The Eurythmy Figures as Keys to a Deeper Understanding of the Human Being

By Seth Morrison

Rudolf Steiner created his sketches for the eurythmy sound movements and soul gestures in 1922 and 1923. The new art form had grown and performances were seen on stages across Europe. Despite the devastation caused by the World War, the Waldorf School Movement flourished. Therapeutic eurythmy was only a few years old but found an enthusiastic reception among educators and medical doctors. The eurythmy figures grew out of this germinating power of an inspired art form. The figures became a kind of living study material. The trios and quartets of colors, the highly differentiated forms and characters of the figures provide schooling for the artist. When reconstructed in the act of artistic creation, a true inner work fills the experience of visible speech and music. The figures offer the eurythmist an unending source of self education.

In addition to the well-known aspects of color and form in the figures, a whole other pathway of study is contained within them. In a course given by Elena Zuccoli to students at the Curative Eurythmy School in Stuttgart, West Germany, in 1986, an introduction as well as a challenge was presented. Frau Zuccoli arranged the twelve consonant figures according to their relationship to the zodiac as described by Rudolf Steiner. She then asked the class, “What do you see?” Only one student responded! One half of the figures are represented in profile, the other face forward. There are three transitory figures. It is a striking image once it is ‘seen’! But what does this mean? Frau Zuccoli left this image as an unanswered question, a point of departure for her students. This little article will share my attempts to understand the meaning behind the special orientation of the figures, which has become a source of inspiration for my work in curative eurythmy.

Before launching ahead, it might be helpful to explore the experience of the human figure as it appears in profile as opposed to the frontal view. One hundred years ago, the silhouette was still a popular form of portraiture. The profile view of the torso reveals a sculptural impression. The shape of the shoulders, head, forehead, nose, lips, and chin appear fixed and formed. The profile is an image of what has been; the past up to the present moment. It is human destiny sculpted and made visible. The full face view of the human being gives an entirely different impression. The past lies somewhere in the distance, hidden behind the projected personality. The directions of dimensions of right and left fill out the ‘space’ of an incarnated person, be it narrow or broad, robust or hallowed out. There is a meeting with the present and an intuition of the future. The presence of human character, in its immediacy, fills space and projects itself into what will become the future.

When arranged according to their correspondences to the fixed stars, the figures for the sounds V (Aries), R (Taurus), and H (Gemini) are presented in profile. They face outward and away from the center of the circle. The figure for F (Cancer) however, also in profile, faces T and D (Leo). B and P (Virgo) face forward. The figure for Ch stands in a ¾ view. The S (Scorpion or Eagle) faces forward as does the G (Sagittarius). Its double letter K, stands in profile toward the N (Pisces). The N stands in profile toward the V (Aries), which joins the circle together. The figures for F, M, and CH are transitory with regard to the directionality of the entire circle of figures.

Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual research confirmed the idea of an astro-physiognomy of the human being. In countless manuscripts, painting, and drawings, most of which echo the mystery teachings of a forgotten time, one sees the human head marked with the sign of Aries or a ram. The Larynx is connected with the Bull, or Taurus, the shoulders with Gemini, and so on. The science of contemporary embryology was once seen from another point of view: the embryo lies curled up exactly as the circle of fixed stars appears in the heavens, the head in Aries and the feet in Pisces. One can imagine how the human embryo materializes out of the fluid world of the womb, somehow analogous to the creation of dry land in the book of Genesis of the Old Testament. Turning ones attention to the eurythmy figures, one can ‘enact’ this creation of man’s form through the eurythmy movements themselves, beginning with the V, which contours the head and going on to each region of the human form. It is a wonderful exercise. Now the special orientation of the figures begins to ‘speak’: the figures which correspond to the upper region of the human form all stand in profile and face outward into the depths of the periphery. They look away or back into another region of space. Aries, Taurus, and Gemini form a grouping. The human head is enclosed in a bony shell, like the insect. Its activity is contained within itself, invisible and concealed. It is inwardly mobile but outwardly immobile. The throat uses the air element but does not really change it. It adds to the air, instead. Its activity creates an enclosed, half-way internalized acoustic. The shoulders give width through the dimension of right and left. A tension, a dynamic holding together in equilibrium characterizes this region. The human being then acts as giver or receiver of world experienced every time he goes out of himself into the ‘other’; thus the H movement expresses how the arms become the instruments of the forces of Gemini.

