According to Rudolf Steiner, hell is not a location, in any normal sense, but a spiritual state: the lowest such state imaginable. Going to hell means losing one’s soul, falling out of evolution, becoming trapped in a totally material realm, becoming totally corrupted.
In general, Steiner delivered upbeat messages in his books and lectures, often indicating that everyone and everything may be redeemed. But not always. In his teachings, there is no absolute guarantee of winning through to divinity. The divine plans of the good gods can be derailed; and even if everything works out, evil souls will have hell to pay before being redeemed.
Here is a sampling of Steiner’s descriptions of hell in its various guises.
"We have in modern consciousness the feeling of a contrast between heaven and hell; others call it spirit and matter. Fundamentally there are differences only in degree between the heaven and hell of the peasant [in former times] and the matter and spirit of the philosophers of our day." — Rudolf Steiner, UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), p. 84.
Old-fashioned ways of speaking about “hell” are obsolete.
But the descent into hell is a real danger.
Hell is, in a sense, the world we occupy, the material plane,
if we do not overcome its dark temptations.
Speaking of benevolent spiritual beings who helped mankind to evolve, Steiner said:
"These former divine companions confronted, as an inimical world, what even in earlier times was called 'hell.' But the efficacy of these spiritual beings stopped short at the gates of hell. These spiritual beings worked upon humankind. The forces of humankind extend even into hell. This signifies nothing other than humankind’s subconscious projection into Ahrimanic forces in the wintertime and also into the ascent of these Ahrimanic forces in the spring. The divine spiritual beings felt this as a world opposed to them. They saw it rise up out of the Earth and felt it to be an exceedingly problematic world ... In His way the Christ gained the victory over death. And therewith entered, I might say, the opposite pole to the Descent into Hell, the ascent into the spiritual world ... [Christ] descended to that to which humankind is exposed ... Thus in the Easter thought we see united in a certain way the Descent into the region of Hell, and through this descent the winning of the heavenly region for the further evolution of humankind." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CYCLE OF THE YEAR AS BREATHING-PROCESS OF THE EARTH (SteinerBooks, 1984), pp. 41-42.
There are many lures leading to hell, or perdition, or the loss of one’s soul.
Sometimes 16 are specified — but the number
is less important than the danger.
"Races would not stay behind and become decadent if there were not men who wish to stay behind and are obliged to stay behind, since they have not developed their eternal life-kernel. Older races only persist because there are men who cannot or will not move forward to a higher racial form. I cannot today speak about the whole series of possibilities, in the course of earthly evolution, for man to become one with the race, to grow together with what is the character of one race or another. Think of the Atlantean race; souls have gone through it, but not all have passed out of it. There are sixteen possibilities of becoming merged with the race. They are called the 'sixteen paths of perdition.' On these paths man would merge with the material. By striving forward, however, he is drawn up from race to race to ever higher stages.
"We see then that it is actually possible for a man to combine with the one incarnation in such a way that he remains behind in evolution. His other soul-brothers are therefore at a higher stage when he reappears in a new incarnation. He must then content himself with an inferior incarnation which has been left to him in a decadent race. This is something that positively takes place. It need not frighten people, however, for the present phase of evolution. No one is obliged to take all the sixteen paths and thereby fall out of evolution. We must only be aware of the possibility.
"Now let us take an extreme case and imagine that a man unites too fully with what is to constitute the character of an incarnation. Let us suppose he reaches what is to be reached in sixteen incarnations; he takes the sixteen false paths. The earth does not wait for him, the earth goes forward and he finally arrives at a point where he can no longer incorporate in a human body, for none are in existence. There will be no more bodies in which souls that have grown too much involved in their bodily nature can incarnate. Such souls lose the possibility of incarnation and find no other opportunity ... They appear in a later epoch as subordinate nature-spirits. In fact the human race will furnish a whole number of such new nature-spirits in the second half of the Jupiter evolution, for man will have fully completed the fifth principle at the Jupiter stage ... Just the same occurred in the case of our present nature-spirits in the earlier periods of evolution." — Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS UPON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1961), lecture 8, GA 102. (Note that Steiner does not detail 16 separate paths; rather, he essentially speaks of going down the same false path in 16 separate incarnations.)
