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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Part III
GA 291

4. The Hierarchies and the Nature of the Rainbow

4 January 1924, Dornach

When I wrote my Occult Science, I was compelled to bring the evolution of the earth somewhat into line with present-day ideas. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries one could have put it differently. For instance, in a certain chapter of this Occult Science the following might then have been found. One would have spoken otherwise of those beings whom one can describe as the beings of the first hierarchy: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones. One would have called the Seraphim those beings who make no differentiation between subject and object, who would not say: there are objects outside myself, but: the world is, and I am the world and the world is I — who know of their own existence only by means of an experience, of which man has a weak idea when some experience carries him away in glowing rapture.

It is in fact sometimes difficult to explain to modern people what a glowing rapture is, for it was even understood better at the beginning of the nineteenth century than it is now. It still happened then that some poem or other, by this or that poet, was read, and the people acted through rapture — forgive my saying so, but it was so — as if they were mad! So much were they moved, so much were they suffused with warmth.

Nowadays people are frozen just when one thinks they should be enraptured. And this rapture of the soul — which was experienced particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, — if raised as a unifying element into the consciousness gives one an idea of the inner life of the Seraphim.

And we have to imagine the consciousness-element of the Cherubim as a completely purified element in the consciousness, full of light, so that thought becomes directly light, and illumines everything; and the element of the Thrones as bearing up the world in grace.

One would then have said: the choir of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones act together, in such a way that the thrones constitute a nucleus, and the Cherubim radiate their own luminous nature from it. The Seraphim cover the whole in a mantle of rapture, which streams out into all space.

But these are all beings: in the midst of the Thrones, round them the Cherubim, and in the periphery, the Seraphim. They are beings which mutually interplay and act and think and will and feel. And if a being possessing the necessary susceptibility had traveled through space where the thrones and Cherubim and Seraphim had thus formed a center, he would have felt warmth in different degrees and in different places; now higher, now lower warmth, but yet in a spiritual and psychic way; in such a way, however, that the psychic experience is at the same time a physical experience in our senses. Thus, when the being feels the warmth psychically, there really is present what you feel when you are in a heated room.

Such a union of the begins of the First Hierarchy did exist once upon a time in the universe. And this formed the system and existence of the “Saturnian Age.” Warmth is just the expression of these beings. The warmth is nothing in itself, it is only the evidence that these beings exist.

I should like to use a simile here which may perhaps help as an explanation. Suppose you are fond of somebody, you find his presence warms you. Suppose further there comes another man who has no heart at all and says: that person doesn't interest me in the least; I am interested only in the warmth which he spreads around. He does not say he is interested in the warmth the other sheds, but that nothing but the warmth interests him. He is talking nonsense, of course, for when the person who radiates warmth has gone, the warmth has gone also. It is there only when the person is there. In itself it is nothing. The person must be there for the warmth to be there.

Thus Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones must be there; otherwise warmth is not there either. It is merely the revelation of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.

Now at the time of which I speak, what I have just described to you did in actual fact exist. When one spoke of the element of warmth one was understood to mean really Cherubim, Seraphim and Thrones. That was the Saturnian Age.

Then one went further and said that only this highest hierarchy, the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, has the might and the power to produce something of this kind in the Cosmos. And only by reason of the fact that this was done at the beginning of a terrestrial creation could evolution proceed. The Sun, as it were, of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones was able to a certain extent to direct the course of it. And this happened in such a way that the Beings produced by the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, the Beings of the Second Hierarchy — the Kyriotetes, Exusiai and Dynamis — now surged into this space created and warmed in this Saturnian life by the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. Thus the younger — of course, the cosmically younger — Beings entered in; and theirs was the next influence. Whereas the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones revealed themselves in the element of warmth, the Beings of the Second Hierarchy were seen in the element of light. The Saturnian element is dark, but warm, and within the dark and gloomy world of the Saturnian existence arises light, precisely the thing that can appear through the sons of the Second Hierarchy , through the Exusiai, Dynamis and Kyriotetes.

This is the case because the entry of the Second Hierarchy represents an inward illumination, which is connected with a densification of warmth. Air comes forth from the pure warmth-element, and in the revelation of the light we have the entry of the Second Hierarchy.

