The Spiritual Hierarchies
12 April 1909, Düsseldorf
The teachings proclaimed by the Holy Rishis during the first post-Atlantean period arose from purely spiritual sources. The important characteristic of this teaching or mode of investigation is that it penetrated deeply into natural processes and discovered the active, spiritual principles underlying them. Fundamentally speaking, we are continually surrounded by spiritual happenings and beings. Physical phenomena are merely the expression of spiritual deeds, and things that appear to us in material form are the outward sheaths of spiritual beings. Now, when the primeval divine teaching spoke of perceptible phenomena in our surroundings, particular emphasis was laid on what, to them, was the most important natural phenomenon surrounding man on earth—fire. In all explanations of what occurred upon the earth a central position was allotted to the spiritual investigation of fire. If we seek to understand oriental teachings about fire, so important in ancient times for all knowledge and life, we shall have to consider how other natural phenomena were regarded in the past by a teaching still valid in the spiritual science of today.
In these ancient times, all that surrounded men materially in the world was referred back to the four elements. The four elements, earth, water, air and fire, are no longer acknowledged by modern materialistic science. But with the word, “earth,” the spiritual science of that time did not mean what is meant by the word today. uEarthn denoted a condition of matter, the solid state. In spiritual science everything to which we refer as solid was called “earthy.” No matter whether it was a solid lump of arable soil, a crystal, a piece of lead or gold, or anything of a solid nature, it was termed, “earth.” Everything fluid, not only water as we know it, was referred to as “watery" or “water.” If you take iron, for example, and melt it by means of fire so that it became fluid, spiritual science would refer to it in that condition as “water.” All metals in the fluid state were termed, “water.” What we call gaseous was termed, “air,” irrespective of the particular gas to which it applied, whether oxygen, hydrogen or some other gas.
Fire was the fourth element. Those of you who are familiar with elementary physics will remember that modern science does not regard fire as comparable with earth, water or air. Fire, according to modern physics, is merely looked upon as a condition of movement. For spiritual science, however, warmth or fire is something endowed with an even finer substantiality than air. Just as “earth,” or solidity, can be transformed into the liquid state, so, according to spiritual science, all “airy” or gaseous forms gradually change into the condition of “fire." Fire is so rarefied that it permeates all other elements. It permeates “air” and thereby warms it; the same applies to “water” and “earth.” Whereas the three other elements are separate, the element “fire” possesses an all-pervading quality.
Now, both ancient and modern spiritual science agree that there is a still more important difference between what we term earth, water, air and what we call fire or warmth. How do we get to know the earth element or solidity? We might try by touching it and experiencing its resistance. The same applies to water though it offers less resistance. Nevertheless we are aware of it as something external to ourselves, as a resistance. The same is true of air. We only get to know it externally in relation to ourselves. But this is not the case with warmth. Here we shall have to emphasize an aspect that is regarded as unimportant by the modern outlook, but we shall have to consider it if we wish to fathom the riddles of existence. We do, in fact, become aware of warmth without touching it externally. That is the important point. We become aware of warmth by touching an object that has been heated, in which case we become aware of it in the same way as we do the other elements, but we also feel the warmth within our own organism. That is why the ancient knowledge of the Hindus stressed that we only become aware of earth, water and air in the outer world. Warmth is the first element that can also be apprehended inwardly. Warmth, or fire, has a twofold nature—an external aspect, which we get to know outwardly, and an inner aspect, which we feel in our own condition of warmth. Actually, we feel our own inner warmth, we are hot or cold, and yet one is little inclined to concern oneself with what is gaseous, watery or solid in one's organism, that is, with what is air, water and earth in ourselves. We only begin to be aware of ourselves in the element of warmth. Ancient and modern spiritual science both proclaim fire or warmth to be the first stage at which matter becomes soul. Hence, we can speak in the full sense of the word of an outer fire, which we perceive as we do other elements, and of an inner soul fire within man.
That is why, in spiritual science, fire always built a bridge between the outer material world, and the inner soul world that can be perceived only inwardly. Fire or warmth was central to all observation of nature; it was the gateway by means of which one penetrated from the outer to the inner. It is truly like a door in front of which one can stand. One can behold it from outside, one can open it, and one can behold it from within. That is the true place of fire among natural phenomena.
