The Influences of Lucifer and Ahriman
Human beings are dwellers in two worlds. Our uniqueness amongst the creatures of the earth lies in this role that we have as half beast and half angel. A dynamic tension exists because of the contrary demands which living in each of these realms places on us. We experience this on a daily basis, an internal tug-of-war, pulling first in one direction, then to the opposite pole. Whenever we are called upon to make a choice, a decision, the earthly and the heavenly draw us one way or the other and often both at once!
A long held view has been that, of course, one should always give way to the heavenly or spiritual; the alternative is to succumb to the earthly, the fallen, to evil. The struggle has been portrayed as white versus black, as good versus evil. The enduring legacy of this attitude has been to deem the earthly, the bodily nature of the human being as soiled, unclean, corrupt, shameful. With this view the spiritual aspirant of the past had no choice but to reject the body, the earth. In India incarnating into a physical body has long been considered a curse, the entering into the “veil of tears” which constitutes life.
The physical body was especially singled out for punishment, to be starved and tortured, purged and scourged. St. Francis derided his body as his “donkey,” but reluctantly acknowledged that he must give it some care if it was to continue carrying him about. The medieval Cathars saw the human body as a pit into which the devil had lured the souls of weakened angels. Procreation was thus looked upon with horror as an act of unwitting cruelty — each new birth dragged a heavenly soul into the fallen world of matter, bringing another diabolically corrupt angel into the flesh. Even to study the physical body too closely was suspect, hence Leonardo's need for secrecy in dissection of corpses. The accumulation of an inordinate amount of the material realm in the form of wealth has also been rather suspect.
Such views have persisted on varying levels into modern times, and not just amongst the puritanical or the late Victorian. Sigmund Freud had difficulty, as a scientist, in acknowledging an angelic side in his patients. He reframed the conflict as one involving human bodily nature and the probably superstitious religious and moral beliefs they maintain. This wrestling match between the instinctual id and the moralistic superego was refereed by the central ego.
Later psychologists have continued to use this framework of two opposing forces moderated by the central force of an ego (though they all interpret the ego somewhat differently). Gestalt psychologists very pragmatically focus on how an individual becomes caught in this struggle between the two poles, without worrying about the relative merits of either pole — what is important is to get the individual “unstuck,” to empower the central ego to again be able to choose, to act more decisively through becoming conscious of its dilemma. The Italian psychiatrist, Robert Assagioli, wrote of the pull between the lower and higher unconscious, once again recognizing an earth/heaven dichotomy. He developed a therapy that sought a “psychosynthesis” of the two opposing forces, paving the way for the discovery of one's unifying center. Similarly, Carl Jung described the marriage of Eros and Logos within the soul, with the sometimes alchemical participation of the ego.
Some of these more spiritually inclined psychologists share with Rudolf Steiner the recognition that it is a synthesis of the two poles and not the choosing of one over the other that frees us for self-development. Humanity has both an earthly and a heavenly mission, tasks in the outer world as well as the inner, necessitating an acceptance, an embracing of both our natures.
In examining this predicament of living in two worlds, Rudolf Steiner, by virtue of his capacity for spiritual research, went much further than previous researchers. Steiner was able not merely to speak of opposing psychological forces, but to relate these specifically to the influence of mighty spiritual beings, Lucifer and Ahriman. The influence of these beings is not to be thought of as limited to the realm of the soul but rather taken in the widest context as encompassing human evolution, history, and almost every aspect of our existence.
The name Lucifer comes from the Latin meaning “bearer of the Light.” One's childhood picture of Lucifer as a slithering manifestation of evil is difficult to reconcile with the beauty of this name. Lucifer, however, represents a force that paradoxically can combine beauty and if you will, beauty gone too far, to the extreme of decadence, hence to evil.
In the Greek legend, Icarus and his father Daedalus escape from the tower of their island prison with wings fashioned of wax. Despite his father's warning, Icarus becomes enamored of his newfound power and of the beauty of the Sun; he flies up to the light (and heat), his wings melt, and he falls to his death. The wiser and more restrained Daedalus keeps his flight balanced between heaven and earth, thus succeeding in his escape from bondage. The Greeks were very aware of the temptation of Lucifer — in most of their tales of tragedy, “hubris” or overweening pride was the source of a hero's downfall.
In Rudolf Steiner's sculpture, the Representative of Humanity, Lucifer is portrayed as an exceedingly handsome and powerful winged form. Despite his having fallen from Heaven, he was nevertheless, an angel, a leader of angels. As the Light Bearer he has particular gifts for humankind, especially that of wisdom, the gift he first offered to Adam and Eve. By their eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Lucifer promised that they would “be as gods.” Like Icarus, they were not yet prepared for such a gift and ignoring warnings to the contrary, they accepted it and fell from Paradise. In this example it should be noted that the gift in and of itself is not evil. As in our earlier psychological examples, neither the heavenly nor the earthly is of itself to be seen as either absolutely desirable or absolutely forbidden. The beings of the polarities actually have something of value to offer to humanity. This is very different from the traditional view of the Devil's offerings! However, an individual must be inwardly prepared for the reception of these gifts if they are to be of any value. The hallucinogenic drug user is open to receiving Luciferic light and often feels quite wise when in the midst of the drug experience. Without the meditative discipline of the serious student of the spirit, however, the contact with those realms is rarely beneficial and, in fact, is often quite harmful.