But you must get this clear: Actually Beings press in. Light is present for a Being with the necessary powers of perception. Light is what distinguishes the paths of these Beings. Under certain circumstances when light appears somewhere, there also appears shadow, darkness, dark shadow. So shadow also arose through the entry of the Second Hierarchy in the form of light. What was this shadow? The air. And actually till the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was known what the air is. Today one knows only that the air consists of oxygen and nitrogen, etc. which means no more than if one says, for instance, that a watch is made of glass and silver — whereby nothing whatever is said about the watch. Similarly nothing whatever is said about the air as a cosmic phenomenon when you say it consists of oxygen and nitrogen. But a great deal is said if one knows that from the cosmic point of view air is the shadow of the light. So that with the entry of the Second Hierarchy into the Saturnian warmth, one actually has in fact the entry of light, and its shadow, air. And where that happens is Sun. In the thirteenth and twelfth centuries one would really have had to talk in this manner.

The further stages of development are now conducted by the sons of the Third Hierarchy, the Archai, Archangels and Angels. These Beings bring into the luminous element with its shadow of air, introduced by the Second Hierarchy, another element resembling our desire, our urge to acquire something, our longing to have something.

Hence it came about that, let us say, an Archai or Archangel-Being entered and found an element of light, or rather, a place of light. In this place it felt, by reason of its sensitiveness to light, the urge towards and desire for darkness. The Angel-Being carried the light into the darkness, or an Angel-Being carried the darkness into the light. These Beings became the intermediaries, the messengers between light and darkness.

The result was that what formerly shone only in light, an trailed behind it, its shadow, the somber, airy darkness, now began to gleam in all colours, that light appeared in darkness, and darkness in light. It was the Third Hierarchy which conjured forth colour from out of light and darkness.

Observe, you have here something as it were historically documented to put before your souls. In the time of Aristotle one still knew — supposing one had pondered within the Mysteries on the origin of colours — that the Beings of the Third Hierarchy had to do with this. Wherefore Aristotle expressed in his Colour-Harmony that colour was a combined effect of Light and Darkness. But this spiritual element was lost — that the First Hierarchy was responsible for warmth, the Second for light and its shadow, the air, and the Third or the shining forth of colour in a world continuity. And there remained nothing but the unfortunate Newtonian theory of Colour, over which the initiated have smiled up to the eighteenth century, and which then became an article of faith with those who were just expert physicists.

In order to speak in the sense of this Newtonian theory, it is really necessary for one to have no knowledge at all of the spiritual world. And if one is still inwardly spurred by the spiritual world, as was the case with Goethe, one is utterly opposed to it. One states what is correct as Goethe did, then one storms dreadfully. Goethe was never so furious as on the occasion when he castigated Newton; he was simply furious about the wretched nonsense.

We cannot understand such things today, simply because anyone who does not recognize the Newtonian teaching concerning colour is looked upon by the physicists as a fool. But it was not really the case that Goethe stood quite alone in his own time. He alone uttered these things, but even at the end of the eighteenth century the learned knew perfectly well that the origin of colour lay in the spiritual world.

Air is the shadow of light. Just as when light radiates and, under certain circumstances, gives rise to deep shadow, so, if colour is present, and this colour works as a reality in the airy element, not merely as a reflection, not merely as a reflex-colour, but as a Reality; then the fluid, watery element arises from out of the real colour element. As air is the shadow of light, in cosmic thought, so water is the reflection, the creation of the element of colour in the Cosmos.

You will say you don't understand this. But just try to grasp the real meaning of colour. Red — well — do you believe that red in its real nature is only the neutral surface on generally regards it? Surely Red is something which attacks one. I have often discussed it. Red makes one want to run away; it pushes one back. Violet-blue one wants to pursue; it continually evades one, and gets ever darker and darker. Everything lives in colours. They are a world of their own, and the psychic element feels in the colour-world the necessity for movement, if it follows colours with psychic experience.

Today man stares at the rainbow. If one looks at it with the slightest imagination, one sees elemental beings active in it. They are revealed in remarkable phenomena. In the yellow certain of them are seen continually emerging from the rainbow, and moving across to the green. The moment they reach the underneath of the green, they are attracted to and disappear in it, to emerge on the other side. The whole rainbow reveals to an imaginative observer an outpouring and a disappearance of the spiritual. It reveals in fact something like a spiritual waltz. At the same time one notices that as these spiritual beings emerge in red-yellow, they do it with an extraordinary apprehension; and as they enter into the blue-violet, they do it with an unconquerable courage. When you look at the red-yellow, you see streams of fear, and when you look at the blue-violet you have the feeling that there is the seat of all courage and valor.

Now imagine we have the rainbow in section. Then these being emerge in the red-yellow and disappear in the blue-violet; here apprehension, here courage, which disappears again. There the rainbow becomes dense and you can imagine the watery element arises from it. Spiritual beings exist in this watery element which are really a kind of copy of the beings of the Third Hierarchy.