Let us now consider an elementary lesson in primal human wisdom. The teacher in the past would ask that an object being consumed by fire be observed and would then point out that two things were to be seen. In olden times one was called, “smoke” (the term still applies today), and the other was called, “light.” The spiritual scientist saw fire as placed between light and smoke, and the teacher would say that both are born out of the flame.
Now, we should bear in mind a simple, yet most important, characteristic with regard to the light that is born of the fire. Most people, if you were to ask them if they see light would reply that they do, of course. Yet this is absolutely erroneous because the physical eye cannot, in fact, perceive the light. We see objects, be they solid, fluid or gaseous, because of the light, but the light itself we cannot see. Imagine the whole of universal space illumined by a light, the source of which was behind you where you could not see it. Then imagine you were to look into the world-spaces illuminated through and through by that light. Would you see the light? You would see absolutely nothing. You would only perceive something when an object was placed within the illuminated space. One cannot see light but only the solid, fluid and gaseous elements through the effects of the light. Spiritual science, therefore, says that light makes everything visible but cannot itself be seen. This is an important statement; light is imperceptible. It cannot be perceived by means of our external senses. We can perceive the solid, the fluid and the gaseous, and we can still perceive outwardly warmth or fire, but here an inner perception begins. The light as such can no longer be perceived externally. If you think that when you look at the sun you see the light, then you are quite mistaken. You see a burning body, a burning substance that emanates light. You can prove it to yourself. You do not see the light but only the burning object.
So, according to spiritual science, we rise upward from earth to water, from air to fire and then to light. That is to say, we pass from the outward-perceptible to the invisible, the spiritual etheric realm. Or one might say, fire is situated at the boundary between the perceptible, material world and the etheric, spiritual realm that is no longer perceptible. What happens to an object consumed by fire? Light is produced. In fact, heat, if it is sufficiently intense, produces a source of light that is outwardly imperceptible, but which reaches upward into the spiritual worlds. A part is given over to the invisible world but it must pay for this in the form of smoke. Out of the part that was first transparent and transluscent, an opaque “smoky” portion is separated off. So we see how fire or warmth is divided into two components. It divides itself off towards the light, thus opening up a path toward the supersensible, but as a result, it also has to send something down into the opaque, perceptible, material world. Every form of existence has two aspects. Thus, where we have light as a result of heat, we also find opaque, dark matter appearing. That is an ancient, basic teaching of spiritual science.
That, however, is only the outer physical aspect of the process. At its foundation lies something still essentially different. When an object is heated but does not produce any light, the generated warmth that one can perceive with the senses also contains a spiritual element. When the heat becomes so intense that light arises and smoke is produced, a part of the spiritual component that was in the heat goes over into smoke. The spiritual component of warmth, which was in the fire and which was then transformed in a gaseous element, is bewitched in the opaque smoke. Spiritual beings connected with fire have, so to speak, to allow themselves to be made opaque, to be bewitched in the smoke. Thus, everything of a turbid nature, of the solidification connected with warmth is associated with the bewitchment of spiritual beings.
We can put it even more simply. Let us imagine that air is made liquid, a process that can be achieved today. Now, air is mere solidified warmth, densified warmth as a result of the smoke that has been formed. The spiritual part that should by rights be in the fire has been bewitched into the smoke. Spiritual beings, which may also be called elemental beings, are bewitched in the air and are still more deeply bewitched in a yet lower form of existence when air is transformed into the liquid state. That is why spiritual science sees in all physically perceptible things an element that has proceeded out of an original condition of fire or warmth. It became air, smoke or gaseous as the warmth densified into gas, the gas became liquid, and the liquid densified into the solid state.
“Look backwards,says the spiritual scientist. 4tLook at any solid substance. Once it was fluid. It has only become solid in the course of evolution. The liquid was once gaseous and the gaseous state arose out of the smoke that proceeded from the fire. But a bewitchment of spiritual beings is connected with each stage of densihcation.”
Now let us look at the world that surrounds us. The solid stones, the streams, the evaporating water that rises as mist, the air—all things that are solid, liquid or gaseous—are, in fact, densified fire. Gold, silver and copper are densified fire. In the far distant past everything was fire; everything was born of fire, but in all forms of densification, spiritual beings lie bewitched!
