About the Author: John F. Nash, Ph.D., is a long-time esoteric student, author, and teacher. Two of his books, Quest for the Soul and The Soul and Its Destiny, were reviewed in the Winter 2005 issue of the Esoteric Quarterly. Christianity: The One, the Many, was reviewed in the Fall 2008 issue. His latest book: The Sacramental Church was published in 2011. For further information see the advertisements in this issue and the website http://www.uriel.com.
This article discusses Ahriman and Lucifer, as depicted in the esoteric Teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner claimed that Lucifer incarnated some five thousand years ago, and Ahriman will incarnate sometime in the future. Their polar-opposite influences, mostly evil but occasionally favorable to human development, have been felt throughout history. Steiner’s thesis was that the dualism of Lucifer and Ahriman is mediated and balanced by Christ.
The article recalls the long history of Ahriman and Lucifer in scriptural and other writings and the links between them and the personages in Steiner’s work. It also discusses the various types of dualism, often depicted in human or animal forms, and the moral choices they present. The biblical Behemoth and Leviathan, which may be considered early models for Steiner’s personages, are selected for special comment.
Steiner’s teachings on Lucifer and Ahriman raise many questions, including their relationship to the trans-Himalayan teachings and the very nature of evil. The two entities personify dualistic evil, or at best moral ambiguity; but mediated by Christ, they seem to become agents of Divine Purpose.
Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), alone among modern esoteric teachers, except for his own followers, spoke of Ahriman and Lucifer as beings with polar-opposite qualities and influences. Dualism of that kind is unknown in Christianity but appears in other religious and philosophical writings. Important examples can be found in Buddhism and the Kabbalah. Although Ahriman and Lucifer are generally depicted as evil, their influence was sometimes favorable to human development. Steiner went so far as to regard them and Christ as comprising a trinity, in which Christ balances the polar-opposite influences and builds upon whatever good they had to offer.
According to Steiner both Ahriman and Lucifer have influenced humanity’s development throughout history. Lucifer’s influence increased during the post-Atlantean epoch, became dominant when he incarnated in physical form, some three millennia before Christ, and slowly declined through the early centuries of the Common Era. Ahrimanic influence remained low for several millennia but has become dominant in modern times and is expected to peak when he incarnates sometime in the next several centuries. The precise timing of Ahriman’s incarnation and the damage it will cause are said to depend on human action.
This article places Lucifer and Ahriman in the context of earlier religious and philosophical writings. Ahriman was an evil Zoroastrian god, while Lucifer was the product of a medieval legend that interpreted—or misinterpreted— passages in scripture to create a fallen angel and arch-demon. “Lucifer” became another name for Satan. But the two characters did not step unmodified into Steiner’s esoteric teachings. In fact Ahriman did not even feature in Steiner’s early work but substituted for another character whom Steiner explored and discarded. The way Lucifer and Ahriman evolved immediately prior to and during Steiner’s teachings makes an interesting story in itself.
The article identifies, but does not seek to answer, important questions raised by the discussion of Steiner’s Lucifer and Ahriman. One question concerns the worrisomely small overlap with trans-Himalayan teachings. None of the trans-Himalayan teachers discusses Lucifer and Ahriman as dualistic entities. And the anticipated incarnation of Ahriman is hard to reconcile with the Master Djwhal Khul’s prophecies of the reappearance of the Christ and externalization of the Hierarchy.
Other questions concern the very nature of evil: whether it is monistic or dualistic, whether it is necessarily personified in “beings,” and whether evil—despite its usual connotation— may play an essential role in the unfoldment of human consciousness: whether in fact it can be considered an instrument of Divine Purpose.
Dualism and Choice
Dualism was a conspicuous feature of many ancient religions and philosophies. In Hinduism Indra was locked in eternal combat with the evil serpent Vrtra. Zoroastrianism taught that the good god Ohrmazd would battle his evil brother Angra Mainyu, or Ahriman, until the end of the age. Christianity and Islam declare that God will finally defeat Satan on the Last Day.
Eastern religions, Platonism, Gnosticism, and even mainstream Christianity taught that the spiritual world was good and the physical world either worthless or evil. The Apostle Paul wrote: “[T]he flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.”1 The desert ascetics, the stylites of Syria, the Culdees of Ireland, and the sadhus of India believed that the physical body was the root of evil and sought holiness through selfmortification.2 Meanwhile, notions of a stark choice between good and evil surfaced many times in Christian history: in the era of the martyrs, in the Inquisitions, in the Great Awakenings in America, and in their offshoot, evangelical fundamentalism.
Good-evil dualism is easy to understand and presents a straightforward moral choice; the right course of action is to embrace good and resist evil—no matter what wily schemes an evil intelligence might devise to entrap unwary victims.
More complex situations exist where a single god exhibits ambiguous characteristics— perhaps even complementary or necessary to each other. The flooding of the Nile, the responsibility of the god Hapi, was beneficial, so long as it was not too severe; moderate drought would allow crops to ripen instead of rotting. The Roman god Janus had two faces, which, among much else, symbolized war and peace, neither of which was considered attainable in isolation. We might even envision dualistic gods that are themselves ambiguous or dualistic. In such religious or philosophical systems the necessary level of cognitive understanding is greater, and moral choice becomes more difficult.
The Bhagavad Gita illustrates a difficult moral choice. Arjuna stood between opposing armies on the field of Kurukshetra, reluctant to fight because of the horrors of war and because he would be attacking some of his own kinfolk. Krishna persuaded him that conflict was inevitable and necessary, and Arjuna eventually went into battle. Great symbolism has been read into Arjuna’s dilemma and the ensuing battle, and an example will be cited later.
The right course of action may be to balance opposing forces or ideals. A classic example is the Noble Middle Path of Buddhism. In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the first sermon preached after his enlightenment, the Buddha warned his followers to avoid extremes of lifestyle:
Monks, these two extremes should not be followed by one who has gone forth as a wanderer. What two? Devotion to the pleasures of sense . . . [and] devotion of self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy and unprofitable . . . . By avoiding these two extremes the [Buddha] has gained knowledge of the middle path which giveth vision, which giveth knowledge, enlightenment [nirvana].3
Later the Middle Path was applied to many other pairs of opposites and became a cornerstone of Buddhist teachings.
The Chinese concept of yin and yang describes how seemingly opposite forces may be interconnected and interdependent. Many natural dualities, such as male and female, light and dark, life and death, are regarded as manifestations of yin and yang.4 Neither is inherently evil, but when one dominates the other the result is war, bad government, sickness, or spiritual decline. The opposites must be brought into balance to restore harmony. The concept found applications in many branches of Chinese philosophy, medicine, martial arts, and exercise.
The Kabbalah illustrates the resolution of opposites in a higher synthesis. Pairs of opposing sephiroth on the Tree of Life: Chokmah and Binah, Chesed and Geburah, and Netzach and Hod, represent, from different perspectives, contrasting manifestations of Deity, cosmic forces, or challenges on the spiritual path.5 The opposites are neither good nor bad, but they are unbalanced. Spiritual growth is to be attained by experiencing the pairs of opposites and then bringing them into equilibrium on the Middle Path. The kabbalistic system of polarities will be discussed in more detail later.
The “Chariot” card in the Tarot—variously taken to depict Indra, Krishna, Jupiter, or the planetary ruler of Leo—shows a masculine figure steering a chariot, drawn by a white and a black sphinx, without reins. A popular interpretation is that the charioteer, or the quarant, is bringing a pair of opposites into balance by the power of will.6 Tension between the opposites cannot be resolved on their own level—in this case the physical—but resolution is possible at a higher level or by invoking a higher force.
