From the 1985 Edition of the German text (GA 260) we can see that the manuscript used by Rudolf Steiner at the Foundation address on 25 December 1923 contained the words ‘Das hören die Elementengeister’ (elemental spirits). During the address he spoke this in the first two verses, but in speaking the third verse he said ‘Das hören die Elementargeister’ (elementary spirits). The latter formulation was both spoken and written (on the blackboard) on 31 December, and spoken again (twice only) in the concluding address on 1 January. In the less intimate manuscript for printing we find simply ‘Das hören die Geister’. What is at issue here?
In the second lecture on 12 April 1909 in Spiritual Hierarchies, [Note 88] Rudolf Steiner describes four groups of elementary beings (Elementarwesen): the gnomes, undines, sylphs and salamanders, the ‘beings of the elements’, whose redemption depends on man's mode of perception; the beings responsible for the rotation of the earth (i. e. from east to west), dependent on man's willing; the beings responsible for the waxing and waning of the moon, dependent on man's feeling; and the beings responsible for summer and winter (the sun's apparent movement between north and south), dependent for their redemption on man's mode of thinking. The last three groups were referred to on 4 April 1912 [Note 89] as the Spirits of Rotation of Time, offspring of the First Hierarchy, who form the astral body of the earth; whereas the first group form the earth's etheric body. He had previously remarked on 16 May 1908 [Note 90] that spirit is just what the ‘very useful’ beings of this group do not possess.
One can only surmise that during his preparation Rudolf Steiner had chiefly but not only in mind the world of the elements (in which the etheric Christ first manifests); but that during the course of the Foundation address itself he felt the need to widen the formulation towards those elementary spirits who govern the relationships between sun and earth in east and west, north and south, and are related to man's willing, feeling and thinking rather than his percepts. It is in this interplay between sun and earth that live those ‘offsprings of powers of sun’ who form the garment of Michael and prepare the way for Christ, having thus such a direct connection with the Christmas Foundation.