The Threefold Human Being

One of the first and basic principles which supports Waldorf education is the fact that the human being has a threefold nature. It is designed into the kindergarten, primary and high school curriculum and teachers design their lesson plans to create a balance between these three soul faculties.

The human being is essentially a spiritual being manifesting and expressing itself through the body and the soul. These three elements, the body, soul and spirit, together give us our threefold nature. The spirit is our individuality, our divine nature, that which is eternal and permanent. The soul is the unseen part of ourselves, the seat of our feelings, it is also called the aura or the mind. The body is the three dimensional part of ourselves which is not permanent and subject to physical laws. In turn, each one of these three elements of our being contains within it a threefoldness.


The body consists of the head, the trunk and the limbs and within these three we find the three major systems of the body. When we observe these more closely, we see that the head is round with a hard exterior and a soft interior. We think with our heads and the majority of our sense organs are located in the head. The head rests at the top of our spinal cord and operates best when it is still and cool. The brain/nervous system is contained within the head and it is in our heads that we are most awake and conscious.

The bone structure which supports our trunk, the ribcage, is intermittent with a bone and then a space, bone and space. Contained within our ribcage we find the heart and lungs, both of these organs operate rhythmically, our heartbeat and breathing. Our trunk operates best with a gentle and steady rhythm. The trunk contains our blood/circulatory system and with up to 90% of our body fluid, it flows and pulses. We are half awake and half asleep and not fully conscious of the activity in our trunk – we experience a dreamy consciousness here.

Our limbs enable us to move through the world, to move other things through the world, to build, to create, to heal and to pray. They are long and straight, soft and fleshy on the outside with a hard bony interior. Situated just above our legs is the digestive system which is very active, very hot, unseen and unnoticed. We are fast asleep and unconscious of the activity in our digestive system.


We have three soul faculties which relate to these three areas of the body: they are thinking, feeling and willing.

Thinking is a very rational activity – we want to know things and they need to make sense. Thinking is an activity in which we need to be awake and conscious. It is our cognition, the process of recognising something. It is between the ages of fourteen and twenty one that we start to awaken more and more in our thinking. Our bodies go through some radical changes at fourteen, hormones create havoc, we argue with our parents, reject the status quo and think we know it all. We continue to go through changes every seven years.

Our feelings are not as rational as our thinking – they have a more dreamlike quality to them, are less structured and not as awake. We can measure our emotional intelligence by the ability to understand our own feelings as well as other people’s feelings. All experiences in life touch us through the feelings. Between the ages of seven and fourteen years our feeling life begins to express itself more and more. We are able to express our own feelings and to understand how another person feels. Teaching class one children, I often hear the expression “It hurt my feelings” – something a three year old would not say. An emotionally strong adult will start to develop their feelings during this period. The arts, drama, storytelling, colour and movement assist in the development of our feelings.

Willing is our motivational energy – our will to live and to experience life. A lack of motivation equates to a lack of purpose. As our limbs carry us and move us through the world, so too does our will enable us to get things done and move towards our destiny. It has an unconscious and sleeplike quality. Up until the age of seven, we live most strongly in our will, we are mostly unconscious and we learn through imitation. Watching a baby attempting to crawl for the first time shows us how strong their wills are. After countless failures, they don’t start to think ‘I can’t do this’ and become depressed, they simply try again until they succeed.


The three spiritual faculties are imagination, inspiration and intuition.

Our imagination is the creative faculty which enables us to visualise images and form pictures. Dreams are a form of our imagination. It is unbounded and free and the source of our ideas, aha moments and insights.

We draw on inspiration when we are able to go beyond ourselves and experience oneness through a spiritual practice, meditation or yoga. We also find inspiration in the arts, music, drama, paintings, eurythmy and dance. Being moved by something beautiful in nature also fires our inspiration.

We use our intuition when we do the right thing at the right time and everything falls into place. The more you are in the flow of life, the more you can bear the fruits of your intuition. How we live our lives has a profound effect on our spiritual intuition. The physical world is a reflection of the spiritual world.

Creativity in education is what sets Waldorf schools apart from mainstream schools. Each faculty is awakened, stimulated and nurtured and each child is allowed to blossom and grow as an individual. To receive the child in reverence, educate them in love and send them forth in freedom, is an ideal each teacher holds.

“All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” Pablo Picasso

I found what Ken Robinson had to say in his TED Talk entitled “Do schools kill creativity?” interesting. Below is a transcript of some of his talk, for the full talk click on this link.

“But something strikes you when you move to America and travel around the world: Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one. Doesn’t matter where you go. You’d think it would be otherwise, but it isn’t. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on Earth. And in pretty much every system too, there’s a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I think math is very important, but so is dance. Children dance all the time if they’re allowed to, we all do. We all have bodies, don’t we? Did I miss a meeting? (Laughter) Truthfully, what happens is, as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.”

“Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there’s a reason. Around the world, there were no public systems of education, really, before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas. Number one, that the most useful subjects for work are at the top. So you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. Is that right? Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician; don’t do art, you won’t be an artist. Benign advice — now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution. And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the  universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly-talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can’t afford to go on that way.”

“In the next 30 years, according to UNESCO, more people worldwide will be graduating through education than since the beginning of history. More people, and it’s the combination of all the things we’ve talked about — technology and its transformation effect on work, and demography and the huge explosion in population. Suddenly, degrees aren’t worth anything. Isn’t that true? When I was a student, if you had a degree, you had a job. If you didn’t have a job, it’s because you didn’t want one. And I didn’t want one, frankly. (Laughter) But now kids with degrees are often heading home to carry on playing video games, because you need an MA where the previous job required a BA, and now you need a PhD for the other. It’s a process of academic inflation. And it indicates the whole structure of education is shift ing beneath our feet. We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence.”

With blessings

Melanie Francis

Class one teacher