How are the spiritual divine beings that surround us able to produce solid matter as it exists on our planet? How do they produce liquid and airy substances? They send down elemental beings that dwell in fire, and imprison them in the air, water and earth. They are emissaries, elemental messengers of the spiritual, creative, formative beings. At first, elemental beings live in the fire and, to put it pictorially, they feel comfortable there. Then they are condemned to an existence of bewitchment. We can say as we look around us, “The beings whom we have to thank for everything that surrounds us had to descend from the fire element and are bewitched in the things of this world.”
Are human beings able to help these elemental beings in some way or other? That is the great question that was put by the Holy Rishis. Are we able to release them? Yes, we can. For the deeds of man on earth are nothing but the external expression of spiritual processes. Everything we do here is also of importance for the spiritual world. Let us consider the following. A man stands in front of a crystal, a lump of gold or the like. He looks at it. What happens if a person simply stares, simply looks at some object by means of his physical senses? A continual interplay arises between man and the bewitched elemental being. That which is bewitched in matter and man are in some way related to one another. Let us assume, however, that he merely stares at the object so that he only takes in what is impressed upon his eye. Something is continually passing from these elementals into man, and it goes on from morning until night. As we look out into the world, hosts of elementals, who were, or who are continually being bewitched into the processes of densification, are continually entering into us from our surroundings.
Now let us assume that such a person, as he stares at an object, has not the slightest inclination to reflect about what he sees, or to let the spirit of things live in his soul. He takes the easy road; he goes through the world but does not digest his experiences spiritually by means of thoughts and feelings. He remains a mere spectator of the physical, material world. In that case, the elemental beings enter into him and remain there. They have gained nothing in the world process and have merely transferred their seat from the outer world into that of man. But now let us take a man who digests his impressions spiritually by thinking about them, and by forming concepts about the underlying spiritual foundation of the world. That is, a man who does not merely stare, but ponders over its nature; a man who feels the beauty of things and ennobles his impressions. What does such a man do? As a result of his spiritual activity he redeems the elemental being that streams toward him from the outer world, thus raising it to its previous state. He releases the elemental being from its enchantment. So, through our spiritual activity, we can release beings who are bewitched in air, water and earth and lead them back to their former condition, or we can imprison them again in our inner being without any transformation having taken place in them. Throughout the whole of man's life on earth, elemental beings stream into him. It depends on him whether they remain unchanged or whether he releases them.
What happens to the elemental beings who have been released by man’s activity? To begin with, they, too, inhabit man. Even those who have been released dwell in man until he dies. When a person goes through the gate of death, there is a distinction between these elemental beings who merely entered into him and have not been led back to the higher elements, and those who, through man's activity, have been guided back to their former condition. Those who have not been transformed have gained nothing by wandering from the outer world into man; others are able to return to their former condition after man's death. During life on earth man builds a cross-road for elementals. When man has gone through life in the spiritual worlds and returns in a subsequent incarnation through the gate of birth, all elemental beings whom he did not release, accompany him into physical existence. Those whom he releases do not accompany him any longer; they return to their original condition.
What happens when a man looks at a material object and fathoms its true nature so that the elemental being is thereby released? Spiritually, the reverse course is taken from what occurred formerly. Whereas originally smoke arose out of the fire, man now creates fire out of smoke spiritually. The fire, however, is only released at his death. We can now understand the profound spiritual meaning of ancient rituals of sacrifice when considered in the light of the primeval, divine spiritual science. Imagine the priest at the sacrificial altar in those ancient times when religion rested upon a true knowledge of spiritual laws. Imagine the priest kindling the flame, and the rising smoke, the object of sacrifice, as it is accompanied upwards by prayers. What really happened in such sacrifices? The priest stood at the altar where the smoke was produced. There, where the solid emerged out of the warmth, a spirit was bewitched, but as a man accompanied the process with prayers, the spirit went over into him and was released into the supersensible world after his death. What did the priest of the ancient Mysteries say to those who learned to understand such a ritual? He explained that if you look at the external world in such a way that your spiritual activity does not remain attached to the smoke, but rises spiritually to the fire element, then, after death, you free the bewitched spirit that dwells in the smoke. The human being who had gained an understanding of the process would reply, “If the spirit that dwells in the smoke remains unchanged, it will have to accompany me in a next incarnation; after death it will be unable to return to the spiritual world. If I have released it, if I have led it back to the fire, after my death it will arise into worlds of spirit and no longer need to return to earth at my birth.”
