”[Man] is a part of the supersensible world, a world where, in the first place,
we find Beings called in Christian esotericism, Angeloi or Angels;
these are the Beings standing next above man [i.e., Angels are gods of the first rank].
Above them come the Archangeloi or Archangels [godly rank #2],
then the Archai or Spirits of Personality [rank #3].
Above these again are the Exusiai [rank #4], Dynamis [rank #5] and Kyriotetes [rank #6],
and still higher are the Thrones [rank #7], Cherubim [rank #8] and Seraphim [rank #9].”
— Rudolf Steiner, EXCURSUS ON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MARK
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1937), lecture 4, GA 124.
The cosmology underlying Waldorf schools is polytheistic — Rudolf Steiner described a universe teeming with gods. Many of these gods focus much if not all of their attention on us: They assist us in our spiritual evolution.
Most of the gods are themselves evolving. They are much like us, having themselves been “human” in the past — that is, they passed through a stage of development comparable to our present stage. They are more advanced than we are now, but we will proceed upward in their wake, becoming gods ourselves.
Steiner's primary system for classifying gods is a variant of the traditional Biblical ninefold celestial order. There are nine main ranks of gods, extending from those who are just a bit above us to those who are nearest to the ultimate divine essence, the Godhead. In a fundamental sense, everything that exists is created by the actions and thoughts of the various gods. In an even more fundamental sense, everything actually consists of the thoughts of the gods. The gods are spirits, their thoughts are spirits, and this is the essential reality. All else is maya or illusion.
Here is what we might call the celestial mainline, ranking spiritual beings from the Godhead downward to ourselves. Thus, the Spirits of Love are the gods standing closest to the Godhead, and the Sons of Twilight — who stand only a bit above us — are the gods farthest from the Godhead. There are nine ranks of gods between the Godhead and ourselves as we exist at our present level of spiritual development.
Spirits of Love
Spirits of the Harmonies
Spirits of Will
Spirits of Wisdom
Spirits of Movement
Spirits of Form
Spirits of Personality
Spirits of Fire
Sons of Twilight
Steiner departed from Biblical tradition in many ways. The beings in the ninefold order are, he said, not simply the attendants of God — they themselves are gods. Moreover, Steiner accepted as real various gods that, in Judeo-Christian tradition, would be considered mere idols or false gods. He assigned as many of these as he could to the nine ranks in his scheme. Gods such as Thor, he said, are real. Steiner worked from the premise of Theosophy: that all religions are essentially alike, so their teachings can be reconciled. This, for many, is one of the chief attractions of Theosophy and/or Anthroposophy.
In Steiner’s teachings, the ninefold pattern is not neatly all-encompassing. Powerful spiritual beings, gods, may be found outside the ranks or, at a minimum, they may be found blurring the lines between ranks. “Abnormal” gods who ought to have a certain rank may function as members of other ranks.
In the list, above, I have used the names for the gods that Steiner himself often used. But he also sometimes he used names more consistent with Biblical tradition, and his followers sometimes prefer these names. Below is a list that includes Biblical names as well as still more names given or used by Steiner from time to time. Sometimes the differences in names reflect real differences between types of spirits, but sometimes they do not. And sometimes similar or identical names are used for gods of differing ranks.
The nine ranks of gods can be divided into three “hierarchies.” There are three ranks of gods in each hierarchy. Thus, for instance, the "First Hierarchy" consists of Seraphim (the highest rank below the Godhead), Cherubim (one rank lower than Seraphim), and Thrones (one rank lower than Cherubim.)
Note that in Anthroposophical usage, the term "hierarchy" is sometimes used to designate rank, and sometimes it is used to designate major subdivisions of the ranks, as shown in the following list. Thus, sometimes there are said to be nine hierarchies (ranks), and sometimes there are said to be three hierarchies (subdivisions of ranks). More generally, Anthroposophists also use the term “hierarchies” as a synonym for “gods.” Thus, they may speak of the celestial hierarchies, meaning all of the gods in the celestial spheres.
◊ FIRST HIERARCHY ◊
• Seraphim, Spirits of Love •
• Cherubim, Spirits of Harmony •
• Thrones, Spirits of Will, Radiating Lives,
Radiating Flames •
◊ SECOND HIERARCHY ◊
• Dominions, Spirits of Wisdom, Wisdom Spirits, Kyriotetes •
• Mights, Dynamis, Spirits of Motion, Spirits of Activity,
Principalities, Virtues •
• Powers, Spirits of Form, Revelations, Exusiai, Elohim,
Spirits of Light, Authorities •
◊ THIRD HIERARCHY ◊
• Archai, Spirits of Personality, First Beginnings, Principalities, Original Forces,
Spirits of an Age, Spirits of Epochs, Primeval Beginnings, Primeval Forces,
Zeitgeists, Time Spirits, Spirits of Darkness, Spirits of Selfhood •
• Archangels, Archangeloi, Spirits of Fire, Agnishvattas, Solar Pitris •
• Angels, Angeloi, Sons of Twilight, Spirits of Dusk, Sons of Life, Lunar Pitris •
Complicating things further: Steiner sometimes taught that the gods cannot truly be ranked; they exist in a circle, as it were, with no absolute divisions marking some gods as higher than others.
In general, we may say that — according to Steiner — the distinctions, definitions, and terminology we humans use to discuss the divine are inadequate. Things in the spirit realm flow together and constantly change or evolve — or at least so it may seem to us. And the higher we try to lift our gaze, the less adequate our comprehension becomes. Thus, when we try to discuss the Godhead, our efforts are miserably inadequate. So, you will find contradictions and inadequacies in Steiner's statements as well as, necessarily, in my paraphrasings of Steiner's statements. According to Steiner, we just have to accept such circumstances — they come with the territory.
All that having been said, still, in most Anthroposophical texts — including Steiner's work — the gods are usually considered to occupy higher and lower positions relative to one another and relative to ourselves. Faulty as the concepts may be, Anthroposophists generally speak of gods occupying nine ranks, subdivided into three hierarchies. I will generally stick with that formulation here.
The following are some of Steiner's indications concerning the nine ranks of gods. This time around, we'll proceed from low to high, beginning with the gods closest to us and then proceeding to gaze, however dimly, at higher and higher ranks. (You may find Steiner's statements heavy going. I suggest that you just plow ahead, getting a feel for Steiner's language and thought patterns. Aiming to aid some clarity, I have highlighted key terms.)
The gods, as described by Steiner, reside beyond ordinary depiction.
Steiner said that the spirit realm "has no spatial forms or lines, [but] it does have color intensities, color qualities.
[It] is a soul-permeated, spirit-permeated world of light, of color, of tone;
a world of qualities not quantities; a world of intensities rather than extensions.”
— Rudolf Steiner, THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION (Anthroposophic Press, 1964), p. 23.
[R.R. sketch, 2014, approximating the wet-on-wet art produced in Waldorf schools.
Such art suggests the spirit realm without, of course, truly depicting it.
All art produced in the physical realm must have lines, forms, and extensions to some degree.]
