The Spiritual Hierarchies
14 April 1909, Düsseldorf
We have considered the working of higher spiritual beings in the cosmos by means of two examples, the development of ancient Saturn and the old Sun, which is the re-embodiment of Saturn. Today, we shall have to penetrate into the spiritual realm of the higher supersensible beings and consider their activity from yet another aspect. In the first half of these lectures, matters will be referred to with which most of you are already familiar. Because it will be my aim in this lecture cycle to rise into lofty realms of the spirit, it will be necessary to lay certain foundations from which we can proceed further.
You will have gathered from what has been said so far that the most varied kinds of spiritual beings are active within the development of an evolving cosmic system. But what, in fact, is the nature of ancient Saturn? Let us try to gain an accurate picture of it. It has, of course, nothing to do with our present Saturn. You must rather imagine that everything that belongs to the totality of our solar system was already present in embryo on ancient Saturn, and that included the Sun, the Moon and our planets Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter. These planets were within ancient Saturn, and have developed out of it. Imagine a planetary body that has our sun as its center and stretches out so far into space as to include our present Saturn. Then you gain a picture of the size of ancient Saturn compared to our present solar system. The whole of our present solar system has developed out of ancient Saturn. One might even compare this body, though only approximately, with the whole of the Kant-Laplace universal primeval mist out of which, according to many of our contemporaries, our solar system has been formed. Yet, the comparison is not adequate because the majority of people imagine a kind of gas as having been the primal beginning of our solar system. We have seen that it was not gas but a body of heat. Ancient Saturn was really a gigantic body of heat.
Yesterday, we mentioned that, where ancient Saturn had transformed itself into the later Sun (old Sun), the Cherubim worked into the universe from the periphery. Now you must imagine that the Cherubim were already present around ancient Saturn, but they had not yet been called upon to play their part. To put it trivially, although they were present at the periphery of ancient Saturn, they had not yet reached the stage where they could accomplish a task of importance. Other beings were also present in the environment of ancient Saturn, beings of a loftier rank than the Cherubim, the Seraphim. The Thrones come out of the same realm. We have seen how the substance of the Thrones—beings who stand one degree below the Cherubim—streams downward and provides the heat substance of Saturn. We can, therefore, picture ancient Saturn as a gigantic globe of heat surrounded by choirs of extraordinarily lofty spiritual beings. In Christian esotericism they are called Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. They are the Dhyanic beings of Oriental wisdom.
But what is the origin of these exalted choirs of beings? Everything in the universe is in the course of development. In order to gain a picture of where the Cherubim, Seraphim and Thrones come from, it is advisable to consider first our own solar system and ask what will become of it. Let us briefly sketch the development of our solar system. Ancient Saturn was the starting point, and ancient Saturn transformed itself into the old Sun, which further changed into the old Moon. A special stage of evolution is reached during the transformation of the old Sun into the old Moon. The Moon goes out of the Sun for the first time, so that we have in the Moon a cosmic body that exists outside the Sun. The Sun could go through a higher stage of development because it cast off its coarser substances. The whole system developed so as to become our present earth, which came about because all the coarser substances and beings of the moon and earth were cast off from the Sun.
But evolution proceeds. The beings who have to live their separate existence on earth, who have been cast off from the sun, so to speak, continue to develop to even higher stages cut off though they are from the sun. They still have to go through the Jupiter stage, but as a result they gradually mature so that they will again be able to unite with the sun. During the Venus evolution, all the beings who dwell on the earth today will again be incorporated into the sun. The sun itself will have reached a higher stage of development because all the beings that had formerly been cast off will have been redeemed. This is followed by the Vulcan condition, the highest stage in the development of our system. The seven stages in the evolution of our system, therefore, are: Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan. During the Vulcan stage all the beings who have evolved out of the small beginnings of Saturn will have been spiritualized in the highest degree. Together they will have grown not only to being a sun, but more than a sun. Vulcan is more than a sun, and it will have reached the stage of maturity when it will be able to sacrifice itself, when it has attained the maturity necessary for self-disintegration.
The course of evolution for a system that has its starting point in a sun proceeds in such a way that, at first, the sun is too weak and thus has to throw off its planets so that it can develop itself to a higher stage. The sun then grows in strength, reabsorbs its planets, and becomes a Vulcan. Then the whole is dissolved and the Vulcan globe is emptied. Here we have something similar to the round of the Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. The sun will dissolve into the cosmos, sacrifice itself, send forth its being into the universe, and thus become a choir of beings like the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones who advance to new creative tasks in the universe.