The spirit world consists of thoughts, feelings, and other incorporeal phenomena: spirits.
Materialistic thinking — that is, the use of the physical brain, especially to think scientifically —
creates materialistic thoughts that exist as beings in the spirit world: nasty, low, brutish beings,
This stuff is for real, people!
"Our young people are sent into the hospitals and scientific faculties of the universities; there the human being is explained to them ... [T]his is no way to comprehend the human being; in this way, one only gets to know the mineral aspect of man. What we learn about the human being through such a science is something that simply and solely has significance from the moon’s separation until its return, something that out of the spider thoughts of today will then turn into spider beings ... [P]eople do not have the remotest idea of the appalling earthly destiny they are approaching by uniting with what an ancient spiritual knowledge called the sixteen paths of human perdition ... [T]here are variations of the shadowy intellect itself, various ways of uniting ourselves through this intellectual activity with the elements of spidery incrustation that will be spun over the whole earth in the future. In that time, the intellect will hold sway objectively in the manifold limbs these spider creatures will possess." — Rudolf Steiner, MATERIALISM AND THE TASK OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (SteinerBooks, 1987), pp. 266-269.
[Anthroposophic Press, 1987.]
From the back cover: "Steiner explains in this history of the development of human consciousness that the world has [sic] already ended in the fourth century A. D.
At that time it became impossible to find the spirit in nature. Since that time we have been living in an increasingly spiritual world on a disintegrating, dying earth."
To avoid a hellish fate, one must take the one true path (in essence, Steiner’s).*
Hell is materialism. Hell is corruption. Hell is spidery rational thinking.
"That is what a true Spiritual Science tells us today. The human will is threatened with being deprived of spiritual impulses and with becoming involved in the spidery web that will creep over the earth. There are men in existence who imagine that they will gain their ends by promoting their own spiritual development and leaving the rest of their fellow-beings in a state of ignorance. But the vast majority live in complete unawareness of the terrible destiny that awaits them if they lend themselves to what an ancient form of spiritual knowledge called the “sixteen paths to corruption.” For just as there are many ways in which the shadowy intellect may be directed to the impulses and knowledge coming from the spiritual world, so naturally there are many ways in which varieties of the shadowy intellect will be able to unite with the spider-beings who will spin their web over the earth in times to come. Intellect will then be objectivised in the very limbs and tentacles of these spidery creatures, who in all their wonderful inter-weavings and caduceus-like convolutions will present an amazing network of intricate forms." — Rudolf Steiner, “A Picture of Earth-Evolution in the Future” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1960), a lecture, GA 204.
KINGDOM OF EVIL
"[T]here existed for instance in the Middle Ages the sect of the Manicheans. The secret of the Manicheans was that they realised that in the future there would be two groups of human beings, the good and the bad. In the Fifth Round there will no longer be a mineral kingdom, but instead a kingdom of evil. The Manicheans knew this. They therefore made it their task already then so to educate people that later they might become educators of the evil men. Again and again a deeper profundity is seen in the sect of the Manicheans." — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 13, GA 93a.
"Let us suppose a man were to deny that it was the spirit which has given him the human countenance ... He would remain united with the body and go down into the abyss. And because of not having used the power of the spirit, the external shape would again come to resemble the previous form. The man who descends into the abyss would become animal like." — Rudolf Steiner, UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), p. 103.
"An abyss lies between Mephistopheles and the blood. When he draws near to man as a living being, when he wants to make a connection with man, he realizes that the essentially human power lives in the blood. He must therefore endeavor to get hold of the blood...in their rightfully allotted place, Lucifer and Ahriman work beneficially; in their wrongful place — there they are injurious. The task incumbent upon the Greek was to get the better of the Sphinx-nature, to cast it out of himself. When he was able to thrust it into the abyss, when, in other words, he was able to bring the extended ether-body down into the physical body, then he had overcome the Sphinx. The abyss is not outside us; the abyss is man's own physical body...." — Rudolf Steiner, THE BALANCE IN THE WORLD AND MAN, LUCIFER AND AHRIMAN (Steiner Book Centre, 1948), lecture 1, GA 158.
