Part 2 of 3
In Part 1 of this posting, I wrote about the College Imagination and Steiner’s views on the nine orders of angels. In Part 2, we are going to look at the angelic orders that Steiner refers to in the College Imagination, that is to say the 3rd Hierarchy consisting of the Archai, Archangels and Angels of the 7th, 8th and 9th orders, who are the ones closest to us as human beings. We shall also look at some of the ways in which the angels are currently seeking to advance our evolution.
As we work together with colleagues, or in any community for that matter, it is helpful to acknowledge the presence of the angels, who are always ready to support our common work. Without their help, much that we set out to do would be too difficult, painful or disheartening to carry through to completion, or too misguided to be beneficial. With their help, true social innovation is possible. The angels support the creation of social initiatives that benefit individual societies and the continuing development of humankind.
By way of context, I hope it will be helpful here to say something as briefly as possible about Steiner’s teachings on the evolution of our solar system, and how the evolution of angels and humans has developed during this process. According to Steiner, our solar system has so far had four planetary stages, which he calls, somewhat confusingly, Ancient Saturn, Ancient Sun, Ancient Moon and Earth, this last being of course our present stage. This current stage of Earth will in time develop into three further stages or planetary embodiments, which Steiner calls Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan. In the meantime, our present Earth stage is due to continue until about the year 8000AD, when we shall start moving into the Jupiter planetary stage – so you can see that this is quite a long process! You can read more about Steiner’s views on these matters in his book, An Outline of Esoteric Science.
From Rudolf Steiner’s descriptions, it appears that humankind, in a variety of different forms, has participated in this evolution from the beginning. From the outset through to the very last stage, humans will have experienced a huge transformative process – from a human germ on Ancient Saturn to an angelic being, called the 10th order, in a future incarnation of the Earth.
Steiner also taught that each of the angelic orders has had the equivalent of a human stage in their own evolution, though of course their human stages were not like ours. Their evolutionary path is ahead of ours, with the angels of the 9th order being closest to us.
Angels (9th order)
Each of us – you, me, every one – has a guardian angel. Our very own dedicated guide in the spiritual world, it envelops us in unconditional love. Our angel gives us the safe space in which our higher selves can develop and eventually come into independent maturity. Impulses from our angel allow true ideas to stream into our consciousness. These guide us in our earthly tasks and relationships and give us strength to overcome the inevitable challenges we all meet along the way. Eventually, in the very distant future after a number of incarnations, we will take over this responsibility from the angels, rather like the way in which as we grow up we gradually find our independence from our parents. Until then, the angels’ unconditional love remains steadfast, guiding us along our way and helping to strengthen us.
Archangels (8th order)
Archangels unite groups of people, who have a common purpose or mission, by flowing in rhythmic motion amongst group members and their angels. They weave together mutual intentions and striving to help us form a sense of group identity, be it a community, family or nation. While angels give strength to each individual human, archangels inspire and give courage to each member of the group to work together to fulfill their common tasks. Whether forming a school, a team, a theatre company or a political movement etc., the work of the archangels helps form the group into a dynamic and viable whole. This group may well become able to receive higher spiritual intentions in order to meet challenges particular to its historical setting and time.
Steiner says that the archangels do not occupy themselves with the single individual, but have a wider task, which is to bring single lives into harmonious order with the life of larger human groups, as for instance with inhabitants of a particular nation.
Archai (7th order)
Archai, sometimes called Time Spirits, shine the light of intuition into the dynamic relationships or vessels that have been built with the aid of the archangels. The archai help us attune our efforts so as to be most fruitful at a particular time and place. We can see the results of their work in the rise and fall of various peoples and impulses over the course of human history.
Steiner says that the archai are even loftier beings than the archangels and they have a still higher task in the continuity of human existence. They regulate the earthly relations of whole human generations on earth. That which is called the Zeitgeist is the spiritual body of the archai. And Steiner gives an oddly intriguing idea here – he says that a strange muddle would come into the evolution of the earth if it were all left to chance, and pivotal figures such as Luther or Charlemagne were placed within any epoch, no matter which. This connection with the whole evolution of humanity over the whole earth, has to be thought out first; the right soul has to appear in harmony with the meaning of the whole earth’s development, and this process is regulated by the archai.