One can say that in approaching the learned men of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries, one must understand such things in this way. You cannot understand Albertus Magnus if you read him with modern knowledge, you must read him with the knowledge that such spiritual things were a reality to him and then only will you understand the meaning of his words and expressions.

In this way therefore air and water appear as a reflection of the Hierarchies. The Second Hierarchy enters in the form of light, the Third in the form of colour. But in order to enable this to be established, the lunar existence is created.

And now comes the Fourth Hierarchy. I am speaking now with the thought of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Now the Fourth Hierarchy. We never speak of it; but in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries one spoke freely of it. What is this Fourth Hierarchy? It is man himself. But formerly one did not understand by it the remarkably odd being with two legs and the tendency to decay that wanders about the world now; for then the human being of the present day appeared to the scholar as an unusual kind of being. They spoke of primeval man before the Fall, who existed in such a form as to have as much power over the earth as Angeloi, Archangeloi and so on, had over the lunar existence; the Second Hierarchy over the solar existence; the First Hierarchy over the Saturnian existence. They spoke of man in his original terrestrial existence, and as the Fourth Hierarchy. And with this Fourth Hierarchy came — as a gift form the higher Hierarchies of something they first possessed, and preserved, and did not themselves require — Life. And life came into the colourful world which I have been sketchily describing to you.

You will ask — But didn't things live before this? The answer you can learn from man himself. Your ego and your astral body have not life, but they exist all the same. The spiritual, the soul, does not require life. Life begins only with your etheric body; and this is something in the nature of an outer wrapping. It is thus that life appears only after the lunar existence, with the terrestrial existence, in that stage of evolution which belongs to our earth. The iridescent world became alive. It is not only then that Angeloi, Archangeloi, etc., felt a desire to bring light into darkness and darkness into light and so called forth the play of colours in the planets, but also they desired to experience this play of colour inwardly, and make it inward; to feel weakness and lassitude when darkness inwardly dominates over light, and activity when light dominates over darkness. For what happens when you r un? When you run it means that light dominates over the darkness in you; when you sit and are idle, the reverse happens. It is the effect of colour in the soul, the effect of colour iridescence. The iridescence of colour, permeated and shot with life, appeared with the coming of man, the Fourth Hierarchy. And at this moment of cosmic growth the forces which became active in the iridescence of colour began to form outlines. Life, which rounded off, smoothed and shaped the colours, called forth the hard crystal form; and we are in the terrestrial epoch.

Such things as I have now explained to you were really the axioms of those medieval alchemists, occultists, Rosicrucians, etc., who, though scarcely mentioned today in history, flourished from the ninth and tenth up to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and whose stragglers, always regarded as oddities, existed into the eighteenth century and even into the beginning of the nineteenth. Only then were these things entirely covered up. The philosophical attitude to life of the time led to the following phenomenon:

Suppose I have here a human being. I cease to have any interest in him, merely take off his clothes and hang them on a clothes-dummy with a knob at the top like a head, and thereafter take no more interest in the human being. I say to myself further: That is the human being, what does it matter to me that anything can be put into these clothes; the dummy is, as far as I am concerned, the human being. So it was with the elements of Nature. People are no longer interested that behind warmth of fire is the First Hierarchy, behind light and air is the Second, behind the so-called chemical ether, colour-ether, etc. and water is the Third, behind life and the earth is the Fourth, or Man. Out with the clothes-horse and hang the clothes on it! That is the first Act. The second begins then with the school of Kant!~ Here begins Kantianism, here one begins, having the clothes-horse with the clothes on it, to philosophize concerning what “the thing in itself” of these clothes might be. And the conclusion is that one cannot recognize “the thing in itself” of the clothes. Very perspicacious! Naturally, if you have removed the man first, you can philosophize about the clothes, and this leads to a very pretty speculation: the clothes-horse is there all right, and the clothes hanging on it, so one speculates either in the Kantian fashion — one cannot recognize “the thing in itself” — or in the manner of Helmholtz, saying: these clothes cannot surely have form. There must be crowds of tiny whirling specks of dust, or atoms, in them, which by their movement preserve the clothes in their form.

Yes, this is the turn that later thought has taken. But it is abstract, and shadowy. All the same it is the kind of thought in which we live today; out of it we fashion the whole of our Natural Scientific principles. And when we deny that we think in terms of atoms, we are doing it all the more. For it will be a long time before it is admitted that it is unnecessary to weave a Dance of the Atoms into it, rather than simply to replace man into his clothes. But that is just what the resuscitation of Spiritual Science must attempt.