Behemoth and Leviathan
The Hebrew Bible presents twin monsters, Behemoth and Leviathan, that embody evilevil dualism and may be regarded as early models for Steiner’s Ahriman and Lucifer. God introduced the land monster Behemoth to the hapless Job in chapter 40 of the Book of Job:
Behold now Behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox. Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly. He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together. His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron.7
“[W]hich I made with thee” is usually interpreted to mean that Behemoth was created at the same time as man. God endowed Behemoth with many qualities and powers: “Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth. He taketh it with his eyes: his nose pierceth through snares.” 8
Leviathan, a sea monster, is mentioned six times in the Hebrew Bible. The most extensive account appears in Job, immediately following Behemoth’s debut. Leviathan is a terrifying sight: “Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.”9 He is impervious to man’s feeble armaments: “The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.”10 God taunted Job that he would be powerless when Leviathan confronted him: “Will he make many supplications unto thee? Will he speak soft words unto thee? . . . Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? Or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?”11 Job 41 concludes with a warning to the proud: “Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.”12 T Behemoth faded from the scriptural scene as quickly as it appeared. But Leviathan was expected to play its terrifying role for a long time. Brief references are found in Psalms 74:14 and 104:26. And Isaiah tells us that Leviathan will be with us until the end of the age, when “the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.”13 One of Behemoth’s rare appearances in later Jewish writings is in the medieval liturgical hymn, the Akdamut. Customarily chanted at the festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost, it prophesies that Behemoth and Leviathan will kill each other in a great battle, whereupon the righteous will hold a banquet and feast on their flesh. 14
Fascination with Behemoth and Leviathan spread from Judaism to Christianity. In his Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas spoke of them as optional names for the devil or, alternatively, as fallen angels.15 John Milton’s Paradise Lost mentions Behemoth and hints at Leviathan:
Scarce from his mould Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved His vastness: Fleeced the flocks and bleating rose, As plants: Ambiguous between sea and land The river-horse, and scaly crocodile.16
Behemoth and Leviathan were purely evil, but no attempt was made to link either with the serpent in the Garden of Eden. In the Bible evil was allocated among a variety of different entities. Neither was any attempt made to depict them as morally ambiguous; they were less complex than Steiner’s Ahriman and Lucifer.
Behemoth’s and Leviathan’s duality lay in the fact that one was a land monster, symbolizing the element of earth, and the other was a sea monster, symbolizing water. Behemoth was always referred to by the masculine pronoun. The Hebrew Bible used the male pronoun for Leviathan, but Rabbinic legend often regarded it as female. The two monsters were presented one at a time, and Job had to overcome both; their duality was subsumed in a larger goodevil moral system. There was no sense of a middle ground in which their respective powers could be reconciled or transcended. Some Jewish legends acknowledged a third monster, the great bird, Ziz, which symbolized air, and was masculine, but Ziz was never viewed as a mediator between the other two.
In a recent article Zachary Lansdowne argued that the Book of Job describes ordeals to which Job was subjected in preparation for the third initiation.17 To that end Job had to overcome maya and glamour, to use terms familiar in trans-Himalayan teachings. In Lansdowne’s account Behemoth is interpreted as world maya and Leviathan as world glamour, though the case could also be made that they symbolized individual maya and glamour. In any event, his conclusion was that Job was able to learn from his tests and successfully surmount the crisis of the third initiation.
The Book of Job is one of the oldest Judaic texts; it is variously dated from the beginning of the second millennium to the sixth century BCE,18 and its stories may be older still. At that time esoteric knowledge was communicated through symbols, and initiation rites were psychodramas, heavy in symbolism.19 Behemoth and Leviathan, along with their counterparts in other cultures, were terrifying images that impressed initiands with the power of God—and perhaps also with divine whim. God unleashed them in order to accomplish his purpose but reined them in when that purpose was accomplished.
Behemoth and Leviathan, along with several of the examples of dualism discussed earlier, were personifications of forces of nature, influences on behavior, or challenges on the spiritual path. Such personification can easily be dismissed as a figment of a superstitious past. Yet art, literature, and the entertainment industry are not shy in creating godlike figures in our own day. Personification can make complex philosophical or moral concepts comprehensible and can give them compelling force and immediacy.
Ahriman and Lucifer in Western Tradition
The oldest Zoroastrian texts, or hymns, the Gathas, were written in the Avesta language and probably date from the second millennium BCE. Attributed to Zoroaster (Zarathustra) himself. They spoke of the angra mainyu as an evil force, or moral choice. The force came to be personified in a later series of texts known as the Younger Avesta, which historians date to the first half of the first millennium BCE. Angra Mainyu—or Ahriman as the name was rendered in Middle Persian— became an evil god. Ahriman and his good brother Ohrmazd were twin sons of the high god Ahura Mazda.20
A story in one text bears striking similarity to the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Ahriman promised Zoroaster sovereignty over the whole world if he would turn away from the religion of Ahura Mazda. Zoroaster rejected the offer, whereupon Ahriman attacked him, unsuccessfully it turned out, with legions of demons.21 Another text prophesied that Ohrmazd would ultimately defeat Ahriman and become the high god.22 Ahriman was usually depicted as depraved, ugly, and evil-smelling. Though cunning, he was also stupid, making possible his final defeat. Iconography optimistically showed him crushed under Ohrmazd’s feet
The Roman essayist Plutarch incorporated the story of Ahriman into his Isis and Osiris. There we read:
Areimanius [Ahriman], engaged in bringing on pestilence and famine, shall by these be utterly annihilated and shall disappear; and then shall the earth become a level plain, and there shall be one manner of life and one form of government for a blessed people who shall all speak one tongue.23
Zoroastrianism went into decline as Islam spread throughout the Persian heartland. No other major religion saw fit to adopt Ahriman, and he languished for 1,300 years until his debut in Steiner’s teachings. More recently Ahriman has become a character in novels, plays, and video games.
Ahriman’s history—like Behemoth’s appearance in scripture—was rather limited. By contrast, Lucifer’s story in western culture is long and colorful. Christian tradition portrays Lucifer as a fallen angel, identical with the Devil or Satan. But that portrayal is questionable, stemming as it does from a conflation of images found in texts that not only lack clarity but may be unrelated to one another.
The name “Lucifer” appears only once in scripture. The King James Bible boldly describes Isaiah’s taunt of the fallen “king of Babylon”:
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God . . . . I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.24
Scholars are uncertain, however, whether the passage refers to a fallen angel or to the death of an unpopular earthly king. Moreover, “Lucifer,” which appears to be a proper noun, is the translation of the Hebrew word helel, which could mean “shining one,” “morning star,” or the planet Venus; its Greek form is heosphoros or phosphorus. The word lucifer (“light bearer”) first appeared in the Latin Vulgate, and there it was left in lower case. Capitalization became common only after the fourth century CE, when the legend of Lucifer was beginning to take definite shape.
The legend drew upon the passage in Isaiah, but it also incorporated texts which either did not name the character under discussion or even identified the character as someone else. The apocryphal Second Book of Enoch, conventionally dated to the first century BCE, refers to an unnamed angel who sought to place himself equal to God:
And one from out the order of angels, having turned away with the order that was under him, conceived an impossible thought, to place his throne higher than the clouds above the earth, that he might become equal in rank to my power. And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless.25
In the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke records that the returning seventy disciples were able to cast out devils, whereupon Jesus told them: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.”26 The Book of Revelation describes the conquest of Satan:
I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him.”27
At the end of the thousand years Satan would be released from his prison and allowed to “deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth.” Finally, the “devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”28
Over time these various images coalesced and were embellishment by homilies, fiction and art to produce the Lucifer of popular imagination. Lucifer was the most beautiful of the archangelic host, but pride overcame him, and he sought to place himself above his fellow archangels and equal to God. The archangel Michael—or in some accounts Christ— challenged him, and a great battle took place in which Lucifer was cast out of heaven. Thereafter he roamed the deep as the evil serpent, ever ready to ensnare humanity in his clutches. He was the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Satan, the Devil, the cosmic bogey man.
Lucifer appeared in Arthurian and Grail legends. In Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur Lucifer assumed the guise of a beautiful woman and tried to tempt Percival to have sex with her. She claimed that she was a “gentlewoman that am disinherited.” She had “dwelled with the greatest man of the world, and he made me so fair and clear that there was none like me, and of that great beauty I had a little more pride than I ought to have had.”29 In the nick of time, Percival glanced at the emblem on his sword and made the Sign of the Cross, whereupon he saw the woman for what she was and preserved his virginity. Lest anyone should fail to associate the gentlewoman with Lucifer, a “good man” explained to Percival: “Our Lord Jesus Christ beat him out of heaven for his sin, which was the brightest angel of heaven.”30
Rosicrucian writer Corinne Heline described Lucifer’s appearance in a Grail legend:
[A]s Lucifer was cast headlong from heaven the glorious emerald of his crown fell into the abyss. It was rescued by angels and from it was formed the Cup of the Last Supper in which the Savior pledged His blood to His disciples and in which it was caught by Joseph of Arimathea on Golgotha.31
In this account the jewel in Lucifer's crown was called Morning Star. The jewel’s significance, Heline explained, was understood differently by people at different levels of consciousness: “By the multitude [the jewel] was taken to mean Venus. By the initiated it was understood to signify Mercury, which is also a Morning Star, but one which is almost invisible to the naked eye and must be sought for diligently in its bright place close to the sun.”32
Links with Steiner’s Teachings
Before discussing Ahriman’s and Lucifer’s roles in Rudolf Steiner’s teachings, it will be instructive to examine links between his characters and the Ahriman and Lucifer of earlier traditions.