In the College Imagination, Steiner also refers to “the ruling spirit of our age”, by which he means Michael (whose name, Steiner insisted, is to be pronounced “Mi-cha-el” in three syllables, rather than the usual English pronunciation of that name), who from 1879 until around the year 2300, is acting as the spirit of the present age. Of the archai, Steiner mentions seven in particular who alternate as the serving spirits of the age. These seven archai are: Oriphiel (200BC – 150AD), Anael (150 – 500AD), Zachariel (500 – 850), Raphael (850 – 1190), Samael (1190 – 1510), Gabriel (1510 – 1879), Michael (1879 – 2300). This sequence should be understood as a repeating cycle, so for example Michael will be succeeded by Oriphiel in 2300.
In a lecture given in Zurich in 1918, Steiner asked the question: what are the angels doing in the astral bodies of human beings right now? A strange and rather obscure question you might think, but of course you have to bear in mind that Steiner’s view of the human being includes the idea that each of us has four bodies (the physical, etheric, and astral plus a fourth one, variously called the ego, I, self, entelechy or as I shall call it here, the individuality) which have evolved in us over aeons of time. We also have another three bodies in potential – the spirit self, the life spirit and spirit man – which are to come to full development in each of the succeeding planetary stages – the spirit self in the Jupiter stage, the life spirit in the Venus stage and finally the spirit man in the Vulcan stage, after which we shall no longer be in physical bodies.
At our present Earth stage and by comparison, the mineral kingdom has just one body, the physical; the plant kingdom has two bodies, the physical and the etheric; the animal kingdom has three bodies – physical, etheric and astral; while we humans have the same three bodies as the animals, plus the individuality.
We know about the work of the physical body but what is the role of these other bodies? The etheric body is essentially an energy body that contains and forms the physical. It is this etheric body which maintains the physical body’s form until death. The astral body provides us with awareness and self-awareness, our emotions and our feelings and intentions. The individuality is the immortal and inalienable core of a human being, which goes with us from one incarnation to the next.
When we go to sleep at night, the physical and etheric bodies remain in our bed, while the astral body and individuality go into the spiritual world for rest and inspiration and remain there until we wake up, when they re-enter the physical and etheric bodies. Have you ever experienced that sudden sensation of being jerked awake with a startle, just as you were dropping off to sleep? That is what happens when your astral body and individuality suddenly snap back into your physical body, because something has interrupted your process of falling asleep.
Anyway, Steiner asked the question – what are the angels doing in our astral bodies right now? And he answered that the angels of the 9th order are doing work on behalf of the angels of the 6th Order (Exusiai or Spirits of Form) by shaping images in us relating to the future evolution of humanity. And he says that:
“People may shy away from the notion that angels want to call forth ideals for the future in (us), but that is how it is. The process follows a specific principle, which is that in time to come no human being shall find peace in the enjoyment of happiness if others around him are unhappy. An impulse of absolute brotherliness, making all of humanity one, will govern social life…”
“There is also another impulse. The angels have specific objectives not only with regard to outer social life but also for the inner life. Here the aim they pursue with the images imprinted in the astral body is that in future every human being shall see a hidden divine principle in every other human being.”
“Mark you well, the intention underlying the work of the angels is that things shall change. In future we shall not consider human beings to be higher animals, considering their physical qualities in both theory and practice. Instead we are to meet every other human being with the full realisation that something of the divine foundations of the world is revealing itself in flesh and blood. To conceive humankind as an image revealed out of the world of the spirit, and to do so in profound seriousness, with all our strength – that is the impulse the angels lay into the images.”
“Once this is brought to realisation there will be a definite consequence. All independent religious feeling developing in humanity in time to come will depend on the individual being recognised in the image of God in real, practical terms and not mere theory. There will then be no need for religious compulsion, for every encounter between individuals will be a religious act, a sacrament, and there will be no more need for a church with physical buildings and institutions to maintain religious life. The church, if it understands itself rightly, must consider it to be its sole aim to render itself superfluous on the physical plane as the whole of life becomes an expression of the realm that lies beyond the senses. Such, at least, is the reason behind the work of the angels – to bestow complete religious freedom on humanity.”
And Steiner says there is a third objective the angels have, which is to enable human beings to reach the spirit through thinking, experiencing the reality of the spirit in their thinking.
The results of these three impulses will be, first: that each of us shall have a far deeper interest in every other human being than we are inclined to have today; second, that the Christ impulse means complete religious freedom for humanity and that the only true Christianity is one that makes absolute religious freedom possible; and third, that we shall gain irrefutable insight into the spiritual nature of the world.
Steiner emphasises, however, that these three results are subject to humankind’s free will, as well as the intervention of other spirits involved in world evolution, who have an interest in deflecting humankind from its proper course. These spirits are what Steiner calls the ahrimanic and luciferic spirits, who bring evil into the world. I shall be writing more about these “adversely commanded” angels and Steiner’s concept of evil in Part 3 of this posting.