The Spiritual Hierarchies
15 April 1909, Düsseldorf
Yesterday we saw how events in the cosmos are brought about by beings in the spiritual world who stand above man. At the close of the lecture we drew attention to an occurrence that is of special significance. It is the "War in Heaven,n the battlefield of which extended between Jupiter and Mars and was strewn with a multitude of corpses. Scientists today discover them in ever-increasing numbers as planetoids. We shall come back to this event, and we shall also see that it is reflected in certain events that occurred in the development of the earth. In fact, we shall find a reflection of the War in Heaven in the opening of the Bhagavad Gita.
We shall proceed today by giving a brief description of other beings of the Spiritual Hierarchies. We referred to them yesterday in passing. Beings who, as we ascend, are closest to man and known in Christian esotericism as Angels, Archangels and Prime Powers or Prime Beginners, are also known as Angeloi, Archangeloi, and Archai. In anthroposophical terminology the Archangels are also called Fire Spirits, and the Prime Beginners are known as Spirits of Personality.
Those beings standing between man and the spiritual beings referred to yesterday who reach out to Jupiter, Mars and so forth, are, of course, more closely connected to the life of man on earth. Let us first consider the Angels or Angeloi. They reached their human stage during the old Moon period and are at present only as far developed as man will be during his Jupiter evolution. Hence, they are one stage above man. What is the task of these beings? In order to deal with this question, we shall have to consider the evolution of man on earth. Man progresses from incarnation to incarnation. We can trace human evolution back through the ancient Atlantean period and the earlier Lemurian times; in fact, it began during the ancient Lemurian era. This development by means of successive incarnations will continue until almost the end of earth evolution. At that time, other forms of human development will arise.
Now you know that the eternal essence of man's being, his personality, endures from incarnation to incarnation. The majority of people, however, are as yet unconscious of having lived in a previous incarnation and do not remember what came to pass in a preceding embodiment. Only those who have developed a certain stage of clairvoyance are able to look back into previous incarnations. There would be no relationship between the various incarnations on earth of people who could not yet recall their previous embodiments, unless certain beings established a continuity from one incarnation to another.
Every individual is endowed with a being who, because he stands one stage above man, guides him from one incarnation to another. We should bear in mind that these are not the beings who order Karma―we shall refer to them later. They are simply guardian spirits who preserve the memory of one incarnation until the next, since man is unable to do so of his own accord. They are Angels or Angeloi. Man is an individuality in each incarnation, but a being watches over him who carries from incarnation to incarnation the consciousness of what has occurred in his life. This explains why, at certain lower stages of initiation, a person may be able to ask his Angel about his former incarnations. This is absolutely within the bounds of possibility. It is the task of the Angels, therefore, to stand watch over all the threads that human beings weave from one incarnation to another.
Now let us consider the next group of beings who are known as Archangels, Archangeloi or Fire Spirits. These beings are not concerned with single individuals. Their task is a more encompassing one. They bring about harmonizing influences among larger groups of human beings, among peoples, races, etc. They have the task within our earth evolution of bringing the individual soul into contact with the various folkand race-souls. For one who is able to penetrate with spiritual knowledge into the reality of things, folk-souls and race-souls are quite different from what is generally understood by these terms today, especially by abstract, modern scientists. A certain number of people live in a particular area—in Germany, France or Italy, for instance. Now, because our physical eyes can only perceive a number of human beings as so many outer physical forms, modern thinkers merely conceive of a folk-spirit or folk-soul as the abstract sum total of so many people.
Only the individual human being is real for them, not the folk-soul or folk-spirit. But for one who is able to look into the true workings of the spiritual world, a folk-soul or a folk-spirit is a reality. A Fire Spirit or Archangel manifests itself in a folk-soul. It governs the relationship between individual human beings and the whole of a people or race.
Rising a stage higher, we come to the beings known as the Spirits of Personality, Primal Beginnings, Primal Powers, or Archai. These are still loftier beings who have an even more exalted task in the total structure of the affairs of humanity. In essence, they govern all the interrelationships of the whole of the human species on earth. They live in waves of time, change their configuration from age to age and are able to take on a different spiritual body at the appointed moment. You are all familiar with what is known abstractly today by the ugly expression, “Zeitgeist” (Spirit of the Times). These beings, who are real to spiritual observation, are concerned with the significance and mission of a particular age of humanity. Consider, for example, the mission and significance of the first millennium following the Atlantean catastrophe. These Time Spirits encompass what goes beyond single peoples or races. The Spirit of an Age does not restrict itself to a particular people; its influence goes beyond the frontiers of a country.