Steiner never cited literary precedents for his Ahriman and Lucifer. Nor did he acknowledge communications from sources in the Planetary Hierarchy, though Rosicrucian Max Heindel declared that he and Steiner were instructed by the same “Elder Brothers.”33 Instead, Steiner claimed the ability to read and understand the Akashic Records, an ability conventionally associated with an “Initiate,” the second of the three grades of initiation in the western esoteric tradition, the others being “Clairvoyant” and “Adept.” Heindel explained the three initiatory grades thus: “[T]he Clairvoyant is one who sees the invisible world; the Initiate both sees the invisible world and understands what he sees, while the Adept sees, knows and has power over things and forces there.”34
Steiner may have gleaned all his information on Ahriman and Lucifer from the Akashic records. But intriguing clues suggest that he also acquired relevant knowledge from more mundane sources.
Steiner was appointed head of the newly constituted German section of the Theosophical Society in 1902. Helena Blavatsky had published her monumental work, The Secret Doctrine fourteen years earlier. Contrary to western tradition, she portrayed Lucifer as the very antithesis of a fallen angel. He was “the angelic Entity presiding over the light of truth as over the light of the day.”35 Blavatsky placed him with Eve in the Garden of Eden but described the scene very differently than did the Hebrew Bible: “[T]he Serpent of Genesis [was] the real creator and benefactor, the Father of Spiritual mankind. For it is he who was the ‘Harbinger of Light,’ bright radiant Lucifer, who opened the eyes of the automaton created by Jehovah.”36
“Jehovah” was the crude, but then-current, rendition of YHVH, the unutterable Hebrew name of God (the more modern rendition is “Yahweh”). Blavatsky’s portrayal of Jehovah as the creator of human automata reflected Gnostic teachings, where YHVH was often depicted as the incompetent or evil demiurge that created the world. Even mainstream Christians have expressed dismay at the apparent vindictiveness and callousness of the OldTestament God.
In addition to his involvement in Theosophy, Steiner took an interest in Freemasonry. Whether he was ever initiated into the Craft is disputed, but we do know that, in 1905, Steiner sought and received warrants from Theodore Reuss to perform rites under the MemphisMisraïm Rite. 37 By then a substantial body of Masonic literature was available in the public sector, and Steiner was already lecturing on topics related to Freemasonry.38
In the mid-1890s French journalist Marie Joseph Jogand-Pagès, who wrote under the pen name Léo Taxil, wrote a series of books claiming inside knowledge of Satanic activity in Freemasonry. A key statement purported to come from a high-level Mason referred to Lucifer:
Yes, Lucifer is God, and unfortunately Adonai is also god. For the eternal law is that there is no light without shade, no beauty without ugliness, no white without black, for the absolute can only exist as two gods; darkness being necessary for light to serve as its foil as the pedestal is necessary to the statue, and the brake to the locomotive . . . . Thus, the doctrine of Satanism is a heresy, and the true and pure philosophical religion is the belief in Lucifer, the equal of Adonai; but Lucifer, God of Light and God of Good, is struggling for humanity against Adonai, the God of Darkness and Evil.39
The statement was eagerly seized upon by Freemasonry’s enemies as ammunition in antiMasonic polemic. But esotericist Arthur Waite stoutly defended the Craft and attacked Taxil for the poor quality of his work, citing its logical errors and inconsistencies.40
The content of the statement also calls for comment. To view Lucifer—again contrary to western tradition—as the benevolent “God of Light” was not without precedent in Freemasonry. Nineteenth-century Masons Albert Pike and Albert G. Mackey spoke of the “Luciferian path” and the “energies of Lucifer” in reference to the morning star, the light bearer, and the search for light.41 The statement’s alleged author might well have participated in efforts to counter Lucifer’s demonization in popular western culture—efforts that continue in esoteric circles today.
The identification of the God of Darkness as Adonai, however, is puzzling. The title Adonai (“the Lord”) was always treated with great reverence. It was commonly used in the Hebrew Bible as a substitute for the unutterable YHVH, and in the New Testament Paul applied its Greek form Kyrios to Christ. It would have made more sense to demonize YHVH/Jehovah under his own name, as the Gnostics and Blavatsky had done.
Taxil eventually admitted that the statement was a hoax. Whether or not Steiner was duped by it, clearly he was familiar with Masonic concepts of dualism, as well as with the various accounts of Lucifer and YHVH in Freemasonry and elsewhere.
Three years after his appointment to the Theosophical Society and one year after lecturing on Freemasonry, Steiner gave a series of lectures on the roles of Jehovah and Lucifer. He depicted Jehovah as a “Moon-God” who had attained adeptship on the “Moon evolution,” the third of the four evolutions of Earth, or planetary incarnations, to date.42 Jehovah’s plan for humankind emphasized esthetics but would have greatly limited our potential for growth:
Jehovah wished to produce beautifully formed human beings, like beautiful statues. His intention was that the power of reproduction should be continued until it had expended itself. He wanted to have a planet that only bore upon it beautiful but completely motionless forms. If the Earth had continued its evolution [thus], it would have developed into a completely rigid, frozen form.43
Whereas Blavatsky cast Jehovah’s creations as automata, implying some capacity for motion, Steiner made them immobile statues. In both cases, however, Lucifer came to the rescue.
Modern man, in Steiner’s view, “hovers perpetually between two extremes: between the ahrimanic on the one side, where he is presented with an outer delusion . . . and, on the other, the luciferic element within him which induces the tendency to illusions, hallucinations and the like.” The two extremes are expressed in the tension between mysticism and science: “[J]ust as external science becomes ahrimanic, the higher development of our inner nature becomes luciferic if we give ourselves up to mystical experience.
Blavatsky’s Lucifer opened the eyes of the automata. In Steiner’s account a group of Moon Adepts—collectively called “Lucifer”— became “the bestowers of human intellectuality.”44 The Adepts were not able to eliminate Jehovah’s influence altogether, but they “came to [early human beings] and said: You must not follow Jehovah. He will not allow you to attain to knowledge but you should. That is the Snake. The Snake approached the woman, because she had the power to produce offspring out of herself. Now Jehovah said: Man has become like unto ourselves, and brings death into the world and everything connected with it.” 45
Sometime after 1905, Ahriman took Jehovah’s place as the evil creator and materialistic influence. Steiner first mentioned Ahriman in a lecture given in 1908. Two theories for the substitution suggest themselves. Perhaps Steiner initially mistook the identity of the evil one in his reading of the Akashic Records, and when he realized the mistake he replaced Jehovah by Ahriman. But Steiner did not admit a mistake; neither did he explain the substitution in some other way.
Alternatively, Steiner may genuinely have identified the evil one as Jehovah but feared that continuing to write about him would generate unwanted controversy. To change the character’s name would avoid distraction and allow Steiner to focus on his real mission of exploring moral dualism.
If this latter theory is correct, a leading candidate to replace Jehovah would have been Mephistopheles, since Steiner had studied of the works of Goethe in unusual depth. As he commented later, however, Goethe “made the figure of Mephisto a mixture of two elements instead of a consistent single one.”46 So he settled on the Zoroastrian Ahriman. Steiner conceded that part of the “Mephistophelean power” was “identical with Ahriman,47 and some commentators have suggested that he projected some of Mephistopheles’ characteristics onto Ahriman.
The choice of Ahriman was not an obvious one, since he had not featured in any recent esoteric writings. Blavatsky discussed him only in the context of Zoroastrian religion, and Freemasons paid him no attention at all. In one instance they co-opted Ahiman, who appeared four times in the Hebrew Bible; 48 but Ahiman seems to have no connection to Ahriman.
In any event Steiner declared that Ahriman was not only an evil spirit but was “the representative of all the beings who belonged to” the Moon evolution.49 Thus he associated Ahriman with the Jehovah of his earlier teachings. Perhaps that association offers a clue to Ahriman’s moral ambiguity; not even the most cynical Gnostics believed that YHVH/Jehovah was all bad.