Why were the Thrones able to give forth their substance, which was needed by Saturn? Because the Thrones had prepared themselves in an earlier system through seven conditions such as those through which our solar system is now passing. Before a system of Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim comes about, it must first have been a solar system. This means that a sun must have reached the stage when it could unite itself again with its planets; then it can become peripheral. The sun itself becomes a zodiac. What we have come to know as the exalted beings in the zodiac are the remnants that have passed over to us from a previous solar system. What previously evolved within a solar system can now work creatively into cosmic space and bring a new solar system to birth out of its own forces. Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones represent for us the highest hierarchy among divine beings because they have already accomplished their development as a solar system and have risen to an exalted rank of cosmic sacrificial service.
As a result, these beings have come into the closest vicinity of the most exalted divinity of which we can speak, the Trinity, the threefold divine power. We must, therefore, picture the Godhead as beyond the Seraphim. We find this threefold divinity among most peoples as Brahma, Siva and Vishnu, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The creative source of a new cosmic system also resides within this lofty Trinity. Looking back, we may say that before anything of ancient Saturn came into existence the plan for it had to ripen within the divine Trinity, but the divine Trinity needs beings to execute its plan and these beings must first prepare themselves for the task. The Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones are the beings who are, so to speak, closest to the Godhead. In Western Christian esotericism they are appropriately described as “enjoying the unveiled countenance of the Godhead.”
They receive the plans of a new cosmic system from the divine Trinity from whom they originated. You will readily understand why I have expressed it figuratively, since we are forced to convey lofty happenings by means of words that are inadequate. Indeed, human language was not created for the purpose of expressing the exalted activity that took place, for instance, at the beginning of our solar system when the Seraphim received the loftiest plans, which contained the whole future evolution of our solar system through Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan, from the Trinity. The name Seraphim, rightly understood in the sense of ancient Hebrew esotericism, is always interpreted as referring to beings who receive the loftiest ideas and aims of a cosmic system from the Trinity. The Cherubim, who belong to the next hierarchy, have the task of elaborating in wisdom the aims and ideas received from the Gods. The Cherubim are thus spirits of exalted wisdom, capable of transposing into workable plans what is indicated by the Seraphim. The Thrones, the third rank of the hierarchies, counting from above, have the task—figuratively speaking, of course― f putting into practice the lofty cosmic thoughts that have been conceived in wisdom, thoughts received by the Seraphim from the Gods and pondered over by the Cherubim.
Beholding with the soul, we actually see how the first stage of the realization of the divine plan is achieved in the down-flow of the fire-substance by the Thrones. The Thrones appear to us as beings endowed with the power to transpose into a primary reality what has been first conceived by the Cherubim. This takes place because the Thrones allowed their own substance of primeval cosmic fire to flow into the space allotted to the new cosmic system. We can picture it quite clearly by saying that an ancient solar system disappeared, died away. Within this ancient system the ranks of the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones attained their highest perfection. Now, in accordance with the indications of the lofty Trinity, they chose a sphere within cosmic space and said that here we can make a beginning. At this moment, the Seraphim received the aims of this new solar system, the Cherubim worked them out, and the Thrones gave forth primeval fire, their own substance, into the appointed sphere. This will help us to grasp the primal beginnings of our solar system.
Other beings, however, were also present in the former solar system of which ours is the successor. They are not as exalted as the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. They remained at lower stages of evolution and came over in a condition in which they still had to pass through further stages of development before they could be creatively active, before they could offer sacrifice. These are the beings of the second threefold hierarchy. We have just been considering the first threefold hierarchy. The names of the beings of the second hierarchy have often been referred to—the Kyriotetes or Dominions or Spirits of Wisdom, then the Mights or Dynameis or Virtues, as Dionysius the Areopagite, and after him the teachers of the West, named them, or Spirits of Motion. That is the second degree of the second hierarchy. The third rank consists of the Powers, or Potentates as they are called by the teachers of the West, or Spirits of Form.
As we glance back to ancient Saturn, let us ask where the beings of the second hierarchy were. We have seen that the beings of the first hierarchy surrounded Saturn. But where were the Dominions, the Mights and the Powers? We shall find them within ancient Saturn. The Thrones came up to the boundary, but the Dominions, Mights and Powers were within ancient Saturn. The ranks of this threefold hierarchy were active within the Saturn substance.
Let us now come to terms, at least to some extent, with the extraordinarily fantastic modern theory of the origin of the world as formulated by the Kant-Laplace theory. It claims that a mass of mist was the starting point of our solar system, and then imagines that these huge masses of mist began to rotate, to whirl around. It apparently finds it easy to account for the fact that, in the course of the rotation, the outer planets gradually split off. At first, rings are formed that then contract. The sun remains in the center and the other planets rotate around it. The process is pictured quite mechanically.