Here we have explained a part of the profound passage from the Bhagavad Gita of which I spoke in my last lecture. There is no mention of the human ego. It refers, rather, to nature spirits, to elemental beings that enter into man from the outer world saying, “Behold the fire, behold the smoke; what man turns into fire through his spiritual activity are spirits that he liberates at his death.” What he leaves untransformed in the smoke remains connected with him after death and has to be born when he is born again. The destiny of elemental spirits is here described. Through his wisdom man continually liberates elemental beings at his death; through his lack of wisdom, through a materialistic attachment to the world of the senses, he ties elemental spirits to him and forces them into this world to be reborn ever and again with him.
These elemental beings, however, are not only connected with fire. They are emissaries of higher divine spiritual beings and are involved in everything that takes place in the external perceptible world. The inter-play of day and night, for example, could not have arisen unless hosts of elemental beings had been active rotating the planets in the universe in the appropriate manner. Everything that happens is determined by hosts of lower and higher beings of the Spiritual Hierarchies. We have been speaking of the lowest order, of the messengers. Elemental beings live in the processes that transform night into day and day into night, and man is again closely connected with beings of the elemental world whose function it is to bring about day and night. A person who is apathetic and lazy, and lets himself go, affects these elemental beings quite differently from one who is creative, active, diligent and productive. When a man is lazy, for instance, he unites himself with certain kinds of elemental beings and this also happens when he is active, but in another way. The elemental beings of the second class to whom we have referred are active during the day and are then in an ascending phase. But just as fire-elementals of the first class are bound to air, water and earth, so are certain elemental bound to darkness. Day could not be separated from night unless elementals were imprisoned into night. Man is able to enjoy daylight thanks to divine spiritual beings who have driven forth elementals and have chained them to night. When a man is lazy, these elementals continually flow into him unchanged. Through his idleness he leaves unchanged those elemental beings who are chained to darkness at night. Those elemental beings who enter into him when he is active and industrious are led back into the daylight. Thus, he continually releases elementals of the second class. Throughout the whole of our lives we carry elemental beings in us who have either entered during periods of idleness or industry. As we go through the gate of death, those beings whom we have led back to the day can enter the spiritual world. Beings whom we have left in the night as a result of our apathy remain chained to us and return with us at our next incarnation. This brings us to the second point in the passage of the Bhagavad Gita. Again it is not the human ego that is being referred to in the following words but the type of elemental beings: “Behold day and night. What you redeem, what you transform from a being of night into a being of day, enters into higher worlds when you die. What you take with you as a being of the night, you condemn to accompany you in a succeeding incarnation.”
Now you will no doubt guess how the matter proceeds. The same holds true of more encompassing natural phenomena such as the twenty-eight day rhythm that brings about the waxing and waning moon. Hosts of elemental beings had to be active to bring the moon into movement so that the moon-rhythm and everything connected with it might arise visible for us on earth. This again meant that certain of these elementals had to be bewitched, condemned and imprisoned by higher beings. Supersensible cognition always notices that during the time of a waxing moon, spiritual beings of a lower realm rise into a higher. But so that order might prevail, other spiritual elemental beings have to be bewitched as a result into lower realms.
These elementals of the third kind are also connected with man. A man who is bright and cheerful, who is satisfied with life, who is of a cheerful disposition because of his understanding of the world is continually liberating beings who are chained because of the waning moon. These beings enter into him but are continually released because of his serene soul disposition, his inner contentment, his harmonious view of life. Beings who enter into man when he is sullen, peevish, discontented with everything, depressed and pessimistic remain in the condition of bewitchment in which they were at the time of the waning moon. There are human beings who, through the fact that they have achieved a harmonious feeling about the world and a cheerful disposition, work in a wonderfully liberating way on large numbers of elementals. Thus we see that man's mood is not only of significance for himself but a cheerful or a morose attitude can bring about either forces of liberation or of imprisonment. The effects of a person's moods stream out in all directions into the spiritual world. Here we have the third point in the important teaching of the Bhagavad Gita: “Behold the man who, through his mood of soul, releases during the time of the waxing moon, spirits that return to higher worlds at his death.”