Steiner’s final task of character building was to bring to an end Lucifer’s short vacation as “God of Light,” or as the group of Moon Adepts who rescued statue-man. In the 1905 lecture mentioned Steiner insisted: “It is the intention of Lucifer to develop everything upwards, towards knowledge, towards the light.” Lucifer was responsible for the reincarnational cycle through which man could evolve to the level of a spiritual being. Steiner recognized that “Lucifer is the Prince who reigns in the kingdom of science and art.” Hinting at Lucifer’s changing status, however, he warned that “it would be impossible for Lucifer to lead upwards what is on the Earth.”50
From then on Lucifer took on increasingly negative characteristics. Even if he did not fall quite as far as in Christian tradition, he became a predominantly evil personage. That set the stage for the evilevil dualism explored in so much of Steiner’s later esoteric teachings. Steiner saw his overall mission as one of promoting esoteric Christianity. It was not surprising, therefore, that he introduced Christ as the mediator between Ahriman and Lucifer, as the one who could resolve the opposing forces and extract from them whatever was useful for human development. Christ’s central position was underscored by the timing of their appearances in physical manifestation. Christ’s birth neatly bisected the 6,000-year interval between the incarnation of Lucifer and the anticipated incarnation of Ahriman.
Steiner’s Lucifer and Ahriman
Throughout his mature years Rudolf Steiner referred to Lucifer and Ahriman and to luciferic and ahrimanic influences. In a few instances he referred also to luciferic and ahrimanic beings—suggesting something comparable with choirs of angels. One can envision parallel hierarchies of beings, headed by Lucifer and Ahriman, comparable to the hierarchies of angels supervised by archangels like Gabriel and Raphael.
In his examination of the Akashic Records, Steiner first encountered Lucifer during the “Sun evolution,” the second of the four planetary evolutions. At that time Lucifer was the “Venus Spirit,” while Christ was the “Sun Spirit.” Lucifer was described as a being “extraordinarily full of light.” But he was also “endowed in his very nature with infinite pride” and in consequence “became a dethroned ruler.” On Earth’s next evolution, the “Old Moon evolution,” Christ confronted Lucifer and by exerting “all the forces at His disposal” was able to repel him.51 Note that Steiner agreed with Thomas Malory that it was Christ, not Michael, who expelled Lucifer from heaven.
Lucifer appeared on our present Earth, according to Steiner, in the post-Atlantean era. During the fourth millennium BCE humanity’s spiritual development was nurtured by the mysteries and revelation, but “men could not acquire knowledge through their own powers of intellectual discernment. They were dependent upon what was imparted to them from the Mysteries.”52 Perhaps Job was representative of that pre-intellectual era. Lucifer decided to take physical form in order to remedy that limitation. He incarnated in China at the beginning of the third millennium BCE and, even as a child, was allowed to participate in the mysteries:
A child of a distinguished Asiatic family of the time was allowed to grow up in the precincts of the Mystery-ceremonies. Circumstances were such that this child was actually permitted to take part in the ceremonies, undoubtedly because the priests conducting the rites in the Mysteries felt it as an inspiration that such a child must be allowed to participate.”53
In adulthood Lucifer had a profound spiritual awakening: “[W]hen the being incarnate in that child had reached the age of about 40 something very remarkable came to light. [He] began suddenly . . . to grasp through the faculty of human intellect itself what had formerly come into the Mysteries through revelation.”54 Lucifer became a teacher and embarked on a mission of stimulating humanity’s ability to understand the mysteries in a new light. His incarnation, in Steiner’s words, was “the source of inspiration for much ancient culture.” We do not know how long he lived or what manner of physical death he suffered.
Lucifer’s influence on human evolution did not end with his physical death. He continued to inspire the mysteries, mysticism and esthetics. While his primary focus was not on practical matters, he did promote the development of human memory, as will be discussed later.
Luciferic influence on pagan culture ensured “sublime, deeply penetrating wisdom.” It also gave humankind a great sense of security and harmony with the universe
[T]his old pagan wisdom gave one the feeling of being membered into the whole cosmos. A man moving about the earth not only felt himself composed of the substances and forces present around him in earthly life, in the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, but he felt that the forces operating, for example, in the movements of the stars and the sun were playing into him. This feeling of being a member of the whole cosmos was not a mere abstraction, for from the Mysteries he received directives based on the laws of the stars for his actions and whole conduct of life. This ancient starwisdom [was] voiced by the Initiates in such a way that impulses for individual action and conduct went forth from the Mysteries. Not only did man feel safe and secure within the all-prevailing wisdom of the cosmos, but those whom he recognized as the Initiates of the Mysteries imparted this wisdom in directives for his actions from morning till evening.55
The main weakness of the luciferic pagan culture, in Steiner’s view, was that it offered “no moral impulses for human action.”56 He reiterated: “[N]either Chaldean nor Egyptian wisdom contained a single moral impulse [beyond] what had been imparted by the Initiates.57 Steiner did not comment on the code of law proposed by the second-millennium BCE Babylonian King Hammurabi or on the Ten Commandments of Moses.
Luciferic influence underlay “the Gnosis of the earliest Christian centuries.”58 It was responsible for the “whole of Gnostic thought, an impressive wisdom shedding profound light on cosmic realities. The then-strong luciferic influence helped humanity understand the significance of Christ’s Palestinian mission: “Had there been no Luciferic wisdom,” Steiner declared, “no understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha could have been acquired . . . in the early centuries of Christendom.”59 “Mystery of Golgotha” was an expression Steiner frequently used to capture his understanding of Christ’s sacrificial and redemptive act.
On the other hand Gnosticism did not embrace the full implications of Christ’s incarnation. A more grounded religious culture was needed, with a focus on man’s present lifetime and moral choice. Responding to the Christ impulse, but not necessarily interpreting it correctly, institutional Christianity suppressed belief in reincarnation. It also tried to suppress belief in the triune nature of man—body, soul and spirit—thereby reducing man from a trinity to a duality. In that it was not totally successful. As Steiner pointed out: “Scholars were forced to teach duality . . . But as certain beings, certain human beings, were well aware, replacing a threefold division with a twofold one was of tremendous consequence for human spiritual life.”60 By the fourth century, Gnostic teachings had been suppressed.
Luciferic influence, according to Steiner, continued to benefit early Christianity:
The influence of the Lucifer-incarnation was still powerful in the south of Europe, in the north of Africa and in Asia Minor during the first centuries of Christendom. . . . This power did not actually fade from man's faculty of comprehension until the fourth century A.D.; and even then, it had its aftermath, its ramifications.61
Even then, it would seem, luciferic influence did not disappear entirely. Its effects were apparent in medieval mysticism, the Renaissance, Baroque art and music, and nineteenth-century Romanticism—all of which we would applaud as favorable influences. Continuing, less favorable, luciferic influence can be seen in superstition and pseudoscience, in ungrounded mysticism, in “rapture theology,” in much of the New Age movement, and in the deluded claims of would-be spokespersons for SaintMartin or Sanat Kumara.
As Steiner’s teachings moved into their mature phase in 1908, Ahriman took Jehovah’s place as the second character in his dualistic system. Since Steiner’s Jehovah achieved adeptship during the Moon evolution, we must suppose that Ahriman did so too—later than Lucifer, who was already a powerful spirit during the Sun evolution.
Ahriman has yet to take physical embodiment. Yet, in Steiner’s account, he has long promoted a strong focus on the physical world and the rational mind and has discouraged attention to the spiritual. Ahrimanic influence is characterized thus: “[T]hink of everything that presses us down upon the earth, that makes us dull and philistine, leading us to develop materialistic attitudes, penetrating us with a dry intellect.”62
Ahrimanic influence has increased over the last several centuries, resulting, among much else, in the rapid development of empirical science. Steiner commented that the modern world can be proud of the work of Copernicus and Galileo. It is certainly proud of the Enlightenment, modern technology, and allopathic medicine—all of which are hailed as examples of human “progress.” Steiner warned, however: “[W]oe betide if this Copernicanism is not confronted by the knowledge that the cosmos is permeated by soul and spirit.”63
Ahrimanic influence, in Steiner’s view also underlies nationalism: “chauvinism, perverted patriotism” which divides nation from nation, people from people.64 It underlies biblical literalism, which leads to a “dimming of consciousness.” The depiction of Jesus Christ as “the simple man of Nazareth,” Steiner explained, is an “hallucination.” He warned: “If men could be brought to a standstill at this point, not pressing on to the real Christ but contenting themselves with an hallucination of Christ, Ahriman's aims would be immeasurably furthered.”65 The growing political power of evangelical fundamentalism, which prefers simplistic religious images and concern for personal salvation over real spiritual insight and group consciousness, would seem to validate Steiner’s worst fears.