The true Time Spirit, or Spirit of an Age, is the spirit-body of an Archai, Primal Beginning or Spirit of Personality. The Spirits of Personality, for example, are responsible for the fact that certain human individualities appear on the earthly scene at the appointed time. You will readily understand that tasks on earth have to be accomplished largely by earthly individualities Certain epoch-making personalities have to appear at certain particular times. Utter confusion would reign in earth evolution if it were left to chance, if, for instance, a Luther or a Charlemagne were quite arbitrarily to make his appearance in one era or another. It must be conceived of with the whole human development on earth in mind; the right souls have to appear at a particular moment out of the overall significance of earth evolution, as it were. This is regulated by the Spirits of Personality or Archai.
Beyond the Archai, we reach beings whom we touched on yesterday, the so-called Powers, Exusiai, also known as Spirits of Form. Here we come to 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 seen how everything that happens to individual human beings on earth is regulated by Angels. Archangels are responsible for the relation between individuals and groups of humanity, and Spirits of Personality for the development of man from the Lemurian period to a future period when he will be so far spiritualized that he will hardly belong to the earth anymore.
But something else remains to be regulated. Humanity must be guided from one planetary condition to another. There must also be spiritual beings whose task it is during the whole earth evolution to see to it that, when that phase comes to an end, humanity rightly passes over into a pralaya and finds its way to the next goal, that of Jupiter. This devolves upon the Powers or Spirits of Form; yesterday, we characterized their tasks from above downwards and now we do so from below upwards.
Let us now consider the cosmic position of these beings. In spiritual science and in what is continued as anthroposophy today, in fact, in what is known as Mystery Wisdom, one has always spoken in the same way about the beings of the Spiritual Hierarchies. Yesterday, we saw that the present Saturn represents the limit of the workings of the Thrones, Jupiter represents the boundary of the activity of the Dominions, and Mars is the frontier for the influence of the Mights, Dynameis or Virtues.
We can characterize in a similar way the spheres of influence in our solar system of the beings named today. Here we must touch upon something that may surprise even those of you who have a certain background of anthroposophical knowledge, but that is absolutely in accordance with the truth. At school, we learn that far in the past before Copernicus, one conception of the solar system was known as the Ptolemaic system. It was then believed that the earth stood at the center of our system and that the planets rotated around the earth, as indeed it appears to ordinary physical perception. Since Copernicus, one knows at last—so people say—that the sun is at the center and that the planets circle around it in their respective elliptical orbits. But another point has to be clarified if one wishes to be quite exact and honest in this matter. One ought to say that, until Copernicus, only certain forms of heavenly movement were known, and people calculated how matters stood with our solar system according to these. Copernicus did not, so to speak, take a chair out into space in order to see where the sun stood at a certain point on the circle or ellipse, and how the planets moved in relation to it. No, he made certain calculations and the results explained what is observed in a simpler way than earlier calculations had done. The Copernican world system is nothing but the result of thinking; it is a thought-out system.
Putting Ptolemy's view aside for the moment, let us place the sun in the middle and calculate where the planets should be in relation to it. Then let us consider whether or not this corresponds to our immediate experiencE. Indeed, from mere physical observation, it coincides completely. Various cosmic systems have been built up on this premise including the Kant- Laplace theory, but in the light of subsequent discoveries, one comes to a position that is not quite honest scientifically. Later, as a result of purely physical observation, two planets, Uranus and Neptune, were added to the system. We shall still come to speak of their significance for our solar system. In fact, in describing our solar system, one should point out that the appearance of Uranus and Neptune bring a considerable amount of confusion into the calculations.
If one accepts the Kant-Laplace cosmic system, it follows that Uranus and Neptune should move with their corresponding moons as other moons rotate around other planets. But this is not the case. Among these outer planets, two of which have been discovered lately, we have one that behaves in a strange way. If the Kant-Laplace cosmic system were correct, we would have to imagine that, after the planetary system had been split off, someone turned the axis about ninety degrees, for their course is different from the other planets. Neptune and Uranus differ considerably from the remaining planets of our solar system. We shall see later how things stand with regard to them. For the moment, we merely wish to point out that the Copernican view is the result of calculations, that it is a hypothesis, an assumption made at a time when man's insight into the spiritual reality behind outer happenings had completely ebbed away. The Ptolemaic view is not a mere physical system, however. It was derived from spiritual observation at a time when it was still known that the planets represented the boundaries of influence of higher beings.