Finally, we have a fourth kind of elemental being. These activate the course of the sun during the year and bring about the wakening, fruitful activity of the sun during the summer so that the ripening that takes place from spring to autumn may come about. As a result, certain spirits have to be chained, bewitched, during the winter period. Here, too, man works as has been described for the other degrees of spiritual beings of the elemental realms. Let us take a person who says to himself at the approach of winter, “The nights are becoming longer, the days shorter. We are approaching a time of year when the sun withdraws its ripening forces from the earth. Outwardly, the earth is dying but as this process takes place, I feel all the more the need to awaken spiritually. I must receive the spirit into myself evermore.”
Let us take a person who, with the approach of Christmas carries an ever greater feeling of devotion in his heart, one who understands the true meaning of this festival, which is that as outer nature dies, the spirit must be all the more awake. Let us assume such a person lives through the winter season and at Easter realizes that the time of sleep for the spirit is connected with the enlivening processes in nature. He then experiences the Easter festival with understanding. Such a person does not merely possess an external religiosity but a religious understanding of the processes in nature, for the spirit that dwells in nature. By means of this kind of devotion he is able to liberate elementals of the fourth class that continually stream in and out of man and are connected with the course of the sun. A person not endowed with this kind of devotion, one who denies the spirit and who is caught up by our materialistic chaos, is entered by elementals of the fourth class who stream into him and remain as they are. At man's death these elementals are either released, or chained so that they must reappear in the world at his rebirth. He who connects himself to the winter spirits without transforming them into summer spirits, that is, without redeeming them through his spiritual activity, condemns them to be reborn with him. If the opposite is the case, they will not have to return with him.
Behold the fire and the smoke! If you so connect yourself with the outer world that your soul-spiritual activity is akin to the process that brings about fire and smoke, if you spiritualize the things around you through your knowledge and your feelings, then you assist spiritual elemental beings to ascend again. If you connect yourself with the smoke, you condemn them to rebirth. If you connect yourself with the day, you again liberate certain spirits. Behold the light, behold the day, the waxing moon, the summer season of the year! If you are active in such a way that elementals are led back to the light, the day, the waxing moon, and the summer season of the year, you free those elemental beings whom you need so very much; at your death they rise into the spiritual world. If you connect yourself with the smoke, staring at solid matter, or if you connect yourself to the night through apathy, to the spirits of the waning moon because of your ill-humor, and to the spirits who are chained in the winter time through godlessness or lack of spirituality, then you condemn elemental beings to reincarnate with you.
Now we begin to understand what is really meant by this passage of the Bhagavad Gita. The one who thinks it refers to human beings does not understand it. He who knows, however, that all human life is a continual interplay between man and the spiritual beings that live around him, that these four groups of elemental beings are bewitched and need to be liberated, recognizes their ascension or their need to reincarnate. The mystery regarding the lowest rung of hierarchical beings has been preserved for us in this passage of the Bhagavad Gita. When one has to draw forth from primeval wisdom what is proclaimed in ancient religious documents, one begins to realize their true greatness and how wrong it is to take them superficially thereby avoiding plumbing their depths. One only gains a right relation to them when one says that no wisdom is exalted enough to fathom what is contained in them. Then the ancient records become permeated by the magic of devoted feelings, and only then do they become what they truly are: ennobling and purifying means for human evolution. Still, they point to fathomless abysses of human wisdom. Only when that which springs from the occult schools and mysteries begins to stream from man outwards to humanity at large, only then will the reflections of primeval wisdom (and they are but reflections) be seen in their true greatness.
We have attempted to show by means of a comparatively difficult example the knowledge that existed in primeval wisdom of the interplay between man and the beings that surround him and stream in and out of him, of the interplay that arises between the spiritual world and man's inner world as a result of his deeds. The riddle of man becomes important for us when we begin to realize that in all we do, even down to our moods, we influence the whole cosmos, that our little world is of infinitely far-reaching importance for all that comes into being in the macrocosmos. A heightened feeling of responsibility is the finest and most important fruit that can be gained from spiritual science. It teaches us to grasp the true sense of life, to take it earnestly so that what we cast upon the stream of evolution may be meaningful.