Now a great transition occurs: the formative forces seem to turn the orientation of structure inward, as air enters the chest cavity and is transformed by the magic of the blood. The figure faces away from the H figure and directs itself toward the T figure. The T corresponds to that organ wherein the transformation is perceived by the ego organization. The ribs enclose from without, the lungs from within. Doublely embraced, the heart (Leo) an organ of blood perceives itself.

The journey within, intensifies further. Those eurythmy figures whose sounds are related to the zodiac regions associated with the digestive organs all stand facing forward. The figures are grand and immediate. One feels as if real personalities make their presence known… like the gods of the underworld or inner world of man. The B movement expresses this complete containment of an inner realm, like a temple removed from outer light but filled with a self-sustaining radiance. Within the metabolic organs substance is destroyed or reduced to a level which can be called ‘inorganic’. It is then recreated by the rhythmical processes of these organs so it bear the incarnation of the individual ego.

Yet another transition occurs, expressed by the spatial orientation of the CH figure. Within the basin-like structure of the pelvis an environment is created in which another ego, a new person, can anchor itself. Through fertilization, gestation, and birth, the signature of S (Scorpion or Eagle) reveals itself. The S figure is dressed as a renunciate, just as certain monastic orders dress in black and then grey to express their religious journeys, And just as the S movement in eurythmy almost manages to become a separate entity, so do the female reproductive organs sacrifice their autonomy in order to give place to the developing human being. Then, the event of birth gives a separate existence to the child. The S figure shows man’s deepest penetration into the physical world and the moment of victory for the ongoing evolution of the earth.

Through the powers of Scorpio in the human being, the physical world is conquered. Now the human organism can metamorphose further. The thighs  are the mechanisms of walking and express the will forces which seek to propel the human being into the future. The G figure faces forward but the head is turned toward the K figure. The K faces the G. The K corresponds to the hardest part of the thigh, just before it embraces the knee. Both represent the forces of Sagittarius. The knee (Capricorn) is the mediator between the innermost forces of the will and the earth itself. It floats, so to speak, in currents of dynamic forces, fluid-like and ‘sensitive’ to the interplay of the human spirit with the organism of the earth. It lives between levity and gravity. The L figure faces forward but the figure for M faces away, in the other direction. The M forms the shins, which are purely rhythmical organs. A person’s gait indicates the way in which the limb-metabolic system is embraced by the rhythmical system. The lower legs are the primary rhythmical organs of the lower region of the human form. The fact that the M faces away from the other figures of the region is significant. From the knees downward, the human body takes on a new character. It no longer strives toward incarnation but carries itself anew, toward the macrocosm. The head contains an imprint of the cosmos, the feet strive to become active in the cosmos. The foot is really a complex arch, an organ which has the power to overcome the earthly forces of weight. It is an organ of the ego. The freedom of the feet is the signature of human destiny which seeks to become independent through its evolution. The M figure, as well as the N figure, faces the region of Aries so that the past may be dissolved and remolded. The future alters the past.

The spatial orientation of the eurythmy figures reveals a hidden teaching. It tells the story of human becoming, the descent of man into matter and his triumph over it, brought about by his own activity. The human form is really a living sculpture and a hieroglyph of spiritual evolution.

One cannot carry this kind of information with one and this is surely not the intention of this article. Instead, a kind of ‘feeling’ can reside within the creative life of the artist with regard to the different sounds. These feelings or moods, as Rudolf Steiner called them, are objective realities. He brought them to poetic expression in his Twelve Moods (Zwolf Stimmungen).

This study brings questions to mind about the zodiac positions or gestures which were given in Eurythmy as Visible Speech. It is important to remember that of the twelve gestures only Aquarius has a kind of movement. All the others are at rest. It is a silent world, like a summer night when one looks into the heavens. It is as if the zodiac gestures are a portrayal of the Star-Gods themselves, of their contribution to the human figure. The eurythmy movements are dynamic. They speak and sing. They are so alive as to enable an ill person to actively participate in the anabolism of his own etheric body. If one practices doing a zodiac gesture, followed by the eurythmy movement, in light of the figure, a powerful experience can come about. One can feel how the resting zodiac becomes dynamism, creating the human form – which ‘appears’ to be at rest. Yet its life turns within and the formative forces reappear in the life of the soul as music and speech. Through the spiritual activity of art, the powers of the universe become visible. This is the art of eurythmy. One can only stand in awe before this art. It overcomes all our ‘ideas’ about ourselves and all art and shows us that we ourselves and all we do is really ‘evolving cosmos’, ‘evolving being’.