Our planetary solar system must be drawn quite differently if we wish to characterize these realms of influence. I will now draw it as it was taught in the Mystery Schools of Zarathustra. We could equally well refer to other Mysteries, but we have selected this particular system to bring out the characteristics of our solar system with its planets and of the spiritual beings active within it.
In the system of Zarathustra something was included that differed from our observation of the heavens. You are aware of the fact that, in the course of many years, one can observe a precession, apparent or otherwise, of the sun through the zodiac. It is usually stated, and quite correctly, that beginning approximately in the eighth century B.C., the sun rose in the sign of the Ram at the spring equinox. Each year, however, the sun advanced a little further so that in the course of long periods of time the whole of the sign of the Ram was traversed. Before 800 b.c., the sun did not rise in the Ram but in the sign of the Bull. This lasted about 2,200 years, so that the sun traversed the whole sign of the Bull with its vernal point. Before this, the sun rose in the Twins. That is, the sun rose in the Twins before 800 plus 2,200 years b.c. If, therefore, we look back to the fourth and fifth millennia B.C., we find the vernal point in the sign of the Twins. This was the time during which the Mysteries of Zarathustra flourished. They flourished in a far distant past and all the appearances in the heavens were calculated in relation to the sign of the Twins. So, if we draw the zodiac characterized yesterday, we would have to place the constellation of the Twins here at the top.
We would then have to draw immediately next to the zodiac the realm of influence of the Thrones, bounded by Saturn. Then we come to the realm of influence of the Dominions or Spirits of Wisdom, the outermost boundary being Jupiter. Now we draw the boundary of influence of the Mights or Spirits of Movement, marked out by the orbit of Mars. We have seen that the battlefield left by the War in Heaven lies between these two.
If we differentiate correctly between the various realms of power, we must draw the boundary line of the sun. Just as Mars makes the outer boundary of the influence of the Mights, so the orbit of the sun represents the frontier of the rulership of the Powers or Spirits of Form. Here is the boundary marked out by Venus; this represents the sphere of influence of the Archai. Now we come to the realm marked out by Mercury; this is the sphere of influence of the Archangels of Fire Spirits. We are now coming quite close to the earth. We reach the realm of influence bounded by the moon and we have to draw the earth here.
You must picture the earth as the starting point and around it a sphere of influence reaching up to the moon. This is followed by a realm reaching up to Mercury, then one to Venus, and then one up to the sun. Now you may be astonished at the sequence of the planets as I have given it here. You might think that if this is the earth and this is the sun (figure 2), that I should draw Mercury in the immediate vicinity of the sun, and then Venus. But that is not correct. The names of these two planets have been interchanged by later astronomy. What is called Mercury today was known in ancient teachings as Venus, and the planet referred to as Venus nowadays was always known as Mercury. We cannot rightly understand what is said about Venus or Mercury in ancient writings and teachings if we assume them to refer to the present planets of these names. At the time when the world system was turned topsy-turvy, when the earth was robbed of its central position, not only the perspective was completely altered, but the opportunity was also taken of interchanging the names of Mercury and Venus.
You will now be able to see the correspondence between what has been drawn here and the Copernican system. Here is the sun, and Venus revolves around it; Mercury revolves around the sun, earth and moon; Mars, Jupiter and Saturn also revolves. You must imagine the physical motions in such a way that each planet revolves around the sun. But you can picture a position when the earth here and the other planets have revolved so that on their path they stand behind the sun.