Ahriman’s desire to divert people from the real Christ probably stems not only from his opposition to all things spiritual but also from fear of Christ’s mediation between himself and Lucifer, which would greatly curtail ahrimanic influence. Christ’s mediating role will be discussed shortly.
Yet another ahrimanic influence, Steiner declared, is the modern world’s obsession with quantification: “Nothing can stand up against figures,” He complained, “because of the faith that is reposed in them; and Ahriman is only too ready to exploit figures for his purposes.”66 “[F]igures are not a means whereby the essential reality of things can be proved—they are simply a means of deception! Whenever one fails to look beyond figures to the qualitative, they can be utterly deceptive.”67 One can only imagine how Steiner would have reacted to modern recording, communications and publications technologies in which sound, images, even the human genome, are digitized! Moreover, the wholesale collection and analysis of personal data by governmental and commercial interests would seem, again, to confirm his worst fears.
To Steiner’s list of evil ahrimanic influences we could add scientific reductionism, neuroscientific theories of the “mind,” modern warfare, economic exploitation of developing nations and the poor, environmental degradation, and the paving over—concretization in a very literal sense—of the urban landscape. Perhaps we should add big banks to the list, as well as test-driven educational systems, widely perceived as stifling real learning and creativity.
Ahriman’s influence will peak when he incarnates sometime during the third millennium CE. He will take physical embodiment in the West and “will live among men on the earth.”68 The best scenario, in Steiner’s view, is that we shall be able to exploit the positive aspects of ahrimanic influence while rejecting what is negative. Enlightened people, “in confronting him[,] will themselves determine what they may learn from him, what they may receive from him.”69 Steiner warned, however:
This . . . they will not be able to do unless, from now onwards, they take control of certain spiritual and also unspiritual currents which otherwise are used by Ahriman for the purpose of leaving mankind as deeply unconscious as possible of his coming; then, one day, he will be able to appear on earth and overwhelm men, tempting and luring them to repudiate earth-evolution, thus preventing it from reaching its goal. To understand the whole process of which I have been speaking, it is essential to recognize the character of certain currents and influences—spiritual or the reverse.70
Ahriman is already making plans for his incarnation: “A Being like Ahriman . . . prepares for this incarnation in advance. With a view to his incarnation on the earth, Ahriman guides certain forces in evolution in such a way that they may be of the greatest possible advantage to him.”71
“[E]vil would result,” Steiner continued, “were men to live on in a state of drowsy unawareness, unable to recognize certain phenomena in life as preparations for Ahriman's incarnation in the flesh.” We must be alert to the danger and develop an effective response: “The right stand can be taken only by recognizing in one or another series of events the preparation that is being made by Ahriman for his earthly existence. And the time has now come for individual men to know which tendencies and events around them are machinations of Ahriman, helping him to prepare for his approaching incarnation.”72 To ignore Ahriman’s forthcoming incarnation, or to misinterpret its consequences, will only play into his wily purpose:
It would undoubtedly be of the greatest benefit to Ahriman if he could succeed in preventing the vast majority of men from perceiving what would make for their true well-being, if the vast majority of men were to regard these preparations for the Ahriman-incarnation as progressive and good for evolution. If Ahriman were able to slink into a humanity unaware of his coming, that would gladden him most of all. It is for this reason that the occurrences and trends in which Ahriman is working for his future incarnation must be brought to light.73
Ahriman’s incarnation is “inevitable,” but perhaps its impact can be ameliorated. Steiner viewed his own teachings, along with the work of the Anthroposophical Society, which he founded after severing links with the Theosophical Society, as a major force in exposing Ahriman’s plans, so that he “will be an evil guest when he comes.”74
Steiner hoped that we shall take advantage of the positive influence of Ahriman’s incarnation, but he was vague about what that positive influence might be. Perhaps he was referring to scientific and technological progress and advances in medicine. He did, however, mention one benefit of a long-term nature—that people will prepare for the inevitable decline of our earthly environment:
[I]f men are able to rouse themselves to take into their consciousness what we have been studying, if they are able so to guide it that humanity can freely confront the ahrimanic influence, then, when Ahriman appears, men will acquire, precisely through him, the power to realize that although the earth must enter inevitably into its decline, mankind is lifted above earthly existence through this very fact.75
Presumably that decline has to do with the approaching end of Earth’s present evolution.
Tension and Equilibrium
Lucifer and Ahriman are polar-opposite in their intentions, activities and influences. But in some respects they serve a common purpose. Steiner ventured to say, “Ahriman and Lucifer always work hand in hand. The only question is which of the two predominates in human consciousness at a particular epoch of time.”76
Lucifer’s influence predominated in the postAtlantean epoch, no doubt reaching a peak when he incarnated, and we have noted his role in nurturing ancient culture. In a 1916 lecture Steiner claimed that Lucifer also played an essential role in the development of memory, evidenced by early man’s ability to memorize long poems and stories. Memorization was essential in an oral tradition. Subsequently, Ahriman helped man develop writing, which reduced the need for memorization.77 Writing is still a mental process, but it is expressed physically. We have retained considerable powers of memory, but writing, along with more recent developments like printing and recording technologies, have enabled the race to evolve in ways that would otherwise have been impossible.
Despite Lucifer’s and Ahriman’s beneficial influences, and their joint involvement in human development, Steiner would not have us overlook their evil roles, “Ahriman is the spirit of deception, whom we can picture as standing opposite Lucifer, the spirit of temptation.” Lucifer “stands at the side of Eve” as she contemplates eating the forbidden fruit. Correspondingly, “Ahriman stands at the side of [Goethe’s] Faust.”78 A few years earlier Steiner might have adhered more faithfully to the storyline by having Mephistopheles stand beside Faust!
Dualism is expressed through Lucifer and Ahriman themselves and also through orders of beings whom they oversee. In Steiner’s words: “[L]uciferic beings, striving for universal freedom, and ahrimanic beings striving for lasting dominion, are constantly waging war in this cosmos we are part of. This battle involves us and affects everything.”79
Modern man, in Steiner’s view, “hovers perpetually between two extremes: between the ahrimanic on the one side, where he is presented with an outer delusion . . . and, on the other, the luciferic element within him which induces the tendency to illusions, hallucinations and the like.”80 The two extremes are expressed in the tension between mysticism and science: “[J]ust as external science becomes ahrimanic, the higher development of our inner nature becomes luciferic if we give ourselves up to mystical experience.”81 The polarity is also expressed in art: “[S]ome artists have been more luciferic—they are the expressionists; the tendencies of other artists have been ahrimanic—they are the impressionists.”82
From another perspective:
Lucifer is the power that stirs up all fanatical, all falsely mystical forces in human beings, all that psychologically tends to bring the blood into disorder and so lift people above and outside themselves. Ahriman is the power that makes people dry, prosaic, philistine—that ossifies them and anchors them in the superstition of materialism.83
Steiner’s reference to “the superstition of materialism” was evocative, since we would normally consider superstition to be luciferic in nature. From yet another perspective Steiner offered a physiological illustration of lucifericahrimanic tension:
[E]verything that has to do with the blood tends toward the luciferic, whereas all that has to do with the bones tends toward the ahrimanic. As human beings we are at the point of balance between the blood and the bones, just as we strive for psychological balance between visionary excesses and dry philistinism.84
Steiner’s advice was to soften each influence by drawing upon its polar opposite: “[M]en must become more objective where their own impulses are concerned, and far, far more subjective where the external world is concerned—not by introducing pictures of phantasy [sic] but by bringing interest, alert attention and devotion to the things of immediate life.”85
Christ as Mediator
“The true nature and being of man,” Steiner continued, “is essentially the effort to hold the balance between the powers of Lucifer and Ahriman. The Christ impulse helps contemporary humanity to establish that equilibrium.”86 Significantly Christ incarnated three millennia after Lucifer and roughly three millennia before Ahriman’s projected incarnation. But Christ is not just mediator between the opposing evil forces, he may use the two personages to serve his purpose: “Lucifer and Ahriman intervene in the evolution of mankind side by side with the Christ Impulse—these things must be taken in all earnestness and their consequences rightly assessed.”87
In an October 1913 lecture Steiner described a series of encounters Jesus had with Lucifer and Ahriman. Jesus first saw the two entities on the gateposts to the Essene community—recalling the Boaz and Jachim figures at the entrance to Solomon’s temple.88 Shortly thereafter he saw Lucifer and Ahriman fleeing the sanctity of the Essenes.89
Following the baptism in the Jordan, in which the Christ entered into Jesus’ body, Lucifer and Ahriman participated in the triple temptation in the wilderness. Lucifer made the first offer: “If thou will enter my realm, I will give thee all the beauty and glory that belong to these old kingdoms.” Christ rejected the offer, whereupon Lucifer and Ahriman jointly made the second offer: “Lucifer sought to goad His pride; Ahriman to play upon His fear.” When that offer was also rejected Ahriman dismissed Lucifer: “I cannot use thee, thou dost but hinder me, thou hast not enhanced my power but weakened it.” Ahriman’s dismissal of Lucifer may have signified the turning point when luciferic influence began to yield to ahrimanic influence.