A nice school experiment is devised in order to make the whole thing more plausible. One shows in miniature how such a solar system arose by taking a vessel full of water, throwing in a large drop of oil, then cutting a piece of paper representing the equator, and putting a pin into it from above. The drop of oil is then made to rotate. Small drops of oil split off and circle around and the demonstrator says to his pupils—often quite old pupils, "Now, here you have in miniature the formation of our solar system!" And the whole thing suddenly becomes evident! For how could it be made more obvious than to be able to see with your own eyes how a solar system comes about? Why shouldn't one be convinced that once upon a time out there, there was a gigantic cosmic mist that rotated and the planets split from it to form miniature Mercuries and Saturns, just like the small drops separating from the large drops of oil.
One can but be amazed at the naivety of one who demonstrates the Kant-Laplace theory in this manner in order to make it as concrete as possible. One thing has been forgotten, which on other occasions it is good to forget, namely, that the demonstrator has forgotten himself, his own presence as the one who set the thing in motion. Indeed, an incredible piece of naivety, but the simple-mindedness of the modern materialistic mythology is indeed considerable, far greater, in fact, than that of any other mythology. This will only be realized in future time.
So we have someone who sets the whole thing in motion. Therefore, we shall have to presuppose, if one has not been forsaken by all the good spirits of logic, that spiritual powers were involved in the rotation of the cosmic globe.
Apart from the error in placing a primeval gas at the outset instead of a primeval fire, it cannot be assumed that the primal mass of gas began to whirl around of its own accord. One should rather put the question: Where were the spiritual forces that put these masses—for us they are primal fire—into motion so that something could happen within them? We have just spoken of them. Spiritual powers worked from the periphery and from within. Those powers that acquired their faculties in former cosmic systems worked from without. Beings of lesser maturity worked from within. They brought about differentiation in the inner structures of heat, as we have already seen. These beings were endowed with the highest intelligence and arranged everything that took place there.
What is the specific task of the first beings of the second hierarchy? The Spirits of Wisdom (Kyriotetes or Dominions) receive what the Thrones bring down from the universe and regulate it so that a harmonious relationship comes about between the separate cosmic body that is originating, namely, between Saturn and the rest of the universe. Everything within Saturn has to be arranged so that it corresponds to what is outside it. What the Godhead has given to the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones must be so arranged that the commands and impulses received are translated into reality. The Kyriotetes (or Dominions) receive from the periphery of Saturn, through the intermediary of the highest hierarchy, what has to be transformed and made to harmonize with the interior of Saturn.
A further transformation comes about through the Mights (Spirits of Motion, Dynameis). Whereas the Dominions are concerned with the highest arrangements within Saturn, the Mights carry out, as it were, their directives. The Powers, on the other hand, insure that what has been constructed according to the intentions of the universe should endure as long as is necessary without disappearing immediately. We shall refer to this more specifically later; this is but an outline of the matter. The Spirits of Form (Powers) are the maintainers. So, within Saturn the Dominions are organizers, the Mights carry out directives, and the Powers preserve what has been formed by the Mights.
Today we shall not consider the workings of the next hierarchy, the Spirits of Personality, Spirits of Fire and Angels. We would rather, with this newly acquired knowledge, turn our attention to the passage of ancient Saturn to the old Sun. The most important aspect of the process has been described in the previous lecture. When ancient Saturn changed into old Sun, the primeval fire was transformed into gas or air, so that the old Sun consisted of the residue of the primeval fire. The primeval fire was intermingled with what had become thickened into gas or smoke. Two substances were present—primeval fire and a part of the primeval fire that had been thickened into gas or smoke (whichever we wish to call it). That was true of the old Sun. We shall see presently that it is not quite correct as far as our sun is now concerned for it has developed through various stages up to the present time into something different, although there are people who imagine that the interior of our sun merely consists of some kind of gas.
If one looks into the various theories of our materialistic natural science, one does indeed find astonishing things. In a small popular book, much in demand because of its low price, we find the statement that the interior of the sun is not solid but gaseous. But, incredible as it may seem, it is stated quite specifically in this popular handbook that the gas has the consistency of honey or tar. I have no objections to make against a man who can soar to such ideas as to wander about in a sluggish land where air has the thickness of honey, but I would not wish him to have to move about in air as thick as tar! Materialistic theories bring forth strange excrescences!
