Part 1 of 3
Before the opening of the first Steiner Waldorf school in Stuttgart in 1919, Rudolf Steiner had less than three weeks to prepare the first twelve Waldorf teachers, who were dedicated to incorporating a living, spirit-filled view of the human being into their teaching. Steiner knew that the teachers’ continuing development into engaged, enthusiastic and open-minded human beings was central to the healthy functioning of the school and to the education they hoped to bring to the children. Therefore, from the beginning, he urged them to develop capacities within themselves to learn how to ask for and receive spiritual guidance and assistance in their work, and he warned them that were it not for this spiritual help, it was likely that they would find the task of founding the school overwhelming and be tempted to give up. On the first day of training, he offered this imaginative picture, now often called the College Imagination, of how beings of the spiritual world support our daily work, even if this collaboration is often unseen and unacknowledged by us.
“We wish to form our thoughts in such a way that we may be conscious that:
Behind each of us stands his Angel, gently laying his hands on the heads of each. This Angel gives you the strength which you need.
Above your heads there sweep the circling Archangels. They carry from one to the other what each has to give the other. They unite your souls. Thereby you are given the courage of which you stand in need.
Out of this courage the Archangels form a chalice.
The light of wisdom is given to us by the exalted beings of the Archai, who are not limited to the circling movements, but who, coming forth from primal beginnings, manifest themselves and disappear into primal distances. They reveal themselves only in the form of a drop of light in this place. Into the chalice of courage there falls a drop of light, enlightening our times, bestowed by the ruling Spirit of our Age.”
Steiner was referring to angels, archangels and archai and the one whom he considers as the ruling spirit of our age, the Archangel Michael. In this 3-part posting we’ll be looking at each of these in turn. We’ll also look at Ahriman and Lucifer, those beings called by Steiner the “adversely commanded” angels.
In the College Imagination, Steiner is saying that the angelic realm seeks to bring us unity, courage, wisdom and light (which for Steiner means the divine impulse of love). How very much we need those qualities at this time!
But today, in the age of the consciousness soul, how many of us believe in angels? Has anyone reading this ever experienced the presence of an angel? I am not clairvoyant, but once in my life, at a time of deepest despair and hopelessness, I was visited by three angels, whom I perceived not as forms but as three columns of energy (I’m sorry not to be able to be more descriptive). They were with me for about a quarter of an hour and the atmosphere in the room was extraordinary. After this experience I was able to carry on with the very difficult next stages of my life. I had been given courage, hope and reassurance and I knew with absolute certainty that I was not alone.
In mediaeval times and up until the Renaissance, belief in the reality of angels was an absolute. You only have to look at the wonderful timber roofs of mediaeval churches, thronged with angels with their wings outspread around the roof bosses and the hammer beams; think of mediaeval art and Fra Angelico’s Angel of the Annunciation; go to a gallery of mediaeval or renaissance paintings and see how many angels are depicted there. The realm of the angels was clearly accepted as an absolute certainty and a factor of supreme importance in life, not only because angels were seen as the intermediaries between Heaven and Earth, but also because, as Steiner has described, in those times there were remnants of a kind of atavistic clairvoyance which allowed many people to have their own perceptions of the spiritual world and to report on this to others.
Then, in Steiner’s account of how humanity is evolving, we began to lose that ancient sense of clairvoyance and thus our awareness of the spiritual world. This was a necessary but very dangerous step in the evolution of humankind. It was necessary because as humans we have the unique privilege of developing freewill, which could only happen by entering an age in which our connection with the divine-spiritual beings and their will for our future appeared to be severed. And it was dangerous because this apparent severance from spirit existence has given the adverserial powers an opportunity they didn’t have before, which is to convince human beings through our science and technology that physical, material reality is the only reality; and thus to thwart our true destiny, which is to evolve into what Steiner called the Tenth Hierarchy. (I find Steiner’s terminology here confusing and for reasons which I go into below, will from now on refer to “order” rather than “hierarchy” for particular types of angel.) Steiner tells us that aeons from now, in a future incarnation of the Earth, humankind is destined to become the tenth order of angels – the order of Love and Freedom.
It is only humans, rather than angels, who have the potential to develop this highest form of freedom, because it is only humans who have descended this deeply into matter, where the divine and spiritual powers are no longer active. This is also why only human beings are capable of becoming atheists and denying the spirit – the angels cannot do this because they know the true reality, whereas through materialism and living in the realm of maya (illusion), we humans are free to decide what we choose to believe – and of course we will often make “wrong” choices. It is all part and parcel of our journey towards wisdom.
I’ll be writing a little bit more about this in Part 3 but for now I’ll just mention that for all of its downsides, Steiner tells us that materialism remains the vehicle for the initial development of human freedom. It was the task of materialistic science to lead us away from the overwhelming dominance of theology and theocracy in human affairs, and from the unfreedom that had for so long been associated with them. And, as Steiner repeatedly asserts, it is in our relationship as spiritual beings to the physical world that the possibility for human freedom first manifests itself. Put differently, materialism for all its faults and limitations had a very important task to perform, and it needed time to complete it – and if Steiner is correct, it’s still got another 250 years or so to run its course.
But what of the first nine orders of angels? I’ve prepared a table below to set out the thoughts of Steiner on the celestial order. Steiner seems to have adopted the scheme devised by a 6th century theological writer known rather mysteriously as pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. This same scheme was taken up by Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican teacher (whom some claim to have been a previous incarnation of Steiner) and subsequently endorsed by the Catholic Church.
Now, I’m someone who finds the concept of “orders” and “hierarchy” very off-putting. It conjures up images of some kind of 19th century aristocratic or militaristic order of society, with everyone knowing their place:
“The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.”
(These words come from a verse – usually omitted today – of the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.) Steiner encourages us not to see the orders of angels as a hierarchical, military-style ranking but more as a metaphor for some very profound truths about the unfolding of evolution. I think we should also bear in mind that these orders and hierarchies are working and co-operating together, rather than maintaining some kind of caste-like rigidity of separation.
I have to say that it is very confusing to try to follow all the different names and groupings that are given to the angels, not least by Steiner himself, who seems to use the words “order” and “hierarchy” interchangeably; plus there does seem to be some confusion among other writers about this topic. In this posting and in the table below I’m using the term “order” for one specific type of angel (eg the archangels are the 8th order); and “hierarchy” for a group of angels whose work goes together (eg the 1st Hierarchy consists of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones). Anyway, I hope that this table will at least give you a place to start in assembling your own thoughts on the matter.
In Part 2 of this 3-part posting, I will write about the angelic orders that Steiner mentions in the College Imagination, that is to say the angels of the 7th, 8th and 9th orders, who are the ones closest to us as human beings; and what these angels are seeking to achieve for humankind at the present time. In Part 3, I will write about Steiner’s concept of evil and the “adversely commanded” angels Lucifer and Ahriman, as well as the role of Michael, the great angel who is the spirit of our age. I will also be touching upon some huge dangers with which the adversarial powers are currently confronting humanity – and towards which we seem to be sleepwalking, ignorant and unaware of what is facing us.
THE CELESTIAL ORDER
The Holy Trinity
(Father, Son & Holy Spirit)
The Nine Orders of Angels and the Three Hierarchies