Ahriman alone made the third and final offer: “Turn the stones into bread, if thou wouldst boast of Divine power.”90 Christ rejected that offer, too, bringing the encounter in the wilderness to an end. Although he had resisted the temptations successfully and conquered Lucifer, he was left with “the sting of Ahriman, where men were under Ahriman’s domination.”91 In particular Ahriman acquired the ability to exploit humankind’s lust for money:
Ahriman communicated to Christ something that could indeed be known on Earth, but could not yet be known by the God who had come to Earth for the first time. He did not know that there below it was necessary to turn mineral substance—metal—into money, into bread. . . That was the point where Ahriman still retained power. And he said: I shall use that power!
In due course Judas placed himself at Ahriman’s service and betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver.92
We have already seen that luciferic influence, through its support of gnosis, helped humankind grasp the “Mystery of Golgotha.” But a totally new understanding was needed. Steiner explained: “The Gospels were given as a necessary counterweight to the Luciferic Gnosis.”93 The gospels are not self-explanatory, however:
[I]f no attempt is made to develop understanding of [the gospel’s] content, the aims of Ahriman are furthered, not the progress of mankind. In the absolute sense, nothing is good in itself, but is always good or bad according to the use to which it is put. The best can be the worst if wrongly used. Sublime though they are, the Gospels can also have the opposite effect if men are too lazy to search for a deeper understanding based on spiritual science.94
Misinterpretation of the gospels resulted in unwise doctrine and more recently the rise of fundamentalism.
“What is essential now,” Steiner declared, “is to acquire a spiritual understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha in the light of the truths enshrined in the Gospels.” More generally a new spirituality is needed to transcend the prevailing rationalism and materialism. Steiner saw the birth of that new spirituality in his own lifetime: “Since the last third of the nineteenth century the spiritual has been streaming around us; it is streaming into earthly evolution.”95 The important thing is for people to recognize and respond to it appropriately:
[T]here is a great deal in the spiritual and unspiritual currents of the present time of which men should be acutely aware, and determine their attitude of soul accordingly. Upon the ability and willingness to penetrate to the roots of such matters will depend the effect which the incarnation of Ahriman can have upon men, whether this incarnation will lead them to prevent the earth from reaching its goal, or bring home to them the very limited significance of intellectual, unspiritual life.96
Like the charioteer in the Tarot card, Christ brings higher power to bear to balance and synthesize the opposing forces. We are called upon to participate in that effort, and thereby begin to comprehend the mediating work of the Christ, the “third reality”:
If men rightly take in hand the currents leading towards Ahriman, then simply through his incarnation in earthly life they will recognize the ahrimanic influence on the one side, and on the other its polar opposite—the luciferic influence. And then the very contrast between the ahrimanic and the luciferic will enable them to perceive the third reality.97
Steiner followed that statement, in his lecture, with the startling assertion that we must gain “an understanding of this trinity of the Christian impulse, the ahrimanic and the luciferic influences; for without this consciousness [we] will not be able to go forward into the future with the prospect of achieving the goal of earth-existence.”98 We must recognize Christ’s ability to make use of Lucifer and Ahriman, no matter what evil they might also be doing. This does not necessarily mean that they are willing collaborators; perhaps even unmitigated evil can be an instrument of Divine Purpose.
Steiner generalized this trinity to place humanity in the role of mediator: “[T]he world can really be understood only in terms of a triad. On one side we have everything luciferic, on the other everything ahrimanic, and in the third, central place, the point of balance between the two, humanity, with a sense of its relationship to the divine, of its divine essence.”99 “We can understand the world in the right way,” Steiner declared,
only when we see it based on this triad and are perfectly clear that human life is the beam of the scales. Here is the fulcrum: on one side is the luciferic element, actually pulling the pan upwards; opposite is the ahrimanic element pulling the pan downwards. Our human task—our human essence—is to keep the pan balanced.100
Steiner suggested that this truth was an initiatory secret whose broader dissemination the evil powers were eager to prevent: “the cosmic existence in which we find ourselves can only be understood in terms of the triad,” but “it lies in the deepest interest of the luciferic and ahrimanic powers to conceal this secret of the number three—after all, only the proper penetration of this secret would allow humanity to bring about the state of balance.”101
One strategy the powers used was to promote “the illusion of the duality of God and the devil . . . the notion of divine spiritual powers above and diabolical powers below.” Presumably the church bears the blame for preaching that duality, even though it seemed to be supporting Christ’s campaign against luciferic Gnosticism. On the other hand, the church could also be blamed for preaching the notion of heaven, which Steiner saw as a luciferic ruse to distract us from the triple reality! Steiner added: “It is as if human beings have been deprived of the possibility of balance because a healthy human understanding of the world consists of in a proper grasp of the triad and this has been . . . concealed from them.”102
Lucifer and Ahriman after Steiner
Steiner’s followers, in the Anthroposophical Society and elsewhere, continued to speak of Lucifer and Ahriman and their respective influences. Richard Leviton shared an important insight into Lucifer’s incarnation and mission:
It was as if Lucifer, regent of human manas and hierophant of the Mysteries, momentarily took human biological form as a living fount of inspiration for the primeval, “pagan” wisdom culture. In that capacity he brought the ancient Rishis, the original teachers of a young humanity, the world of “intellectualistic thought,” the domain of high reason and pictorial conceptions, and the ideal of a cosmic and unconditioned activity of Intelligence and Will. Intellectually, Lucifer taught the Rishis how to fly.103
Presumably that last remark is not to be taken literally. Leviton went on to comment on ahrimanic influence in today’s world:
Ahriman fosters the illusion that elemental matter is a reality in itself, that physicalsensory life is the consummation of existence. It is not hard to see how Ahriman’s materialism effectively bars all outlook on the spiritual world for many people; an objective survey of the parameters of modern scientific theory and research demonstrates this readily. The arbiters of contemporary scientific and medical thinking almost unilaterally refuse to see through the material world to its true, spiritual foundations.104
Anthroposophist Judith von Halle commented on Christ’s redemptive mission, mediating between Lucifer and Ahriman: “Through Christ’s sacrifice the human being’s physical organization was returned to the condition it had before the influences of Lucifer and Ahriman took effect.”105 Furthermore:
Since the incisive intervention of the Christ impulse in the human organism and our supersensible bodies, it has become possible for us to activate and exert our I [roughly equivalent to the trans-Himalayan “Ego”] in a balancing way between the influence of Ahriman and Lucifer. . . . Since the Mystery of Golgotha, Lucifer and Ahriman no longer make a direct contribution to the forming of consciousness. Instead they work harmfully upon the astral body and the etheric body, and the I filled with the thought of Christ is continually called upon to bring their lower influence under control.106
Referring to the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Von Halle saw Moses and Elijah standing either side of Christ as three in one: “Together with the Sun of Christ . . . they form a unity.”107 We are reminded of Boaz and Jachim at the entrance to the temple, Lucifer and Ahriman at the entrance to the Essene community, and also of the two thieves at the crucifixion. Sevak Gulbekian took a harder line on Ahriman’s moral status than Steiner had. He viewed Ahriman—and presumably we could include Lucifer—not as morally ambiguous, but as fundamentally evil; what we might regard as beneficial influence was no more than “evil masquerading as good.”108 He cited Christ’s words: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”109
Gulbekian also cited a passage from 2 Thessalonians that seemed to apply directly to Lucifer. It referred to the “man of sin . . ., the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. . . . Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.”110 If Gulbekian is right, Lucifer and Ahriman have expended a great deal of effort on masquerading.