Gods One Step Above Man: Sons of Twilight
(Angels, Angeloi, Spirits of Dusk, Sons of Life, Lunar Pitris)
“Within the Saturn body [i.e., Old Saturn — the earliest planetary stage of our evolution] something like sensations of taste begin [i.e., began] to go surging to and fro. Sweet, bitter, sour, etc. are perceived at diverse places in the interior of Saturn; while in the heavenly spaces without, all this gives the impression of sound, a kind of music. And in these processes, once more, Beings find it possible to unfold their activity on Saturn. These Beings may be called the ‘Sons of Twilight,’ or ‘Sons of Life’ (in Christian language they are the Angeloi or Angels.)” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1963), chapter 4, part 3, GA 13.
“These beings are the ‘Sons of Twilight,’ the ‘Spirits of Dusk.’ (In theosophical writings they are called Lunar Pitris or Barhishad-Pitris.) They attain the stage of humanity only on the Moon. On earth they, as well as their predecessors, the Sons of Fire [i.e., Archangels], have already grown beyond the stage of humanity. On earth they are higher beings which Christian esoteric teaching calls ‘Angels’ (Angeloi), while for the Sons of Fire it uses the expression “Archangels” (Archangeloi). These Sons of Twilight develop in the ancestor of man a kind of understanding [i.e., they had this effect on our early development], of which however, in his dull consciousness, he himself cannot yet make use.” — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1959), chapter 14, GA 11.
“We will first try to form an idea of the nature of the Angels ... [T]he Angel's consciousness does not reach down to where the stones, rocks, minerals are ... Angels are...aware consciously of four kingdoms, the kingdoms of plant, animal, man and the kingdom of the Angels ... [T]hey have no physical body and therefore no organs of the physical body such as eyes, ears, and so on. Hence they do not perceive the physical world. As their lowest being they have the etheric body and hence have a certain relationship with the plants ...The Angels today are...the leaders of men, their guides, preparing them, and there exists an intimate connection between what gradually develops in man and the task of these Angel beings ... Angels in the hierarchies of evolution are the spirits which guide this task of man — the transforming of the astral body into the spirit-self [i.e., a more perfected form of individual human identity].” — Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1982), lecture 7, GA 102.
“Starting from the middle of the fourth Moon cycle, man consists of a physical body in which the Sons of Twilight perform their labor, of an ether body in which the Spirits of Fire [Archangels] perform theirs, and finally of an astral body in which the Spirits of Personality [Archai] perform theirs.” — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY, chapter 16.
“All that has here been described as pertaining to the middle epoch of Sun evolution [i.e., Old Sun — the second planetary stage], lasts for a certain time; and then, once more there is an interval of rest [“pralaya”]. After the interval, things go on for awhile in the same way as before, until a point is reached in evolution when the human etheric body is mature for a united working of the Sons of Life (The Angeloi) and the Spirits of Harmony (the Cherubim [we’ll get to these]) ... The Sons of Life hereby attain the dim picture-consciousness which the Fire Spirits [Archangels] reached on Saturn. The Spirits of Harmony (Cherubim) are their helpers in this. They behold in spirit what is now taking its course in Sun evolution; but they deny themselves all the fruits of this their contemplation, all feeling of the Wisdom-filled pictures that arise there, and pour them like wondrous magic scenes into the dream-consciousness of the Sons of Life. These in turn weave the forms they behold into man's etheric body [the lowest of our invisible bodies], which rises thereby to higher and higher stages in its evolution.” — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), chapter 4, part 4, GA 13.
Gods Two Steps Above Man: Fire Spirits
(Archangels, Spirits of Fire, Agnishvattas, Solar Pitris)
“In the further course of Saturn evolution [Old Saturn], facts of quite another kind ensue ... A life of light begins ... The Saturn warmth-bodies [early forms of living manifestation] begin to glimmer and glisten, even to radiate light. The attainment of this stage affords once more the possibility for certain Beings to unfold their activity. These are the Beings who may be designated “Fire Spirits” (in Christian terminology, Archangeloi, Archangels.) They have an astral body of their own ... They cannot say to themselves ‘I am,’ rather would they have to say: ‘My environment enables me to be’ ... Phantoms-of-man [human precursors], revealing as yet no other outward sign than these ‘light’ archetypes of the sense-organs, become perceptible in Saturn to the faculty of clairvoyance. Man's sense-organs are thus the fruits of the activity of the Fire Spirits.” — OCCULT SCIENCE, chapter 4, part 3.
“Archangels have a consciousness that no longer reaches down to the plant kingdom but only to the animal kingdom. The plants, so to speak, do not exist for them ... These beings too have an important mission, and since they have a consciousness two stages higher than man, you can understand that the mission must be a very lofty one ... [T]he Archangels are leaders of whole peoples; what one calls the folk spirit, the common spirit of the people or folk, is in reality one of the Archangels ... [T]he highest beings of whom man can form any idea guide the course of world-evolution through such intermediate beings as we have just considered. These can be denoted as the various tasks of the Archangels.” — THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN, lecture 7.
“The animals exist only as states of consciousness of the Spirits of Fire, the plants as states of consciousness of the Spirits of Twilight [Angels]. The minerals have a double existence in thought. First they exist as thought germs in...human ancestors...then as thoughts in the consciousness of the Spirits of Form [Exusiai].” — COSMIC MEMORY, chapter 17.
“These Spirits of Fire rise to the human stage by allowing their forces to surge in and out of this Saturn part of the human being, just as this was performed by the Spirits of Personality [Spirits of Personality] on Saturn. This, too, happens at the central stage of the Sun evolution. At that time the Saturn part of the human being is so far matured that with its help the Spirits of Fire — Archangels — are able to pass through their human stage.” — AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE, chapter 4, part 4.
“Oriental Mysticism unites with the Christian knowledge of the West to form a wonderfully beautiful unity. It is also disclosed that he who will appear three thousand years after our era as the Maitreya Buddha will have incarnated again and again on the Earth as a Bodhisattva, as the successor of Gautama Buddha. One of his incarnations was that of Jeshu ben Pandira, who lived a hundred years before the Christian era. The being who incarnated in Jeshu ben Pandira is he who will one day become the Maitreya Buddha, and who from century to century returns ever and again in a body of flesh, not yet as Buddha, but as Bodhisattva. Even now there proceeds from him who later on will be the Maitreya Buddha, the most significant teachings concerning the Christ Being and the Sons of Fire — the Agnishvattas — of Indian Mysticism.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ETHERISATION OF THE BLOOD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1971), a lecture, GA 130.
“In theosophical literature the Archangels are also called Spirits of Fire, and the Primeval Beginnings, spirits of Personality [Spirits of Personality — see below] ... Archangeloi or Fire Spirits. These do not occupy themselves with separate men, with the single individual, but have a wider task; they bring single lives into harmonious order with the life of larger human groups, as, for instance, nations, races, etc. Within our earth's evolution the Archangels’ task is to bring into certain harmonious relationship each single soul with the national or race-soul.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1928), lecture 6, GA 110.