“[T]he Apocalypse rightly designated the power, the Being, who leads men so to spiritualize themselves that they can united with the sun as the Christ, and — as we shall hear — as the Lamb. One describes the Christ-Being as the genius of the sun who unites himself with the earth and becomes also the genius of the earth. He has already begun to be this since the event of Golgotha [i.e., the Crucifixion]. But there is also an opposing principle to the Lamb, there is also a Sun-Demon, the so-called Demon of the Sun, that works with the evil forces of man, thrusting back the force of the Lamb, and it works in such a way that a certain part of the human race is trust out of the evolution that leads to the sun ... [They will] be thrown out of our evolution when the 666 conditions of development have passed away; they will then be finally cast into the abyss.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE APOCALYPSE OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1993), p. 198.
The hellish region, the realm of Ahriman, is divorced from
“true” nature, that is, nature suffused with spirit.
The hellish realm denies spirit and is divorced from it.
The coming of technology was a strong indication of Ahriman’s rise.
"In the age when there was not yet a technical industry independent of true Nature, man found the Spirit within his view of Nature. But the technical processes, emancipating themselves from Nature, caused him to stare more and more fixedly at the mechanical-material, which now became for him the really scientific realm. In this mechanical-material domain, all the Divine-Spiritual Being connected with the origin of human evolution, is completely absent. The purely Ahrimanic dominates this sphere.
"In the Science of the Spirit [i.e., Anthroposophy], we now create another sphere in which there is no Ahrimanic element. It is just by receiving in Knowledge this spirituality to which the Ahrimanic powers have no access, that man is strengthened to confront Ahriman within the world." — Rudolf Steiner, ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1973), # 29, “From Nature to Sub-Nature”, GA 26.
"Ahriman seizes every opportunity of confining man to the operations of the intellect alone. Nor has he yet relinquished the hope that he will succeed.
"What would his mean? If Ahriman were to succeed in imbuing man with the conviction — to the exclusion of all others — that he can only exist in a physical body, that as a being of soul-and-spirit he is inseparable from his body, then the human soul would be so possessed by the idea of death that Ahriman could easily fulfill his aims. This is Ahriman's constant hope. And it may be said that from the forties to the end of the nineteenth century, his heart rejoiced — although to speak of a ‘heart’ in the case of Ahriman is merely a figure of speech — for in the rampant materialism of that period he might well hope for the establishment of his rulership on Earth. (Please remember that I am using expressions of ordinary language here, although for such themes others should really be found). — A measure of success in this direction was indeed indicated by the fact that during the nineteenth century, Theology itself became materialistic. I have already said that Theology has become ‘unchristian,’ mentioning that Overbeck, a theologian living in Basle, has written a book in which he has tried to prove that modern Theology can no longer truly be called Christian. In this domain, too, there was reason for Ahriman's hopes to rise.
"Opposition to Ahriman really exists today only in such teachings as are contained in Anthroposophy." — Rudolf Steiner, “Exoteric and Esoteric Christianity” (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), a lecture, GA 211.*
ALL IN ALL
"During that state a special cosmic body splits off that contains all the beings who have resisted evolution, a so to speak 'irredeemable moon,' which now moves toward an evolution, for the character of which no expression can be found because it is too dissimilar to anything that man can experience on earth." — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), chapter 6, “The Present and Future of Cosmic and Human Evolution”, GA 13.
"[T]here is also an opposing principle to the Lamb, there is also a Sun-Demon, so-called Demon of the Sun [Sorat], that which works in the evil forces of man, thrusting back the force of the Lamb, and it works in such a way that a certain part of the human race is thrust out of the evolution that leads to the sun. There are the opposing forces of the sun, they are in opposition to the sun; at the same time they are the forces which have the tendency to be entirely thrown out of our evolution when the 666 conditions of development have passed away ; they will then be finally cast into the abyss. So that we may say: At the time when the earth is united with the sun there will be excluded, not only what is symbolized by the beast with seven heads and ten horns, but also what is furnished with forces which are in opposition to the sun. All this is destined to disappear into the abyss when the 666 is fulfilled." — Rudolf Steiner, THE APOCALYPSE OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1993), p. 198.
Steiner taught that everything will be redeemed, eventually.
The good will prevail. Except...