Let us represent it diagramatically. First we draw the physical (Copernican) system in the usual way. We place the sun at one of the focal points and let Venus, Mercury and earth and moon rotate around it. Here is the earth, Mercury and Venus (according to the old designation), next is Mars, then, after the planetoids, Jupiter, and finally Saturn. You must imagine that the earth is here below, then we have Mercury and Venus, and then Mars up there, and Jupiter and so on. The sun is here, here Mercury, the present Venus. The planets can take up a variety of positions in relation to one another, and there is no reason why they should not stand like this. Thafs quite plausible, isn't it? We have drawn the Copernican system by selecting a particular moment when the earth, Mercury and Venus are situated on one side of the sun and the other planets, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, are on the other. That is all we have done, nothing more. Here is the earth, Mercury, Venus, and on the other side the sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. There has only been a change of perspective. This system can easily be pictured; the only thing is that it is valid only for this particular constellation. This was the case at a time when the Twins were above Saturn. One could then clearly observe clairvoyantly the spheres of influence of the hierarchies. Around the earth up to the moon one could behold the sphere of the Angels. Truly, if one does not take the physical system as one's basis, but this special constellation, we then find about the earth a round of Angels that extends up to the moon; the host of Archangels, up to Mercury; the Spirits of Personality up to Venus; the Powers or Exusiai or Spirits of Form, up to the sun. Then, as I told you yesterday, we come to the sphere of the Virtues, Mights, and after that the sphere of the Dominions and Thrones.
When speaking about the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems, one must be clear about the fact that the Ptolemaic system has preserved something of the constellation of the ruling spirits, but the earth must be taken as the starting point. A time will come when this cosmic system will again be correct because man will again know of the existence of the spiritual world. It is to be hoped that man will then be less fanatical than our contemporaries.
The modern view holds that before Copernicus people had a primitive cosmic system and talked nonsense. Since Copernicus, we know, at last, what is correct. Everything else is untrue. Because the Copernican system is the right one, it will be taught forever, even for millions of years to come.
That is more or less what people think and say in our time. Men have rarely been as superstitious as modern theoretical astronomers, and hardly ever was there such fanaticism as there is in this field. We may hope that future generations will be more tolerant and will say that man ceased to be conscious of the spiritual world from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries onwards. In the spiritual world other vantage points exist and the heavenly bodies are arranged differently from the way they appear to physical observation. Formerly, these vantage points could be used; then a time came when the arrangement of the heavenly bodies had to be established physically. People of the future will say that that is quite understandable, and from the sixteenth century onwards it was also correct. For a time, mankind had to ignore everything connected with the spiritual world but then people began to think in terms of a spiritual world again and reverted to the original spiritual viewpoint. One hopes that the generations of the future will understand that an astronomical mythology, as well as other forms of mythology, was once possible, and that they will not regard our age with the disdain our contemporaries, who are entrenched in superstitions, are apt to have for their forefathers.
The Copernican system was different simply because physical points of views were taken into account. In the Ptolemaic system we find remnants of spiritual perception. But we can only gain an idea of the working and weaving of spiritual beings in our cosmic and planetary system by considering this other system. We are still holding on to physical conditions when we say that the rulership of the Angels extends as far as the moon, that of the Archangels up to Mercury, the Spirits of Personality as far as Venus, the Powers up to the sun, and the Mights up to Mars. Then follow the beings known as the Dominions, and finally the Thrones. We merely have to draw lines in the physical system to limit the boundaries of the spheres of influence of the various hierarchies. As far as the spiritual influences are concerned, the earth and not the sun stands at the center of the cosmic system. It was maintained by the men of all periods who placed emphasis on spiritual development that certainly the sun is a nobler heavenly body; beings superior to man have developed there, but in evolution everything depends on man as he dwells on earth. Furthermore, the sun separated off so that man's development might proceed in the right way. Had the sun remained united with the earth, mankind could not have progressed at the right speed. This only became possible because the sun withdrew with beings able to bear quite different conditions. The earth was left to itself, so to speak, in order that mankind might establish the appropriate speed for its development.
A cosmic system will take on this or that configuration depending on the starting point and the perspective chosen. If one asks where the center of our cosmic system is when viewed purely from the aspect of our physical senses, then the answer must be that it is to be found in the Copernican system. If one inquires about the arrangement of our solar system in relation to the spheres of influence of the hierarchies, then we must still place the earth at the center; in this case, the boundary lines are different, and the planets, too, are no longer the same. They mark out the limits of the realms of rulership of each spiritual hierarchy.