Gods Three Steps Above Man: Spirits of Personality
(Archai, First Beginnings, Principalities, Original Forces,
Spirits of an Age, Spirits of Epochs, Primeval Beginnings, Primeval Forces,
Zeitgeists, Time Spirits, Spirits of Darkness, Spirits of Selfhood)
“[N]ow at this stage in the evolution of Saturn [Old Saturn] certain Beings intervene [i.e., intervened], who again have the astral body for their lowest member, but have brought it on so far in its evolution that it works like a human I [our highest invisible body] of the present time. Through them the I looks down from the surrounding spaces on to Saturn, and communicates its nature to the single ‘live’ beings. Hence something is sent forth from Saturn into the heavenly spaces, that resembles the impression made by human personality in our present cycle of life. The Beings who bring this about may be called ‘Spirits of Personality’ (in Christian terminology they are the Archai, First Beginnings, or Principalities.) These Beings communicate to the particles of the Saturn body a semblance of the character of personality. The Spirits of Personality have their real personality in the surrounding sphere. They cause their own being to be rayed back to them from the Saturn bodies, and this very process bestows upon the Saturn bodies the fine substantiality which was described above as ‘warmth.’ Throughout the whole of Saturn there is no inwardness; but the Spirits of Personality behold and recognize the image of their own inwardness, in that it streams out to them as warmth from Saturn.” — OCCULT SCIENCE, chapter 4, part 3. Note: Steiner also sometimes ranked principalities as spirits of movement.
“Now we come to the rank of the ‘Original Forces.’ They are still more lofty beings whose consciousness no longer descends to the animals ... For the Original Forces man is the lowest kingdom ... [T]hey guide the progress of humanity from a very lofty height. People here and there have an inkling that something exists as a kind of ‘Spirit of the Age,’ that differs according to the different epochs ...People rise to the conception of Ages, but they do not know that behind this whole progress of the Ages, Spirits of the Epochs stand... [E]verything of human origin, the progress of civilization from beginning to end stands under the guidance of the Original Forces. They lead man in so far as he has to do with others.” — THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN, lecture 7.
“Then we rise to those beings whom we designate the Spirits of Personality, primeval beginnings, primeval forces, or Archai ... [T]hey live in such a way that, on the waves of time, from epoch to epoch, they transform themselves at certain definite periods, they assume other spiritual bodies ... You have here to do with that which represents the meaning and the mission of an epoch of humanity ... This ‘Spirit of the Age’ comprises something which reaches beyond single nations, beyond single races ... That which one really calls a ‘Zeit geist’ or Spirit of an epoch is the spiritual body of the Archai or the Primeval Beginnings or Spirits of Personality.” — THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 6.
“Then follows the activity of the ‘Spirits of Darkness.’ which are also called 'Spirits of Personality’ or of 'Self-hood’ (Egoism). At this stage they have [i.e., had] a consciousness similar to the present human earthly consciousness. They inhabit the formed human material body as 'souls’ in a way similar to that in which the human soul inhabits its body today. They implant a kind of sensory organs in the body, which are the germs of the sensory organs which later develop in the human body in the course of the development of earth.” — COSMIC MEMORY, “The Life of Saturn".
“...I have drawn your attention at various times to the fact that certain beings from each spiritual hierarchy stay behind, they have not risen as high as the others, but have stood still, so to speak, in world-evolution ... There are on earth Original Forces who are really immature Powers ... [T]here is that being whom one is right in calling ‘Satan’ [i.e., Ahriman] — Satan, the ‘Unlawful Prince of this World.’ This is a truth, however, only to those who look at things from the aspect of spiritual science. The Lawful Prince is one of the ‘Powers,’ Yahve or Jehovah.” — THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN, lecture 7.
Gods Four Steps Above Man: Spirits of Form
(Revelations, Exusiai, Elohim, Spirits of Light,
“[T]he activity of yet other Beings begins [i.e., began], whom we will call Spirits of Form. Their lowest member is also an astral body ... [T]he astral body of the Spirits of Form (in Christian language Exusiai or Powers) works in such a way that it seems as though manifestations are being hurled out into cosmic space from many single beings ... The Spirits of Form divide this life of Saturn [Old Saturn] into so many separate living entities, so that eventually it appears like a conglomeration of soul-beings.” — OCCULT SCIENCE, chapter 4, part 3.
“[W]hen we get beyond the Archai, we reach to those Beings...the so called Powers, — Exusiai, whom we also call the Spirits of Form. Here we have to do with tasks that reach beyond the earth. We differentiate in the course of human development a Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan evolution. We have now seen how all that happens within the earth itself is regulated by the Angels as regards the individual men, by Archangels as regards the relation between individuals and the large masses of humanity, and by the Spirits of Personality for the whole development of man, from the Lemurian period [Lemuria was a content like Atlantis] up to the period when man will again be so largely spiritualised that he will hardly belong to the earth. But something else has yet to be regulated. Humanity will have to be guided from one planetary condition to another. Spiritual Beings must also exist, whose care it is during the whole earth evolution to see that when that evolution will have come to an end, humanity may pass in the right manner through a Pralaya [rest period] and find its way to the next goal, to the Jupiter goal. These are the Powers or Spirits of Form ... The spirits whose care it is to see that the whole of humanity should be led from one planetary condition to another, are the Powers, Exusiai or Spirits of Form.” — THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 6.
“We have now raised ourselves to very lofty Spirits, and we come next to the hierarchy who are called ‘Revelations,’ Exusiai ... The Spirits of Light belong to the order of the Powers or Revelations. We know that Yahve [Jehovah] had six companions who separated off the sun. Yahve himself went with the moon which reflected the sun's light to the earth, but he is a companion of the other Elohim ... The whole structure in which man is embedded, the guidance of the planet and what occurs on it is the affair of the Revelations or Powers. For the whole present evolution of humanity could not have gone on without, on the one hand, the accelerating sun forces, and, on the other, the hindering moon forces.” — THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN, lecture 7.
"[T]here begins the activity of still other beings that may be called the 'Spirits of Form.' Their lowest member is also an astral body, but it stands at a stage of development different from that of the Spirits of Motion. Whereas these latter communicate only general expressions of feeling to the reflected life, the activity of the astral body of the Spirits of Form (in Christian esotericism, 'Exusiai,' or 'Authorities,') is of such a nature that the expressions of feeling are flung back into cosmic space as though from individual beings. One might say that the Spirits of Motion cause Saturn as a whole to appear like an ensouled being. The Spirits of Form divide this life into individual living beings, so that Saturn now appears like an agglomeration of such soul beings." — AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE, p. 124.
(Notes: (1) Steiner sometimes referred to Spirits of Form as Spirits of Love, but usually he did not. (2) Steiner put Authorities at the same level as Exusiai, which he normally located four steps above humanity. But on occasion he seemed to locate Authorities and Exusiai five steps above humanity. [See the listing for "Authorities" in the Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.] Although Steiner claimed that his teachings on such matters resulted from his use of exact clairvoyance, in fact they seem to derive from passages having debatable meaning found in the Bible and other texts. E.g., "Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him." — 1 Peter 3:22.)
Gods Five Steps Above Man: Spirits of Movement
(Dynamis, Mights, Spirits of Motion, Spirits of Activity,
“When by the working together of Will and Life a certain stage of Saturn evolution has been reached, other Beings too begin to work. They also are in the surrounding sphere of Saturn. We may call them Spirits of Movement; in Christian terminology they are Dynamis or Mights. They have no physical body and no life-body; their lowest member is the astral body. When the Saturn bodies have attained the faculty of reflecting life, the life which is thus rayed back can become permeated with the properties which have their seat in the astral bodies of the Spirits of Movement. As a result, it appears as though expressions of emotion, feeling, and other soul-forces were being hurled out from Saturn into the heavenly spaces. The entire Saturn seems like a being that is ensouled, manifesting sympathies and antipathies. But these manifestations are not its own; they are but the reflection of the soul-activities of the Spirits of Movement ... The Spirits of Movement, we might say, make Saturn as a whole appear as an animate being endowed with soul.” — OCCULT SCIENCE, chapter 4, part 3.