We are not speaking of our present sun, however, but of the old Sun that consisted of primeval fire and of a fire-mist or fire-air. You will find this expression in Faust, for Goethe was familiar with it; the expression, fire-mist, is also current in old theosophical literature. We have to imagine the old Sun as consisting of a mixture of these two substances, but this did not happen of its own accord. Cosmic bodies do not simply condense; spiritual beings have to bring about the condensation. The beings who brought the condensation of substance over from ancient Saturn to the old Sun were the Kyriotetes (Dominions). The Dominions, working from outside, compressed the gigantic mass of Saturn so that it became smaller. The Dominions went on exerting pressure until the old Sun became a globe, the mass of which, if you place the Sun at its center, you must imagine extending as far as Jupiter. Ancient Saturn was a huge cosmic globe, the size of which encompassed the whole of our solar system, and it had the Sun at its center. It was a mighty globe reaching out as far as the present orbit of the planet Saturn. The old Sun was a globe that extended as far as the present Jupiter. That marks the boundary of the old Sun. One can picture the orbits of our planets as boundaries for the extension of former cosmic bodies. You see, we are gradually gaining a concept of the nature of planetary bodies by tracing their origin back to the activity of the hierarchies.
Now let us continue. The next stage is again one of condensation. The third condition of our cosmic system is known as the old Moon. Those familiar with communications from the Akashic Record know that the Moon arose through a further condensation process of the substance of the old Sun as far as the watery state. There was no solid earth on the old Moon yet, but there was fire, air and water. Gas or air had been condensed to the water element. The second group of the second hierarchy, that is, the beings known as the Mights or Dynameis, brought this about. These beings also compressed the mass of the old Sun up to the boundary of the present Mars, and Mars represents the boundary line for the size of the old Moon. Imagine a sphere with the sun at its center and limited by the orbit of the present Mars. There you have the size of the old Moon.
We must now bear in mind that when the old Moon arose out of Saturn and Sun something completely new took place. A part of the dense substance was thrown out and two bodies came into being. The one took up the finer substance and beings, and became a more refined sun; the other became a more dense Moon. The third condition of our system developed in such a way that only for a time did it remain one single planet. Then it threw off a planet that remained in its vicinity. At first, so long as it formed one single body, the Moon extended to the orbit of the present Mars; then the Sun contracted and was circled by a body approximately along the orbit of the present Mars—in other words, more or less at the periphery of the original single body.
What brought about the division of the two cosmic bodies? It happened during the reign of the Mights or Dynameis. Many of you will be familiar with the fact that a process occurs in the cosmos that is similar to the one we know in everyday life. Wherever beings develop, there are always those who progress and others who regress—as many a father knows who complains that his son at college remains behind while others forge ahead. In the cosmos as a whole we also come across different speeds of evolution. Now that the Mights (Dynameis) had begun their task, an event occurred—we shall learn later why it took place—which in esotericism, in all the Mysteries, is known as the War in Heaven. The teaching about the War in Heaven forms an integral part of all Mystery Wisdom and contains the primeval secret about the origin of evil. The Mights or Dynameis were at a particular time of the old Moon evolution at different stages of maturity. Some longed to rise spiritually as high as possible, others lagged behind or had at least reached a normal stage of development. Thus, there were on the old Moon, the Mights or Dynameis that had progressed far beyond their companions. As a result of this, the two classes of Mights divided. The more advanced pulled out the Sun and the retarded ones formed the Moon that revolved around it. This gives a sketchy description of the War in Heaven, the splitting asunder of the old Moon, which resulted in the accompanying planet, the old Moon, coming under the rulership of the retarded Mights while the old Sun was ruled by the advanced Mights.
Something of the War in Heaven rings through the opening lines of the divine Gita where, symbolically, at the beginning of the battle, we find echoes of this mighty struggle. It was indeed a gigantic one. From the time that the Kyriotetes or Dominions began their mission, the mighty battle, the gigantic War in Heaven raged. The Kyriotetes contracted the whole system to the boundary of the present Jupiter. The Mights contracted the whole system to the boundary of the present Mars. The huge battlefield lay in the middle between the two planetary boundaries in the heavens. Picture to yourselves this battlefield in the cosmos. It was not until the nineteenth century that one discovered again with physical eyes, so to speak, the devastation produced by the War in Heaven. Scattered between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter there is a multitude of small planetoids. These are the wreckage of the battlefield of the War in Heaven that was waged between two points of cosmic time when our solar system was contracted first to Jupiter and then to Mars. Today astronomers, directing their telescopes towards the heavenly spaces, are still discovering planetoids— the wreckage on the great battlefield of the War in Heaven between the advanced Mights and those less advanced, which also brought about the severing of the Moon from its Sun.
Thus we see that when we consider the deeds of divine beings, external things appear as the expression, the outward physiognomy of divine spiritual beings.