

This descriptions explains how and where the child keeps its childhood memories: Whatever the child experiences is impressed upon the etheric body or temporal organism. If this impression can be consciously re-read, then memory is created. If the experience sinks deeper into the subconscious part of the time organism, then it can be metamorphosed and reappear in a changed form at a later phase of life.

Here are two examples: In observing five or six year olds in free play we can see some surprising qualities. Each child acts and decides out of its own free will and these decisions have a distinct colouring: Some children watch their play mates in a dreamy way and others are very actively involved in the game. Later on in life, for example around the age of 25 or 26, the individual way of becoming involved in life resurfaces as the demeanour in which someone uses their particular will power to face decisions in their life or career.x

When first graders imitate their teacher with unswerving devotion – “left hand to your right ear, right hand to...”, motor skills become deeply embedded in the temporal organism. Some children might do these exercises reluctantly and others might do them with great enthusiasm. Later on, we observe grown-ups' reactions in specific situations and realize that everyone has their own demeanour, their own particular mindfulness and wisdom with which they face life's challenges. Attitudes and skills acquired in childhood change into individual skills of orientation, thinking and acting in adulthood.xi

The following gestures of change within the biography's temporal organism may be summed up from the above:

  • Will qualities in free play - quality of decision making and skill

  • Devotion at age seven or eight - confidence in personal orientation

  • Dexterity in the will - worldly wisdom and the ability to act

If we as teachers are able to develop an awareness for the active, preserving and creative temporal organism of the second individual within the young person, our attitudes and our teaching practice may change: We will examine the preparation and choice of lesson content for “educational sustainability”: What is essential, what is secondary? Thus, a new depth and awareness for the way pupils develop interest will emerge in our encounters with them. We might suddenly see a glimpse of the future in the way a pupil speaks a verse or how she engages in questions.


Transitions in the Temporal Organism at the Age of Nine or Ten

Transitional phases are somewhat isolated from the general effects of childhood and school experiences on the temporal organism in later life. When the child is moved and shaken in her self-esteem, new doors open to the soul, as it were. This enables new qualities of experience and identity. As early as 1913, Rudolf Steiner described the child's development as an ongoing human development which leads to independence and self-awareness, without any other influences and challenges, only around the age of twenty-one.xii

Steiner describes the flaring up awareness of independence and personality of a three year old as a “luciferic impact”. (See part one of this paper in Journal Nr.50). The education at home and at kindergarten can provide the necessary balance through long and intense care for the child's physical and emotional wellbeing.

A second impact on the child's independence can be witnessed at the age of nine or ten, this is described as an “ahrimanic influence”. The “condensing of the sense of Self”xiii becomes so immediate that the child experiences some inner turmoil and struggles to find a new relationship to the world: The child's secure connection to people and nature is replaced by a sense of standing apart from everything else. The surrounding world is looked upon in a new way and the child has a desire to understand everything anew. This may lead a nine year old to exclaim, after a long day of strenuous building work, “Now I understand what it meant for Adam and Eve to be driven from Paradise!”

In 1941, nine year old Tomas Tranströmer was moved by the war reports in the papers. “I was a skinny nine year old who bent over the map of the war in the newspaper: There were black arrows to represent the German tank divisions. The arrows pointed into France and they also lived in our bodies as parasites, in the bodies of Hitler's enemies. I counted myself in with them. I have never since been involved in politics with such heartfelt passion. It would be ridiculous to speak of the political involvement of a nine year old but this was not about politics as such. The thing was, I took part in the war.”xiv

As the child is shaken by inner turmoil, she focuses not only on what is going on in the world, but she also asks the people around her new questions, especially the parents and teachers. The child's inquiring gaze does not allow for the adults' words to be felt as a given and honourable unity but he asks deeper questions, he asks for the inner motive, the mental orientation. Once, Tarnströmer's teacher talked in front of the class about his animal drawings. This was seemingly meant well, but some very different layers were affected in the boy's sense of Self. He did not want to be called a nerd, he did not want to be different. “The teacher said that my drawings were very “special” and I panicked again. There were some insensitive grown-ups who constantly wanted to expose me as “different”. My peers were more tolerant. I was neither liked nor hated.xv

In the transition of the rubicon, the child's soul is absolutely open in its innermost core and asks the adult for a solid ground, for a strongly moral humanity. The depth of a human encounter during the rubicon affects not only the feelings felt in the soul and the acquired skills. The encounter with the teacher also affects the very sense of Self and therefore has such a deep and far-reaching effect on life's temporal organism: The pupil's questions are a deep calling for the balance of humanity in this transition at the age of nine / ten which binds the children closer to the physical body from now on. If we as teachers recognize this quality in the children's questions, then we can approach them with motherly and fatherly kindness.

In the openness of the rubicon, as described above, the child's Self “listens through” all the layers of events. Therefore, not only the actual lessons but also our everyday encounters and conversations can leave a lasting impression: What is our attitude and language when we greet the children? How do we answer their questions? It can happen that a child asks “her question” immediately and unexpectedly after the lesson. “Last year you told us that God made the world and now in year four you are telling us about the giant Ymir. Which one of these stories is really true? The child's question is real and deep and the teacher's answer will be heard with exactly the same depth and sincerity; not just its actual content but also the manner in which it is offered. It is exactly this “solemn tact” xvi which helps the young person to cross the rubicon and to acquire far reaching human qualities.




Claus-Peter Röh, born, December 15th, 1955, studied Education and in 1983 became a class teacher. He also taught music and RE at the Freie Waldorfschule in Flensburg, Germany. He has been a guest lecturer at the Pedagogical Hochschule in Flensburg and has held courses at various teacher training institutions in Germany. In 1998 he became a member of the initiative committee of the Education Section in Germany. In September 2010 he started to work for the Education Section in Dornach, Switzerland. He has been head of the Section in cooperation with Florian Osswald since January 2011. Claus-Peter is married and has two children.


Translated by Karin Smith


iSteiner, R. GA 297a, The Hague, 4th November 1

iiTranströmer, T. (2011) Memories Look at Me: A Memoir. A New Directions Book.






viiiSteiner, R. GA 82, The Hague, 10th April 1922

ixSteiner, R. Balance in Teaching, 22nd September 1920, GA 302a

xSee also: Steiner, R. De Hague, 27th February 1921

xiSee: Steiner, R. GA 311, 15th August 1924

xiiSee: Steiner, R. GA 150, Augsburg, 14th March 1913


xivSee footnote ii

xvSee footnote ii

xviSee footnote i

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