“The third kind of spirits with the self-conscious (supra-psychic) object consciousness [a level of conscious we will acquire after Vulcan] is called ‘Spirits of Motion’ or of ‘Activity.’ In Christian mystery science they are called ‘Principalities’ (Dynamis). (In theosophical literature, the expression Mahat is to be found for them.) From the middle of the second Saturn cycle onward [life on Old Saturn developed in stages or cycles] they combine with the progress of their own development, the further elaboration of the human material body, in which they implant the capacity of movement and of forceful activity. This task comes to a conclusion around the middle of the third Saturn cycle.” — COSMIC MEMORY, “The Life of Saturn". Note: Steiner also sometimes ranked principalities as spirits of movement.
“Yet a stage higher than these Powers are those Beings we call Mights — Spirits of Motion — Dynamis. These were related to the Spirits of Personality on ancient Saturn in the same way as the Archangels are to us to-day ... Thus on ancient Saturn we have an ascending scale of Beings ... These were, if one may so call them, the inhabitants of ancient Saturn.” — THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 4.
“[I]f nothing else were to occur, if the Beings of the higher Hierarchies would not work upon our astral body, if during the time between death and a new birth, when we live backwards through our life, nothing would occur except the fact that the astral body is discarded, then the astral body would appear as the whole vegetable kingdom outside in the world. Indeed, this would even take on the form of a sphere, it would follow its own elasticity. The astral body would really take on the form of a sphere; but it cannot do this because during our life between birth and death the Spirits of Form have been working upon our astral body, also the Spirits of Movement [and others] ... When we discard our etheric body, this becomes inwoven, I might say, with the universal ether of the cosmos. But what appears now, as a woof woven out of our astral body as a result of the work of the Spirits of Form, the Spirits of Movement [and others]...cooperates with our Ego [the “I”] that is passing through its time between death and a new birth and contains forces which must be active, in order that we may once more enter a new incarnation.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Weaving and Living Activity of the Human Etheric Bodies” (Anthroposophic News Sheet no. 7-8, Feb. 18, 1940), GA 174a.
“We must now make a certain disclosure about the Cosmic position of these Beings. In spiritual science, in that which it is desired to continue to-day in Anthroposophy, and which is at bottom [of] the Wisdom of the Mysteries, these different Beings of the heavenly Hierarchies have always been spoken of as we have spoken of them to-day ... [T]he present Saturn represents the limit up to which reached the action of the Thrones or Spirits of Will [see below]; Jupiter, the limit up to which the Dominions, Spirits of Wisdom, acted [see below]; and Mars, the boundary line up to which reached the influence of the Mights, Dynamis or Virtues, or Spirits of Motion.” — THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 6.
Gods Six Steps Above Man: Spirits of Wisdom
(Kyriotetes, Dominions, Wisdom Spirits)
“Certain sublime Beings whose life Saturn rays back, may be called Spirits of Wisdom. (In Christian spiritual science they bear the name Kyriotetes, i.e. Dominions.) Their activity on Saturn does not be any means begin with the middle epoch of evolution ... Indeed in a certain sense it is by then already at an end. Before they could become conscious of the reflection of their own life, proceeding from the warmth-bodies of Saturn, they had first to make these bodies capable of bringing about such a reflection. Hence their activity began soon after the commencement of Saturn evolution, at a time when the Saturn corporeality was still chaotic substance which could not have reflected anything ... The Spirits of Wisdom have in their etheric body attained the power to do more than enjoy the reflection of Life — as on Saturn; they are now able to pour Life out of themselves, endowing other beings with it.” — OCCULT SCIENCE, chapter 4, part 3.
“The Spirits of Wisdom or Kyriotetes receive from the circumference of Saturn that which comes down through the mediation of the highest Hierarchy, so that they may transform it and make it harmonise with what is in the interior of Saturn ... [T]he Dominions or Spirits of Wisdom are the directors inside Saturn... Which are the Spiritual Beings who carried over the condensation of the substance of ancient Saturn to the ancient Sun? These Beings whom we call the Dominions, or Spirit of Wisdom. It is they who now press inwards from outside and who originally pressed together the mighty mass of Saturn so that it grew smaller. The Dominions brought pressure to bear upon it, until the ancient Sun became the size of a globe, the mass of which, if you place the Sun in its centre, you must imagine as reaching out to Jupiter. Thus Saturn was a gigantic world-globe, which having our Sun in its centre would have reached as far as to the present Saturn, an enormous globe, as large as our present solar system. The Sun of which we have just spoken was a world-globe which stretched a far as the Jupiter of to-day. This point marks the boundary of the ancient Sun-world. You will do well if you picture those outer planets as boundary marks for the limits of the ancient Worlds. You see that we are gradually approaching the theory of the planets, being led thereto through the activity of the hierarchies.” — THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 5.
“[T]here follow beings with a creative (spiritual) consciousness, similar to that which man will attain on Vulcan. They are called ‘Spirits of Wisdom’ ... During the second cycle of Saturn they advance their own development to some extent, and at the same time work on the human body in such a way that a ‘wise arrangement,’ a rational structure is implanted in it.” — COSMIC MEMORY, “The Life of Saturn”.
“’Spirits of Wisdom’ again intervene. While in their preceding period of labor they had given a wise structure to the human body, they now bestow on the limbs, which have become mobile, the capacity to render their motion a wisdom-directed one ... [T]he human body is already prepared for the reception of the ether body, because the ‘Spirits of Wisdom’ have given him the possibility of wisdom-filled motion. In the meantime however, these ‘Spirits of Wisdom’ themselves have developed further. Through the labor which they have performed, they have become capable of pouring their substance out of themselves ... The substance of the ‘Spirits of Wisdom’ is the ‘ether,’ that is, mobile and power-filled wisdom, in other words, ‘life.’ The ether or life body of man is thus an emanation of the ‘Wisdom Spirits.’” — COSMIC MEMORY, “The Life of the Sun”.
“[A] typical experience that's felt by a novice and seen by a pupil is that his physical body is dismembered and scattered, and seems not to belong to him anymore. Even the organs like the heart, liver and gall bladder expand. Thereby we recall that our physical body arose on Saturn through the streaming in of Thrones' substantiality [see below], our etheric body on old Sun through Spirits of Wisdom, our astral body on old Moon through Spirits of Movement, whereas on earth the I was given to us by Spirits of Form. We return to these spirits during meditation. Now one should not imagine that each of our organs goes back to the power who implanted them in us, but we blend into their moods; although when we feel that we belong to these powers we must remain aware of our own I.” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM THE CONTENTS OF THE ESOTERIC CLASSES (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), GA 266.