In this century, society has especially interested itself in the material. Partially in response to the excessive rejection of the earth and the body, and of the authoritarianism which maintained this position, we have now fully entered the realm of matter, with head, heart, and soul. Whereas in former times humankind was more dreamy in its consciousness and thus more prone to the Luciferic realm of fantasy, illusion, and superstitious thinking, modern consciousness tends to the concrete, to materialism. The belief only in what can be ascertained by the physical senses (and the instruments which extend those senses) binds us to the earth and to the influence of the being named Ahriman.
Aingra Mainu, or Ahriman, was first spoken of in the Zoroastrianism of ancient Persia. He was the evil god, the lord of lies who tempted men and women to believe that they were solely earthly beings. At a time in history when the clairvoyance which had once been common was becoming rare, the ethical teachings of Zarathustra sought to remind the people of their divine origin and to teach through the revelation he had received of the Lord of the Sun, Ahura Mazda.
The influence of Ahriman has grown through the centuries, quietly gaining respectability in the age of the Renaissance and flourishing in our own century as the predominant worldview. Only in the last years has there been any serious questioning of the notion that the only reality is the physical one. For the most part the realm of soul and spirit has been dismissed. The prevailing scientific view has been that only what can be weighed, measured, or quantified should merit serious attention. Ahriman has welcomed statistics as his handmaid.
At the beginning of the century, the Russian philosopher, Vladimir Soloviev, warned of this danger in his “A Short Narrative about Anti-Christ.” In this fictional essay Soloviev described the appearance of a great individual who taught world peace and became first the World Leader, and later the reuniter of the world's religions. He is a vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist and brings great material prosperity and physical comfort to all who acknowledge his authority, all of this without effort on the people's part. The world becomes peaceful, even docile, for the minor sacrifice of individuality and freedom.
The influence of Ahriman is seen in the generous gifts that he has bestowed on humankind in the past centuries and for which we must feel very grateful. All of the technological marvels which science has made possible have given many of us relative freedom from all manner of drudgery while maintaining a high standard of living, freeing us to pursue other interests, giving us more time ... or do we have more time? The great difficulty with our acceptance of Ahriman's bounty has been our relative blindness and lack of foresight as we have lost ourselves in its enjoyment. The birth of the ecology movement and discussion of the reductionist nature of science has wakened some consciousness of the danger into which we have strayed. Some awareness has arisen as to what we are sacrificing in the Faustian bargain which society has struck, a sacrifice which involves our very humanity.
Through Darwin's theory of evolution as well as through Freud's positing of the sexual as the primary motive of humankind, the idea that we are no more than “naked apes” has become quite accepted. To this instinctual or animalistic picture of the human, science has added the model of the human being as machine, with the brain as computer. With such a confining definition of humanity, is it any wonder that we have increasingly come to act and to see ourselves as just machines, or just animals?
The challenge for the individual is often not how to face either Ahriman or Lucifer, but how not to be torn asunder in the encounter with both forces. In T.S. Eliot's play, Murder in the Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket, is conducted to an examination of himself and his past by a succession of four Tempters. The first three attempt to win him with the Ahrimanic enticements of pleasures of the senses, good fellowship, and temporal power for himself and for his Church. Becket turns away from these three only to be approached by a fourth Tempter, clad like himself as a priest and tonsured. The Luciferic temptation now offered is the most dangerous and difficult for Becket, the whisper of spiritual pride — to die in order to attain immortality on earth, to envisage the saint's tomb being visited by pilgrims for centuries, to stand high within the ranks in heaven. Only with difficulty does Becket turn away from these “higher vices.”
In Rudolf Steiner's sculpture, a strong figure stands with one clenched hand upraised to the beautiful Lucifer, the other hand stretched downward to the twisted and sclerotic Ahriman. The Representative of Humanity stands heroically, holding at bay and in balance the two opposing forces, centered within the “Third Force,” that force which we recognize in ourselves in the word ‘I’.
In this series of lectures, Rudolf Steiner strives to deepen our understanding of the two opposing forces, to alert us especially to the dangers of Ahriman, whose wiles have lulled us into a soporific state. The intent, however, is not to drive us to obsession over Luciferic or Ahrimanic demons, but rather to remind us, to reawaken us to our true center. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical means, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep.” We recognize that dawn in the figure of the risen Christ who stands for all of us as the “Representative of Humanity” in the modern struggle for the kernel of our being.