Interface with Other Esoteric Teachings
We have seen that Helena Blavatsky provided a model of Lucifer as a beneficent entity countering the evil Jehovah’s plan to make humankind into automata. She laid the blame for the demonization of Lucifer in western culture squarely on institutional Christianity:
There is a whole philosophy of dogmatic craft in the reason why the first Archangel, who sprang from the depths of Chaos, was called Lux (Lucifer), the ‘Luminous Son of the Morning,’ or manvantaric Dawn. He was transformed by the Church into Lucifer or Satan, because he is higher and older than Jehovah, and had to be sacrificed to the new dogma.111
Yet even the original, good Lucifer was perceived as ambiguous by humankind:
Lucifer—the spirit of Intellectual Enlightenment and Freedom of Thought—is metaphorically the guiding beacon, which helps man to find his way through the rocks and sandbanks of Life, for Lucifer is the Logos in his highest, and the “Adversary” in his lowest aspect—both of which are reflected in our Ego.112
Blavatsky explained further:
Lucifer is divine and terrestrial light, the “Holy Ghost” and “Satan,” at one and the same time, visible Space being truly filled with the differentiated Breath invisibly; and the Astral Light, the manifested effects of the two who are one, guided and attracted by ourselves, is the Karma of humanity.113
Alice Bailey acknowledged that Lucifer had fallen from grace but sought to put the event into a larger perspective:
Symbolically speaking, some of the sons of God fell from their high estate, led, at one time, by “Lucifer, Son of the Morning.” This “fall of the angels” was a tremendous event in the history of our planet, but was nevertheless only a passing and interesting phenomenon in the history of the solar system, and a trifling incident in the affairs of the seven constellations, of which our solar system is but one.114
Bailey spoke of Lucifer as the ruler of humanity, noting for comparison that Christ rules the Hierarchy. and Melchizedek Shamballa.115 She likened Lucifer to the Prodigal Son, alluding to humanity’s descent into matter and its slow reemergence into light. If Lucifer fell from grace, so did humanity, but that was not the end of the story. Writing three years after Steiner’s death, Rosicrucian Manly Hall attributed to scholars of his own esoteric tradition an insightful comment on the nature of luciferic influence and on Lucifer himself, in relation to Christ and Jehovah:
Certain Rosicrucian scholars have given special appellations to these three phases of the sun: the spiritual sun they called Vulcan; the soular and intellectual sun, Christ and Lucifer respectively; and the material sun, the Jewish Demiurgus Jehovah. Lucifer here represents the intellectual mind without the illumination of the spiritual mind; therefore it is “the false light.”116
Hall also offered an interesting connection between overcoming luciferic influence and the alchemical process: “The false light is finally overcome and redeemed by the true light of the soul, called the Second Logos or Christ. The secret processes by which the Luciferian intellect is transmuted into the Christly intellect constitute one of the great secrets of alchemy, and are symbolized by the process of transmuting base metals into gold.”117
Hall’s reference to the “Second Logos” reflects his familiarity with Theosophical teachings. He was probably familiar with Steiner’s work, too, and may have included the latter among the “Certain Rosicrucian scholars.” Nevertheless, this is a significant comment from someone outside Steiner’s immediate circle, on the mediation of Christ between Lucifer and his polar opposite. Why Hall retained Jehovah to play the role of polar opposite is unclear; perhaps he did not agree with Steiner’s substitution of Ahriman for Jehovah.
The Kabbalah is a sophisticated system of esotericism in which pairs of opposite sephiroth are in continual tension. As manifestations of the Ain Soph they represent contrasting, Januslike faces of deity. As a roadmap of the spiritual journey the Tree of Life presents contrasting challenges that must be confronted and brought into equilibrium. The free-flowing creativity of Netzach must be balanced against the rational groundedness of Hod; the unstinting generosity of Chesed against the stern judgmentalism of Geburah; and the raw, masculine energy of Chokmah against the feminine, form-making quality of Binah. Equilibrium is sought in the sephiroth on the Middle Pillar, the “Pillar of Equilibrium,” though a more insightful term might be “Pillar of Synthesis.”
Steiner’s Lucifer and Ahriman bear some similarity to Netzach and Hod, viewed as manifestations of deity. And the luciferic and ahrimanic influences bear some similarity to Netzach’s and Hod’s respective challenges. But the match is not good, and Steiner’s dualism cannot be correlated in any meaningful sense with the GeburahChesed or Chokman-Binah polarities.
One point of contact between Steiner’s dualities and the Kabbalah should be noted, however. Each pair of opposing sephiroth, together with the sephirah on the Middle Pillar into which it is resolved, form a triangle, a kind of trinity. Netzach, Hod and Tiphareth form one of these trinities, and Christian Kabbalists associate Tiphareth with Christ. Another point of contact is the kabbalistic axiom that the seeker must experience each of the opposing forces before bringing them into equilibrium and moving to a higher level on the Tree. According to Steiner, humanity had to experience the long period of luciferic dominance, and now has to experience the modern period of ahrimanic influence, before it can appreciate the mediating mission of the Christ.
Neither mainstream Christianity nor Islam considered the possibility of either dualistic evil or a mediator between them. As monotheistic religions they admitted one God and one Devil. Yet we do find notions of opposing evil forces in esoteric Christianity. For example Edward Maitland, nineteenth-century Christian esotericist and close associate of Anna Kingsford, commented on polar-opposite influences in the church:
Christianity—which is rightly definable as a symbolic synthesis of the fundamental truths contained in all religions—early fell into bad hands. Like its Founder, it was crucified between two thieves, who were no other than the types of its crucifiers. These were, on the one hand, Superstition, which is the distortion of spiritual perception; and on the other hand Materialism, which is the privation of spiritual perception. These are the “two beasts” of mystical Scripture, which come up, respectively, from the “sea” and the “earth,” to ravage the hopes of humanity. And the two are one under the modes of its manifestation.118
We do not know whether Steiner read that comment. If he had, he might have explained that superstition and materialism were nothing else than luciferic and ahrimanic influences, respectively. Also he might have acknowledged the “two beasts” as prototypes of his Lucifer and Ahriman.
Trans-Himalayan teachings do not offer a direct equivalent of Steiner’s dualism, but Bailey discussed pairs of opposites at some length. She described the Battle of Kurukshetra as being fought on multiple levels of reality, one of which involves the astral body as it is “either attentive to the egoic impression or swayed by the million voices of earth.”119 Bailey also spoke of “the planetary kurukshetra,” which “will be succeeded by the Judgment Day when the Sons of Manas [Sanskrit: “Mind”] will be cast out and the Dragons of Wisdom rule.”120
Polarities lie at the very heart of the Fourth Ray of Harmony through Conflict. Much of Bailey’s discussion concerned polarities with a clear moral distinction, such as materialism and spirituality, Christ and the anti-Christ. The disciple “stands at the midway point” only insofar as he or she has yet to make the right moral choice.121 She spoke of the soul as the mediator between spirit and matter and the expression of an important soul quality: “God Himself produced the pairs of opposites— spirit and matter—and also produced the middle way which is that of the consciousness aspect or the soul aspect.”122
Importantly, Bailey described the astral plane as “the plane of duality, of the pairs of opposites, and it is the interplay of these opposites, plus the energies released by the individual, which has, during the ages, built up the world glamour.”123 Overcoming that duality is the major challenge of the second initiation. Duality itself is implicit in the astrological sign of Gemini and the Fourth Ray.
Steiner identified the Christ as the resolving force between Lucifer and Ahriman. He even suggested that the three entities form a “trinity” engaged in a collective effort to promote the evolution of human consciousness. Although Lucifer and Ahriman wrought great evil, and continue to do so, they nevertheless served—willingly or unwillingly—as agents of Divine Purpose.
Maya, Glamour and Illusion
As noted, Behemoth and Leviathan represented the elements of earth and water, respectively, and they could be interpreted as symbolizing maya and glamour. It is not difficult to correlate Ahriman with maya and Lucifer with glamour and perhaps also with illusion.