Gods Seven Steps Above Man: Spirits of Will
(Thrones, Radiating Lives, Radiating Flames)
“The Beings who find Their blessedness in pouring out Will at the beginning of Saturn may be called ‘Spirits of Will.’ (In Christian esoteric science they are called the Thrones.) ... Let us now direct our attention to these phantoms-of-man [human precursors] with their semblance of life. During the period with which we have been dealing, they are of ever-changing form. Now they will resemble one shape, now another. In the further course of evolution the shapes become more definite, and sometimes even last for a while. This is due to their being now permeated by the influences of the Spirits who were at work in the very beginning of Saturn evolution, namely the Spirits of Will (the Thrones.) As a result, the phantom-of-man appears to be endowed with the simplest, darkest form of consciousness. We must conceive it as being yet more dim than that of dreamless sleep. Under present-day conditions, the minerals possess this consciousness. It brings the inner nature of the object or being into unison with the physical external world. On Saturn it is the Spirits of Will who regulate this unison, with the result that man appears like an impress of the Saturn life itself ... Inwardly — within Saturn — this dull human will manifests itself to the faculty of supersensible perception by effects which may be compared to ‘smells.’ Outwardly — out into the heavenly spaces — there is a manifestation as of personality, a personality, however, that is not guided by an inner I, but regulated from outside like a machine. It is the Spirits of Will who regulate it ... Pure inner warmth accompanies the appearance on Saturn of the Spirits of Movement, pure spiritual light that of the Spirits of Wisdom, while pure inward being is connected with the first outpouring of the Spirits of Will.” — OCCULT SCIENCE, chapter 4, part 3.
“When the Saturn development began, the most sublime of these beings already had attained a level of consciousness which man will reach only after his Vulcan life, that is, a high creative (supra-spiritual) consciousness. These ‘creators,’ too, once had to pass through the stages of man. This took place on heavenly bodies which preceded Saturn. However, the connection of these beings with the development of mankind lasted until the middle of the life of Saturn. Because of their sublime, delicate body of rays, in mystery science they are called ‘Radiating Lives’ or ‘Radiating Flames.’ Because the substance of which this body consisted had a remote resemblance to the will of man, they are also called ‘Spirits of Will.’ These spirits are the creators of the man of Saturn. From their bodies they pour the substance which becomes the carrier of the human Saturn consciousness. The period of development during which this takes place is called the first small Saturn cycle. (In the language of theosophy, this is the “first round.”) The material body which man receives in this way is the first rudiment of his later physical body. One can say that the germ of the physical human body is planted during the first Saturn cycle by the Spirits of Will, and that at that time this germ has the dull Saturn consciousness.” — COSMIC MEMORY, “The Life of Saturn”.
“The sphere of the instreaming forces meets incessantly that of the outstreaming forces; and where they come together they form as one might say a boundary, which is the surface of the earth. So that the surface one sees is only a delusion which is the result of the in and outward streaming forces, acting in such a way that they stop each other just at the surface in question. That which thus streams forth is essentially the same as what we must call the activities of the Thrones, the Spirits of Will. These Spirits radiate their forces from the earth, out in every direction; and that which comes in from universal space is essentially what we may call the radiating influx of the forces of certain Spirits of Motion, working inwards from without. Thus these two kinds of forces meet here ... Nevertheless this would certainly not suffice to enable our earth to form itself into just such a planet as it now is. The opposed activity of the Spirits of Will and the Spirits of Motion would not be sufficient for this; they would produce something quite different. If, for instance, only the Spirits of Will were to work outwards from within the earth, and had as their opponents only the Spirits of Motion, then the earth would inwardly be in a continual state of flux. No part of the planet would then be able to be at rest. True, it would not be so fluidic as the present sea; it would not be an element forming and throwing up waves so easily as water, but it would form and throw up waves in a denser substance ... Through the co-operation of the Spirits of Will and the Spirits of Motion, the earth would be still in that form, if another activity had not come in, one which is exceptionally enduring and which expresses itself on the surface of our earth by the fact that to the Will-forces, acting in conjunction with the Spirits of Motion, was added that which we call the activity of the Spirits of Form. You may therefore imagine that these Spirits of Form, dancing as it were upon the waves, stilled the moving masses and brought them into forms; so that we have to describe the co-operative workings of three different forces.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1929), lecture 5, GA 121.
“Why are the Thrones enabled. to give out of their substance what Saturn needs? Because they have prepared themselves in an earlier system, through seven conditions like those our solar system is now going through. Before a system of Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim [see below] can be evolved, it must have been a solar system at an earlier stage; which means, that when the Sun has got so far as to be reunited with its planets, it becomes itself a circle — a Zodiacal circle. That which we have come to know in the Zodiac, those great, sublime Beings, are the results that have come over to us from an earlier solar system. That which has formerly evolved within a solar system can now send down its influence out of universal space, and produce a new solar system, created out of itself. The Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones are for us the highest Hierarchy among divine Beings, because they have already passed through their solar system evolution and have risen to mighty cosmic deeds of sacrifice.” — THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 5.
Gods Eight Steps Above Man: Spirits of the Harmonies
(Cherubim, Spirits of Harmony)
“‘Sons of Twilight,’ or ‘Sons of Life’ (in Christian language they are the Angeloi or Angels)...begin to interact with the surging, eddying forces of taste in the interior of Saturn, and by this means their etheric of life-body develops an activity that we may designate as a kind of metabolism. They bring life into the interior of Saturn; processes of nutrition and excretion begin to take place there. Not that the Beings themselves bring about these processes directly; the processes arise indirectly, through their activity. And now this inner life makes it possible for yet other Beings to enter the heavenly body. Let them be called the “Spirits of the Harmonies” (in Christian terminology called the Cherubim.) These Beings transmit to the Sons of Life a kind of dim consciousness of man today. It is like the consciousness that belongs to man in dreamless sleep, which is of such a low degree that in a manner of speaking it does not ‘come to consciousness’ at all; man remains unaware of it. Yet it is there. It differs from day-consciousness in kind as well as in degree. Our present-day plants possess this ‘dreamless sleep’ consciousness. It affords no perceptions of an outer world in the human sense of the word, but it regulates the life-processes and brings them into harmony with those in the outer Universe. At the Saturn stage with which we are here dealing, the Sons of Life cannot perceive the regulations; but the Spirits of the Harmonies perceive it. They therefore are the real regulators.” — OCCULT SCIENCE, chapter 4, part 3.
“In our human Thinking there lives the activity of the Angels. In our human speech, which springs from Feeling, there lives for man as he sleeps during the night the activity of the Archangels. And in what is revealed in waking life through human movement of the limbs, through all that is imbued with Willing — and which also goes on in the astral body — there lives during the night, when the astral body is outside, the world of the Archai. But what lives outside in this way, these supersensible activities of Archai, Archangels, and Angels, which are reflected in the waking human being in Willing, Feeling, and Thinking — these must be harmonized with the etheric and physical bodies ... [W]e come to the Hierarchy of Cherubim, who bring the human faculty of speech into accord with its physical basis. In all that serves speech or song in the organism, or anything similar to speech — the Cherubim bring the human life of Feeling into accord with the organs of speech. And now the faculty of Thought must also have its physical organ in the human nerves and senses. It is the Seraphim [see below] who bring Thinking into accord with the nerves and senses of man. Speech, and all that is connected with it, is brought into accord with Thinking and Feeling by the Cherubim.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Cosmic World and Individual Man” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1951), a lecture, GA 224.