Christ is the Sun God. The Sun must prevail. And it will.
In any case, avoiding the snares, keeping abreast of
evolution, is the smart thing to do. It will save you a lot of grief.
So don’t, for instance, make this mistake:
"[T]hose who have proven themselves to be immature in the age of Venus-Earth, who have placed themselves under the rulership of Sorat [the Antichrist], must now isolate themselves on a special sphere of earth while the other seven proceed downward and again upward. Thus the colony of Sorat falls away. The black magicians inhabit this eighth sphere, which goes to the left and away, and the beast gives a home to all that thus falls away: that is the eighth state." — Rudolf Steiner, READING THE PICTURES OF THE APOCALYPSE (Anthroposophic Press, 1993), lecture 12, GA 104a.
For more on the eighth sphere,
see "Sphere 8".
* To be fair, I should concede that Steiner did not claim a complete monopoly on truth. He said that any teachings that conform to his own teachings are equally true. He always agreed with anyone who agreed with him. Thus, he said that truth can be found "only in such teachings as are contained in Anthroposophy." This allows a little leeway ("such teachings as..."). Any teachings not found in Anthroposophy but deeply similar to Anthroposophy are OK, probably. But to be safe — remember, we're taking about avoiding the rigors of perdition — you really should accept no substitutes for Anthroposophy, the true way upward.
- Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
Subhumans, in animal and demonic form, in the Abyss
as depicted by Rudolf Steiner in the Red Window in the West,
a triptych at the Anthroposophical headquarters, the Goetheanum.
[See John Fletcher, ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER (Mercury Arts Publications, 1987), p. 44
— copy by Assia Turgenieff; contrast enhanced].
Whatever is right or wrong about Waldorf schools, the source lies in Steiner's occultism. He acknowledged that we live in the physical universe, and he admitted (sometimes) that science describes this universe with some precision. But he also claimed that we simultaneously live in other universes, which are truer. Here is a version of the etheric universe. Steiner attributed this description to the ancients, but it is close to his own view. In the center you see the Earth (green). Surrounding it is Hell or the Abyss (red), the barrier that divides us from the rest of the etheric universe. Outside Hell is the sphere of the Moon (gray). This sphere encloses the Earth: We live in the Earth sphere but also inside the Moon sphere, making us subject to Moon forces. Outside the Moon sphere are other, increasingly large spheres, each of which encloses all of the smaller spheres. We live within all of these spheres and are subject to their forces. In order, the spheres are Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the crystal heaven or the realm of fixed stars. Essentially, this is the ancient astrological description of the heavens.
“[T]he idea was that the earth was inside the moon, and the bit we see of the moon is only a tiny, solid part of it ... [I]f the earth were not within the powers of the moon, human beings...would not be able to procreate ... If human beings did not have the powers of Mercury in them all the time they would not be able to digest ... Venus lives in our blood. Everything that has to do with blood in us comes from the powers of Venus ... [T]he powers of the sun are above all active in the human heart ... Mars...is connected with everything to do with speech and everything we have by way of breathing organs ... Jupiter...has to do with our brain, really our sense organs, our brain with the sense organs ... Saturn has to do with our organs of thinking ... Copernicus' image of the world [i.e., the physical, scientific image] has all been calculated. Those earlier people [the ancients, who were wiser] did not make calculations. But they knew something else, something modern people do not know. They knew that the powers were active everywhere in the world, wherever you look. But these powers, which are also in the human being, are not in the world we see with our eyes; they are in the invisible realm ... Dante [who presented the ancient view] was therefore speaking of a very different world, an etheric world ... [H]e wrote of the invisible realm, of the etheric world." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM LIMESTONE TO LUCIFER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 41-45. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on illustration on p. 42.]
Note the distinction between the brain and our "thinking organs." This is just one of the many peculiarities in the visions Steiner endorsed. Essentially, Steiner accepted the ignorance of the ancient peoples, calling it wisdom; and he rejected the knowledge of modern science, calling it ignorance. People of faith today may agree that a spiritual realm exists, but in considering Waldorf schools they should ask themselves whether the true spiritual realm is the place Steiner described, a realm of celestial spheres, astrology, clairvoyance, and all the other esoteric elements of Steiner's doctrines.