If maya relates to the physical world, glamour relates to the astral, or emotional, nature. Bailey identified nine types of glamour: destiny, aspiration, self-assurance, duty, environing conditions, mind, devotion, desire, and personal ambition. For example: those who succumb to the glamour of aspiration “are completely satisfied and pre-occupied with their aspiration towards the light and rest back upon the fact that they are aspirants. Such people need to move onward on to the Path of Discipleship and cease their preoccupation and satisfaction with their spiritual ambitions and goals.”124 The glamour of devotion leads “to an undue stimulation of the astral body. The man or woman thus glamoured sees only one idea, one person, one authority and one aspect of truth. It feeds fanaticism and spiritual pride.”125
The concept of illusion has been explored in multiple religions and philosophies. Theosophist Gottfried de Purucker pointed out that both the Stoics and the ancient Hindus believed that the physical world was illusory. But the concept of illusion developed in the Vedanta to mean “not that a thing seen does not exist, but that we are blinded and our mind perverted by our own thoughts and our own imperfections, and do not as yet arrive at the real interpretation and meaning of the world, of the universe around us.”126 De Purucker added that this definition is “near to our own teachings.”
According to Bailey, illusion is comparable with maya and glamour but “is more mental in its impact. It concerns the ideas whereby we live, and the thought life which more or less (although mostly less) governs our daily undertakings.”127 Illusion, so defined, relates to the lower mental nature. Two of the most serious forms are the illusion of separateness128 and the illusion of superiority.129
We saw that Job had to confront and overcome both Behemoth and Leviathan. They were not polar evils where the goal was to find a more desirable middle ground. The same is true of maya, glamour and illusion in trans-Himalayan teachings; the goal is to overcome all of them and to focus the consciousness in the higher mind. That is the challenge, for us as it was for the biblical Job, of the third initiation.
While we may be able to correlate Ahriman with maya, and Lucifer with glamour and illusion, an essential element of Steiner teachings is that they are dualistic beings. The goal is to resolve their polar opposite influences, and Christ’s mission was intended to accomplish that.
Writing through his amanuensis Alice Bailey in the 1940s, the Tibetan Master made a number of far-reaching prophecies. They referred to the reappearance of the Christ and the externalization of the Hierarchy of Masters, while related prophecies concerned the establishment of a new world religion and the restoration of the mysteries. We were told that a date “for the first stage of the externalization of the Hierarchy will “in all probability . . . be set” at the next General Assembly of the Hierarchy, scheduled for 2025.130 No dates were set for the other developments, and all would depend on our progress toward establishing right human relations, but the Tibetan implied that they would occur within decades rather than centuries. The Tibetan and other transHimalayan teachers also prophesied longerterm events, like the advent of the sixth root race.
Nowhere did the Tibetan speak of the forthcoming incarnation of Ahriman, though Steiner predicted that it would occur within the same timeframe. Steiner mentioned the reappearance of the Christ, which he predicted would begin in the 1930s and last 2,500 years.131 But he insisted that it would be restricted to the etheric plane and that Christ would not again take dense physical embodiment. He did not discuss its relationship with, or impact on, the reincarnation of Ahriman. Steiner never mentioned the externalization of the Hierarchy, though it would seem to have a major impact on the circumstances in which Ahriman might take (presumably dense-) physical embodiment and “live among men on the earth.” In fact, except for the rarest of references to “the Masters,”132 Steiner never mentioned the Hierarchy.
The conflict between the two scenarios is worrisome. Yet there is an interesting point of agreement. Steiner urged us to prepare for the Ahriman’s incarnation in order to ameliorate its negative effects, while the Tibetan urges us to prepare for the reappearance of the Christ and externalization of the Hierarchy in order to make them possible. Both scenarios stress the importance of effective human action.
Ahriman and Lucifer had long histories before Steiner made them the main characters in his system of moral dualism. Blavatsky’s newly published Secret Doctrine, as well as ideas circulating within Freemasonry in the late nineteenth century, may have influenced him. Steiner struggled with the identities of his dualistic beings, first considering a good Lucifer and an evil Jehovah, then settling on a predominantly evil Lucifer and bringing in a similarly evil Ahriman as a substitute for Jehovah. We do not know whether Steiner’s struggle reflected attempts to read the Akashic Records more clearly or whether it simply represented literary experimentation.
Whatever the process of character development, the value of Steiner’s teachings on Lucifer and Ahriman is unquestioned. His achievement was twofold. First, he painted a vivid and compelling picture of luciferic and ahrimanic influence throughout human history and our need to recognize and respond to them. Luciferic influence had a largely favorable effect on human development, stimulating memory and nurturing ancient cultures. It continues to manifest in less favorable ways, including the many types of glamour that we all seek to overcome. Ahrimanic influence stimulated the rise of science and technology but also led to materialism, nationalism, and religious fundamentalism. Several additions to Steiner’s list have been suggested.
Warning of growing ahrimanic influence was, in Steiner’s view, a major element of Anthroposophy’s mission. That may be true; but, without ever referring to Ahriman or ahrimanic influence, many other people over the last 100 years have encouraged a focus on spirituality and common purpose, and a corresponding rejection of materialism, nationalism, fundamentalism, and the other ills Steiner identified.
Second, Steiner identified the Christ as the resolving force between Lucifer and Ahriman. He even suggested that the three entities form a “trinity” engaged in a collective effort to promote the evolution of human consciousness. Note that all three entities in the trinity are male. Evidently Steiner did not believe that gender balance was important to the evolution of consciousness.
Although Lucifer and Ahriman wrought great evil, and continue to do so, they nevertheless served—willingly or unwillingly—as agents of Divine Purpose. A rough equivalence can be recognized between Steiner’s trinity and the triangle of Netzach, Hod and Tiphareth in the Kabbalah.
Steiner’s Lucifer and Ahriman represent just one polarity. The Kabbalah reminds us that other polarities may be no less important. Modern society has failed to resolve the ChesedGeburah polarity in developing public welfare policies. The gender tensions implicit in Chokmah and Binah remain largely unresolved in the developed nations, and in the developing world resolution has hardly begun. Are these latter polarities also associated with powerful beings, and what difference would it make if they were? If such powerful beings exist, have they incarnated or will incarnate sometime in the future, and what difference would that make?
These are just two of the questions this article has identified, without attempting to answer. Other important questions relate to the nature of evil: Is evil an absolute, or is some degree of ambiguity always present? Are ostensibly evil beings, on our level and above, capable of doing some good? And how should we judge beings whose good and evil actions seem to be rather equally balanced? What role does moral ambiguity at higher levels play in the Divine Plan for humanity—and in the working out of karma?
We have seen that a Rosicrucian writer embraced the notion of Christ’s mediation between Lucifer and a being with polar-opposite qualities—even though the latter was identified as Jehovah rather than Ahriman. By contrast, none of the trans-Himalayan teachers mentioned Lucifer and Ahriman or even devoted much attention to the influences that Steiner associated with them. Much of Steiner’s other work overlaps with trans-Himalayan teachings, providing comforting assurance of mutual validity. Yet his teachings on Lucifer and Ahriman are unique in modern esotericism, except for discussion by his own followers.
Furthermore, Steiner’s prophecy of Ahriman’s incarnation is hard to reconcile with the Tibetan Master’s prophecies of the reappearance of the Christ and the externalization of the Hierarchy. Both scenarios would seem to be of great importance to humanity and the planet. Inconsistency between Steiner’s teachings and trans-Himalayan teachings requires careful consideration as we assess their relative merits—or as we evaluate the totality of esoteric teachings available to us. Some Anthroposophical writers now seem to emphasize luciferic and ahrimanic influences rather than the objective reality of Lucifer and Ahriman. Perhaps the personages merely symbolize the influences or serve as archetypes describing contrasting attitudes and behaviors that have manifested throughout history and continue to manifest today. Whether or not they are “real” entities, we can readily accept the challenge of overcoming those attitudes and behaviors in ourselves and others.
Esotericists may not all believe that Lucifer was the “God of Light,” but they agree that he did not deserve the treatment received at the hands of western Christian culture. That said, esotericists have sometimes attracted criticism for their efforts to reinstate him. Indifferent to the negative reactions that could be expected from the general population, the Theosophical Society published the journal Lucifer, and Foster Bailey—who had recently left the Society—founded Lucifer’s Trust to publish the works of Alice Bailey.133 Eventually the journal was discontinued, and the publishing company was renamed The Lucis Trust.
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