“Those Beings who came out of spiritual space to meet the Archangels, we call Cherubim (The Spirits of Harmony). They are Beings of an exceptionally sublime nature; they have power to receive the Archangels, so to speak, with open arms. When the Archangels spread outwards, the Cherubim came to meet them, out of the Universal All. Thus, all round the globe of the ancient Sun, we have the approaching Cherubim. If I may use the comparison — just as our earth is surrounded by its atmosphere, so was the ancient Sun surrounded by the realm of the Cherubim, for the benefit of the Archangels. When the Archangels went out into the Universal spaces, they beheld their great helpers. In what way did those great helpers meet them, and what appearance had they? This can naturally only be stated by clairvoyant consciousness as read in the Akasha Chronicles. These great Universal Helpers revealed themselves in quite definite etheric shapes or figures. Our forefathers who, through their traditions, were still conscious of these most important facts, represented the Cherubim as those strangely winged animals with differently formed heads — the winged Lion, winged Eagle, winged Bull, winged Man. The fact is, that the Cherubim made their approach from four sides, in forms afterwards represented in the way the Cherubim are known to us. In the schools of the first post-Atlantean Initiates, these Cherubim, approaching the Ancient Sun on four sides, were given names, which later became the names, Bull, Lion, Eagle, Man.” — THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 4.
Gods Nine Steps Above Man: Spirits of Love
“Simultaneously with the Fire Spirits, other Beings appear upon the scene — Beings so far advanced in evolution that they are able to make use of the seeds of the sense-organs for witnessing the cosmic processes of Saturn's life. These are the Beings whom we may designate ‘Spirits of Love’ (In Christian language, Seraphim.)” — OCCULT SCIENCE, chapter 4, part 3.
“’Spirits of Love’...work upon the human etheric body (or life-body) in co-operation with the Spirits of Personality. The combined activity of these Beings enables the life-body to take a further step on its path of evolution ... Observation of the human being during the middle epoch of Sun evolution reveals it to be divided into a physical body and a life-body. The latter is the scene of activity for the more advanced Spirits of Personality, in unison with the Spirits of Love. The physical body is now intermingled with a portion of the retarded Saturn nature, and here the activity of the Fire Spirits is at work. In what the Fire Spirits achieve in this retarded Saturn nature, we have to recognize the forerunners of the present sense-organs of Earth man. (It will be remembered that already upon Saturn the Fire Spirits were concerned in elaborating within the warmth-substance the seeds of the human senses.) On the other hand, in that which is accomplished by the Spirits of Personality in union with the Spirits of Love (the Seraphim,) we have to perceive the first beginnings of man's present glandular organs.” — OCCULT SCIENCE, chapter 4, part 4.
“Still other Beings were around ancient Saturn, Beings of a degree still higher and still more sublime than the Cherubim, namely, the Seraphim (Spirits of Love) ... Thus we can imagine Saturn as a giant globe of warmth, surrounded by circles of spiritual Beings who are of a supremely high, sublime nature. Christian Esotericism calls them Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim. They are the Dhyanic Beings of the Eastern Teaching.
“Whence do these circles of sublime Beings come? Everything in the world, everything in the Universe has evolved ... We know that it has come forth out of ancient Saturn, Saturn transformed itself into the ancient Sun, which again changed into the ancient Moon ... The beings [humans: us] who have now to dwell upon the Earth, separated from the Sun, and who have been thrown out of the Sun, although excluded from it are developing ever higher and higher. They have to pass through yet another condition, that of Jupiter ... Then will come the Vulcan development, the highest state in the development of our system. ... In the Vulcan development, all those Beings who have evolved out of the small beginnings of the Saturn existence, will be spiritualised in the highest degree, they will have grown not only as far as the Sun, but even higher than the Sun. Vulcan is more than Sun, and with this it has reached the maturity of sacrifice, the maturity necessary to self disintegration.
“The course of evolution is this: a Sun, which from the beginning is included in such a system, has at first to throw off its planets, being too weak to develop further without excluding them. It grows strong, absorbs its planets again, and grows into a Vulcan. Then the whole is dissolved, and from the Vulcan globe is formed a hollow globe which is something like the circles of Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim, etc. The Sun will thus dissolve in space, sacrifice itself, send forth its Being into the Universe, and through this will itself become a circle of Beings like the Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim, which will then advance towards new creation.” — THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 5.
“It is the Seraphim who bring Thinking into accord with the nerves and senses of man. Speech, and all that is connected with it, is brought into accord with Thinking and Feeling by the Cherubim.
"Thus we see, when we have threefold Man before us: —
“In the organism of nerves and senses, in the basis of Thinking, the creating Seraphim.
“From this we see how the physical human form dissolves into appearance, and behind it there stand as realities: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones. We are always looking into the activity of the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones, when the human Ego is interwoven with its inner activity, when man in waking life moves, speaks, feels, and thinks.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Cosmic Word and Individual Man” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1951), GA 224.
(Note: Steiner sometimes referred to Spirits of Form as Spirits of Love, but usually he did not.)
Highest of All: The Godhead
“Beyond the Seraphim we have to see that highest Divinity of which we find mention by almost all nations as the threefold Divinity — as Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, as Father, Word [sic], and Holy Ghost. From out [of] this highest Godhead, this most exalted Trinity, stream forth the plans for a new cosmic system. Glancing back at ancient Saturn we say to ourselves: before any of this ancient Saturn came into Being, the plan of it had grown within the divine threefold Unity. But the threefold Unity has need of Beings to execute its plan. These Beings must first prepare themselves for the task. The Beings who, are so to speak, nearest God Himself, who, as is beautifully expressed in Christian Western Esotericism, ‘bask in the light of God's countenance,’ are the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. These take up the plans of a new cosmic system streaming from the divine threefold Unity.” — THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 5. Note: The "divine Unity" is Brahman, sometimes called the ground of being. If the Unity is considered as a tripartite entity, Brahman is the god Brahma.
“[W]e can look up to hierarchies — as they are called in occultism — of beings set over man whose various ranks are ranged one above the other ... [B]eyond the Seraphim [is] what one calls the actual ‘Godhead.’ Genuine occultism, true spiritual science, cannot share the usual trivial notion that man can look up direct to the highest Divinity; we have the whole ladder of Beings whom we call Angels, Archangels, and so on, standing between.” — THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN, lecture 7.
“Can the attribute of omnipotence be ascribed to the Divine Being who lives and weaves through the world? Contentions born of feeling must here be silent: were God omnipotent, he would be responsible for everything that happens and there could be no human freedom. If man can be free, then certainly there can be no Divine omnipotence.
“Is the Godhead omniscient? As man's highest goal is likeness to God, our striving must be in the direction of omniscience. Is omniscience, then, the supreme treasure? If it is, a vast chasm must forever yawn between man and God. At every moment man would have to be aware of this chasm if God possessed the supreme treasure of omniscience for himself and withheld it from man. The all-encompassing attribute of the Godhead is not omnipotence, neither is is omniscience, but it is love.” — Rudolf Steiner, LOVE AND ITS MEANING IN THE WORLD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), GA 143.
You might think that, having considered the highest level of divinity, the Godhead, we have completed our survey. But Steiner had a surprise. We human beings are evolving upward, through the ranks. Our ultimate fulfillment will place us at the apex. There will be a Tenth Hierarchy, which will be ourselves.
See "Tenth Hierarchy".
As indicated earlier, the gods are arrayed in three hierarchies. In addition, they occupy various "spheres" and they have various responsibilities. Here is a very quick summary.
Third (i.e., lowest) Hierarchy
The Sons of Twilight, better known as Angels, occupy the Moon sphere. [See "Higher Worlds".] They are intimately concerned with individual human beings, providing guidance and, sometimes, protection. Thus, some may be considered Guardian Angels.