You will now understand the relationship between the spacial distribution of the spheres of influence and what has been said earlier about the mission of the various hierarchies. The beings closest to the earth and active in its immediate vicinity up to the moon are the Angels. From this realm they guide the lives of individual human beings from incarnation to incarnation. But something more is required to distribute appropriately the masses of people of a nation so as to allot them their tasks on the face of the earth. Simple reflection will show that here cooperation with the cosmos is necessary. Whether a nation is endowed with this or that sort of character does not depend on earthly but on cosmic conditions. Consider, for instance, how one race acts differently from another, each with its particular skin and hair characteristics. Such things are due to cosmic relationships regulated from out of heavenly spaces. It comes from a realm extending up to Mercury and whose sphere of influence reaches up to archangelic activity. The guidance of the whole development of humanity on earth is effected from more distant heavenly spaces, which extend as far as Venus. The guidance of the earth itself proceeds from the very center of the whole system.
Humanity develops through Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan. The Powers, or Spirits of Form, are the beings who direct the mission of mankind from one planet to the next. They must operate from a privileged position; their sphere of influence extends as far as the sun. The sun alongside the ancient Moon has always been a body of special significance. Now it is alongside the earth and in the future it will be alongside Jupiter. Its realm of power extends beyond that of the single planets. It is, therefore, connected with spiritual beings whose sphere of influence goes beyond that of single planets. The sun is an extraordinary heavenly body because the realm of power that extends beyond the single planets reaches up to it.
Thus we see that we do not find the external spacial dwelling of the hierarchies so much on the single planets, but rather within the orbit described by each planet. Imagine a sphere surrounding the earth up to the moon. This space is filled with angelic activity. The sphere from the earth to Mercury is filled with the workings of the Archangels, etc.
We see that a continual, progressive line of perfection is found from man upwards. Man is chained to the earth; his eternal part, which goes from incarnation to incarnation, is guided by beings who are not bound to the earth, but who dwell in the sphere above him up to the moon.
Man has been evolving upon earth since primeval times. His evolution on earth is similar to the relationship between the child and the adult. The latter teaches the small child. The same applies to the hierarchies in the cosmos. Man, chained to the earth as he is, can only gradually struggle through to the knowledge he needs for the practicalities of life on earth. Higher beings have to be his teachers. But what should occur so that this goal may be achieved? In the early phases of earth existence, beings not normally bound to the earth had to descend upon it from higher spheres. This really happened! Beings who needed only to live in the surroundings of the earth descended in order to impart to mankind what they already knew as older, more perfect members of the hierarchies. They incarnated into human bodies, not for the sake of their own development, much as the adult does not spend his time with the alphabet for his own progress but in order to teach the child. Looking back into Atlantean and Lemurian times, we find beings belonging to the surrounding spheres incarnating into human bodies and be- coining the teachers of mankind. Beings belonging to the higher hierarchies, to Mercury and Venus, Sons of Venus and Mercury, descended and became the teachers of mankind in its youth. They wandered upon the earth as maya. Yes, such men existed. Let us suppose, in order to explain it more clearly, that a normally developed Lemurian human being had met such a man. Outwardly, he did not appear particularly different from others, but a spirit dwelt in him whose realm reached up to Mercury or Venus. His outer appearance was maya, an illusion. He looked like other men but he was, in fact, a Son of Mercury, of Venus.
At the dawn of the evolution of humanity there were such appearances. These Venus beings are Spirits of Personality. They wandered on the earth as men, outwardly restricted to the limiting form of human beings, yet powerfully guiding humanity. A mighty lordship reigned in Lemurian times as the Sons of Venus guided mankind. The Sons of Mercury led portions of humanity; they were as powerful as the folk or race spirits.
Maya, or illusion, does not only exist in the world at large; it also applies to human beings. A man's appearance might correspond to the reality he bears within him or it could be maya; his task may be that of a Son of Mercury or Venus. This is what is meant by saying that fundamentally the leading personalities of ancient times, as they walked the earth with their ordinary names, were really a maya. That is what H. P. Blavatsky meant when she pointed out that the Buddhas represented a maya. You can find this expression in the Secret Doctrine. Such things are derived from the teachings of the Holy Mysteries; we only have to understand them correctly.
We must now raise the question: How does a Son of Venus descend to the earth? How can a Bodhisattva live upon the earth? The Bodhisattvas, the Sons of Mercury and Venus, form an important chapter in the development of our earth in relation to the cosmos. Tomorrow, therefore, we shall consider the nature of the Sons of Mercury and Venus, of the Bodhisattvas or Dhyani-Buddhas.