The Spirits of Fire, or Archangels, occupy the Mercury sphere. (Like the other gods, they are able to leave their own sphere and work in other regions of the spirit realm, but the Mercury sphere is their home.) They concern themselves with groups of humans — nations, peoples, and races.
The Spirits of Personality, the Archai, call the Venus sphere home. They supervise epochs of human evolution. Thus they are sometimes called Time Spirits or, from the German, Zeitgeists.
The Spirits of Form reside in the Sun sphere. They oversee the forms taken by the Earth and its surroundings as evolution progresses.
The Spirits of Movement live in the Mars sphere. They are sufficiently high in the ranks of the gods that their activities are difficult for us to grasp, but in general they work with the motions — the ebbs and fluxes — of spiritual energies in and around the forms of evolution.
The Spirits of Wisdom preside over evolution, as it were, from the Jupiter sphere. They embody the spiritual consciousness needed to guide evolution.
The lowest rank of the First Hierarchy is composed of the Spirits of Will, who dwell in the sphere of Saturn. Their task is to will the Earth to move correctly through space, following the correct laws.
The Spirits of the Harmonies dwell outside the solar system, in what might be considered the lower reaches of the zodiac. They harmonize the Earth with the other planets in the solar system.
The Spirits of Love occupy the higher reaches of the zodiac. They harmonize the solar system with the rest of the universe.
[A reasonably accessible discussion of these matters can be found in Roy Wilkinson's book RUDOLF STEINER: An Introduction to His Spiritual World-View, Anthroposophy (Temple Lodge Publishing, 2001). Look particularly at chapter 9, "The Spiritual Hierarchies".]
The nine ranks of gods discussed in Anthroposophy are approximately equivalent to the ranks of angels recognized in Judeo-Christian tradition.
The great difference, of course, is that Judaism and Christianity are monotheistic faiths: They recognize one God only;
the angelic hosts are God's assistants, companions, and messengers.
Anthroposophy, by comparison, is polytheistic:
The spirits in the nine ranks are all gods, even those in the lower ranks who are sometimes referred to as angels and archangels.
Here is a description of the angelic hosts of Judeo-Christian tradition.
By some accounts, there are nine ranks of angels; but other totals are also sometimes given:
"Christianity, probably influenced by the angelology of Jewish sects such as the Pharisees and the Essenes as well as of the Hellenistic world, further enhanced and developed theories and beliefs in angels and demons. In the New Testament, celestial beings were grouped into seven ranks: angels, archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominions, and thrones. In addition to these were added the Old Testament cherubim and seraphim, which, with the seven other ranks, comprised the nine choirs of angels in later Christian mystical theology. Various other numbers of the orders of angels have been given by early Christian writers: four, in The Sibylline Oracles (a supposedly Jewish work that shows much Christian influence); six, in the Shepherd of Hermas, a book accepted as canonical in some local early Christian churches; and seven, in the works of Clement of Alexandria and other major theologians. In both folk piety and theology the number has generally been fixed at seven. The angels receiving most attention and veneration in Christianity were the four angels mentioned in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha.* Michael became the favourite of many, and in the practice of his cult there was often some confusion with St. George, who was also a warrior figure." — "angel and demon." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 13 Aug. 2013.
* "Two archangels are mentioned in the canonical Old Testament: Michael, the warrior leader of the heavenly hosts, and Gabriel, the heavenly messenger. Two are mentioned in the apocryphal Old Testament: Raphael, God’s healer or helper (in the book of Tobit), and Uriel (Fire of God), the watcher over the world and the lowest part of hell (in II Esdras). Though these are the only four named, seven archangels are noted in Tob. 12:15. Besides the archangels, there were also other orders of angels, the cherubim and seraphim...." — Ibid.
The gods Steiner discussed and accepted as real derive from many sources other than the Bible or Judeo-Christian tradition.
Two quick examples:
• “Krishna...is that being who has worked through centuries and centuries on the human organism, to make man capable — from the seventh and eighth centuries B.C. onward — of entering gradually the epoch of self-consciousness ... [W]e understand Krishna as the divine architect of what prepared and brought about self-consciousness in man.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BHAGAVAD GITA (Anthroposophic Press, 1968), lecture 5, GA 146.
• “German-Nordic man has an interest in an Angel-being who is endowed with special power, but who at the same time is closely related to the single human being ... And that Being is [the Norse god] Thor...a Being who could have risen to far higher rank had he followed the normal course of evolution, but who renounced advancement comparatively early and remained at the stage of a [sic] Angel in order that, at the time when man awoke to ego-consciousness in the course of his soul’s evolution, he [sic: Thor] could become the guiding Spirit....” — THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS, lecture 8.
Note that in such passages, Steiner was not explaining what others may have mistakenly believed — he was giving the occult significance, that is, the truth, which he claimed to find by clairvoyantly penetrating to the spiritual realities behind various religions, myths, and so forth. Krishna and Thor really exist, according to Steiner.
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page,
edited slightly for use here:
“The highest Ruler of Saturn, the Ego Spirit,* appears to us as the Father God, and the highest Ruler of Sun, the Sun-God, as the Christ. Similarly the Ruler of the Moon stage of Earth appears to us as the Holy Spirit with his hosts known in Christian esotericism as the Messengers of the Godhead, the angels.” — Rudolf Steiner, ROSICRUCIAN WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 100.
As for the origin of everything — which Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others attribute to the Creator God — Steiner threw up his hands. This is ironic. Anthroposophists often criticize modern science for not knowing (yet, anyway) how everything began (i.e., what caused the Big Bang), but Anthroposophy suffers from the same limitation. Steiner did not offer the usual, simple answer about the beginning of all things: He did not simply say that God created everything, and that's that. Yes, he said, the Godhead was the originating force, but matters are complex and cloudy, with no firm answer available to us. Our universe was preceded by earlier universes, Steiner indicated, but we shouldn’t try to go into this question. We cannot know the beginning, he said — raising the question simply takes us into an infinite regress. X caused Y, but what caused X? Perhaps W caused X. But what caused W? And what caused that? “In a purely intellectual way it is possible, of course, in the case of every given origin, to ask again after its origin ... [But in doing this] we only prolong questioning, as it were, mechanically ... [T]he facts themselves will put a natural end to questioning.” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1979), pp. 126-127. The “facts” are the doctrines Steiner presented. They put an end to questioning not because they answer the big question (how did it all start?) but because facts are facts, i.e., Steiner’s doctrines are Steiner’s doctrines, i.e., things are as they are. So we are silenced. Our questioning ends when we quit the pointless, mechanical activity of asking questions.
The Waldorf belief system is polytheistic. Rudolf Steiner taught that there are many gods, some higher than others. According to Steiner, the three persons of God worshipped by Christians are not, as Christians believe, members of a single God — they are three separate gods, whose headquarters are located in various celestial globes or periods. Christ, the highest of one subset of gods, came to Earth from the Sun. The Father God rules over Saturn, while the Holy Spirit presided over the Moon phase of evolution. (Jehovah — whom Steiner identified as a middling god — rules over Jews from the Moon, whereas Lucifer calls Venus home.) All of this is made a bit more complicated by Steiner’s use of such words as “Sun” and “Moon” to refer not just to places but also to stages of evolution (Old Sun, Old Moon). Put it this way: Steiner taught that various gods preside over different portions of the cosmos, both in space and time; we live, he said, in a universe fairly swarming with gods. In such a universe, monotheism is only a distant dream. “Monotheism or monism can only represent an ultimate ideal; it could never lead to a real understanding of the world, to a comprehensive, complete view of the world.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 115.
Steiner posited a hierarchy of gods, ranging from the Sons of Twilight (aka angels, who are just slightly superior to humans) upward to the virtually inaccessible “Godhead.” The Godhead, in Anthroposophical belief, is not the triune Christian God nor the Hebrew God, Jehovah. The Godhead is a trinity of sorts (Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu), but more generally it is a nebulous, unified creative force standing behind the evolution of the universe. It may be perceived as “divine will”. “[A] Christian** sees a mirror image of the Godhead, of divine will, in every single thing in the world. The universe contains the sacrificed Godhead, and this reflected image of the Godhead was called in esoteric Christianity ‘the kingdom’. What the kingdom meant to them was the divine will raying back to them multiplied a million times. The kingdom was the creative power of Atma, the living force of Buddhi in us, the creative force working in the outside world.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE LORD'S PRAYER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007), p. 64. Some of that language (Atma, Buddhi — derived from Hinduism) indicates how far Steiner strayed from Christian orthodoxy.
(Steiner was not always consistent on these — or any other — of his teachings. But no more questions!)
* In Waldorf belief, the "ego" is the highest of our three invisible bodies. It is our spark of divinity, our ineffable, unique spiritual individuality. No one can know your ego except yourself, and it confers on you the power of self-definition. The ego incarnates on about your 21st birthday. In a manner of speaking, we were set on our path toward spiritual egohood by the god who oversaw the first stage of our evolution, the Ruler of Saturn, the Father God, who presided over Old Saturn. (We have evolved through the Saturn, Sun, and Moon stages. We are now in the Earth stage. We will proceed to Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan. Yes, Vulcan. We will look further into our relationship to the Father in the next endnote.) We have developed egos only since arriving on Earth. "In the present earth evolution for the first time he [i.e., man] received his ego...." — Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), p. 204. By this account, we receive the ego from the Spirits of Form, gods four levels above man (these gods are also referred to as Revelations, Exusiai, Elohim, Spirits of Light, and/or Powers). The timing of the development of the ego was altered, for reasons that need not detain us here. "The ego would have come to its full fruition about the middle of the earth evolution, and this had been the intention of the Spirits of Form or Elohim who endowed man with his ego." [Ibid.] ("Elohim," as used in the Bible, is a single noun referring to God — Jehovah or Yahweh (YHWH). In Anthroposophy, it is a plural noun.)
** Steiner's use of the term "Christian" can be confusing. Sometimes he distinguished between Anthroposophy and Christianity, but more often he indicated that Anthroposophy embodies the truest form of Christianity (complete with numerous extra- or supra-Christian concepts such as polytheism, karma, and reincarnation). In most cases, Steiner "explained" Christianity in terms that mainstream Christians (Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists...) would recoil from. Here Steiner separates himself from Christianity (he speaks of what the Christian sees, not what "we" see; he tells what the esoteric Christians "called" things, not what he calls things), but he also redefines Christianity to suit himself, seeing in it what most Christians have never consciously seen ("the creative power of Atma, the living force of Buddhi"). Thus, reworking Christianity to fit his über-religion, Anthroposophy, Steiner endorses gnostic Christianity and its perceptions. For Steiner and his followers, the "Godhead" is both the beginning and, in a sense, the end of things. The Godhead gave an original impetus to evolution, and He stands at the end of our evolution — He sent us on our way and He is the ultimate goal we seek. "Adam was a son of the very Godhead. This means that he belonged to a time when humanity had just made the transition from a spiritual to a physical state." — Rudolf Steiner, ISIS MARY SOPHIA (SteinerBooks, 2003), p. 77. Here, the Godhead is nearly indistinguishable from the Father God, the Elohim of Saturn; the Godhead starts us along the path that descends into physical existence and later will rise again toward perfected spirituality. There is no One and Only God, according to Waldorf belief, but such a God may emerge eventually if the "ultimate ideal" of monotheism is realized. In our higher and higher future stages of evolution, as we approach ultimate divinity, we and the Godhead will converge. "[W]e shall draw ever nearer to the Godhead, and the Godhead will come ever closer to us." — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES AND THEIR REFLECTION IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD (Anthroposophic Press, 1970) p. 126. We will, in a sense, realize or clothe the Godhead. Quoting Goethe, Steiner said "'I work to make/ The living garment of the divine.' The Godhead will wear this immortal garment when the Earth [i.e., evolution] has reached its completion. And it is on their upward path through their many incarnations, in passing through births and deaths, that each individual human being will have woven their share of the fabric of this garment." — Rudolf Steiner, THE LORD'S PRAYER, p. 60. And eventually we will, in a sense, become the Godhead — "the Father" lies ahead of us but He also has been inherent in us from the start. “[W]e shall have gradually achieved the transformation of our own being into what is called in Christianity ‘the Father.’ What lies hidden in the human soul, the highest goal that lies ahead of us, is 'the Father in heaven.'” [Ibid., p. 17.] Here, "the Father" is not a mere Spirit of Form, such as the Ruler of Saturn; here, "the Father" is the fulfillment of the Godhead. He is what we shall become. This is the grand vision of Anthroposophy. For orthodox Christians, it is blasphemy.
As for gods who blur the distinctions between ranks or even, in a sense, operate outside the ranks: Steiner said that there are normal and abnormal gods, and he also distinguished between good and evil gods. "Normal" gods have evolved in the proper way, and they thus occupy their proper slots in the nine-step order of deities. But some gods (such as Thor) choose to remain behind, at lower levels of evolution than they normally would have attained by now. And some gods may fail to evolve properly, for various reasons, whatever their intentions may have been. And then there are gods who fight against proper evolution: "evil" gods such as Ahriman and Lucifer. "Sin," in Anthroposophy, generally means failure to evolve or otherwise violating the good gods' evolutionary plans. Whether "evil" really exists or is, actually, a variant of goodness (i.e., the acts of the "evil" gods ultimately contribute to universal well-being) is a murky subject. Sometimes Steiner seemed to give one indication, sometimes another. In any event, there is a wide spectrum of gods that can be characterized in various ways, and although there is a series of divine ranks corresponding to levels of spiritual consciousness, some gods are not easily located — they operate, or seem to operate, outside the normal bounds. For more on such matters, see, e.g., "Abnormal", "Evil Ones", "Sin", and "Evolution, Anyone?"
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
A non-Anthroposophical depiction of a few Norse gods in conference.
Although he would have quarreled with depictions such as this,
Steiner taught that the Norse gods really exist —
they have their places in the hierarchies of gods.
Multiple gods have played multiple roles in human evolution,
according to Rudolf Steiner.
This image reflects the activity of the Spirits of Form
in the development of human sight and hearing.
[Steiner gave the original indications for this image, which is part of a large ceiling mural.
Gerhard Wagner painted numerous versions of the mural.
My copy shows a detail from one of Wagner's paintings —
see THE GOETHEANUM CUPOLA MOTIFS OF RUDOLF STEINER
(Steiner Books, 2011), p. 55.
Wagner's painting is multi-colored;
my sketch is black and white, with a tint added.]
It may be impossible to truly picture the gods,
but some Anthroposophical art includes depictions
of at least some gods along with various other spirit beings.
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 14. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ◊◊◊